What is luck?

Derren Brown’s latest and final episode of his new TV show concerned luck. I thought it was a brilliant piece of television and illustrated, artistically, some truths about luck. There was also a nice message that a positive outlook in life greatly influences how we react and respond to events.

So what is luck? This is my opinion: luck is a valid concept, metaphorically. It is valid in that it expresses the notion that seemingly random events have worked in our favour or against us. It is a way of saying, for example “such-and-such an event could easily have gone either way, but by the narrowest margins it went for (or against) me.” It could be a way of saying “the probability of such-and-such an event was overwhelmingly unlikely, yet it happened anyway.” When the incredibly unlikely happens, we call it fortunate or unfortunate depending on the result.

But we need to briefly consider the nature of existence. Existence exists; it is what it is – and everything in existence behaves according to its nature. Clouds form as gas then fall as water, because that’s what clouds do. Planets orbit stars and birds fly, because that’s what they do. Ayn Rand called the non-human aspect of existence the metaphysically given. It simply is. It is deterministic in the sense that everything in existence is the way it is, and according to the law of identity it couldn’t be anything else, and therefore couldn’t behave any differently. Human behaviour is of another sort, a unique nature: our actions, unlike the metaphysically given, are volitional.

So, if an asteroid was flung towards earth by gravitational forces 1 billion years ago, and only today hits the planet and destroys your house, it was always going to. This isn’t fate or destiny, at least not in the true meaning of those words, although you could use them metaphorically in the weak sense. Consider: if you drop a ball from your hand it will fall to the ground. It can’t NOT fall to the ground, because on a planet with a positive gravity objects of positive mass will be drawn towards it. The law of identity demands it to happen. If it didn’t, the universe would be a very different universe. That is, a universe where the law of identity did not hold. That is, a universe where existence did not exist. In other words, no existence at all. But there is no alternative to existence itself. Asking for the asteroid not to hit your house is like asking the ball not to fall to the ground. The variables are incalculably greater with the asteroid scenario, but the principle is the same. Of course, the odds of an asteroid hitting your house are astronomical – and in this sense you’d be right (metaphorically) to call it unlucky, but given the events that preceded it, it was inevitable. If you knew 50 years in advance that the asteroid was coming, when it finally happened would you say “that was unlucky!”? Not likely. It wasn’t “unlucky” because you knew it was coming; there was no surprise, no shock, no sense of regret or wishing to turn back time.

This is where an appreciation of probability comes into the discussion. Given a large enough sample, extraordinary events won’t just happen, they are bound to happen. An oft-used example is when you think about someone, and then the phone rings and it’s them. Or having a dream about something, and the next day it comes true. Or being 14-million-to-1 to win the lottery, but you do. But of course, someone had to win the lottery, and whoever won it would think “I can’t believe it was me!” The same is true for victims of road-traffic or airplane incidents; the latter being statistically unlikely, but they do happen, and whomever experienced it says “I never thought it would be me.” Most people never do.

To continue with the airplane example: if the aircraft has a technical fault that is critical, to knowingly board the aircraft would be suicidal; foolish. You wouldn’t declare yourself unlucky when it crashed. So being ignorant of knowledge one couldn’t possibly have has nothing to do with fortune, fate, destiny, or anything superstitious. So you’d be unlucky, metaphorically, because the odds were against you – but only in a very weak sense. To illustrate this, consider a sealed box in which I tell you is either a black ball or a white ball. If you guess correctly you win a fortune, if you don’t then you won’t. Without foreknowledge, your odds of being right are 50%, but of course the actuality isn’t 50/50. Let’s say the ball is white. There is a 100% chance it is white. It won’t change colour depending on your guess. The ball is white and always will be. Without knowledge your best odds are half that. Are you unlucky if you guess wrong?

The asteroid was always going to hit your house. The plane was always going down. That lottery win was bound to happen. The ball was always white. Your lack of knowledge had no effect on the actuality, and omniscience is not a valid epistemological precondition for choice.

So if luck is an acceptable metaphor, let’s say colloquially at best – when is it not valid? The realm of human decisions. As we saw above, the metaphysically given is what it is. And as with the secret ball, our choices aren’t always correct – but human actions are not the same as the rest of the universe, because nothing of human causing had to be. The ball had to be white, but you didn’t have to choose white. Trees grow, conditions permitting. Planets spins on their axes. Masses will attract each other with a gravitational force. But a sky scraper didn’t have to exist. A building have to be built. A car didn’t have to be invented. You don’t have to fall in love. Human actions are chosen, not determined. (To deny this is to contradict yourself.)  They could have been something else, if we’d have wanted it that way. But since omniscience is impossible (and invalid), humans make choices based on the sum of their knowledge. That we don’t have every single possible fact (although surprisingly, most of the time in the right context, we know all the need to know), is irrelevant.

