In ‘Ted 2’, there is surprising probe into the mystery of what makes one a person; versus a mere thing. Ted the talking soft toy teddy bear, who miraculously came to life goes on trial, fighting to be acknowledged legally as a person; not as a piece of property. This recalled the case of a black slave, 150 years ago, who was deemed non-human. Thank goodness there is official justice against such racism now, though prejudice still lurks in all kinds of ‘isms’. Let us not delay justice for more beings. Just because Ted was sold and purchased did not make him less person-like. Well, human slaves and factory farm animals are tagged with prices too. Yet, both are sentient beings fully capable of suffering, loving and being loved. Perhaps sentient beings who are less caring of other sentient beings should question the value of their sentience instead? The pun-intended unaddressed ‘elephant’ in the courtroom was humans’ speciesism (inter-species ‘racism’) against animals. Ted is after all fictitious, while animals are not. Since Ted has an ‘animal’ form with a human voice, why was he not a spokesperson for tortured and slaughtered animals, whose cries go unheard?
An enemy kidnaps Ted and tries to dissect him to see what makes him tick, so as to strike it rich by duplicating Teds for sale. Funny… because even the most experienced surgeons over many generations have not discovered exactly what is it in humans that makes us sentient. Sentience is not a solid thing to be located. It is in the very ongoing process of being aware of awareness itself, understanding emotions and reason. This is difficult to pinpoint indeed, with the brain only being a physical processor mirroring the mind’s activities. Personhood is ungraspable because there is no fixed person, while there is the illusion of an unchanging ego. Instead of looking for personhood, we need to seek Buddhahood. We are surely not our fickle egos, but sentient beings capable of realising the liberation of selflessness. We are never merely what we are in this limited span of space and time. We are really what our lasting potential stands for. We are future-Buddhas capable of pervading all space and time freely. In the meantime, we are spiritual works in progress. Remember – the path to Buddhahood is in expanding our compassion and wisdom.
Since Ted manifests what seems like sentience, perhaps he ought to be respected as a sentient being. Since he cannot be recreated at will once destroyed, all the more should he be cherished, just as he cherishes himself. Ted can stand for many other subjects indeed. For example, he kind of represents what AI (Artificial Intelligence) might evolve to be, with a ghost-like ‘consciousness’ within that cannot be found. Will there be the day when AI demands trial to fight for robotic ‘sentient’ rights? Perhaps. But who will have the right to judge, and will judgement be fair? Human advancement of AI must prepare for these moral conundrums. Perhaps humans should not make what (or who) seem ‘human’, yet being unwilling to treat them humanely – even if they have the less human-like form of Ted. Why? Because our humanity is in how we relate to all who seem sentient, especially when confused! As the movie warned, if we devalue one ‘lifeform’, who is next? We need to expand the circle of equanimous love – to encompass countless sentient beings still neglected. Why not begin with seen humans and animals, before moving on to all other unseen beings?