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"Moral Consideration of Plants":

The Swiss Federal Ethics Committee on Non-Human Biotechnology's report, The Dignity of Living Beings with Regard to Plants. A sample:

The Committee members unanimously consider an arbitrary harm caused to plants to be morally impermissible. This kind of treatment would include, e.g. decapitation of wild flowers at the roadside without rational reason.

Conclusion 3 expresses the different moral stances according to which it is unanimously held that plants may not be arbitrarily destroyed, in accordance with Conclusion 1. As 3 shows, the majority considers this morally impermissible because something bad is being done to the plant itself without rational reason and thus without justification. A minority considers this treatment to be impermissible as well, but for another reason: because this destructive treatment of a wild flower expresses a morally reprehensible stance.

There's much more. Thanks to Manny Klausner and to this Weekly Standard article for the pointer.

OrangeLettuce (mail):
Those who believe in nothing will believe in anything.
5.3.2008 9:25pm
Nessuno:
I welcome this brand of thinking.

I consider this as taking some of the extremist thinking in the animal rights movement to its logical conclusion.
5.3.2008 9:28pm
Dave N (mail):
As Dave Barry would say, Orange Lettuce sounds like a great name for a rock band.

I didn't read the article, but based just on what was provided, my thought was, "What absolutely idiotic pablum."
5.3.2008 9:32pm
Tom952 (mail):
I suppose using bug spray in your home is beyond the pale.
5.3.2008 9:41pm
Displaced Midwesterner:
For the sake of being devil's advocate, is this really that different from, say, the Kantian idea that you should avoid cruelty to animals because it degrades a person's moral capacity and respect towards humans, or, for that matter, the fact that the 'decapitation of parking meters at the roadside without rational reason' is considered to be vandalism, destruction of property, etc.?
5.3.2008 9:45pm
WF (mail):
The <i>Weekly Standard</i> column is pretty silly. It's absolutely not the case that people just recently started caring about things which aren't people.

The most obvious example is things like flags and crucifixes being desecrated, which people have cared about since forever, and which aren't even alive.

Now you might think that it's crazy to care about stuff like that, but that commits you to basically thinking most people around you are crazy.
5.3.2008 9:48pm
Casper (mail):
EV, did you have any purpose in this post other than stirring up knee-jerk responses in the comments?
5.3.2008 9:48pm
Sal:
I'm confused. Even as a pretty hardcore conservative, isn't it just true -- as in, beyond debate -- that the senseless destruction of beautiful things (including flowers) is morally wrong? They may be crazy for saying it's morally wrong because the plant has independent dignity, but the conclusion is absolutely correct. (The question is whether pulling up ugly weeds violates their rule. If so, then they diverge from good sense. But the fact that they chose wildflowers shows that they're just articulating a fundamental truth in a mistaken way.)

I'm always struck by anti-liberals -- a subset of conservatives -- who love to say things like it doesn't matter if whales get wiped out or if our great forests were replaced by Walmarts. The fact is that the beauty of the world is largely often irreplaceable and is either a gift to man from Heaven or the particularly pleasing environment to which we are evolutionarily attuned (perhaps both?). As silly as liberals can be in articulating the reasons for preserving that beauty, they're often inadvertently correct in their conclusions.
5.3.2008 9:50pm
Hanah Volokh (mail) (www):
Are we sure this is not a hoax?
5.3.2008 9:57pm
Hoosier:
I am a vegetarian. I quit eating animals seven years ago due to a sense of guilt.

I DON'T NEED THIS!
5.3.2008 10:00pm
Hoosier:
"Decapitation" may not translate correctly, because it implies a level of damage that does not occur. Flowers do not have a "head" (caput), and thus cannot be decapitated. To decapitate an animal is to kill an animal. To pick the bloom off a wildflower? It does grow back.

Sal: I'm a conserative too. In addition to which, I'm not interested in playing Devil's Advocate for the sake of debate. (I could never have been a successful law prof.) So I hope this doesn't sound like a cavil. But the beauty of a living thing does not seem relevant to me.

I am fascinated with frogs. They are a hobby of mine, and in fact I just picked up a great new book on frogs of the world today. I am willing to stipulate that most people don't find frogs beautiful. (Although many are, to my way of thinking.) I would still hope that people would avoid stomping on them, even if they find them ugly. The important issue seems to me to be that they are living creatures, whatever they look like.
5.3.2008 10:08pm
Shadow:

Are we sure this is not a hoax?


I'm not. Not after the "regrown finger" hoax.
5.3.2008 10:10pm
_anonymous_:

The Committee members unanimously consider an arbitrary harm caused to plants to be morally impermissible. This kind of treatment would include, e.g. decapitation of wild flowers at the roadside without rational reason.

lol, wut?
5.3.2008 10:11pm
DG:
I, for one, welcome our new vegetable overlords.
5.3.2008 10:11pm
Why not rock rights?:

Are we sure this is not a hoax?


Truth is stranger than fiction, and these days it's almost impossible to satirize anything. I don't think it's a hoax. What concerns me most is the failure of many ethics crusaders to realize that just because something is "immoral" does not mean it should be illegal.
5.3.2008 10:14pm
Why not rock rights?:

I'm not. Not after the "regrown finger" hoax.


Shadow, can you supply a link to a page that exposes this hoax?
5.3.2008 10:16pm
Dude Cool:

I, for one, welcome our new vegetable overlords.


Funniest thing I've read on VC in ... maybe ever!

On a more serious note, I am a firm believer that humans owe no moral consideration to other species. That being said, I support animal cruelty laws not because the animal suffers, but because of what engaging in cruelty says about a person. Anyone who deliberately mistreats a living thing in order to see it suffer is perverse.

But plants can't suffer, and don't appear to suffer. A person who tortures a dog is a sick, terrible person because he wants to see a living thing suffer. A person who "decapitates" (whatever) flowers is ... I'm not sure, but certainly not a monster.
5.3.2008 10:26pm
Barbara Skolaut (mail):
These people loons are insane.
5.3.2008 10:46pm
Ben P (mail):

But plants can't suffer, and don't appear to suffer. A person who tortures a dog is a sick, terrible person because he wants to see a living thing suffer. A person who "decapitates" (whatever) flowers is ... I'm not sure, but certainly not a monster.


Doesn't this just play into standards though?

I know you said "torture," but just to assume for the moment that methods of "ending life" are equal.

I see nothing inherently wrong with the proposition that destroying plant life with absolutely no justification whatsoever is "wrong" in an abstract sense. Likewise, I would say that ending the life of an animal with no justification whatsoever is "wrong" in an abstract sense.

But an animal (like a dog) both has more utility and has a higher intellectual and sensory capacity than a plant.

Therefore, the standard to "kill" or "harm" a plant is much lower than the standard to "kill" or "harm" an animal like a dog.

I can kill a weed in my lawn because doing so makes my lawn look better.

I could permissively kill my dog, but I need a much much higher justification. That it is likely to cause serious harm to a person in the future is a clear cut case, but many people "kill" their dogs on the rationale that the dog will suffer less if dead now than if it dies over an extended period of time from a disabling illness.


Now, getting to "torture." There's no rationale I can conceive of that makes torturing a dog acceptable, but what about say, a goose for example. The preperation of foie gras involves force feeding the goose far larger quantities of food than could normally eat. Some consider this torture, and while I'm not sure I agree, their position is at least plausible.

