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Pot calls Kettle ‘black’

There is an article in the Guardian blog ‘Comment is Free’ by Peter Singer calling for Oxford University to stop trying to use the courts to prevent disruptive protests in the City of Oxford by ‘animal rights’ activists.

Although I agree that it is dangerous when the law is used to stifle freedom of expression (in other words, using the threat of violence in the form of arrest by the Boys in Blue to prevent protests), clearly most of those protesters would love to see laws prohibiting animal testing (i.e. they would be happy to see the threat of violence in the form of arrest by the Boys in Blue used to prevent animal testing) as Singer says in his article “In a democracy, those who advocate change can only achieve their goals by winning over the majority”… so clearly he is talking not just about making the protester’s views heard and therefore socially exerting moral suasion on people to stop doing what they are doing to animals, he is talking about ‘democracy’, i.e. politics, and therefore he is talking about violence backed laws.

I am sure that Peter Singer would reply to such an observation that if a law was passed prohibiting animal testing, that would just be ‘democracy in action’, assuming that to be self-evidently a good thing. And yet…even the courts are subordinate to the laws passed by Parliament so if a judge was to limit the scope of those demonstrations, surely if the protesters objective is to gain support for using getting coercive laws they approve of passed, they are just receiving what they are trying to do to others (i.e. subject them to coercive laws).

I do not know if the demonstrations in Oxford have passed the boundaries of reasonable protest and moved into the realm of violent intimidation (given the ‘animal rights’ movements long and current association with terrorism, it is not hard to imagine they may have done) but as a general rule it is indeed a very dangerous thing when the law stops people expressing themselves. However although I agree with Singer courts generally should not be used to suppress demonstrations, I will loose little sleep over one group of people using the regulatory state to impose their will on another group of people whose objective is to use the regulatory state to impose their will.

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25 comments to Pot calls Kettle ‘black’

  • Trying to get large numbers of people at THIS point in time to accept that using politics to shape the world is no different in principle than sticking a gun in someone’s face is impossible because it requires the acceptance of the idea that most politics is essentially criminal.

    You’re correct however that the sence of cynical detatchment from “the system” is building in a very interesting way and if you take the long view (and I think you do from several things you have written), things probably will move in the right direction, probably quite suddenly and for reasons that we will not see coming. But we are not there yet, that is for sure.

    Just because you are correct does not mean people will not think you a foolish lunatic. Such is the price of enlightenment.

  • I love animals. I especially love them with a bit of Heinz 57 sauce on them.

  • Howard R Gray

    Courts may be preferable to civil war, rather in the vein that football matches are a more socially positive improvement on gladiatorial combat. Personally, I always thought compurgation and trial by battle were splendid, especially when allied with the handy old hue and cry. Perhaps applying these remedies to football hooligans and animal rights terrorists would be fun.

    The spectacle of a clutch of noxious animal rights terrorists ending up being forced into court by a bunch of dons is mildly amusing. The one good thing here is that the controversy of a right to free speech can at least be hauled into court, albeit by proxy within a street demonstration argument.

    I take it as a given that using the law to beat up on others is what the courts are for, otherwise, who needs them? As to this animal rights demonstration, I say let them have it. Though the “let them have it” might be a bit more entertaining if it were followed by rotten fruit and veg. Life would be so boring with out the street theatre of demonstrations, I guess we have to tolerate a bit of disruption by these loonies, far preferable to the alternative. The fact the University isn’t on the side of free expression isn’t exactly news. Is it?

    This particular Oxford ruckus reminds me of that old epithet of communism being dog eat dog and fascism, of course, being quite the reverse.

  • knirirr

    I do not know if the demonstrations in Oxford have passed the boundaries of reasonable protest…

    They would, of course, say that they have not. Those of us who happen to be ecologists or plant scientists working adjacent to the new lab would say that they have. We have to put up with loons ranting through loudhailers whilst we are trying to work and screaming “murderer” at passers-by who don’t take their leaflets.

  • Nick M

    I do not know if the demonstrations in Oxford have passed the boundaries of reasonable protest…

    When construction workers feel the need to wear masks to conceal their identies I think it is fairly safe to conclude that the animal rights folk have crossed the rubicon.

