Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Life and Death and Twitter

An All Too Typical Twitter Conversation

[I trimmed out the extra RT text but left the content intact]

I started with a blanket statement/conversation starter (not to anyone specific)...

ColdDimSum: Anyone who eats meat OR vegetables is NOT #prolife

littlebytesnews: anyone who aborts human beings is #prodeath!!

ColdDimSum: That we are ALL "pro-death" to some degree was the very point of my tweet - YOU murder living beings every day of your life

littlebytesnews: at least I don't kill my unborn/human fetus like #prochoice does #prolife

(hello brickwall)

ColdDimSum: Do you value a single-celled zygote over an adult chimpanzee?

littlebytesnews: #prolife A human zygote=human being.not a "potential"or "possible"human being.It's an actual human being! http://bit.ly/f2dd1e

(hello brickwall)

ColdDimSum: nice how you dishonestly avoid the question

littlebytesnews: UR question was ignorant&cld not be answered;so I gave U facts #prolife re:zygote [ Yes, that is literal: http://twitter.com/littlebytesnews/status/50268988797763584 ]

(hello brickwall)

But I propose to give my answers here anyway, despite the apparent impossibility of the task.

A living chimpanzee has a brain, has feelings, feels pain, and feels something akin to love. It is only the ugliest sort of ignorance and arrogance that could lead someone to a conclusion that chimpanzees (and other even remotely intelligent animals) do not possess these qualities to various degrees. They are at least on par with human infants.

A single-celled zygote is no more an ACTUAL human being than any other single Living Cell in your body. Every living cell in your body has the Capacity to become a fully formed human being in the right environment (with cloning technology this is not just theoretical). Human being-ness is an Emergent property of a very large collection of cells. Surprisingly (to some) we didn't know these facts 2000 years ago. I base this claim on the fact that we COULD clone a human being from those cells which makes them POTENTIAL humans in exactly the same way that a zygote is a POTENTIAL human being. There is just no way you can reasonably describe a single-cell as having the property of humanness JUST because it has human DNA. And citing some ignorant twit Ph.D. who went to a Catholic university back to me does NOTHING to convince me otherwise.

Without a functioning brain (which a single-cell does not possess, last I checked) you are nothing but a pile of meat and bones (or fatty acids, osseous tissue, and minerals if you prefer). If you want to posit that a soul exists then I must ask that you provide SOME level of demonstration of this claim beyond mere assertion and appeals to antiquity or popularity.

So, to me, the answer is fairly straight-forward and obvious. A living, breathing, thinking Chimpanzee has greater value than a single-celled zygote which has value on par with ANY other single cell in your body and no more. That it is a "unique combination of DNA" bestows upon it no greater inherent value either as one or several mutations in any of your trillions of cells ALSO gives it a "unique combination of DNA" - and some of those combinations could potentially save millions of people from cancer if we knew their secret, but they die, unsung and unrecognized by the trillions upon trillions every day.


Now, on the greater questions of the death penalty and abortions, I feel these are extremely complicated issues with no easy answers; despite claims of simplicity by some, but I will take a crack at it.

Death Penalty FOR YOU

It has been said that the best way towards any doctrine of fairness is by putting yourself in the worst of every position. If you wish to have a death penalty imagine first that YOU are the falsely accused, all the evidence is stacked against you even though you KNOW you are innocent, but you are convicted anyway and put to death. Would you still support the death penalty at that moment? I suspect that the VAST majority of people, if ACTUALLY placed in that situation would withdraw their support. A few would not, to whom I say bravo for being a complete dumbass - but hey, you would still have your pseudo-integrity (however wrongly directed it was) for the few minutes before you died.

Our ability to put ourselves in such imagined situations is the basis of human Empathy and Compassion. BOTH of which work against our sense of Justice and Fairness but (thanks to evolution) works for the human species as a whole.

I am frequently surprised (in the way we are surprised when people behave EXACTLY as they have behaved a million times before) by the number of so called "Pro-Lifers" who are "Pro-Death-Penalty" (putting aside the cognitive dissonance those people must endure).