But then you have to ask the question, is this form of "torture" prior to killing the goose for food, acceptable in the light of the result, a "delicacy" (which I don't like in the first place) that some people highly enjoy? Possibly, but there are certainly those who say it isn't and I don't think they're totally irrational for believing that.
5.3.2008 10:48pm
Latinist:
The report only says that "an arbitrary harm caused to plants" is wrong: that is, harming plants for literally NO REASON AT ALL. To put it another way: all other things being equal, harming plants is worse than not harming plants. Now some people (including Dude Cool) certainly disagree with this, but it doesn't seem very weird.

The report does NOT say that your reason for harming the plant needs to be a very compelling one: if you're pulling up weeds to make your lawn nicer, or picking a flower because you think it would look good in your lapel, this report (or this part of it) has nothing to say about that action.
5.3.2008 10:48pm
Bama 1L:
Would someone who has read the report please explain what is so objectionable about it?
5.3.2008 10:55pm
Matt P (mail):
I guess what bothers me is that they took the time to create such a statement. The growing over moralization of everything a is huge reason for the acrimony in public discourse. No longer is your opponent someone you dissagree with, now they are morally wrong. At some point some actions must be morally neutral or it will be too easy to justify curtailing freedoms.

I'm not against doing ethics (I'm a pastor for crying out loud!) but were coming close to moral overload when knocking the tops off of plants causes us to use words like impermissible.
5.3.2008 11:00pm
Latinist:
Also, to bicker with the whole Standard article a bit more:

Wesley Smith argues that "the Judeo-Christian world view, which upholds the unique dignity and moral worth of human beings," is threatened by this argument. I'm not sure I see why. Believing that humans have "unique moral worth" doesn't entail believing that nothing else has any moral worth at all; one could easily agree with this report and still hold that a human is worth the sacrifice of many, many plants (or, for that matter, animals).

And in fact, it's clear from the disagreement mentioned in the report that some of the reporters DO believe that plants have no moral worth at all: they just think that arbitrary destruction of plants betokens a bad habit of mind in the destroyer. This is the equivalent of Kant's argument about animals, mentioned by Displaced Westerner. Does Smith think that Kant was undermining our Judeo-Christian heritage?

For that matter, quite a lot of people would agree that it's wrong to arbitrarily (mark that word, again) kill baby kittens. Does Smith disagree? If not, why not? Isn't that argument equally damaging to our idea of humans' "unique dignity and moral worth"?
5.3.2008 11:04pm
Bama 1L:
"Consider the lilies of the field. . . ."

Yes, thinking about the place of plants in the moral order imperils Christianity!
5.3.2008 11:11pm
Latinist:
Matt P:
Fair enough; but I suspect the report isn't really aimed at preventing people from cutting the tops off plants. Rather, that example is used to establish the basic principle that it is worth at least trying to avoid harm to plants in some circumstances. From there, presumably, we go on to try and determine how much effort we should be willing to put into that: do we, e.g., sacrifice some of our GDP to avoid killing the rainforest? And if so, how many dollars should we bw willing to pay per tree? But first, they want to establish that trees are worth protecting in the first place.

Of course, maybe they should have avoided this kind of argument in a public document, because of the risk that someone might take it out of context, misrepresent their claims, and make them sound like nutjobs.
5.3.2008 11:13pm
David M. Nieporent (www):
The Weekly Standard column is pretty silly. It's absolutely not the case that people just recently started caring about things which aren't people.

The most obvious example is things like flags and crucifixes being desecrated, which people have cared about since forever, and which aren't even alive.

Now you might think that it's crazy to care about stuff like that, but that commits you to basically thinking most people around you are crazy.
WF, it's true that some people care about these things, but they care about these things because it bothers people, not because a piece of cloth has inherent dignity.
5.3.2008 11:18pm
Latinist:
Matt P:
Oh, and I don't think they mean "impermissible" with as strong a sense as you're giving it. They probably just mean that the act they describe is necessarily wrong, without the need to know other details. That is, if you harm a plant, and you have no reason, that's wrong, period, whether it's a turnip or a laurel tree, whether it's in a grove sacred to Demeter or not, etc.
5.3.2008 11:19pm
NickM (mail) (www):
Would practicing your golf swing while muttering about being a Cinderella story at Augusta qualify as a rational reason for decapitating flowers?

Nick
5.3.2008 11:23pm
Latinist:
David M. Nieporent:
That's a pretty weak explanation. We don't burn flags because it bothers people: but why are they bothered? Don't we think they have some good reason to be upset by harm done to an inanimate object?
Or is your position, "well, some people have these weird obsessions with flags and crucifixes, and freak out when they're harmed, so we might as well humor them"? If so, I think it's true that "that commits you to basically thinking most people around you are crazy."
5.3.2008 11:26pm
Latinist:
NickM:
By the standards given in the report, yes, absolutely. The reasoning would be, I imagine: I enjoy fantasizing about being a professional golfer; I should do things I enjoy; so I should fantasize about being a professional golfer.
5.3.2008 11:27pm
Lev:
Sometimes I start skimming too fast, as I did here, and the first clause registered as:


The Committee members unanimously consider an arbitrary ham


But that seems to make as much sense as the rest of it.

Flower sapiens.
5.3.2008 11:30pm
Smokey:
Aren't amoebas plant life? Get rid of your Clorox and Lysol, murderers!
5.3.2008 11:30pm
theonecalledjonesy (mail) (www):
I guess this means the liberals don't want us to mow our grass anymore?
5.3.2008 11:32pm
Waldensian (mail):

I am a vegetarian. I quit eating animals seven years ago due to a sense of guilt.

Dude, get over it. Note that animals appear to feel no sense of guilt whatsoever when they terrorize and kill humans, and damage human property.

Venison, by the way, is delicious.
5.3.2008 11:34pm
theonecalledjonesy (mail) (www):

Dude, get over it. Note that animals appear to feel no sense of guilt whatsoever when they terrorize and kill humans, and damage human property.

Venison, by the way, is delicious.



Dude, this is one of the most insensitive things I have ever heard.
5.3.2008 11:40pm
JB:
Displaced Midwesterner:

For the sake of being devil's advocate, is this really that different from, say, the Kantian idea that you should avoid cruelty to animals because it degrades a person's moral capacity and respect towards humans, or, for that matter, the fact that the 'decapitation of parking meters at the roadside without rational reason' is considered to be vandalism, destruction of property, etc.?



Yes, but should this moral argument be given force of law?
5.3.2008 11:42pm
Pyrrhus (mail) (www):
Sal-

"Even as a pretty hardcore conservative, isn't it just true -- as in, beyond debate -- that the senseless destruction of beautiful things (including flowers) is morally wrong?"

Maybe this question misses the point. If somebody wants to destroy flowers, they must get some sort of pleasure/utility out of destroying flowers. So it is meaningless to talk about "senseless" destruction. We can infer that an activity has value (and thus a purpose i.e. getting that value) to someone by virtue of the fact that they perform that activity.

Note also that it isn't just "beautiful" flowers that would be protected under the "plant dignity" theory. Which is sort of the same point. What defines "beauty" is pretty subjective in the same way that what defines "senseless" is subjective.