    More power to them, I say. I believe we ought to put into practise what they preach and deny them access to any NHS drugs or surgical techniques developed using animals. Instead, they can have a homeopath, shaman, spirit-guide or whatever…

  • stuart

    I agree that Singer’s appeal to democracy is silly.

    However, as far as I can tell, some of the contributors to this blog are keen on the state using its coercive force to stop people violating the rights of others, protect property and to enforce contracts. Baldly asserting that animals have no rights begs the question. If animals do have rights, we shouldn’t rely on democracy to enforce them.

    I’m no fan of Singer. I recommend Nozick’s Anarchy, State and Utopia for a sympathetic, libertarian take on animals. Maybe then we can move on from comments like

    I love animals. I especially love them with a bit of Heinz 57 sauce on them

  • I do not think animals have rights so I cannot really comment on that… they are either wild or someone’s property. I think it should be socially unacceptable to treat animals in certain ways but I do not think it should be illegal.

  • Ted Schuerzinger

    If animals have rights, they also have legal responsibilities. I’d like to sue the bear that mauled my bird feeder a few springs ago.

  • stuart

    Great stuff! What legal responsibilities do infants have? People with sever brain damage? I certainly wouldn’t want you as my legal guardian.

  • Nick M

    I don’t believe animals have rights. I do believe though that humans have a duty of care towards any animals they own. Own an alligator if you really want to, but don’t keep it in a bath tub.

    I’ve known a load of people involved in animal research and I’ve never known one who wasn’t an “animal lover”. I’ve never known one who was prepared to subject the animals in their keep to unnecessary cruelty. The idea that biochemists get their kicks from “torturing” animals is bizarre. They get their kicks by being published or being granted a profitable patent.

  • Stuart wote: “Great stuff! What legal responsibilities do infants have? People with sever brain damage? I certainly wouldn’t want you as my legal guardian.”

    Wrong logic. The rights of young, old and ill are those that attach to healthy adults of the same species, or are greater, and the responsibilities are lesser.

    Best regards

  • Kim du Toit

    As our modern-day Rome falls to the barbarians, Peter Singer will be found to be one of the principal actors who opened the gates for them.

  • Julian Morrison

    Private poperty would sort this all out. “Yes you can protest on unowned land or with the owner’s permission, but I’m denying you permission on my street. So get off before I have you thrown off.”

  • permanent expat

    Can’t remember where I first saw this one:
    For three reasons it has been decided to replace lab rats with lawyers……
    1. There are more of them.
    2. Lab assistants don’t get attached to them.
    3. There are some things a rat simply won’t do.

  • stuart

    Wrong logic. The rights of young, old and ill are those that attach to healthy adults of the same species, or are greater, and the responsibilities are lesser.

    Not sure why this is directed at me. I was simply pointing out that having rights does not ential having legal responsibilities as was claimed. Nobody actually believes this. You claim that species membership is important. That may be so, but it was not mentioned in the post I was refering to. Anyway, you don’t argue for your conclusion on species membership and I don’t think it’s self evident. I suppose when aliens attack us you wont question their morality when treating us like cattle.

  • guy herbert

    I was simply pointing out that having rights does not ential having legal responsibilities as was claimed.

    Quite correct. Having rights entails others having responsibilities. To suggest that responsibilities are the price to be paid for rights-bearer for being granted rights is the rhetorical trick of those who are seeking to abridge your liberties under the colouraton of extending your rights.

    Whatever species you are.

  • Stuart wrote: I was simply pointing out that having rights does not ential having legal responsibilities as was claimed.

    Drop the “legal” from “legal responsibilities” (or add “legal” to rights), and I dispute this.

    And Guy wrote: Quite correct. Having rights entails others having responsibilities. To suggest that responsibilities are the price to be paid for rights-bearer for being granted rights is the rhetorical trick of those who are seeking to abridge your liberties under the colouraton of extending your rights.

