The Human Zoo

I’m all for technology, but when I read that scientists think robots may one day have rights, or that a new humanoid machine will be able to express emotions, that’s when I get a little squeamish.

Mind you, it’s not so much that I have a big problem with people wanting to anthropomorphize their machines. It’s more the double standard in a culture that is willing to dignify machines by treating them like people while simultaneously devaluing human beings by treating them like animals.

The latter impulse reached its peak of insanity in the fall of 2005 with the London Zoo put on a “Homo sapiens” display. The display, noted Denyse O’Leary, involved “a group of eight nearly buff humans cavorting in a cage for the express purpose of assuring the public that ‘the human is just another primate.’”

The London experiment was not a new phenomenon. The Adelaide Zoo in Australia also put on a similar experiment. Ashley Hay reported that

the Human Zoo project had locked groups of six humans into an empty orangutan enclosure, each for a week at a time. It aimed to “create awareness of the closeness of humans to their primate cousins”, “provide a platform for research on animal behaviour and enrichment”, and “raise awareness of the conservation needs of primates in the wild”. By this Wednesday, the fourth and final group was halfway through its stint.

I am reminded of G.K. Chesterton’s character Mr. Edward Carpenter, in the first chapter of The Napoleon of Notting Hill. Carpenter was part of a school of thought which maintained that “we should in a very short time return to Nature, and live simply and slowly as the animals do. And Edward Carpenter was followed by James Pickie, D.D. (of Pocohontas College), who said that men were immensely improved by grazing, or taking their food slowly and continuously, after the manner of cows. And he said that he had, with the most encouraging results, turned city men out on all fours in a field covered with veal cutlets.”

While Chesterton was writing this in fun, we must not forget that he was always something of a prophet. He seemed to have realized that the itinerary of the reductionist views he so often attacked in his writings was quite simply, that it blurred the line between man and the beasts.

Aristophanes and Gay Marriage

In a post last week I commented on the subtle sophistry involved in the homosexual lobby’s recent attempts to portray the fight for gay marriage as a fight for civil rights. In today’s post I thought it might be worth mentioning that this is not the first time that the gay community has indulged in sophistry to twist the truth.

But what do I mean by sophistry? In an article I wrote last year for the Chuck Colson Center, titled ‘Sophistry in Ancient Athens,’ I explained how the sophists were teachers that arose as a result of Athens not having a police force.

The ancient city of Athens didn’t have a police force. Thus, if somebody committed a crime against you – if, for example, they embezzled your money or stole your property – the only way you could achieve justice was by taking them to court.
Ancient Athens also didn’t have any lawyers. Thus, anyone who found himself in court had to be prepared to argue the case himself.

One thing that ancient Athens did possess was plenty of unscrupulous characters. Many of these less-than principled folk discovered that if you were clever enough you could persuade the court to agree with you even if you were in the wrong (especially if your opponent was not very bright).

In the latter half of the fifth century BC, a group of teachers arose in Athens called Sophists. The Sophists claimed to be able to teach students how to prove impossible propositions, such as that nothing exists or that motion is impossible.

The Greek playwright, Aristophanes, poked fun at the Sophists in his comedy The Clouds. In his play, an elderly farmer named Strepsiades goes to a special school called “The Thinkery” where Socrates (caricatured here as a Sophist) promises to teach him how to use persuasive rhetoric to prove that right is wrong and wrong is right. Overjoyed at the power he will wield once Socrates has taught him the secret to proving anything, the unscrupulous Strepsiades breaks forth into this refrain (taken from Alan H. Sommerstein’s wonderful Penguin Classics translation)

“So I give myself entirely to the school – I’ll let it beat me,
It can starve me, freeze me, parch me, it can generally ill-treat me,
If it teaches me to dodge my debts and get the reputation
Of the cleverest, slyest fox that ever baffled litigation.
Let men hate me, let men call me names, and over and above it
Let them chase me through each court, and I assure you that I’ll love it.
Yes, if Socrates can make of me a real forensic winner,
I don’t mind if he takes out my guts and has them for his dinner.”

Although The Clouds was a work of dramatic fiction, it isn’t far off from the truth of what actually went on in Athens. Though it is unlikely that the historical Socrates was anything like Aristophanes’ portrayal, the Sophists were just as unscrupulous. Many of the youth flocked to them to learn how to be clever enough to persuade courts and other audiences, even if what they were saying was false.

The chorus of clouds in Aristophanes' comedy

What does any of this have to do with homosexuality? Quite simply that the homosexual lobby uses tactics of sophistry similar to the characters in Aristophanes’ play to get us to think that ‘gay marriage’ is something it is not.

