Wednesday, September 22, 2010

I promise this is not entirely an opinion piece.

Australian ethicist Peter Singer advocates an overhaul of previous incarnations of the social Left in a the idea of a "Darwinian left" - wherein the human inclination to compete would be recognized and re-directed as COOPERATION towards "socially-desirable ends"
And yet, severely premature infants and the very elderly can be euthanized (by family choice) because of their excessive strain on their families and society at large. Essentially, here are tradeoffs between the newborn's greatly increased needs and the emotional and monetary needs of others. That sounds a lot like competition is at work here. But eliminating the competitor doesn't mean you've reached a state of cooperation.
This view seems to me at odds with his position on poverty - that the developed world should forego "luxury" in favor of circumventing the "murder" brought about by simply allowing people to die. Is this not the same kind of 'drain' on society? Maybe we should just have a euthanasia option for parents of children in abject poverty, because their quality of life is necessarily and unequivocally reduced . . . If we follow his earlier logic, shouldn't it be a choice whether to donate or not, based on the strain YOU think it would cause you - as someone now somehow responsible for alleviating the problem? If Singer places such control of the problem in the hands of the average citizen (ar we getting a whiff of anthropocentrism?), why can we not be trusted to care for, manage, and eat animals (if their death is, like euthanasia, quick and painless)?

What appears to reconcile this disparity, is that Singer seeks to wield a definition of consciousness itself in his idea of 'personhood' - that a degree of personal interest in being alive must be achieved for one's rights to matter. A horse, then, has achieved personhood, but a fetus or a child with severe Down's Syndrome is only a 'potential' person whose personhood is unrealized. But how is personhood measured?
An appeal to neuroscience would be largely theoretical - and unless I missed the groundbreaking Nature article on "How to Identify Consciousness" in my sheltered collegiate haze, the corroboration just isn't there. I find his romanticism of Darwin theory similarly misguided. Looking back at the evolutionary pathway to which science itself has little access, essentializing it, and using it towards questionable social ends strikes me as pillars of salt upon a foundation of sand.

Do I think he has a place as a lecturer on campus? Certainly; because restricting dialogue tells you not the strengths of your convictions, but the narrowness of your own worldview. If you have an opinion (and I think you should), do your homework, stand up straight, smile graciously, and defend your position. For my own part, I have deep and abiding personal convictions about the subject based on life experience, but I will go to war only with a sword I can effectively yield.
See you there.

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