Are children more important than dogs?



The Original Sin, Bartholomeus Spranger
Intrinsic value: the value of a being in itself without regard to other beings.

My morality is so different from that of my fellows, that they usually think less of me in proportion to what they know of me. For instance, I see no reason to believe that my species is more important than other species. This means that we have no special right to compassion or respect, and I would even extend this claim to presumably inanimate objects, although I’m unsure that any object is truly inanimate. When I touched on this matter a few months ago, the mother of my grandchild took it to mean that if her child and a dog were drowning, I would be as apt to save the dog as the child, and was therefore an unfit grandfather.

While she was correct in interpreting my words to mean that I don’t hold her daughter to have a greater intrinsic right to life than a dog, I still prefer her child to a dog, so I would therefore save her child. This didn’t satisfy her because she needed me to believe that her child was of greater intrinsic value than a dog (a rather odd demand given that intrinsic value exists in a realm beyond comparison), and the fact that I didn’t regard this claim as self-evident could only mean that I am worse than wrong, I am deranged. Sad to say, I regarded her claim as anything but self-evident. However great her child’s perceived importance, it would be based upon the mother’s values, values that are necessarily relative. For instance, she might argue that her child is more important than a dog because her child has greater beauty, intelligence, versatility, creativity, or whatever, but by its very definition, intrinsic value exists independent of comparative value. This means that it cannot be proven, and if it cannot be proven, why should anyone believe it? But what if she is right, and her child is more important than a dog based upon its greater virtues, would this not mean that if some other child had more virtues than her child, then that child would be more important than her child?

Claims regarding our species’ importance aren’t claims that descended from heaven on platinum tablets (except to the extent that we seek to justify them by putting words into the mouth of God), but are instead human claims that support human values. We hold a child to be of greater value than a dog, and the life of our own children to be of greater value than the lives of other people’s children, not because we can prove it, but because believing it favors our evolutionary viability. This is why every parent would choose to save the life of her own average child over the life of someone else’s genius or, perhaps, over the life of everyone else’s genius. We are evolutionarily disposed to favor our own flesh and blood over other people’s flesh and blood and our own tribe, however defined, over other people’s tribes, and this is why we invented the concept of intrinsic importance.

To repeat, I see no reason to regard my species as more important than any other species. The polar bear has as much right to respect as we do, so it is no less noble to work for the welfare of polar bears—or slugs for that matter—than for the welfare of Syrian orphans. I believe the same about seemingly inanimate objects. This means that rocks deserve respect. Tin cans deserve respect. The whole earth and everything on it has has a right to respect, and while we must use the other species and the materials that the earth offers in order to live, it would behoove us to use as little of those species and materials as possible, and to treat them as well as possible because we have no right to them unless it can be argued that power constitutes right.

Just as the mother of my granddaughter saw me as immoral in denying the intrinsic value of her child over that of a dog, I see her as immoral for dividing the earth into things that are important and things that are of little or no importance, and claiming that she has the wisdom to separate the two. Every time she—or any of us—throws a banana peel in the garbage, we show contempt for the earth, and this constitutes a grave immorality. Inasmuch as possible, all things must be treated well. All things must be regarded as our brothers and sisters, and this means dogs and inanimate objects as well as children. Why? Because we are not the creators of this world but its inhabitors, and all of the things that we see around us are our neighbors. It’s a high standard with implications that are hard to determine, and demands that I often fail to meet, but it is my standard. My failures are endless, and it is to this extent that I relate to the Biblical concept of original sin, original sin consisting of, at the very least, those behaviors that we must perform in order to survive, behaviors that invariably involve the destruction of other life forms and the alteration of non-life forms. We don’t exploit because we have an intrinsic right to exploit but because we have an inbred preference for our own lives, families, and tribes over other lives, families, and tribes. We are an illustration of Tennyson’s words:

Who trusted God was love indeed
And love Creation
s final law
Tho
Nature, red in tooth and claw
With ravine, shriek
d against his creed.


