Friday, 2 March 2012

Murder by ethics

Morally irrelevant?
Reader Ironmistress asked for my thoughts about this pronouncement by a pair of bioethicists, who say that infanticide is "no worse" than abortion because infants are "morally irrelevant".

First off, any time an "ethicist" opens his mouth I know that what ever follows will boil down to either, "Do what thou wilt shall be the only law" or "That which is not forbidden is compulsory".  The idea that you can turn ethics into a science is farcical.  You can become just as much an expert, and probably more so, by running a pub or sweeping floors.  An "ethicist" is an academic mountebank at best and a charlatan at worst.

In this case, what has happened is the logical extension when you remove the idea that human life is sacred.  I don't mean that metaphorically, I mean literally sacred.  It's why in a proper morality killing is only sanctioned in extermis, such as in accordance to the rules of war or as ordinate punishment under the law for treason or other foul crimes.  It's why we don't deal with tramps by organising hunts.  It's why five men will die trying to save one.  It's why slavery is so vile.

It's even the main reason why we don't practice cannibalism or necrophilia.  Such practices are more than profane or disgusting, they are sacrilegious.  From a Judeo-Christian point of view, it is to defile the image of God.

Now, I don't want to get into the whole abortion debate.  I tend not to touch on it because it's the sort of topic that generates far more heat than light and I prefer productive discussions to ones that end with a pair of armed camps glaring at one another.  The logic of the Catholic Church, which I subscribe to (the logic, that is), is that only a human fetus can develop into a human being that will possess an immortal soul.  We do not know where along the line from fertilised ovum to infant that this happens, but it does and it is therefore logical to err on the side of caution.  Hence the prohibitions that Catholic doctrine demand.

With the "ethicists," on the other hand, they have rejected the sanctity of human life and have determined that when it is permissible to kill someone is based largely upon what is most convenient and what the killer can get away with at the time.  Their definition that they give of personhood is as tenuous as it is ungrammatical:
Their definition of a person was "an individual who is capable of attributing to her own existence some (at least) basic value such that being deprived of this existence represents a loss to her."
This sort of personhood is about as protective as a G-string. Any third-rate sophist could twist this to justify disposing of anyone at any time. For that matter, what gives the ethicists any authority to establish this as a definition or to declare it set in stone?  Once the practice is accepted, the definition can change to fit whomever is next for being declared an unperson. It is, to coin a phrase, a licence to kill.

If we accept their argument even in the tiniest degree, we are staring into the abyss.  Why stop with infants?  Why not the very ill?  The deformed?  The old?  The homeless? Class enemies? The politically incorrect? Or anyone else the Party decides is undesirable?  Why not?  Once you've swallowed the camel of infanticide, why strain at the gnat of genocide?  And the truly appalling thing is that our world has slid so far that the infanticide isn't enough to show the true evil of this idea.  I have to bring up genocide.

If I were a homosexual, for example, I would be denouncing our ethical comrades very loudly indeed.  At the moment, the sexually deviant are riding high because they are very popular with the political class.  But, as the Jews can tell you, that can change very quickly and when that happens, you don't want to be living in a world where being inconvenient is a capital offence.

One columnist recently pointed out that with this as the moral standard, you could make a nice living breeding babies in quantity to be lobotomised and sold as slaves.  Why not?  They're "morally irrelevant", after all and once their frontal lobes are detached, they're sure to remain so.

How to deal with these ethicists?  I've been reading postings that say that they've been receiving death threats and that there have been plots to murder them.  These have, of course, been quite rightly denounced as wrong. I can't think of a blunter word to describe such things.  However, what I would say to the ethicists is this:  Using your own logic, there cannot be anyone less "morally relevant" than a man who advocates such an abomination of an idea.  If anyone deserves to be the recipient of the reward for such irrelevance, it is such vermin.

Perhaps, we should tell them, it is time to revive the old practice of outlawry and declare them beyond the protection of the law and fit for any man to do with them as they will.  Think of it as the ethical version of what happens when you live by the sword.

Or perhaps we should, as always in a free society, acknowledge their right to say such vile things, but then use our right to refute them and call them what they are: Evil.


Ironmistress said...

Well said. While I often do disagree with you and while I am Agnostic by my conviction, there are certain limits not to be crossed. And Peter singer and those two guys have crossed one.

I mean, I really do not want to yield Adolf Hitler the final victory.

eon said...

I think it was best said by P.J. O'Rourke, when he observed that most "ethicists" are liberal-progressive types, who are in favor of abortion but unalterably opposed to the death penalty for murder.

As he put it, a dedicated humanist (religious or otherwise) might be opposed to both on the principle of the sanctity of life you mention, David, while a ruthless pragmatist might be in favor of both. But it takes a very special sort of mental disorder to be in favor of killing a child out of hand in the name of expediency while denying society the right to protect people from a self-motivated adult who has proven himself to be willingly dangerous to everybody else.

As for myself, my religious belief is more along the lines of Pascal's Wager, so it really doesn't enter into the equation for me. My theory on abortion and capital punishment both is summed up by what Clint Eastwood said in "High Plains Drifter" (1972) regarding bushwhacking the three gunnies coming back to town;

You do it, and then you live with it.



eon said...

Verse 2;

Having gone back and read Ironmistress' post, and the link, I would say that, disregarding abortion per se and capital punishment, the ethicists who hold this opinion have a problem. Namely, that their own statements could be used to build a prima facie case against them on the grounds that they are advocating genocide. Which brings us right back to Ironmistress' original observation, and yours, David.

We used to say that elevating ethics to the status of morals was dangerous because of what such a viewpoint could be used to justify. (Germany 1933-45 being a case in point, to say nothing of Tienanmen Square.)

What I see here is that the ethicists in question are perfect post-moderns, who do not believe that "right" and "wrong" exist, except as they define the terms.

When such people have political power, other people tend to die. In large numbers.

What we have to learn now is, who is listening to them and thinking, "you know, they have something there..."


Sergej said...

I guess I'm showing my Soviet origins in my opinions here. As I observe how women treat their desired pregnancies, and how they grieve when a desired pregnancy does not work out, I can only imagine that the decision to abort a pregnancy is seldom made lightly, and think that I am not welcome in the middle of it. The question then becomes: at what point is a pregnancy no longer a medical state of the woman, and at what point does the developing fetus become an individual? The line is certainly well before birth, and I can see a usual criterion of viability outside the womb, which basically uses brain stem development as an indication of overall neural development, as a way to draw the line. This gives plenty of time for the family to decide whether it can support another child, and to perform amniocentesis and ultrasound to determine whether the pregnancy will result in an unfortunate individual, whose life will be short and filled with pain.

Infanticide is already, clearly, dealing with a human life separate from that of the mother. Forcing religious people to act against their religion (Barry...), is so far down the slippery slope that you can't even see the slope with binoculars.

Ironmistress said...

When Nazism makes a comeback, it will not this time be wearing military uniform and jackboots.

It will be wearing the philosopher's cape and doctor's white coat.

eon said...

It all comes back to the Paul Ehrlich "Population Bomb" philosophy as defined by (again) P.J. O'Rourke. These ethicists are operating on a principle of "just enough of me, way too many of you (who are not nearly as enlightened as I am)".

Rather like Lady Cynthia Fitzmilton in H2G2, they see themselves as very splendid and worthwhile people. Everybody else, not so much. Hence, there should be much fewer of "everybody else" so that the splendid and worthwhile ones can have the full benefits of being enlightened conservators of Holy Mother Gaia.

Considering their attitude toward newborns, let's hope they never get their hands on any serious biowar agents, as in Clancy's "Rainbow Six".