Saturday, February 14, 2015

The right to die

In a blog-post called The Gay Marriage Thing in March last year, I recognized that the legalization of same-sex marriages in effect dismissed procreation as the basic premise on which formal marriage has always been based. The premise dated from the days when love had nothing to do with marriage, and everything to do with family alliances.

When marriage is removed from the context of family alliances and children, why does a community – any community – need to be in the business of licensing marriages at all? Why can’t communities simply butt out altogether, and let marriages happen in the absence of any community acknowledgment?

By the same token: why does any community have to be in the business of legislating with regard to death?

In most Western societies – liberal democracies – individuals are already free (within reason) to bequeath their assets to whomever they want. Most societies do levy ad-valorem taxes on deceased estates, though. That’s a custom that began when relatively primitive communities or their rulers held actual legal title to all the land, and whose approval had to be granted for the transfer of occupancy on the death of their tenants. It’s not called “real estate” for nothing; the word “real” meant “royal”.

At all levels of society, it wasn’t just the land that belonged to a community or its lords and/or kings, it was also the people who lived on it. The rulers held the power of life and death over their subjects. It still is, if you think about it. Even in democracies, such actions as abduction, assault, murder and theft are forbidden to all but the authorized servants of the state.

Chief among those prohibitions is the termination of human life. Even the most lowly members of the proletariat are valuable, as spear-carriers and cannon-fodder in tribal wars. To deprive the community of prospective soldiers was tantamount to treason. Even today, the killer of a fellow-subject must be tried in the lawcourts of the relevant king or his agents. Private vengeance is forbidden. Vengeance is mine, saith the king: I will repay.

 Suicide deprives a community and its rulers of their property. Therefore, nobody can assist in a suicide, any more than in a private murder. In many nations, a suicide forfeited the privilege of being buried in a churchyard – as well as the privilege of God’s mercy in the afterlife.

Over centuries, individuals have gradually been allowed to gain some rights over their own lives. In Western societies, at least. Some simpler, pacifist, cultures have always been generous in recognizing individual rights in respect of death. Committing suicide has never been a shameful act, there, and nor has assisting it.

Logically, suicide is the final freedom. Indeed, it is irrefutable proof of individual freedom. Neither church canon nor civil statute ought to hold any veto over the basic human right to be free. The main clause of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights obliges all national government-signatories to recognize a right to life, and the right to life ends with death, surely, not a split-second earlier.

Human Rights advocates and supporters claim that human rights exist ab initio, so to speak. They can’t be granted, only recognized: they can’t be withdrawn or cancelled, only not recognized. Communities who endorse the basic principle have no moral option but to recognize the logic of the statement in the paragraph above this one. The right to life ends with death, and not a moment earlier. Suicide is the act of a free man. Preventing it is the act of an unfree society.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Give a Kid Breakfast

One of Cayman’s most emotive charity-appeals is for children who arrive at school without having been fed any breakfast. A newspaper report from two years ago spoke of 1000 children in this situation, and the website of the (separate) children’s charity that gives schoolkids free lunches estimates that 1200 “families” regularly need food. The figures are probably a lot higher now than when they were reported. In every case, the parent or parents either don’t have the time to feed the children or can’t afford to feed them, or can’t be bothered to feed them.

Those who know of Cayman’s wealth (its per-capita Public Revenue is huge, by regional standards) must wonder if these charities aren’t a bit of a racket. Would 20% of Caymanian schoolchildren really starve without private charities’ efforts? I don’t believe it. I can easily believe that the 20% turn up at school without breakfast inside them or lunch in hand; but I don’t believe all their parents can’t afford the food. A simple breakfast of cold cereal and milk costs fifty cents, and nobody in Cayman is too poor to afford that.

The two main charities are Give a Kid Breakfast and Feed our Future. Between them they feed a reported 25% of all the Caymanian children in primary and secondary schools in the Islands. No expat children are included in these programs, because a) the children of well-paid expats must by law attend fee-paying private schools, and b) low-paid expat parents aren’t permitted to have their children with them in Cayman.

Are any of the charity-parents means-tested? Supposedly, yes, though I wonder how thorough the testing is. If I were to do the testing, how many would I find driving new cars and spending their wages on beauty salons or alcohol or huge flat-screen TVs? Those charities could hire me to do the means-testing (free of charge, I promise), and to publish my findings, with names. Huh. That's not going to happen.

Back in 1988, as a member of the government High School’s PTA sub-committee looking into the drugs problem at the School, I persuaded my colleagues to call for convicted drugs-dealers to be banned from the campus, even if they were parents or guardians of pupils, and for their photos to be posted on the Notice Board. The day after our report went forward, word came down from the Education Department to the Headmaster to close down the sub-committee immediately. Even drugs dealers had the vote, after all… It’s the same thing with charity-cheats. Ach, what can you do?

Even more important than the cheating, is the deliberate grooming of the unfortunate children to a lifetime of cosseting. Free meals at their primary and secondary schools, free scholarships for their college education, full protection by the Immigration system during their working lives, and free Meals on Wheels when they retire. From kindergarten to the grave, the community will protect them from the burdens of character-building and financial responsibility.

I have left out the pre-schoolers, because I don’t know what happens to them. I suppose that if they don’t get free food there, they are fed at home by relatives or friends. I’ve never heard of a new pupil turning up at a primary school malnourished, on his or her first day.

The other thing to say about the free meals is that a lot of careful thought has gone into the sample menus. I wonder if the whole program isn’t rather over-egged, so to speak. For my four years at the local bush primary-school, between home-schooling and boarding-school, Mum gave me Marmite sandwiches every day for lunch, and my brother peanut-butter sandwiches – plus an apple or orange. At break-times we drank water out of the school’s storage-tank, warm from the hot sun. If we were lucky! (Monty Python joke; video accessible via Google.)

We never swapped lunches. There were only a dozen of us, and our parents all knew each other. It would have been disloyal to spurn the lunch we were given. Anyway, I liked Marmite, and Doug liked peanut butter; it never occurred to us to expect variety, or a choice.

How times have changed.