Wednesday, January 31, 2007

"Praise God who Saves Both Man and Beast":Reconciling Human Responsibility and Animal Ethics

{ Audio of this Essay @ 2.27MB 20min } Why should an individual Christian hold an environmental ethic? Or, more generally, why should the community of Christians value the creation? It is sometimes claimed that certain members within the biosphere other than human beings have intrinsic moral value, and should thus be afforded certain protections--namely, that those members should be protected from being killed. If this is correct, then the theologian should construct a Christian environmental ethic which can justify this claim. I do, in fact, think it correct that certain members within the biosphere other than humans have intrinsic moral value; therefore, in this essay I will lay a foundation for such a construction. I will first discuss what constitutes 'the image of God' in humans and when that image applies to a human fetus. Next, I will argue how some species of animals gain the same type of value as does a human fetus. Finally, I will show why this value affords these species the same protections we afford a fetus, which is essential to constructing a Christian environmental ethic, and which is consistent with John Wesley's oft quoted phrase, "Praise God who saves both man and beast"[1]


My first foray into this matter concerns an argument regarding the preservation of the human species. By destroying plants and animals, I grant that we might be destroying resources which we shall need to preserve our own species in the future. This preservation may be of our quality of life, or in more dire cases, of our quantity of life--i.e., that there are a number or suitable number of humans in existence at all. Preservation of human species is taken to be the highest value. Therefore, we are concerned to care for our bio-environment because of its utilitarian value for our own survival.

This position can be questioned on several grounds. It assumes that any action which is a means of preserving human existence is of value. This leads one to review why human existence has value all. The Christian answers that any creature made in the image of God has intrinsic value. Humans are made in God's image; hence, they have intrinsic value.

But why should one think that humans have more intrinsic value than animals? After all, God created them both. One might worry that anything God creates has intrinsic value. God created the animals; such as the Platypus, the Cobra, and the Tarantula; therefore, these too, and likewise all the other animals have intrinsic value.

The Christian answers that all creatures made in the image of God are creatures with more value than those not made in the image of God. Humans are made in the image of God. Hence, humans are creatures with more value than those not made in the image of God. In contrast, animals are not made in the image of God. Hence, humans have more value than animals.

A worrisome issue is what constitutes 'the image of God.' Theologians disagree on this. The Christian can respond generally that whatever 'the image of God' refers to, it is what separates us from animals. In this essay, I will be committed to the following for identifying the image of God in a creature: I will hold that a creature's having both freewill and consciousness is necessary and sufficient for a creature having the image of God. I am aware that these have been separately argued. For example, one of a somewhat Calvinistic bent might find freewill to be an unnecessary component of any creature manifesting the image of God. I acknowledge the depth and power of such arguments, but the freewill/determinism problem is still an open one. Thus, by my own intuition and within the greater Wesleyan-Arminian tradition, it is not unreasonable to hold that humans are free and that this is part and parcel of the image of God. Wesley himself notes that "God's image upon man consists in knowledge, righteousness, and true holiness."[2] Consciousness and freewill are essential for these higher order attributes, especially the last two "value" attributes. Furthermore, just as consciousness and freedom can come in degrees, it looks like Wesley allows the image of God to admit of degrees as well.[3] Taken together, both freedom and consciousness stand as very important concerns of most Wesleyan thinkers, and neither are they logically incompatible. The application of these components, however, does have its troublesome side.

One pivotal point in the debate on abortion concerns whether or not one murders a creature made in the image of God. Clearly, after just a few weeks of pregnancy, one kills a human being--that is, kills a creature of the biological species of Homo Sapiens. However, it is not the case that all Homo Sapiens manifest the image of God, since one subset of Homo Sapiens--I am speaking in this case of a very, early stage fetus before instantiation of brainwave activity--has none of the properties which I have heretofore claimed constitute the image of God; that is, has neither freedom nor consciousness.

A troublesome issue arises here. If we have no reason to justify a belief that a creature instantiates the image of God, then it would appear that we are not morally accountable to that creature. In the case of a very early stage fetus, we note a lack of consciousness and freedom. Thus, for some, it might appear that we are not morally accountable to a fetus, this being its status. Hence, the argument goes, we may treat the fetus as we would any other resource. So one would apply this to what was stated earlier in the essay. As earlier, one understands that creatures made in the image of God have more value than those not made in the image of God. A fetus is not made in the image of God, so a person, as a Homo Sapiens manifesting the image of God, has more value than a fetus, a Homo Sapiens which does not manifest the image of God.


