Sunday, February 22, 2015

Killing Democracy... Or How I Learned To Stop Falling For Statism And Love Liberty

America is erroneously often called a democracy; erroneously as it is a Constitutional Republic.  There is a reason why it was not made, and why the founders had a general contempt for democracy.  Ben Franklin quipped that democracy is two wolves and a sheep voting on dinner.  The base of democracy is composed of 2 parts: 1st, the etymology of the word being demos and kratia, meaning ‘power to the people’; 2nd, majority rule.  Though, today it heralded as a proper form of government and something that should be ‘spread’, we will see that it is at best a poor base from which to have a system of government.  In its purest form democracy itself is not just a poor base of government it is actually - true to its name - tyranny of the majority. 

What must be done first is a review of the components of democracy.  If it is truly ‘power to the people’, who are the people?  What is this power that is supposed to be wielded by ‘the people’?  What falls under and out of the purview of democratic power?  What means of ensuring obedience can the majority place upon the minority?  A State/government being a democracy includes its – whatever was decreed – infiltration into law, so what is ‘willed by the people’ comes with legal force.

By its nature, the deciding factor of democracy is amorphous: the people.  The Classic Greeks who devised democracy did not grant to all individuals a right to vote, as it was only to males, and not just males but a certain class thereof.  Practically every culture and religion has given men a superior position in moral and legal standing as compared to women.  Additionally, various cultures have qualifications regarding race/ethnicity/religion, whereby some individuals are more morally and legally than others.  Definitions are important, for though each may be an organism, there is a great difference between a wolf, a sheep, a tick and a man.  The question remains: who is to be considered ‘the people’?

For sake of argument in this, the fullest granting of ‘the people’ will skip superficial distinctions and will be given to include all adults who have attained majority: male/female, regardless of race, religion or socioeconomic status (SES), as long as the member of society is at least 18yrs of age.  Granting this, in any practical manner, what difference does it make?  Whether one was born with a different skin color, genitalia, adheres to a different or no God, or is in a different income bracket, the issue remains a larger group decides for all.  Whether the dividing line is based upon a superficial characteristic, or a behavioral, it is the will of the masses pressing upon the will of the minority.  Ayn Rand remarked that the smallest minority is the individual.  By definition, there is not a whole unit that is less than 1.

Moreso during election years, but also outside of them, we see the results of polls regarding public opinion on a given topic whether it is abortion, legalization of drugs, gun control, prostitution, gambling, along with numerous other issues where individual liberty is placed against government control.  Those who follow democratic principles and agree with the majority want to have their preferences made law, for ‘it's the will of the people’ and after an election ‘to the victor go the spoils’.   The minority of any number, especially the 1 be damned.

Let us briefly combine these points and see how ridiculous they are as a basis for governmental action.  From what basis is public opinion to be used for what should be legal?  Of this public opinion, how representative of the whole population is it who cast the vote? – the last election had the lowest turnout in decades, not even being 40% of the voting population.  Of those who did vote, how many of them were knowledgeable of that which they were voting?  Of those who thought they were being knowledgeable, how many were actually fooled by the promises of politicians who in trying to get elected said ‘no new taxes’, ‘if you like your plan, you can keep your plan’ and ‘we have to pass it for you to find out what is in it’?   Regardless of mass manipulation or ignorance, all are to follow those results.

Politicians lie to get votes, and disregard those who gave them once received.  George Carlin’s quip is appropriate “Think of how stupid the average person is, and then realize half of them are stupider than that.”

Opinions change, especially when people come to a better understanding.  There are also other ways the majority may change through immigration and emigration (national and state borders), as well as birth and death rates.  In addition, regardless of how a topic may be defined, if the precedent has been set it can be changed; a sword once forged can be handed to (or be taken away by) another.  Which brings us to the next point: we don’t really vote on much as we elect members to government and they are supposedly our ‘representatives’.  The same issues happen at the lower level (local as well as national) of electing representatives: only so many voted for each representative and of that only so many knowingly voted for what the representative truly represented.

Furthermore, at both levels, to go beyond those who vote against those who do not vote or vote unknowingly there are the special interests – those who have the ability to sway the vote or representative to push for specific legislation.  These special interests can be through individuals, companies, corporations, unions or politicians themselves; these categories are not mutually exclusive.  Kelo ruling, Uber being pushed out of areas, The PATRIOT Act, Affordable Care Act (ACA, AKA Obamacare) and any of the supposed ‘Wars on’ [Drugs, Poverty, Terror] are prime examples of public opinion, vague definitions and changing aspects around the precedent, to result in bad law that can get worse depending upon who is wielding it. 

