Tuesday, February 28, 2006


Letter to Congressperson

Dear Senator/Representative:

I write to ask you to investigate the President's recent actions which appear to undermine the rule of law.

In apparent defiance of Constitutionally provided checks and balances, the Bush administration recently admitted publically a program of wiretapping citizens of the United States without warrents. On the face of it, the NSA eavesdropping was simply illegal.

The American people need to trust the elected leadership of our nation. The erosion of that trust harms the nation in myriad ways, and complicates the already vexing task of governance.

To resotre trust, to bring openess, transparency and appropriate checks and balances to the highest levels of the government of the United States, I urge you to weigh carefully the nature and gravity of the possible offenses of the Bush presidency. I urge you to hold public hearings. I urge you to take appropriate action on the findings of those hearings.


Above is a model letter. Readers, send this or a similar letter to your congressional delegation and your local newspapers.

To obtain the e-mail address, click here.

Monday, February 27, 2006


What Would Patrick Henry Say Today?

Some forty years ago I memorized the speech of Patrick Henry before the Virginia Assembly in order to pass seventh grade. You know the one, "Give me liberty or give me death." Visiting Williamsburg not long ago, I stood in a replica of the original building in which Patrick Henry gave many of his impassioned speeches.

As I looked around the chamber, I imagined what the patriot and founder would say today. His speech might go like this:

Friends, we gather today to debate the policy and law of the United States. As we chart the course for our generation and the generations that follow, let us remember that foundation which we laid out so well more than two hundred years ago. The tyranny we fought then came not from aliens and foreigners, but from our own good King George. The oppression we overthrew was not that of a faceless, nameless enemy that lurks in the dark; but was of edicts, decrees and illegal acts from our own sovereign.

Parliament in London passed Acts usurping our own powers and rights, granted to us in our original charters. I denounced them, saying "Caesar had his Brutus--Charles the first his Cromwell--and George III--may he profit from their example."

Today we face a nameless, faceless enemy who desires to ruin us; to end our way of life; and to stamp out all our freedoms. We call these criminals "terrorists" and invoke a vast, shadowy conspiracy as justification for all sorts of egregious abuses of power. When we abrogate the powers reserved to the Congress and to the courts to the executive, we do the work of these would-be tyrants. Nothing will so surely bring our American dream to ruin as to allow the executive the privileges he now claims; nothing will crush our people as much as permitting the president of the United States to claim supremacy of power in the name of safety and security.

And he is doing just that. He says he does not have to obtain warrants to search our own citizens. He says he can hold our countrymen without charges. He takes the power to make war wholly on himself, without the people's Congress given the opportunity to object. He undermines the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, all in the name of security.

The Bill of Rights was not written to protect the guilty or those plotting the overthrow of the United States. It was created to protect the innocent. It stands as the finest work ever wrought by free men, protector and guarantor of those liberties this nation fought for from its birth to this very day. The Bill of Rights rests on the rule of law; centuries of American and British tradition; and ancient political wisdom reaching back to Plato and Socrates.

This president, George W. Bush, and his men, would destroy the rule of law in the name of saving it. He would crush the Bill or Rights to preserve the people who created it.

Once we can search or wiretap without a warrant, where does the power end? If the Congress passes a law, and the executive ignores it, what limit is on power? If the courts no longer hold sway over the law, but only the President, who can stop him?

You may say, "They have no interest in me, I'm no terrorist." But how can you guarantee they may not someday take in interest in you? You may say, "The citizen imprisoned without charges is suspected Al Queda." But if we imprison men on suspicion, how long before some enemy of yours accuses you, and sends you to prison? The long and sad history of human kind shows that power always seeks its own increase. History teaches that unlimited power is always abused. Motives, however noble, become corrupt when harnessed to power.

The stamp that I, Patrick Henry, put on this nation, remains written within you. You know I would never submit to this kind of slavery. Your ancestors fought and died that you would never bow before King George. What security is worth your priceless freedoms? Why do you pretend to forget the lessons of our youth? You know how I feel; I would chose death.

