This would be partially a response to why I am not a vegetarian (a continuation of the last post) and why I support abortion. My position is that I am fine with killing little babies if we need a way to abort them. So for me it is not whether it is in the first trimester or the second, or whatever other time period, but for me it is alright to dispose of a baby. Al fortiorti I am fine with abortion if I am fine with killing little babies. I connect this together with vegetarianism because I am okay with killing animals and I want to explain why I am, under certain specific circumstances, okay with killing people. To explain my position I will need to get off topic and talk about a seemingly irrelevant question.
Where do rights come from? When we say that people have natural inalienable rights what do we mean to say? Some people may think rights are God given, or if you are like Ayn Rand then you think you can derive them from objective morality (Objectivism), but for me, and other moral nihilists, rights are just a man made concept. I choose to recognize that people have certain natural rights (the principle of self-ownership) because they make sense, they lead to consistency, rejection of them leads to forms of contradiction in society, and they lead to a more just and humane society. I know that I probably have to explain each of these points but I am not going to because that would take me off topic. I just want to explain that my position on rights is not derived from anything mystical like religion or objective morality, but simply from recognizing their necessity.
Thus, when I ask the question, "what has rights?", I really mean to ask, "to whom or to what do we apply this idea of rights to?". Or to put it this way, I mean to ask, "who do I recognize as having rights". Because I decide to whom rights are applicable to, since they are man made after all, I need to have some standard to apply them to others. My standard is very simple, whoever posses an intellect and a consciousness, has rights.
Let us imagine this thought experiment. Suppose that there is a human. But this human has a very interesting property. He has no soul. Or if you prefer the less poetic version, he has no consciousness. Because he has no soul there is no observer within him that experiences his existence. Thus, if I was to brutally torture this human there is no inside observer from within the body that is capable of feeling pain. The human is not feeling anything! But to the outside observer, such as ourselves, when I torture him it appears that he is suffering. But in all actuality he is simply expressing a behavior associated with such a stimuli. My question is that do I consider it wrong to torture a person with no soul? No. Because there is no insider observer feeling anything.
Now let us imagine a different thought experiment. Suppose that there is a machine. But this machine has a very interesting property. It has a soul. Or if you prefer the less poetic version, it has artificial consciousness. Because it has a soul there is an insider observer within it that experiences its existence. Thus, if I was to pull and twist its circuits, and assuming it can feel pain, there would be an inside observer within the body that is experiencing all the terrible pain. But to the outside observer, such as ourselves, when I pull and twist on the circuits it appears that nothing is happening. But in all actuality it is feeling all the pain that I send through its circuitry. My question is that do I consider it wrong to torture a machine with a soul? Yes. Because there is an insider observer which can feel the pain.
Understand the point that was made above. It is not that it is wrong to torture living things but okay to torture non-living things but that whether or not we can torture is determined by whether or not there is a soul. The status of whether something is alive or not is irrelevant in this discussion. Apples are alive but they are not conscious thus we do not have to feel sad for them when we eat them. Bacteria are alive also but they are not conscious so we do not have to feel sad for them when we kill millions of them every day. But machines, which obviously do not exist yet, that have consciousness cannot be treated by our own wills, since they now have a consciousness we need to respect their feelings.
So far we have asked the question of "when do we have a right to do whatever we please to an object?". And we answered it by saying that as long as it has no consciousness then we can treat it and do with it whatever we wish. This means that animal torture is wrong. Because animals, even though they are some really dumb beasts, do have a consciousness. Of course, there is no way to know if they do, but they give signs that they do so it is reasonable for us to assume that they also have a consciousness. Since the consciousness is determined by the brain and probably the complexity of thought it is safe to assume that beasts have a very primitive consciousness. Nothing as developed as in human beings. But a consciousness nonetheless. It follows from what was said above that because there is an internal observer within a body of a cow that it is wrong to torture cows. Or any sufficiently developed animal in general (obviously we are excluding simplistic organisms like sponges).
But we never answered the question of, "when is there a right to kill/destroy a body?". There are two cases to consider. Either the body posses consciousness or else it does not. If it does not posses consciousness then we said that anything can be done to that body and so killing it is a right. But if it does posses consciousness then the question is more complicated. Why should I have a right to kill a cow, but not torture it, but not have a right to kill a person?
To answer the question of when I can kill, but not torture, a conscious body, we need to determine if it posses an intellect. People posses an intellect. They can think, imagine, plan ahead, think about the past, they are capable of introspection, they can invent new ideas, and so forth. To kill a person even humanely is to rob him of his future and all of these traits that hold for him in the present. This is why I do not consider it to be a right for people to kill people but a right for people to kill animals. Because animals have no intellect. They do not think, they do not imagine, they do not plan ahead, they do not live historically, they are incapable of introspection, and they cannot invent new ideas. They are just too primitive for these traits. An animal cannot even comprehend its relationship between itself and the farmer who is about to take an axe to its neck. It is too primitive. Sorry. But it does have a consciousness and so we should make sure not to torture it. Even though it is does not posses an intellect.
The moment you can find me an animal that does posses an intellect then I would consider it to have some rights and not acknowledge the right of other people to kill it. Let us say a dolphin, they are the most advanced animal. I am not sure how their intellect works. Obviously not very well because if it was good they would not be where they are for the past millions of years - they cannot evolve by their own standards. But they might have some intellect. I do not know. But if they have some intellect, and a consciousness, then perhaps they can be equated to a three year old child. And under those conditions I would consider it wrong to kill a dolphin.
So this should explain why I am not a vegetarian, but I do have respect for certain (non-radical) vegetarians. Now on to the issue of abortion.
The problem with the whole abortion issue is that the the arguments that are given by both sides miss the entire point. A typical conservative (I wonder how many conservatives like myself actually support abortion?) would say "abortion is murder". The typical liberal would say "abortion is not murder because it is not a person". The conservative would respond "but it is a person, it is just not developed enough". And then the entire debate would be about whether something is a person or not. For me this is an unnecessary debate. If a typical conservative was to tell me that "abortion is murder". I would tell him, "eating meat is murder". My point is that, who cares? Why should I care if something is murder or not? I explained in my above paragraphs under which cases is murder justified and since a fetus has no soul and no intellect I have no problem with killing it. I do not care if it is murder. So the typical conservative would try a different tactic. He would tell me that "you are killing a human being". Instead of jumping into the the error as a liberal would on this point I will simply say, "yes, I know, I have no problem with killing babies". At that point I will probably insult the conservative too much for him to speak with me. But let me explain that again. I have no problem with killing little babies because they either have no consciousness, or a super under developed consciousness, they definitely posses no intellect at all. I do not care if it is a person or not. I do not value a person because he is a person but because he has a consciousness and an intellect. Since a baby has no consciousness and no intellect I have no problem with killing a baby. Consider a baby that is doomed to grow up a life of terrible disease. Then we should kill it now when we still have a right to before it is too late so that it will now have to suffer when it grows up into an intelligent conscious entity. Babies are even less mentally developed then cows. If it is alright to kill cows under my reasoning then it is also alright to kill babies. I do not care about humans. That is irrelevant to me. All what is relevant is whether or not the entity posses an intellect and a consciousness.