So what’s the point? That what happens outside our control is impervious to retrospection and analysis (morally here, in the field of decision making), and is in this sense irrelevant. That is, the fact that an asteroid destroyed your house is, as far as your decisions leading up to that point are concerned, irrelevant. The only thing that is now of concern, the only area within your field of control, the aspect of reality that didn’t have to be (like the asteroid) but what could be, is what you do from now on. If you stand there, the universe will go on; asteroids will fly through space, vegetation will overtake the rubble of your house, and you will pass. The universe makes no concessions to our whims, but it can be controlled by our actions. And it is this difference between mystical wishing and positive action that separates people into negative and positive types.

The point of Derren Brown’s show was that people who think they are lucky seem to be get more lucky than those who think they’re unlucky.  Of course, to events outside human control, like asteroids and gravity – your outlook really has no effect at all. A universe that responds to lucky charms, prayers, crossed-fingers and positive attitudes is the same as one where balls don’t drop to earth and 2+2 equals 5; in other words, a universe without identity, without existence. And it is this view of luck that is unhealthy and destructive: if you believe that actions outside your control or understanding shape your future, you will not act to effect change in your life. But your actions are the only thing that can effect change! “Luck” is fine as a concept expressing probabilistic ignorance, but not as a way of saying the universe or the Fates are against you.

What is true, though, is that a positive view of your life (even a mystical one) can have positive effects in the realm of actions within your control. It’s a cliché, but it’s true (for instance in sport), that you must believe first. If you think you’re going to miss this penalty, you probably will. If you think you’re a loser who can’t find love, you probably won’t. If you’re looking for things to go wrong, you’ll definitely notice them when they do and ignore the times things went for you. The latter is called confirmation bias. If you believe there is no invisible force holding you back or conspiring against you, you are more likely to take chances or sensible risks. Not every chance taken will succeed; not every risk pays off – but if you never taking any chance or risk you’re pretty much guaranteeing that nothing will pay off.

Of course, being naively optimistic is dangerous too. So what’s the balance? Simple: accept that the universe is what it is, but your actions need not be. The universe isn’t for or against us, but it won’t stand in our way. It doesn’t like or dislike you, but it’s not out to get you. The beauty of existence is that if you work with it, the results are quite incredible. As proof of this, look at any field of modern science. Long ago, some clever people realised that wishes were not horses. It’s a shame that in the 21st century this magical thinking is still around.

Ultimately, bad “luck” befalls us all. But this is just another way of saying that there are setbacks in life, minor and major. Since the past cannot be changed, and since being caught unawares by facts we couldn’t possibly have known is no cause for regret, the only challenge facing humans is: ‘what do we do about things now? What will I do with the time ahead?’ To return to the asteroid scenario one last time: one could move away and get a new home. One could end up living next door to the woman (or man) or one’s dreams. One might be “forced” into getting a new job and discover a fantastic new career. One might take the opportunity to have a fresh start in more ways than one. Who now thinks the asteroid event was lucky or unlucky? Isn’t life full of stories that started out with misfortunate only to be the best thing that could’ve happened? I know I can think of many examples personally. And of course, the universe doesn’t try for this, just as nobody thought a billion years ago: “if I send this asteroid to John Smith’s house, he might be forced to up and move and meet his true love and raise kids in this house instead of that.” John could have gotten depressed and drunk himself to death, but he didn’t. Something bad happened, and he acted positively. At the end of the day, what else should one possibly do? As I once said to a friend, a real hero isn’t a superman who is impervious to damage or despair. A real hero is a person who acts positively every day to pursue their values in the face of possible failure. Or in the words of one of Ayn Rand’s fictional heroes: “We do not think that tragedy is our natural state. We do not live in chronic dread of disaster. We do not expect disaster until we have specific reason to expect it, and when we encounter it, we are free to fight it. It is not happiness, but suffering, that we consider unnatural. It is not success but calamity that we regard as the abnormal exception in human life.

The New Atheists have just changed God’s name

Tim Sandefur over at his blog has posted a total demolition of a Sam Harris blog post entitled “How rich is too rich?” It’s called “Sam Harris, anti-reason“, and here’s the link.

Sandefur brilliantly illustrates how Harris, like Hitchens, Dawkins, and other Neo-Atheists, who are nearly always Left-wing Liberals, have simply taken all the unspoken and mystical assumptions of religion, but replaced service to “God” with service to “others”; the “others” being, well, anyone but ourselves. Service to society, the public good, those “in need”, those without what we have. They have taken the self-sacrificial preachings of Christ and simply blotted out the nasty “god” parts. They have regurgitated the mysticism and ephemeral bilge of religion, all in the name of rationality, atheism, science, and all that good “free-thinking” stuff.

Even more worrying is the total economic ignorance Harris shows, so we shouldn’t wonder that his followers across the blogosphere, all the internet atheists, demonstrate this level of ineptitude and misunderstanding of economics. And not just economics, politics. And not just politics, but ethics.

As Sandefur himself points out, Harris and the Neo Atheists are superbly adept at pointing out all the logical fallacies and loopholes in the arguments of the religious, yet Harris can’t even define his own simple terms. He contradicts himself. His premises are unspoken, unjustified, or simply wrong.

