Archive for September, 2015

For parts 1-3, click here

Ok — so where exactly do the issues we touched on in part 1 figure in the analyses of parts 2 and 3?  Well, let’s take them one-by-one, but going in reverse order:

From the perspective of many in our society, even if these Planned Parenthood videos are true, it is irrelevant.  Fetuses lack autonomy, and their “parts” can be made useful without infringing on the “rights” of the “right” people.

Albino ChildNext, the albinos: In part 1, I talked about the sense we all have of the inviolable dignity of the human person.  This sense is fundamental.  It doesn’t go away when we try to deny or suppress it; but it does require more extreme and intense examples in order to be alerted (much like when we find that the more impaired a person’s hearing, the louder we must shout to get his/her attention).

CecilFinally, there is the affair of the animals.  Inattention to certain classes of human beings and over-attention to the beasts can co-exist, and here’s why: Any time you either add or remove items from a scale on a balance, the other is raised disproportionately high or dropped disproportionately low accordingly.  It’s only natural that this should happen, and I think it helps to explain why in some ancient cultures people worshiped animals while immolating their children in human sacrifices.

Pope Francis 2By contrast, we could all benefit greatly from the human ecology of the current (and, contrary to what many people think, the previous) pope, which ties inseparably a legitimate and loving care for the whole created world with a proper understanding of the great “hierarchy of being” — in which the higher care for the lower, and the joy of the Creator shines through all things.

To those who have stuck with me through all four posts, many thanks.  I guess I just can’t say a whole lot without saying a whole lot, if that makes any sense.



1. “Albinisitic man portrait” by The original uploader was Muntuwandi at English Wikipedia – Transferred from en.wikipedia to Commons.. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Albinisitic_man_portrait.jpg#/media/File:Albinisitic_man_portrait.jpg

2. “Cecil the lion at Hwange National Park (4516560206)” by Daughter#3 – Cecil. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Cecil_the_lion_at_Hwange_National_Park_(4516560206).jpg#/media/File:Cecil_the_lion_at_Hwange_National_Park_(4516560206).jpg

3. “Pope Francis Korea Haemi Castle 19 (cropped)” by Korea.net / Korean Culture and Information Service (Photographer name). Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 via Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Pope_Francis_Korea_Haemi_Castle_19_(cropped).jpg#/media/File:Pope_Francis_Korea_Haemi_Castle_19_(cropped).jpg

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animal rightsLinks to previous posts:

Part 1
Part 2

Please read these if you haven’t already.  This post won’t make much sense otherwise.

We have amply covered the privilege given to autonomy in the world today, as well as its extension from humanity to the animal kingdom and the accompanying exclusion of human beings in utero.  We might also add usefulness as a core modern value, as the prioritization of autonomy will compel us to look for what is useful to that end (both generally and in each instance).

If we are serious about this worldview, it follows that we must do what we can to ensure the autonomy of each and every creature.

Herein lies the problem: It’s impossible.

There are far too many variables, too many uncertainties, too many “moving pieces” for every creature’s autonomy to be able to flourish without restraint.

In fact, this “ethos,” in its various forms and degrees, is what pits one vs. another — both on the individual and collective levels.  The privilege of autonomy, rather than being progressive, takes us back to the old law of “survival of the fittest,” and in this case the “fittest” are those able to exercise what we understand as autonomy (however widely its degrees vary).

One might argue: “Yes, but the kind of ‘survival of the fittest’ mentality you’re worried about belongs to a more primitive state of mind.  Our model is based on reason and science.”

fighter aircraftThat’s fine, except that the danger in question is not something to which the modern worldview is immune.  It simply works its way into the newer framework in subtler ways, and is perhaps the more dangerous for it (consider, for example, ancient warfare where enemies in arms and pillagers alike would face their opponents and victims, versus a modern warfare that is less bloody, but which allows for the decimation of entire populations without knowing the targets as anything other than coordinates on a grid).

Let’s be clear: We all agree on the importance of preserving and protecting the proper dignity of each creature.  But contrary to what some claim, we cannot rely upon arguments about what is “conducive to progress” (and not to be redundant, but I will remind the reader that our society sees the growth of autonomy as an indispensable feature of progress) to ensure that this happens.  In his book Civilization and Its Discontents, Sigmund Freud opined that the Golden Rule (“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”) is actually counter-evolutionary, as the good of one’s neighbor will often detract from the (immediate) good of oneself.

If it’s dignity we want, we must appeal to a system of values.  And of this I make three basic observations:

  1. When we do this, we go well beyond questions of autonomy and its attendant bedfellow, usefulness.  If you don’t get how this could be the case, consider the Freud allusion above.
  2. A system of values places strictures on our urge to do whatever we please, whether according to the whims of pleasure or some higher motive.
  3. Finally, it affords us certain basic rights that have no connection whatsoever with the “usefulness” or “autonomy” or our existence.  It confers on every human being the privilege and responsibility of personhood, as well as conferring on animals the dignity proper to them.