We can debate the negative externalities of destroying flowers. Or we can label certain tastes and preferences "illegitimate" (though we ought to struggle for a reason to do that, I think). But it is too easy to just complain about "senseless" destruction.
5.3.2008 11:48pm
Matt P (mail):
Bama,
thinking about plants morally doesn't imperil anyone, but being sanctimonious about them does imperil real, important ethical discussions. For the record my post wasn't about Christianity it was about ethics in general. The "Consider the lilies..." reference has nothing to do with the lilies as individual moral agents (not that I want to get into a theological argument here.)

Latinist,
Perhaps I am reading too much into their statement, but I've been around plenty of people who are claim to do ethics who would use impermissable in a strong sense. If what they are really saying is its good not to waste things too much, I can't see why they would even bother writing it personally.

And I would say that harming a plant with no reason is fine. I've done my own version of the Caddyshack scene and if that doesn't count as without justification I'm not sure what does. I may be foolish in doing it (as I assuredly looked foolish) but was this a moral/ethical action?

I'm not arguing against environmental ethics either. Remember the passage above is speaking about one flower, one flower for crying out loud!

I suppose all I'm striving to say is that sometimes a flower is just a flower -- much like a cigar is often just a cigar.
5.3.2008 11:52pm
dre (mail):

theonecalledjonesy (mail) (www):
I guess this means the liberals don't want us to mow our grass anymore?


Do forget about your "carbon footprint".
5.3.2008 11:59pm
Dude Cool:
Latinist, you say:

To put it another way: all other things being equal, harming plants is worse than not harming plants. Now some people (including Dude Cool) certainly disagree with this, but it doesn't seem very weird.


"Doesn't seem very weird" is not a good moral guidepost for this former philosophy undergrad. And yes, it does seem very weird for a few reasons:

(1) It's very weird to think of plants as "harmed," given that they have no nervous system. Are humans harmed when we cut our fingernails? Are rocks harmed when crushed?
(2) Unless plants have a unique moral quality not apparent to me, then I don't think I can answer your "all things being equal" question.

My basic objection to the Swiss Ethics Committee is that it could lead to the assumption of plant-human equality sans any justifying theory. If one plays your "all things being equal" game, then one might take the easy answer ("of course it's better not to harm plants than to harm plants") than the harder but philosophically sound answer ("the question is impossible to answer without a deontological theory of plants.") If one takes the easy answer, then it seems to me that you assume the moral quality of plants without proving it.
5.4.2008 12:03am
Larry Sheldon:
How does the concern for vegetables square with opinions like Obama's that pregnancy is a punishment to be terminated?
5.4.2008 12:08am
Dude Cool:
Larry,

The following two statements are non-contradictory:

(1) Babies are punishments to be terminated at will.
(2) Plants are people too.

It's just that their both stupid and evil.
5.4.2008 12:14am
Sal:
@ Pyrrhus, and others: Color me unconvinced. If the best you can do is come up with a morally relativistic position ("Some people don't find wildflowers beautiful, and some people find crabgrass beautiful!" combined with "People who wantonly destroy things derive pleasure from it, hence it is not wanton!"), you really aren't in a position to criticize a wacky leftist organization.

As for whether "rocks have rights," as one poster asked -- again, phrasing it in the context of "rights" vested in the thing itself may be misleading. If your question is, "Is it morally wrong to destroy some rocks?" the answer is, "Obviously yes." Destroying the menhirs at Stonehenge, or the fairy chimneys in Cappadocia, or hoodoos at Bryce National Park simply for the pleasure of destruction (what one would call "wanton" or "senseless" destruction) is a moral wrong. Period. Those are wrongs wholly apart from individual ownership (and indeed none of those items is individually owned).

This seems to me an utterly uncontroversial position, unless you've let your morals become totally warped by your hatred (or disdain) for environmentalist nutjobs.
5.4.2008 12:29am
wuzzagrunt (mail):
The ethical case would be more impressive if the author(s) bothered to figure out whether "decapitating" a flower actually caused harm to the organism. If they were making an aesthetic judgment, I would have no problem with it.
5.4.2008 12:31am
subpatre (mail):
The 'Committee' has its collective head in a dark place: what they call decapitation (Latin, removal of the head) actually means removal of expendable sex material.

The animal analogue to "decapitation of wild flowers" is carrying away semen or something equally unappealing.
5.4.2008 12:31am
Bama 1L:
My basic objection to the Swiss Ethics Committee is that it could lead to the assumption of plant-human equality sans any justifying theory.

I just don't see this. It's probably because of this concern that the Swiss committee is at such pains to figure out why and under what circumstances we value plant life. If the Swiss committee isn't working out a deontology of plant life, I don't know what it's doing.

And Matt P, I wasn't arguing with you; I was arguing with the Weekly Standard author. I think "the Judeo-Christian worldview," whatever it may be, can withstand this sort of thing. But, in response to you, I don't see what is "sanctimonious" in Swiss report. I think the translation we're reading is pretty stiff; that may be what's causing some of the reactions.
5.4.2008 12:34am
Bama 1L:
The ethical case would be more impressive if the author(s) bothered to figure out whether "decapitating" a flower actually caused harm to the organism. If they were making an aesthetic judgment, I would have no problem with it.

Isn't this specific issue dealt with in the report? That's why they talk about the possible sentience of the plant--remember that sentience just means ability to sense.

The report takes for granted that plants have values that humans derive from them (vegetables are nutritious; flowers are beautiful) or ascribe to them (my grass is my grass; that tree was here when the town was first settled). The question is whether plants can possibly have any more value than that.
5.4.2008 12:39am
Cornellian (mail):
Doesn't the Buddhist outlook go something like this? I thought it involved respect for all life, even plant life, or something like that.
5.4.2008 12:45am
Randy R. (mail):
"My basic objection to the Swiss Ethics Committee is that it could lead to the assumption of plant-human equality sans any justifying theory. "

Several years ago, Congress voted to ban the burning of flags. I'm sure that you were concerned back then that that would lead to the assujption of cloth-human equality sans any justifying theory, right? Or is that somehow different?

It is rather interesting that people who proclaim that we should 'cherish life' really seem define life as a human fetus prior to birth. Plants, animals, and many groups of people don't qualify or rise to the level of 'cherishment.' Why is that?

IF wildflowers grow alongside a road, they are there for the pleasure of passing motorists. I see no reason to not to condemn anyone who willfully and wontonly destroys that. We have so little beauty in our every day world, and on most highways, it seems rather sensible to want to preserve what little exists.

But then, I care about these things. Other's will disagree and say they have a constitutional right to destroy things that are in the public domain, and will no doubt force me to agree.
5.4.2008 12:45am
William D. Tanksley, Jr:
I cite from Carrot Juice Is Murder, by the Arrogant Worms (who lack jurisdiction, being Canadian, but well, Canada's really big).

Listen up, brothers and sisters
Come hear my desperate tale
I speak of our friends of nature
Trapped in the dirt like a jail

Vegetables live in oppression
Served on our tables each night
This killing of veggies is madness
I say we take up the fight
5.4.2008 12:49am
Dude Cool:
Bama 1L, a few points:

(1) Good luck on finals.
(2) The Swiss Committee did not publish this report because it wanted to, but because it was charged with interpreting the ridiculous Swiss constitution, which offers protection for plants.
(3) The Committee expressly declined to reach a deontoligcal theory of plants. From the report:

However, at this point it remains unclear whether this action is condemned because it expresses a particular moral stance of the farmer towards other organisms or because something bad is being done to the flowers themselves.