We are rightfully concerned and impassioned about such arguments. It is a straightforward claim that an otherwise healthy fetus, even if currently not instantiating the image of God, is on a teleological trajectory (in the biological sense, not Aristotelian sense) to fully actualize said, unless that trajectory is interfered with. The Christian position is that we have a responsibility to protect this trajectory, though recently there has arisen fierce Church debate on the extent and practice of this responsibility.

There are a host of approaches and issues in analyzing the responsibilities of a community to its unborn members. Some debates are concerned with whether and under what conditions it is permissible to end the life of the innocent, the unborn being among this class. Other debates on the subject center around property ownership, labor investment, and genetic contribution. Yet other debates are concerned with freedom of movement and the lack of or priority of rights among those accounted members of the community. While these are all vibrant and ongoing approaches to investigating a community's responsibilities to its unborn members, let me develop an approach which uses a concept compatible with what we have earlier noted constitutes the image of God (i.e., freedom and consciousness).

Earlier, I had reviewed a position whereby it was concluded that a person, as a Homo Sapiens manifesting the image of God, has more value than a fetus, a Homo Sapiens which does not manifest the image of God. It would be incomprehensible to hold a very early term fetus responsible for making decisions and acting upon them, if for no other reason than that in the early embryonic developmental stages there is at best only a spinal stem and certainly no neuro-brainwave activity. Does this show that from an image of God standpoint there is no moral responsibility to the fetus?

Allow me to draw a distinction here. There are both micro and macro trajectories in biology. A micro trajectory is interfered with just when an individual member of a species dies before physical maturation, such as when a fetus is aborted, or such as when a natural disaster causes fetal death in utero. A macro trajectory is interfered with just when there are no members of a species left to reproduce, such as when an asteroid hit the earth millions of years ago and, fortunately for current dwellers in Montana,[4] the Tyrannosaurus Rex died off.

Let us consider the micro trajectory case in order to answer the question concerning our moral responsibility to a fetus. At the very least, an early stage individual fetus potentially instantiates the image of God. An individual animal, at any stage, does not instantiate the image of God.[5] Something has intrinsic moral value just when it potentially or actually instantiates the image of God.[6] The importance of affirming this position is that we can immediately see why an individual fetus has intrinsic value and why an individual (non human) animal does not. When we interfere with the micro trajectory of a fetus, we interfere with the image of God actualizing itself in history. (Hegel would be proud of such talk.) No one should interfere with--indeed, one should actively assist to maximize the image of God, and hence the Kingdom of God, breaking into history. Interfering with the micro trajectory of an unborn child subverts this gracious process of God; hence, no one should interfere with the micro trajectory of a fetus-at least not in as much as doing so would justifiably impede God's work.

The above argument for why the fetus should not be aborted is an argument about a micro trajectory. We also make such arguments about when it is right or wrong to interfere with the micro trajectories of juveniles, such as when police actions or criminal penalties have capital consequences.[7] Thus, just as we make decisions on when to halt the biological trajectories of human beings, so we also make decisions on when to halt the biological trajectories of animals. In the case of humans, interference with even micro trajectories has moral import. But what of the case for animals? What shall we make of interference in their micro and macro trajectories?


Without argument, I am willing to assert that it is morally permissible for persons to interfere with the micro trajectory of animals. We do research on them, for example, and use them as means to our ends under many different circumstances, whether for food, fun, or pharmaceuticals. I think we do have a responsibility not to treat animals cruelly, though this is an indirect duty, for this responsibility is justified by the tendency of cruelty to animals to lead to mistreatment of humans. The link between animal behavior and human valuation seems to be recognized even in the Old Testament where a bull which has killed a human is commanded to be put to death.[8] Furthermore, Wesley himself lodges our duty to treat animals with mercy as a reflection of how God directs mercy:

Nothing is more sure, than that as "the Lord is loving to every man," so "his mercy is over all his works;" all that have sense, all that are capable of pleasure or pain, of happiness or misery.... And, suitably to this, he directs us to be tender of even the meaner creatures; to show mercy to these also.[9]