Selections from Patrick Henry’s 1775 speech to the Virginia Assembly follow:

This is no time for ceremony. The questing before the House is one of awful moment to this country. For my own part, I consider it as nothing less than a question of freedom or slavery; and in proportion to the magnitude of the subject ought to be the freedom of the debate.

Mr. President, it is natural to man to indulge in the illusions of hope. We are apt to shut our eyes against a painful truth, and listen to the song of that siren till she transforms us into beasts. Is this the part of wise men, engaged in a great and arduous struggle for liberty? Are we disposed to be of the number of those who, having eyes, see not, and, having ears, hear not, the things which so nearly concern their temporal salvation? For my part, whatever anguish of spirit it may cost, I am willing to know the whole truth; to know the worst, and to provide for it.

I have but one lamp by which my feet are guided, and that is the lamp of experience. I know of no way of judging of the future but by the past.

The millions of people, armed in the holy cause of liberty, and in such a country as that which we possess, are invincible by any force which our enemy can send against us.

Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!

Tuesday, February 21, 2006


Scattered Thoughts About Muslims, Sharia and Democracy

Recent events surrounding the publication of the cartoons disrespecting the Prophet Mohammad gave pundits around the world ample opportunity for inane commentary. Pronouncements that simply affirm "We're okay - they're not" are always well received, no matter how bone-headed. We saw and heard a lot of, "they simply don't get what free speech is all about," and precious little effort to really understand the Muslim viewpoint, much less genuine effort to reach out and engage them.

It's not enough to dismiss their complaints by saying, "they just don't get it." The implication - that they are stupid - generates understandable resentment. They would say that we do not take them seriously, and they would be right. These pronouncements come from people who do not feel threatened, but should be.

The advantages of allowing free speech, which we so take for granted, are not at all self-evident. Leaner societies than ours say they cannot tolerate the disorder free speech engenders. Of course, there is where freedom is needed most.

In our culture nearly everyone gets a public education up through secondary school, and a substantial number continue at a higher level. Here, free speech can be a given. In a culture where most instruction comes from religious schools, and few individuals advance beyond elementary levels, political authorities will say speech must be constrained. If someone says the wrong thing, riots in the streets could well result, as they have.

Even with our advantages, we are not so far removed from the cartoon rioters. In the USA,
no one dismisses people who want to ban flag burning by saying "they just don't get it." Surveys of American high school students show that over a third think the first amendment goes too far, over half think the government has the power to censor the internet and nearly three-fourths take our rights for granted. Oh, and 75% think flag burning is illegal (it's not... yet.)

Some Muslims, for example the daughter of the founder of the Fedayaeen, say the people in Muslim countries have been encouraged by their leadership to think the worst of the West. The leadership in those poor countries stir up fear, hate and now anger for their own political ends. Instead of honesty and democratic reform, the people are fed a diet of lies designed to unite them with a common enemy. Nothing so unites a people as a common enemy, and nothing else so entrenches the existing power.

Muslims immigrate to the West to take advantage of the material superiority we enjoy. Like everyone else, they want a better life for their families. At the same time, their leaders have no wish to integrate into our culture. For example, there is a Muslim movement within Great Britain to establish Sharia, or Islamic Law over British citizens. If they were to integrate into our culture, then the leaders would have to earn their positions through democratic processes. They fear democracy and the rule of the people because their own positions of power would be threatened. They are attempting to export their own tribal, feudal social order and establish it in western democracies under the name of "pluralism."

We have utterly failed to show the world how our material success relies on our free institutions. We failed to teach our own children the connection between the ability to publish offensive cartoons and the capacity to invent the internet.

We must do two things: First, we must insist that any adequate education include the rationale for and functioning of democratic governance. Courses that show the connection between productivity and free institutions must be part of any adequate education. These concepts need to be integrated into history and government classes. The government can influence religious schools by insisting that students seeking higher education receive these lessons and refusing aid to schools that do not teach them.

