08 Jan
2017

Limits to Rights

One of the principles of ecology can be stated as “all living beings have equal rights to self-realization” which stems from an ultimate norm “Complete Self-realization”.

This gives rise to the concept of rights of nature – a necessary counter to the capitalist legal framework in which nature is treated as property, whereas a company or corporation has legal rights analogous to an individual.

Ideas like Polly Higgins’s Eradicating Ecocide (www.eradicatingecocide.com) calling for recognition of Ecocide as a crime on the same level as War Crimes, Genocide and Crimes Against Humanity, and also the wider Rights of Nature campaign (www.rightsofnature.uk) are excellent initiatives deserving of full support.

Of course there is a trap which sometimes people who like to keep things simple fall into. Rights of any sort can never be absolute as they have no concrete existence; they are abstractions created by a (human) intellectual analysis and provide at best more or less fundamental principles for interaction. Analysis, however rigorous, is always contingent and subject to modification in the light of new evidence or changing circumstances.

We acknowledge as a norm that all life seeks self-realization as its goal and from this we derive a principle of a right to self-realization for all living beings, there being no evidence that any life form can thrive independently of all others. This is in contrast to the anthropocentric view that there is a hierarchy of living beings with mankind as the presumed topmost and most important life-form who has a right to control all other life.

However, the right of A to live and blossom does not automatically exclude the justification of B to injure or even kill A. Note that whilst a right can provide a justification for a certain course of action, it is not the only type of justification.

This is where the trap lies. To assert that a fundamental right automatically trumps any other justification is to withdraw from the world rather than engage in the dance of life. It seems to me that those who argue from presumed natural rights that we should never harm any other life form are as unbalanced as those who insist that man has rights of dominion over nature.

However in our present situation our civilization is dangerously skewed towards the latter point of view, and concern for rights of nature and prevention of ecocide need to become important parts of our daily discourse if we are to thrive.

 

 

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