In one sense, I am not an animal rights advocate, for I am not arguing for individual animals as having intrinsic value and for our moral accountability to them on this basis. In another sense, however, I am an animal rights advocate, for I will argue for whole species as having intrinsic value and for our moral accountability to them on that basis. After all, these are two very different positions, and it would be fallacious to argue, for example, that since I do not have moral accountability to any given individual of a species, I therefore do not have moral accountability to the whole species.[10]

Wesley held that only humans are "capable of God" and that "this is the specific difference between man and brute; the great gulf which they cannot pass over." But he seems to base his position on the following evidence: "We have no ground to believe that they are, in any degree, capable of knowing, loving, or obeying God."[11] In considering the micro trajectories of animals, this evidence seems incontrovertible. They have not been found so capable. But in considering their macro trajectories, the matter is not so clear.

Why then do Christians justifiably have a responsibility to whole species? Here is why--because of what evolutionary processes in biology have already led to. Over the course of time, a class of primates, which were not persons, evolved into persons; selective pressures within the creation, pressures designed and implemented by God, I hasten to note, led to creatures made in the image of God in at least one known instance--ours. God wants us to protect and value creation on the macro trajectory level, because these selective pressures are still active. I find this view to be a coherent and natural extension of what Wesley holds God's ecological place to be:

He is the Source of the lowest species of life, that of vegetables, as being the Source of all the motion on which vegetation depends. He is the Fountain of the life of animals; the Power by which the heart beats, and the circulating juices flow. He is the Fountain of all the life which man possesses in common with other animals. And if we distinguish the rational from the animal life, he is the Source of this also.[12]

We have seen where the fountain of God's action in the biological processes have lead in one instance-to Homo Sapiens. Other species are still in the process, and could eventually evolve into creatures likewise manifesting the image of God. These species need not evolve just into Homo Sapiens, of course, but into creatures whose neural anatomy could, nevertheless, support personhood. This is analogous to the case of the human fetus, except on a species level. Just as we see a micro trajectory moving toward personhood in a human fetus, we can also detect a macro trajectory moving toward personhood in animal species; or, at the very least, we have some biological evidence that such macro trajectories are operant in God's creation.

We see clues of this macro trajectory in the Biblical text itself. Animals are included in metaphorical descriptions of the eschaton, because they are fellow creatures moving toward the image of God. Very much to Wesley's credit, even he recognizes this as a live possibility:

May I be permitted to mention here a conjecture concerning the brute creation? What, if it should then please the all-wise, the all-gracious Creator to raise them higher in the scale of beings? What, if it should please him, when he makes us "equal to angels," to make them what we are now, -- creatures capable of God; capable of knowing and loving and enjoying the Author of their being? If it should be so, ought our eye to be evil because he is good? However this be, he will certainly do what will be most for his own glory.[13]

The whole creation groans, to use the biblical metaphor, because humanity has lost its accountability towards protecting and enhancing this process. Creation suffers a slowdown toward its telos (in both the biological and theological sense) because we do not recognize our own role in this process; indeed, we actually impede it by our inaction. We are now beginning to learn what we can do to manipulate, thus guide or destroy this process through genetic engineering.[14] But through reason and scripture, and indeed through our own Wesleyan tradition, we are now also able to see what we should do. Our importance as the first born among conscious creatures is in our being cultivators of personhood for species other than our own, in our being midwives for further manifestations of the image of God in the world, in our being administrators for individual instances of God's spirit breaking into history. This, then, is how to reconcile human responsibility and animal ethics. This pictures again Adam's supremely important role in the garden and his husbandry toward all organic creation.

Let us take stock. The advantage of this position solves three problems: First it acknowledges what the vast majority within Christian tradition has maintained, that abortion is morally wrong. Second, it accounts for our moral latitude in using animals as a means toward our end, but limits that latitude from using whole species as means to our end. Finally, it can give us interpretive advantages in dealing with otherwise vexing Biblical passages which present animals as present at the eschaton. I close with one such passage here from Isaiah:

And the wolf will dwell with the lamb,
And the leopard will lie down with the kid,
And the calf and the young lion and the yearling together;
And a little boy will lead them.
Also the cow and the bear will graze;
Their young will lie down together;
And the lion will eat straw like the ox.
And the nursing child will play by the hole of the cobra,
And the weaned child will put his hand on the viper's den.
They will not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain,
For the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord
As the waters cover the sea.[15]

Of course the Homo Sapiens children are not afraid! In the very distant future, and with love and fellowship, it will be said of those children, "they come from the ancient species of shepherds."


