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Schweitzer’s ethical view of reverence for life
by Jake Highton
Feb 16, 2008 | 557 views | 0 0 comments | 7 7 recommendations | email to a friend | print
I have long been a disciple of the Schweitzerian principle of reverence for life. I catch flies inside the house and release them outside. (Although admittedly I reflexively slap at biting mosquitoes.)

The Schweitzer autobiography, “Out of My Life and Thought,” explains the ethics behind his principle: “A man is ethical only when life as such is sacred to him — the life of plants and animals as well as that of his fellow man.”

Schweitzer calls one definition of ethics the “devotion of the individual to his fellow men or to the improvement of social conditions.” He adds: “Advanced civilizations are marked by the ethical development of mankind.”

Under that definition, the United States is unethical because it does not have universal, single-payer health insurance that other industrialized nations have.

About Christianity, Schweitzer writes: “For centuries it treasured the great commandments of love and mercy as traditional truths without opposing slavery, witch-burning, torture and all other ancient and medieval forms of inhumanity.”

On torture: “Today torture has been re-established.” When Schweitzer wrote, “today” was 1931. Even now the U.S. attorney general refuses to call waterboarding torture. Keepers at the Baghdad prison at Abu Ghraib exposed America to the world as torturers.

Receiving the Nobel Peace Prize in 1953, Schweitzer declared: “If altruism, reverence for life and the idea of brotherhood can become living realities in the hearts of men, we will have laid the very foundations of a lasting peace among individuals, nations and races.”

Alas, that foundation has never been laid. And it never will. Brotherhood and reverence for life are only for idealists.

Ill treatment of dogs, for example, is more prevalent in America than admitted. Although the case of National Football League star Michael Vick focused public attention on such abuse, most dog abuse is unreported.

(Vick is serving a 23-month term in prison for executing dogs that were poor fighters. Dogs at his Virginia Bad Newz farm were electrocuted, drowned, hanged and shot.)

San Francisco out front — again

It’s hardly unusual for San Francisco to lead the country on progressive measures. And so it is on universal health. If Congress won’t do it, San Francisco will.

A three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that San Francisco can implement its first-in-the-nation universal health care program. The unanimous decision allows the city to require businesses with more than 20 employees to pay a fee to help cover employees’ health care costs.

San Francisco officials envision that the program will ultimately provide care for about 73,000 insured adults through a network of 22 clinics. However, if the case ever reaches the Supreme Court it is a safe bet that the decision will be reversed. The Supreme Court is ever protective of corporative and business interests.

The 9th Circuit, the most liberal court in the nation, is frequently reversed by a reactionary Supreme Court. And, just recently, the Roberts Court ruled against investors who sue businesses that manipulate stock prices of publicly traded companies.

The anti-investor opinion protects banks and law firms from securities fraud lawsuits if they do business with corporations. It was written by Justice Kennedy joined by four other Republican politicians: Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Scalia, Thomas and Alito.

Justice Stevens, dissenting for “the good guys,” rightly noted that the Retrograde Five is continuing its campaign to undercut investor lawsuits.

Judge Stephen Reinhardt, one of the three judges issuing the 9th Circuit ruling, may be more liberal than any other federal judge. He was once reversed five times in a single term by the Supreme Court.

And, Reinhardt often criticized President Clinton for not placing more liberals and minorities on U.S. courts to battle right-wingers appointed by Presidents Reagan, Bush I and Bush II.

Bad newspaper evidence

Exhibit Z on why the Reno Gazette-Journal is such a bad paper was offered in evidence Jan. 10. On its front page that day it gave the Sierra snowpack the main play then said virtually the same thing in another story on page 2. It also ran two photographs with the stories.

Meanwhile, on a far more significant story, the RGJ devoted just four sentences on page one to a report by Education Week that Nevada’s K-12 schools got a D+ and ranked 46th in the nation.

Jake Highton teaches journalism at the University of Nevada, Reno.
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