Ok — in the fourth and final post, we will bring these reflections back full-circle to the topics we looked at in part one.  Thanks for reading.



  1. “Shanghai-monkey” by F3rn4nd0 – File:Shanghai man with monkey.jpg. Licensed under CC BY 3.0 via Wikipedia – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Shanghai-monkey.jpg#/media/File:Shanghai-monkey.jpg
  2. “Northrop P-61 green airborne”. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Northrop_P-61_green_airborne.jpg#/media/File:Northrop_P-61_green_airborne.jpg

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If you haven’t yet heard the buzz about “Joke With the Pope,” a project of the Pontifical Mission Societies, then you heard it here first 🙂

I’ll let Conan O’Brien explain, and then I’ll provide the link:

Link: http://www.jokewiththepope.org

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Nothing against the traditional (and joyful) “Happy Birthday” tune, of course.  But on this Feast of the Birth of the Virgin Mary, it seems something a bit stronger, and with more of a sublime beauty, is in order.

Check out this short bit (under 5 minutes) featuring a traditional Latin hymn (as performed by the Daughters of Mary):

Happy Birthday, Mother Mary!

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If you have not read part 1 already, I would highly recommend doing so.  This post will not make much sense otherwise.

That said, I’ll start by citing the reflection with which I said I would pick up:

If [a] lion injures or kills a human being, what guilt does it incur?

None.  It is a non-rational animal, without the necessary resources to make free-will judgements and decisions.  It is driven by in-built instinct and cannot be held responsible for its actions.

Now let’s reverse the situation.  If a human being exercises cruelty toward another human being, s/he incurs graver guilt than if s/he were to exercise cruelty toward an animal; but s/he incurs guilt in both cases.  In fact, to behave in this way does more harm to the acting subject than to the victim, because the nature of a rational being is such that it degrades itself by bending its will toward such actions.

I realize that this would be poo-pooed by many psychologists and philosophers of the last couple centuries.  What is more, I must acknowledge this attitude to be by no means limited to intellectual elites.  If it started with them, it has “trickled down” quite a bit.  This is probably why we, as a society, are so reluctant to affirm the inherent dignity of the human person as such — an affirmation that would require both opposition to abortion and the recognition that humans have greater dignity than animals.

With that dignity, after all, comes responsibilities that are decidedly inconvenient.  It is more convenient and more comfortable to reduce morality, and even choice itself, to animal instincts and determinism.  Under that rubric, dignity becomes synonymous with autonomy, or the ability to exercise personal freedom and choice independently of constraints — an ability that many people defend with the oft-repeated battle cry: “Just let me be who I am!”

And that, I suspect, explains why the one rule our society accepts is this: “Do what you want, just don’t hurt anybody.”  If you are hurting people, you are infringing on their autonomy, after all.  Traditional morality becomes a problem according to this new “unum necessarium,” as it undoubtedly poses a threat to autonomy as we understand it.

abortionOkay — assuming that this worldview is true, abortion becomes doubly “sacred.”  The attendant notion of the mother’s autonomy takes from the human person the responsibility of being a subject while also assigning priority of life and prerogative to those able to exercise autonomy — namely, those already outside the womb, and able to survive independently.

CecilThe preference we give to animals over human fetuses is also explained.  When it comes to autonomy, we see a difference in degree rather than in kind between man and beast.  Beasts, after all, act according to that very thing to which morality and choice have been reduced in human beings: Instinct.

A lion has the wide open savannah to traverse, and in which to do whatever instinct bids.  The buffalo has the wide open prairie, and is not naturally constrained by anything against acting according to its inner drives.  The trout in the stream, the buck in the forest, the whale in the ocean, the goat on the mountain slopes, and every other animal you can imagine is likewise able to exercise “autonomy.”

FetusNot so the fetus (human or otherwise).  The fetus cannot possibly survive apart from its “host,” from the maternal microcosm it inhabits; much less can it exercise autonomy as we understand it.

I say all this by way of mere observation.  In part 3, I’ll go into the moral implications of this worldview.  Hope you’ll stay with me!



  1. “RussianAbortionPoster”. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:RussianAbortionPoster.jpg#/media/File:RussianAbortionPoster.jpg
  2. “Cecil the lion at Hwange National Park (4516560206)” by Daughter#3 – Cecil. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Cecil_the_lion_at_Hwange_National_Park_(4516560206).jpg#/media/File:Cecil_the_lion_at_Hwange_National_Park_(4516560206).jpg
  3. “3dultrasound 20 weeks” by Staecker – My baby, my picture.. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:3dultrasound_20_weeks.jpg#/media/File:3dultrasound_20_weeks.jpg

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