However, we all know that we don’t get to vote upon the issues that really affect us most.  Was there any vote offered to the people regarding going to war in Vietnam, Korea, Afghanistan, Iraq, about the drone programs, the NSA spying upon everyone, the militarization of the police, the general wars on ‘terror’, ‘poverty’ or ‘drugs’?  Was there a vote for the citizens to decide which firearms are allowable, what ammo and how much ammo is allowable, or about abortion being legal and at what point a fetus is deemed too developed to be aborted?  Though there may have been polls asking about whether a change in healthcare was desirable, was there any vote that specifically Obamacare (ACA) should be made law? - though fear made it so The PATRIOT Act was something in a vague symbol that should be passed, how many voted for the components such as ‘roving wiretaps’, ‘sneak and peak’ warrants, an extension from giving material support to giving advice/assistance to those deemed terrorists – a definition made by those who have power, not those who vote.  It is by design that those who will be chained to the law are not the ones who vote for it, or have the full costs revealed to them.  Remember, the bills are thousands of pages and to be voted upon in a couple days… so we can ‘find out what’s in it.’

For all the bluster about power to the people, the people actually don’t make the decisions; we have elected representatives, and from being elected they are to be the extension of the will of the people.  However, whether it is for a program or for a representative the issue remains that there is to be a legal standard whereby those who do not want or agree with the results are to abide by them.  We shall use a tool quite favored by politicians for the next point: polls.  Even if we granted that our elected representatives do represent our interests – a literal impossibility for ‘we the people’ have diverging if not mutually exclusive interests – in the highest offices, those with the most power [congress and the president], have approval ratings where strongly approve and approve combine to be only around 40%.  There have been times where strongly approve has remained in single digits. 

A colloquialism which is quite apt in politics is: you scratch my back, and I’ll scratch yours.  Who gets to scratch what for who?  Those who have something to trade, and in politics it is those who have legal influence and power to trade for gains of another type – not limited to, but most especially – contributions, trading amongst each other.  Those who are not elected use non-election means to influence elections or skip them altogether by buying elected representatives.  This can be done by corporations, companies and unions.  Uber becoming a problematic competitor?-taxi companies try and get politicians to pass licensing requirements to eliminate Uber.  Don’t want your child to go to public school for education, the teacher’s union tries to limit the availability of charter schools.  For all its bluster about trying to give everyone lower-cost healthcare, Obamacare (ACA) doesn’t actually control costs (for costs have increased), as it just covers those costs through State funding, all with the biggest supporters of the program being insurance companies who now have guaranteed clientele, and got them by contributions using lobbyists.

We’re not done looking at the representatives yet.  What is another thing these representatives have done with their power that is supposed to represent the people?-created various programs and organizations with appointed members who have been given legal authority.  Though the agency wasn’t created by a vote of the people, the EPA has the legal authority to prevent people from building on their own property, and fine them heavily if they do build without permission.  Pick any agency, and the same pattern will follow – non-elected members of non-elected group holding legal authority over the lives of the people in some way.  One of the biggest – and most damaging – examples is The Federal Reserve, as it follows the pattern of non-elected members of a non-elected group, however, its power is over monetary policy, and it presided during every great recession/depression in US history, as the value of the dollar decreased by more than 90%.  Vote for the value of your money decreasing?

These issues are not limited to the present time.  By what standard can one generation place debts and rules upon another generation?  The very nature of the national debt is in one generation accruing expenses that the next will have to pay.  Some level of debt has existed since the beginning of the country [US], and while the first century went to pay for the formation (war for independence, land purchases, etc), the national debt now is mostly going toward what is called ‘national defense’, including keeping thousands of troops on hundreds of bases across the planet, none of which was voted on in original set up or keeping there, and toward entitlements (individual e.g. taking out much more in social security than was paid in and corporate e.g. ‘too big to fail’ bailouts), and of course ‘spreading democracy’.  The national debt currently being passed down is more than $18 Trillion; include unfunded liabilities, and that skyrockets to more than $100 Trillion.  Don't worry, the youth will clean it up... as designed.  The thought is, as it has been, to ‘kick the can down the road’; however, the road has to be built but the funds are out and the road will end.

These issues are not limited to the national level.  By what standard can your state, county or city place restrictions upon you, or you place upon others based upon passing a legally recognized line of demarcation?  Where at least in time, all currently existing should be affected by the law the same, this other type of groupthink does not mean all are affected the same.  This ranges from the aforementioned categories to be pitted against each other in ‘tax free zones’ in New York State, where they are trying to get businesses to come; for those who are approved, they get the benefit, but for those who do not qualify (get approval from members of government) or for those already there, they have to pay full price; want to smoke pot, or even cigarettes, don't cross state lines for you can get arrested for the pot and be seen as selling black market if moving what has been deemed sufficient cigarettes from a low-tax area to a high-tax area; even supposedly nationally recognized rights (e.g. 2nd Amendment) have been made piecemeal, such as Shaneen Allen (legally owning a pistol in PA) volunteered that she carried a gun when pulled over for a traffic issue in NJ, and she was charged and faced up to three years in prison - Gordon van Gilder faced up to 10 years for having a flintlock pistol in his glovebox when he crossed NJ state lines.