This is fatal flaw for me. A government body is condeming an actionwithout deciding why it's wrong.

To address the apparent conundrum reached by the Committee:

The first explanation is lousy because a farmer's cutting down plants hardly seems probative of the farmer's "moral stance" on other beings.

The second explanation is lousy because of what I wrote in previous post: without a theory of plant-value, the concern over the well-being of the plants is at best misplaced, and at worst lazy and evil.

In sum, the Committee decides that an action is wrong, and has two explanations for why it's wrong, even though they don't take a position on which explanation is the good one, and they don't justify either, and... Isn't the better explanation that the farmer didn't do anything wrong?
5.4.2008 12:54am
Vernunft (mail) (www):
For the sake of being devil's advocate, is this really that different from, say, the Kantian idea that you should avoid cruelty to animals because it degrades a person's moral capacity and respect towards humans, or, for that matter, the fact that the 'decapitation of parking meters at the roadside without rational reason' is considered to be vandalism, destruction of property, etc.?


I don't think it's possible to be cruel to plants, as they have no capacity for feeling pain. Thus, there is no possibility of inflicting needless pain, and thus no parallels to Kant's views about animals.

As for property, humans have property rights. That's why it's wrong to destroy property. No analogy there.
5.4.2008 1:01am
DaSarge (mail):
Wow!! Are there any grown-ups left in Switzerland?
5.4.2008 1:11am
whit:
to quote pj orourke...


"if meat is murder, are eggs rape?"

cue: "deflowering" jokes...
5.4.2008 1:17am
WF (mail):
David M. Nieporent:

WF, it's true that some people care about these things, but they care about these things because it bothers people, not because a piece of cloth has inherent dignity.

I don't think this makes sense on its own terms. Do you posit that there two non-overlapping groups in the population, one of people who are bothered by desecration of flags, and one caring about the first group being bothered by said desecration, and that for some reason we're only talking the second group?

Anyhow, lost of people care about desecration of flags when no one is around. See Haidt J, Koller SH, Dias MG., "Affect, culture, and morality, or is it wrong to eat your dog?". J Pers Soc Psychol. 1993 Oct 65(4):613-28.

The subjects were asked:
A woman is cleaning out her closer, and she find her old flag. She doesn't want the flag anymore, so she cuts it up into pieces and uses the rags to clean her bathroom


In Philadelphia, 34% of adults(interestingly, 50% of low socio-economic status and 0% with high socio-economic status) said the woman should be stopped and punished. In Brazil, more people thought this was wrong, and children were also more judgemental.
5.4.2008 1:29am
Shadow:

I'm not. Not after the "regrown finger" hoax.

Shadow, can you supply a link to a page that exposes this hoax?


Here it is.
5.4.2008 1:32am
TruePath (mail) (www):
First of all I have to say that I'm skeptical that we are getting the full context from this piece but to the extent that it paints an accurate picture what is bothersome to me isn't some valuation of plants as having inherent dignity (it's silly but not that worrying) but the arrogant ranking of actions into those which are `arbitrary' and those which are purposeful.

After all the farmer who culls the plants on his way home does so because it satisfies some desire of his to do so. If there was some justification as to why this sort of desire is less worthwhile or the happiness he gets from it less significant than that the commission members got this morning from taking one extra bite of their wheat originated muffin that would be one thing. However, if this summary is to be trusted what is really showing through here isn't a respect for plant dignity but a disrespect for those whose desires differ from your own.

This kind of bias isn't just some hypothetical problem but the root of much oppressive government action. I mean this is behind much of the demands to ban various forms of media be they lolita or grand theft auto IV. Sure the pro-censorship forces justify their arguments by reference to supposed harms that result from this sort of media (and perhaps it does) but they are no more convincing than arguments demonstrating the harms of many classics or approved types of media. Ultimately underlying many censorship demands is the idea that because I find your desires/pleasures unappealing they aren't worth as much.

The response that many liberals have to gun ownership is an even better example. They aren't swayed when you point out that your gun is less risky to their kids than their swimming pool because they find your desire to own a gun distasteful and therefore not worthy of consideration. Now I think most people want to own guns for what are more or less irrational reasons but it's no more irrational than not liking to fly despite the statistics or not liking walking home alone at night if you know you are unlikely to be mugged. Just because you find someone else's desires distasteful doesn't give you the right to give them any less importance. The goal should be to make everyone as happy as possible regardless of what does that.
5.4.2008 1:34am
WF (mail):
David M. Nieporent: I might have misread you. Do you mean to say that people care about desecration of flags, but it's because they're bothered by it, not because they think flags have inherent dignity?

That seems to me like begging the question. It's plausible that if you ask a person "why are you bothered" they'll reply "just because," but I think that's because this person just hasn't analyzed the situation enough.
5.4.2008 1:34am
theonecalledjonesy (mail) (www):
I am all for the defacing, and then smoking of plants. All in the name of the proletariat.
5.4.2008 1:36am
kimsch (mail) (www):
Definition of a "weed": any plant that grows where you don't want it to.

In Notting Hill there is a girl who will only eat "dead" fruit, apples, pears, cherries, plums, etc. that have fallen from the tree.


Keziah: No thanks, I'm a fruitarian.
Max: I didn't realize that.
William: And, ahm: what exactly is a fruitarian?
Keziah: We believe that fruits and vegetables have feeling so we think cooking is cruel. We only eat things that have actually fallen off a tree or bush - that are, in fact, dead already.
William: Right. Right. Interesting stuff. So, these carrots...
Keziah: Have been murdered, yes.
William: Murdered? Poor carrots. How beastly!


Wanton destruction, such as taking a golf club or a machete to plants just to do so is stupid, but not immoral. I have to keep pulling weed trees out of my garden. If I didn't I wouldn't be able to grow my vegetables and I'd have a veritable forest in the 100 square feet of garden that I have in front of the house.

If I don't cut my lawn, the village will come and do it for me and charge me an arm and a leg to boot. Does that come under cruelty to plants? How about pruning? Or even just walking on the grass? Does it scream in pain with every footstep? Does it scream when the goat or sheep walks on it and then pulls it up in clumps with its teeth?

PETA and others get all up in arms about people fishing but they never say a word about the grizzly that knocks a salmon out of the water and smacks it on a rock to kill it, if the grizzly doesn't just eat it alive... Or the cougar that hunts the rabbit and "plays" with it a bit before finally snapping its neck?

I guess only humans are or can be the "bad guys".
5.4.2008 1:44am
WF (mail):
I guess only humans are or can be the "bad guys".

Are there people who think non-human animals can be said to be "bad guys"??? That's way, way weirder than thinking that plants have inherent value.
5.4.2008 1:48am
LM (mail):
"There's no rationale I can conceive of that makes torturing a dog acceptable [...]."

