Indispensable mice, expendable humans.
The only decent site on their property in southeastern Wyoming lies within 300 feet of Chugwater Creek, and building there is far too expensive because of Endangered Species Act restrictions intended to protect the Preble's meadow jumping mouse.
..new research suggests that the Preble's mouse in fact never existed. It instead seems to be genetically identical to one of its cousins, the Bear Lodge meadow jumping mouse, which is considered common enough not to need protection.
— Omaha World Herald, June 14, 2004.
If our societal debates were really about values, consensus would be the rule. In the sense that we value the same things, we have the same values. In The Abolition of Man, C. S. Lewis finds common values expressed throughout the world, whether ancient or modern, east or west, "civilized" or aboriginal. Fully one-fifth of his little book is devoted to illustrations of common human values from these varied sources.
Lewis calls this common ground by the Chinese name the Tao: "it is the Way in which the universe goes on, the Way in which things everlastingly emerge, stilly and tranquilly, into space and time." It is not the Christian way of salvation, which reaches from time and space to a heaven beyond time and space; it is the Way of the created order where we now live.
So in the Wyoming dispute between a horse trainer who wanted to build a training facility on his land, and the environmentalists enforcing a law against it, let’s not jump to the conclusion that they have separate values. Along with everybody else who embraces the Tao, they respect life, liberty, and all kinds of other good stuff. On the level of the "right to be," the landowner’s horses and the environmentalist’s mice are equal.
The irony is that the mice might not exist at all.
Even so, the conflict is between their interests, not their values. While values are absolute, interests are not; law and its application must take interests into account and balance them with the values that apply to them. There may be so many factors at work that no law can be subtle enough to address them all. Maybe the adversarial legal system is not the best means to sort out legitimate conflicts of interest.
No law can settle a conflict between a horse and a possibly fictitious mouse. If we think it can, we will continue to micromanage society in the name of values.
- We will pass unenforceable laws against victimless "crimes."
- We will protect species that do not exist, or that would have died off had we not interfered.
- We will continue to meddle in the internal affairs of other nations, in the name of democracy.
- We will continue to kill people in order to set them free.
- We will continue to treat addicts as criminals.
Our common values reflect the Way. The Way is absolute. Its application in a world of conflicting interests is not.