This morning, walking through the park, I found a particularly well-concealed piece of silver foil filled with attractive white crystals. I was just beginning to snack, relying on the well established common law principle that if something is abandoned it is res nullius (nobody’s thing) and finders are keepers, when the Owner seized it from me and said it was Not Mine. She says Dogs cannot keep what they find in foil packets, thus contradicting a long-established principle of Roman Law, translated into the common law over centuries, in a single sweep.
She says packets of white crystals are covered by the same Exception as fox poo and pencils, then she puts it in her pocket and says she is taking it, and me, to the vet right now.
I have met a significant number of Rules already, but to date there had been none about silver foil and white crystals, and none that suggested that the owner might have greater rights over such objects than the Moral Dog. There are two problems with this. One is that in a Moral Society the Law should not be arbitrary or retroactive, it should be open and predictable. The other is that Lawmakers should themselves be subject to the Law.
I attempt to retrieve my foil packet from the Owner’s pocket but she puts me on the lead. In response to my accusing expression she says that I cannot eat random white crystals in the Park because she says so. She says it’s for my own good.
I am not so sure. John Stuart Mill did not allow the liberty of Autonomous Moral Beings to be limited even in our own good. John Locke contrasted ‘established standing Laws, promulgated and known to the People’ with rule by ‘Extemporary Arbitrary Decree’. Extemporary and arbitrary means the Owner just makes it up as she goes along. The Moral Dog cannot allow himself to be subject to Extemporary Arbitrary Decree.
I consider my options for lawful protest. I wonder if Oscar would join me in a demonstration, but something more immediate seems to be called for. I consider an approach to my MP, but he is just recovering from being prorogued, and is therefore rather busy. I must address this myself. I choose the Greta Thunberg approach of peaceful protest and I sit, something the Owner usually seems to want, and refuse to budge until we have properly discussed it.
I am clear that true Rule of Law is acceptable to the Moral Dog. A Moral Dog, for existence, does not eat his Owner. At least not entirely. Rule by Law, on the other hand, is not acceptable. This is when Persons in Power use the law to control the Moral Dog without being subject to the same principles themselves. Rule BY law leads to the debasement of legality by authoritarian regimes. The Owner is being like China and I am being oppressed.
The Owner sighs. She says she is not like China because that is a country of two billion people who are mostly Chinese, and she is not a country and there is only one of her, and she is not even slightly Chinese. She quotes Lon Fuller, who said that government in accordance with the procedures of law helps close the gap between law and morality. She says Fuller thought that the psychology of government means that, even in totalitarian regimes those in Power hesitate to write injustice into law, and that bad things mostly happen in the shadows outside the ‘sunlight of legality.’ Then she says that the Law of Dogs stops me from eating white crystals in the park not because she is like China but because they are dangerous to me, and since I am not in a position to be the judge of that she is morally obliged to take possession of the foil. She says Greta Thunberg would do the same.
I think someone running a totalitarian regime would say that, and expropriating the moral relevance of Greta Thunberg to suit her own ends is not behaving in accordance with Kant, who said that moral persons should never be treated as Means to Ends. I remind her that Montesquieu insisted on the separation of judicial power from executive and legislative authority, but she says that’s all very well but it hasn’t stopped Donald Trump from pulling out of US commitments on climate change. She says Greta Thunberg says we should forget about politics and Unite Behind the Science, and the science is clear on the subject of white crystals found in the park being generally not good for dogs, however Moral. She says if I eat the crystals it is a scientific fact that I could have terrible hallucinations that last for days. A giant Caspar, perhaps, or a world without cheese.
I have to concede, since I like Greta Thunberg and am fully prepared to Unite Behind the Science. Indeed I suspect I would be her Dog if I were not faithful to the Owner. I get up and we go to see the vet. The vet examines the crystals and, using science, diagnoses sugar from someone’s picnic. The foil is not only harmless, it is the sort of thing Persons eat. Phew. The Science is On My Side. I await the Owner’s apologies and return of the foil packet to its rightful claimant, thus uniting us behind both the science and the legal and political philosophy. For some reason, however, even though the Owner says that’s wonderful, and hugs me, I am STILL not allowed to eat the white crystals. Instead I am given a piece of dead ox and the foil and the crystals go into the bin.
Dead ox is all very well but this isn’t freedom. When I see Caspar tomorrow we are going to rewrite the constitution.
Hergest the Hound
I am a dog of many thoughts.