Re: Defining Human - pt. 1

Anton Sherwood (
Mon, 09 Mar 1998 21:17:09 -0700

Reilly Jones wrote:
> [...] Where the subject population has a
> highly developed conscience, laws are virtually unnecessary. Laws
> proliferate when consciences are underdeveloped, as in our barbaric time.

Many would agree with that, while disagreeing with you and me as to
wrong with the average conscience.

> RJ: <the Constitition said slaves were only counted as 3/5 of a person,
> less than fully human.>

> Anton Sherwood wrote
> > Oh, please - get it right. Seats in the House of Representatives are
> > apportioned according to the population of each State, counting a slave as
> > 3/5 of a free resident. [...]
> I did get it right. They were constitutionally less than fully human.
> Then, after the Civil War, they were constitutionally, hey presto! fully
> human. Purely a matter of defining human, just as the abortion matter is.

Agreed, though I doubt it was thought of in such terms at the time.
We've grown up with a culture whose sacred cows include the equality
(in some sense) of every human; but our great-grandparents saw no
contradiction in the two sentences "Joe is as human as I am" and
"Joe is my inferior," because it was accepted that some kinds of
human are indeed inferior. Or so it seems to me. Has anyone here
read enough 19C opinion to have a good idea what *they* understood
"that all men are created equal" to mean?

I meant only that the 3/5 rule has nothing to do with measuring degrees
of humanity. After all, a slave could be emancipated, and then hey
he was counted as equal to a white man for purposes of apportionment,
but still he had some legal disabilities almost everywhere -- like a
white woman in both respects.

> I have never claimed that genetics is a criterion for personhood.
> The moment the self begins to develop is what defines human.

And I say that begins (in humans) some time after birth. What goes on
before is just the building of a generic foundation. Has a newborn
as much individuality as a new-hatched chicken?

What do you mean by "the self"?

> > : If it is legitimate for the strong to prey upon the weak, sooner or
> > : later, we will end up, not as a society, but as isolated systems of
> > : perfected self-defense staring at each other across no-man's land.
> > This resembles Ayn Rand's argument against polycentric law.

Oops, I hope nobody thought I was imputing the next two sentences to
They're wholly mine.

> > Might does make right, but there are many kinds of might, and some of
> > the most important are impersonal - the laws of nature itself. Ability
> > to attract the sympathy of the strong is also a kind of might.
> Interesting observation about Rand, I hadn't thought of it that way. I
> like what Pascal said, might makes right so let's make sure the mighty are
> right. Ability to attract sympathy is important, another way of saying
> this is that fraternity and equality are utterly imcompatible ideals.
> Fraternity must trump equality for society to avoid the isolated systems
> result. Polycentrism is closer to fraternity than to equality.

Interesting, but I don't grok what you mean by "fraternity" and how
it is incompatible with equality. Would you expand and/or paraphrase?

> > It's not that I "cannot begin to understand" your position on
> > abortion; I believe I understand it, but I also believe it's based on
> > either an error of fact or an arational preference - in either case, not
> > binding on anyone else.
> The Supreme Court's arational preference or error of fact is binding
> on all those who define human the way I have. It is tyranny of a most
> brutal kind.

And in a polycentric order, what would be different? Would you not
have neighbors wantonly disagreeing with your definitions?

> > A number of time travel stories touch on the tragedy of erasing
> > someone (a child, a lover, a hero) from history by preventing their
> > conception. Whether that amounts to murder is an interesting question.
> Time travel is ridiculous. The staggering number of murders occurring
> here and now is what's interesting.

Then I withdraw the fanciful metaphor. My first draft put it this way:
You said that if Mrs O'Connor had had an abortion then our Max,
not a "precursor" of miscellaneous tissue, would have been murdered.
But if Mr & Mrs O'Connor had used effective contraception, Max More
would be just as absent from our world. Would that be any less murder?
"Every sperm is sacred..."

> [...] In Oregon, the logic of the statist establishment of
> death-worshipping as the official religion means that my tax dollars are
> now being reallocated to the poor so they can pay a doctor to murder them
> on demand. I am soiled by this [...]
> 48% of Oregon voters, including me, voted against doctor-assisted suicide,
> aka, licensing doctors to murder. [...]

I agree that making you pay for it is intolerably cruel.
But it's absurd to call it murder when done at the victim's request.

> [...] the core ethics of Western Civilization that have
> worked well for centuries on end, namely, humans are not to be used as
> means because they are ends in themselves. [...]

I dunno about you, but I use other humans as means every day:
I call it trade.

"How'd ya like to climb this high without no mountain?" --Porky Pine
Anton Sherwood   *\\*   +1 415 267 0685
!! visiting New Mexico, end of March !!