It’s very rarely I criticise religion on my blog anymore. In fact, I haven’t written anything anti-religious in years. Why? Because I really don’t see the religious (with the exception of Islam and the fundamentalist Right-Wing American Christians) as the primary threat to my well-being. It’s the socialists, the collectivists, the Left, which the Neo-Atheist “rational” crowd flock to, which is a far greater problem. In fact, it’s probably more accurate to say I don’t see the religious as more or less of a threat than the New Age Atheists, it’s that I lump them all together; I see them as just different types of the same problem.

Whatever your political persuasion, you should really read the article.

UK riots – my thoughts on who, what and why

As riots continued for a third night running in major cities across the UK, many have had their say on the animalistic slime causing massive devastation to property and lives. What should we do about it? What is an appropriate response and what is too far? Why do yobs do this sort of thing? I’ll give my thoughts.

First of all, it’s not really clear what these barely-human criminals are rioting about. There is no doubt in my mind that most of them are simply along for the ride, and enjoy the thrill and excitement of being in the mob, mindlessly ruining without consideration. Even if there was a legitimate purpose to riot, surely the cause is negated by the gross violation of the rights of innocent citizens whose lives and property are being wrecked? What cause could possibly be worth fighting for that is somehow not connected, or superior to, the legitimate rights of others?

So should the government call in the army? No. There is a reason why the army is not and should not be used to keep the law. The army defends the country from enemies of the state; the police protect the citizens and enforce the law. When the army is used against its own citizens, the enemies of the state become its own people. Government power should necessarily be heavily limited in this regard and we cannot throw away that principle when it seems expedient. So should police use lethal force against the rioters? Again, I would say no, not unless it is absolutely necessary. Whilst it is true that these rioters are degenerate insects who deserve no mercy, the law and the police derive their power from their citizens and cannot begin arbitrarily executing them when they get out of hand.

However, I should stress that the rioters have freely abandoned the rule of law and chosen to violate the Rights of their fellow citizens. The cause does not matter, if there even is one. Riot police should be deployed in full force and use water cannons, tasers, tear gas and rubber bullets. The rioters should be beaten into submission, even if it means hospitalising them. The message must be loud and clear: the government will protect the rights of individuals from any threat, foreign or domestic, and those who contravene this rule should be put down, hard. There should be no compromise with vicious thugs. Force should be met with force. Not for the purpose of hurting them, or teaching them a lesson, or quashing citizens under the boot of the government – no, for the purpose of protecting individual Rights.

One thing that also needs pointing out is the makeup of the mob: the majority are youths. The obvious question once again: where are the parents? Once again we are witnessing the result of mediocre and disinterested parenting, of a society where family and integrity is meaningless, where the mothering and fathering skills of adults have atrophied due to a government that insists on doing our thinking for us. How can you expect youths to respect the rights of others, when everywhere you look, the concept of Rights of individuals is watered down or ignored? How can you ask parents to do their jobs and regulate their children, when across the world we see parents asking the government to create yet another rule, regulation or law to restrict content on this, age limits on that, certificates on this, bans on that, censorship on this, criminalisation on that. Perhaps, just perhaps, if the government stayed out of our private affairs and parents had to actually do their job, they would raise their children in a more responsible and dignified manner? Which brings me to my next point: the parents of any youth found convicted in these riots should be forced to make reparations to the owners of damaged property. Your kids, your problem. They smashed, stoned, defaced and burned it? You will pay for it.

I’m not excusing the rioters at all, but I am hardly surprised by their actions. Our culture is warped and sick. In almost every article I write I talk about philosophy, and how it’s a vital part of everyday life, whether people realise it or not. But look at the “intellectuals” of today; look at the philosophy that pervades the world: we are told that reality isn’t real, that there are no moral truths, that there are no real whites and blacks, that morality is subjective and uncertain, that our senses are weak or useless, that the good is whatever the majority commands, that the purpose of life is to sacrifice it, that property is greed, that Rights are “selfish”, that intelligence is sad, that power is all that matters, that dedication and determination are a waste of time, that fame for fame’s sake and beauty for beauty’s sake and money for money’s sake is the lifestyle to pursue, that scientists and businessmen are fools and whores, but celebrities and sportsmen should be objects of idolatry and role-models to follow. This might not be the culture the intellectuals and the philosophers and the bureaucrats wanted, but it’s the one they deserved. This is the inevitable result of an evil and flawed worldview from Christianity to Socialism, from Islam to Communism, from Fascism to Humanism, from Libertarianism to Anarchism, from Hume to Kant, Christ to Mohammed, Nietzsche to Plato: the rejection of moral truths in this world; the denial of morality as useful to the individual in his everyday life. In essence it is this: the rejection of reason.

To those of who you say there is no such thing as morality, that truth is ambiguous, that reality isn’t real, that good and bad are just matters of opinion, that man is just an animal in shoes, that we carry original sin or instead are merely slightly-evolved apes, I say: this is the world you wanted. Well you have it. You wanted a world where reason didn’t matter, where good and bad were just opinions, where truth was both sides of the coin – well this is what happens in such a world. People blow each other up, they fly planes into buildings, they commit holy wars, they rob and pillage in the name of “welfare”, they set fire to buildings, destroy livelihoods, and they riot for the sheer thrill of rioting. Because they don’t know any better, because you told them there was no better, and if there was, there was no way to know it, and so it didn’t matter what they did, because nothing was right or wrong anyway and no one alive could ever know it.

