Mar 182010
 

In an article from Switzerland:

Projections show Swiss voters have rejected a plan to appoint special lawyers for animals that have been abused by humans.

71 percent of voters cast their ballot against the proposal by animal rights activists to extend nationwide a system already in place in Zurich since 1992.

Switzerland tightened its animal protection laws two years ago and now has among the strictest rules anywhere when it comes to caring for pets and farm animals. Pigs, budgies, goldfish and other social animals cannot be kept alone; horses and cows must have regular exercise outside their stalls; and dog owners have to take a training course to learn how to properly look after their pets.

Tiana Angelina Moser, a lawmaker for the Green Liberal Party, said animal rights campaigners would now be looking for other ways to make sure laws against animal abuse are properly applied and those who hurt them receive appropriate punishment. (AP)

Also recently we see continued opposition to the seal hunt in Canada.  Two pin-up models called the Barbi Twins say that they are boycotting coming to Canada unless the government bans the seal hunt permanently.  Shane Barbi-Wahl has said that “The people around the world hate you guys for killing defenseless babies.”

Those who anthropomorphize animals are guilty of believing a non-concept…Animal Rights.  It is a mixing of categories.  Rights apply only to the rational animal man while other animals have only status in our world.  As someone once said “I’ll give animals rights once they ask for them.” This bit of humour actually spells out a requirement for rights – that is the ability of being rational enough to be able to identify what a right is.

The people who believe in animal rights are guilty of something I would classify as immoral… that is, denigrating their own stature as a human while elevating the status of non-rational animals.

The growing number of vegans in the world is another indication of the belief that using animals is counter to nature and immoral when in fact the exact opposite is true.

Vegan is a term coined by Donald Watson in 1944.  In his own definition it ” denotes a philosophy and way of living which seeks to exclude — as far as is possible and practical — all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose; and by extension, promotes the development and use of animal-free alternatives for the benefit of humans, animals and the environment. In dietary terms it denotes the practice of dispensing with all products derived wholly or partly from animals.

Note that the goal is to the benefit of humans yet denying humans animal-derived food and clothing can’t be considered a benefit unless he is thinking of some fairy tale benefit.  The goal is to benefit animals and the environment as well.  As if man should sacrifice his self for the benefit of animals and the environment?

Tom Regan, a leading proponent of animal rights and professor emeritus of philosophy at North Carolina State University, argues that animals are entities which possess “inherent value, and therefore have “basic moral rights,” and that the principal moral right they possess is “the right to respectful treatment.”  Regan additionally argues that animals have a “basic moral right not to be harmed,” which can be overridden only when the individual’s right not to be harmed is “morally outweighed” by “other valid moral principles.” From this “rights view,” Regan argues that “animal agriculture, as we know it, is unjust” even when animals are raised “humanely.”

Tom Regan is wrong in so many ways.  If animals possess inherent values, we should not conclude therefore that they have rights.  My computer has an inherent value to me but it doesn’t have rights.  It is property.  As are all animals.  All animals are property.  They have status, not rights.

Regan is also wrong in the use of the term “basic moral right” There is only one fundamental right and that is the right to life.  This right is a concept applied only to man in a social context, not to animals.  His use of the word moral is also misplaced.  Morality is a concept applied to the actions of men who either act morally according to their nature as rational beings or immorally meaning irrationally to the detriment of his own life.

In his book The Case for Animal Rights,.  Regan points out that we routinely ascribe inherent value, and thus the right to be treated with respect, to humans who are not rational, including infants and the severely mentally impaired.

What he fails to understand is that infants, the severely mentally impaired and even many elderly don’t really have rights in our society.  They have status.  An infant or child is simply not permitted to exercise the rights that an adult is.  We routinely lock up people who are mentally impaired or infirm due to old age.  And yet we want to make sure that chickens aren’t kept in cages and are allowed to roam free by right?

Tom Regan’s writings, amongst others, have fed the move for animal rights and veganism.

If you don’t eat meat or other animal products because you believe it to be healthier for you that would be a proper moral choice because at the centre of your choice is yourself.

If you don’t eat meat because you equate an animal’s life to be equal to your own then that would be an immoral choice cheapening your own life and raising the life an animal to the status of humans.

