Friday, November 13, 2009

The Death of Reason is the The Death of Man

(Grab yourself a coffee...this is a long one ;) )

As we marked Remembrance Day this week, my attention turned towards the World War II era and I read up on the scientific racialism that fuelled the Nazis’ killing spree.

We have largely forgotten how widespread and accepted scientific racialism was back in the pre-war era. It was widely assumed that because whites were superior in this or that category, that gave them the right to kill or disrespect inferior peoples.

I’m not so irritated at the racism of the findings—that whites have higher IQ’s and that sort of thing. What grates on my nerves is that no one seemed to question that superiority gave one the right to kill. Even if, for the sake of discussion, you agreed that the Germans needed their Lebenstraum, what right did that give them to kill millions of people? Even if you thought that blacks constituted a threat to the purity of the white race, what right did it give people to lynch them?

There is absolutely no sense of responsibility toward others.

And of course this brings me to the fetal rights debate. You never read of a feminist claiming that a mother has a responsibility towards a fetus. A woman should be able to abort for any reason whatsoever, and no one is allowed to question that decision.

The fetus is a threat after all.

Poor choicers have no interest in that debate about the fetus. For abortionists and hardcore feminists, the fetus is worthy of zero moral consideration. Their allies in the poor choice movement may differ from one degree to another, attributing moral worth to the fetus in some circumstances and not others. A discussion on this matter would be politically fratricidal. Not to mention that it could play into the hands of pro-lifers by raising the status of the fetus, especially in Canada (where he has none). So the poor choice movement will remain officially mum on the fetus, holding to a relativistic position, with all the contradictions that that entails.

Poor choicers will continue to argue against fetal personhood based on the possible negative consequences of according that status. The problem with consequence-based thinking is that it make truth dependent on whether or not you like the results.

That may be a politically viable strategy. But it’s not intellectually honest. After all, even if Blacks had banded together and taken over the US and sullied “white culture”, was that any reason to deny their civil rights? If Jews had been the cause of all of Germany’s ills, would that have justified the Nuremberg Laws?

Of course not.

When you worry too much about consequences, you tend to forget principles. This leads to a mentality of accepting that the ends justify the means.

A lot of the argument about abortion is just that. Poor choicers posit that if pregnant women aren’t allowed to abort, they will be arrested for smoking a cigarette and that will lead to the establishment of the Republic of Gilead.

Let’s just assume for the moment that’s the case.

What right does that give anyone the right to kill their unborn child?

The argument from consequences is easy, because it by-passes the difficult process of actually using one’s reason and formulating principles. I’m not trying to argue that no feminist has an articulate defense for her beliefs beyond the typical pro-abortion slogans. But when you want to mobilize a bunch of people who may not be with you on a philosophical level, the easiest way to do that is by referring to what is concrete—namely potential consequences.

It’s the masses that seem to unquestioningly accept the idea that fetuses are not human beings (at least in Canada—perhaps this is less true in the United States). It is taken for granted that a woman’s autonomy outweighs the rights of the unborn child. There’s no consideration of the responsibility towards the unborn children. Just a raw desire to come out on top in the imagined maternal-fetal conflict, regardless of abstract principles. Respecting a two-celled human being seems so absurd in the absence of the value of the intrinsic dignity of human beings, the very basis of the Western idea of equality. People will respect an idea, however inconvenient, if they believe they must to remain honourable. They will not respect a prenatal human being solely on the basis of its DNA.

That sense of responsibility comes from the belief that human beings deserve respect; that humanity is something special and makes an individual worthy of consideration.

We have completely lost the sense that human nature is intrinsically valuable. I don’t wish to make the argument here because it will make my blogpost even longer than this. The loss of belief in the intrinsic value of human is what leads to mass atrocities. The Nazis didn’t think all humans had an intrinsic dignity. The atheist communists sure didn’t. Any time a group of human beings was not regarded as having intrinsic human dignity, they were targeted for abuse, exploitation or elimination.

I think this loss of the sense of human value is the consequence of the loss of any sense of metaphysics: the idea that our reason is able to know with certitude about intangible realities. Although the rejection of metaphysics began very long ago in the late Middle Ages, in the last century, we see not just a rejection of the power of reason to know, but an elevation of the non-rational, the irrational and the anti-rational as the foundation for a worldview. Take Freudian psychology. Based on no scientific observations whatsoever, it posited the existence of an “unconscious” in the mind, which contained an id, an ego and a superego (which is now largely discredited.) Post-modernist philosophy rejects any kind of absolute, and even accommodates contradictions, against the principles of logic.

The relativism and lack of intellectual discipline of our age makes any kind of abstract consideration to be a very daunting, if not seemingly impossible task. Of course I wouldn’t expect just anyone to be able to do this—abstract thought is not something everyone can do. But most college-educated people should be able to, especially those who graduate in the humanities. But this involves such a major challenge to everyday ideas that that it’d be hard to imagine anyone doing this spontaneously.

But the alternative is to ignore the truth. And lest I be accused of arguing based on “results” – against which I argued above—let me say that the whole purpose of thinking is to know the truth about reality, whatever that reality happens to be. You fail at the purpose of thinking if you can’t know basic things like who is worthy of moral consideration and what moral behaviour is.

People can accept that as a possibility. But we’re not programmed to remain in ignorance. That’s human nature.