Finally, the nature of democracy is that, in some form, might of numbers makes right.  Whether it is from direct vote, or from the elected officials [often bought with lobbyists] who are to be the representatives, it makes no difference.  The result is the same, as is the base: rights are granted by the State and those who make it, so rights can be taken away.  Rights are not deemed inherent.  We need look no farther than homosexuality, firearms and abortion (among countless other topics) - regardless of where one has a personal preference on these issues, does that preference change because a new numeric change tilted which side has the majority?  Even if not outlawed outright, but nudging people to a behavior by having a ‘sin’ tax, the issue remains of others dictating your behavior, as Daniel Webster opined “The power to tax is the power to destroy”.  New York has more than $4 in taxes added to each pack of cigarettes - Eric Garner was assaulted in an arrest for selling untaxed cigarettes, for people wanted to smoke, but have trouble paying the tax; Eric Garner died from the assault.

Some more examples of laws that exist that you can get punished in one area, but not another (proposed, existing, or existed at one point): in MT if someone has any clothing that is too revealing they can get a fine and be imprisoned up to five years for repeat offenses; in CA it was illegal to play football or throw Frisbees on county beaches; in NY it is illegal for a group of two or more to wear masks or face coverings; in NJ you cannot pump your own gas.  These examples touch on the principles set earlier.  For the last one regarding pumping gas... who does that help and harm?-it makes sure that residents have to pay more for gas to pay for wages for employment as going back to 1949 a station who was charging less for people to pump their own gas angered full-service stations who lobbied the state to pass the law.  Unions pushed for similar laws to ensure labor was paid even though it wasn’t needed: an orchestra to be paid when a record was needed, a local driver to ride along with a driver who was coming into the city, etc.

Though the other examples seem innocuous, it is the same principle set that people can be treated differently legally, some behavior is legally acceptable, while others are not (when there is no victim) and the State can punish.  Carry this principle over and it becomes what is acceptable speech, what is a ‘sin’ and how can we tax it, who can defend themselves and with what?  More than a century ago Annette Kellerman was arrested for violating decency laws for wearing a form-fitting one-piece swimsuit - the same style laws that are coming back in MT; marijuana is legal at the state level in CO, but there are politicians trying to make sugar and transfat illegal in NY and elsewhere.  With the principle set, it will include worse examples: telling everyone to turn in their gold, slavery and Japanese/German internment, just more examples of some people not being a sufficient majority to hold onto their rights.  Again, the individual is the smallest minority. 

The answer for us is simple: stop the ‘laboratories of democracy’ for what basis is there that by crossing some line of demarcation not related to private property, that one falls under new legal system and punishments?  Additionally, stop following the idea that someone, anyone or any number can have a legal right to dictate, direct or restrict the right of an individual.  Democracy is not the only [governmental] system that does this - any form of Statism follows the pattern that someone can make your decisions for you... at the barrel of a gun.  In actuality, if the execution of a monarchy was that of the king following individual rights of the people as contrasted to a democracy that voted to confiscate or eliminate trouble-makers (see Socrates), who is living under a better system?  If you desire and follow the majority because you happen to benefit now from the majority opinion, beware when that changes for the victims of old may have a grudge.  The greatest evil is in assigning others the role that they are mere means to one’s ends.  Democracy enshrines this system.  If we are to be free people, to be self-directed, it is first by recognizing the social ailment that we have and from that proceed with the proper course of action to kill that disease.  If we do not, the disease will kill us.