What is somewhat ironic is that prior to a technological and capitalist world, vegans could not survive.  They need the variety of fresh fruit and vegetables only available in a global free market and they need the vitamin supplements (calcium, vitamin B12, Vitamin D, Iron and Iodine) available only through the advancements made by science and technology.

I mention this because vegans, for the most part, share many of the beliefs of the left of the political spectrum:  anti-industrial, socialist, anti-capitalist, anti-technological and above all egalitarian.

Human egalitarianism, (in the way the left uses it) is the false belief not that all humans are politically equal before the law, but that people either are or should be equal in personal attributes, and virtues, regardless of their natural endowments or individual choices, performance and character.   This is a denial of reality.  People are born with a varying degree of attributes or though personal choice are able to be of greater or lesser value to others.

Animal egalitarianism or species egalitarianism: is human egalitarianism taken one step further to include not just all humans but all animals.  Not in just a political sense that all animals share a right to life.  But in that same metaphysical sense that all animals are equal regardless of their attributes or values.  They equate a rational man with a new-born seal, or a cow, or a chicken.

Nature and reality have created many animal species with varying attributes and endowments.  Superior to all is the rational animal, man.  Those who would have us ban the seal hunt or give rights to animals are fighting reality.  They see that reality has created an injustice in their eyes (that all animals are not created equal) and are using man-made institutions, like the courts, to correct this injustice.  They will inevitably fail of course as does anyone who denies reality.  But not before people suffer as a consequence.  It may be the thousands of sealers left unemployed when their livelihood is taken away or it may be the Swiss person imprisoned for keeping only one goldfish when we all know that goldfish are social animals and have a right to a companion.

(Originally aired on Just Right, Show #143, March 18th, 2010.  To listen to the show go to //www.justrightmedia.org.)

Oct 082009
 

Canada’s Privacy Commissioner, or Privacy Czar as she has been called, has just released her annual report to Parliament.  Now I have never given too much thought to the comings and goings of the Privacy Commissioner except perhaps on a couple of occasions… must recently the decision this summer to investigate complaints against the Social Networking site facebook.   Prior to that it was the warning to Google that its Street View project MAY violate Canadian Law.

These investigations got me wondering about such things as Do we have a right to privacy?  If so, how is it defined?  What are the powers of this Privacy Commissioner we keep hearing about?  What laws are there to protect our right to privacy?  Are these laws reasonable?

My knee jerk reaction to the notion of a right to privacy was that we don’t have one!  Other than the fact that people can’t just come into my house uninvited I thought that as soon as I walked out my front door any illusion of privacy ended.  Well, as is sometimes the case, my knee-jerk reaction was wrong.

Like most things political or philosophical I often turn to Ayn Rand for a bit of guidance and in doing so this time I found a great quote from her book The Fountainhead.   “Civilization is the progress toward a society of privacy.  The savage’s whole existence is public, ruled by the laws of his tribe.  Civilization is the process of setting men free from men.”

Apparently Rand had some idea that privacy is something of value.  But is it a right?  I had to think about it some more since Rand herself never actually wrote much more on the topic than the quote I just read.

This is what I have reasoned so far.  We do have a right to privacy but it is not a fundamental right.  It is a corollary of other rights that we have…the right to own property, the right to our life and liberty, and the right to enter into contracts with others.

The extension of a right to privacy is often a natural consequence of owning property.  Basically we can build a house and shut the doors and close the blinds and be confident that we are enjoying our privacy…away from the prying eyes of the rest of the tribe.

The right to privacy is also a consequence of our right to enter into consensual contracts or agreements with others.  Every time you go to a website that asks you if you agree to a set of terms before entering the site or becoming a member (as with facebook) you are entering into an agreement with that company.  If the terms are that they will respect your privacy and not share your information well that’s just dandy.  But if the terms of membership are that they will keep your information indefinitely and may even share it with others.  Well you know that is just dandy too.  Remember if you click on agree and become a member you are consenting to their privacy policy.  You always had the right to choose not to become a member.

Enter the privacy commissioner.

Back in 2000 the Parliament of Canada passed Bill C6 or the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (PIPEDA for short). This act made it clear that the government now had an interest in you clicking that little “I agree” button and an interest in your consensual relationship with sites like facebook, myspace, twitter or any other web-site or brick and mortar business for that matter.