To those who believe that truth and morality are subjective, I say I hope you’re happy with the results of your philosophy. These riots across the UK are just one symptom, but they aren’t the disease itself.

Are you selfish or selfless?

The more I think about the nature of selfishness, the more transparent it becomes that all moral and noble acts are selfish. It’s so obvious, (but then everything is in hindsight) I can’t believe I didn’t come to this conclusion myself long before reading Ayn Rand. But the reason I didn’t, and many people haven’t, is due to the corruption of the language and concepts involved.

Obviously selfishness is assumed to be evil and bad in almost all cultures today, and altruism and selflessness deemed to be good. It’s interesting that this is the moral code of religion which atheists have blindly adopted too, but that’s another discussion. Selfishness is taken to mean acting without any regard for others, sacrificing them to oneself, whilst selflessness is taken to be acting for the good of others without regard for oneself. However, Ayn Rand identified a huge flaw with this thinking, namely a false dichotomy; we are left with two polar options that exclude another type of interaction between humans: behaviour that requires no sacrifice of anyone to anyone else!

“How can this be?”, some might ask. “Surely, ultimately, we are acting either for ourselves or others?” This is actually true. All choices and actions we take, however large or small, are in pursuit of values. The question is, are those values our own or others’? Values are things which living beings strive to gain or keep to further their lives. Notice that: their lives. We pursue food, to further our lives. We pursue careers, music, art, entertainment, love – because they further and enhance our lives. All our values are directed at one thing: our lives. If this weren’t true, we would actually strive to acquire values that were of no benefit to our lives, or even detrimental to them. But if this were so, they wouldn’t be “values” since they wouldn’t be valuable. A value is only a value if it’s a positive enhancement. And of course the thing we must all strive to enhance, either consciously or otherwise, is our own lives.

“But I strive to enhance the lives of others!”, some might object. That’s true and I’ll get onto that. But first reconsider the above paragraph: it is only your continued life that allows you to take any action, pursue any value. If you’re dead or incapacitated, you can’t act for the enhancement of anyone. It is therefore life which makes value possible. Your own life gives rise to your values. Before we pursue anything, we must first pursue our own lives.

“Well, that’s obvious enough. What’s your point?” The pursuit of our own values (and therefore life) is a selfish act. We must evaluate things in our life, judge them as worthy, evaluate them as positive or negative, and pursue or avoid them. Each of us has to do this. No one can think for us, and we cannot think for another. We must act in our self-interest, because the alternative is misery and (ultimately) death. This may sound dramatic or radical, but it’s undeniably so: eventually you are either pursuing life, or its opposite.

“But if each of us pursues our own lives, what becomes of relationships?” Actually, it is only self-interested behaviour that allows for the beauty of human relationships; family, friendship and lovers. Consider: every person you hold dear is a value in your life. As such, they enhance and further it. It is positively selfish to have friends and lovers. If it weren’t, the people in our lives would actually be those we didn’t care for at all! But the best part is that just as the people in our lives are our selfish concern, so we are theirs in their life! What sort of friendship would it be if our “friends” were not values to us, but we maintained contact out of duty or guilt or fear? Would you want someone as a friend under these terms? Would someone want a lover based on force or blackmail? What sort of meaningful relationship could exist if the person we wanted didn’t really want us? And who would want another person who wanted us but whom we felt nothing for?

Obviously, self-interest is at the heart of not only every rational action of individuals, but it is the foundation of all honest human relationships. In voluntary relationships, both parties give, both receive, but no one loses out! This is the essence of the idea of not giving more than you should, nor withholding more than you should. A relationship where one gives and gives but doesn’t receive requires the sacrifice of yourself to another. A relationship where one takes and takes and never gives requires the sacrifice of another to yourself. No one wants a relationship like that. But this is the very definition of selflessness!: sacrifice, altruism, self-denial. Yet no proper human relationship could or does work this way.

The notion of selflessness has corrupted and bastardised the true virtue of selfishness, to the point where good noble actions towards other people have been couched in altruistic terms – as if it were not possible to be selfish and also be good towards other people. But as we’ve seen, not only is it possible, it is only selfishness that allows true benevolence to others.

“But what about strangers, whom aren’t a value in our lives? Surely that means they mean nothing to us and we shouldn’t regard them?” It is true that strangers are of significantly less value to us than people we know. But there are very practical and moral reasons to be kind to others, based on self-interest of course. Consider the simple act of holding a door open for another. This may appear to be putting yourself, rendering a service expecting nothing in return. But not so! If I hold a door open, I lose nothing except seconds of time. In exchange I get a thank you or smile from another thinking person, a person like me, one of my own kind – which makes me feel good. I have helped someone at no cost to myself, another bonus. I have directly contributed to a feeling of good-will between individuals, and since society is nothing more than a collection of individuals, I have contributed positively to the society I live in. This might encourage other people to act the same, and obviously living in a society of good-willed people is a selfish concern of mine – it is much preferable than living in a society of cutthroat thoughtless thugs. I also go up in that person’s estimation; they think higher of me and I want people to think highly of me, because it might open up opportunities for me down the line.