While we can never rise to the standard portrayed by the first two lines, perhaps by giving up our self-congratulatory belief that our species (and especially our family and tribe) holds an exalted state in the scheme of things, we might at least rise above the last two.

19 comments:

Elephant's Child said...

Not only do I not think we are the most important species, I also don't think that this earth is ours. We share it. And aren't very often good neighbours.
So no arguments here.

Stephen Hayes said...

I often think humans are a blight on this planet. Sooner or later there will be a catastrophic die- off, probably due to a failure of agriculture based on climate change, and the ERth will begin to recover.

PhilipH said...

I throw my banana skins around the rose bush as it feeds the bush. But were I to live in a tower block flat, with no garden at all, then the garbage bin is going to be its final resting place.

You're getting quite 'biblical' in this post, insofar as I understand it Snowy. I think I understand what you're getting at but I don't understand why you're putting this question.

In my simple take on the 'dog or child' saving question it all boils down to which you LOVE most. If it were me watching a dog I love struggling in the water along with my grandchild, whom I also love dearly there is no question as to how I would act. The cherished dog would have to fend for itself or perish in the attempt.

I would wager that 99.9% of humans would act the same.

Let me ask you: if your cat was drowning and your neighbour's dog was in the same predicament which would YOU choose to rescue and save?

Love, I contend, is the driving force ... not intrinsic value.

Hope your painful times are easing as much as possible dear chap.

Snowbrush said...

“I also don't think that this earth is ours.”

Our species thinks differently because it justifies our desire to exploit freely. Worse yet, we pretend that a deity make everything just for us.

“I often think humans are a blight on this planet. “

We’re a boon to cockroaches, rats, cancer cells, and various viruses and bacteria, but we’re not good for much else, yet I would guess that 99% of people would vehemently disagree.

“You're getting quite 'biblical' in this post, insofar as I understand it Snowy.”

When taken symbolically, the Bible has a lot to offer, but it has gotten a bad name because it is so often taken literally and has thus inspired much evil (it also contains much evil). I especially relate to the original sin part, because I can’t live a day with causing something to die, and to me, this necessity to live by bloodshed constitutes original sin, and my knowledge of it (which is represented by the Adam and Eve story of eating the forbidden fruit—which I interpret as a coming of age story) causes me to feel depraved because I cannot morally justify killing, even to live. Peggy has no such problem, and thinks I take many things way too seriously. And it’s true, I take death seriously, and I take my ability to exercise control over my environment seriously. I can’t so much as move a rock from the front yard to the backyard without questioning the morality of my action.

“In my simple take on the 'dog or child' saving question it all boils down to which you LOVE most.”

Exactly. It has nothing to do with intrinsic worth because intrinsic worth is but a human invention by which we seek to justify our own perceived importance over other lives, lives that, in our imagination, don’t have intrinsic worth. For instance, as we see it, the worth of chickens only comes from our desire to eat them and their eggs.

“If it were me watching a dog I love struggling in the water along with my grandchild, whom I also love dearly there is no question as to how I would act.”

It would be a rare person who would save a cherished dog instead of a cherished child, but in some other situation, I might save the dog. My point is that I can’t make a rule by which humans come first every time, and suspect that I wouldn’t know how I would react in many situations until I experienced them.

“Let me ask you: if your cat was drowning and your neighbour's dog was in the same predicament which would YOU choose to rescue and save?”

It would be a no-brainer unless I hated my cat. On a realistic level, I’ve yet to hear of a person who tried to save a dog from drowning but what the person drowned and the dog made it to shore, and I assume the same would be true with a cat.

“I throw my banana skins around the rose bush as it feeds the bush. But were I to live in a tower block flat, with no garden at all, then the garbage bin is going to be its final resting place”

Peggy and I produce 15 to 20 gallons of garbage a month, and it consists entirely of things that I can neither compost nor recycle. If I lived in a flat where I had no opportunity to either compost or recycle, I would go looking for places to take my recycling and compost because I would feel profoundly immoral for throwing it away. I was at a friend’s house last week, and saw that he had put several bottles into his trash, so I took them out to bring them home. I don’t know how he felt about my action.

billy pilgrim said...