Friday, February 6, 2015

A Rhetorical Evaluation of the Concept of Life

[This was originally a work for a class in Rhetoric in 2005, though it has received a couple of 'tweaks']
What is ‘Life?’  Some would consider it a silly question; a question which is obvious in answer.  But is it really?  The concept of, and term life is used in many ways and in many arenas; a couple of which are from the most important discourses in human history, and especially to we Americans.  One of Thomas Jefferson’s most important writings, The Declaration of Independence has written in it “… certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness… [emphasis added]”  Patrick Henry’s famous “… give me liberty or give me death!” speech had before that conclusion “Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery?  Forbid it, Almighty God!  I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death! [emphasis added]” 
Those two uses of the term life seem to be quite similar; both were about individuals in the colonies forming an independent, fledgling nation by breaking the bonds of a tyrannical parent [king] who denied them [the colonists] the ability [political liberty] to act according to how they thought best.  But there are other uses of the word life.  President George W. Bush fosters a ‘culture of life’ and seeks to expand the definition of life (Fletcher, 2005).  With that alone we can see that what is life is not so simple to define if some, especially those in charge of the government, are attempting to change the definition. 
Some of the procedures and regulations advanced by President Bush to support life and individual rights are the same ideas to which Richard Parker [MD] states are counter to life and individual rights (2002).  Is this a disagreement of definition? – or something lesser, such as a miscommunication.  What about not allowing [Oklahoma City bomber] Timothy McVeigh “… to take one more life… and “…deny him this final killing.” As Bruce Friedrich of PETA said about not letting an animal be killed (i.e. lose its life) to provide a meal for the convicted mass-murderer.  Joanne Lauck in her book refers to Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass and compares the world where the gnat existed to Alice’s, saying the gnat’s world “… celebrated all life forms …” including its kind, i.e. other insects (2002).  How far, or to what degree, and in what area, should the term life be extended?
The above uses of the term life are, if not wholly incompatible, quite differentiated.  What must be done is an evaluation of what life is – a denotative clarification.  The concept must be separated from false connotations, i.e. that which it is wholly incorrectly used, from that where it is in some degree synonymous with another word (but not identical to) and that which it is truly representative.  What are the differentiations among the synonyms?  Not only must those distinctions be made, but they must be applied to the various areas where life was viewed as being: after what is life, what has life? – if it does not have life, then what does it have?  What are the implications, and what are the consequences of those differences?
The term life has been invoked in multifarious manners.  Philosophers and ideologues, good men and bad men both speak of life.  Life has been used ambiguously by most and from the ambiguity and uncertainty in the public, ideologues use it and prevaricate the term life to that which helps them control the masses; they [the ideologues] flip the definition that was never clearly made in the first place, to that which suits them best toward their goal only to flip again when a challenge is made which will counter what they have advanced to that point – to flip again later.  The manipulators of the term have a clear meaning to themselves of what they mean, but they speak enthymematically and we fill in [syllogistically] what was left out; they give us the form but we provide the filling.  We fill in the form as we have to make sense of what they allude. 
As we have our own definitions, either fully consciously, partially or unconsciously held, they feast on it while they talk all day but say nothing definitive.  In its different meanings life can be something quite inconsequential and unremarkable, or it can be something which if it be not the most important, it is one of the most important concepts of man – the life that Thomas Jefferson and Patrick Henry fought so vociferously for having.  That life is our focus.
Let us first look at what is said about what has life.
A commonly accepted idea of what life, or that which is coming to life, is, is being or growing according to one’s nature.  That seems to be a good, general description, but is it enough?  For what was stated by Jefferson and Henry, surly it is not.  The ‘one’ would have to be addressed firstly, and that will lead to the obvious problems of the overly general description.
To take the above description would include that which is not alive by any other definition; things which are said to have life when they act (not in themselves) according to how the viewer thinks it would act had it the choice, e.g. a volcano, a bull stock market, a storm or the engine of a car.  Each of these can be said to act, but as though the word act might have connotative value, it is wrong denotatively and our purpose here is clarification of the word life which will not be possible if other words are left unclear in meaning; words here must be specified as much as possible. 
A volcano does not choose to store magma to a point and then erupt; it is the result of physical forces outside itself forcing the magma into the volcanic chambers through cracks in tectonic plates.  The storm bringing rain, wind or whatever else physical, is just like the engine of a car, which is in turn just like the volcano – a result of physical forces; a bull stock market, too, does not choose to exist, but is only a symbol, a representation of outside forces from the buying and selling of shares.  None of the aforementioned materially caused forces are from within the thing, none of them bring about the continuation of their own existence – they do not act - they are just the continuation of various kinds of forces.  As Kenneth Burke observed, they have motion but no action.
The ability to try and preserve oneself, therefore, would be a proper addition to the definition of life.  But let us look at that idea.  What would be included with that idea? – practically everything that is not mineral.  And some have agreed.  Some have said, and say, that all life is to be respected and that the killing of anything which has life is immoral - examples given earlier.  These people would take the words “… unalienable rights…” and extend it to all things which exhibit life.  But is this not absurd?  One does not need to be a follower of Heraclitus when he said (2001):
That which always was,
and is, will be everliving fire,
the same for all, the cosmos,
made neither by god nor man,
replenishes in measure
as it burns away.
One can see that Nature has balanced counterparts: life and death; both are necessary.  The only living entities which could exist without killing of some prey, would be plants, and not even all plants as some make insects their prey, e.g. Venus fly-trap, bladderworts and pitcher plants.  With this as a definition, the bodies of living organisms, including our own, are killing machines as whatever microbial organism gets into a creature’s system, such as ours, the immune system attacks the invader and kills it; the microbial organism behaved according to its nature and toward its self-preservation, as did the body that was invaded by the microorganism – it is unavoidable, it is inherent in Nature.