Even if the dog knows the location of innocent kitties being held hostage who are running out of air?
5.4.2008 1:53am
whit:
LM lol lol

seriously. post of the week. at least
5.4.2008 1:55am
Pyrrhus (mail) (www):
Sal

I'm not really bothered that you find my argument 'relativistic'. People possess a wide array of preferences and I'm unsure why anyone would think they could pin down objectively what are pleasures are 'sensible' or 'natural' or whatever criterion it is you using. I should think that the institution of hunting provides a pretty concrete example that destruction is a natural urge. I'm sure we can quickly think up an evolutionary hypotheses why human beings might engage in other forms of destruction (conspicuous consumption), naturally.

If you don't accept demonstrated utility as an argument, do you accept conspicuous consumption arguments? Or natural occurrence arguments? Or how do you define "sensible"? Frankly I find the beauty of flowers to be rather "senseless" if you define "sensible" as, e.g., advancing the industrial capacity of mankind. Or are you just asserting that your preferences are the correct ones?

You may have a set of first principles that defines "destruction" to be a priori bad (but how would you define destruction? Is melting ice destruction of ice? Is freezing water destruction of water? Is this just a moral injunction in favor of the status quo?), but people with a different set of first principles might have to actually think about it a little bit. My first principles tend to be more concerned with harm to human beings, and freedom within the bounds of those harms. A person with my principles would be eminently sympathetic to "relativistic" arguments about varying tastes - but perhaps concerned about externalities.

Furthermore, there is nothing "morally relativistic" about the Swiss position as far as I can tell. They are taking a moral stand on the rights of vegetables (albeit a probably weak one), not looking at two different conceptions of vegetable rights and shrugging.
5.4.2008 1:57am
Latinist:
Dude Cool:
My point in saying the opinion wasn't weird was not to claim that it was justified, but to show that all the worry about lunatic liberals overturning our Judeo-Christian worldview was misguided. The belief being portrayed as terrifyingly subversive is, in fact, quite mainstream.

Of course the report doesn't argue this claim: it doesn't claim to. It merely states that its members share this belief. If any of their (apparently different) justifications were included in the report, Smith's article chose not to quote those parts of it.

The report does not argue for plant-human (or even plant-animal) equality, it does not say you shouldn't mow your lawn, it does not condemn golfers to hell. It merely states, in clear though slightly technical language, the committee members' agreement with a quite widespread and unremarkable moral principle.
5.4.2008 2:07am
Sal:
Pyrrhus -- You'll have to find someone smarter and more patient than I am to explain ideas of beauty to you, I guess. Truth be told, I am not particularly concerned with constructing an airtight or philosophically satisfying explanation for why destroying beautiful things for the pleasure of destruction is wrong. It is, for me, simply an a priori principle -- one that we as humanity have earned as a rule of thumb through millennia of experience.

I wonder whether you genuinely believe that there is no moral difference, at the end of the world when you are the last man standing, between using Monet's Waterlilies to start a fire rather than a piece of scrap cloth. If you do, then I'm not sure at the end of the day it's really possible for us to ever understand each other. If you do, but find it necessary to articulate a philosophical explanation for why, then you just have more patience for such thought experiments than I do. Indeed, it seems to me that the somewhat bizarre report at the center of this brouhaha is a product of smart, patient people trying to articulate a philosophical explanation for a self-evident proposition (wanton destruction of things of beauty is wrong).

For me, it is enough that some things are self-evidently wrong. Destroying beautiful natural (or man-made) things is one of those basic misdeeds for me. I suppose at the end of the day if one wants to cultivate orchids and then decapitate them (is it really so outrageous to use a straightforward word that vividly and clearly conveys the act of cutting off a flower?), I wouldn't stop him from such use of his own time and money. But I would think him the worse for it. Wouldn't you?
5.4.2008 2:08am
Kirk:
Hooiser,
I am a vegetarian. I quit eating animals seven years ago due to a sense of guilt.
Sorry to disillusion you, but you moved from bad to worse. Animals, or at least most of them, have the chance to run away. But look at you: preying on the poor, defensless, immobile vegetables and grains.
5.4.2008 2:12am
deenk:
This is what happens when you get a bunch of ethicists together in a room with time on their hands. It's probably not too much different than when you get a bunch of legal scholars together.

That said, I was interested in Conclusion 4:

4. Genetic modification:
According to the majority position,
there is nothing to contradict the
idea of dignity of living beings in
the genetic modification of plants,
as long as their independence, i.e.
reproductive ability and adaptive
ability are ensured. Social-ethical
limits on the genetic modification
of plants may exist, but are not the
object of this discussion.
Humans have been genetically modifying plants and animals for thousands of years. If humans stopped cultivating/husbanding them, many of these strains would go extinct within a short period (for some, this period would be a single season). Therefore, humans routinely violate this stricture.

Ignorance of the profound genetic modification techniques our ancestors practiced is widespread. Near Berkeley there is a plot where corn has been cultivated for decades as part of a long series of genetic studies. One year they grew a few teosinte plants along the edge the field. Teosinte is the ancestor of corn and is a weird looking plant. Someone sneaked in and removed the teosinte, evidently thinking that it was some GM mutant. Little did they realize that the real GM mutant filled the entire field and featured heavily in their pantry as well!
5.4.2008 2:14am
Latinist:
The meaning of the report might have been clearer if they had chosen a different example. The point is that the beheading (or whatever) of the plants is arbitrary. If the beheader has any rational reason for beheading, including to provide himself with amusement, this claim has no bearing on his action.

If it is claimed that such a situation is impossible (since people don't act without motive), there are two good responses:

1. It doesn't matter if it's possible. The point of the report (as I noted above) is obviously not to convince farmers to stop absent-mindedly cutting down flowers. It is to establish a point of agreement about one principle that will, presumably, be applied to more complex, real situations.

2. It might not be as impossible as it seems. Remember that the choice doesn't have to be between killing plants and doing nothing. Let's say that I have two options to amuse myself: I can either whack the heads of plants with my golf club, or I can balance that club on the tip of my nose. I decide that either option would provide me with the same amount of amusement. According to the committee members, all other things being equal, it would be better to balance it on my nose. Is that really such a revolutionary theory?
5.4.2008 2:19am
LM (mail):
whit,

aw, gee.... (blush)

Now go answer my question on the evolution thread! ;)
5.4.2008 2:23am
LM (mail):
Sal @ 1:08: Well said.
5.4.2008 2:25am
Pyrrhus (mail) (www):
Sal,

I think we understand each others positions pretty well, so just quick answers to your hypotheticals -

"I wonder whether you genuinely believe that there is no moral difference, at the end of the world when you are the last man standing, between using Monet's Waterlilies to start a fire rather than a piece of scrap cloth."

Again the problem I have is with your use of the word "moral". My taste of aesthetics might keep me from burning a Monet. I might burn a Pollack (sp?) though. That's just my subjective sense of taste.

"I suppose at the end of the day if one wants to cultivate orchids and then decapitate them (is it really so outrageous to use a straightforward word that vividly and clearly conveys the act of cutting off a flower?), I wouldn't stop him from such use of his own time and money. But I would think him the worse for it. Wouldn't you?"

