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As long as it’s legal, who am I to judge?

Billie commented on a bull riding post from January of this year, writing: "And whos [sic] to judge someone for what they enjoy as long as it is legal!" (I had condemned bull riding and stand behind that.)

Let's deconstruct. There are at least two things going on here:

1) If it's legal it's okay; and

2) If it's legal it shouldn't be judged.

I haven't heard the "it's legal" argument in a long time and find the law to be such a completely separate concept that I don't even know where to begin.

The law, as I was told by one of my professors during my ten minutes of law school in 1991, isn't about justice (it's about society functioning smoothly). It might reflect the values of the majority in some ways (and in other ways not), but its function is not as a moral statement, said that professor. Funny thing is that the professor of the next class disagreed with some of that, and there's a class devoted to the history and function of our laws. 

Not judging something because it has already been deemed legal brings up another point that has always irked me: that judging is bad. As if humans don't assess and judge things, people and experiences all day long and use those judgments to form a future course of action or decide which relationships they do and don't wish to pursue. And as if there are humans who don't judge.

And is there a distinction between judging bull riding as unethical (not to mention brutal) and judging a bull rider?

But back to the beginning. Using animals in all manner of ways is legal, and many people enjoy using them. However that doesn't make it right to use them. We have a legal right to use them, but that doesn't mean doing so is justifiable morally.

Abortion is legal in this country, yet millions of people don't think it's right. What say you, Billie, about that?

And the people who disagree with the law allowing abortion are trying to change it to reflect their values, just like people who believe animals should have the right to their own bodies and natural lives try to work toward changing laws that govern the way we use animals. (Though the actual attempts at changing laws are almost always of the regulation variety, the concept of wanting to change a law to reflect a disagreement stands.)

None of this means that an action was wrong before it became legal, and then it became right. It merely transitioned from illegal to legal (or vice versa). Ethics and the law don't necessarily move together.

How do you feel about the "but it's legal" argument and about whether what you do is "judging" and whether that's bad?

6 Comments Post a comment
  1. Well put.

    There are plenty of things that are legal (or have no law around them) which we judge and disapprove of all the time. It sounds more like the commenter just doesn't care to think about it – animal cruelty obviously doesn't concern him.

    November 24, 2009
  2. Nick #

    How would Billie respond to the fact that some things are legal in certain countries and illegal in others? Do the ethical implications of the issue rest on where the act is committed? This is laughably absurd.

    Laws change to reflect societies' evolving moral stances. If no one judged laws on the basis of morality, slavery would still be legal and women would not have the right to vote. Unfortunately for Billie, someday animal ownership will be as defunct as other barbaric practices which have been made illegal.

    November 25, 2009
  3. Well, I can tell you I've changed my responses to the "are you judging me?" question. I now answer, "you bet I am! The animal abusers & killers depend on people like you to buy the dead bodies….so hell yes I'm very much judging you because you're part of the problem….are you not?"

    November 25, 2009
  4. I once debated someone from North America who suggested that ethical matter can indeed be judged on what was legal and what was not.

    When I asked what she would do if she did not agree with something that was legal, she said she would move to another state where this things was illegal!


    November 25, 2009
  5. The Law once said slavery was legal and that blacks counted as 2/5ths of a human being. Under Billie's logic, that was right because a judge said so. I also wonder if he thinks every decision by every so-called liberal activist judges is morally right because, after all, those decisions are the law. Or if he makes exceptions for things he disagrees with.

    The debate I get into a lot is a distinction you raise, Mary. What's the difference between judging the act and judging the actor? Some say that it makes no difference to the actor. But what's the purpose of the judgment in any case? For me, it's not to show that the actor is wrong or evil, it's to help me guide my own future actions by seeing how I would handle real-life situations as encountered by others. I'm happy to share what I found, what works for me – when asked or confronted. Some confuse this with moralizing, but I'm not saying "I think this is wrong so YOU shouldn't do it." I'm saying "I think this is wrong so I'M not going to do it."

    November 25, 2009
  6. Mike Grieco #

    "Legal" exploitation and killing of any sentient being is the biggest obstacle which stands in the way of establishing true "animal rights"; the basic right not to be the property of anyone to do as they wish.

    I received a very angry phone call in which I was told "we have the right to protect our stock, and you should stop writing letters speaking-up for animals" (wild and domestic).I won't say here what I said he could do with his "legal" action 😉

    I will continue to "judge"(and judge we must)any action that continues to be supported by "Industry, government, shcools, media, and other institutions" -RPA. Intitutions continue to deceive/fail the public using the lives of others.

    By the way: Aren't those of us that speak-up against these injustices being "judged" as well?

    "Legal" does not mean actions toward others are ethical…

    Thank you all.

    November 29, 2009

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