There is a joke I THINK Terry Pratchett makes, but which we were making before we ever read him because my family used to make it (about me.) When the kids were little, we used to say that they were most likely to get kicked out of the human race for shoving.
We don’t do it much anymore, because we achieved our goal, and now both legally adult, they are reasonably human. Though I’ll point out one of them might be an alien. (We just haven’t decided which yet. Right now I’m inclining to Robert because he’s sporting a beard and we all know beards mean you come from another and evil world.)
This brings me to the whole “what is human” which excited much discussion here a few days ago. No, for the record animals aren’t human, though they might be sentient to an extent and that might entitle them to some protections for the sake of OUR humanity.
What do I mean by that? Well… Humanity is earned. Oh, not before the law, and not for others, but for ourselves. As individuals and as societies we must each earn “humanity.”
And what is this goal? What is so wonderful about being human?
Well, nothing if you don’t make it so. When I say we must earn human I mean we must attain the right to the protections due a human being – the right to be respected by other humans.
In some parts of the world and in some cultures, what you have to do for that are things that I would consider sub-human or inhuman. But this is why each human and each society must earn it for themselves: the standard to aspire to is internal and so must the proof be.
Note that I’m not making moral or multi-culti equivalence. As an heir to the great Western tradition and a student of history, I believe our cultural norms and what we consider “human” is better than what other people consider human (and yes, whoever asked in comments – not enough coffee yet – we should cover “the things they no longer teach in school. Because. Hey, would there be interest in you tube “courses” on great literature from a non deconstrutionist perspective? Ditto history? I’m not an absolute expert, but I can do some of it and I know people who know the rest. I will not pretend to systematic knowledge, but it’s more than is being taught in schools – or even was thirty years ago, since I’ve had to acquire most of it myself, step by step.)
My idea of human is firmly based on Western tradition and therefore in the roots of Christianity and Judaism. It includes such things as behaving decently to others; looking after yourself and those dependent on you; taking responsibility for your own actions; not hurting those who have done you no harm/are defenseless.
It also involves recognizing in other humans creatures like myself and respecting them for the sake of THAT if for no other reason.
This is what makes it so hard for me to even discuss whether those babies whom Gosnell dismembered were human. If they’d been allowed to develop, they’d have been creatures like me. Therefore a crime against them is a crime against me – against my own humanity and my idea of my own humanity, which is what keeps me from going around and killing everyone who gets on my nerves. It is also a violation (of course) of the “do no harm to the helpless and harmless” and… too many violations to count. I get sick when I think about it.
But here’s the thing, in my view the worst violence people like Gosnell – or the sainted Che whose favorite pastime was kill entire families personally, because he believed in artisanal murder – did was to himself.
I don’t know if there is such a thing as a soul – there might be. I think there is, for various reasons for which I have no proof – but whether there is a soul or not, or whether it survives physical death or not, there is something integral to each individual, something unique and personal and that makes them what they are. (In a character these are the internal, inviolable characteristics about which I go on at length in MGC today.)
Okay, so maybe Gosnell and Che were born broken. I have no way of telling they weren’t. We know some people are. I can almost guarantee that just “they were abused” (or indulged) as children isn’t reason ENOUGH for what they became. Ditto Stalin and of course Hitler and all the “large scale” monsters. I’ll leave the discussion of whether psychopaths are “real humans” for other people. One thing I know is that we can’t decide psychopaths AREN’T real humans and treat them as things, because we CAN’T identify psychopaths. There’s no measurable, scientific proof.
However, if they weren’t, somewhere back there they were normal children, who, in growing, became people who do things that people shouldn’t DO.
They broke the fundamental laws of what makes them human and therefore cast themselves outside humanity. (There’s that old story about a mark and stuff. Might not be wholly stupid.)
So why can’t we decide people who do that aren’t human?
Because we have no way of telling for sure. There are things that can make people act as non-people but which are recoverable from. And no, I’m not going with “illness” theory of crime. We’re all ill. It’s called being human. There are cracks in the design. And I’m not going with the therapeutic approach to murder. Sometimes, when someone is a clear and present danger to himself and others, removal from society by death is the best thing you can do for them and others. It should of course be done with dignity owing a human, not for them, but for you.
(Of course there are all sorts of things to be discussed about giving the state power of death over any citizen. But that’s another and more complex discussion.)
To remain human – to remain true to myself – all things that come in the shape of a human and present externally as a human need to be respected for the sake of myself and our common humanity.
Now that respect varies in kind, and different respect is owed to the helpless and harmless than to the hardened criminal who is threatening you. Self defense is acceptable for humans AND for societies. And let’s face it, if the person is really that far out of his/her mind, the best thing to do for the sake of whatever humanity remains conscious in them is to stop them doing more harm by putting it beyond their ability to do so. If court systems and jails were secure enough, that would suffice. But we know they aren’t.
(I find it particularly perverse when people advocate death to the unborn – particularly the viable unborn – or the newborn, or the disabled — who fit harmless and helpless but are against the death penalty for proven and unrepentant criminals. I can’t even begin to imagine how one gets to that state of broken, though I believe it starts with good intentions and trying to be holier than our peers.)
However, in principle, unless I’m really mad, regardless of the people’s crimes, I do NOT advocate setting them on fire in the public square. They might deserve it, but they’re human as I’m human. And for me to respect my own humanity I must respect theirs.
The same applies to respecting the limited sentience of animals. I should respect animals where possible and not torture them not because they have “rights’ but because I’m human and humans don’t/shouldn’t hurt the helpless. This does not exclude killing them (as humanely as possible) for food, but it excludes abusing them.
And if vat meat becomes available at a decent price (yes, the recent hamburger thing was actually not that bad and the price will only fall) yes, I will give up on eating little bah lambs. But not until then.
Pardon me the scattered post – there are a billion things needing done today and I can’t seem to settle. But this should be enough to start a discussion and because I’ll be absent much of the day, I’d appreciate troll patrol from the regulars.
If it’s not clear what I’m saying is that you don’t make others earn being human. You assume they’re human so you can earn YOUR OWN humanity.
There’s a somewhat related post by me at MGC.