We need to do a better job of educating our own people and the rest of the world on why we need freedom of speech. People need to be shown how they personally benefit from allowing freedom of speech and the other rights we take for granted.

We cannot win this war with bombs. No quantity of munitions dropped on the hapless Afghans, Iraqis or Iranians will prevent the spread of Sharia. But I will fight it to my dying breath. We cannot allow our sons and daughters to come under the rule of narrow minded, absolutist intolerance.

Friday, February 17, 2006


Human Value Sans Theology

If we remove disputed theology from the question of what is essentially human, what is left? Well, it turns out, quite a bit.

We still have the facts of embryonic development. While it is clear that a human fetus, at the earliest stages of development, does not experience the human condition, it is equally clear that the fetus does know at least some things before birth.

We can safely say that at some time in its development, it can feel pain. It can react to light. It hears sounds. The eyes, ears, brain and the rest develop slowly, inexorably, as the cells strive to become a human being. .

If we base our choices on well established facts rather than theological dogmas, we will have great difficulty deciding exactly when an abortion is or is not permissible. We cannot define human life with precision without reliance on dogma. But we still must make the attempt, no matter how messy the result. The easy way out is to reach for whatever brand of dogma feels most comfortable, and to stop thinking or worrying about it. Far more difficult is the attempt to reason and think through the questions.

To forbid late term abortions, when the fetus surely can experience pain, seems like the appropriate course when we consider the facts. Likewise, to allow early abortions, when the fetus cannot properly be said to experience anything, also seems reasonable. But somewhere in between these two points is where we will want to draw the line.

To determine where, the most sensible course would be to make a case-by-case adjudication. The only person in possession of all the facts in a particular case would be the pregnant woman.

Under these circumstances, it seems necessary to grant to the woman the exclusive prerogative of making her own decisions in early pregnancy. By the same token, it would seem reasonable to legislate restrictions on late term abortions.

So, it turns out that we have an apology for the current state of affairs. This is not fully satisfying to anybody: we have two camps, each one convinced of their own utter moral superiority and each one bitter enemies of the other. A position that says simple answers are too simple cannot fit either ideology.

The battle between these two camps will likely continue until science and other developments render the conflict irrelevant.

In the meantime, there it is, the value of human life rereasoned.

Thursday, February 16, 2006


Who's Counting the Dead?

In the last 4 posts, I yammered on and on about how we Americans express the different values we place on different lives. This will be short.

We know with great precision exactly how many American lives have been lost in Iraq. We have no clue how many Iraqi lives have been lost. President Bush estimated the figure at 30,000. It could easily be three times that number.

We carefully counted the dead civilians from September 11th. All we know about civilian deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan is that they vastly outnumber the deaths of our solders and September 11th combined.

We take "every reasonable precaution" to prevent civilian deaths as a result of our combat operations. But during the early days of the Iraq war, we read of many horrible tragic deaths of women and children at the hands of US forces. Read in the Kansas City Star, not some leftist, fringe publicaiton. And, in the last month, we killed as many as a dozen bystanders when we used a remote controlled aircraft to strike at a terrorist in Pakistan. (The terrorist got away.)

What is the value of an Afghan, Pakistani or Iraqi life? How do our actions square up with our rhetoric?

If you were God, what judgment would you pronounce on the United States?

Wednesday, February 15, 2006


Every Person is a Sacred Child of God; More or Less, and With Exceptions

We, as a people, accord unequal values to different human lives. In this we copy our ancestors and every known human society. What is unique to us is our complete lack of self-awareness and our denial of patently obvious truths. Understanding actual practice gives us fresh insight into the controversies that swirl around us today, including the abortion and capital punishment issues.