[image] public domain

1. This phrase is sprinkled throughout Wesley's Journal. All quotations from John Wesley are taken from The Wesley Center of Applied Theology (Northwest Nazarene University)

2. John Wesley's Notes on the Bible - Genesis.

3. As Wesley writes, "Yet his government of himself by the freedom of his will, has in it more of God's image, than his government of the creatures" [italics added for emphasis]. John Wesley's Notes on the Bible - Genesis.

4. Paleontology Museum of the Rockies. (Bozeman, MT)

5. Again I point out that Wesley allows of the image of God to come in degrees. (See above note) I am rendering the issue in discrete packets, that animals either have God's image or not, and assuming the worst case, rather than rendering the issue as a continuous spectrum. The latter is a more optimistic view, and perhaps friendlier to Wesley's position. If it turns out that animals do have some degree of the image of God in them, this makes my argument for a certain type of responsibility to them even easier to make.

6. We will also allow that God instantiates his own image, just as we allow that any set counts as a subset of itself.

7. Victor L. Streib "The Juvenile Death Penalty Today: Death Sentences and Executions for Juvenile Crimes", January 1, 1973 - June 30, 2000 (Ohio Northern University)

8. Exodus 21:28-32.

9. The General Deliverance - Rom. 8:19-22.

10. This is known as the informal fallacy of composition.

11. The General Deliverance - Rom. 8:19-22.

12. Spiritual Worship - 1 John 5:20.

13. The General Deliverance - Rom. 8:19-22.

14. Technological advancement might also lead us to wonder if the creation of artificially intelligent sentients would further maximizes God's image in creation, and thus entail a further husbandry responsibility on our part.

15. Isaiah 11:6-9. NASB (with "yearling" from NIV)


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Sunday, January 21, 2007

On Happiness, Envy, and Jealousy

Bertrand Russell, a wiley Socratic-like man, whose life was every bit as interesting as his philosophy, once pronounced 10 commandments on being an independent thinker. I won't recount them all here -- though I just might make a commentary of each of them later if the blog-o-babble urge hits me -- but I will consider one which seems a bit troublesome:

“Do not feel envious of the happiness of those who live in a fool's paradise, for only a fool will think that it is happiness.”

Now on a surface reading, this is correct, as there might seem to be no time when envy is a productive state of mind, where by envy we mean, “a longing to possess something awarded to or achieved by another.”

Perhaps your friend discovers that a long-lost rich uncle has left him a fortune, but this fact makes you feel bad. Of course the gain is legal and his by civil right of law. Yet to feel badly at the event of your friend's discovering his inheritance is envy.

There might be room for worry here. Take another friend as an example, one who has a current emotive state that is more desirable than the one you have. Is it so bad to long for such an emotive state? Not if the emotive state is sustained by tenuous circumstances, the “fools' paradise” as Russell hedges it. Take it that this other friend has an emotive state of happiness, because s/he has maxed-out all credit cards and mortgaged a house to the hilt for a few, wild months of partying in Vegas. Sooner or later, your friend's happiness, like your friend's money will follow the slogan of that town: “what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas.” Such a “happiness” of your friend is hardly enviable.

So too, Russell might mean “jealousy,” which is different. Suppose now it is your cousin that obtains a great inheritance from a hithertofore unknown Uncle. Yet you get nothing, though sharing the very same uncle. If you feel badly upon your cousin gaining something that on your account you more rightly or equally rightly deserve, then this is jealousy.

This emotive state of jealousy would be odd, however, to apply to Russell's dictum. Does one ever more rightly deserve an emotive state? Suppose one person, happy Harry, is born with a slightly higher seritonin uptake disposition to their brain cells. Another, sad Steve, is born with slightly less such seritonin uptake. Does it make sense to claim, “Steve deserves more seritonin, so he can be happy; Steve has been unrightfully denied seritonin.” This seems odd, since one cannot morally blame impersonal, natural forces for the physiological properties we obtain by luck of the draw.

As a summary, envy is wanting someone else's good, one that you believe you don't deserve; while jealousy is wanting someone else's good, one that you believe you do deserve. On this distinction, there does seem to be a worry that one might appropriately envy someone's happiness if that happiness was not gained by tenuous or stupid means. Yet much might ride on just what is meant by happiness, and there is some controversy on the term.

