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America's Culture War: Environmentalism

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Off With Their Heads!

by  Jeff Miller, Ph.D.

Killing unborn human babies is okay, but decapitating roses?—That is just plain wrong. At least, that is what the Swiss Confederation Federal Ethics Committee recently decided. Human beings are now playing God to the point that they are deciding for everybody else what is morally “right” and “wrong”: “The Committee members unanimously consider an arbitrary harm caused to plants to be morally impermissible” (Willemsen, 2008, p. 20, emp. added). As an example, they explain that if a farmer, on his way home after cutting his grass for his animals, “decapitates flowers with his scythe” without “rational reason” (p. 9), he has committed a moral wrong. Really. I suppose that would be either planticide (if deliberate), or plantslaughter (if accidental).

Why does the committee believe that killing plants arbitrarily is wrong? “A clear majority also takes the position that we should handle plants with restraint for the ethical reason that individual plants have inherent worth” (Willemsen, p. 10, emp. in orig.). They explain their use of the words “inherent worth,” by saying that plants, like the rosebush, have worth “independently of whether it is useful or whether someone ascribes a value to it” (p. 7). So, when the card soldiers in Alice in Wonderland painted the roses red, they were doing more than merely upsetting the queen (who called for their heads). They were committing a heinous unethical act of seismic proportions and deserved to be punished for their flagrant disregard of roses’ inherent worth—and their right to be the color they were born, or should we say, grown with.

The truth is, human beings have “inherent value” that surpasses the physical realm, because God made us in His image (Genesis 1:27). Unlike the rest of Creation, humans have a soul, and will exist forever. We were created on a different plane from the rest of Creation. Plants have “instrumental value,” because they are useful to humans. God created and protects plants for that reason. Sometimes plants have a “relational value,” if we ascribe value to them (e.g., a tree “planted in memory of a person who has died” [p. 7], or a rose garden that we value because of its beauty). However, a plant’s value is not equal to that of a human being. Jesus emphasized this very point when He contrasted the two: “If God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will He not much more clothe you?” (Matthew 6:30). Humans are of far greater value than flowers or grass.

But the committee says that plants “strive after something,” and should not be hampered without “good reason.” After all,

recent findings in natural science, such as the many commonalities between plants, animals and humans at molecular and cellular level [sic], remove the reasons for excluding plants in principle from the moral community.... Studies in cell biology show that plants and animals, which share a developmental history lasting 3 billion years, have many processes and reactions that do not differ fundamentally at the cellular level.... Plants react to touch and stress, or defend themselves against predators and pathogens, in highly differentiated ways (Willemsen, pp. 5,15, emp. added).

They continue:

[I]t could be that plants...fulfill the necessary conditions for a kind of sentience [sense perception, consciousness, the ability to feel—JM].... It is not clear that plants have sentience, but neither is it clear that this is not the case. It cannot therefore be argued that the reasons for excluding plants from the circle of beings that must be morally considered, have been eliminated.... The majority of the committee members at least do not rule out the possibility that plants are sentient, and that this is morally relevant (p. 15, emp. added).

Not quite half of the committee is doubtful that plants are sentient. So, almost half of the committee are not totally sure, but are “doubtful” that plants are sentient. “A small group considers it probable” that they are. Unbelievable! This sort of “reasoning” is the logical outcome of atheism and alienation from God. Are we to start considering the grass’s feelings before we step on the front lawn? If people of this stripe ever overcome their current doubt and convince themselves that plants really are sentient, plants will take their rightful place as “part of the moral community.”

They go further. “The majority opinion is that we require justification to disturb plants’ ability to develop” (p. 17). So, we have to justify ourselves to a plant before we “disturb” it. Concerning “ownership of plants,” the majority of the committee believes that plants are “excluded for moral reasons from absolute ownership. By this interpretation no one may handle plants entirely according to his/her own desires” (p. 20). So, if you live in Switzerland, your potted plant in the kitchen is legally protected. You might think that you own it and can do with it as you please, but you do not, and cannot. And, logically, if you mistreat it (forget to water it as often as you should, water it too much, fail to provide it with proper sunlight, or provide too much sunlight), you could be brought up on charges of—plant abuse. I wonder if plant nurseries in Switzerland will need to provide instructions, with every plant they sell, on how to respect the rights of plants.

Notice that as yet, if one has a “good reason,” it is not wrong to kill plants. But why should it matter if one has a good reason or not? If it is wrong to kill plants, why hesitate to say so forthrightly? Why the loophole? If plants have so many similarities to humans biologically at the cellular level, and it is not acceptable to kill human beings, why should it be acceptable to kill plants? Liberals say that we should not even kill human beings when they have committed heinous crimes worthy of death. Killing others through war is frowned upon, too. The only human killing that seems to be acceptable is euthanasia and abortion, and yet, it is not likely the committee would approve of plant abortion. They likely would rally around a dying plant to keep it alive rather than finish it off. So, why allow plant killing at all? The answer is that, without it, what would we eat? Eating animals is frowned upon by vegetarians. They insist we should exclude meat from our diets. But now killing plants is also being frowned upon. So what is left for us to eat? Insects and dirt? Should we become scavengers and eat only dead items, like road kill or rotting plants? Imagine a dozen starving human beings circling a tree waiting for an apple to die and fall off the tree. Notice the hypocrisy. “It is wrong to kill plants”—up until the point where it really affects me. If these plant-defenders, these champions of flowers, were truly loving and sacrificial towards plants, as they pretend, they would eat no plants or animals at all—any more than they would eat a fellow human being. In fact, given their cockeyed reasoning, they should not even eat dead plants or animals, since to do so would deprive poor little bacteria and microorganisms of their food source. Plus, it would be a desecration of the plant’s memory. Doesn’t the Swiss government committee care for them, too? The loving and sacrificial thing to do would be for humans just to die, and let the Earth be spared the horrible interference of humans.

Consider some implications. Ethically speaking, the arbitrary killing of a plant is now considered to be morally wrong, just like killing a human baby. Of course, to many in society, killing a baby, when it is on the opposite side of the mother’s skin, is not ethically wrong. So, that implies that plants now have more value than a human baby that is merely separated from us by temporary tissues and fluids!

If plants are now to be placed on a pedestal, the future will be bleak indeed. How long will it be until it is considered morally wrong to cut your grass and trim your bushes? What about the murder of trees in order to make room for new roads, houses, and buildings, or to make paper? Logically, all use of wood must be banned. We will have to live in tee-pees made from the leather of dead and rotting animal carcasses or build dirt huts, although doing so, again, would disturb the miniscule bacteria that inhabit such things. Killing cotton plants for clothing would be unacceptable. Humans will have to let the plants take over society. In fact, again, we humans just need to kill ourselves to protect the environment. Remaining alive will mean absolute submission to “Mother Earth” with zero interference so that we are not guilty of sinning against her or having dominion over her. Technological and economical progress must come to a screeching stop so that no harm is inflicted on the environment. We should eliminate all of our energy-using devices and technological advancements, and return to a more primitive time. But wait. There has never been a time when humans did not encroach on their environment. In fact, it would be virtually impossible not to affect the environment—even if you lived in a cave and ate dirt. Microorganisms reside in dirt. Even breathing air affects living entities. Don’t those many airborne microscopic organisms and viruses that are sucked into the human lungs have the right to be included in the “moral community”? This entire discussion is insane.

REFERENCES

Willemsen, Ariane, ed. (2008), “The Dignity of Living Beings with Regard to Plants—Moral Consideration of Plants for their Own Sake,” Federal Ethics Committee on Non-Human Biotechnology (Berne: Swiss Confederation), April.




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