The Ragged-Trousered Philosopher


History of Digital Telepathy

with God


The Eagle Has Landed

All's Well That Ends Well


Chapter Eight

Abortion and the Myth of Human Rights

OK, so democratic task number one requires that we define the issue and decide who is affected by the outcome. The abortion issue, of course, is fairly clear cut. "Are there any circumstances under which the abortion of human foetuses should be permitted and, if so, what are those circumstances?" The question of who is affected (and thus "who should decide" the issue) is much more contentious. The battle lines are fairly clear though. On one side it is argued that the pregnant woman is the sole person affected (or at least that the extent to which she is affected outweighs the effects on anyone else) and thus she and she alone should be entitled to decide the issue. On the other side are those who claim to represent the foetus itself and they argue that it too has an interest, and indeed, that as what is at stake for the foetus is more serious (usually) than for its mother, that its interest should take precedence.

Let us make it plain to start with that this is NOT a "Philosophical Question". Though it clearly comes under the umbrella Third Question "How Should We Behave?", the philosophical part of that discussion really ended in the last chapter. Or perhaps we could say that, up till now, we've been trying to discuss "Pure" philosophy and what we're about to do comes under the heading "Applied Philosophy".

We have already concluded that there are and can be no universally meaningful concepts of absolute good and evil, no absolute right or wrong - only useful strategies to enhance survival more effectively than naked self interest. Intelligent beings are capable of perceiving such strategies and recognising a joint vested interest in promoting them. The act of such promotion itself demonstrates the depth and sophistication of our Survival behaviour. This may be "good for us" but that doesn't make it objectively "good for the cosmos." Nevertheless, if it is "good for us" then lets get on with it!

If there is one issue upon which it ought to be possible to reach a near universal consensus it is the simple observation that we all share the desire to survive. Even those who reject our rejection of the concepts of absolute good and evil can not deny their own desire to survive, nor their experience that everyone else shares that desire. It should be as easy to agree on that obvious truth as it would be to agree that liquid water is wet.

This is important because that agreement can form the basis for agreeing so much more - ultimately how to manage the difficult interface between society and the individual and, if not best how to run society, then at least how to run society with minimum dissent and maximum support for any given policy or set of rules. It is the basis for no less than a new form of political constitution. We'll be taking a look at that in later chapters.

The fundamental point is that not only can we all easily recognise this shared urge, we can, if we choose to do so, collectively agree that we will co-operate in order to determine those strategies which will best maximise survival for the largest number of individuals of all species, or at least all species whose survival contributes to our own.

Its not that much of a leap. In fact its no more than a philosophically rigorous endorsement of the Utilitarian target "the greatest good for the greatest number". We have merely avoided the logical pitfalls associated with their acceptance of the notion of objective "good". Nevertheless, this is as far as we can go in philosophical pursuit of the third question. Its the best we can do while remaining consistent with pure philosophy. Our advocation of the obvious benefits of co-operation to promote survival constitutes the best and most logically consistent advice philosophy can offer about "how should we behave". It is the strongest conclusion we can reach as an exercise in pure, detached, philosophy. It may not seem particularly profound because it echoes the conclusions reached by so many other paths. Christians and Communists, Hindus and Humanists alike would all preach the benefits of such co-operation.

And thats the point - this philosophically consistent guidance on behaviour represents the common core shared by not just Christianity and Communism but virtually all mature attempts at social engineering.

Religions advocate co-operation on what they call spiritual grounds. It is what God wants us to do. Communists advocate co-operation on materialist grounds - it is how best to improve the productivity of society and share the benefits of that productivity most fairly.

We don't care why anyone else advocates co-operation, just so long as they do. They may not realise it but the ultimate implication and form of that co-operation is Democracy. And Democracy and its adult form - Consensus - are thus the only philosophically defensible means of making social decisions in the 21st century. The actual decisions made are trivial in comparison.

So, despite being a restatement of the bleedin obvious, its more than good enough as an answer to the question "How should we behave?" Answer: "whenever possible, co-operatively/democratically/in consensus"

This, in turn, liberates us to make rational decisions about behaviour.

We no longer need to justify our existence. We don't care whether or not our survival is a "good" thing in any absolute sense. We don't need to twist or ignore the logic we have ploughed through hithero and pretend that promoting survival is the "right" thing to do in any objective sense. It doesn't matter if its right, wrong or neutral. If we can finally accept that there are no rules we have to follow (at least none which dictate behaviour in any moral sense) then we can take the next logical step - which is not (as religious thinkers charge) to abandon the desire for civilised interaction between people. It is the recognition that nothing stops us - where necessary - making our own rules of behaviour based on consensus or, at least, democracy.

There is nothing to stop us agreeing between ourselves a set of behaviours we condone and a set we condemn. We can also agree to combine our resources to establish countermeasures against anyone who chooses to behave in ways we collectively condemn. The first countermeasure is public agreement on which behaviour falls into the condemned camp. It doesn't take any imagination to anticipate a list of behaviours which would easily attract a consensus of condemnation.- they already do: Murder, Rape, Physical violence, wanton Property destruction, Fraud, Theft etc. From then on, we're back in the normal world. These are routine criminal behaviours. Not because its "immoral" or against "Gods laws" but because its against democratically mandated Human Laws. That's enough. That justifies preventative measures if possible, and, where prevention fails, it justifies detection, incarcaration and any punishment agreed suitable by the same democratic process which formulated the Law in the first place. This is not rocket science. This is not about massive disruption to the many moral frameworks our species has devised for themselves. Most of the really important existing rules would be democratically endorsed in any society that dared to submit them to such a test. They've already stood the test of time.

The rules of society have always been owned and controlled by the people in whose interest the rules were created. All that has changed over the past thousand years or so is the size of the group in whose interest the rules were created. Since we stopped being hunter gatherers, society has been structured hierarchichally. Some very tall pyramids have been built along the way. The physical ones were simply the embodiment of the social. The thing about pyramids, however tall they are, they always have a single point at the top. In 30,000 years we have failed to improve on that model. All that has happened to date is the broadening of the base of the pyramid. But those who form the bottom layer still support all the other layers.

Until today, that is. Today, the pyramid is beginning to crumble. Largely because information which was once available only to the top tiers of the pyramid is now widely available much lower down. Information is widely acknowledged to be the basis of power, so inevitably the power is drifting downwards with the information. The days are numbered for the cliques who run society. They are probably more aware of this than most of their subjects and are constantly seeking ways either to steer us away from this future or at least see that they survive into it with some semblance of their power intact. Give credit where it is due. They have honed their own survival skills to impressive levels.