I believe the most common usage of the word happiness is “a state of well-being characterized by emotions of pleasure, joy, exhilaration, bliss, contentedness, delight, enjoyment, satisfaction, or the like.” One makes a psychological report when one speaks of happiness.

But there is an older usage, which most philosophers leverage to make a special commentary on certain ideals of humanity. I'm sure Russell is aware of it, and that usage comes from Aristotle:

“Now we call that which is in itself worthy of pursuit more final than that which is worthy of pursuit for the sake of something else, and that which is never desirable for the sake of something else more final than the things that are desirable both in themselves and for the sake of that other thing, and therefore we call final without qualification that which is always desirable in itself and never for the sake of something else. Now such a thing happiness, above all else, is held to be; for this we choose always for self and never for the sake of something else, but honor, pleasure, reason, and every virtue we choose indeed for themselves (for if nothing resulted from them we should still choose each of them), but we choose them also for the sake of happiness, judging that by means of them we shall be happy. Happiness, on the other hand, no one chooses for the sake of these, nor, in general, for anything other than itself.”[2] {Book 1, ch7}

Ultimately, Aristotle's phrase that pays makes happiness “an activity of soul in accordance with perfect virtue.”[2]{book 1, ch13}. Of course, no one can have ultimate happiness, since there is no one with perfect virtue – well, one might be inclined to say God could have such ultimate happiness, on the view that God can have perfect virtue. Again, one can have the ideal of happiness only when one can have perfect virtue; and, God is the only being which has such an option. People don't have such virtue; but, occasionally circumstances might present themselves such that so much of life goes well and so much is well chosen that a person can have extended periods of supreme happiness.

Such a state of happiness is indeed as difficult to maintain as it is to find.


[1] Bertrand Russell, “The Ten commandments” The Independent, June 1965, p.4.

[2]Aristotle, “Nicomachean Ethics” Book 1


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Monday, January 08, 2007

Robots, androids, and my future nursing home experiences

My wife is Korean, so I have a long-standing interest and appreciation for Korean culture, but I'm willing to admit that I'm weirded out by that country's non-chalant usage of labor-delivery robots.[1] What else might this culture be willing use robots for -- perhaps High School sex education? (No thanks.) It seems a small step though.

Apparently, I'm becoming unavoidably conservative in my old age. But that's okay, for there will be another kind of Japanese robot, Repliee (picture above), to spend time with me when I'm crotchety and senile:
She has flexible silicone for skin rather than hard plastic, and a number of sensors and motors to allow her to turn and react in a human-like manner.[3] She can flutter her eyelids and move her hands like a human. She even appears to breathe.[2]

It's a bit eerie for me to watch these developments in robotics coming along so quickly. Perhaps I won't like being around robots. What then? On the other hand, I certainly recognize how, someday, I'll eventually need yet a third robot to carry me to the bathroom. Sigh.


[1] "Robot births help Seoul students" Reuters (Accessed 1/8/2006)

[2]"Japanese develop 'female' android" BBC News (Accessed 1/8/2006)

[3] "Repliee Q2" Google Video (Accessed 1/8/2006) and 2.5 minutes into this: "Presentation of Repliee Q2-" Google Video (Accessed 1/8/2006)


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Sunday, January 07, 2007

Thinking about Freewill

A friend of mine got me thinking about issues of freewill (again). Admittedly, I've been trying to come up with a bit more nuanced statement on my position concerning free will. I think I'm satisfied with this one for the moment:

S has freewill to perform some action A just when (1) S might perform A or S might not perform A; and (2) the collection of all knowable physical facts about S are not sufficient to predict S's performance ahead of time.

I acknowledge that (2) is a fairly strong claim b/c it does not presume one can have all physical facts (consistent with current claims about quantum physics); and, it assumes there are facts about us which are not physical.

Note well that I do not mean to make this entail the existence of "souls" in the Cartesian sense, but only that there might be facts about our information structures, facts about our temporal-properties, facts which are about other facts about us (i.e., meta facts, such as about counterfactual states of affairs -- e.g. it is false that Brint might eat a concrete block.)