I don’t refer to the fact that it is not really marriage, though that is perhaps the most obvious example. Rather, I’m thinking of the way we keep hearing that laws to allow gay marriage will simply extend to same-sex couples the rights that the government already gives to married couples. President Obama’s own comments show he has bought into this reasoning. Yet there is a fatal flaw to this utterly-simplistic and naive narrative. At least that is what I argued in another piece I did for the Colson Center, titled ‘Sophistry in America‘. This is what I wrote:

If we accept that the principle of equal protection under the law means that same-sex couples should be entitled to the same rights as married couples (including the right to call their union a “marriage”), then in order to be logically consistent we would have to say that a definition of marriage that includes both heterosexual and same-sex unions, yet excludes unions with animals or multiple partners, is also failing to provide equal protection under the law. Indeed…if someone is bisexual, then in order for their sexuality to be fully expressed, their “marriage” must include a minimum of at least one person from each sex. At least, that is where the argument against “discrimination based on sexual orientation” could go…. [The reality is that] any new definition of marriage that [we] may wish to proffer opens the door to an endless series of redefinition in the years to come. This is because what is true of the word marriage is true of any noun: to define a word as one thing is necessarily to exclude that word as being some other thing. A noun that can mean anything is a noun that can mean nothing.

Consequently, if we say that it is unconstitutional for the word “marriage” to exclude anyone or anything, then we are beginning a process whereby the word must necessarily be eventually emptied of all content.

Suffice to say, if [the laws restricting marriage to one-woman and one-man] were set aside, then not only would a union between one man and one woman no longer have a monopoly on the term “marriage,” but in principle any definition of marriage (even one broadened to encompass homosexual unions) could eventually be challenged as unconstitutional by an extension of the same logic.

In short, the word “marriage” must finally come to cover anything we could possibly imagine. However, to do that would render the term incoherent, and that is something that not even the homosexuality community wishes to see happen.

Further Reading

Sophistry in Ancient Athens

Sophistry in America

Gay marriage: A Civil Right?

The Tyranny of the Minority: How the Forced Recognition of Same-Sex ‘Marriage’ Undermines a Free Society.

Deconstructing books…literally

Jerry remarked last month about the way our growing collection of fake adds sometimes have a way of inadvertently predicting the future.

Earlier this month when I saw the fake add about The Influential Teachers Series that Jerry made to accompany my article on Herbert Marcuse, I couldn’t stop laughing. “There is certainly no danger of this inadvertently predicting the future!” I thought to myself. After all, even Gorgias wasn’t being serious when he postulated that

  1. Nothing exists;
  2. Even if something exists, nothing can be known about it; and
  3. Even if something can be known about it, knowledge about it can’t be communicated to others.
  4. Even if it can be communicated, it cannot be understood.

Yesterday I was reflecting on some work I had done last month on postmodern literary theory and it suddenly hit me: premise three has been postulated in utter seriousness by a number of respectable – and influential – teachers.

A pillar of postmodern literary theory is that communication from one person to another is impossible.

OK, I admit, I’m simplifying things, but that is basically what the science of deconstruction boils down to (hang on to the idea of boiling). In an article I wrote for the Colson Center titled, ‘Literary Criticism and Postmodernism’, I explain how the influence of German hermeneutics, French linguistic philosophy, and American sociology has produced a situation in which thousands of intellectuals seriously doubt whether objective communication is even possible. You can read all the gory details of these philosophies and their complexities over at Chuck’s website.

And just in case you’re wondering, the books that deconstructionist philosophers write are not blank. So far all they have done is try to destroy them. You know, the usual thing like cutting Stephen Colbert’s I am America (and So Can You) in half with a handsaw, or boiling several novels in order to make noodles. Just stuff like that.

Don’t believe me? Watch the following video that writer Davis Schneiderman produced. It gives a new meaning to the idea of deconstructing texts.

Should Robots Have Rights?

By 2056, robots may be given the same rights as humans, a government-funded report claimed in 2006.

The report was conducted by the British Government’s chief scientist, Sir David King, and was written in conjunction with Outsights, a management consultancy group, and Ipos Mori, an opinion research organization.

If the report is correct, then in less than half a century from now, robots may even be able to vote, pay taxes and be called upon for compulsory military service.

An article in the Mail about the report quoted Henrik Christensen, director of the Centre of Robotics and Intelligent Machines at the Georgia Institute of Technology, who said: “If we make conscious robots they would want to have rights and they probably should.”

The report continues:

Robots and machines are now classed as inanimate objects without rights or duties but if artificial intelligence becomes ubiquitous, the report argues there may be calls for human rights to be extended to them.
It is also logical that such rights, are meted out with citizens’ duties, including voting, paying tax and compulsory military service.
Mr Christensen said: “Would it be acceptable to kick a robotic dog even though we shouldn’t kick a normal one? There will be people who can’t distinguish that so we need to have ethical rules to make sure we as humans interact with robots in an ethical manner.”