Democracy, as a concept, is over 2000 years old. All it means is "People Power". Nothing more. Nothing less.

How many human beings alive today qualify as "People"?


How many "People" have their fair share of "Power"?


Isn't it about time we really tried "People Power"?

Instead of tyrannical or even well meaning dictators (elected and otherwise) trying to steer Society around the white water of contentious decisions, isn't it time we treated human beings with the dignity they deserve and let them make up their own minds - collectively and, where consensus is not attainable, individually?

We believe that time is at hand. Within the next 10-50 years, the human population of planet Earth will restructure itself into a global democracy. We The People will, eventually, show that we can make rational decisions, or at least decisions which attract genuine large democratic majorities. We will make all the decisions - whether its a village deciding where to put the new community leisure centre or a global discussion on what to do about global warming.

There is no obvious level at which we would hold the debates on behaviour. It might be local, national or global. Consider the issue of bull-fighting for example. Most of the globe would oppose it. A few Latin countries practice it. Clearly we will not reach consensus, merely a large majority. The question the majority have to face in this situation is whether they care enough about their opinion to support the use of sanctions up to and including armed force against the minority.

This, of course, is a separate democratic question and our guess is that there would not be even a bare majority of global citizens in favour of such sanctions - particularly not the use of force.

So we will have a situation in which a relatively small minority will be permitted to continue behaviour of which a large majority disapproves. Is this healthy or unhealthy? We argue that it is very healthy and essential to the operation of Democracy in the absence of Consensus. It allows for flexibility, local and individual diversity and, above all, tolerance of our many differences.

The number of such issues - where one or two countries would find themselves in the minority of world opinion - makes it inevitable that the nation state will continue to attract support from its citizens and, therefore, survive at least a few more decades.

Spain would vigorously defend their bullfighting against allcomers. The UK would fight for its right to continue to drive on the wrong side of the road. Americans will cling to their right to bear arms and so on.

Generally, therefore, we can expect an international rule which requires democratic majorities within national boundaries before global democratic decisions become local laws. Does this mean the global community will never intervene in the affairs of a country outside the majority?

No. It is likely to be rare that - outside the offending country - there is a consensus (or at least very large majority of the order of 90%) that such intervention was necessary and justified. But it is not impossible. Female circumcision might be one such issue and we'll be discussing aspects of that shortly. Given, however, the much wider divisions on Abortion, it clearly would not be the kind of issue on which a global majority would endorse intervention.

So even if we reach a global majority one way or the other on the Abortion issue, we cannot expect it to become the law in every country because the global majority is unlikely to be mirrored in every national vote. But it doesn't really matter. The principles are the same whether we're conducting the debate within the family, the nation or the species.

Issues like abortion and the other similarly abrasive issues which we deal with in the later chapters are merely examples of how we might apply the conclusions emerging from the philosophy we've described in previous chapters. Specifically how we might apply them to the conduct of any level of public debate prior to plebiscites in the context of a Survival based behaviour code. Assuming that we have reached the initial widespread consensus that such a code is going to form our bedrock principle, what we are now trying to decide, is the specific question of "how Society should behave" in regard to these issues. We repeat, though, this is not Moral Philosophy, its simply Applied Philosophy. We will never say "you should" only that, if your aim is to enhance global survival, "you could". (please bear this in mind should we ever lapse into "should". It is merely a lazy shorthand for "we think this is the best way to achieve the desired outcome")

Our intent in discussing the options for Abortion is not, therefore, to offer the definitive solution to a persistent question which clearly divides society pretty well down the middle. We may have have views, of course, and we will make our own position clear on this and several other key issues as we proceed, but at no point do we wish to convey that the conclusion we reach is in any sense the only conclusion possible under the proposed behaviour code. This can never be so. We won't even claim to offer the best solution. That would be hugely arrogant. It is highly likely that people better informed than we are about any of these issues will be able to indicate the weaknesses in our own arguments and proffer stronger, more consistent arguments in their place. We will welcome such insight with open minds.

It is also possible that our arguments and/or their superiors will fall on deaf ears and the democratic decision will go for the lowest common denominators more often than not. It is entirely possible, as well, that some aspects of the democratic control of society will be an even worse disaster than any tyrant to date. Certainly many have tried to frighten us away from the democratic ideal with their talk of "tyranny of the masses".

We'll take our chances. A century or two ago it might have been difficult to justify, but today we'll trust a jury of the common people before we'll trust a highly educated and no doubt refined and civilised judge.

The major political point which arises from this analysis to date is that the only reasonable way of making fundamental political decisions, consistent with a Survival based code, is by democratically establishing the true opinions and feelings of the entire (relevant) population. (Relevant meaning those who will be affected by the outcome of the decision).

This appears to be fundamentally different the other approaches to the questions of behaviour. Moral philosophies all try to provide a template for calculating the correct behaviour in any given hypothetical situation. They try to establish a set of rules which can be always be applied to a given set of circumstances. SBR starts from the position that there is and can be no such template. Every ethical decision is unique. There might be multiple similarities but they are all unique. And one of the things that make them unique are the people involved and the attitudes and opinions of those people - which can change from country to country, culture to culture and day to day.

Consider the differences between a bullfight in Pamplona and a bullfight in a Bhuddist Temple.We'll stipulate that the bull faces the same fate in both situations. From the bull's point of view, the ethics are pretty similar. But consider it from the different positions of the Spaniards who paid to see the slaughter and the Monks who, presumably, are being forced to witness the barbarism against their will. Clearly, in the latter case, there are two offences - the unnecessary slaughter of the animal and the deliberate and offensive breach of the Monks' autonomy. Two crimes obviously outweigh one - especially when the first crime is common to both scenarios.

But the reason the attack on the Monks is more evil than the Pamplona killing is that the Pamplona people obviously condone and even enjoy the killing. We may disapprove of their approval as much as most others who weren't brought up in a bullfighting culture. But we cannot deny them their right to their own opinion just because we disapprove of it. That way lies totalitarianism. That way lies the Thought Police.

Now just pause a while. It probably didn't escape your attention that we used the word "evil" in that paragraph, without batting an eyelid. We've spent a few chapters trying to demolish the whole concept and then we just slip it into the conversation without so much as a quotation mark. What's going on?

We think we've made the point. The concepts of good and evil are not to be found anywhere in nature except in the minds of Man. We invented them. Over the centuries, the definition has been ultimately based either on allegedly divine rules or an assumption that existence is the archetypical "good" which underpins the definition. Its opposite - non existence - being the foundation of evil.