To ease any further suspense, I'm anti-death penalty. But life is complicated and horrible things happen and we have to deal with them somehow.

Is locking someone up for their entire life MORE compassionate than killing them? I wouldn't want to answer for someone else. So... why don't we ask them? Let them decide, if they cannot take being locked up maybe we shouldn't stop them from ending their own life (hopefully in some non-gruesome and painful way)? Maybe they aren't mentally competent to make such choices? I don't know - hard questions. But we don't even try to answer them, we brush it aside and ignore it.

I have more thoughts here which come to down to how we understand Free Will (or our probable lack thereof) but I'll save those for another time.


Deciding when a human life begins is not a scientific question, nor a philosophical one. The universe could care less, we are one big "happy" quantum field, fluctuating endlessly (or not). There is no I and YOU, there only is. There is no life contrasted with non-life - it's all part of one universe. Categories like "life" are concepts that only apply to the human realm of experience. These are based on ancient abilities of categorization that served us well fighting to survive but have no inherent concrete ontology in the real world.

We cannot even DEFINE life. Maybe it's this or that, except in that case. The definition is so obscurely watered down that it has no meaning. We know it when we see it (but mostly we completely fail to see it).

But because of our limited human experience and demands for Justice, Fairness, laws and standards of behavior (all GOOD things for human societies mind you) it IS an important question ethically speaking. So I will here attempt a summing up of my possibly paradoxical positions (please pardon the preponderance of alliteration).

Alas, I'm bound to offend both pro-life and pro-choice with my thoughts here so expect this to be as messy as the question itself.

#1 I am AGAINST the forced taking of ANY life, however tiny or BACTERIAL! Shocking isn't it?

Why do YOU, dear reader, (or I) have ANY more right to live than the bacterium on my desk? You don't, not really. And yet, you/we take the life of the bacterium without even NOTICING its existence.

You simply cannot justify any other position either scientifically nor philosophically - LIFE is LIFE and it is either worth preservation or it is not. All human life could die off in an accident and some distant descendant of that lone bacterium could be the ONLY hope for repopulating the Earth. Even the very wise cannot see all ends.

#2 But! Alas, I MUST take life in order to live, I must eat, my cells die, I step on bugs, I protect myself - this is clearly in conflict with #1 (Jainists probably come the closest to honoring #1 properly -- but if everyone was a Jainists human beings would quickly cease to exist). There is obviously a huge tension between #1 and #2 that we must resolve based on our best knowledge and judgement. Fortunately, this IS where science can inform our decisions because science IS the process WE have created which we have found to be the most reliable road to accurate knowledge - if we found a better way, that way would become part of science! (as it has over the past many thousands of years).

#3 There is an apparent hierarchy to life: As best we know, bacteria and other single-celled entities do not have a full experience of the world as we do; but they DO sense the world around them, and respond to it, and form memories, and seek out food, and "shy" away from danger. I am willing to be shown to be wrong about this -- if single-celled entities do have a first-class conscious experience of the world then it would WRONG to kill them. But you have to demonstrate that this is the case and the FACT is, that the only expression of consciousness that we KNOW is that which emerges from fairly complex brains.

Above the bacteria are the simple multi-cellular animals and plants. They also do not seem to have a conscious experience of the world, I feel very little regret at eating some vegetable matter although I do wonder about it and I take the time to think about it.

Above that are the simpler animals, they seem fully conscious of the world - chickens, cows, pigs. All are extremely alive in the SAME WAY humans are alive - but not to the same extent (I think, again, willing to be wrong). But I do feel these animals should be treated humanely and not tortured. And I hope some day we can find ways to avoid killing these animals.

And finally there are the higher animals, dolphins, chimps, great apes, and humans. These all have highly evolved brains and I think ALL are deserving of the highest levels of protections in our society against being murdered (although I think that "wild" animals should be allowed to live "wild", and I don't think we owe ALL animals the same level of medical care in the way that we owe it to our fellow humans).

Whether this hierarchy is right or wrong all of us implicitly follow the above system to some degree or another (again, save the Jainists who do their best). So, we make excuses (I said it would be paradoxic).