For all things which have a nutritive base would be considered to have life.  From the lowly Sarcodina (amoebae) to plants, to lower animals to humans, each has nutritive faculties and the ability to grow or maintain its existence.  Now, as the concept of life which has been promulgated in The Declaration of Independence is clearly not what has been described thus far in our evaluation, it would be wise to say that cells and plants do not have life; but what shall we call that which they have?  We should keep in mind the form of the word life in this context, which is purely biological – nothing more than merely ‘being alive.’  So, being alive may be life in a biologist’s point-of-view, but it will not suffice for ours – the nutritive and growth properties of an organism shall best be described as it being alive.
What about organisms other than microorganisms, insects and plants: the reptiles, fish, birds and mammals (other than humans)?  What could be said of the latter that could not be said of the former?  Is it the capability to suffer, as Bruce Friedrich of PETA also stated?  The capacity to suffer is dependent on a number of things, such as neurological development.  Not all animals can suffer while some can, but the capacity to suffer is not the base for rights or for life which is beyond being alive.  We will touch more on this later.
It cannot be said a higher cognitive ability, for if any animals have such abilities, it is quite limited.  Some species of animals are identical to plants in that they have neither head nor brain, e.g. jelly fish and sea stars.  Should fish be excluded from the rest of animals, as is done by some vegetarians (vegans will protest that exclusion)?  Even if that exclusion is made, there is not much to be said of such generalization of ‘higher’ life to the remaining classes of animals, i.e. something in their characteristics to separate them from insects and plants.  As proof of a form of cognition, some say that animals have language – that they communicate.  Those who proclaim animal language cite the songs of birds, the howls of wolves and differing bark of dogs, the chirps and clicks of dolphins.  It is true that animals communicate, but they do not have a language, grammar or anything else of the like.
All complex non-plant organisms communicate; life would stop short with a single generation if communication was not present, save by chance.  The communication of any animal is its means of conveying its attempt of protecting its territory, for pack animals to coordinate a hunt or defend the herd, and most importantly, show that it is ready for mating.  It is done both audibly and non-audibly, visually and non-visually, and through olfactory processes; as Kenneth Burke stated non-symbolically.  That is the reason for barks, howls, shakes, postures, marking, pheromones and the songs which would be better described as chirping. 
That which is supposedly separated from these classes of animals to the other classes, i.e. birds, reptiles, mammals from insects and fish is something which actually blends them, and humans all together, but humans have developed communication to a level which no other species has developed; we have language, which will be addressed later.  Some of the most advanced pure communication systems in the animal kingdom belong to insects, e.g. the use of pheromones, buzzing and shaking of honey bees to relay the location of a flower.
Clearly, communication ability is not sufficient for us to include it among what constitutes life; it is not even sufficient for us to modify our attempt to define what life is.  Further investigation is needed into our defining life, so let us continue.
As far as classes of organisms, only one remains for that which could be relevant to the concept of life as we are seeking for its definition: humans.  What is it that separates humans from the rest of all organisms on Earth?  Is it that the human brain is larger than any other animal brain? – no, for that is not true as the brain of blue whales is many times larger.  In most areas, the human body is quite weaker than that of other animal counterparts, e.g. our strength pales in comparison to that of a lion, our eyesight pales in comparison to an eagle, our sense of smell pales in comparison to dogs, and in practically every other way, we are physically weaker in some aspect to most animals, so what differentiates us as greater is not physical. 
That which does separate us from all other organisms is our rational faculty: our reason.  Through our reasoning ability, our cognitive abilities, we can recognize the laws of Nature, use actual language (symbols) and, for what our discussion is about here, know ethics; we have a moral faculty, which comes from a broader field in that we can engage in philosophy, where all other fields flow from.
We will return to the importance of humanism to life later, but first, let us recount what has been said, and see what does not constitute life.  Life is not just being, behaving or growing according to one’s nature, for that would include that which is not alive.  Life is not just possessing growth or nutritive faculties, for that would belong to all organisms, both simple and complex.  Life would also not be nutritive faculties with communicational abilities, as those belong to almost all complex, non-plant organisms. 
The aforementioned characteristics, save behaving according to one’s nature alone, which have been used to describe life can really be reassessed and correctly be described at best as those various things being alive.  We must remember to keep the distinction between what is said to have life biologically [being alive] from that which is said to have life politically, for life in the realm of our living together is our aim to define and from that we will be able to see what life should be as to fulfill what is in The Declaration of Independence.
Let us return to humanism (a human being).  A full, detailed discussion of humanism would include more than what is needed here, so let us content ourselves with a concise summary of what it is that separates the human animal from any other animal or organism.  Humans have mind.  It matters not if one thinks the mind is separable from the body or that it is a part of the body. 
Even if mind and body were separable, while one exists on Earth, they are together. 
What is it to have mind?  Mind is where action originates.  Action, that is not materially caused like motion, such as the volcano, but originates in the mind, is based on the awareness of options, and that one is better than the others, i.e. value – the mind values.  These values may be either explicit or implicit, conscious or unconscious, but they are.  Not only does man value and act upon those values, but he also thinks, and can think philosophically; humans can deliberate on the practical and contemplate in the principle. 