We're simply suggesting a fairly minor re-definition: "Good" and "Evil" are whatever the Consensus says they are. And with that qualification, we're happy to resume use of the terms.

Now where were we.

A good testing vehicle for democracy and ethics is the question of female circumcision. Widely reviled almost everywhere it isn't practised - which is the vast majority of the planet. Surely the ethical imperative is to ensure that it cannot happen. Agreed. And, if the global democratic consensus supports sanctions or even force to bring such practices to an end, many of us would be delighted.

But that doesn't mean that proponents of the practice should be prevented from arguing in its favour. They're unlikely to persuade us but they're entitled to try. We'll never reach consensus on the issue, so, unlike the more contentious issue of abortion, this is one of those situations where the 99% who oppose genital mutilation may well insist that this is one of those few global decisions that ought to take precedence even over local majority opposition to the rest of the planet. Our collective resources should be used to ensure that measures are taken by the global community to ensure that no young girls are ever again submitted to this particular barbarity anywhere in the world. We would argue that this means - in the context of the early 21st century (Christian) - the United Nations should act as the enforcement agency. If economic and other sanctions don't work, then we should be sending in a task force to prevent this locally common harm.

It won't happen of course. We should have intervened in Rwanda and failed. We should have intervened in Zimbabwe and won't. We should have intervened in the Sudan by now (July 2004). We probably won't until at least a million have died. Now there's a thought. If we do get our arses in gear and intervene to prevent the ethnic cleansing being carried out in the Sudan - what possible excuse could we have for not taking the opportunity to stomp on the barbaric ritual of female genital mutilation. That might have the useful knock on effect of making the other African and Islamic states who indulge in this torture sit up and take notice.

The International Community can and should always be prepared to intervene in order to prevent harm, even if the harm is the result of a local democratic decision. If you still have difficulty with that, use your imagination: forget female circumcision. Think "ritual sacrifice of all first born female virgins as they reach puberty". Still hesitant to intervene just because they voted for it?

The key consideration here is not the democracy - it is the harm to the third party who is not in a position to with-hold her consent. Ethically this is no different to seeing your neighbour beating up his wife in his front garden across the road. "Do as you would be done by" is possible the longest established philosophical statement of the bleedin obvious. When Luke's gospel summed it up, the first century, as "Do to others as you would have them do to you." - he was at the tail end of nearly twn thousand years of "The Golden Rule - Reciprocity" and, in the 21st century, another two thousand years have passed, and still we have yet to to implement it. Of course - when our neighbour is being attacked, we intervene. Damn right we do - either personally or call the police or both. In this case, the neighbour being attacked is a Sudanese or Somali nomad. What's the difference?

The more awkward question, though, is whether such intervention is similarly justified on behalf of the bull in Pamplona. If not, why not? Is it not analogous to seeing your neighbour beat a dog to death? Or an Imam and a Rabbi slitting the throat of a lamb?

Of course, if you are vegan and/or a strong animal rights supporter, all three examples are no-brainers. Most meat-eaters will be struggling however. Of course they should intervene on the dog's behalf. But kosher/halal lamb is vastly superior in taste and texture to stunned meat. That's a "fact". Any keen lamb eater knows it. Can't really condemn the killers in that case then, can we, without exposing our hypocrisy. And though we don't approve of the bull's fate, neither do we really want to go to war with Spain over it, or frankly, even impose trade sanctions. We like their Rioja too much for that.

And, bringing it home to the UK, what should the two thirds of us who want to see an end to recreational fox hunting do about the third who support it (despite the fact that only about 2% indulge in it). Should we bully them into submission? Some argue that we should indeed. Make it a criminal offence and imprison those who persist. And what if that 2% were 20% or 30% or 49%. Still think that locking them up is a good idea?

The ethical considerations always go far wider than the actual behaviour. The numbers involved do matter. If you're the single vegan in a household of carnivores, you can't expect them not to eat meat. On the other hand, if you're the single carnivore in a household of vegans, you can't expect them to let you eat meat, at least, not in their presence - probably not in their house. Numbers matter, of course, because attitudes and opinions matter. Sometimes, the facts being as plain as they are in some of the instances above, the only thing that actually matters is the numbers. The ethical question becomes the democratic question because the only fair and reasonable means of reaching a conclusion in the debate is to take a vote on it.

Numbers also justify the apparent paradox in opposing the prospective Afro-Islamic democratic support for female circumcision. The numbers of opponents, worldwide, vastly outnumber the numbers of supporters and despite the manmade convention of respecting international borders, such boundaries are no inherent component of democracy. Some democratic decisions might affect no more than 3 people. But at the other end of the scale, we are just the one planet and some behaviour affects or offends us all - regardless of the local conditions which may permit it.

Obvious global issues include, for example, the measures we ought to be taking to mitigate the global warming we're beginning to witness unequivocally. Its already too late to stop it, but we can take steps - globally - to reduce its impact. Every year we delay consensus will probably cost a few million life years over the next few decades. Our track record suggests we won't even reach agreement on the need for action until annual deaths caused directly and unequivocally by global warming reach a million or more. Thats likely to be about 10 to 20 years from now. The total excess loss in life years caused by this delay is likely to be in the hundreds of millions.

Would "we the people", acting globally, be so desperately and pathetically unable to reach a consensus? We think not. We hope not. We'll only find out if we try.

Hopefully, once a debate gets going, opinions and feelings may be open to and modified by scientific evidence together with political and philosophical contributions, but it is unlikely that any single debate will ever be entirely decided by rational discourse.. Emotion and prejudice are powerful players in the human psyche. Hence the only answer which matters is not the "right" or "wrong" answer, it is the answer provided by the people. That answer, which could, and no doubt often will be both empirically and intellectually "wrong" is, nevertheless "right" for them (the voters) - at least at the time they cast their vote.

Our intent, therefore, is not to second guess the electorate and provide a uniquely "right" answer but merely to illustrate how the discussion might take place in the lead up to the final decision. If you like, we will demonstrate how a philosopher might argue the case, and, hopefully, help the wider debate by clarifying the real issues. We might even persuade, along the way, a few people to agree with our own conclusions. What we regard as much more important, though, is that we can achieve some agreement on the kind of questions to be asked rather than the answers. The latter we are content to leave to the democratic decision.