In fact to deny this is patently stupid: who would assert that consistently acting negatively to others is actually in one’s self-interest? Consider the person who consistently acts with disregard for other people. That person consistently loses the estimation and praise of others (a selfish and often necessary requirement), and their personal and professional relationships. What would we think of the self-esteem of such a person? If they do not bother (or care) to act in their own self-interest, they cannot have a very high opinion of themselves to consider themselves worthy of their own benefit. If they cannot care to pursue their lives, they certainly cannot care about others’. And no one would want that person as a friend. And why? Because friendship only works between selfish individuals. The selfless person is thoughtless and self-destructive, since they care less about their own life. Now think how ridiculous it is to assert, for example, that a thrill-seeking drug abuser is acting selfishly: to act for your own destruction without regard for one’s life or the thoughts of others is actually the most selfless thing one could do! Only a virtuous selfish individual abstains from short-term pleasures due to rational long-term goals. Such is the ultimate act of a healthy ego.

To briefly return to the issue of our values versus those of others – there is no competition here. If someone is a value in your life, their values become your values – and the pursuit of those is still selfish. To deny this would be to claim, for instance, that whilst you care about your child you don’t care if they do well in school or not. Or, that whilst you love your partner, it is irrelevant to you whether they exercise regularly or drink themselves into an early grave.

Being selfish in relationships forces us (in a casual sense) to cultivate positive qualities which make us more valuable to those we care about. Notice how we gain by becoming a better person and the other person gains to? And neither loses out. In fact, because we are a value in the lives of others, and the values of others are values to us, we become our own values! Likewise, the other person is not only a value to us but also to themselves through us. What perfect harmony! How does this manifest itself? Well there are countless ways but some obvious ones could be wanting to keep ourselves healthy (and more attractive), or better educated (and a better communicator), or braver, bolder, more confident. In short, whatever benefits us benefits the other, and whatever benefits them enhances us. But none of this would be possible on a foundation of sacrifice and self-denial.

There are extreme examples of selfishness, such as in emergencies, that are beyond the scope of this article. But to address them very briefly: it’s possible that another person is such an immense value in our lives that life without them would be unbearable. It such situations, we would be prepared to undergo anything to help them, perhaps even at the cost of our own lives. But this too, is selfish. The person who denies this essentially says that dying to save a lover is no different than dying to save an enemy. What’s the difference? The difference is selfishness. We don’t care about the enemy. We care about our lover. Our value, in our life.

So are you selfish or selfless? I’m selfish. In fact I strive to be a little more selfish every day. And I’m proud of it.

Animal treatment and Rights

One story that made the news recently is that of two police dogs who died after being trapped in a car for six hours in the heat of the day. Link.

Across the internet, animal lovers everywhere have condemned the man and called on him to face heavy punishment. Some have even offered prayers and chain postings in memory of the two dead animals.

The topic of animal welfare has been raised and most arguments in support of stiffer punishment for animal mistreatment rest on the presumption that animals have rights. In this article I want to comment on cruelty to animals, whether animals do have rights and the implications of this, and why it matters. I’ll also tell you what I care about and why.

Cruelty and/or mistreatment

Cruelty is the needless and wanton infliction of suffering on a sentient creature. (Contrary to some popular misconception and aided by science fiction, sentient doesn’t necessarily mean intelligent, it means capable of experiencing sensations.) So by this definition, cruelty is always irrational. Being irrational is antithetical to human well-being (that of one oneself and others), and is therefore evil. Cruelty is therefore always evil.

There’s a line of thought that goes: a man who likes to hurt animals will also like to hurt people. I’m not a psychological expert but I wouldn’t disagree with this. I think a person who gets any kind of pleasure from cruelty has poor ethics at best and mental health problems at worst.

Mistreatment of animals is by no means as clear cut: what defines mistreatment? Certainly all handlers agree that animals should be trained and kept in line. Is hitting a dog mistreatment? How hard is acceptable? Leaving it out in the rain? Leaving it out at night? I don’t have the answers to this and I don’t think it’s important to scrutinise it in depth here. But what must be said is: an owner is responsible for their pet and how they treat it. If a pet hurts someone or damages property, the owner of the pet is made to pay compensation, rightly so. Buy why? Well it’s obvious but needs explicitly stating because some people out there (who don’t so much love animals as hate humans) will gloss over this vital truth: animals are not capable of rational action, which means they cannot make moral choices. Therefore, they are not morally responsible for their actions. A human owner is however.

Rights

If you disagree with what I’m about to say, the first thing you must do is offer your own definition of Rights and justify it. Remember that emotions don’t stand up in court, and the issue of Rights and legal action is precisely what we’re talking about.