I am pleased to be able to say that there were some dissenting voices. Writing in the Daily Mail, A.N. Wilson asked, “If robots were given the vote, would they be tempted to vote for other robots to enter Parliament?” He continued:

The Government paper is no joke. They are seriously considering the possibility of the rights of machines…. How can it be that such an absolutely insane set of propositions could have escaped the pages of science fiction, and been given serious consideration by the Government’s Chief Scientific Adviser?…

As for robots or other machines, it is foolish to suppose that they can ‘think’ in the way that human beings think. They can no more think in the human sense than a clock knows how to tell the time.

The clock helps us to tell the time. Just as a robot or machine, however complicated or capable of developing apparently independent mental processes, will only ever be the sum of its mechanical parts.

That debate happened back in 2006. Thankfully, I have not heard that it has not been taken up since then. But it did raise an interesting question: if, theoretically, robots could be developed to the point where they had consciousness and could be programed with all the properties of humans, how could we justify not giving them rights? According to some of the “nothing but” approaches to describing human nature that Denyse O’Leary wrote about in Salvo 1, the answer is simple: even now there is not a whole lot of difference in principle being a human and a machine, or between a human and an animal. The difference is merely one of complexity. Indeed, what A.N. Wilson said about the machine, namely that it “will only ever be the sum of its mechanical parts”, is unfortunately what many people now think about humans.

Further Reading

 

Gay Marriage: A Civil Right?

When New Jersey lawmakers passed legislation last month to recognize gay ‘marriage’, homosexual advocates around America rejoiced at what they claimed was an incredible civil rights victory.

“This bill today is not a religious issue. It’s a civil rights issue,” one supporter of the move was quoted by the Los Angeles Times as saying.

There is a clever sophistry at work here. By presenting gay marriage as a civil rights issue, it immediately comes to be seen within a long pedigree that has also included women suffrage and the black vote. This, in turn, orients us to view the homosexual community as a victimized minority deserving special legal protection.

In reality, however, the shoe is on the other foot: the majority of Americans need to be protected against a creeping legal infrastructure that, in the name of gay equality, threatens to undermine the freedoms of the majority.

At least, that is what S. T. Karnick argued in his article for Salvo 6, titled “The Tyranny of the Minority: How the Forced Recognition of Same-Sex ‘Marriage’ Undermines a Free Society.” Karnick wrote,

From the beginning, the debate over “same-sex marriage” has been one of those topsy-turvy issues in which the side that is truly tolerant and fair has been characterized as narrow-minded and oppressive, while the side that is intolerant and blatantly coercive has been depicted as open-minded and sympathetic.

Favoring government-enforced recognition of same-sex “marriage” is not, as the media invariably characterize it, a kindly, liberal-minded position, but instead a fierce, coercive, intolerant one. Despite their agonized complaints about the refusal of the majority of Americans to give in on the subject, those who advocate government recognition of same-sex “marriage” want to use coercion to deny other people their fundamental rights.

Relativism in Action

6a00e00988aca988330168e58749b6970c-320wiWe hear a lot these days about the dangers of moral relativism, or about what happens in a society that has abandoned its commitment to objective morals.This emphasis on objective morals is important, but it is equally important to remind ourselves what moral relativism looks like on ground level.

Last week for his Breakpoint program, Chuck Colson told about the recent experience of Dr. Stephen Anderson, who teaches philosophy at A.B. Lucas Secondary School in Ontario, Canada. His students had just finished a unit on metaphysics and were about to start one on ethics. Colson writes about Dr. Anderson's plan for getting the conversation about ethics going.

To jump start the discussion and to “form a baseline from which they could begin to ask questions about the legitimacy of moral judgments of all kinds,” Anderson shared with them a gruesome photo of Bibi Aisha, a teenage wife of a Taliban fighter in Afghanistan. When Bibi tried to get away from her abusive husband, her family caught her, cut off her nose and ears, and left her to die in the mountains. Only Bibi didn’t die. Somehow she crawled to her grandfather’s house, and was saved in an American hospital.

Writing in Education Journal magazine, Anderson relates how he was sure that his students, “seeing the suffering of this poor girl of their own age, [they] would have a clear ethical reaction,” one they could talk about “more difficult cases.”

But their response shocked Anderson. “[He] expected strong aversion [to it], … but that’s not what I got. Instead, they became confused . . . afraid to make any moral judgment at all. They were unwilling to criticize,” as he said, “any situation originating in a different culture. They said, ‘Well, we might not like it, but maybe over there it’s okay.’”

Anderson calls their confusion and refusal to judge such child mutilation a moment of startling clarity, and indeed it is. He wonders if it stems not from too little education, but from too much multiculturalism and so-called “values education,” which is really just an excuse for moral relativism.

Anderson writes, “While we may hope some [students] are capable of bridging the gap between principled morality and this ethically vacuous relativism, it is evident that a good many are not. For them, the overriding message is ‘never judge, never criticize, never take a position.’” Anderson wonders whether in our current educational system, we’re not producing ethical paralytics? Well, if the horrifying example of the students’ reaction in this case is any indication, Anderson already knows the answer.

 

Continue reading