The first question we need to ask in relation to any democratic decision is "Do we need a debate?" Presumably there will be a set of previously agreed policies. Can existing policies answer the particular question being raised in this situation? Some will argue that they do. Others will say nay. In formalising that part of the debate, we'll have to agree on some form of question and then discuss whether it has already been answered in previous debates. So the next relevant question is "What's the Question?". Lets skip the debate on that issue in regard to Abortion and imagine we've reached a broad consensus on what we used in the first paragraph of this chapter:"Are there circumstances under which Abortion should be permitted? If so, what are those circumstances?"

Having formalised the Question, we can return to the first vote - Do we need a debate? If society is already broadly content with existing policy then the proposal for a debate will fall at the first hurdle - not enough people want to change the policy. As it happens, at the time this chapter was being revised, a news story broke with direct relevance to this issue.

Specifically the latest ultrasound images from the womb revealed that:

From 12 weeks, unborn babies can stretch, kick and leap around the womb - well before the mother can feel movement

From 18 weeks, they can open their eyes although most doctors thought eyelids were fused until 26 weeks

and given that the UK's current law on Abortion makes it available up to 24 weeks virtually on demand, a number of people, including the Prime Minister are being forced by this new evidence to consider reviewing the policy. So, in this instance, the first hurdle is passed - the debate is on. Let battle commence.

The second major question is "Who Should Decide?" Who is entitled to participate in the debate and the subsequent decision? Who is involved? Who is affected? Pregnant mothers and potentially pregnant mothers go without saying. Also directly affected are the potential fathers and any personnel required to perform the abortions. What about others? In particular, what about "Society"?

The Pain/Pleasure Matrix

Don't forget that Survival questions are not just about issues as black and white as life or death. The pain/pleasure matrix, i.e. individual reactions to events are often the most important factor we need to take account of in deciding policy. In the case of abortion, there is clearly a sizable portion of the population whose lives are deeply affected simply by the knowledge that abortion does go on. In our view, this alone justifies their interest and participation in the debate.

This is not a unique or even an unusual situation. The same could be said, for example, of militant vegetarians, who are 'in pain' because the rest of us eat meat. As we've implied elsewhere, as meat eaters, we do consider that their pain is a factor which we should take into account in deciding our own behaviour. Avoiding meat in their presence is no great sacrifice as long as we don't spend too much time in their presence!

The question is "who is involved" and as we made clear above, when we see our neighbour beating his wife or kids, or hear of Sudanese nomad women mutilating their daughters' genitalia, we are hurt and offended. We don't give a damn about whether or not we are directly involved. We are affected. Note how easy it would be at this stage to assert that this somehow gives us a "right" to intervene. As we will discuss in a moment, we have no such "right". But then, by the same token, neither has anyone else any right to stop us intervening. We will perhaps merely exercise our autonomy to in whatever ways we can in the hope that it will help bring such behaviour to an end. This may be - in the case of the bullying neighbour - by means of alerting "the authorities", or even, if the situation appears to demand it, by direct personal intervention. Or, in the case of the circumcisors, by arguing for sanctions against any regimes which permit such behaviour.

Meanwhile, back at the abortion issue, in short, if you, as a female pro-abortion feminist, argue that your potential direct involvement entitles you to a greater role in the decision making process than men, but you would also like to be able to do something to end female circumcision, then - unless you are one of the unfortunate victims of this behaviour - you are clearly accepting grounds for your interest other than "being directly involved" and thus, you are in danger of hypocrisy if you deny a similar interest - and hence a right to participate in the debate and vote - on the part of the anti-abortionist, whether they are male or female.

Yet this does raise a fascinating issue. Should we give more "weight" to some parties than others in deciding some issues? In deciding an issue like Abortion, for instance, should we recognise the greater involvement of Women and let them have- say - two votes while Men only get one vote?

Tentatively, our answer is "Yes" - simply because it seems inherently fairer to recognise the degree of involvement. The practical problems, though, are immense. Who makes decisions on which issues deserve such discrimination and what mechanism can be used to allocate fair "weighting"? Abortion, in this context, is actually a relatively simple issue. Women clearly have more direct involvement than men. But should there be a similar weighting on the issue of, say, fox hunting? If so, who would be entitled to the additional votes? Just those who make their living from the practice? or all those who participate? or all those who have participated for at least N years?

We could simply make such decisions a routine part of the decision making "matrix" for all issues. Until we have a fairly advanced artificial intelligence to help us with that process, it is likely to remain impractical and we will thus be stuck with "one person one vote" for the immediate future. As soon as the technology is in place, though, we should consider migration to the fairer option as soon as practical.

For the time being, and in present, early 21st century circumstances, our conclusion would have to be that, in deciding the policy on Abortion, we cannot justify restricting the decision only to those actually or potentially directly involved and, instead, anyone who feels motivated to participate should be allowed to do so.

Thus we reach our position on the question of "who should decide" the wider social issue. Our position is that the issue is so contentious that it will attract the interest of a large majority of the community at whatever level (family, national, global) it is debated.. And they're all equally entitled to have their say and to cast their votes. Others will put other cases. The first vote will be taken and that will determine whether there is a perceived need for a social policy and, if so, who should be permitted to take part in the debate and subsequent decision.

Thus ends the first democratic task. We have defined the issue and decided who shall take part in deciding it. Now we have to decide whether the issue can be decided simply by gathering the "facts" or whether emotion has its part to play. In the case of abortion, it is pretty clear that facts alone will not suffice. Indeed this is one of the debates most seriously clouded by (often hysterical) emotion. On the one hand it demonstrates the malign influence of religion and how appeal to allegedly divine rule is intended to take the place of using our own reason. And, on the other, it demonstrates the equally irrational effects of appeal to dogma and metaphysical concepts such as alleged "rights" (of either foetus or woman - depending which side of the fence you're on).

We think we have made pretty clear our views on following a religious code - whether or not there is a God - in Chapter 5, so we won't deal with that side of the argument here. Lets start, instead, with the question of so called "human rights" which is often seen as the fundamental argument in a number of major social issues.

Just where do these "rights" spring from? Are they a natural attribute of Humankind? If so then what is their full "natural" basis? What was the method by which they evolved? And if they're given to us naturally, then why do we have to fight other human beings so damn hard, on occasion, to obtain or preserve them? Are we born with them? Or do we attain them as we age? Can you show us one? Do they exist without us? Just some of the questions we prepared before the show.