Philosophizing, and the various realms of philosophy, i.e. metaphysics, politics, aesthetics and ethics, are the key issues.  Animals have no grasp of anything philosophical; they live in a materially caused world and are limited to that world.  It takes philosophy to be able to pursue something beyond the immediate; animals only live in the immediate while humans can abstract beyond the concrete of the immediate.  Humans also have true language – a complex symbolic system for communicating ideas/abstractions as well as those concretes, e.g. warning another of a vicious dog around a corner and what is a vicious dog. 
As we can abstract, as we can see each other as self-directed, self-motivated, selfish creatures (selfishness being concerned with oneself first, and non-parasitically as wanting others to live according to how we think is right is still based upon our view of what is right, whether or not it actually is), and that other humans each seek the same – their own interests.  Ethics comes from our relations with other humans.   This recognition of what separates humans from other beings that are alive, the ability to use symbolic-language, abstract, deal with others as political equals is what is the base of political life.
Since we have narrowed our definition for life to humanism, humanism will be our reference from now on.  Is it enough to have the above abilities of symbol using and the rest? – this will be addressed last with respect to humanism.  Must humanism actually be present or a probable potential?  Does life belong to a single human, or is it something which belongs to a group of humans, whether it be family, State, ethnic group or the like?  It is not clear yet so we must keep our investigation going to further clarify life.
Is the actual or the potential, or both to be classified with life?  It is the actual alone which is to be classified as having life for our discussion.  The potential, as its definition suggests, does not exist yet, and therefore, it cannot have life.  There are two areas where this is most obvious: a fetus and the functionally brain-dead.  Both of these exist as potentials for life; the fetus as a forming, attached organism to later become human and the functionally brain-dead for a potential recovery to some extent to become human once again.  Both, in their states of development lack those characteristics for which life can be: a separately functioning entity and mind.  A fetus exists only as an extension of its mother’s flesh – it cannot live without it.  The fetus, too, does not have mind as mind comes about from exposure to the world. 
The functionally brain-dead exist as separate entities, but have no mind; even their existence as separate entities is quite limited as natural processes would be their death unless someone [an actual] intervened to keep the brain dead from wasting away through starvation, dehydration and exposure.  Some disagree, such as, with respect to fetal development, Fritz Baumgarter, MD states that one has life from conception (2005), and with respect to the functionally brain-dead, John Stemberger of the Family Research Council stated that Terri Schiavo (a functionally-brain dead woman) was “…living and healthy…” and that she “…is able to see, hear and she is often alert… (2005)” 
What do these two [fetuses and those who are functionally brain-dead] have?  These two have what has been described as being biologically alive; they both are incapable of action and only respond in motion, from the materially caused.
It is the mind which is the key component here; without mind, humans lose the title of rational animal and become simply animal.  A mind cannot exist without a body, but a body can exist without a mind.  For Aristotle observed “…for he does it for the sake of the intellectual element in him, which is thought to be the man himself…”  Acting as humans should is what our nature prescribes.  And it matters not whether one believes that God designed man or that man evolved through natural selection, for with either one, man is man now. 
It is ridiculous to think that either God or Nature created man, stating “Here you are, great creature of intellect.  You have mind, now go live as a plant.”  It is not only ridiculous, but impossible.  Even if humans tried to live as plants do, we would surely die as plants can live passively through photosynthesis while animals have to be active in their diet.
One that has been born is separate and now can continue toward its potential, albeit with parentage, but the fetus has neither mind nor is separate.  However, if carried to term a fetus’ potential is not necessarily going to be a healthy birth for there could be a miscarriage, or it could be still-born, born brain-dead, die of complications or it could be born with all physical health; after that it could either grow up to be a good or bad person; wickedness will be discussed later. 
The functionally brain-dead is separate and can live separately for a short amount of time on its own; what is to be said of its potential?  Medical science advances continuously and through it, one could be kept biologically alive, practically indefinitely.  Various machines can function for weak muscles or organs or they can be replaced through transplant; technically, the body could live in such a state for decades, or with cryogenics, possibly centuries – but would it be life?  Just like the fetus, it would be biologically alive, or cryogenically frozen, but it would be lacking the faculties to act.  We must keep in our mind the difference between being human and that of having the flesh with the genetic make-up of Homo sapiens: being biologically alive. 
With that in mind, life is not mere survivability, but something more.  Considerations of the potential will be concluded later.
Does life belong to the individual, or to the group? - family, city, state or country?  Life belongs to the individual, and to the individual only.  The simile of a man is to society as a cell, or organ, is to the body, is good, but as simile it is not identical.  A cell or organ is motion, materially caused, and there is no such thing as a materially caused mind.  There are ways to materially affect the mind: drugs, alcohol, injury to the brain, and such, but it does not make the sole determining factor of mind. 
Mind is action, it values, and is the expression of all the traits we have mentioned earlier.  Not only do humans have action, but they also can exist without society; they have the physical ability to survive isolated from other humans, although such existence would be dreadful, while cells or organs cannot survive outside the body.  Any group is a collection of individuals, each of whom act upon their own desires; the group is said to move when the majority is in accord, but any majority is not all and complete unison is when all individuals choose the same thing.  The individuals make the choice and their choice can keep them with the group or they can leave.  But as Ayn Rand observed “…the political function of rights is precisely to protect minorities from oppression by majorities (and the smallest minority on Earth is the individual)” (1964).
We have further narrowed our definition of life from simply being biological Homo sapiens to an actual human individual with mind, so does that mean that all humans have life, and the right to pursue it equally?  No, not all have life equally or can pursue it equally.  Human life is specific and, as Aristotle noted “The virtue of a thing is relative to its proper work.”  There are two areas where human life not being where it should be, can be seen.  The first is that where one does not use that which makes man, man, i.e. does not use his mind. 
