Thursday, February 14, 2019

Words of the Day: "Love" and "Life"

The company making and/or distributing old-fashioned Dominica bay rum aftershave has apparently gone out of business, but I was able to buy a couple bottles on e-Bay at an almost-reasonable price. I made the purchase as a "guest," and the confirmation e-mail I just got was (a) misleading — suggesting they were holding my purchase hostage until I signed up — and (b) a temptation to join e-Bay and use their services to buy items I "love." 
Okay, at least they didn't insist on an e-Bay "community" or "family," but items I love, like aftershave?! I know we have those hearts on Facebook and that at least one NPR station asks if we love their shows, but I think we've gotten to some serious word-inflation with loving anything short of puppies or kittens that I'm likely to see on e-Bay (and I assume they do not sell live mammals). Now living in California, far from the pollen-attack-plants of south-west Ohio, I still have some minor allergy issues, and I really like lime bay rum as an aftershave that doesn't aggravate those remaining allergies. I'm grateful for bay rum; I like the smell, especially with a touch of lime — but it's just a casual relationship, not love.
* * *
"All Lives Matter," a meme I received said, and people have pronounced in my hearing "All Life Is Sacred" — and in that second case I've told them not to assert the sanctity of all life while chomping on a hamburger or even a carrot. Or using your leather shoe to squash a cockroach — and then clean your hands off with a bacteria-killing hand sanitizer. Most life on Earth over Earth's history and at any time by weight and number of individuals is Archaea, Bacteria, or, among us "higher" organisms, plants and insects. The Jains come close to literally respecting the sanctity of all life, but if they're to live healthily even their bodies must kill intruding bacteria and viruses, and kill aging or over-active cells of the body itself.
If people mean "All human life is sacred" (or whatever), they should say that, or argue for a definition of "life" that excludes most creatures your high school life-sciences teachers made you study.
This last point is important.
There's a dangerous arrogance in restricting real life to human beings on religious grounds or some secular theory of human exceptionalism. And even if we arrogantly assume we humans are extra-special special, it's just silly to say that cats and dogs and even ants and worms somehow aren't alive. And it's irresponsible to kill living things and not be conscious of doing so. Personally, I've killed bacteria by the billions, and I won't apologize for that killing — but I will take responsibility, and a heavier responsibility for the laboratory work I did that involved killing dogs, one cat, a rabbit or two, and a lot of rats. I've killed my quota of mammals, I think, which is one of the several reasons I now decline to eat them.
Mammals are kin, and I draw the line there for food. I also draw a line at octopuses, which is a lot easier since I'm not even all that fond of squid. 
Octopuses are invertebrates and not in the web of life close to humans and chimps and dogs and birds. But my sister and I were once invited backstage, so to speak, at a major aquarium and got to see an injured octopus in their veterinary section, in an aquarium cage inside a larger aquarium. Anything simpler, and this octopus escaped, picking locks and going around opening other others. As far as the (human) staff could figure out, the octopus got bored, and the locks and cages were a challenge. And I figured any creature smart enough to get bored and pick locks was too smart to kill casually (or have killed and eat if there's a variation of [squid] calamari made with octopus). 
Not too far into the 20th century, there was a fair degree of agreement that humans shouldn't cause unnecessary suffering to sentient creatures, with "sentient" not in the sense of "smart and conscious" and "capable of thought" but just, well, sentient to external stimuli, able to perceive enough to suffer. Whether eating hamburgers and spare ribs is necessary is something we can argue about; cruelty to animals for sport isn't something most of us argue: it's just evil, period.
Our treatment of non-human animals will become a more pressing issue as, as the over-stated title to an article in The Atlantic has it, "Scientists Are Totally Rethinking Animal Cognition." The debate on human life will become more pressing as we in the US enter another round of debate on abortion, with a new US Supreme Court. As others and I have stated repeatedly, that conflict over abortion isn't about "When does life begin?" Life doesn't begin; it began. How do I know? The Bible and my biology courses tell me so. Life began and gets passed down. So, yes, indeed, "There's always a death in an abortion." The question is what's being killed and what status should he/she/it/they have ethically considered and under the law? A human fertilized egg — a human zygote — is a potential unique human individual or, on occasion, a set of genetically pretty much identical but still unique individuals. ("Monozygotic siblings" aren't really identical twins or triplets or whatever: They've had slightly different environments in the womb, and individuality is their birthright.) But a zygote is a one-celled creature, and you shouldn't mind killing it if you eat that hamburger or carrot without qualms or stomp that cockroach and thereby kill more "highly" developed life.
 To get a human zygote more valuable than a steer and important enough to compete with the rights of its human mother, it's most efficient to have a theory of a human soul and to argue that "ensoulment" occurs at the moment of conception. In an important traditional Roman Catholic view, you can have the zygote and succeeded embryos and fetuses as unborn babies and, perhaps more significant, unbaptized babies, who, if killed would wind up in Limbo (at one time) or Hell. As the thoroughly Puritan Reverend Mr. Michael Wigglesworth had God say to unbaptized dead babies it in "The Day of Doom" (1662 —a truly awful poem):
"You sinners are, and such a share        345
  As sinners may expect,
Such you shall have; for I do save
  None but my own elect.
Yet to compare your sin with their
  Who liv’d a longer time,        350
I do confess yours is much less,
  Though every sin’s a crime.
"A crime it is, therefore in bliss
  You may not hope to dwell
But unto you I shall allow        355
  The easiest room in hell.”

And here we get to serious arguments on secular vs. religious ideas on what "life" means in "Choose life" and what we mean by "love" with either a God of Love who'd damn babies on a technicality or in a love one might have for one's fellow human beings viewed realistically and materialistically — and when one becomes human on the way from zygote to embryo to fetus to baby to, well, a conscious, talking, definitely-a-person person. 
WORDS MEAN; and if they "mean" in complex ways, that's all the more reason to use them carefully.

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