The concept of Human Rights staggered painfully into human consciousness as recently as the 17th century; most notably through the work of John Locke. He held, basically, that there were certain "natural" laws (in his case conveniently listed in the bible) which, in an ideal world, all human beings would follow voluntarily simply by use of their reason. They would all individually perceive what was "right" and the world would operate in perfect harmony. Unfortunately, he observed, the world is not full of reasonable people. Some occasionally try to seize advantage over their fellows by acting in ways which breach the natural laws. For example they may try to steal someone else's property. In Locke's eyes, the most basic human right consists of being allowed, in such a situation, to defend the natural law (i.e. in this case your retention of personal property) by whatever means are necessary up to and including the killing of the thief. A bit harsh, you might think, for someone caught nicking hubcaps, but Locke made no distinctions of degree. The natural law was God's law and thus you had His authority to do whatever it took to defend it.

He developed the thesis to a considerable level of sophistication, going on to explain how if we choose to share the burden of protecting the natural law by establishing Governments, then we forfeited some of our rights to them. For example, whilst without Government, we not only had the right to kill in self defence (of ourselves, family or property) but if the attacker was successful, then Locke's interpretation of the natural law was that we also had the right to kill in retribution. However, as soon as we introduce Government and delegate to it the duty to apprehend the law-breaker, then we no longer hold the right to exert our own justice.

All of which has a superficial "common sense" appeal so strong that its main tenets are those enshrined in the American Declaration of Independence; "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; that, to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men."

The reality is, of course, that there are no such things as "self evident truths" - this follows from our discussions of the first and second questions. And by now you won't be entirely surprised to see us rejecting the notion of "God Given" or other "inalienable" rights out of hand. But neither are there any "natural rights" somehow allocated to us at birth like a stamp in your passport! The only "rights" which have real meaning in human society are those we accord ourselves. And those we accord we can take away. The more accurate description of what actually happens in society up till now would contain references to "power". If we have the power to prevent theft, rape or murder etc, then we will do so. If a Government has that power then it will exercise it on our behalf. And once we grant Governments such powers (or they have seized them) then we find that the definition of human rights becomes simply the definition of to what extent those in power will permit individual liberty.

Naturally, if there is opposition to their definition, there will be a debate as to what the "right" should be. But this debate has never been won by mere argument. It is again decided by power. If the power of the opposition is sufficient to outweigh the power of the State, then the new human "right" is born - the various fights resulting in the successive widening of the right to vote are examples. (This is the "broadening of the base of the pyramid" we mentioned above) If, as is more common, the power stays where it is, then the status remains decidedly quo. So there is nothing "natural" or God-given about rights. They are a purely social phenomenon arising from the normal interplay of political forces.

Hence it is pointless to base your appeal for change or stasis on an appeal to such rights. What you are trying to do is no more nor less than establish or reestablish a definition of the right. To appeal to it in its own defence is a futile circular argument. It is like offering a definition of "good" as that which gives pleasure; and that, therefore, anything good is pleasurable. Big deal. That is not even tautology - which, as we saw in establishing the Theory of Behaviour, can illuminate - it is mere repetition. Similarly to argue that the foetus has a right to live, therefore we shouldn't kill it; or that women have the right to choose, therefore they should be allowed to make the choice; is equally unenlightening. We need to ask why the foetus has a right to life, or the woman has a right to choose.

What then, are the real issues? It seems to us there are a number of pertinent questions with some important supplementaries.

1. First, in pursuit of that course of action which best promotes survival, what, specifically, are we aiming to achieve in the case of abortion? Protection of all life; Protection of human life; or merely the relief of human beings from pain?

2. When does Foetal Life begin?

3. When does Human Life begin?

We can dispose of the first option offered in answer to the first question p.d.q. The fact that most of us are still meat eaters means we can't claim to be intent on protection of all life.

Similarly, there is little controversy in claiming a clear consensus, in normal circumstances, in favour of the protection of human life. Exceptions at the time of writing (1997,2004) include the equally clear consensus in favour of Capital Punishment and the somewhat lower but still significant support for voluntary Euthanasia. It may be that Abortion qualifies as a third exception.

As to the objective of relieving human beings from pain, this goes along with a broad consensus that unnecessary pain, at least, should be avoided (and that some necessary pains ought to be tolerated). However, it would also, we think, be fairly widely agreed that the avoidance of one person's pain doesn't justify another person's death.

As to when foetal life begins, we might find we can now make further use of that definition of life we arrived at in Chapter 6: "Life is that which does something in order to Survive". We can now rephrase the question in the form "at what point does the foetus begin doing something in order to survive". The answer is perhaps simpler than you may have thought. It begins replicating within hours of conception. It is replicating in order to survive. Presto - it is alive. If you doubt that, compare it to the replication of a salt crystal which is driven merely by the need to find the lowest energy state - the exact opposite of organic replication which steadily increases the energy state.

Note to Biophysicists - what we have here is perhaps an alternative definition of life which is apparently true of all forms we currently know about - although we can't logically leap to extending that to the rest of the universe. Viz "Life is that which causes a localised and temporary reversal of entropy - usually by promoting it elsewhere". For instance a tree represents a highly ordered and energetic system which arose from components at lower energy levels; however, a) its development was driven by the sun and b) in the process it converts high order energy of visible and ultraviolet light into much lower grade infra red, thus increasing entropy for that radiation much more efficiently than a standard "black body". I also offer this as the somewhat depressing answer to the "meaning of life"; our physical function is to increase entropy, in order to bring forward the heat death of the universe. Just compare the efficiency of human beings as entropy accelerators with the aforementioned trees. In its lifetime the average tree will process the equivalent of around 25 KWH per day. Human beings in the western world currently account for up to 1000 KWH each. Pound for pound that makes us some 500 times more "entropic"! [check figs] But don't get too gloomy, we don't have to abide by that "purpose" if we don't like it - but it will be something of a challenge to avoid it! [update Jan 2009. 16 years after writing this speculative paragraph, we finally see science going someway to confirming it (cached); more specifically, they argue that entropy drove the increasing chemical complexity which produced the initial self repicating organic molecules which themselves become the "point of origin" for life on Earth. That'll do me.]

So it is easy to establish that the foetus is alive from a point very close to conception. However, the next obvious question is whether its life constitutes "human life". If the answer is "Yes", then the debate probably ends there as it is difficult to imagine anyone putting forward serious arguments for the taking of one human life for the "mere convenience" of another. However, there is a powerful argument for stating that the answer is "No". In which case, we must then ask the question when does it achieve the status of humanity. What is interesting, about this part of the debate, is that it is genuinely open to question. In other words there is no scientific definition of "human life" or indeed what constitutes "humanity" at all. If there were, then, in a sense the debate would be much more limited. We would merely have to determine what empirical test determines the existence of human life. Up to that point, for the most part, abortions would be uncontroversial (at least among those who accepted the validity of the test) and, similarly, beyond that point, again for the "majority", the embargo on abortions would be acceptable.