The philosopher with the most (and only) rational and objective description and justification of Rights was Ayn Rand. Her attention to detail and philosophical genius don’t need restating here. She defined Rights as moral principles defining freedom of action. But why does a being need Rights? Simply put, to act freely. But what good is the freedom to act unless one is capable of freely choosing in the face of alternatives? None. Human beings must consider the choices available to them and make free moral decisions. Being a moral being, which we are, is meaningless though unless we are also free to act. After all, what good is the freedom to choose if we aren’t free to act? Prisoners aren’t free, like hostages aren’t, or mug victims. So our nature as free moral agents necessitates Rights. But then the obvious conclusion to this fact is that creatures which aren’t moral agents, which don’t have the ability to think rationally and choose in the face of alternatives, cannot have Rights. Remember: rights are not entitlements; they aren’t blessings or favours which are granted to certain people from others, from society, from the State, or from God. They are principles inherent in our nature. So by definition, animals cannot have Rights.

That doesn’t sound right to me

That is something I hear a lot. It’s something I had to come to grips with too. It does fly in the face of a lot of what we’re brought up to believe and get told. But there is a false assumption implicit in the deniers of the fact that animals don’t have Rights: they perhaps think “if animals don’t have Rights, it’s ok to abuse them”. But that is not the case! The false premise lurking here is that Rights are somehow based on the ability to feel pain. But as I’ll explain next, that doesn’t make sense:

As we saw above, Rights are moral principles to guarantee freedom of action for moral agents like humans. It is the Right to Life, which all of us have, that gives rise to all our other rights: the right to pursue happiness, the right to liberty, the right to not have force used against us. To say that a person has the Right to live but not have the right to not be killed for food, is an obvious contradiction which no one in their right mind would claim. We don’t kill people for food (culinary arguments aside), not because they have a “Right to not be eaten for food” but because they have a Right to life! The “Right to not be eaten for food” makes no sense! And who would claim that a person has the Right to avoid suffering, but not have the Right to live? If this were true, it would be legal to murder someone, but not torture them! Bear this in mind when we talk about animal rights: animals are killed for food by the millions every day. Some small sects aside (like vegans), even those who believe in animal rights still accept that it’s ok to eat them for food. But there is a massive contradiction here: if animals have the right to live, they should not be killed at all! I wouldn’t accuse well-meaning people of being hypocrites, as I think a lot of us do and have made this mistake in innocence, but I think a lot of people could do with stopping and checking their own premises. As a good writer said to me: “if you believe in animal rights but eat meat, stop right there – go away and rethink your position.”

“But surely animals have Rights to protect them from cruelty?” some say. That sounds fair, it sounds nice, but it is false. Rights aren’t based on the ability to suffer, but on the necessity for freedom which only a moral agent needs.

Why does it matter?

It matters because the real issue here isn’t whether animals have Rights or not, it’s what Rights actually are. The issue of individual Rights is possibly the most important issue in human history because all crimes committed by one person against another involve the violation of Rights, that’s why it’s important to be very particular about the concept. ‘But why is this about human rights and not animal rights?’, you might ask. It’s about human Rights because Rights are the principles that say to every one of us “you may act as freely as you want, but you must not violate the Rights of others.” Which means you and I are totally free to live our lives as we choose. Your Right to live doesn’t clash with my Right to live: as long as we don’t infringe on the Rights of others, there is no contradiction between our lives, or Rights, ever! In fact, when understood this way it is clear that Rights simply cannot conflict. To illustrate this, let’s say that you have the Right to your earnings after a day’s work. I come along and claim that I am hungry and need your money. I claim that I therefore have a Right to your earnings. Here we have a conflict, but it’s easily resolved. If you have the Right to life, you must have the freedom to pursue that life. One of the ways of doing this is through work and earning money – in other words: property. Your right to property is a result of your Right to life. So since the property is rightfully yours, it cannot be rightfully mine. Your right to life, and property, and earnings is the only claim that matters. I can therefore have no “right” to any of them.

Humans versus animals?

Now, because humans make moral choices, we can choose to not violate the Rights of others, and most of the time we do this quite well. I choose not to violate your Rights and you choose not to violate mine. But, animals can never make this kind of choice. An animal does what it does either by training or by instinct, but never after rational and moral consideration. If animals were to have Rights, they would necessarily clash with human Rights, since we would be forced to respect their rights but they could never respect ours. There would be no resolution to the contradiction: humans would necessarily have to surrender their Rights to unthinking amoral animals. Imagine the full implications of this: no meat for food – at all. No wood for homes or fuel if animals need the trees. No cultivating fields to grow vegetables in case it displaces or kills animals. A world where animals have Rights is a world where humans can’t.

So where does the Law come into this?

If we accept that the job of the Law is to protect Rights (and how could it be anything else?) then it becomes clear that only humans should be protected by the Law. One of the ways it does this is to arbitrate in legal matters. Consider how silly it would be if we put cats on trial for killing mice, lions on trial for killing gazelles, dogs on trial for mauling babies. Consider the travesty of proper justice if we appointed lawyers for gerbils or took testimony from rabbits. ‘You’re being silly now. No one goes that far!’ some might say. Yes, these are ridiculous examples, but I’m not the one saying that animals should be protected by the legal system. If we “gave” animals Rights, they would have all the benefits of a legal system they can’t comprehend, and none of the consequences.

So it’s ok to abuse animals?