I probably wouldn't share his taste. It seems like a waste of time to me. But I've taken a swing at a passing stalk before, or grabbed a twig off a tree just because. I just wanted to, for no reason I can really enunciate.
5.4.2008 2:31am
Hoosier:
Kirk--I know! The horror . . . the horror.
5.4.2008 2:31am
EPluribusMoney (mail):
Did you ever realize that flowers are not like beautiful little beings smiling up to heaven but actually the flower is the genital organ and the roots are the mouth so they are like people with their head in the ground and their crotch in the air. So when you sniff a flower you smell their ... well, you know.

Don't start explaining this on your first date in a botanical garden... trust me...
5.4.2008 2:32am
Sal:
Pyrrhus,

Your Pollack answer, though not totally inconsistent with my own tastes, somewhat avoids the question. Do you think there would be no moral difference between burning the Pollack and burning the rags? It just strikes me that our preservation of beauty is not strictly about maximizing positive externalities; there is something fundamental about it. Whether it is a divine spark, a biological predisposition, or a bit of hard-won cultural programming from having civilized ancestors who won out, more often than not, over the barbarians, who knows? But it strikes me that it's there.

Now, where I no doubt diverge from most folk is that I think there are in fact animals, plants, and even rocks that are more worthy of preservation than humans -- indeed many humans, even innocent humans! I suppose, for example -- as terrible a conclusion as it seems -- that I would rather an innocent person die than elephants become extinct.
5.4.2008 2:47am
theonecalledjonesy (mail) (www):
We need to stop the presses here people. We need to harken back to the olden days and be more at one with the natural beauty of our surroundings. We need to be one, communal with the plants and the animals. It is only then that we will transcend our current place in the world as the sheep of the lumpenproletariat, and ascend to our destined revolution of the masses.
5.4.2008 3:27am
David Sucher (mail) (www):
I am more curious in Eugene's reason for posting than in the Swiss study.

So Eugene, did you post without comment because:
1. You thought the Swiss study stupid and wanted to offer a hee-haw to conservative poseurs?
or
2. You thought the Swiss study wise and wanted to spread the perspective?
or
3. You are not quite sure where you stand (and it is an interesting question) and want to hear others' opinions before you made a public statement?

For my part I am with hard-core conservative above who thinks the Swiss clearly gets to the right result though perhaps through some labored reasoning. The better route might be to simply say that we don't allow pointless killing of plants because it offends our own human senses. not because we attribute rights to some non-human being. Laws against cruelty to animals is based on human fastidiousness, not animal rights (even though that is what it is called).

And of course the Swiss study could lead to the more specific question of "standing for plants" which is hardly a new one; Christopher Stone wrote about it 30 years ago. And while it's an attractive idea at the surface, it only raises another question for litigation: Who actually has the right to speak in court for the trees? Sierra Club may have a claim but then why again wouldn't Weyerhaeuser have an arguable one too? So standing for trees — and maybe studies like this Swiss one — may simply confuse the issue rather than helping to clarify it. We stop bad things because it offends our own human sense of dignity.
5.4.2008 4:37am
pmorem (mail):
"These are the cries of the carrots, the cries of the carrots! You see, Reverend Maynard, tomorrow is harvest day and to them it is the holocaust."
Life feeds on life


David Sucher, an alternate reason is that EV wanted to promote discussion in general.

The better route might be to simply say that we don't allow pointless killing of plants because it offends our own human senses.

Let me emphasize: ... we don't allow...

There's a good reason for EV to have posted this, exposing the Authoritarians for what they are, and in doing so, opposing them.
5.4.2008 6:37am
Jay Myers:

Do you think there would be no moral difference between burning the Pollack and burning the rags?

Of course there is a moral difference. The rags can be used for cleaning or other tasks and thus have a utility that it would be wrong to destroy. The Pollack, on the other hand, is an aesthetic atrocity and a fraud on art. Destroying it would make the world a more beautiful place.
5.4.2008 6:49am
Hoosier:
The Pollack, on the other hand, is an aesthetic atrocity and a fraud on art.

Hee-hee.
5.4.2008 7:57am
Hoosier:
that we will transcend our current place in the world as the sheep of the lumpenproletariat

You got sumpin' 'gainst sheep?
5.4.2008 7:59am
donaldk:

The *wanton* destruction or ruination of property is not necessarily illegal, but it is, if committed by an adult, contemptible.

Most of us when children (me, at any rate) need to be taught that this is useless and wrong; that it is not the proper action of a civilized human being.

Wanton ruination is destruction not only of the property, but of ourselves.
End of Sunday sermon.
5.4.2008 8:14am
LM (mail):
Jay Myers,

I hope you were trying to be tongue in cheek, or were just hyperbolically expressing what you knew was your subjective take. Because if you really think Pollack is fraudulent and objectively aesthetically atrocious, not only are you mistaken, but it doesn't flatter you to express such ignorance with arrogant certainty. Not enjoying Pollack's work or appreciating its genius is nothing to be ashamed of. Not enjoying or appreciating Beethoven or Rafael is nothing to be ashamed of. But convincing yourself that everyone who does appreciate it is just a self-deluded schmuck, and you know better than they do what their reaction ought to be -- well that's something to be ashamed of.
5.4.2008 8:16am
donaldk:
By the way, if you will google "non-human biotechnology" you will find, for whatever it's worth, that this is not a hoax.
5.4.2008 8:25am
Extraneus (mail):
5.4.2008 9:04am
Waldensian (mail):

Dude, this is one of the most insensitive things I have ever heard.

Dude, I hope you're kidding. If not, well.... at least I've accomplished something superlative this week.

Have I mentioned how much I love veal?

Meanwhile, I can't be the only person who finds the idea of a "Swiss ethics committee" more than a little amusing.
5.4.2008 9:25am
Patrick S. O'Donnell (mail):
The Committee did an excellent job. First, it cites the legislative context:

"The Federal Constitution has three forms of protection for plants: the protection of biodiversity, species protection, and the duty to take the dignity of living beings into consideration when handling plants. The constitutional term «living beings» encompasses animals, plants and other organisms. At legislative level, the Gene Technology Act limits the scope of the term to animals and plants. Previous discussion within constitutional law relates the term Würde der Kreatur («dignity of living beings») to the value of the individual organism for its own sake."

Second, it consults an impressive list of experts in various fields in the natural sciences as well as those with philosophical (which of course includes ethics) and theological backgrounds. In fact, by way of preparation, it commissioned a review of the relevant literature, a copy of which is made available.

Third, it makes explicit the ethical values and principles it relied on in the decision making process. Indeed, it goes so far as to formulate a "decision tree" whereby one can better assess the overall philosophical and ethical coherence of the arguments that lead to the report's conclusion.

In brief, it appears they more or less followed a "coherence model of [ethical] justification" that avoids foundationalism on the one hand and moral scepticism on the other, relying in the main on the method of "reflective equilibrium." [For a brief discussion and defense of this model, please see David DeGrazia, Taking Animals Seriously: Mental Life and Moral Status. Cambridge, UK: CUP: 1996].

In philosophy, there is one work in particular that provides a great deal of the ethical argument that supports the views of the majority in the report of this Federal Ethics Committee, and that is Paul W. Taylor's Respect for Nature: A Theory of Environmental Ethics (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1986). Agree or disagree in the main with its arguments, I would think they would be central to assessing the philosophical and ethical cogency of the reasoning relied upon here by committee members.