Sometimes physical facts might be enough to predict S's performance ahead of time. For example, someone could be addicted to nicotine in a way such that after a Mexican meal, the urge to smoke cannot be vetoed by their will. They might engage in smoking behaviors withoutt consciously monitoring or even thinking about it, much like we keep our head level on our shoulders without consciously monitoring or even thinking about it.

However, that S's actions can sometimes be predicted, does not mean S is never free. For S to be free, there has to be at least some instances where S might perform A or S might not perform A. It's just that in the Mexican meal case to claim "S might not perform A" happens to be false. The deeper issue would be to determine when or when not S does have a freewill.

I should note that by "might" I don't mean just the logical sense, but the stonger physics sense, where something might or might not happen given the way natural world is ordered. One might worry whether there are "unnatural" worlds, so perhaps my phrase "natural" world doesn't make sense. However, here are at least unnatural logical worlds, since computer simulations can manipulate objects with adjustments in what are otherwise the equations which map the natural world -- the latter being the one we are all born into. (Whether there are unnatural physical worlds is very controversial. My inclination is to say there are not.)

I think many worries about lack of freewill are present in people who forget that physical facts are merely a subset of all facts.


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Friday, January 05, 2007

VV Cephei A: The Truly Big Star

{ Audio this essay @ 1MB @ 2.5mins. } Recently, I learned about VV Cephei A, which is classified as a "supergiant". It is one of the largest stars known. It leaves me wondering just how big a star can get. From Wikipedia:

[VV Cephei A] is of spectral type M2 and is about 1600-1900 times the Sun's diameter. If it replaced the Sun in our solar system, it would extend to the orbit of Saturn. It is 275,000-575,000 times as luminous as the Sun. The mass of the star is unknown. The mass estimated from its orbital motion is about 100 solar masses. On the other hand, the mass estimated from its luminosity is about 25-40 solar masses.[1]

There is an excellent video[2] I recently ran across which shows the size relationship of planetary and star objects in a sweeping pass.

Of course, there are life cycles to stars, so this baby will eventually build up too much iron to maintain its even-keel status:

As massive red supergiants age, they produce "onion layers" of heavier and heavier elements in their interiors. However, stars will not fuse elements heavier than iron. Fusing iron doesn't release energy. It uses up energy. Thus a core of iron builds up in the centers of massive supergiants.[3]

As it builds up too much, the density forces neutrons and neutrinos to interact (which they normally don't do easily), which causes the iron core to crash-in on itself causing a giant rebound effect:

These two effects -- neutrino outburst and rebound shock wave -- cause the entire star outside the core to be blow apart in a huge explosion: a type II supernova! supernovae are really bright -- about 10 billion times as luminous as the Sun. Supernovae rival entire galaxies in brightness for weeks. They tend to fade over months or years. During the supernova, a tremendous amount of energy is released. Some of that energy is used to fuse elements even heavier than iron! This is where such heavy elements like gold and silver and zinc and uranium come from![4]

I still find it eerie that the very gold in my wedding ring was forged millions of years ago by some VV Cephei A -like star blowing itself to bits.[5]


[1] "VV Cephei" Wikipenda (Accessed 1/5/06)

[2] "...some stars and planets in scale" Google Video (Accessed 1/5/06)

[3] "The Stellar Lifecycle: Massive Red Supergiant" UC Berkeley's Space Sciences Laboratory: The Universe of Brtyan Mendez(Accessed 1/5/06)

[4] "Type II Supernova" UC Berkeley's Space Sciences Laboratory: The Universe of Brtyan Mendez(Accessed 1/5/06)

[5] "Supernova Explosion" Google Video (Accessed 1/5/06)


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Thursday, January 04, 2007

Conscientious Rejector Officer: 1st Lt. Ehren Watada

A very interesting article/interview has appeared as a special feature over at Yahoo News.[1] This kind of military ethics discussion often happened during the Vietnam war, but this junior officer gives a nuanced apologetic of his position. He is clearly an educated and articulate person (and hardly a coward, as many are cat-calling him). Here's the opening paragraph or two of the piece:

First Lt. Ehren Watada, a 28-year-old Hawaii native, is the first commissioned officer in the U.S. to publicly refuse deployment to Iraq. He announced last June his decision not to deploy on the grounds the war is illegal. Lt. Watada was based at Fort Lewis, Washington, with the Army's 3rd (Stryker) Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division. He has remained on base, thus avoiding charges of desertion. He does, however, face one count of "missing troop movement" and four counts of "conduct unbecoming an officer and a gentleman." If convicted, he faces up to six years in prison.[1]