As individuals, we commonly set money values on our own lives and the lives of others. What is a life insurance policy but an assessment of the cash value of a particular life? A family policy like some people get through work may provide for $5,000.00 payment on the death of a child, $75,000.00 on the death of a spouse, and $350,000.00 on the death of the worker. (These are figures from an actual policy.) This is just the most obvious way in which we express the different values of human lives.

Of course, wealthy lives carry much higher cash values. Policies for millions of dollars are actually more common than we suppose. We can purchase policies for key personnel in our companies, too, assessing the cash value of each particular life.

Although we would not want to say homeless bums and poor people are without value as human beings, we should face up to the fact that people without life insurance are not valued in the same way as those of us with life insurance.

A minor controversy in the Blogosphere erupted last October because one of those insufferable Hilton sisters was quoted in Vanity Fair as saying, "I'm 21 years old, I run two multi-million-dollar companies, I work my ass off. Like, what were you doing that was so fucking important at that age?" Of course, many of us were in teacher's college; or pre-med; or police or fireman's academy; or other endeavors that Ms Hilton would consider unimportant. A significant number of us were single mothers. Some of us, like me, struggled just to earn a living and continue getting an education. Clearly, though, she spoke for a large number of people who equate the value of a life with current earning power. (Anybody remember the film Roger and Me?)

I don't want to suggest that money is the main way we express the value of human life. "By no means!" as St Paul would say. We have lots of ways to assert that lives are of unequal value and importance.

When we allow people in our streets to murder each other with handguns, we also express the relative value of different human lives. The lives of a few hundred drug dealers in the inner city do not outweigh the value of our "right" to sell and profit from handgun ownership. Ooops, maybe that's a little unfair. Let's say, rather, the value of these lives is less than the investment it would take to stop the killings. To be fully fair, the cost of that investment would mean some actual sacrifice for the middle and upper classes. It would take integration of neighborhoods, opportunities for poor people, changes in gun laws, better policing, better education, etc, etc.

Speaking of murder, it is obvious that the life of a convicted murderer often carries a negative value; that is, many people feel that murderers deserve death themselves. In recent centuries, the death penalty has declined significantly in the civilized world, with only two of the top 30 developed countries in the world still using it. And even in the United States, we no longer execute people convicted of witchcraft or even theft. (Why did they stop public hangings of pickpockets in England? Too many spectators had their pockets picked.)

Of course, the death penalty is still quite popular in countries Americans sneer at: communist China, Laos, Cuba, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Iran, North Korea, and Iraq, to name a few. (The last three were called an "axis of evil.")

Even though black people represent a relatively small minority in this country, some 43% of all people executed in the US in the last 30 years were black, and 55% of the people currently awaiting execution are black. It's interesting to think about why this is so; but one conclusion is inescapable: if we judge only on the basis of actual practice, black lives are valued much less in the US than white lives. Death penalty statistics are simply another way of expressing the unequal value of various lives.

I cannot help but think the denial of health insurance to poor people and the unequal distribution of care also speaks volumes about how we value life in this country. The health of the poor matters very little, even though, ironically, the middle class and upper class pay when the health of a poor person deteriorates to a life-threatening level. Of course, I am referring to the fact that hospital emergency rooms are obliged to attempt to save the life of a dying individual. (But live or die, that care is paid for by the hospital through overcharging insured individuals, government subsidy and charitable donations. A more sensible approach would be to provide preventative care to the poor, so as to keep them from becoming disabled by their chronic diseases. Instead, we wait till they go on Medicaid and are totally disabled to give them care. But I digress.)

If we extend life-saving preventative measures to middle and upper class persons but not to poor people, we act in a way that demonstrates the relative value assigned to the lives of those concerned. As a culture, without making a deliberate choice, we decided the lives of those with money are worth more than those without.

Let's see, I covered insurance, earnings, crime and healthcare. My point: our modes of action in these areas demonstrate how we actually value life. Here it is useful to remember the distinction between words and deeds; what we admit to ourselves and others as opposed to actual conditions on the ground.

