Wednesday, March 25, 2015

A New World Needs a New Paradigm

I recommend this article by Unitarian Univesralist minister, the Rev. Peggy Clarke, that appeared in the Huffington Post on March 18, 2015.  Those working on any justice issue, as she points out, need not compete with one another about which justice issue merits more attention - "These issues are all the same."  This issue is the paradigm that is killing us, the planet, and the beings that share their biotic communities with one another.  She describes this paradigm of hierarchy as one that tells us "that the dominant class is on top and everything else is in service to it."

She asks us to instill a new paradigm of a Beloved Community "that topples the hierarchy and recognizes our radical interconnectedness, a paradigm that doesn't advantage any one group but life as a whole. In the new paradigm, all life is precious,"  and the needs and bodies of all individuals matter.

This is no easy paradigm to grapple with, for all humans experience both the benefit and harm of dominance.  We don't know how to "give up" all forms of dominance, now, and can't collectively imagine how to structure social institutions that do not enforce power and privilege of some over others.  How do we live, as individuals and as a society, in a way to maximizes benefit and minimizes harm?  

This question and others similar to it are the foundations of the First Principle Project. What would our lives look like if we did not draw a line between those of worth, and those without?  Would we break down rampant dualistic thinking that gives rise to oppression in both insidious and overt forms?  Could we live better, flourishing in beauty and belonging, and so save the earth and the beings that live in our shared biotic community?  

Would we more powerful together knowing, as Rev. Clarke says, that "the fight for justice is the fight for life in every form?"

In the shared quest and questioning,


Rev. LoraKim Joyner, DVM
First Principle Project Facilitator

Friday, March 20, 2015

Reading Mark

Guest Author: Meredith Garmon
Minister, Community Unitarian Church at White Plains

As the conversation has unfolded for more than a year since Mark Causey’s important “Inherent Worth” post (2014 Feb 20 – CLICK HERE), there are points I particularly want to re-emphasize. Here’s my interpretation and summary of the excellent points I understand Mark to have made.

“Inherent worth” contrasts with instrumental worth: something with only instrumental worth is valuable only as a means to an end; an entity with inherent worth is an end in itself. On what grounds, then, can we say any being lacks inherent worth?

Other animals are subjects of their own lives (Tom Regan). They have a biography, not just a biology. Nonhuman animals care about their own lives, have the capacity to experience pain and suffering, and can be harmed. Their lives can go better or worse for them. If human pain and suffering counts morally, then so does theirs, and we should never cause them harm without a sufficient reason.

“The question is not Can they reason?, nor Can they talk?, but Can they suffer?” (Jeremy Bentham)

Because they can suffer, and are subjects of their own lives, we cannot legitimately use then solely as instruments for our own purposes. The world is not a stockpile of resources for human exploitation.

The medieval hierarchy that Arthur Lovejoy dubbed “the Great Chain of Being” placed God at the top, followed by angels, then humans, other animals, plants, and finally inanimate things like rocks and dirt. Proffered bases for separating the human species into its own – and higher – plane have included: intelligence (rationality), the possession of a soul, being moral, having language, and so on. We now understand that all animals, including humans, share a common biological ancestor, and recent advances in our scientific understanding have largely discredited all of the above reasons given for human uniqueness. Scientific findings continue to further blur the distinction between human and nonhuman animals. The work of biologists and ethologists (Marc Bekoff, Jonathan Balcombe, Frans De Waal, and Jane Goodall, among many others), challenges us to expand our understanding of nonhuman animals’ amazing cognitive, emotional, and even moral capacities.

What differences remain between humans and other animals – such as humans’ advanced cognitive, linguistic, social, and moral capacities – are differences of degree not of kind. Moreover, every species has its uniqueness. Human uniqueness also includes limitations: we cannot echo-locate like dolphins or bats nor photosynthesize like plants. These differences are not morally relevant. Different beings aren’t better beings any more than different humans are better humans.

“All beings have inherent worth and dignity” does not mean all beings have the same value or have equal worth. It simply says that even tapeworms, cockroaches, and dustmites have some worth that is inherent and not instrumental.

Indeed, even plants and fungi warrant moral concern, for they, too, are integral parts of the interdependent web of life affirmed in the Unitarian Universalist seventh principle, as well as in Aldo Leopold’s Land Ethic:

“A land ethic changes the role of Homo sapiens from conqueror of the land-community to plain member and citizen of implies respect for his fellow-members, and also respect for the community as such.”