On Mr. Watada's view, the issue seems to rotate around whether he has been issued a legal order. Here is a selection from the interview where he gives a synopsis of his position:

I'm trying to end something that is criminal, something that should not have been started in the first place and something that is making America less safe — and that is the Iraq war. By just going there and being willing to participate, and doing my job, or whatever I'm told to do — which actually exacerbates the situation and makes it worse — I would not be serving the best interest of this country, nor the soldiers that I'm serving with. What I'm trying to do is end something, as I said, that's illegal, and immoral, so that all the soldiers can come home and this tragedy can come to an end. It seems like people and critics make this distinction between an order to deploy and any other order, as if the order to deploy is just something that's beyond any other order. Orders have to be determined on whether they're legal or not. And if the order to deploy to a war that is unlawful, if that is given, then that order itself is unlawful.

This is not as tidy as he'd like us to have it. As a thought experiment, if an officer was issued an order to slay unarmed, non-hostile civilians, then an officer would be right to refuse it on legal grounds, since it is indeed illegal to slay unarmed, non-hostile civilians. But this is not the issue in Mr. Watada's case.

Since there is no world supreme court or world law, how can Mr. Watada say that the war in Iraq is "legal" or not? I don't think the issue of legality ever gets started. The Iraq war might have begun because of immoral actions, but the soldier's duty is to follow legal orders, and the order to deploy to geographic area X (Iraq or anywhere else) is certainly a legal one.

The soldier might deplore The President's policy which motivated (and motivates) the use of the military, but an officer at Mr. Watada's level is not a policy determining soldier. The Joint Chiefs of Staff could appropriately make such an argument, but they have not; thus, Mr. Watada should not.

In conclusion, Mr. Watada is confused about what his role is at the level which he participates (i.e. at the level of junior officer). I can appreciate his moral revulsion at participating in the Iraq war, but he should have carefully investigated what was his duty as a soldier before he signed. This is one of the more important lessons in military ethics gleaned from the Vietnam War. (Disclaimer: I'm a veteran of both the Air Force and the Army.)


[1] "Conscientious Rejector?" Yahoo News (Accessed 1/04/07)

[also] You Tube speech by Watada. (Accessed 1/04/07)


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Monday, January 01, 2007

Today's Oil Price vs. 1979

Back in 1979 when I was driving around in High School, gas was considered shockingly expensive, yet in absolute dollars, we pay more for gas today than back then. While gas is not considered cheap, it is still a far better situation for US buyers than was the case in '79. Tim McMahon explains why the money situation is indeed more comfortable today:

Oil would have to average $100.52 for the entire month to be as high as the price we saw in December of 1979. But we are "only" paying about one half that amount. Another factor that makes the Oil price worse in 1979 is the fact that back in '79 interest rates were two to three times higher than they are now, peaking in the high teens. Combine lower mortgage rates with lower taxes and the modern household actually has $500 extra cash available each month... which will buy a lot of gasoline.[1]

Apparently, we are approaching a similar bying-power cost point in oil prices, but we have a far better economy to absorb that pain, so even equivalent spending value will keep us in a slightly better position (unless the economy tanks).

However, I note there is also the new technology curve that is working in our favor. Right at $100 a barrel, other alternative energy sources become economically viable. On my view, if these remain economicially viable for any length of time, then there will be R&R on those alternative fuel technologies, and then they will become even more viable, thus weaning us off oil bit by bit. I heared on a news show a year back or so that if oil hits $100 a barrel on average for a year, the next year it will go down to $30 dollars a barrel, since too many other energy technologies would come on line to compete with oil. I believe that's true.

I've always regretted that the US governement didn't have the political courage to invest in better energy technlogy back in the 1970's, but paying high retail prices for a couple of years might be the equivalent of a grass-roots tax that opens up motivations for markets on an issue where the US government failed.
Hey, I'm willing to pay that pump cost for a while if new energy tech is the end result. The question is, "How long is 'a while'?"


[image] "Oil Price History and Analysis" WTRG Economics (Accessed 1/1/2007)

[1]"Why Oil Prices haven't Crippled the US Economy Yet" Financial Trend Forcaster (Accessed 1/1/2007)


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