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Saturday, May 09, 2009

As you all probably know, I'm a fan of the short blog post. Sydney Smith advised that when writing, "as a general rule, run your pen through every other word you have written; you have no idea what vigor it will give your style." I tend to agree. But occasionally I have to spend more words than usual and this is one of those times. I hope you'll humor me.

I was talking with a group of students the other day. It's the end of the semester and of the year and, as was the case with the people at this particular table, the end of an undergraduate career. We were drinking. Celebration was in the air. They asked my educational background, I told them. I asked theirs, they told me. One said philosophy. Another said business but specified, "Ethics. Business ethics." A third said sociology.

"Oh," I said, "How great. I could talk forever about those things. Love it." I took a sip of beer. They took this to mean I wanted to talk about it right then for ever.

"Do you believe in God?" the philosophy graduate asked.

"You know... I do," I said. "How about you?"

"I'm a Christian," he said.

"That's great. You're Christ-like then?" I smiled, took a drink.

He assured me he was with rapid nods.

"What particular school of philosophy would you say you subscribe to more than any other?" I asked.

"Well, I'm a Christian, like I said. And I can't say I'm a particular subscriber to anything, but I'm very much into eugenics."

I nodded in apparent understanding but said, "Wait. Eugenics? Like... social and genetic engineering? This is your...philosophy?"

"Well, an interest."

"So... just to be clear, you're a eugenicist in the classical sense of the term?"

"What do you mean by classical?"

"Well I just want to know if you mean it in some sort of broad or abstract sense, maybe, and not the way I'm thinking."

The philosophy guy continued, "I mean I think it's a good idea to be smarter about who we let multiply, especially since the world is so crowded."

"I'm sorry," I said, "maybe I'm still not getting you."

"OK, so, the way I see it is... you sterilize those with hereditary, genetic disorders, demand prenatal testing, give power to end pregnancies to doctors, and then maybe infanticide or euthanasia or whatever you want to call it when necessary."

At this point I think I choked on my drink some.

"You're a Christian, you said?" I asked.

"If you think about it, the act of preventing defective people from propagating equally defective offspring is the act of clearest reason and the most humane endeavor of mankind."

He actually said it like that. I couldn't make that quote up if it weren't burned into my mind.

"It's of clearest reason?"

He explained some more. I asked more questions.

"So what qualifies?" I asked. "Eyesight problems?"

He laughed.

"OK. Diabetes? Cancer?"

"Probably not those. Unless they threaten viability."

"By that you mean life, right?"

"Well, yes." He sipped his drink and said, "Should we order another?"

We talked more about it so I could get some mental lines drawn in the sand. Then, in the midst of it, the "ethics" guy said, "You know, it makes sense."

This is where I started to lose my academic cool. I looked at the ethics guy. "It doesn't make sense. It's insane!" I looked at the sociology girl.

"Weeeell," she said. "I think it sounds kind of crazy at first, yes, but if you think into the future and how it might be worth it in terms of less suffering and brighter futures for people, it might not be so crazy."

"Did you guys grow up together?" I asked them.

They told me they just had a final together.

"So," the philosophy guy prompted. "What do you think?"

"I'm blown away."

"What? I explained it. Why are you blown away?"

I told him why. And I'll tell you why.

As a student of politics, abortion has been a topic of conversation I've had to take part in ad nauseum. It's debated, analyzed, and used as a political chess piece to unite or divide until it is as plain a topic as traffic lights. I've considered it as a simply academic debate between two groups who have reasonable opinions about when life begins and left it at that, choosing to care about other things.

This conversation was the coup de grace. Not of abortion per se--that's simply the issue I'm most often bombarded with--but with life in general.

Why is everyone so apathetic about life?

Some of us classify developing children as "tissue" or simply "a pregnancy" while campaigning to make wholesale abortion broadly available. Some of us call our enemies "combatants" or "collateral damage" while torturing and bombing them. Some of us advocate killing the neighbors we feel aren't "viable" with the premise it is the Christian thing to do and "of the clearest reason."

We find these ways to minimize the value of the discussion and dehumanize those being discussed in order to rationalize this "end justifies the means" mentality. If we can live in a world where women are empowered, the cost doesn't matter. If we can live in a world where our enemies fear us and peace prevails, the cost doesn't matter. If we can free our children from weakness and disease, the cost doesn't matter.

Simply given the statistical odds, you probably agree with one of those three statements. If you do, fine, I don't want to hear your arguments. I've heard them. What I would like to hear from you is whether or not you believe, in general, as a principle, the end justifies the means.

I can tell you this conversation with three educated strangers who were in some amount of agreement on the idea of sterilizing or outright killing chunks of the population has motivated me to be less indifferent about the ways we minimize life, rationalizing away our duty to protect it, and instead defending our right or even obligation to take it.

I will now return to less wordy posts.


posted at 3:18 AM by Randy
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I've decided to go ahead and take this blog completely toward politics/economy. It's all I talk about anyway. Remember, you can email me at randy [at] circularlife [dot] com or use the chat box in the lower right.