Vantage

A runner helps a competing runner to complete and win a race. The competitor had been confused, as signage was in a language foreign to him, so the other helped him out.

Iván Fernández Anaya and Adel Mutai Race

Although the debate in the comments thread on LinkedIn of whether the rules of the event supersede the overarching human condition leans heavily toward cooperation over competition, some are vehemently opposed to the thought of ‘breaking the rules’ of the contest.

I suggest that this is an issue of framing. Sporting events are a wholly contained subset of the human condition. If you visualise this as a Venn diagramme envisaged as camera lenses, you’ll see that the event is a deliberate tight shot. One with the broader human experience cropped out. But the viewer has the ability to pull back and capture a wider shot. This shot recognises factors other than winning a petty sporting event. It emphasises cooperation over competition.

There is no moral imperative here. One may adopt either lens without shame. As for me—and apparently most—, the wider shot is preferred. But a wider lens is not always the default view for humans.

Humanism

When it comes to how, as people, we fit into the larger universe, we tend to adopt a human-centric view. And one doesn’t need to be a Humanist to take this position. Most religions do this by proxy, where the gods have appointed humans as the Ones.

How can one not be a racist?

This is the same choice as whether to adopt a tight or a wide shot. And some people take an even tighter shot, where the focus is on nationality or race or colour or sex or gender or affluence or whatever. But the wide shot captures all species on the same plane. Peter Singer is the leading Western philosopher in this space. In his world, Humanism, this human-centred view, is Speciesism.

The most common responses to this charge are to dismiss it on the grounds that ‘humans are superior for reasons’ or that ‘as long as we consider the biosphere as a system, we can still take an elevated position’. I don’t truly accept either of these positions. The first is, frankly, narcissistic, as is the second, but humans have an abysmal track record when systems thinking and complexity are involved.

How can one not be a Speciesist?

The obvious question, then, akin to, ‘How can one not be a racist?’ in these #BlackLivesMatter times, is ‘How can one not be a Speciesist?’ But there are still wider lenses as we pull back to capture the entire taxonomy. We can elevate species to genus to family, order, class, phylum, kingdom, domain, or life. And why stop there except for moral convenience?

Ask yourself: What lens are you using? What is your frame? Where is your focus? What is your depth of field?

Humanism is Speciesism

Why is racism wrong but speciesism OK? Primarily, other species have no voice, and to have no voice is to have no say. This advert got my attention.

Joaquin Phoenix Advert

Humanism is part and parcel specious Enlightenment tripe, where ‘coincidentally‘ humans put themselves at the forefront. Copernicus removed Earth from the centre — though to be fair, even Christians had elevated gender-non-specific-Man above other animals — , but Humanism makes it more poignant that it’s Man at centre not God. Gods be damned. In fact, it’s often an afterthought that humans are animals at all, despite only the slightest veneer of consciousness and, more to the point, language to separate us from them.

Otherness has proven itself to be an evolutionary survival aspect, one that has brought me to a point where I can write this, so one can call it natural, another term fraught with connotational baggage. To be able to differentiate and discriminate appear to be valuable attributes, but how much is enough, and how much is too much.

Buddhism teaches that we are all one with the cosmos and that any distinction is an illusion. Buddhist Enlightenment — not to be confused with Western Enlightenment — is to understand this, to not be bound to the illusion.

But, if racism is wrong, why is speciesism OK? Humans do give some animals some rights, and some places give different animals different rights, whilst others give animals categorically more and fewer rights. Some places ascribe divinity upon animals, elevating them above humans.

Racism seems to be more wrong because humans are more genetically homogeneous — at least phenotypically. Other mammals and herptiles don’t look so much like us. In observation, when they do, we have an additional layer of empathy, so chimps and canines with expressive eyes gain sympathy not afforded crustaceans and pinnipeds.

I don’t have an answer save to say that it’s just convenient and someday we may see a world as portrayed by science fiction where some — mostly bipedal species — live quasi-harmoniously with humans. But even there, humans are always the start, front and centre to provide to moral POV.

Moral Realism meets Non-Cognitivism

One particular criticism of non-cognitivism is that it is not intuitive (as if this is the arbiter of truth). Much of statistics is not intuitive. The behaviour of quarks and other quantum events are counter-intuitive. This is a poor argument, especially given the limitations of intuition—whatever that might be.

Quarks[1]

In his book Moral Realism, Kevin Delapp advances his belief ‘that as a descriptive thesis, noncognitivism appears exceptionally counterintuitive’. He advances with argumentum ad numeram (or ad populum—take your pick): Most speakers of most languages do not mean by “killing innocents is wrong” merely that they don’t approve of it, or even that they are simply endorsing a norm, no matter how universal in form. Rather they say, namely that killing innocents is literally wrong.’ Moreover, what people think they mean and what they mean may diverge widely. But these are petty arguments.

“Killing innocents is wrong.”

Let’s unpack the example Delapp uses. Let’s even move forward by accepting common idiomatic notions of these terms. The problem is one of scope. Keeping away from any metaphysical complications but considering a cosmic scope, how is this wrong?

Ignoring that people die routinely of natural and otherwise ‘unnatural’ causes—however these might even be classified—, the absence of some particular human or all humans or all life forms would have a nil effect on planetary motion, the birth and death or stars, or of the creation of other universes. An analogue might be similar to killing a single bacterium in your body, an event that happens countless times daily yet you don’t even notice.

kisspng-buzz-lightyear-sheriff-woody-jessie-toy-story-extr-toy-story-5abbfcdc013fd4.5041701215222694040052.png

The reason that this is considered wrong relates to hubris, the self-importance humans bestow themselves. It would be amazing for another lifeform with the capacity for language—a shared human language—to impose its parallel morality on earth-dwelling mortals…with the twist that they envision themselves as superior lifeforms. Of course, in the work, the earthlings would justify eliminating this hostile species—and vice versa. Yet neither would be right. As we do on earth now, we’d rely on our divine intuition and know that our vantage was the true one and these usurpers would need to be shown the error of their ways.

In any case, the only reason this logic is justified is by some argument of self-preservation, as if the universe somehow cares about this. Of course, the religious attribute the special place occupied by humans to be justified because we are God’s special children—but these are short-bus children indeed.

Returning to recast the original statement, ‘killing innocents is wrong’, we end up with something less than universal and quite contextual more along the lines of ‘killing [human] innocents is wrong [to me as a human with simple cognitive assessment skills and who has been socially indoctrinated to believe that humans are the most important lifeform in the entire universe or any possible multiverse]. Here wrong means ‘not conducive to the furthering of humanity‘, which is miles away from some claim with a deeper foundation, integrally woven into the fabric of space-time itself.

And when these people counter with, ‘would you want me to kill you’ (smugly clever, indeed), taking this to be some logical checkmate as opposed to the “I know you are but what am I” juvenile retort. Weak tea, indeed.

You might be selling it, but I’m not buying it.