“Hello babies. Welcome to Earth. It's hot in the summer and cold in the winter. It's round and wet and crowded. On the outside, babies, you've got a hundred years here. There's only one rule that I know of, babies-"God damn it, you've got to be kind.”

you weren't being kind to the mother of your grandchild.

ellen abbott said...

I whole heartedly agree. every thing on this planet is equal, an equal expression of creation. there is not a single animate or inanimate thing that is intrinsically better that anything else. it's why I taught my children and grandchildren not to kill indiscriminately (that bug deserves it's life the same as you), not to strip leaves off a tree because you can, not to stomp on a plant because you are pissed off about something, etc. I also agree with Philip...it is love that determines who or what we will save, not any feeling of intrinsic value. the big divide between east and west religiously is that eastern religions consider us to be a part of nature (god) and western religion believe us to apart from nature (god).

Snowbrush said...

“you weren't being kind to the mother of your grandchild.”

It was a blogpost that offended her. Many things that I wouldn’t tell someone in person, I write about. This means that reading my blog is a “do it at your own risk” affair, and I make no apology for that. Here is where I’m my most real and thoughtful, and people can deal with it or not because I wouldn’t change it for anyone. If I err, it’s in that I sometimes share my blog address with people who don’t deserve it because they need me to think like they do. This particular woman took pride in her openness, but it later turned out that she was deeply offended by many of my opinions, and that that particular post was simply the straw that broke the camel’s back, and gave her an excuse to release anger that she had been accumulating for years. I offered to talk with her either alone, or with friends, or with a counselor, but she was unwilling, so, having done all that I could to make things right, I have a clean conscience about my actions.

“I whole heartedly agree.”

I’m often surprised by how much agreement I get regarding posts that I think will bring mostly disapproval.

“ I also agree with Philip...it is love that determines who or what we will save, not any feeling of intrinsic value.”

I would say sometimes yes and sometimes no. For example, most people, on principal, would save the life of a stranger over the life of a dog, not because they loved the stranger (I don’t believe that anyone can truly love a stranger) but because they assume that human life trumps dog life.

Myrna R. said...

Your argument is very rational and I agree with it. Hope I never have to decide between two loved ones - human or animal. I value all life and I love what you said about respect, even for innanimate objects. I see the specific love we have for our own families, as a beginning, a representation of the possibility for loving all. I'm sorry that your grandchild's mother was offended. I hope she knows that you love her child, because that's probably what's most important in your relationship with her and your grandchild.

(Thanks for your spelling correction on my post. I had actually fixed it, I thought, but I must have made a mistake in doing so.)

billy pilgrim said...

i formally withdraw my comment on not being kind to the mother of your grandchild.

bringing peace to the middle east might be easier than convincing a mother that her child has no greater value than a dog.

since the cosmos have sent the andromeda galaxy on suicide mission to wreak havoc with the milky way, i don't feel much guilt in tossing a banana peel in the trash which by the way is illegal in our city. we have been mandated to separate our trash into 5 bins/containers:

trash
lawncuttings, food scraps etc
paper and cardboard
plastic and tin cans
glass

initially we were told there would be fines for failure to comply but that hasn't been enforced.

Charles Gramlich said...

I agree with you about 90 percent of the way. I can't say I specifically would have respect for man-made materials such as a tin can, but i do for all naturally existing materials. I do believe that if materials are used, they should be used only to the minimum needed, and should be restored to the world in whatever form is most advantageous for the earth. For example, throwing a banana peel into my backyard for insects to consume, or using it in a compost pile where other plants later grow. Theoretically, I don't identify human life as intrinsically more valuable than animal life, but in practice I do because I am an evolved organism and express my evolved genetics in that way.

All Consuming said...

You won't be surprised to hear I also agree with you on this one. And Philip and Sue, Ellen also.

“ I also agree with Philip...it is love that determines who or what we will save, not any feeling of intrinsic value.”

