Marginal cases or Marginal citizens?

The animal rights organization People for the Ethical Treatment of Animas (or PETA for short) has filed a lawsuit claiming that SeaWorld has “enslaved” the killer whales that the park holds for performance. Any claim of slavery brings Shklar’s notion of citizenship to mind. However, this case does not make me ask whether or not animals are considered citizens under Shklar’s definition of the word. They are not capable of earning an independent living for themselves and do not have the right to vote in this country. However, an argument that is often made on behalf of the animal rights movement is that of the “argument from marginal cases”. This argument deals with the comparison of animals to humans with mental deficiencies that renders their “intelligence level” similar to that of certain animals. The argument continues on to say that if it is morally wrong to eat or use people with certain mental deficiencies in the way that humans use animals, then it is wrong to use animals in this way. The argument hinges on the notion that the only difference between animals and people with certain mental deficiencies is species membership, and that any discrimination based on species membership is inherently wrong.

I pose a different question. Do people with mental deficiencies qualify for citizenship in a contemporary? Many may be quick to jump to Shklar’s ultimate definition and say that people with certain mental deficiencies do not qualify as citizens because they are unable to earn. However, I ask: What of the mentally deficient person who is being supported by a family member or friend that is earning? Does that change this person’s level of citizenship? If one responds in the negative, then a great many other people do not qualify for citizenship. In fact, if a person with certain mental deficiencies who is also being supported by a family member or friend that is earning does not qualify for citizenship, then many of us do not qualify for citizenship, either. Many of us are college students who are being supported by government funds, our parents funds, or both. As a result, Shklar’s definition of citizenship excludes many people who may be “earning” according to a different meaning of the word.

I personally suggest that Shklar’s definition of citizenship may be on to something. But, I feel that the only way it can account for a common perception of citizenship is to extend the definition of earning to those who are being provided a living by some means. I believe very few of us would consider college students, mentally handicapped people, and others who may be dependent on the support of family, friends, or the government to be anything other than full citizens of this country. Under an extended definition of earning, people under all of these categories would be full citizens. People in all of these categories (with few exceptions) can vote. With the capability of “earning”, this country would be able to include more people in a nationwide notion of citizenship, and come closer to being the proverbial “melting pot” we have claimed to be for decades.

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5 Responses to Marginal cases or Marginal citizens?

  1. charliefilips says:

    I would agree with expanding the definition of citizenship to include able bodied and able minded individuals capable of, and interested in, earning. I like how you demonstrated the connection between the mentally handicapped and college students. According to Shklar’s logic, both of these groups can not be labeled as citizens, as each is dependent upon the finances of another to continue their way of life. As you alluded, it is not reasonable to exclude college students from a comprehensive definition of citizenship. College students obtain a higher level of education in order to increase their mental capital and, by extension, their earning potential. Although they postpone actual earning, college students do their community and themselves a favor by increasing their value within the job market. College graduates enter the workforce with a greater capacity to innovate, or instigate meaningful advances for their employer, than those who forgo higher education in order to earn immediately after high school.

  2. Laura Clark says:

    Oh PETA, you’ve done it again. I agree that Shklar’s definition of citizenship is good, but not perfect. As you suggested “earning” should be expanded to include the people who are able to support themselves by another means. Rather than define citizenship as “earning” and “standing,” citizenship could be expanded to “wealth” and “standing.” By changing earning to wealth, to include people who have money, but do not work, or are unable to, citizenship would, as per Shklar’s definition, be extended to stay-at-home moms, people who have enough money they do not need to work, and people who are being supported by others work. But, I suppose Shklar’s proposed “right-to-work” laws would render this unnecessary, as all of these people should be entitled to work according to Shklar.

  3. kmuth0307 says:

    I would agree with what has been stated. As we were going through Shklar’s opinion of what makes a citizen, I had the handicapped in the back of my mind. Another dimension that is added to mentally handicapped people is the question of whether it is right for certain handicapped to vote, given that some of them may have the mindset of a nine year-old, though they are middle-aged. I agree that Shklar’s definition is lacking in many ways, though it is difficult to pin-point concisely in what way. Handicapped are DEFINITELY citizens and have the same rights as every other individual in the States. However, I believe they are citizens, not because they can/can not vote or earn, but because of their birth place. Anyone born in the United States, or born to American citizens, should be full-fledged citizens. The government may see the handicapped as full citizens, although in some situations I would call them disadvantaged citizens; and this is where Shklar’s argument becomes relevant. Because they are dependent on others for money, food, transportation, and support, they are disenfranchised and unable to act on their own. THIS is what hinders them from being fully active in politics. However, there are plenty of people to represent them, as it should be.

  4. haleynicoleepstine says:

    I think you bring up an interesting point, not only about Shklar’s argument about who is a citizen and who isn’t, but about the way American society functions. We pride ourselves on providing everyone in America with the opportunity to fulfill the American dream… but is that really the case? Do we really provide EVERYONE with this opportunity? Or do we only provide those whom we feel are worthy. Maybe we only provide citizens with the opportunity. However… is that fair to rule out those who are mentally handicapped and therefore cannot “earn”? I don’t think so. After all every other person excluded from society technically has the ability to fulfill both of Shklar’s requirements. Illegal immigrants can apply for citizenship to be able to vote, and the unemployed can potentially find a job- though it may be tougher at times than others. But the possibility is still there. For some mentally handicapped people that possibility is not there- therefore should we just rule them out as citizens all together? I say no.

  5. eakunne5 says:

    with examples like yours and others brought up in class like housewives, it is obvious that Shklar definition of citizenship needs to be expanded. In her defense I think she assumes certain feelings about these excluded individuals that you have brought up due to their present status. She used those barometers (voting and earning) to direct her exclusion with the poor and uneducated so its clearer why she has her definition as such. I certainly feel that no matter what your status you dont have earn your citizenship by any means. If one lives here legally and is under the law of the land with their U.S passport, they are citizens to me.

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