You might have hoped that, on such a fundamental question, medical scientists and biologists would have reached clear unequivocal conclusions, with appropriate supporting evidence, which could then inform the social debate. Unfortunately, they are as divided on this issue as the rest of the community. Scientists, of course, have opinions, like the rest of us. But that doesn't make them "scientific" opinions per se. There is, in short, no clear empirical answer to the question. (at least - not yet)

Some will argue that human life begins only at birth. This, after all, is when we measure it from! More important, it would be argued that "humanness" involves certain behaviour and characteristics which can apparently only begin to be expressed after birth. Obvious examples include the ability to learn and to interact with the environment. This might be called the functional definition of human life. Its elegance lies in the fact that it can be used again at the other end of the spectrum (should we be considering, for example, Euthanasia) when people fall into irreversible coma or brain death.

Some have taken the functional definition to extreme lengths and suggested that we measure humanity from when the individual becomes "self-aware" or "rational". Frankly, however, we've all met fully functioning adults who probably don't meet either of those criteria so we're just going to ignore that angle! At the very least you'd have to have further lengthy debates on what constitutes "self awareness" or "rationality".

A more measured version of the "late functionality" argument can be seen in Peter Singer's approach. He has made himself the bete noir of the "pro life" faction by openly advocating not just abortion but infanticide under certain extreme circumstances. His criteria are based on "quality of life" estimations. He wouldn't argue that any child is not "human". He raises the question of "viable humanity". If the child is clearly suffering and unable to profit from being kept alive, and there is consensus between the family and medical support teams, that the child's life has no material or moral value, then he argues that the most humane action would be to kill the child as painlessly and quickly as possible. He has, of course, been subjected to immense waves of emotional criticism - right up to and including death threats. Yet those who criticise him have clearly not read or listened to what he is saying. At most, they tend to pluck a sentence or two out of context and build it into rabid opposition which likens him to Nazi eugenicists.

We have posed the question "when does human life begin?" and offered that as the logical point beyond which abortions become murder and therefore indefensible. His argument essentially points out that "human life" in some cases either doesn't begin at all - even in babies that are delivered normally and live a few years. In other cases, illness or injury can cause such catastrophic damage that "human life" has effectively ceased despite the fact that the person is still living and breathing - albeit usually only with so called "heroic" medical intervention. What he is saying is that if a human being is not capable - and, importantly, is extremely unlikely ever to attain or recover the capability - to think and act like a human being, then they have lost everything of value which constitutes their humanity. Even so, he argues, if they are not suffering and their condition is not causing suffering in others, then maintaining their life is still a viable option. However, if, on top of their loss of human functionality, they are also clearly suffering and causing others to suffer as well, then it is probably kinder to kill than continue care.

Of course, the issue is much more clear cut in the case of voluntary euthanasia - where an informed individual can not only make clear their desire to die but is still capable of taking the necessary steps to end their own life. But what of the individual who anticipates being in a situation where they are no longer capable of being able to end their own life but makes it very clear to all concerned that, should they ever be in that position, and become not only unable to end their own lives but unable even to participate in normal human activity or even thought, that they wish to have others take appropriate steps to end their lives as painlessly as possible. Now we've stepped into a grey area. Which gets even greyer when we step into the territory Singer has dared to inhabit. In the cases he addresses, prior consent is not possible and, of course, consent at the time is ruled out by their condition.

Most moralists have shied away from the issue as being too controversial. We see it as being not significantly different to the female circumcision issue. In that case we argue that because the young girls who are victims of that maltreatment are incapable of giving their informed consent, it is the responsibility of third parties to act on their behalf - in this case to prevent harm. We make the assumption, on their behalf, that they would not wish to suffer.

The logic applies equally to anyone similarly incapable of giving their informed consent, as is the situation with the severely and irreversibly ill or injured human. We have to act on their behalf. The difficulty is not a moral one. There is no great soul shaking dilemma about putting a suffering animal out of its misery. The difficulty is deciding whether the human condition has been reduced to that level in any given instance.

What we really need in these cases is an objective measure of their consciousness, self awareness, and suffering. These are partly scientific questions and part social questions. At what reduced level of cognitive function do we consider humanity to be no longer possible?

A scientist can't answer that question. In the near future we can expect to see accurate measurement and description of precisely what level of awareness is going on within any human (or animal) brain. Over several years, we may even learn to correlate the brain activity with "mind". But none of this will answer the question. Scientifically we can't define a point at which brain functionality produces "mind" and there is certainly no arbitrary point at which we can say a brain is functioning "humanly".

Indeed, because life support technology is improving all the time, there are an increasing numbers of cases where the brain shows no activity other than basic brain stem life support functions. These "permanent vegetative state" cases are generally utterly beyond recovery; will never think again; will never breathe again without technical support. And yet we still agonize over ending their lives. Why?

We would like to be able to say "Because we misdiagnose PVS every one in a million cases." In fact the misdiagnosis rate is no less than 43%. Nearly half the people diagnosed with PVS after being in a coma for more than 3 months make some kind of recovery after 12 months.

It would be difficult even if the error rate was as low as one in a million to tell the other 999999 that their loved one's death is so probable that they should be allowed to die (Or as Peter Singer prefers, more honestly, they should be humanely killed)

At 43%, the relatives and friends are actually being thoroughly rational in hoping for the best. Ironically, the real suffering in this situation are those close friends and family who may have to bear the decision to terminate a loved one's life. He or she is well out of it. Whatever else they're doing, they're not suffering.

There is, thus, no ethical dilemma and no obvious reason to kill them. Under no circumstances is it reasonable to "allow them to die". That is truly the cowards way out. We can all sleep better knowing we didn't kill her can we? Do as you would be done by.

"If I have to die, delay it as long as possible by all means - until I am either suffering more than I can bear (and even I don't know how much that is until the time comes) or incapable of benefiting from staying alive. Then end it quickly and with as little pain as possible. Preferably while I'm pleasantly high on my favourite weed" (Stottle)

Obviously we need to reduce the suffering of the relatives in PVS cases. This will only be done with more accurate diagnosis and prognosis. At the moment it takes a year in most cases before we know whether or not the condition is permanent. It needs to be brought down to a few weeks but although they're working on it we're a long long way from that

But assuming that medical research leads to a situation where we can accurately predict PVS with an error rate of one in a million or less, What is the ethical situation then. Still think that its a problem?

OK. Whats the ethical situation when we have a zero error rate? They predict PVS and can be shown to be 100% accurate over 100,000 cases over a period of 10 years.