If it's not apparent by now, I'm in sympathy if not complete agreement (the latter contingent upon a closer scrutiny of the decision tree and the specific reasons proffered) with the report's conclusion.

Incidentally, the Jain and Buddhist worldviews are religio-philosophical traditions most compatible with the spirit, when not the letter, of this report.
5.4.2008 9:27am
Randy R. (mail):
For a perfect example of reverse snobbery, read this:

" The Pollack, on the other hand, is an aesthetic atrocity and a fraud on art. Destroying it would make the world a more beautiful place."
5.4.2008 9:47am
Ken Arromdee:
Truth be told, I am not particularly concerned with constructing an airtight or philosophically satisfying explanation for why destroying beautiful things for the pleasure of destruction is wrong.

If they had simply said "It is wrong to destroy beautiful things for the pleasure of destruction" there would be a lot less argument over it.

Phrases like "dignity" and most of the conclusions made by the committee have nothing to do with beauty or anything else which is appreciated by or useful to human beings. They're the equivalent of saying it's wrong to destroy the Jackson Pollack painting because canvas has inherent rights, rather than because it's art. It's the same language used to give animals rights; in fact, it's a lot like the language the Pope uses to give fertilized eggs rights.

Sure, if you interpret it to mean "destroying flowers for no reason is bad, but it's fine to genetically engineer crops and make buildings out of wood", there isn't much wrong with it, but most of us look at the context and the connotation, not the fact that one literal interpretation of the committee's words is unobjectionable.
5.4.2008 9:47am
vassil petrov (mail):
Didnity of Plants while children die from hunger in Africa and N. Korea?
5.4.2008 9:47am
vassil petrov (mail):
Sorry: Dignity of Plants.
5.4.2008 9:48am
DiverDan (mail):
While I agree that the article is truly silly, I really need an excuse -- any excuse will do, even a really lame one -- to stop mowing my lawn. If they can get my neighbors (and the City Code people) off of my back if I just let the lawn go "back to the wild", then I'm on board!
5.4.2008 10:17am
Fub:
Extraneus wrote at 5.4.2008 8:04am:
Can plants feel?
Do plants have a Buddha Nature?

Moo!
5.4.2008 11:38am
colagirl (mail):
Down this path, Jainism lies.

I think the comparison with flag-burning isn't *quite* on the mark. People don't get upset about flag-burning because the flag itself has inherent rights as a piece of cloth. If that were the case, then you would expect to see the same level of outrage over tearing up old shirts to throw in the trash, or cutting the legs off a pair of worn-out jeans to give to your dog to play with. The reason for the angst over flag-burning is that the flag (as a *particular* piece of cloth configured in a *particular* way) is a *symbol* of profound intangible concepts many people hold dear, such as patriotism, love of country, etc. The angst over flag-burning isn't about the flag per se, it's about what seems to be an attack on those intangible concepts.
5.4.2008 11:52am
Patrick S. O'Donnell (mail):
If perchance anyone is interested, I've now posted further comments at the Ratio Juris blog: http://ratiojuris.blogspot.com/
5.4.2008 12:12pm
Smokey:
Something for the Swiss to think about: the Weekly World News had a cover story: "Rocks Are Alive!"

In other news, as a kid in Ohio I remember when a buckeye tree dropped its buckeyes, they suddenly came down like rain. In 30 seconds, all the buckeyes had fallen to the ground. Made me wonder how one branch knew what the other branch was thinking.

In still other news, my wife loves it when I give her chopped off plant genitals.
5.4.2008 12:51pm
Latinist:
Ken Arromdee (and others):
Read the report again. It does NOT say or imply that killing plants is wrong because plants have rights. It says (quite explicitly, no need to dig into connotations) that while some of the committee members believe that it's wrong to kill plants because of innate plant worth (which is not, of course, the same thing as rights), others believe it's only because of the state of mind of the person killing the plants. (On the latter view, presumably, if the plants turned out to be cleverly designed artificial ones, it would make no difference, as long as the actor didn't know that; on the former view, it would.)
5.4.2008 1:21pm
BT:
I remember 15-18 years ago when Mr. T bough a home in Lake Forest, IL and then promptly chopped down all of the trees on the property because he had alergies and blamed the trees. Something tells me he would not be sympathetic to the conclusions of this report.
5.4.2008 1:52pm
Block (mail):
LM, Sal:

I don't believe that there is such thing as "objective aesthetic value" - so I guess I am an aesthetic relativist (I absolutely refuse the association you seem to be claiming between that and being a moral relativist). It seems strange to me to even understand what this means. If there was no one left on earth, do you actually believe there is some meaningful value inherent in a painting over a rag? In what sense? If you had to choose between two worlds, one which would be destroyed and the other not, and both were dead worlds with nothing but rock and sand and windswept peaks - would one be better than the other to be destroyed because it wasn't as beautiful? Are supernovas whose light never reaches the earth better or worse than the stars they came from aesthetically? When you factor out human experience, I don't even know what you mean by the words 'aesthetic value'.

Furthermore, I'm not convinced that other people have the intuition you claim. Why else would you need to justify the value of a Pollack by reference to "But convincing yourself that everyone who does appreciate it is just a self-deluded schmuck, and you know better than they do what their reaction ought to be..." I can burn the Pollack first, if I don't like it and I'm the last person on earth, because the value of the Pollack is in the very powerful experience that other people gain from it that you describe above, and not inherent to the paint on the canvas.

Of course you shouldn't destroy beautiful things. But, you know they are beautiful because you, or others, appreciate their beauty. If you are the last person on earth, and you make a statute, it is exactly as beautiful as you appreciate it - you can't be wrong about how beautiful the statute is. Without the act of appreciation, or potential appreciation, beauty has no meaning. If I secretly make the most moving painting in history, then burn it - it is only tragedy because we imagine all the people it could have moved, not because the paint and canvas have some inherent property.

All:

Aren't we missing the real point of this report? Here is the genetics line:

4. Genetic modification:
According to the majority position,
there is nothing to contradict the
idea of dignity of living beings in
the genetic modification of plants,
as long as their independence, i.e.
reproductive ability and adaptive
ability are ensured. Social-ethical
limits on the genetic modification
of plants may exist, but are not the
object of this discussion.

Doesn't this create a catch-22? GM companies in the US deliberately sterilize GM crops. The EU opposes GM crops partially on the claim that they will 'escape' through wind-borne pollination, etc, and destroy natural environment. If leaving GM plants fertile creates a 'risk to the natural environment', but sterilizing them does impermissible damage to the inherent plant....
5.4.2008 3:07pm
kimsch (mail) (www):
I remember the Mr. T. brouhaha well. I lived just south of there, in Highland Park at the time. Both Lake Forest and Highland Park are in the "Tree City USA" program. Mr. T. was fined large amounts for cutting down those trees. When someone rang the bell at the gate, his brother would bicycle from the house to the gate and find out what the visitor wanted. That was weird. Mr. T. also often went to the local Walgreens to buy beer.

The stepmother of a friend of mine got in trouble in Highland Park for cutting some trees too. Those trees were not healthy and endangered the house, but noooo, can't cut down trees, no we can't.
5.4.2008 3:44pm
Randy R. (mail):
"The stepmother of a friend of mine got in trouble in Highland Park for cutting some trees too. Those trees were not healthy and endangered the house, but noooo, can't cut down trees, no we can't."