The world into which we are born is much older, complex, and complete than we are. We are just beginning to understand the complex balance and intricacies of our planet’s ecosystems. We are increasingly realizing that the web of life as a whole has intrinsic, inherent value far beyond merely instrumental worth.

At the same time, we are sometimes justified in using some beings for our own vital needs. We are within our moral rights to eat carrots, cut down trees to build a house, or use antibiotics to cure an infection. Even Arne Naess’ Deep Ecology Movement, allows that

“any realistic praxis necessitates some killing, exploitation, and suppression.”

The First Principle Project is not asking for an unrealistic praxis. It asks to recognize that, along with our needs for instrumental use of other beings, we also recognize that they have inherent worth. It is a call to expand our circle of moral concern and compassion and to acknowledge the truth of our membership in the larger life community that has value in its own right. The beings of that community had value before Homo sapiens arrived on the scene, and they still do now.

We have always had to make difficult decisions when our legitimate interests conflict with the interests of other beings. The First Principle Project asks us to recognize that we face such difficult choices not merely when human interests conflict with other human interests, but also when human interests conflict with nonhuman interests.

When human interests conflict with interests of other beings, factors to be considered include:

1. Sentience (the ability to feel pains and pleasures.) Cows? Yes. Carrots. Probably not.

2. Consciousness (self-awareness). Conscious beings have a sense of self that persists over time and interests in how their lives go.

3. Sociality. Social beings have more complex capacities for relationships and experiences. It means that a harm to a member of the society causes pain to other members. The death of a social being is occasioned by mourning among survivors.

4. The importance of the interest to the being who has it. Vital interests trump non-vital interests. The interests of beings with sentience, consciousness, and sociality count for a lot – but not all their interests are vital. The human interest in eating a cow, when alternatives are readily available, is a preferential taste. That interest would normally be outweighed by the cow’s interest as a sentient and somewhat conscious being.

Recognizing the inherent worth of all beings entails recognizing that the rest of nature has value which does not depend on what use humans can put it to. Spiritually, affirming that principle expands our circles of compassion by opening our hearts and our arms to embrace the more-than-human world in which we live.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Engaging Jennifer

Guest Author: Meredith Garmon
Minister, Community Unitarian Church at White Plains

Editor's Note:
Thank you Jennifer and Meredith for engaging in this important and life saving conversation, and helping the rest of us think about this, and then act upon it.
Rev. LoraKim Joyner - First Principle Project Facilitator

My claims: Every being has inherent worth and dignity. Not every being has equal claim to our resources of care.

The principle of the inherent worth and dignity of every person does not mean that I am obligated to expend as much of my time and resources of care on my neighbors as on my family. (I do, in fact, take seriously our fourth source’s call “to respond to God’s love by loving our neighbors as ourselves,” but this doesn’t mean I generally spend as much time with them as I do with my family.)

Likewise, the worth and dignity of every being does not require equal distribution of my resources of care to each individual being. Dustmites have inherent worth and dignity, but I am not obligated to expend as much of my resources of care protecting individual dustmites as on pigs, cows, dogs, cats, chimps, dolphins, and blue and gold macaws.

In her post, “A Way Forward for Animal Advocates Who Would Campaign for a New UU Principle” (2014 Oct 28 - CLICK HERE), Jennifer Greene expresses doubts about the inherent worth and dignity of every being.

“As Wrong”

Part of Jennifer's position presents in terms of a dispute about “as wrong.”
“Do I believe it's as wrong to kill an ant, as a human? No, I believe it's far more wrong to kill a human than an ant.”
And she mentions, by way of contrast, Norm Phelps, who, “maintains that it's as wrong to kill an insect as a human.”

But disagreements about what is “as wrong” as what shed no light on the issue. “As wrong” is unnecessary – it doesn’t help the case for the principle of worth/dignity of every being. And “as wrong” is hopelessly ambiguous. When someone says "A is as wrong as B," they might mean
"The punishment for A should be the same as the punishment for B."
Or they might mean,
"A and B call for similar voicings of denunciation -- in the same way that we denounce stealing a candy bar as firmly as we denounce stealing a car -- though of course the punishments should differ, and the resources of law enforcement to prevent them should differ."
Or they might mean,
"It is true that A is wrong, and it is just as much true that B is wrong -- in the way that "$1 is money" is just as much true as "$10 is money.' Though $10 is certainly not equal to $1, the truth of the two statements is equal."
In the end, this "as wrong" talk should be regarded as merely a rhetorical flourish. We can affirm that all beings have worth and dignity without needing to advance any claims about equality of wrongness.