Next: How We Wage War

Tuesday, February 14, 2006


It's Still Not Murder

Suppose, for the sake of argument, we say an immortal soul enters the human egg along with the sperm's DNA whenever gametes unite. What follows? Does it automatically follow that the deliberate destruction of the fertilized cell is murder?

Well, you may say a soul is a soul is a soul, and that is that. But remember, the Bible itself gives us conflicting guidance and little insight into the precise nature of souls.

My belief: no, it's not murder, even if you grant, for the sake of argument, that the soul enters the body at conception.

To understand why, we must consider two things: the nature of what it is to be a human being and our ignorance regarding the precise nature of the soul.

Consider the ball of cells that very quickly results from the fertilization of the egg: call it a "blastocyst." This ball of cells has no nerve cells, no brain, no eyes, etc, etc. We can safely say if has no ability to experience physical pain or suffering, no capacity to fear, hate or love.

It is human, of course, but is it a human being?

The hallmarks of being human consists of at least the following attributes, singly or in combination: self-awareness; intelligence; ability to use tools; ability to use language; and sociability. Human being are essentially moral creatures; that is, they alone may truly be said to worthy of praise or blame. Only human beings have a conscience; only human beings can learn the difference between right and wrong. Only human beings experience shame and guilt (as far as we know.) I'm sure the average person could think of more attributes of being human. Now, I don't want to say that the absence of any one of these traits is the total absence of humanity. But the absence of all these traits in any form other than potentiality must mean the absence of true humanity.

Because the Bible is contradictory on the precise nature of the soul, any guesses about the capacities of the soul are mere speculations. But let me guess anyway. It does not appear likely that the soul, incarnated in a physical human, would be able to experience anything not experienced by that body. For example, it would not make sense to say of a two month old child's soul, "He's in a real moral dilemma; he's made poor choices." Or speaking of a sixteen cell blastocyst, "Her soul sorrows for all the poor people in the world." Or of a one-month old fetus still in the womb, "His soul was uplifted by the sermon."

The soul, at the blastocyst stage of development, does not make moral choices. It does not have opinions; it has no self-awareness. It feels no love, not even for its mother. Neither does it experience pain. It cannot make moral decision because it has no capacity to act. It cannot sensibly be said to face choices: it has no nerves, bones, muscles or sinews. It cannot speak. It cannot think.

Thus, the destruction of a blastocyst cannot rise to the level of murder, even if an immortal soul enters the egg cell at the moment of conception. This is because the cluster of cells at that stage is only potentially a human being. It lacks any of the attributes or properties essential to being human, other than its origin as human cells.

As an aside: if we restrict the definition of "human being" to mean, "cells from a human body" then the whole argument is moot. That definition excludes the "soul" or any non-material aspect of being human. We would not want to argue that the soul resides in each and every cell. To do so is to invite madness: for example, we could never treat cancer if we thought the malignant cells were, each one, human beings.

We can posit, of course, that the soul does undergo human experiences even before the body can. No Christian that I know of has advanced this idea. But if it were true, it leads to some very interesting questions. Is the soul awake when we sleep? Is the soul conscious when we are in a coma? What purpose would be served by having a soul that is fully aware, awake, and experiencing life when the human body it is attached to is not aware, awake, or having any experiences at all? What's the point of that? Is this a Hindu concept? If the soul has experiences prior to the development of a body, then how does it do that? Where does it come from? Does it exist before conception? And is that to claim re-incarnation? Are we Christians or Hindus?

I wish Jesus had spent more time on Earth after the resurrection. Perhaps he would have given us some clear, specific information that would answer these questions. In the meantime, we are left to ponder events we cannot experience and mysteries we cannot solve.

In the face of our overwhelming ignorance, it seems unwise to declare ourselves in sole possession of the truth and to try to force others to bow to our arrogance.

If we believe that God created us, then He must have hidden the answers to these questions for His own inscrutable reasons. Do we want to claim for ourselves the knowledge of the mechanics of the soul? How can we know these things, when the Bible itself speaks with many mixed messages and conflicting views? On what evidence do we base our beliefs about souls?