Well, there's always what might have happened in the eleventh year...

Some people will cling on to homeopathic traces of hope.

Can we ever refuse them that "right"?

Yes. It happens all the time. We're asking "should it?" and if so, in what circumstances is it right for society to pull the plug or inject the lethal drug regardless of the relatives wishes?

And if you're still not prepared to accept that Society ever has such authority, what if the cost society has to pay to maintain this figment of hope is a million dollars a day? Money no object? OK - lets make it a billion a day. 100 Billion if you like. Whatever it takes to bankrupt your country in less than a year. Do we still have no right to pull the plug??

By now we'll have shaken off all bar the nutters. It is of course obvious that society has to make economic choices about how its resources are put to use and those decisions have to benefit the whole of society and promote its survival. Cost benefit calculations are a practical and unavoidable necessity.

The problem for the Consensus seeking democrat is that we probably wouldn't achieve consensus until the $100 billion a day cost level. At a billion a day we'd probably attain a majority in excess of 90%. At a million a day the majority would probably still be around two thirds or more. At one thousand a day, we'd probably be 50:50. And at less than a thousand dollars a day, most people would probably vote against pulling the plug. Unless, of course there are millions in a similar state...

Of course those numbers are arbitrary. No-one's ever researched attitudes to pulling the plug in quite such fine grained detail. But its not unreasonable to suppose the response curve would be a similar shape albeit shifted up or down the scale and wherever that curve sits, it demonstrates the same salient point.

Democratic decision making cannot be divorced from - quite often literal - value judgements. The facts are never enough to decide the issue. The values we put on such intangibles as human life are entirely arbitrary and individually unique. If the decision required reflects those values, then opinion and emotion must inevitably and rationally play as important a part as logic and discovery. This is why models of society based optimistically on our innate ability to make reasonable and rational decisions were always doomed to fail. Such models are predicated on the naive belief that there must be a single state of affairs which is "correct" and, thus, satisfactory to all citizens.

We're simply not built like that. As the Abortion issue clearly illustrates, we can't even agree on something as apparently fundamental as when human life begins. The functional argument inevitably pulls us into discussions where value judgements must be made.

Conversely the biologist might argue that a set of replicating cells, which is destined to become a human being, already is a human being, albeit at its earliest stage of development. This has the merit of not trying to draw arbitrary lines at which humanity suddenly emerges. This has a common sense feel to it.

Ten minutes prior to a successful delivery, the foetus is clearly very active. Its heart is beating in order to pump blood round its system. Its brain is functioning and controlling at least the autonomic reflexes. It is kicking. Its opening and closing its mouth etc etc. No one is going seriously to suggest that the next ten minutes makes the difference between human and sub-human.

Furthermore, though there are those who would persist in arguing the dominance of the mother's rights over the foetus even at this late stage, I don't believe that this option would attract significant support other than on the rare occasions that it was the only way of saving the mother. (Indeed, the decision has often gone the other way.) Why not? Because there is already a clear consensus that we don't kill one human being merely for the convenience of another.

We might also argue that though the functional definition is more appropriate, the moment of birth is too late in the sequence. There is considerable evidence that a foetus begins to "learn and to interact" (or at least attempt to interact) from the moment brain function begins. It can also, from this moment, feel pain. It is at this point that the foetus ceases to be a bundle of cells merely following chemical orders and begins to act in ways the chemicals can no longer be held entirely responsible for. This might be the most reasonable point at which to define the foetus as having become human.

But note that however inclined you are to agree or disagree with that definition, we do not contend that this definition has any logical force or empirical support. It amounts to no more than a proposed definition in our language. It is, though, empirically testable. In other words we can fairly easily establish the point at which brain function begins. Thus, if we can agree that this is a reasonable point at which to define the onset of humanity, then we have a measurable point on which to base the test. Hopefully this would become the basis for compromise between the warring camps. As we have implied above, we can probably achieve consensus more easily on the simpler question of whether or not we can justify the taking of one human life merely in order to enhance the life of another. That consensus would, we think, be very strongly against. If we can now proceed to agreement on when human status is arrived at, then we finally have a basis for consensus on the overall question of abortion.

The point is that whilst "Choicers" might have to concede to "pro-Lifers" (as if anyone could seriously be "anti-life"!) that the argument is over if conception is considered to mark the beginning of both life and humanity, conversely, the latter would have to concede that if the consensus supports a later starting point to either, then abortions up to that point do not breach their main objection. They may have other objections but these are usually religious - and thus, meaningless - and in any case pale into insignificance against the fundamental and agreed objection against taking human life.

The outcome of that argument determines the next. Specifically, if any moment later than conception is agreed as the starting point for humanity, then abortion up to that point is likely to be supported by a similar consensus. That being the case, we would then probably have to consider the question of under what circumstances abortions would be permitted. To some extent this will entail a rehearsal of the arguments we will already have heard in the argument over the fundamental principle of whether or not abortion should be permitted at all. The antis will argue for the tightest restrictions - medical reasons and, perhaps, pregnancies caused by rape will be all they would grudgingly concede. The most liberal will argue for no restrictions whatsoever up to that point. In their view, abortion up to the point of humanity is no more significant than contraception and should be treated the same way. Indeed the RU486 pill already exists (in France at least) and is the culmination of that logic. It is difficult to disagree with that analysis. If the foetus hasn't attained humanity, then its abortion is not a matter of general social concern as no human life is involved.

The more difficult area is in dealing with abortions past the agreed point of humanity. The antis will now fight tooth and nail for a complete ban - some even at the expense of the mother's life. The pros will argue at least that certain medical circumstances may necessitate the late abortion of a human foetus. They may also argue for abortion for what might be called 'late' social reasons - for example the discovery (after the agreed cut off point) that the baby has a serious handicap. The compromise position here is, we suggest, to allow abortions without question where the life of the mother is at risk, but not for less. However, what then arises is a new social responsibility. Whilst one can argue the case for allowing a handicapped or unwanted human to be born, one can not impose the duty for its care on to a mother who clearly didn't want it. Hence, we would argue that if, for any reason, society forbids an abortion then society must take on the full responsibility for the post natal care and life support of the infant. This would not preclude the mother taking back such responsibility should she choose to do so, but that would be her choice, not a social imposition.

There is a further social responsibility implied here, which is that every effort should be made to identify potential reasons for abortion at the earliest possible stage in order to minimise the extent to which mothers are obliged to carry handicapped or unwanted babies against their will. This implies the allocation of social resources to the research required to generate the appropriate tests, and then unlimited access, for all potentially pregnant women, to those tests. Of course there will be some women who choose not to know, or even when told of the handicap, choose to carry the baby to full term regardless. And why not? If thats their free choice, so be it. Mind you that raises another obvious and much thornier question.