"I would say sometimes yes and sometimes no. For example, most people, on principal, would save the life of a stranger over the life of a dog, not because they loved the stranger (I don’t believe that anyone can truly love a stranger) but because they assume that human life trumps dog life."

As to the above, I disagree though as it would depend on how well you knew the dog. Although society tries to drum into us that no life is as important as human life - which has led to the sorry state of affairs our planet now languishes in - I beleive that if one had to choose between a stranger drowning, or a beloved dog, the dog would win for some people. Not all, but some. I'd go for Lardy, I know that. If it were a child I'd find it much harder, but Lardy would win. And I would be vilified the land over by many for that choice. Life is life.

I'm not sharing the following video because I'm, aiming to make people go vegan at all, that is their choice, I'm sharing it because he talks about just the subject you have raised above, and it is interesting to hear someone speak out on the matter.

http://educateinspirechange.org/health/care-animals-chances-still-support-animal-cruelty-man-explains/

It takes some balls I think, and I think the same of you (not of your balls, Peggy would kill me), but more that you share your inner most self here - the very core of who you are, and have had reactions which have upset you so much, but are true to your words. I'm also, so glad that billy withdrew his comment on not being kind, because you are very kind hearted, and I've never known you to be malicious or cruel once in all these years.

"I’m often surprised by how much agreement I get regarding posts that I think will bring mostly disapproval." - So many fear to speak on subjects for fear of disapproval. People take things different ways, but you stand up here and say it as you see it regardless. I admire that so much in you.

I have read of quite a few cases where men have died trying to save their dogs - the men died, the dog survived. The dog will have mourned the death of their owner, but I know just why they did it. Love. *gives some of it to Snow right now in the form of a virtual kiss on the cheek*. x

Snowbrush said...

“Your argument is very rational and I agree with it.”

You’re a very spiritual person. This is not a term that is well favored by atheists, but there is no good substitute. You have a trust for the natural order that I envy because I see the universe as indifferent to the welfare of its creatures whereas you see it as friendly and loving. In my view, in a moment, it can change the person I am into molecules that are then used to create other lives to which the universe is just as indifferent, and this makes it impossible for me to trust it. I think of the universe as a Magnificent Uncaring. Of course, you and I are a part of it, and we care, but it seems to me that there is a tragic contrast between the caring of the parts and the indifference—if not the unawareness—of the whole.

“I hope she knows that you love her child, because that's probably what's most important in your relationship with her and your grandchild.”

After that post, there has been no relationship, which, as you can imagine, makes it very hard for Peggy who is still allowed to see her granddaughter but without me. I was at first devastated, but I’ve come to deal with it because I’ve lost so much respect for the parents that there exists a gulf between us that would be difficult to bridge. Another thing that makes it less painful for me is that I didn’t love my granddaughter more than other children because of whom she was but because I got to see her and play with her. Perhaps, if there had been a blood relationship, this would have been different, but as you might recall, her parents named me their child’s grandfather because they had had no relationship with the child’s blood grandparents (both of my grandchild’s parents were atheists, and all four of her blood grandparents were Jehovah’s Witnesses), and were looking for a substitute. Now, I too am out of their lives, and who knows but what if they get mad at Peggy, she’ll be gone also. Because the parents had no desire for a relationship with their child’s blood grandparents, and because they told me that, as a result of being raised Jehovah’s Witnesses, they found it impossible to feel close to people, I kept an emotional distance from them that has helped me to let them go. I’ve learned that if you listen to people, they’ll tell you who they are and how they will treat you when the going gets rough, so I knew that if the going ever got rough, I would be gone from their lives because they were incapable of feeling any real commitment. There was a time when I thought I could change people, but there is no greater hurt than that which comes from hoping that people are better they they tell you they are.

“i formally withdraw my comment on not being kind to the mother of your grandchild.”

Thank you.

“bringing peace to the middle east might be easier than convincing a mother that her child has no greater value than a dog.”

