יום שני, 3 ביוני 2019

How NOT to debate about animals’ rights

Mentally disabled people and babies - debates on animals and morality often get dragged to the question whether morality applies to them, as the non-vegan would initially claim that morality doesn’t apply to animals because animals can’t understand the concept of morality.

Vegans fall for this tempting path of questioning, and this happens all the time, and I want us to look at where this can go, and how we can simply rebut the initial statement, without following up with questions aimed at uncovering inconsistencies.

Here’s a summary of a debate between a Isaac Brown (“Ask Yourself”) and Stefan Molyneux:

Stefan: Morality only applies to those who can comprehend the concept of morality.
Isaac: So it does not apply to babies and mentally challenged people?
Stefan: Babies will grow to be capable of comprehending morality, and there might be a cure in the future for the mentally challenged.
Isaac: But what if there’s no cure…
Stefan: You can’t know that there won’t be a cure in the future
Isaac: But let’s just say..
Stefan: No… you can’t know that there won’t be a cure
Isaac: Ok, let’s say a plague has reduced everyone’s mental capacity…
Stefan: In that case humanity has no more than a week to live anyways
Isaac:
Stefan: ...

Stefan’s fans saw this:
1. No inconsistency with babies
2. No inconsistency with the mentally challenged

Possible inconsistency in a world where a plague has reduced everybody's mental capacity by 99.99%, and we’re all doomed anyways.....

Stefan brought up a baseless claim, providing no logical argument from first principles behind it, and Isaac looked for inconsistencies instead of showing it's completely baseless ex-post-facto, drawing the target around the arrow. When Stefan said it applies to children “because they will comprehend the nap in the future”, Isaac didn't call Stefan’s inconsistency right there but picked a more unlikely hypothesis.

Isaac has let go of his first hypothesis, when Stefan suggested that "in the future they'd comprehend the nap", and came up with a hypothesis that sounded so detached and unlikely, and that's all Stefan needed to minimize the damage and make Isaac’s position look ridiculous ("cow people" as Stefan later referred to Isaac’s hypothesis).

Stefan made it look like he's not dodging Isaac’s hypotheses, just finding flaws in them or a way out, but his way out was stitching the definition of morality to the outcome he wants, without providing logical basis, as he got Isaac busy on constantly coming up with a different hypothesis.

When someone makes a statement like Stefan’s initial statement, it is very tempting to first look for inconsistencies. There’s nothing wrong about the path Isaac took here, and I personally don’t find Stefan’s responses to be good defenses of the inconsistencies in his theory. The fact that a baby will grow in the future, and a cure to mental disability will be discovered one day, does not explain why morality applies to them now.

There simply is a lack of explanation, as to why morality is being defined as “applying only to those who can comprehend the concept of morality now, or have even just a very small chance to, in the future. A claim has been made, but there was no argument. I mean, no logical one. No argument from first principles. There was rhetoric being suggested as to why it may be preferable to apply morality also to babies and the mentally disabled, but not a logical argument why.

What I would do, If I were to debate a non-vegan and that “applies to those who can comprehend” claim would be made, I would follow up with Socratic questioning, seeking to understand the process that emanated that claim. Probably, I would first asked to define morality. Now, I have learnt from Stefan (read his book: UPB) that morality is “rules of behavior that everybody can prefer” or as the book’s title says “Universally Preferable Behavior”.

So we know animals have preferences, and behaviors, so why exclude them from the “everybody” or the scope meant by “universally”?

This then comes down to the question whether animals own themselves, or whether people can own animals. And then to the question of what is ownership. The intellectually lazy would jump to conclude that ownership is a social construct, and therefore apply only to humans. Ownership is easy with humans, because if we say I don’t own myself, then surely no other human owns me, and we end up with the same outcome as in the case where I won myself. But who owns animals?

We have to see if the concept of ownership is indeed a social construct, or whether it exists in nature among animals. We know that cats, like many animals are territorial, and dogs don’t like other dogs or people taking away the bone they love chewing. For people to own something it is required only that they gain control over something no one else controls, or that someone gives them the control and gives up his. If I come back from the beach and bring an empty seashell with me, it is considered mine, and because I control my body, I own myself.

Non-vegans would be right to agree, though from the wrong reasons, that I have a moral right to defend "my" pet. They'd see my pets as my property, and thus agree that I can defend them. However, they would say that it is not moral for me to defend "their" chicken and because the chicken is theirs, they can do to it whatever they want to. And so, it all depends on the question of ownership. And what is ownership? It's a moral right... or to be more clear, and define ownership in UPB terms, if ownership is determined by control, then the behavior of interfering with the control could not be universally preferable. Even among animals. Understanding this concept is so evolutionary advantageous, that if animals wouldn't understand that, they would constantly get into fights over territory, food and other stuff. So ownership would be when others understand it's not wise to interfere with our control of something.

When it comes to arguments about animals being sentient, and self aware etc, I find that many people would accept a debate starting from axioms which are too ambiguous, or accept popular axioms because of a fear of taking a burden too big. For example, people may accept an axiom that says “nap doesn’t apply to insects and plants”, merely because they want to avoid having to explain what seems, on it’s face only, to reveal inconsistencies. Funny that, the non-vegans as shown in the example dialog mentioned above, have no problem dealing with claims of inconsistencies.

The key words and concepts to remember is such discussion are: Every living creature has life, liberty and property, including his or her own body, if we kill a bacteria when we wash our hands it is only because we realize our life and liberty, cows, chickens and deer do not prevent anyone from realizing their life or liberties, and if the idea that morality applies even to plants leads us to unreasonable extreme where everyone can defend any form of life, and thus all violence is legitimate, the solution is not to conclude that we draw the line at humans and call those who disagree wrong.

If morality applies to plants, and it is permissible to act in defense of every living organism, even non sentient ones, we humans still have our priorities, and we still would rather chase a local purse snatcher than a serial killer in Africa. No one says purse snatching is ok because we’re not catching a plane to Africa to fight tribal warlords. Also, the claim that this ideal would lead to a slippery slope where after we stop the abuse of cows and chickens, people will start to kill each other in defense of single cell organisms… well… it is a slippery slope fallacy. It’s just as silly as saying that the ideal of “keeping your room clean” would lead to you buying an electron microscope spending your whole life chasing atoms that do not belong in your room.