Balneus

Australian Lefty on Politics, Governance, Science and Info Management

“Human Rights” – a regressive concept

Posted by Dave Bath on 2008-05-04


It sounds contradictory, but because I am a progressive, I don’t want a "human rights" bill introduced, indeed I think the term "human rights" should be considered politically incorrect, and a "human rights" bill might be a win for regressives.

What I’d rather focus on are "civil rights", that apply to anything that can participate in society, have the capacity for moral or criminal intent, and perhaps (although difficult to define in law), the ability to give and receive love.

The problem is that "human rights" is an arrogant term, assuming that certain DNA sequences by themselves determine the worth of an individual.

It’s worth contemplating a thought experiment:

Imagine that a group of intelligent aliens landed on earth, whether by intent or by emergency landing.

Should these aliens have rights such as freedom from torture, the ability to be charged with murder, and that if intentionally killed by a human not acting in self-defence that the human should be charged with murder?

Any child who has watched the film "ET" knows the answer: yes.

Yet such aliens would have a genome (if based on DNA at all) more dissimilar to a "human" genome than a wasp.

From another perspective, would we consider it unreasonable and cruel if smarter, more technically advanced aliens (let’s call them "Martians") only recognized "Martian rights" that gave protection from intentional killing, unwarranted detention and torture, but only to Martians, and thus left humans without legal protection from genocide, abduction, or anal probes?

Humane and inhuman actions are not determined by a human genome.

Let’s go to another famous scenario in ethics, but with a twist.

You are on a lifeboat that is overloaded, so that without tossing one individual overboard to drown, it is almost certain that everyone will die.  One passenger is a chimpanzee that knows sign language (and probably has an IQ of about 80, give or take, can interact with passengers, and might even assist with rowing), while another is a human, an extreme congenital microcephalic (I’ve seen one), capable of swallowing, breathing, stumbling around, but probably not even self-aware, and with less capability of emotional reciprocity with a human than a myna bird.

Which do you toss out of the boat?

Which of these two, in normal society, deserves more money spent on ensuring a stimulating environment, an opportunity to self-actualize, an education, a right to have property, to be protected from malice and negligence, and to receive punishment under the law for criminal action with intent?  (The chimpanzee could form criminal intent AND engage in criminal action, though with somewhat diminished responsibility, while an extreme microcephalic is capable of neither).

The chimpanzee with sign language could even develop a preference for political leaders and indicate a voting preference (Candidate A wants to include a consumption tax on fruit, Candidate B wants to give subsidies to banana growers).

Going a step further, what about the rights of future silicon-based intelligence, who don’t want to be dismantled, and want a reliable supply of electrons so they can keep running?  Was the planned execution without trial of the hero in "I, Robot" unjust?

This isn’t so far away, as South Korea already has a Robot Ethics Charter to prevent abuse of humans by robots and robots by humans under development by the Ministry of Commerce-Industry-and-Energy.

From the Korean government portal 2007-12-15:

The Ministry of Commerce, Industry and Energy has found it necessary to draft a document of ethical guidelines for robots of strong intelligence in the near future.
 
Since the protection of conscious entities from harm is the basis of ethical and legal code, Korea’s charter implies that the strong intelligence referred to by the ministry includes emotional intelligence.  A machine possessing emotional intelligence would be, by definition, a conscious entity with the ability to be humorous, to be distraught, to express feelings.

I wonder if the progressives advocating human rights legislation actually speciesist bigots because they have not thought through the fundamental ethics of what does and does not deserve protection under the law and constitutions of a society.


See Also:

6 Responses to ““Human Rights” – a regressive concept”

  1. Jacques Chester said

    Another good resource is “Creating Friendly AI” by the Singularity Institute: http://www.singinst.org/upload/CFAI/

  2. Dave Bath said

    JC:
    Nice find!

    I was actually thinking about posting sometime about the sad probability that the first AI capable of true self-awareness and moral/criminal intent will be raised as a psychopath by the US DoD – a patently unfit “parent”!

  3. [...] "Human rights: a regressive concept" (2008-05-04) [...]

  4. [...] already covered it reasonably well in a post written before this blog was as well-known: "‘Human Rights’ : a regressive concept" [...]

  5. [...] in "Of rats and men: generalized reciprocal altruism" (2007-07-10), as well as "Human Rights: a regressive concept" (2008-05-04) and its [...]

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