Swiss lawyers are elaborating the doctrine of vegetable rights. "A few years ago the Swiss added to their national constitution a provision requiring "account to be taken of the dignity of creation when handling animals, plants and other organisms." No one knew exactly what it meant, so they asked the Swiss Federal Ethics Committee on Non-Human Biotechnology to figure it out." In short, they are arguing that plants have inherent rights which humans can't transgress. It sounds ridiculous. Why should we care? But we should.
A 24 page PDF edition of the committee report can be read here. One of the arguments for plant rights is that vegetables are members of "collectives". But beyond that, each individual plant has inherent worth, rather in the way that men used to have. Therefore the committee concludes that "it is unanimously held that plants may not be arbitrarily destroyed ... the majority considers this morally impermissible because something bad is being done to the plant itself without rational reason and thus without justification."
But who is really being "empowered" by the Swiss committee's decision? Is it plants? No. It is bureaucrats. The point of vegetable rights isn't to give plants dignity but to transfer yet more individual human freedoms to activists and government officials.
Deciding that individuals had power over themselves and the things around them was central to the development of human freedom -- and human rights. The noted English jurist William Blackstone made the argument that property rights were the "sole and despotic dominion which one man claims and exercises over the external things of the world, in total exclusion of the right of any other individual in the universe". Whether one agrees or not, historically this was important because it marked the boundary between the power of the King and the power of the individual. In the world of absolute Monarchs, humans had no more rights than rocks or plants, a point we will return to later. The Swiss committee's decision, far from being progressive, is retrograde. In many parts of the world today a "homeowner" cannot make alterations to his house, even those of a nonstructural nature, without getting a permit. Now the power of the permit is being extended to the flower-bed. Since the Swiss committee maintains that plants may not be disposed of without a rational reason, it must be asked who determines those reasons. Naturally it is the bureaucrats. The Weekly Standard describes the clear, bright line which determines vegetable rights.
The committee offered this illustration: A farmer mows his field (apparently an acceptable action, perhaps because the hay is intended to feed the farmer's herd--the report doesn't say). But then, while walking home, he casually "decapitates" some wildflowers with his scythe. The panel decries this act as immoral, though its members can't agree why.
The point of course, is that in a world of bureaucratically defined vegetable rights, the 'whys' won't count any more. All that need be done is to point to a rule in the book and the appropriate citation can be written with payment expected promptly for violations. And this necessarily has consequences for human freedom. When you don't even own the turnips in your refrigerator or the grass on your lawn what freedom do you actually possess?
The connection with property rights and freedom is an intimate one. The world before human property rights was not especially nice. The Aborigines of Australia -- lacking the Englishman's right to property -- were simply treated like one of the rocks. They were dispossessed of their lands -- and hence their rights -- by the simple argument that they had no property and that the British Crown on its arrival on the southern continent owned everything in sight. When the court decided in Mabo versus Queensland was that there was no such thing as terra nullius or "land belonging to no one" it was hailed as a landmark blow for Aboriginal Rights.
The point of legally empowering vegetables is not to give standing to a stalk of celery who might suddenly decide to appear in court, but to empower the bureaucrats and activist lawyers who will appear on their behalf. Today we already have spokesmen for Gaia. Tomorrow the lawyers from Brussels will be lawyers for brussels sprouts.
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