The Act created a position called the Privacy Commissioner who has very real powers and authority.  Some of these powers might surprise you.  Here are a few…. Tell me after hearing about them if think Privacy Czar is a more appropriate title than Privacy Commissioner.

Section 12 of the act says:

The Commissioner may, when conducting an investigation

1)    SUMMON and ENFORCE the appearance of persons before the Commissioner and COMPEL them to give oral or written evidence on oath and to produce any records and things that the Commissioner considers necessary to investigate the complaint in the same manner and to the same extent as a superior court of record;

This means that if you are a business owner with a complaint against you (by the way the complainant can be anonymous and anonymity is guaranteed) the Commissioner can force you to come before her and force you to give evidence. Remember this is before any actual charges are laid if ever.

2)    Receive and accept any evidence and other information, whether on oath, by affidavit or otherwise, that the Commissioner sees fit, whether or not is or would be admissible in a court of law (emphasis mine).

This is sounding very much like the infamous Human Rights Commissions.  Facts don’t seem to matter in their investigations.  Evidence may not be admissible in a court of law but can become a crucial part of their investigation, even though it may be hearsay or even lies.

3)    At any reasonable time, enter any premises, other than a dwelling-house, occupied by an organization on satisfying any security requirements of the organization relating to the premises.

There are other officials who can do this you realize including safety inspectors, fire inspectors, Ministry of Labor officials and the like.  But do you realize that even the police can’t do this without probable cause or a warrant?  Although they can do it apparently if the Commissioner requests them to.

4)    Examine or obtain copies of, or extracts from, records found in any premises entered under paragraph (d) that contain matter relevant to the investigation.

So, apparently the privacy of the anonymous complainant is respected but not the premises or records of the businessman under investigation.  Granted what is discovered during these searches is supposed to be kept confidential I still have to ask myself the question how did we ever survive without a Privacy Commissioner?

The Act goes on to further describe the powers of the Commissioner but the last one I’ll mention is that the punishment for obstructing the Commissioner during the course of her responsibilities can be a fine up to $100,000.

Is it really necessary to have this level of heavy handed bureaucracy to protect a right that up until 2000 was dealt with in our civil and criminal courts?  I don’t think so.  I am an advocate for the rule of law and I believe that government has as its prime function the protection of our rights but I think that a number of people have gone about protecting our right to privacy in the wrong way.

The function of the justice system is to protect our rights according to law and according to established rules of justice which are over 700 years old in our common law heritage.  You should not be subject to government agents compelling you to give testimony against yourself.  You should not be subject to searches of your business and seizure of your records without probable grounds or a warrant.  A complaint from an anonymous person, who may very well just be a rival businessman, is not enough to have our own rights violated by a government bureaucrat.

If we think that our right to privacy is being violated then legal mechanisms already exist to have them addressed: the criminal and civil courts.  An impartial judge could determine whether or not a contract was violated or a property trespassed.  The creation of a Privacy Czar (or more precisely at the present, Tsarina) only establishes a monolithic bureaucracy whose main goal is to scare the public into thinking that every time they log onto their computer some evil hacker is going to steal their credit card information or cyber-molest their children.

The first line of defense to protecting your rights rests with each and every one of us.  Just as you would lock your doors at night there are steps you should take to protect your privacy online.  We can’t just be lazy and hope that the government is going to do the job for us every time, especially at the expense of our more fundamental rights.

If you don’t want your information compromised by the companies you deal with then find out what they intend to do with the information and if you don’t like it don’t give them your information.

When I go to my local electronics store to buy a camera and the cashier asks me for my phone number I don’t give it to them!

When a major newspaper calls me up as they did last week to give me a great deal on a subscription to which I agree they can ask me for my credit card information but I won’t give it to them.  I ask them for their extension then I call the number of the paper and only then do I give them my credit card information.

You are in control of your information.  And it is only by being too free with your information that you feel that the government should be proactive and interrogate businesses even if no crime has been committed.

Read your contracts.  Be judicial in giving out your information.  If a company misuses your information take them to court!  But to have a Privacy Czar knocking on any businesses door, compelling them to give information which may be used against them, and doing things even policemen find difficult to do scares me more than spam e-mail.  It’s far worse than finding an advertizing cookie on my computer, and infinitely worse than having a picture of my street on Google Earth.

(Originally broadcast on Just Right October 8th, 2009  (Show #123).  To download the show visit //www.justrightmedia.org)