Reason for a New Age

O Holy Cow

Posted by publius2point0 on 2010/04/24


For a change, I am going to discuss a social issue rather than an economic or political one.

The Cow

Now, the nation of India has almost 1.2 billion people. That is to say, for each American, there are four Indians.

Indians are, by-and-large Hindu and the Hindus are opposed to the slaughter of cows. If our two nations were to be conjoined, 4/5ths of our legislature and almost certainly our president, would all be Indians and Hindus. In end result, it’s likely that the consumption of beef would be banned, as it is in India.

Hindus believe that the cow is sacred because it has a soul. Murdering it forces the cow to be reborn and have to suffer through life all over again, not to mention the pain it suffered in its first life. They are considered to be spiritual and caring animals, the mothers of the people and seeing to their health.

But, in the end, this is all mystical mumbo jumbo. That we can test, a cow is not imbued with magical powers. It is hardly intelligent enough to look after itself, let alone us. It does not understand itself as an independent and thinking being, nor really understand the passage of time. Right now is all there is. It is never going to produce anything of value to human society beyond meat and milk regardless of how much care, love, and education it is given.

The Egg

It is a decently good bet that my reader has broken an egg. Perhaps it was to make an omelet, perhaps it was to bake a cake. You might simply have done it as part of an engineering experiment to see who could drop their egg from a particular height and have it survive the fall via some mechanism that you have built. That’s something we have our children attempt.

Through all of these broken eggs, it is unlikely that anyone ever felt there to be a great loss to the world. There was no hesitation about taking a life, no tears shed for the unhatched chick. An egg is just a shell filled with a broth of protein and nutrients. It can’t think, it can’t feel, it’s not alive.

If I was to take a live chicken and place it in your kitchen, I think it’s safe to say that most of my readers would have a much harder time taking a hatchet to chop of the squirming, clucking creature’s head, or knocking it’s skull against the edge of the counter top to break it open, or anything else of that sort that they would be perfectly fine to do to an egg.

An egg is dead. A chicken is alive. But these two separate and unrelated objects. There is a gradual shift that takes one and turns it into the other. The protein brew starts to divide into smaller cells within the egg shell. Those cells might pull together and become more dense and string themselves together in a basic shape. Paths for nutrients to flow are established as well as a feedback mechanism to tell the rest of the form where to send aid. A processing center is created which interprets that data and sends out commands. All of this gradually becomes more fine-tuned and capable. The processing center gains some ability for proactive rather than reactive thought and a body capable of surviving in the outside world is formed, and so the chick breaks free.

I would stomp an egg underfoot without the slightest thought, but stomping a newborn chick is reprehensible.

The Secular Government

Law is, essentially, a method of codifying morality. But what is or isn’t moral is vague. For most people it’s whatever their religion tells them. That information might come from divine revelation, or it might simply be the product of the wisdom of the ancients. The government, by Constitutional law, must ignore the possibility of the first. They must assume that the Hindu majority who says that slaughtering a cow is equivalent to murdering a man are stating nothing more than one possible view of the world that isn’t necessarily accurate. It’s not an absolute fact that has been handed down from above the clouds by an all-knowing being. And while they can pay heed to the wisdom of the ancients, they must accept that this is nothing more than human opinion that is at best centuries or millenia out of date.

Personally, I have no problem with Hindus refusing to eat meat. But at the same time, it is a given that it is not an established and scientific fact that cows have a soul, let alone one of such significance as to make their slaughter sinful. All of which again begs the question of whether there is any sort of thing as “sin” so far as some spiritual force is concerned. But, in a country ruled by the ballot, a constitutional amendment stating that the government must act as a secular body is the only protection that I have for the steak upon my table. If 4/5ths of the legislature were Hindu, as well as the President and probably all or most of the Supreme Court, I personally wouldn’t feel confident that secular government would rule. People have a hard time ignoring their fundamental beliefs regardless that their job description mandates it.

Now just like you, my non-Hindu reader, think that it’s silly to believe that a steak is equivalent to murdering your mother, I personal think that breaking an egg is breaking an egg regardless of whether it is chicken or human.

A secular government must rely on what evidence can show. We can certainly show that an egg is nothing but an unthinking broth of protein and nutrients. And we can show that a human is a being who is aware of himself, of the passage of time, and who can be taught to aid society via the power of his mind. But there is a transition between one of these states and the other. There isn’t a magical moment when the protein fluid suddenly turns into a fully grown and capable human being. And this means that there is a gray area where a reasonable and secular human being can’t unambiguously state whether it’s more egg or more human as regards the termination of the development.

But while the specific moment of the moral/immoral switch can’t be specified, it can certainly be said that it is reasonable for a person to believe there is nothing immoral with abortion for at least some period of time during the pregnancy.

All of which isn’t to say that there aren’t secular people who think that a human is a human from day 1. The question isn’t whether one can make a rational argument for a position, it’s whether it can be shown that there is an unimpeachable right answer. If there is not, the freedom of choice must remain.

You might say, then, that murder can’t be unimpeachably stated to be a wrong.

Our government is required to see to the general welfare of its citizens. This is in the Constitution. Also in the Constitution — the Fourteenth Amendment — is the definition of who is a citizen. Ignoring those who are naturalized, this is persons who are born here. “Birth”, I think, is sufficiently clear that one need not define it further. What does or doesn’t constitute a “person” is not so clear. A Hindu might view a cow as a person.

Listing up all of the traits where everyone would agree that it would be a trait of personhood we might get:

  1. Has a soul.
  2. Possesses self-awareness and time-awareness.
  3. Can perform complex mental tasks.
  4. Is a human.

And of course #1 must be stricken until such time as souls are discovered and can be proven scientifically, which also strikes out cows since they have none of the other traits.

It is a given, then, that preventing murder of those who have been born is protecting the welfare of the citizen. An unborn person is not a citizen technically speaking, but I’ll admit that this is being overly pedantic and so ignore that point.

A human probably does not develop the capabilities of self-awareness nor time-awareness as we understand it until about age 2. He possibly doesn’t top smart animals like monkeys or dolphins until around age 3. But he is certainly of human stock.

Does “human stock” equate to “being human”? A pile of parts and a set of instructions for construction isn’t a robot. An egg is not a chicken.

I’m not going to try to convince anyone that X trimester is the right answer as to where humanity begins. I only ask that people consider that if they think it’s silly to take away another man’s beef, they might consider that others think they’re doing the same by preventing the breaking of eggs.

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