Usually, you can get a waiver from the town or city to cut down diseased trees or ones that are a danger. But you have to go through the process. You can't just determine which trees YOU think are not healthy and cut them down.

It's when people think they can ignore the law that they get into trouble.
5.4.2008 4:03pm
Randy R. (mail):
"While I agree that the article is truly silly, I really need an excuse -- any excuse will do, even a really lame one -- to stop mowing my lawn. If they can get my neighbors (and the City Code people) off of my back if I just let the lawn go "back to the wild", then I'm on board!"

Don't laugh, DiverDan! We at VC are here to help. Go ahead and stop mowing your lawn -- your mower emits enormous amounts of greenhouse gases because it isn't as regulated as cars are. Furthermore, grass was meant to grow fairly high, and in many communities, you can allow it to become a meadow. Not cutting the grass will allow it to grow and choke out most weeds, and it will help it grow longer roots, so that it will require less water, another scarce commodity is some parts. Plus, few things are more beautiful than grass that catches the wind and 'waves' at you.

Plant some wildflowers in your lawn, and you'll be much happier, and so will the grass. Better yet, rip out the grass and plant real plants that require less care and water. Are those enough reasons for you?
5.4.2008 4:09pm
BT:
My guess is that Mr. T probably spells better that I do as well.
5.4.2008 5:17pm
BT:
Correction: than I do as well. (One of those days).
5.4.2008 5:19pm
donaldk:
Block:

For Godsake, don't, repeat, don't ever make statutes. We have more than enough imbecile legislators doing that.
5.4.2008 5:47pm
EPluribusMoney (mail):
What I can't understand about all those laws that say you have to pay a fine for cutting down your own tree on your own property is, don't we have a takings problem?

If I have to pay the government for cutting down my own tree on my property then the government must have an ownership interest in it. When did it get this interest? Why was I not paid for my trees when the government passed the law that I no longer can exercise ownership in them by cutting them down?

Does anyone know of any cases on those tree ordinances? I'd love to get them throw out. If a town wants to force people to not cut down their own trees, let them pay for that right.
5.4.2008 6:00pm
Ken Arromdee:
It does NOT say or imply that killing plants is wrong because plants have rights. It says (quite explicitly, no need to dig into connotations) that while some of the committee members believe that it's wrong to kill plants because of innate plant worth (which is not, of course, the same thing as rights), others believe it's only because of the state of mind of the person killing the plants.

It phrases it in such a way that they may as well be saying that plants have rights without necessarily using the word "rights". Innate worth and dignity may not, in some rarefied technical sense, be rights; but they're using the same kind of rhetoric normally used for animal rights and fertilized-egg-rights (as well as human rights).
5.4.2008 7:48pm
John Neff:
Interesting discussion about people who care about stuff but where does it end?

We evidently have
1. people for the ethical treatment of animals
2. people for the ethical treatment of vegetables
3. people for the ethical treatment of minerals
4. and people for the ethical treatment of a bunch of other stuff.

Why not cover everything with people for the ethical treatment of electrons?
5.4.2008 8:16pm
Ignorance is Bliss:
Can ‘Mineral Rights’ be far behind? I don’t know about moral equivalence, but this panel has clearly demonstrated that they are intellectually inferior to a box of rocks.
5.4.2008 8:25pm
Extraneus (mail):
Fub: Do plants have a Buddha Nature?

Good one.

Does a plum tree with no fruit have Buddha Nature? Whack!!
5.4.2008 8:38pm
liberty (mail) (www):

but this panel has clearly demonstrated that they are intellectually inferior to a box of rocks.


But almost as smart as your average plant.
5.4.2008 9:05pm
ras (mail):
Can I presume the next logical step will be affirmative action for plants?
5.4.2008 10:27pm
Hoosier:
Randy R--You are no longer welcome to move in next door to me.
5.4.2008 10:29pm
theobromophile (www):
Someone clearly saw "Alice in Wonderland" too many times growing up.

When will vegetarianism become the new cruelty? Will they mandate fruitarianism, in which people do not eat anything that involves killing the plant?
5.4.2008 11:07pm
Limebrook (mail):
I think all you brainy people are missing the true trajectory of the Swiss report. Because of the myth of animal rights, there are people doing more time for animal cruelty than others are doing for manslaughter. The danger here is that the report will be the foundation of an entire EU criminal code section dealing with cruelty to plants.
5.4.2008 11:31pm
Mike G in Corvallis (mail):
Why not cover everything with people for the ethical treatment of electrons?

Feh! Another goddamn lepton chauvinist ...
5.5.2008 12:49am
TruePath (mail) (www):
Latinist:

I think you miss the implicit assumption in that line that enjoying whacking the heads off of plants is not a non-arbitrary reason to do so. That is what I object to about this sort of report. It's not the valuing of plants that bothers me (tho I am at a loss as to why balancing the golf club on your nose is better assuming you don't get enjoyment from the plants living and no one else sees them) but the implicit assumption that some sorts of desires just don't count.
5.5.2008 1:38am
LM (mail):
Block,

I think you're conflating arguments that replied to different questions, but let me clarify why I'd object to destroying the Pollack even if I didn't find it beautiful. If you believe in God, which I do, the taboo goes beyond destroying beauty. Destroying anything of value to satisfy a nihilistic whim is wasteful and arrogant, and suggests a lack of gratitude. And that would include the value you know others would ascribe to it as a perceived great work of art. Granted, if you're the last person on Earth, you may not be feeling particularly grateful, but that's another matter.
5.5.2008 3:36am
David Schwartz (mail):
This report is borderline insane and is a great example of what happens when government power knows no rational bounds.
The members were unanimous that there are moral reasons why we should be restrained in handling plants, because we may influence or even destroy other players of the natural world, and so alter their relationships.
For what conceivable rational purpose should a government committee be investigating how people feel about the morality of handling plants?
5.5.2008 8:33am
GMS:
I am a vegetarian. It's not that I love animals, I just hate plants.
5.5.2008 12:03pm
GMS:
If the Swiss are that concerned about the senseless destruction of plants, what must they say about that Yale student's "abortion-as-art" project? Perhaps if the hypothetical farmer called his plant decapitation "performance art," all would be forgiven?
5.5.2008 12:19pm
whit:
"normally used for animal rights "

what animal rights? animals don't have rights.

people, otoh, have a duty to not be "cruel" to (some) animals, but that's a different thing

fwiw, in my state it would be perfectly legal for me to decide to kill my pet for no reason whatsoever.

it is legal to even take it into the backyard and shoot it in the head (assuming one lives in a "shoot area" of the county, or a city with open shoot. in a non-shoot area, that would be a civil infraction).

shooting it in the leg would be animal cruelty.

the animal does not have the "right" not to be shot (purposefully) in the leg. but since it is cruel, i have the duty not to do it, since i could easily shoot it in the head.

of course, i will do neither. although my cat DID eat a couple of our pepper plants.
5.5.2008 1:19pm
Smokey:
Why not cover everything with people for the ethical treatment of electrons?
Because in the world of 2008, you would be accused of proton discrimination.
5.5.2008 7:42pm
Hoosier:
There's a point to this insanity, right? Banning genetically-modified foods in the near future.
5.5.2008 8:01pm