Jennifer helpfully mentions Mylan Engel’s distinction between “equal” and “mere” (or “nonzero”) considerability. “Equal considerability,” (EC) defended by Peter Singer and Tom Regan, says “we owe humans and sentient nonhumans exactly the same degree of moral consideration.” “Mere considerability” says “animals deserve some moral consideration, although not as much consideration as that owed to humans.” Mylan Engel, Jennifer, and I all agree that, as Jennifer puts it,
“it's not necessary to hold EC, in order to make an argument from consistency for the wrongness of even the most entrenched form of animal exploitation (i.e., the use of animals for food).”
While “inherent worth and dignity of every being” does not imply EC, notions of equality have sometimes entered the conversation. Jennifer references Mark Causey’s “Inherent Worth” (2014 Feb 20 -- CLICK HERE). Here’s Mark’s relevant paragraph:
“One of the most common objections I hear when presenting or talking about the First Principle Project is the objection that replacing the word ‘person’ with the word ‘being’ now means that we are all the same. ‘Does that mean that a tapeworm or a cockroach has exactly the same inherent value as a human being?!’ What I believe has happened here is that the objector has subconsciously inserted the word ‘equal’ into the formulation of the revised principle. What we are saying is that we are ‘called to affirm and promote the inherent worth and dignity of all beings.’ What the objector is hearing is that we are ‘called to affirm and promote the equal inherent worth and dignity of all beings.’ If every being has equal inherent worth, does that mean I can no longer swat a mosquito? But the First Principle project is not proposing to insert the word ‘equal’ into the principle. It is quite natural for us to hear the word ‘equal’ here because it is implied (although not explicitly stated) in the current wording of the principle. What we hear in the current first principle is that all persons, regardless of race, sex, ability, identification, etc., have equal worth and dignity. We are so used to fighting for the principle of equality amongst humans, as we should, that we automatically transfer this notion to the proposed changed wording including all beings.”
It’s true that the progress of morality among humans has been tied up with conceptions of “equality.” The language that emerged in Europe’s feudal period asserted that the landed classes were “betters” and “superiors.” Dismantling the lingering assumptions of that time were helped by insisting, “we’re all equal.” The work of ending discrimination continues to have a great need to invoke “equal protection of the law.” Whatever equality has meant – as a value and an ideal for human-human relations and for human institutions -- it has never meant that we expected anyone to devote the resources of their care just the same to everyone. We have always understood that people will be more devoted to their friends and family than to others. Equality has never meant the complete obliteration of loyalty.

So if people are, as Mark suggests, “subconsciously insert[ing] the word ‘equal’ into the formulation of the revised principle,” the problem isn’t that they are assuming the same kind of equality among animals that the current first principle now indicates among humans. Rather, the problem is that people may be – bizarrely -- inserting into the formulation of the revised principle a much stronger notion of equality than any kind of equality we affirm among humans.

Jennifer then says,
“But not everyone shares Mark's view. To others, ‘inherent worth and dignity of every being’ does imply equality.”
If there are, indeed, “others” who think this way, then let us endeavor to disabuse of them of their obvious mistake. I have already indicated the basic strategy: Almost certainly these “others” do not imagine that the inherent worth and dignity of every person requires equal energy of care to every person. So they cannot reasonably imagine that total equality of energy of care suddenly appears when we expand the circle of some care from “every person” to “every being.”

Speaking of Expanding the Circle…

Jennifer cites Rev. Karen Brammer’s post (2014 Oct 11 -- CLICK HERE). Karen says:
"I have difficulty increasing the reach of the first principle to non-human individuals when we have so much more intentional human bridge-building to do."
When we expand the circle of our care – expand the circle of those to whom we extend some care – it never damages those who were already in the circle. I don’t spend as much of my resources of care on my neighbors as on my family, but I nevertheless care about my neighbor. Doing so doesn’t harm my care of my family – in fact, I am better able to be present and loving to my family when I’m a generally kind person to my neighbors. Caring about, and building bridges of connection to people of a different human culture don’t harm my own culture, but strengthen it. In similar manner, caring about animals doesn’t detract from caring about people. Just the opposite. Whenever we expand the circle of care, the total “regime of care” is strengthened.

LoraKim Joyner’s post (2014 Dec 4 -- CLICK HERE) explained in some detail how helping nonhuman animals helps humans. Empathy and concern for nonhumans expands our capacity for empathy and concern for humans too. Karen’s concern for human bridge-building would rationally lead her toward, rather than away from, care for nonhuman animals.

