Dispatches From the Moderate Left

Friday, June 03, 2005


Well, I really stumbled upon a sacred cow with that last post of mine. I was a bit flippant in the post because I stupidly assumed my fundamental views would be clear. Anyway, I'll make my position clearer.

I personally think whaling is a disgusting, barbaric practice and I would never eat a whale - just as I would never wear fur or eat dog. But, as with those things, I don't think my opinion is or should be the last word on the subject and if other nations wish to do so, then they should be allowed to provided that the process doesn't irrepairably destroy the natural heritage of our planet for future generations.

Militant vegans, 'life begins at conception' abortion activists and those who oppose living wills shouldn't be able to force their views on the rest of the population and nations which have a strong aversion to whaling shouldn't be able to do so on other nations either either. I see this as the essence of liberalism and I think it's hypocritical for leftys to criticise the right for trying to imposing a specific moral code when they would seek to do the same.

As for the comment which I take as questioning whether or not I oppose cannibalism, I happen to believe in human rights and, like most sane people, draw a bright line around humans and what you can and can't do to them. I'll post a longer discussion on what I see as the philosophical basis of human rights in an upcoming book review but I do believe there's a categorical difference between humans and animals and this has consequences for what we can do to each. I do not believe in a strong version of animal rights but I think it's broadly justifiable that there be definate limits to what should be allowed to be done to animals. I happen to think harvesting for consumption, generally, falls within those limits.

And I'll lay off the whales from now on :)


  • The philosophy that [people in Category X] "shouldn't be able to force their views on the rest of the population" then becomes a really interesting debate, in which, at least in the US, the 'small-government' Republicans are basically forced to break ranks with the now-majority Christian Right faction and, as much as it pains many of them, join forces with the Left in search of freedom, liberty and other buzzwords. It all becomes a case of where the line should be drawn - for instance, is the compulsory wearing of helmets and/or seatbelts on public roads an insult to 'the principles of liberty upon which This Great Country was Founded'? Or is it just telling people not to be idiots? Obviously, the groups you've listed here are currently seen by many as belonging to the lunatic fringe - but one man's logical argument is another's raving lunacy, and all democracy can provide is an averaging process where the (potentially loony?) views of a 51% majority (of the subset of the population who actually bothers to vote - and entirely leaving aside any allegations of electoral fraud!) are assumed to be representative of the society at large.

    So, where to draw the line? I disagree with your suggestion that the Left is (or even should be) inherently neutral with respect to imposing moral codes - any political philosophy is fundamentally based on the principle that 'my moral code is the code by which this society should be run', and the essence of the two-party political system is to produce (force?) a compromise between the opposing alternatives. The only way a society can function is with some sort of moral code in place - whether this is derived from the US Christian Right or from the cradle-to-grave Left-leaning social services systems of parts of Europe is largely an accident of fate. The answer? I dunno, I'm just an engineer...

    By Anonymous John Provis, at 4:28 AM  

  • You're right, society can never be completely value neutral and there is an element of choice which has to be made. I would agree that national parliaments can legislate pretty much whatever they want if they follow the democratic process and abide by their society's explicit social contract (ie the consitution). I think there should be a general principle against laws which are explicitely attempting to create a moral order and are not justified on utilitarian grounds, but there can't be an a priori prohibition on them.

    However, I think the argument is much different at an international level. As I said in my post, I believe in universal human rights but beyond that it is much less legitimate for nations to force explicit moral positions on others who don't feel the same. It's undemocratic and, as the international order is based on consent and co-operation, is likely to cause a break down in international agreements. I wouldn't be surprised to see Japan leave the IWF in the next 5 years if it makes no progress towards a loosening of the moratorium.

    Finally, as to the difference between the US and European concepts of the limits of government, I think the best explanation is that between a Hobbsean and a Lockean social contract conception. But that's for another post...

    By Blogger Jeremy, at 7:52 AM  

  • Whale FISHING. You don't fish for whales, for the simple reasons that they are not fish. It is been demonstrated scientifically that whales are mammals; furthermore they breathe air through what is generally known as a blowhole.

    If you were going to go fishing for a whale, what size hook would you use? Would you use a gaff hook? What sized line would you use? Would you use a net?

    Unfortunately they were fresh out of explosive tipped harpoons at my local fishing store.

    It is not global warming or terrorism that are the greatest threats to western culture. IT IS GRAMMER LIKE THIS, "WHALE FISHING!"

    The correct term for hunting whales is whaling. Only four year olds and idiots use the term "whale fishing." Luckily it is usually beaten out of them before they reach primary school. Until such time as you apologise for such atrocious grammar my link to your site will say, "The Whale Fisherman" instead of "Moderate Lefty".

    I pray to almighty God that you are taking the piss, in which case no apology is necessary.

    PS I have replied to the rest of what you said on my blog.

    By Anonymous Chris Fryer, at 1:02 PM  

  • Oh, I didn't realise it was my bad grammar (note: A not E, glass houses and all) you were pointing out. It was completely unconscious, I never actually made the link between fishing and fish before, it doesn't come up that often I guess. I apologise, of course.

    And I don't think that just because scientists classify whales as mammals (I do know this, and noted it in my first post) that this settles the argument. I still believe there's a difference between humans and animals (which gives rise to the concept of human rights) and I'll elaborate on that more in a future post.

    By Blogger Jeremy, at 7:05 PM  

  • I'll apologise too, that was probably a bit nasty, I was trying to be funny. I was sort of having a go at bloggers who can't think of a logical come back so they pick on grammar instead.

    I did an editing class last year and I'd be letting down my tutor if I let you get away with it. Haha.

    By Anonymous Chris Fryer, at 10:56 AM  

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