    I dispute the first part of this too, as argued below. The second part strikes me as arising from the first part. The despised rhetorical trick is not to argue for parity of rights/responsibilites, but to seemly argue for that while actually arguing for a lack of parity in favour of the speaker’s case.

    In my view, the fundamental basis of all the various valid ethical codes (including those embodied in religions and those not) is “The Golden Rule”: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Legal codes derive from this.

    From this, we can deduce that one’s responsibilities to others are the same as your rights from them. You cannot alter one without altering the other.

    [As an aside, the cross-species issue is more difficult. My suggested solution is to identify the “commonality between the species” and derive the Golden Rule accordingly. Concerning ants and human, there is no commonality beyond that of different life form species to one another. Different species seem to respect one anothers rights, except so far as: food supply, territorial ownership, and “joy” of hunting. Now, where’s that ant powder.]

    Best regards

  • Midwesterner

    Nigel,

    “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” is an individualist code of ethics. Not a general one.

    A collectivist code of ethics is more along the lines of the one in the North Korean constitution,

    “Article 63

    In the DPRK the rights and duties of citizens are based on the collectivist principle, ‘One for all and all for one.'”

    And

    ‘From each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs.’

    Adherents to these philosophies may claim they are practicing the golden rule, but I think you’ll find them to be entirely people who see themselves as in need, and not as having ability.

    Guy’s statement is sound.

  • Midwesterner

    I did not mean to imply that

    “From each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs.”

    is in the DPRK constitution. Although it might be. Like the EU ‘Constitution’, it does go on a bit.

  • @Midwestener, who wrote: … the one in the North Korean constitution

    Do you think that I hold the North Korean constitution as, in my term, one of the: valid ethical codes?

    And do you?

    And you seem to dismiss the Golden Rule as invalid through being individualist. Try the converse as a societal view. [And I prefer that term to “collectivist”, as it lacks the implication through usage that individuals have no rights beyond those decided by the state. You, an American too or at least that is my understanding, would surely not want that.]

    So the converse, if practiced, is that it is legitimate for some people to enforce their belief that they may treat you in some way that, in equivalent but reverse circumstances, you may not so treat them. All animals are equal, but some are more equal than others. That’s as applied to social systems. [But, concerning animal rights, I can argue that too. Try discussing equality, or even human superiority, with an angry elephant, a hungry lion, or a surprised rattlesnake.]

    The Golden Rule, as extended from an individual aspiration to societal law, is: Every person is equal before the law. Do you argue against that?

    Concerning Guy’s statement is sound, I’m struggling as to whether you mean the first bit or the second bit.

    On the first bit, it’s clear that, in the example of a typical civil contract, the right of the seller to be paid is matched by the responsibility of the purchaser to pay. Likewise, the right of the purchaser to the goods (in reasonable working order) is matched by the responsibility of the seller to provide same. However, in my view, the overriding obligation is for both sides to treat each other equally, by fulfilling their side of the contract. [And if the contract is seemingly on unequal terms, that is tough, to the extent that it was entered into freely by both sides. So unequal does not necessarily mean unfair. The Golden Rule prevents the same contract in the reverse direction being claimed as unfair, when it is not unfair in the forward direction.]

    Back to the original posting, the animal rights protesters are claiming unfair access to the law by their opponents, when the only inhibition on their own access to the law is their desire not to pay the cost of such access (beyond them perhaps being in the wrong so making such payment not cost-effective). Would they view physical protests, equivalent to their own, as acceptable if done against themselves at their meetings, by their opponents. I reckon, on both counts, they are not following the Golden Rule.

    Time to go.

    Best regards

  • I think the animal rights whackos should be allowed to protest. Of course, the university or the city can reserve to itself according to its policy whether it permits the use of megaphones in demonstrations. If it is disruptive to the working and educational atmostphere, it should be disallowed during class/work hours. They can use the unaided human voice.

    The answer to icky free speech is more free speech. Here’s some ideas for you.

    1. Educate those who are being called “murderer” when they don’t accept the whacko activists’ fliers to answer back: “Vandal! Arsonist! Human-hater!”