Of course, there are many people with "proof" of the precise nature of the soul; "proof" of the existence of God; "proof" that the world is flat; "proof" that souls reincarnate like so many aluminum cans; "proof" that un-baptized souls go to hell; "proof" that animals have souls; "proof" that the soul weighs exactly 6.3 ounces; "proof" that the earth is only 8,000 years old; etc., etc.

What's wanted is a little healthy skepticism and a little critical thinking. What's needed is a careful reading of the Bible, a reading of what it actually says as opposed to what we need it to say to support our theories. God gave us brains. Let's use them.

Next: How We Actually Value Human Life

Monday, February 13, 2006

The way we as a culture value human life is demonstrably inconsistent, incoherent and conflicted. The values of a significant number of Americans are founded on religious considerations that defy reason and spit in the eye of compromise. As tolerance declines, the possibility of consensus fades and the fear of the majority trampling on the minority appears well founded.

How we value human life obviously makes a huge difference in our ethics and morals. Our ethics and morals dictate what laws we favor and thus what politicians we support. The conflict rages in the Senate and the Supreme Court even as I write this.

What's a rational person to think? What is a reasonable approach to valuing human life?

With a series of short essays, I'd like to share one Sunday school teacher's notions. And I'd like to start with a deconstruction of the "Conservative" view, the view that I would prefer to call "radical right-to-life."

These people think, like a lot of us, that humans are endowed with immortal souls. They believe the soul enters the body upon conception, that is, at the precise moment the egg and sperm unite. Thus every fertilized egg is a human being. To deliberately prevent implantation in the womb; the subsequent growth and development of the embryo; and the birth of a child, all these things are (in their theology) quite literally murder.

The beauty of this view is that it can be fully developed in four sentences. It involves simple, clear ideas and even a fairly young child understands it. The extreme simplicity of this version of reality sends up a warning signal, but doesn't automatically make it irrational. Just note in passing that when there is controversy; and one side claims a simple truth, that side is often wrong.

So why would anyone disagree with such a straightforward set of statements?

Well, there's the Christian Bible, the foundation of Christian thought. The Bible does not clearly and unequivocally claim that there is such a thing as an immortal soul, much less that the soul enters the body at the moment of conception. If I err in this assertion, I invite correction. (E-mail me: rereason@hotmail.com .)

Now, at times, the Bible does have God saying things like "Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart…" But this can be taken in any number of ways: God knows everything, including the future; souls exist prior to conception and God knows them; God selected you before you came into existence.

People do try to make this passage mean what it clearly does not: that the soul of the prophet entered his mother’s womb. Now it does say that he was conceived in his mother's womb, which is pretty strong. But what human being, what mammal is not normally conceived in its mother's womb? Interestingly, in places the Bible says that animals have souls. Some more modern writers have concluded that animals have souls in exactly the same manner as humans. Some passages support this: for example, Ecclesiastes 3:21 "Who knows if the spirit of man rises upward and if the spirit of the animal goes down into the earth?"

Then there's that little matter of immortality. Certain passages of the Bible speak of the death of the soul. Ezekiel 18:4 "The soul who sins is the one who will die."

Other more modern writers draw distinctions between souls and spirits: for example, here, and here.

It's not always clear from the text what the Biblical writers thought. In some places, there are suggestions of an afterlife; in others, the text suggests there is not. The afterlife imagined by various readers of the Bible also varies greatly. Some theologians argue that, upon resurrection, humans will experience an odd sort of half-material, half-nonmaterial existence. Others flatly assert that we will be the same as we are now, only more so. It's not clear that a soul is required in either case, because it is the body that is resurrected.

Of course, each modern writer claims to know the one correct, unique truth. They also assert that disagreement with their views is sin and will lead to the death of the soul or its roasting in the fires of hell.