[As an aside, I find the idea of Medical care as a capitalist enterprise to be one of the most foul experiments we have undertaken as a society, but I digress]

#4 I am a realist and pragmatist. It is with great care and thought (and an eye on all too recent History) that I posit that abortion being illegal is ethically WRONG because it creates suffering in a way that it being legal simply does not. While I would personally wish to see the NEED for abortions drop to zero, I am equally sure that this can only be accomplished if all the HUMANS involved are willing to put forth the Empathy and Compassion required to make that happen - and fighting to make abortions ILLEGAL is NOT a step down that road.

As long as 10-15 MILLION children starve to death every year it makes no sense for abortion to be illegal. Click on the link and look at EACH picture and make sure you damn well understand what "pro-life" entails. And now imagine that being 30 million children starving to death each year. How is that "pro-life"? That's just pro-suffering because you are selfish.

Neither is Adoption a solution as much as the anti-choicers might wish it to be so - in fact it is more of a problem than a solution to anything. Many children are simply NOT adopted and even when they are, adopted children are often treated unequally, and, in far too many cases, end up abused. The success stories only highlight the human tragedy of the failures. The system is already strained past the breaking point.

The only logical conclusion is that making abortion illegal INCREASES human suffering.

If you want to REDUCE abortions then reduce the CONDITIONS which cause them - and we're back to Empathy and Compassion.

And finally, returning to our doctrine of fairness above - would I want to be aborted? Or be born unwanted, uncared for, abused, and left to die by a society of people who fight for the rights of the fetus but would deny basic human services of food, shelter, and health care to anyone who cannot "pull their own weight the lazy bums"? Yes, I would.

And if you want me to change my answer, littlebytesnews, then I suggest you FIRST work to make this a world worthy of living in rather than hoping that some magical sky daddy will make it all better in the afterlife.

THAT SAID, I do think there is a point, past which an abortion doesn't make sense unless it is medically necessary (a condition which should be defined by medical professionals WITHOUT ignorant interference from religious nut jobs).

I don't propose to define exactly when that point is, but I do believe that medical science is best positioned to INFORM us on that decision (not make it for us) and NO, your ONE ignorant little catholic Ph.D. nut job writing a non-professional, non-scientific paper PURPORTING to be "science" in a pseudo-science biased, self-proclaimed "journal" does not count. Let's just look at the unbiased reporting the old "International Journal of Sociology and Social Policy" littlebytesnews tried to cite at me. Wow, just wow. Maybe, try one of these journals next time PAIS International Peer Reviewed Journals List.

Biblical Commentary On The Pro-Life Movement

Because so many pro-"life"/non-thinkers seem to be associated with biblically based religions (at least around my neck of the woods) I thought I would share some "Pro-Life" bible passages with you as I did with littlebytesnews:

How many infants did Joshua slaughter with a sword at Jericho? Joshua 6
How many infants were murdered in revenge of Amalek? 1 Samuel 15:2-3
How many infants drowned in the Flood when your god got pissy? Genesis 6:1-9:17
How many children has god had torn into by bears? 2 Kings 2:23-24
How many infants & children has god had slain? Jeremiah 50:21-22
How many first-born infants died in Egypt so god could show off? Exodus 12:29-30
How many women were murdered, accused of being a witch? Exodus 22:17
How many children were stoned to death for breaking OT rules? Leviticus 20:9
How many people have been murdered because the bible commands it? 2 Chronicles 15:12-13

So, dear Christians, please do try to justify the biblical murder of hundreds to thousands of infants, children and women. Justify the action of INFANTS being hacked to pieces with a sword in Jericho and throughout the seven nations. Show me how Christian and moral infanticide is.

Misc References:

Chimpanzees: Our sister species

Evidence of chimps' intelligence grows

chimpanzee (primate), Intelligence, Britannica Online Encyclopedia

The evolution of thought: evolutionary origins of great ape intelligence By Anne E. Russon, David R. Begun

Nim: A Chimpanzee Who Learned Sign Language By Herbert S. Terrace

The brain-life theory: towards a consistent biological definition of humanness

Brain birth and personal identity

Having a life versus being alive

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