As noted before about the ridiculousness of having God or Nature creating man to live as a plant, it is not only ridiculous, but shameful to have mind but refuse to use it.  We do not say that the man who does not, and refuses to examine his life, while working the menial job that he hates only to come home to relax and lose himself in whatever amusements he can escape into, has the same level of life as the one who has examined and knows himself and goes out to improve himself while doing that which he enjoys and continues to engage his mind. 
The same is true of children as we do not say they have the same level of life as their parents as the children do not have the experience or wisdom to think on such things.  They do not have the same level of life as the mentally and physically active man, but they can pursue their life as they see fit, even if it is a short-coming, that is not living to their potential as human, and to be blamed; however, children need guidance for their faculties are not developed enough to function properly. 
Fools may pursue their life imprudently, but children cannot.  Dependent on their developmental stage, we do not let infants or children have the same choices (if any) as an adult.  Young children are not blamed to the same extent (if at all before correction) as an adult for misbehavior.  Children, lacking experience and wisdom, need guidance and extra rules to develop their lives, such as we do not let a four-year-old drive a car, and if it did, we blame the parents, but as the child grows, more blame is placed on it until it has to take full responsibility for its actions; they are developing and cannot pursue life as an adult.
The other area where life is not being something for all equally, or having the right to pursue, is with wicked men; wicked men here referring to any man whose actions are to violate the rights of another man, and it is in these actions where he cannot pursue equally valid paths toward life.  The wicked deceive the other and attempt to take from the life of that other – through fraud or force try to take that which is life, or is the means for the other to keep, or enjoy, his life.  There is no right to violate the rights of others.  The good man recognizes that he is himself a separate entity with desires, but he also recognizes that he is a member, not of a simple group like a state, but of a category – the category of human. 
Through that recognition of being in that category of being human, and recognizing the right of each man to pursue “… Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness…” the good man, being an actual, separate, symbolic and valuing organism, a rational animal, recognizing and respecting the rights to everyone and himself, we can say that is what life is.  [The pursuit of] Life belongs to the good, not the wicked - to those who act in ways to honor rights, not violate rights.
There are times when one can proceed with forfeiture of life: the legal implications and consequences of life as defined.  Life is forfeited by the wicked man by acts of wickedness; when one does not respect the right of others to live, there is to be no respect shown him as to his existence.  An act of justice is both rewarding the good man for his actions (which is not our focus for forfeiture) and it is the process of righting an unjust act of a bad man relative to the virtue of an act or severity of the crime, e.g. assault is more of an unjust crime than petty theft, and murder is more unjust than assault. 
The punishments range according to circumstance as in when one killed another, if it was accidental and manslaughter, or if it was premeditated with malice and murder, or if it was in self-defense of self and family and to be praised.  In any case, the one who is violating the rights of another, by that violation of the other’s rights, is saying that he does not recognize rights, or considers them unimportant, and his own are to be included; he may not say it explicitly, but his actions speak for him.
The only other time when life can be forfeited is when it is one’s own.  One’s own life can be forfeited, properly, when life is no longer seen as being valuable living and there is no way of correcting it.  Existence itself is a value based in context.  There are potential times in life which prevent life as described, but allow for the continuation of biological life from minutes more to years more, but as has been said, mere survivability [being biologically alive] is not life. 
Terminal illness, trapped by an inescapable slow death or by enslavement, life can be prevented.  Granted some are more contestable than others, but it is up to the individual to choose on how to fight, if he wants to fight.  It is up to the individual as he is the one shouldering the burden of his life and the consequences of its existence.  If one was stuck with horrific pain which would not end until death as with some cancer, or one was trapped atop a skyscraper which was ablaze and the only choice was either burn slowly to death in flames or to jump and quickly die from striking the ground as was the case for some from the World Trade Center attack, or if one was a slave or prisoner and was subject to constant torture and abuse with no end in sight, then the people in each of these cases has lost the potential for life, in varying degrees, and has the choice whether to end it if the burden is seen as too great.  For as General Stark proclaimed when commemorating his battles for the Continental Congress “Live free or die.  Death is not the worst evil.”
What about those potentials? 
As we have already mentioned, potentials do not have life, so they have no legal right to life - there is no right to mere biological life for then we get into the aforementioned issues.  Potentials are simply that, potentials, they are not guarantees; there is only one guarantee for any organism and that is death, but we do not go about treating each other as potential corpses.  Or as Leonard Peikoff said to the claims of ‘unborn child:’ …we could, with equal logic, call any adult an “undead corpse” and bury him alive or vivisect him for the instruction of medical students (2003). 
It is the actual who has rights, is responsible for his own life, and it is up to him whether or not to take an extra burden.  The mother has rights, the fetus does not; it is up to the mother whether or not to carry the burden as she is the one who has to - not the fetus, not the father, nor anybody else has to carry the burden.  For those who are functionally brain-dead, they do not have life as that which makes them human or even animal, their intellect is gone, so as they cannot choose and fend for themselves; it is up to the man who takes the burden of the brain-dead's care, if he wants it. 
Even if there was a guarantee, it would be up to the person taking the burden to choose to take it.  Some consider it cruel to let an injured or sick animal suffer needlessly when it can no longer function as it could – we euthanize it to remove its pain.  But one could, if they so choose, gather their resources, both financial and other, to raise the animal back to health; it is not demanded.  Why is it considered by those who do not want the lower animals to suffer mercy to euthanize them, but consider it contextually good to let a human continue to suffer?