The Prescriptive/Descriptive Thing

I made some of the above points to Jennifer in comments on Facebook. She said,
It is certainly a fact that we spend our time and resources of care more on certain individuals than on others. But when it comes to humans, we don't accept that as an argument against the idea of our "equal worth." "Equal worth" and "equality" are usually understood to be prescriptive, as opposed to descriptive. We say that humans are equal under the law—and the current first principle is widely understood to be a declaration of this egalitarian view. So I am worried that you are citing the descriptive fact of unequal allocation of time and resources of care (i.e., how things are), as if to disprove that which is prescriptive—i.e., how we think things should be, or the legal protections we agree should be applied to kin and strangers alike.
I replied by asking how she navigates the prescriptive/descriptive thing when it comes to humans -- while at the same time spending more resources of care on her own family. Whatever it is that is prescriptive about our notions of equality of all humans, it does not interfere with our sense that it is perfectly right and just to devote more of one's resources of care on one's own family than on one's neighbors. Jennifer replied,
"Well, I think we try to do that by building fairness and equality into our laws (in recognition of our instincts for things like preferential treatment and revenge)."
At issue here is, what difference does affirming the inherent worth and dignity of every being really make? What does it ask us to do differently? The answer is: we don't know. And it's just fine that we don't know. In the mid-1980s, when UUs adopted our principles, including the first one, we didn't know where affirming the inherent worth and dignity would take us -- but it was worthwhile to make that affirmation and see.

It's important that we start with description. The human rights community has broad consensus that the thing to say is the descriptive assertion, "people have rights" -- not "people should have rights." We assert a description of the moral landscape as the first move. Jefferson, in the Declaration of Independence, affirmed that all are created equal, endowed with inalienable rights. That was a moral description. Thirteen years later came the Constitution, where we sketched one of the many possible ways we might have understood ourselves as accommodating the moral reality. The Declaration inspired the Constitution, but didn't dictate any of it.

And that's the function of a descriptive moral principle -- to inspire. Out of that inspiration we may eventually come to agreement on some prescriptions. If, as Jennifer suggests, our present first principle leads us to try to build fairness and equality into our laws, that is just one of many directions we might have gone to accommodate the reality that all persons have inherent worth and dignity. That moral truth itself stipulates nothing about fairness or equality. (That's the 2nd principle -- and there's a reason these are two different principles rather than one.)

"All beings have inherent worth and dignity," is a moral truth, not a moral rule. The new, revised first principle would tell us to simply notice. In and of itself, all it prescribes is: notice that all beings have worth and dignity. The question will arise (at least, we hope it will), "OK, what do I do about this truth once I've noticed it?" The fact calls for some response, but in itself dictates no particular response. I think it will probably tend to encourage a greater conscientiousness and mindfulness in all our relations -- but different people will go different ways with it. When a community of people commits to observe (notice) a moral reality, as time goes by, particular action ideas begin to gain popular support. Animal cruelty laws might be strengthened -- and slowly expanded to more species. Or more efforts to preserve habitats may emerge. Consumer choices might gradually shift -- not because the revised first principle will tell people to shift them, but as a natural (and naturally highly variable) result of noticing, of having in mind the moral truth that all beings have worth and dignity. Some people might merely say a little prayer for the dustmites before turning on the air purifier that will kill many of them -- even that is at least a start. Some kind of start is better than none. And where that start might lead is anybody's guess.

However we respond, collectively recognizing the truth that all beings have inherent worth and dignity helps shift us toward life, connection, and greater joy in all we do -- whatever we do.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Living Beings

Living Beings
A song by  singer songwriter John Beltzer

     I enjoyed this music video for many reasons, one of which was its link to the First Principle Project. The song's  chorus  asks us to treat all beings with dignity and love:

Humanity should rise above
to treat all living beings
with dignity and love

      The songwriter's compassion does indeed include all living beings, as John Beltzer is also the President of Songs of Love. The Songs of Love Foundation is a nonprofit organization dedicated to providing personalized uplifting songs, free of charge, for children and teens currently facing tough medical, physic, or emotional challenges.  

     Thank you John for our art and your compassion.


Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Beings Together

Here is a video that is an advertisement for Android.  It is also about the joy of transspecies relationships, and reminds us how our UU Principles ask us to not draw lines that seperate us, but to draw circles of compassion that interconnect us.