August 12, 2006

When do uplifted nonhumans become citizens?

[this post is a copy of my response to question recently posted on the Technoliberation list]:

> A colleague of mine asks: "I understand personhood theory to include
> animals, or at least "uplifted" animals. Who decides when they have
> been uplifted enough to gain the right to vote, drink alcoholic
> beverages, or apply for credit? If not every "citizen" is equal, then
> the degree of chimerism of a chimera, for example, or genetic
> concordance with some agreed on standard in a genetically engineered
> ape, or genetically mis-engineered human, may lead to "demotion" as
> well as uplifing with respect to civil rights and liberties."

The first thing to ask is how human society goes about this. Your first question is "who decides?" Well, who decides in human society that humans can vote, drink booze, and apply for credit?

The state declares that if you're a citizen and you've reached the age of consent, you can vote. That's a pretty liberal and sweeping allowance. There's a general assumption of personhood; other factors, like level of education, race, gender, sexual orientation, etc., are irrelevant. So, when it comes to uplifted animals, citizenship and the right to vote can't be tied into their "species," or other superfluous characteristics that we ourselves don't invoke as reasons for not allowing a person to vote.

Regarding the booze question, again that's the state deciding in conjunction with democratically achieved consensus and a dash of social contract thrown in. And as for applying for credit, that's quite obviously up to the individual companies who are offering it. Based on what I've seen to date in terms of how credit cards are given out like candy, I'm surprised that credit card companies haven't already offered credit to bonobos and platypuses.

Your next question is about the equality of citizens. Actually, once the age of consent is achieved (and you haven't violated the social contract with anti-social behaviour), you are equal under the law regardless of your physical and psychological proclivities. We don't have tiers of citizenship in liberal democracies -- to do so would be a form of apartheid. I think it would be an extremely bad idea to start "demoting" uplifted nonhumans or psychological delayed humans based on some personhood metric. It's a binary concept - you're either an equal citizen under the law or you're not a citizen.

Ultimately, I think your question is this: at what point does an uplifted nonhuman enter the social contract? I would argue that once personhood is determined in an animal, the social contract comes into play. We cannot discriminate between animal and human societies. Nonhumans today already deserve state protection and laws to defend their interests (ergo the pending progressive citizenship legislation in Spain that would recognize the great apes) -- even though they cannot articulate their needs themselves. It's obvious when abuse happens, and it's our responsibility to look out for nonhuman interests. They are part of the social contract, but we acknowledge that their limited psychologies don't allow for other citizenship type behaviour like voting. The same policy is applied to small children and the severely disabled. There is nothing new here.

As for voting and other citizenship perks, we'll know that uplifted animals want to participate in the social and political arena when they start asking for it -- and we'll have to listen. To ignore their pleas for political inclusion, the right to vote and organize, would be discrimination and unconstitutional.

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