Animal Rights, Introduction To Voluntary Law (Book)

Animal Rights and Alien Species


All beings that are corporeal, mortal and possess the necessary abilities described earlier are sovereign persons under voluntary law. This is fundamental. The necessary abilities are: apparent free will, awareness of self and others (sentience), rationality, language and memory, and a desire for justice, or if you prefer, just society. Possessing “advanced technology” is not a required ability, although helpful.  This site has earlier discussed exceptions that might be made to impart status as a sovereign person, for dependents (e.g., infants and children) and fictional entities (e.g., collectives). Status for potential persons follows from the desire for justice, as these are individuals with the potential capacity to acquire all the necessary attributes of a person within their lifetimes, and are thus deserve equal status as members of society to be perfected at real future times. Another class of exceptions that expands what may be considered a “person” is for fictional entities, for which status can be conferred by voluntary agreement of the parties.

Every individual animal belongs to a species that generally lacks at least one of the necessary abilities. But individual exceptions do exist. For example, individual apes have demonstrated the ability to use symbols (e.g., sign language) to discuss abstract concepts (e.g., love, sadness). If a member of a non-human species uncharacteristically acquires all the abilities, it has graduated to personhood. An intelligent, technologically advanced alien of a biological sort would probably qualify, unless it had no desire for justice that includes persons of alien species. In that case, it would be an alien outlaw.

Controversies may arise over individuals who demonstrate abilities that are not characteristically found in their species. Are such individuals legal persons? If an individual animal is able to demonstrate that it possesses all of the abilities required of legal persons, it would certainly qualify. If it comes close but not quite all the way, it might be regarded as a special case, and perhaps treated in a manner similar to dependents. If a species (human or otherwise) characteristically demonstrates the necessary abilities, then its minor members would be accorded the status of potential persons. Independent jurists would make determinations in regarding qualifications for legal personhood in individual cases. If the case is difficult, controversial, or ground-breaking, the jurist’s opinion will not be respected by those with the power to enforce, unless the jurist is extraordinarily influential, and/or the time is ripe for social change.

Animals more generally might be accorded protected status and enjoy rights, without being recognized as persons competent to adopt their own laws. Animals are not persons in a society of sovereign persons, but can enjoy any protections granted by society members. Their status in voluntary law depends on the adopted laws of persons. When these laws differ, which is applied? How does TROTWET apply to laws protecting animals? It depends on the right asserted and the remedy. Animal rights might be analyzed like property laws, evaluating the “strength” of antecedent conditions for a claim of right, and the “strength” of the exclusionary that is sought to be exercised.

Consider, for example, the example of Alice and Bill: Bill’s law gives him the right to kill every rattlesnake, and a claim for compensation against anyone who hinders him from doing so. Alice’s law states that rattlesnakes shall not be killed, unless necessary for immediate self-defense, and that whoever kills a rattlesnake without proper justification shall pay a $1000 fine to a designated Rattlesnake Defense Fund, for each rattlesnake destroyed. Suppose Bill goes about trying to kill rattlesnakes, and Alice hinders the hunt as best she can, without hurting Bill or trespassing on any of his personal property. Despite her intervention, Bill manages to kill a few snakes. Alice sues Bill for $1000 per snake. Bill countersues for hindrance damages. Which law is weaker? And do the rattlesnakes have any say in the matter?

Suppose Alice claims a property interest in every living rattlesnake, no matter where found. Bill exercises his right to kill rattlesnakes only where they threaten his economic interests, for example, on the grounds of his amusement park. Under those facts, if Alice hinders Bill who is hunting only within the boundary of his amusement park, Bill’s law should be considered weaker for having more stringent antecedent conditions, because the right to kill rattlesnakes is allied with a duty to build and maintain an amusement park on which the snakes must be found. If Alice sues Bill for $1000 per snake killed on the grounds of Bill’s amusement park, she would receive nothing. If Bill sues Alice for hindering his snake hunting limited to the amusement park grounds, he might be awarded his actual damages if Alice has adopted a law allowing it. If Alice has no anti-hindrance law, she is an outlaw on the topic of snake-hunting hindering, so Bill would also receive no award of damages.

Suppose, however, that Alice is able to prove that Bill’s hunting is endangering survival of a rare species of rattlesnake. Further, suppose that her law only provides for an award of damages where the snake that is killed in a member of an endangered species. Under these facts, a jurist may hold that Alice’s law is weaker, and should prevail. Bill’s law, if allowed to operate, would potentially deprive the world of a species of rattlesnake, merely for the benefit of an amusement park. That could be considered more exclusionary, because it is in effect a claim of right over an entire naturally-existing species, and because extinction is permanent. Therefore, Alice might be awarded damages or other relief for the snakes in that limited case, depending on the specifics of the laws at play and the prevailing attitudes among reputable jurists. It is not difficult to imagine the most reputable and influential jurists adopting such views.