What would be the point of insisting on survivability of a biological organism versus the life, as we have described it, of a human?  One point would be the pragmatism of governmental bureaucracy, of counting heads to justify their proposals, or by looking as stewards or parents to their constituent children, and make themselves look worthy of re-electing.  Another reason is based on theology and that it, removing that biological life of potential human in the case of a fetus or brain-dead, is ‘playing God’ with the belief that humans are not to alter what has been set for ‘God has a plan.’ 
But that is fatalism, and if to alter whatever has happened is playing God, then all medicine and technology in general is playing God, for none of the things that come from technology come from the simple motion, the material causation of Nature, but of man’s manipulation of Nature, using Her laws.  With the idea that all that happens in life is part of God’s plan, then it could be, also, that God willed the actions of the others to bring about the abortion or euthanasia, for God ‘works in mysterious ways’ and has called on sacrifice many times to bring about His plan.  Something else to consider: if we are acting against God’s plan now with our actions, then we have the ability to act against them and if we do have such an ability, how are we to be sure that by using our technology as we are is violating it, too, e.g. keeping a feeding tube inserted in one who would die without it as keeping one from going to God as intended to God’s plan.
The consequences of stating that which is potential human life is to have rights will now be examined.  What is really being said when those in charge are asking for all life to be viewed as valuable?  Is it really just their saying that life is good and to be preserved, or are they saying that the government should make sure that life is preserved?  And one must keep in mind of the enthymematical nature of their talk, which is fine in normal talk, but they speak of policy - legal use of force - and just as we have a definition of life, so do they and they might not agree.
Rights are that which protect individuals’ ability to pursue their goals.  To pursue goals is to be active, and to be active is to be fully functional as an autonomous, valuing (human) unit, according to one’s will.  When one is not able to provide for himself, but it is deemed his or its ‘right’ to have that which he cannot acquire, then others must provide for that one.  Making functional others provide for the needing one infringes upon their [the functional] own ability to pursue their own goals as they now would have the other’s [the needing] goals to work toward; what would be expected of one when the other’s becomes the others’? 
It would entail more losing of rights of the one to provide for himself as he is now expected to provide for more, and more as it would be a precedent, a setting of a principle – it would not just be this specific situation but for those in these situations.  Eventually, that would be extended to similar situations.  He would become a slave to the other, as he would no longer be able to act according to his own will, but now, not to the will of the other who is seen as the one to be directly benefited, but the other who is in charge of the use of force, who has the firearm in hand, issuing a command. 
From the ambiguous usage of a word, a law could be adapted and whether or not we wanted it, we would be subject to it at the barrel of a gun.  That is the only way to enforce that which one does not wish to do, to use force to make them do it; for anything voluntary is not enslavement such as Leopold Von Sacher-Masoch had in his contract making himself a slave to his lover provisions to which she had to obey (2000).
The proper course of action in law with respect to life is to protect the liberty of those who can act independently.  It is the sphere of government to protect the general while it is up to the individual to work the particular – Aristotle realized this:
The reason is that all law is universal but about some things it is not possible to make a universal statement which shall be correct.  In those cases, then, in which it is necessary to speak universally, but not possible to do so correctly, the law takes the usual case, though it is not ignorant of the possibility of error.  And it is none the less correct; for the error is in the law nor in the legislator but in the nature of the thing, since the matter of practical affairs is of this kind from the start.
As life and its value is something perceptible in nature with respect to its context, it should be left to the individual to choose.  Just as the individual is responsible for the choices and burdens of his own life, so is life’s choices to be left to the actual who is to shoulder the burden of the other when the potential cannot make it; it is the actual who must alter his life to take the burden if so chosen, for if not, then one is a double-slave, one to the government and the other chance.  That is the result: governmental enforced enslavement to chance, e.g. faulty contraception or a car accident, or worse, to wickedness, e.g. rape or assault.
What is to be done by us as a polity?  The answer is deceptively simple: do not let ourselves, and do not let others, including those in charge, prevaricate (or get away with prevaricating) the word life.  It is so simple, and the word so ubiquitous with each person having a somewhat similar and somewhat different definition, that it happens without notice, the prevarication.  When anyone, especially the President of the United States says that they are ‘pro-life’ and want a ‘culture of life’ we agree for life is good according to how we see it.  But we must make sure what is meant. 
For if their ascription of life to that which is merely biological, which we have shown is not life but being alive, then it contradicts itself – it is untenable as some things must die for other things to survive.  To be truly Pro-Life, one would embrace the life of that which belongs to a human, while recognizing exactly what is meant by being human instead of being alive or surviving.  The costs, though, are great indeed for our oversight; they include loss of finances, time and liberty.
This is not, however, a call for more abortions, or more euthanasia; it is a call for awareness for individuals to make sure they can be left alone to choose for themselves the best they can; if need be, they can choose help, but they are not forced by authorities.  One must keep in mind that when those in charge of the government want to use government for their goals, it is not a question of morality, i.e. it is not whether a thing is good or bad; it is a question of the government enforcing a policy by threat of pain of fine, imprisonment or death.  Those in the government are not in the situation, and it is not their place to be in the situation although they look down upon it from their ideological perspective.  Politicians live in a self-elevated ivory tower so they can look down upon us, as that is how they see the relationship - a power imbalance that they get to rule over.  We must be able to choose how to live our lives as humans, of good will.
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