If we accept the argument that a woman who gives birth to an unwanted infant against her will is to be released by society from her normal parental responsibilities, will there be a call for the corollary? In other words there may be a case made that a woman who had the option of an early abortion but nevertheless knowingly gave birth to a handicapped child, should not receive any special support from society in supporting that child, or that she should but that she should contribute towards the extra resources the child would need. An even harder line might be proposed that as such tests were available, then any woman choosing not to be tested must take full responsibility for the subsequent birth of a handicapped child. And the only argument against that hard line position that springs to mind is straightforwardly emotional. We want to live in a humane society which simply wouldn't consider "further" penalising a woman in an already difficult situation.

That then is how one might seek to argue the issue rationally under a Survival Based Constitution. We will have covered the issues every bit as intensively as the modern ongoing debate, but, hopefully, having done so in the context of a Survival Based code, we will reach a decision consistent with that code and which could attract a wider consensus and thus reduce the present levels of hostility between the camps. Presumably we would then commission appropriate authoritative research from scientists representing various points of view and ask them to report their findings and recommendations to the public at large. The final stage would then simply consist of voting on the various recommendations on the basis of which analysis most persuaded the individual voter.

Let us now assume that Society has agreed some of the fundamentals. It has been agreed that the onset of humanity, if not at our proposed "brain function" point, is nevertheless at some time significantly later than the moment of conception (several weeks or months past that date). It has further been agreed that Society will permit abortions of human foetuses prior to that point, and that, after that point, abortions would only be permitted in genuine life threatening cases. One further question remains. Society having made the decision in principle clearly will not wish to repeat the debate for each and every subsequent abortion. The question is, on any specific abortion, who should make the final decision?

Who is directly involved?

The woman, obviously, but we'll come back to her. The medical team is directly involved as they will perform the operation (unless, of course, it is possible to induce the abortion entirely through drugs such as RU486). Should they be entitled to "veto" the abortion? Our answer is an unequivocal "No" as they do not have to live with the consequences. However, we do not see an argument against their having the "right" to refuse to take part in a particular abortion - or indeed any at all. Clearly if all medical personnel exercised such a right then no women would be able to have abortions other than those induceable by drugs. This is, however, a somewhat unlikely scenario.

The father is also directly involved and may have to live with the consequences. Should he have a deciding vote? Again, our answer is a clear no. Yes, he is "involved" but now its a question of "degree of involvement". And in brief, it is difficult to argue that any individual other than the potential mother is involved to the extent that she must be. She is the one person who can never walk away from the consequences of her decision. That is sufficient to award her the social "right" to make the final decision regardless of the feelings and opinions of others. She may, of course, wish to consult others, and may to a greater or lesser extent be swayed by their feelings. But that consultation is itself a voluntary act on her part and the results of the consultation can not reasonably be argued to be "binding" on her either way.

There are those who would still argue against that and try to prevent any abortion, but only in the sense of trying to lock the stable door after the horse has bolted. i.e they will repeat the same arguments they should and will address to the wider social question. At this stage (i.e. an individual abortion) their objections are politically invalid as what they amount to - providing that the policy results from a genuine democratic debate and decision making process - is no less than an attempt to subvert the democratic will. There is always a case for that, as we will see later, not least because merely being in the "majority" doesn't mean you are "right". But anyone trying to buck the majority view must be prepared to face the collective wrath of those who share it. And there are no obvious limits to the measures the majority is entitled to take in order to ensure that its will prevails.

So at the individual level, the anti-abortionist has no locus (unless, of course, she is pregnant and it is her turn to decide; a decision which, presumably, will be to proceed with the pregnancy). But at the social level, there is no real argument against the anti-abortionist being involved in the debate.

Are there any circumstances in which the father's rights would equal the mother's? If medical science progresses to the point at which is technically viable to fertilise and develop an embryo all the way through to birth outside the womb, and assuming that there are no other gender based functions which can and must be provided for the infant solely by the mother, then perhaps we could make the case for the father's role having equal weight with the mother's. But, under those circumstances the question of abortion becomes almost redundant - or at the very least takes on a whole new meaning!

The debate is over. The vote is taken. As we made plain earlier, we make no claims for the eventual intellectual validity of the resulting policy. It is entirely conceivable that the worst argument (philosophically speaking) would win the hearts and minds of the people. There is and can be no protection against that. Human beings will never be in a position to judge objectively whether they or someone else are better decision makers - although they will always, of course, be able to judge results after the event. All you can judge, at the time, is your own perception of the validity of your own and other peoples' arguments. That is what you are doing now, we hope. You should not be either disagreeing with this line of reasoning because the author is a nonentity who has never written a serious book before or agreeing with it because by some strange good fortune it has become widely read and millions of other readers agree with its main thrust. If you really want to live in a democratic world, you must take seriously your democratic responsibilities. It is up to you personally to conduct your own analysis of this and all other arguments and then to make your opinions known in reaching any appropriate collective or individual decisions.

Having said that, as we said at the end of the previous chapter, many of us have a deep conviction - and we are not sure whether it is genuine insight or mere wishful thinking - that even with the risk of occasional regressive collective decisions, there are two major advantages to making decisions this way. First it puts the issue to bed for a while - presumably until someone comes up with some convincing new evidence - and thus allows us to spend our time on more useful pursuits. And secondly, as we've said elsewhere, decisions made by such means could and would be far more easily reversed if experience proved them wrong than under the various autocratic forms of Government we presently endure and which all represent immovable power blocs and vested interests to a far greater extent than they can or have ever represented individuals. It is often in the interests of those who hold power in this pre-democratic era to maintain a policy well after it has been clearly demonstrated to be "wrong"; usually because despite being "wrong" for the majority, it is "right" for the minority whom they represent.

Now then, what about Capital Punishment?


First draft pre 1993
Last Update Jan 2009

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed by Harry Stottle (2004-5) under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.5 License.

T H E    B O O K
Why Bother?
So, What is It?
Do We Exist?
Meaning, Truth...
How Did We Get Here?
A Theory of Behaviour
Survival,Ethics & Democracy
Part 1- From Neolithic to Neocon

Part 2-Leadership
Abortion and Human Rights
Crime and Punishment
War-Part 1-Morality
War-Part 2-Reasons To Be Fearful
War - On Drugs
The 'Rule of Law'