Suppose that in addition to killing rattlesnakes, Bill is a sadist who enjoys torturing all animals, especially cute and furry ones. He does not recognize any laws that forbid or punish such abuse. Such situations can be analogized to child abuse; however, there are obvious differences. First, in the general case the abused, mute animal can never qualify as a legal person under voluntary law. Accordingly, a jurist will usually be unable to credibly impute a law to the animal as an individual. Second, with animals, the perception of abuse can vary greatly; what seems abusive to one may seem justified or permissible to another, depending on each person’s scale of values. Consider, for example, the different perceptions of vegans and meat-eaters. Voluntary law does not provide a means for uniformly enforcing one law regarding animal rights over a diverse population. It does, however, easily permit discovery of each person’s personal laws regarding animal rights. Therefore, where a great majority of people favor basic animal rights of a sort, the social pressure to adopt conforming laws on animal rights of that sort should be generally effective. In Bill’s case, evidence that Bill enjoys torturing animals coupled with his refusal to adopt a reasonable law protecting animal rights would devastate his amusement park business, once generally known.

Suppose that the rattlesnakes turn out to be an alien species that includes individuals able to prove that the species generally possesses all the necessary abilities of personhood under voluntary law. Such individuals could then sue Bill for alien rattlesnake persons he has killed, under the applicable law against murder, which is determined as always by TROTWET.

Doubt may sometimes arise in the case of alien or artificial persons. For example, some jurists may doubt that an alien or android demonstrates a necessary ability, for example, a desire for justice. Others may feel that such beings lack a necessary disability, such as corporeality or mortality. For example, the legal status of an artificial intelligence that emerges from a computer network would be controversial. Is such an entity corporeal, or mortal? It is difficult to say. Such controversies would be decided by the voluntary law jurists of the future, and the opinions of these jurists would be enforceable only to the extent found credible by those who would enforce such opinions.

Consider an example of how this might play out: Libby the Jurist recognizes Andy the Android as a natural person. Connor does not. Andy sues Connor, and selects Libby to hear the case. Connor argues that the case is void ab initio because Andy is not a qualified person. There are different outcomes possible. Libby may recognize a bona fide controversy on a fundamental due process question (namely, Andy’s status under voluntary law) and decline to make a ruling on the substance of the case, frustrating Andy. In the alternative, Libby may make a substantive ruling despite the due process issue, which may or may not frustrate Connor or Andy. If the substantive ruling is favorable to Connor, Andy may argue that the ruling is unenforceable because Connor did not recognize the authority of Libby to decide the case under voluntary law. Therefore, if Connor can determine beforehand that the voluntary laws at play in the case favor his position, he would be wise to waive his objections to Andy’s personage strictly “as an accommodation” to Andy in the case at hand, and not for all cases generally. However, unless Andy is engaged in a sort of political campaign to more generally establish his legal standing in a community, he will not bring a losing case against Connor. It may be expected that if Andy sues Connor, the laws probably favor Andy. Thus, Andy may be left with a judgment by Libby against Connor, which Connor disputes on the basis that Andy is not a qualified legal person. As in every other case, the value of Libby’s judgment will depend on her reputation as a jurist, and the ecosystem of enforcers available to enforce it. For example, if a majority of the adjacent society recognizes that androids like Andy are natural persons, Libby’s judgment will readily be enforceable. Conversely, if her judgment opposes the prevailing views, it will be difficult or impossible to find anyone to enforce it, unless perhaps she is very highly respected as a jurist generally, or has made a very compelling record in the particular case at hand.

Controversies over fundamental questions such as an individual’s status as a natural person, or the presumption of personhood that is attached to members of particular species, must always be resolved by voluntary law jurists. There is nobody else that can do the job; nobody else who determines legal questions for parties in disagreement over a question. It is important to realize that jurists have no elite power to rule on legal questions, because there is no bar to anyone being a jurist beyond each person’s ability to do a credible job and develop a reputation for competency and good service. Accordingly, when fundamental controversies arise, schisms will inevitably follow, assuming that controversy in fundamental matters cannot be avoided entirely, for all time, in any non-coercive system. People who live under voluntary law will manage such schisms by carefully choosing who they do commerce with, where they reside, how they contract, and by many other such precautionary and extra-legal devices.

Voluntary law enables tolerance and freedom to cope with schisms over fundamental matters of conscience, rather than to attempting to forcibly impose one viewpoint on all. It also reveals the moral values of all, enabling great but not dictatorial social pressure to be applied on any moral question, in proportion to the moral preferences of society members. There is no reason to suppose that a voluntary law society would provide less protection for animals, aliens, or others of questionable personhood than is possible in statist societies. On the contrary, a society founded on principles of non-aggression and consideration for the rights and sovereignty of others is likely to provide an overall much greater degree of protection for society members and for the living things that interact with them than is possible in authoritarian societies. This protection will arise from the inherently respectful moral preferences of those who will form such voluntary societies.

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