Citizen status for dolphins?

Paul Raven @ 07-01-2010

Well, maybe not… but researchers who work with dolphins have long proclaimed their high level of intelligence, suggesting that they’re the second smartest critter on Earth (after ourselves, natch). Now some are saying that they should be granted a suite of basic rights as befits “non-human persons”. [via @fabiofernandes; image by Just Taken Pics]

If this sounds familiar, then you’ve been paying attention – a little over a year ago we mentioned the Great Ape Project, a pressure group pushing for human rights for our primate cousins, and there was a court case in Austria a while back in which campaigners attempted to get a court to rule that a chimpanzee called Hiasl should have parity of rights with human beings.

Given the number of other more pressing issues on our collective plate at the moment, I can’t see human-level rights for higher animals becoming a hot-button issue any time soon. But the activities of the more radical (and, for my money, seriously misguided and hypocritical) animal rights groups have begun to nudge into the realms of terrorism; as the centralised political power of nation-states continues to fragment under the pressure of networked special-interest groups, we can probably expect to see more drastic demonstrations of discontent from those who would see some other species join humanity at the top of the ladder. Enumerating the deep ironies implicit in that (and in all other types of terrorism, state-sanctioned or otherwise) is left as an exercise for the reader.

Redefining personhood

Paul Raven @ 30-04-2009

contemplative gorillaTranshumanist thinker George Dvorsky is contemplating the nature of personhood – how do we decide whether a creature is a person, and what rights and considerations should that status confer upon said creature?

A big question I would like to answer is, should personhood status be described as a spectrum or as a definitive, fixed state. In other words, are dolphins and bonobos as much persons as a genetically modified and cyborgized transhuman? And is such a distinction even necessary? Should persons, regardless of where they are situated in the personhood spectrum, all have the same moral and legal considerations? More philosophically, given the space of all possible minds, how can we begin to identify the space of all possible persons within that gigantic spectrum?

Now, part of Dvorsky’s thrust here is that he’s concerned we may deny personhood to sentient machines; it’s an interesting argument, but predicated on the belief that sentient machines are not just a possibility but an inevitability, and as such is easy to brush away if you’re a strong-AI sceptic.[image by jimbowen0306]

But he also links to a paper by Linda Macdonald Glenn which discusses genetic chimeras – an equally sf-nal idea that is pretty much on the doorstep of reality as we speak. Say someone has 5% pig DNA – are they then only 95% human? What social strictures might we find ourselves justifying on that basis? If that sounds unlikely, think how easily we use race or nationality as justification for different legal status; sadly, we’re far too practiced at labelling “the other” to simply skip over the question of someone’s genetic make-up.

Dvorsky is also passionate supporter of animal rights, and extends the argument in that direction, too; if sentience is a movable feast of sorts, where do we draw the line? I believe I’d be correct in interpreting Dvorsky as saying that there isn’t really any line at all between ourselves and any of the higher order animals, and that personhood is a continuum rather than a binary state. There’s a nobility to that position that I have great respect for, but I also feel it’s a case of putting the cart before the horse. I suspect that we’ll never learn to treat animals in fair and reasonable ways until we’ve reached a point where we can admit (and act on) the essential equality of all humankind – and, sadly, that day still seems to be a long way off.

Equal rights for apes?

Paul Raven @ 15-12-2008

The Great Ape Project is a pressure group demanding a basic set of rights for hominids – and, as a side-effect, throwing up some questions about where the boundaries of rights for other living things should lie. [image by Frank Wouters]

Some countries already have legislation banning certain types of invasive experiments on apes, but GAP’s platform would also ban their exploitation for entertainment purposes as well as their use by profit-making ventures in general. After all, we wouldn’t allow a fellow human to be exploited (‘reality’ television shows notwithstanding – apparently people volunteer for those, and you can’t effectively legislate against stupidity).

Not everyone is keen on GAP’s rights-based approach, though, because it could lead to a moral ‘slippery slope’: once you’ve decided that apes need parity of rights, how can you then deny them to lesser mammals?

Offshore abortion boat defies Spanish laws

Paul Raven @ 17-10-2008

In a world that is increasingly flattened by technology and transportation, it’s getting harder for nation-states to impose restrictions on their citizens. Spain’s abortion laws are the latest to be challenged by Holland’s “Women on Waves” ship, which anchors in international waters offshore from countries with prohibitive stances on abortion to allow women the right of choice without fear of legal repercussions. [via Pharyngula]

When climate change turns entire nations into refugees and/or migrants, will geography cease to determine which legal system constrains you? Or will the notion of physical territory simply become atomised to the micro-scale, like the turf demarcations of London teenagers?

Question Surveillance, Go to Jail

Tom Marcinko @ 17-06-2008

london-cameraNormally I’d leave surveillance-outrage stories to BoingBoing, but really:

Four young residents of a North Philadelphia house who circulated petitions questioning police-surveillance cameras were rousted from their home Friday and detained 12 hours without charges while police searched their house…. 9th District Police Capt. Dennis Wilson…was quoted …as saying of the residents: “They’re a hate group. We’re trying to drum up charges against them, but unfortunately we’ll probably have to let them go.”

If they have nothing to hide, they shouldn’t be asking questions.

[Thanks, Eschaton; London ’05 photo by nolifebeforecoffee]

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