No no no. But before we condemn the actions of genuinely evil people, let’s take a step back. What do we mean by “ok”? Do we mean “legally accountable” or “morally reprehensible”? Before you jump to answer, think about this because there is a difference. In days gone by, homosexuality was punishable by death. It still is in some parts of the world. Sex outside marriage and blasphemy were (and are) also considered criminal acts and worthy of capital punishment, based on some rather warped moral opinions. Am I equating cruelty to animals with being gay or blasphemous? Of course not. The point I’m making is that the law isn’t there to police morality, but to protect Rights. There are many people out there who’d love the chance to use the Law to police their version of morality on you. The last thing we want is a government that polices morality. We’ve seen it before, we’re seeing it now, and it never looks pretty.

So animals aren’t protected at all?

Actually, they are. There is a very important exception to how animals should be protected under law, and that is as the property of humans. If a person harms or kills a pet they should absolutely be punished.

Do I care about animals?

They say it’s bad form to answer a question with a question, but I’ll do both. I’d say “which animals?” Do I care about animals? Well, do you care about humans?

You see, I look at the millions of human beings, beings of our own kind, around the world dying from starvation or disease – I look at scientists, thinkers, creators, businessmen – exploited and robbed of their property – I look at the successful and innovative penalised for the crime of being successful and innovative – I look at how our governments keep infringing on human Rights, granting more and more power to the state and less and less freedom to individuals – I look at how fiat currency and government-caused inflation and recession has caused economic collapse and riots across the continent and how it might well come here soon – and I think there are more important issues than two dogs dying in a car.

I care about my animals. I can’t pretend to care about yours, and if you really care about some random animal you have no connection with, why not that one and not the millions which are butchered for food every day?

How do we fight animal cruelty?

The same way we fight any legal but morally wrong action: by social ostracism. We condemn the person and refuse to deal with them. We can encourage others to do the same. The person might lose their job, their reputation, their relationships, and most likely won’t be able to buy another pet from someone else.

What we shouldn’t do is think of the law as our personal exactor of vengeance. The fact that the Law must ruthlessly protect human rights makes it all the more important for it to only protect human rights – because no other Rights exist.

Priorities

I think it’s time for a wakeup call, people.  Fellow humans are having their Rights violated every day, in the simplest to the grossest of manners. This is the sort of thing we should be shining a spotlight on and spreading chain e-mails about. Our tempers should burn when we hear the plight of an innocent man robbed or doctors put on trial by despicable governments for trying to tell the truth, or yet another business being double-taxed and charged for being “too big”, or teenage girls being groomed for sexual abuse or drug dealers and their empires, pathetic little teenagers and their gangs spreading mayhem and violence around towns… These are crimes committed by humans against their own kind. The least we can do, out of respect for ourselves and our fellow beings and our respect for justice and individual rights, is to consider where our priorities lie and what we want to be campaigning for.

Socialised medicine claims yet another innocent life

Just recently, I wrote about how the elected representatives and protectors of Britain are spending almost a billion pounds of their citizens’ money to vaccinate poor children. I also pointed out how such actions are not noble or philanthropic, but yet another futile demonstration of altruism at work: self-destructive sacrifice for others.

Only today I came across a shocking example of how true this is. Whilst the British government inoculates third world children with our money, in this country, in one of the supposed gems of the Western world, with the shining achievement of socialism: the NHS, a young woman dies from gross incompetence when a couple of simple injections would’ve saved her life. Link. Read this, and tell me that a paying customer in a private service would be treated to such pathetic negligence and arrogance. To those Lefties who think that capitalism’s flaw is that it leaves people behind, take a good look at your system. People are already being left behind. They are dying in the tens of thousands every year because a bumbling inefficient impractical politically-weighted system with grand aspirations of universal care (paid for by others) consistently fails.

This is the arrogance and evil of socialism: capitalism has never been given a fair crack at the whip, but in those isolated markets in those isolated times where it was allowed to partially flourish, it gave technology, advancements, jobs and commodities for steadily-decreasing costs (For a very few examples, I give you the industries of clothing, food, mobile phones, computers and the internet). Yet, the Left blames capitalism for all of its own failures, and consistently declares itself the only fair and moral system, “if only we could get it right”. Well guess what? No one has ever gotten socialism right. No other system has so consistently and spectacularly failed to deliver and been so antithetic to human rights, and yet been so blindly praised and lauded. Socialism is like a cult whose adherents’ faith grows as its failures mount up. It’s almost enough to make you believe that if Reverend Socialist promised a space-flight after drinking the “special potion”, the supermarkets would run out of bleach overnight. (Of course, the Left would blame capitalism for the shortage of bleach and demand a government allocation scheme to resolve the problem.)

Jo Dowling is the name of the woman who died, and she is one of many thousands every year whose lives are cut short because of an easily-preventable disease or illness. Where is your “no one left behind” now? I’m sure the vaccinated kids in Africa will be of great comfort to Jo’s friends and family, who talked with her over increasingly-distressing text messages right up to her death.