It’s a philosophical position that had no bearing upon how I treated my granddaughter, who I loved and delighted in, as I do most children. If I’m at a gathering that consists of dogs, cats, children, and adults, I’m more drawn to the first three than to the last, and to the children especially. Right now, I have no children in my life except for talking across our yards to the little girl next door. I would love to go over and play with her, but I don’t dare because I’m not that close to her parents, and of all the evil acts that I could be suspected of, pedophilia would be the worst.

All Consuming said...

For some reason, that link doesn't work now, so here it is at another location -

https://www.facebook.com/EducateInspireChange.org/videos/871056242981654/

kylie said...

I have visited this post many times, with a new thought each time.

Do we save a human above a dog because we better understand what kind of a loss it would be for the loved ones? I mean, each dog is probably loved by it's owners and a small handful of others, a person may be valued by many. Just a thought.

I remember paying $400 a few years ago, for my dog to have an operation to remove a growing skin cancer which obviously bugged him. A friend of mine who was struggling for money wondered how i could pay $400 for a mere dog. I felt that I had to provide for the dog at that time and I could not possibly meet all of the human needs in the world but I could care for the dog so that is what I did. I guess in a way i valued the dog more highly than i valued all the unknown children.

I'm sorry about your grandchild but I agree with you on the issue that when somebody shows you who they are, it is best to believe them

Snowbrush said...

“I agree with you about 90 percent of the way. I can't say I specifically would have respect for man-made materials such as a tin can, but i do for all naturally existing materials.”

As I see it, we took the materials for the can from the earth, so we owe respect to that can if only out of gratitude. Also, in my view, the fact that something is humanly manufactured doesn’t make it less worthy of respect than it would have been in its natural state. Besides, a lot of things that are natural are truly horrible. If I could rid the earth of viruses, I would. Mosquitoes are a harder call because of the interconnectedness of life. As for viruses, I’m unaware of any interconnectedness or of any good they do, so I would cleanse the planet of them. What, then, about my own species? Could I push the button on us in order to save everything else and in the conviction that we’re going to do ourselves in anyway? I don’t know. If I could kill us all, would I really be any different from that man who shot all those people sixty miles south of here yesterday?

“I don't identify human life as intrinsically more valuable than animal life, but in practice I do because I am an evolved organism and express my evolved genetics in that way.”

Yes, we evolved to value humans over other animals, but it’s also true that some groups of humans value other groups of humans below other animals, perhaps because they see them as a greater threat. If I could only save one person of two, and I knew nothing about either except that one was a Moslem and one was not, would I then choose to save the non-Moslem? I probably would.

“I also agree with Philip...it is love that determines who or what we will save, not any feeling of intrinsic value.”

The question then becomes why do we love who and what we love and could we choose to love differently. I don’t believe we could because I think our choices probably go so deep as to almost be genetic, and in any case, I’m a determinist.

“I beleive that if one had to choose between a stranger drowning, or a beloved dog, the dog would win for some people. Not all, but some. I'd go for Lardy, I know that. If it were a child I'd find it much harder, but Lardy would win. And I would be vilified the land over by many for that choice. Life is life.”

There are many choices that I hope I never have to make, and I’m not even sure why I’m compelled to think about them. Lardy is getting old and is ill, so would that make a difference? What if the choice was between Lardy and two children, or what if you could see the future and knew that the child would grow up to be a Gandhi? It’s all so relative. Stack the deck heavily enough and who knows we would do. I suppose there are those people who would feel so paralyzed by some choices that they would let everyone die. I’m sure I wouldn’t. A real situation that I’ve run into with pets is that of how much money would I spend to save a dog or a cat—one thousand, ten thousand, a hundred thousand? In all honesty, somewhere between one and ten, which probably means that my love is pretty shallow when it comes right down to it.

Snowbrush said...

“you share your inner most self here - the very core of who you are, and have had reactions which have upset you so much, but are true to your words.”