    2. The Oxford students can organize a group “Animal Research Saves Lives!” and stage a counterprotest. I’d join it. Animal research has saved my life; I’d join the counterprotest in a heartbeat. My oncologist wears a pin on his white coat with this motto. He says it takes piles of documentation to get animal research approved, but it only takes a phone call to the maintenance department to have them come and spray the office suite for bugs.

    3. Another idea for a group/demonstration is “People for Medical Experimentation and Cosmetic Testing on Animal Rights Activists!” Ask passersby to sign petitions calling for the animal rights activist whackos to lay down their lives for their lab animal friends. “No greater love hath a man than this: that he lay down his life for his friends.” Takes it a step beyond the Golden Rule. Let’s see how serious they are about their cause.

    4. Stage a counterprotest to collect donations to rebuild the boathouse and replace the rowing shells the animal rights activists burned down last year. Display pictures and facts about the air pollution released by the burning plastics and carbon fiberglass. Piss on their parade. Ask them to be equally accountable for their actions and pay for the damage they have done with their vandalism and arson. As a rower, it makes me cry that innocent boats had to suffer at the hands of the murderous animal rights activist whackos. When a sweep oar is $400, and is paid for with fundraising and volunteer sweat, and rowing causes better watershed preservation and less water pollution than motorboating, it makes me cry. We love animals too. Except the geese who shit on our docks.

    5. Taking a cue from the Native Americans…have a special quasi-religious ceremony of gratitude and commendation to thank the animals who have given themselves for our welfare. Commend them to the Great Spirit.

    Or…all of the above. And count me in!!! I’ll help run the barbecue. I’m a good griller.

  • Midwesterner

    Nigel, when you said “valid ethical codes” I thought you meant “valid” as in having a lot of adherents who practice those ethical codes. I didn’t realize you meant ‘Nigel approved’ ethical codes. Since validity apparently requires your approval, perhaps you should should have told us who’s ethical codes qualify as “valid ethical codes”.

    And since I don’t accept needing your approval as a stipulation for the validity of my own ethical codes, why would you think I would accept it for anyone else’s?

    Ethical codes vary. They may be at odds with each other and some may be pretty vile, but that doesn’t make them any less of a code of ethics.

    “The Golden Rule, as extended from an individual aspiration to societal law, is: Every person is equal before the law. Do you argue against that?”

    I argue against your perpetual efforts to redefine things to make your cases work. The Golden Rule says what it says, not necessarily what you interpret it to say.

    I don’t see much point in continuing this angels on the head of a pin debate. Maybe you can start a blog and post your various prequalifiers and what different phrases really mean so the rest will know in advance. That will make reasoned debate with you more possible.

  • Midwesterner

    Speaking of pots calling kettles ‘black’, Walmart has made threatened use of eminent domain to impose its idea of ‘good for the community’ on various communities.

    One community in (where else?) California took exception to having a Walmart in their midst and tried a different tack. They used eminent domain to take property away from Walmart instead of the more usual giving property to Walmart.

    Needless to say, Walmart is crying ‘foul.’

  • Midwesterner

    Correction, they voted unanimously to do it. Time will tell what happens.

  • tlt

    Why must ethical behaviour be dependent on what one gets in return? In fact, I would call this superficial. Isn’t it more good if a person helps another for no other gain than simply to help that person?

    As a woman, I find it extremely disconcerting when I hear people saying that to hold certain rights requires responsibility from the rights holder. For example, would you say that a women who walks alone at night, or wears a short skirt, should have her right not to be raped wavered as she behaved “irresponsibly”? What about a child’s right not to starve? What should a child do to earn this right? The question is rather, what responsibilities can other people be expected to bare to ensure certain rights are upheld?

    In my mind there is a big difference between dedicating your life to save starving children, actively beating them to death, or doing nothing about it either way. The first option is voluntary, the second should never be allowed and the third is just passive.

    Which brings me to the point, why do we assume that animals must have some special qualities or responsibilities to earn their right not to be purposefully and unnecessarily harmed?

    My last point is that just because some animal activists take extreme and destructive actions, it doesn’t mean that all people who care about the state of animal treatment and rights are whackos.