Now, I'm no expert. I don't speak Greek, Hebrew or Aramaic. I figure most people are more like me than the experts who staked out their positions and earn their living from it. I figure most people want to be reasonable and reach sensible conclusions that are helpful, not dogmatic. The point of the foregoing exercise is to say expert opinion is well and truly divided on the nature of the soul as written about in the Bible. In such a case, it seems unwise to legislate or engage in hostilities based on any particular version of the truth. Of course, the radical right-to-life movement wants to outlaw abortion, and is often quite hostile to views that slightly differ even just a little from its own views.

Suppose, for the sake of argument, we grant that souls enter the egg along with Dad's DNA. What follows from that? See my next post to find out what sorts of troubles arise.

Friday, February 10, 2006


Person or Property?

Senator Sam Brownback, interviewed on NPR, said recently that legally, everything is either a person or property. He believes, in his heart of hearts, that a human embryo is a person. He said the courts have treated "the unborn" as property.

As I listened to the man who would be president, I reflected on how wonderful, how easy, simple and clear life is for people who can neatly divide the cosmos into two well defined categories. Up and down, north and south, property or person, on or off, us and them, right and wrong - neat and tidy. Binary views such as Brownback's have great appeal; answers to questions that seemed hard become quite apparent; even young children can understand you when you explain your views; and your message carries through the news media quite well. This kind of off and on logic serves as the conceptual basis of computer programming. Alas, it does have limitations.

Brownback then went on to compare the status of "the unborn" with the status of slaves before the civil war. In his view, before the war, slaves were property; after the war, they became people. He wants to "emancipate" the "unborn." What could be more noble, or more wrong?

I'm no lawyer, so I can't say for sure that his concept of the law is oversimplified. It does seem to me that the law creates entities that are persons for some purposes and property for other purposes. We call these creations "corporations." And I hate to confuse the issue with facts, but the Constitution of the United States originally provided that slaves were counted as "three-fifths of a person." Clearly, not completely human but not purely property either. Further, it also seems to me there are whole classes of objects the law does not address. For example, does the moon belong to the United States? It would seem so, if we applied 16th Century concepts of international law. After all, we are the only power to actually set foot there, and we planted our flag there. But who owns the sun? Since it's not a person, it must be property. I guess it's just unclaimed as of yet.

Here's a binary idea to chew on: there are properties (or attributes) of objects that emerge only with time and use; and there are properties that are inherent in the composition of objects. (These are logical, not legal uses of the word "property.") That is, some aspects of what a thing is can only be seen as the result of action, while other aspects of a thing belong to it no matter what happens. The former might be called "emergent" properties and the latter "inherent" properties. An example might help.

Suppose you are examining a computer. You take apart the machine. You find wires and microchips, magnets and lasers, motors and whatnot. You do this with several computers. From your analysis, you can make a list of the inherent properties of computers: they are mostly plastic; they contain metals; the internal construction follows an orderly pattern; etc, etc. But based on this kind of dissection, you would never know that computers are word processors. The attribute of "word processing" is an emergent property, not an inherent property. It is based on what the device can do, not how it is made. No matter how skilled your dissection, you would never know that the computer was used to write an essay.

In my view, the attribute of being a "human being" is an emergent property. That is, what makes us human is more than the accidents of genetics and biology. The fact that a group of cells has human DNA is not enough.

I want to ask Senator Brownback, "How about a lock of hair, Sam? Is it a person or property?" After all, it has all the DNA needed to make a complete human being? And what about a tumor? Is my friend's cancer "sacred" human life and in need of legal protections? Any given tumor cell contains all the same DNA as an egg cell from the same person.

Of course, a human embryo is not a cancer or a lock of hair. Neither is it a human life, at least in the early stages of development. It is potentially a human life. As such, it must be treated with respect. However, its destruction is not murder.

Of course, if you believe the human soul enters the egg cell along with the sperm, you will have a different view. That's the subject of another essay.

NPR's write up of the interview is here: it includes a link labelled "listen."

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