I can only speak the truth as I see it, and it would be impossible for me to say otherwise and mean it, so I’m just stuck when it comes to situations in which someone says that I have to either change or get the hell out of their life. Fortunately, it doesn’t come up much now that I’m practically a recluse, and it has never been so painful as with the granddaughter situation. The only thing that made that easier for me was that I lost so much respect for the mother that I lost interest in having a relationship with her, although if she had been willing to talk with me, I would have tried awfully hard to at least get along with her, not just for my sake but for the sake of her child in whose life I could have been a great asset as she got older and I could have related to her better (I’m better with children than with toddlers), and also for Peggy who describes this situation as the worst she’s ever been through.

“I have read of quite a few cases where men have died trying to save their dogs - the men died, the dog survived.”

Same here, only it has been women too (one woman died less than a mile from where I sit trying to save her three dogs who went into a swollen river on a wintry day—all three dogs survived. One day, Peggy urged me to go into the fast-flowing upper Willamette to rescue our heeler, Bonnie who was being washed downstream. Well, I had every confidence that Bonnie was quite capable of getting to shore somewhere nearby, and I was equally certain that if I went into that river, I would die without ever getting close to where Bonnie was. Peggy’s words caused me to worry about Peggy because I was afraid of what she might have done had I not been there. I remember one day our schnauzer got into a nest of yellow jackets (they live in the ground), and instead of picking him up and running, Peggy stood there over the nest wiping yellow jackets from his fur while more and more wasps poured out of the nest, this despite the fact that she has had one allergic reaction to a wasp sting, When that maternal instinct kicks in, Peggy can make some potentially tragic choices (my own bad choices being based upon other problems).

“Do we save a human above a dog because we better understand what kind of a loss it would be for the loved ones? I mean, each dog is probably loved by it's owners and a small handful of others, a person may be valued by many.”

It’s a thought that hadn’t even occurred to me, but it seems that it would lead one to save, for example, the currently popular pope, over almost anyone else.

“A friend of mine who was struggling for money wondered how i could pay $400 for a mere dog.”

I hate people like that. They’re the kind who criticize those who help animals for not instead helping children, although they don’t seem to do much to help children themselves. The most I spent on a dog at one time was between two thousand and twenty-five hundred, and when I told a neighbor about he, his eyes got big and then he laughed his ass off. That’s how my father was too. By the way, $400 would hardly cover a minor illness here.

Sparkling Red said...

Some types of arguments are not worth having, in my opinion, because neither side is going to budge from their beliefs in that particular context. That being said, sometimes it's not possible to back out of such a discussion peacefully, because the other person won't let you have any peace until you agree with them.

When one of my relatives starts talking about certain people from other ethnic groups and his opinions on them, I usually just say "Hmmm," and let him carry on. I pick my battles with him. The are other more important issues that I confront him on; things with immediate impacts on the family business, most commonly. If I argued with him about everything, even the hypotheticals, he'd tune me out completely.

uthman saheed said...

Hmmmm...What a logical argument. Though to me, and with the value attached to human existence, I never for once had a doubful mind that human generation is superior to any other species on earth.

You were not really been fair to the mother.

Answer to the question of whether our own children are better than that of others still depends on the love and the values they had to our personal live.

Snowbrush said...

“Some types of arguments are not worth having, in my opinion, because neither side is going to budge from their beliefs in that particular context.”

I would agree, but would point out that you and your supposedly bigoted relative are alike in this. People tend to see such things as an either/or proposition, by which I mean that you have bigotry on one side and openness on the other with nothing in-between. In all honesty, I must say that both sides make valid points. I think that bigots are often right as far as they go, but their’s is a case of assigning false causes to racial commonalities, whereas liberals are certainly right in wanting equal treatment for everyone, but their’s is a case of falsely assuming that members of other races are “just like us,” and that diversity is necessarily a good thing.

“Answer to the question of whether our own children are better than that of others still depends on the love and the values they had to our personal live.”

Yes, but it’s a case of relative preference rather than demonstrable objective superiority. Most people imagine that ours is the most valuable species on earth because (a) God made us that way, or because (b) we are superior in intellect to other species. I would hold that these are self-serving rationalizations that are utterly devoid of proof.