No capitalist claims that our system would take care of everyone. Instead, we realise that since healthcare and medicine are commodities provided by the property, service and innovation of other people, like any market of supply and demand, there can be no guarantee to these things. Yet socialism arrogantly declares, (and gets away with!) that it will take care of everyone, everywhere, for free! (Not free for those who make such schemes possible in the first place, however.)

It’s time we all declared that the Emperor is naked. The Cult of Socialism is a vile disease that should be talked about, exposed and overthrown. But it cannot be done on the grounds of altruism, on the morality of sacrifice. For capitalism to succeed, we must realise that the moral code behind socialism’s failure is the fault: altruism is self-destructive and there is nothing noble or “humanitarian” about it. The only objective basis for morality is rational egoism and self-interest, the philosophy of Ayn Rand.

Are we insignificant?

I really like Brian Cox’s TV series’ on science, (predominantly cosmology), because he demonstrates wondrous facts about the earth, solar system and universe. I have seen how his shows appeal to a wide variety of people and I think it’s great, in this miserable cynical mystical soap-opera ridden and reality-TV infested culture, that the general public are still fascinated by the physical existence around us. 

It is virtually impossible to describe, and literally impossible to imagine, just how vast the universe is. Approximately 15 billion years since we can say “time” in the manner we understand it, started. Our minds and bodies have evolved to see a slight fraction of the EM spectrum, useful for hunting/gathering on ancient plains, and building things to our scale of observation and interaction. The universe below our perceptual range is almost incomprehensible, but the universe beyond it is perhaps more so. One only has to consider the space between stars, and the staggering and ridiculously huge flight times between them to grasp that, in a very real sense, as much as we might ever learn about the universe, this, this life, this planet, this continent, this house, this job, are all we will ever know.

There are two ways of looking at this. The most common one, and the one I used to hold, is to realise just how tiny human beings are in the cosmos; to look at the age of the universe, and how long it will continue before motion (and therefore time) cease to exist; at the tiny slice of the temporal pie we’ve had on earth; at the enormous power the sun radiates every second and how all the manmade energy ever produced in total, multiplied a million times, wouldn’t come close to the fireball we orbit.

None of this is untrue, but the conclusion, the general feeling that many people take from these facts is: how small am I? How insignificant is the human race? Nothing I do matters. I am nothing in the grand scheme of things. But this line of thinking is unwarranted, because the mind makes a faulty presumption, a presumption based on our cultural value judgements and mindset. A presumption that almost all intellectuals, scientists, idealists and politicians make.  A presumption that is so glaringly false, but only once it’s realised. It is the presumption, or idea, that all values must be values in the eyes of some external grand mover, i.e. someone other than us. But since all of us are just individuals, and none of us (we are told) is the arbiter of value, the actual arbiter of value must be no one.

Another way of looking at it is: if the universe were only 50 years old, would that make you feel less insignificant? If the universe ended outside the orbit of Neptune, would that make you feel less tiny? If every planet in the solar system had humanoid life, would you feel differently about your place in the universe? If all the stars in the universe except our sun died overnight, would your feelings for those you love change?

It’s easy to come up with rhetorical spiel to ease a lonely mind. It’s harder to actually believe it. But you should believe it, because there is no “grand scheme of things”. There is no god who gives your life meaning; who sees a phenomenal universe and yet chooses to value your little life; there is something far more relevant in play: you, who in all the mindless universe of matter, energy, waves, dust, rocks, and empty space – who can do what (for all intents and purposes) no other thing could do a few hundred thousand years ago: think. Think, judge, choose, create, love. Only a being capable of valuing can value. The question is not: what value is your life to the universe? The question can only be: what, in this universe, is of value to your life? Ten trillion trillion stars in ten trillion trillion galaxies, or the man or woman you love? The majesty of Saturn’s rings, ethereal dark matter, stupendous space-time defying singularities, or your family, your career, your passions, your goals?

“All of this has happened before, and all of this will happen again” is an oft-quoted line in one science-fiction show. In cosmology it is very true: all of this has happened before, and all will happen again. Stars were created, exploded, and died, long before ours came into being. The death of stars begets new stars, and planets.  And if stars are ten a penny, or a dime a dozen, we couldn’t print enough money for them all. This cycle has continued for billions of years, and it will continue for trillions more. “And in all of that, and perhaps more, only one of each of us.*

If a nebula, or ringed-body, or sunrise, or sunset, or night-sky smattered with stars – purposeless conglomerations of matter and energy – are beautiful, how much more so the chosen free conscious acts of humanity? The invention of the wheel, the discovery of electricity, the constitution of the United States, art, poetry, trade, and the source of them all, love?

The next time you find yourself contemplating humanity’s, or your own worth in unnecessarily humble terms, consider: “insignificant” – to whom? “Small” – compared to whom? “Worthless” – to whom? “Nothing we do matters” – matters to whom?

Life is what makes values possible. And for all we know, we’re the only rational life in existence. This means, the only values in existence are mine and yours. So we cannot be “valueless” transient specs of dust in this universe – far from it. In a very real sense of the word; the only meaningful use of the word, we are the most valuable things in existence. So the stars will go on burning long after you’ve died. The difference is: stars will never know any differently.

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