Sunday, January 28, 2007

Dear Reader: Some Comments on Context

Dear Reader:

I am in one of those moods where I am simply not interested in another cold, dry discussion of some issue of moral relevance – whether on the level of theory or of practice.

From time to time, it is important to remember that the subject of ethics is about people.

I am getting very near to 500 posts. Given the average size of one of my posts, that amounts to something just shy of 1,000,000 words. It amounts to somewhere around 2,000 hours of labor.

Yet, most of those postings are pretty dry. I’m not one to put a lot of emotion into what I write.

It is very easy for a posting to read like a mathematical formula, where the only thing one looks at is how neatly and logically the concepts fit together (or not, as the case may be). Ultimately, the writing seems to be only of academic importance.

From time to time, I think it is important to stress that the ‘conclusions’ one reaches in a moral argument is that somebody is either going to be writing in pain in a jail cell or a hospital bed, or sitting down to dinner with his or her family. The conclusion is a consciousness growing dim and going out forever, or experiencing the joy of playing with his children.

These are not insignificant, abstract conclusions.

I would like to confess that, when I read about people demanding that the American soldiers get out of Iraq, when I read about the resolution saying that this “surge” is not in the national interests, I get angry.

It is purely an emotional anger. My stand on the war is that I will wait for expert opinion and hold that the rational view is to adopt that same position. Recently, with reports from the Iraq Study Group and the Joint Chiefs of Staff being against the “surge”, I know that I must intellectually be for it.

Yet, it is not what I want. I want the “surge” to work.

There are people dying . . . a whole lot of people, not just Americans . . . and that bothers me. I want it to stop.

Those who talk about withdraw too often talk only about American lives. I do not hear them talking about Iraqi lives. It is as if an Iraqi life does not matter. It is as if the 10-year-old Iraqi child, her flesh ripped apart by the nails that were wrapped around a bomb set off in the market – does not matter. It is not an American child, so it is not important.

I would very much like to hear the advocates of withdraw spend at least a little time explaining how they are going to help the children.

Bush recently made the comment that failure in Iraq was an Iraqi failure. For this, he was chastised – blaming somebody else for what was clearly his failure. Now, Bush did fail. Bush is an idiot, who fell for an idiot’s plan that he executed with near perfect incompetence.

However, that does not imply that this was not an Iraqi failure. The Iraqi people did, indeed, fail. American soldiers did not compel them to take up the task of blowing up each other’s children. This is something they volunteered to do themselves. What type of person does that?

More importantly, how is it possible to get people to stop doing that?

It’s not just the suicide bomber either. I have written about how the opponent of embryonic stem-cell research is going to have far more children laying in hospitals or in the morgue than the bombers of Baghdad – more, by orders of magnitude. For every child laying in a Baghdad hospital with a missing limb, there will be thousands of children with diseases and injuries that may otherwise be cured, laying maimed or dying.

Whose children?

Yours? Your grandchildren? Your friends’ children? The children you have not even had yet?

Pick up a young child you know and look into his or her eyes for a moment. Think that, in 10 years, this child could have an injury (i.e., spinal cord) or a disease that stem cell research could cure or treat, but instead this child will be permanently disabled or dead.

That child may grow up to be a homosexual. A disproportionate number of teenage suicides are homosexual children. Those with sick minds say that this supports the idea that homosexuality is an illness. Instead, it points to the fact that those who condemn homosexuality are a threat to the psychological well-being of children, leaving psychological scars that are not unlike those caused by other forms of child abuse.

In any high school of any size in the country, there is a child thinking about taking his or her own life and ending the pain of social rejection. That pain is a tragedy in its own right, regardless of what the child ends up doing as a result of that pain.

These are the things that I have written about in these 500 postings. It does not always show through, but that is the conclusion.

A recent story tells of parents who want a religious exemption for a blood test conducted on newborns, for the purpose of testing for several diseases. One of the tests, according to the news story, “Many of the diseases covered in the bill are deficiencies, and one, phenylketonuria, can result in severe mental retardation without diet restrictions starting at birth."

One of the couples wants to avoid the test because they follow an offshoot of scientology that lead the parents to believe that, "…newborns are in pain for at least 3 1/2 days, and don't want blood drawn _ which they believe would cause more pain _ for at least that long."

Another couple who is opposing the requirement holds that "…the Bible instructs against deliberately drawing blood. According to the book of Leviticus, 'the life of the flesh is in the blood,' and ignoring that directive may shorten a person's life, they said."

Is there any evidence for this shortening of a person's life? I suggest that not drawing blood may shorten the person's life or drastically reduce the quality of life, and this comes scientific research to back it up - actual peer-reviewed research comparing control groups to study groups showing which group has the shorter or lower-quality lives.

Both couples argue that the law, "…is an infringement on their religious beliefs and their right to decide what's best for their four children."

Fine. Here’s a belief for you. Couple C believes that their child should be roasted in an oven for 3.5 hours at 350 degrees after birth, and then eaten. Couple D believes that their child should experience sexual stimulation daily after birth – that this will improve their child’s psychological well-being. Couple E holds that children should be whipped until bleeding for any transgression. Couple F holds that unruly children should be killed.

There are limits to the degree that the state must stand by and watch parents put the lives and well-being of innocent children at risk, for the sake of a belief or an interpretation that are as random and foolish as drawing names out of a hat.

There are scientific studies behind the claims that these blood tests find important diseases and knowing about these diseases gives the chance a better shot at a better life. Those who refuse these tests for religious reasons are no better than those who plant the bombs full of nails in a shopping area, except these parents set of their bombs in their own nurseries. Contrary to what some my think, this does not make their actions nobler. It makes their actions even more depraved.

We all know that these things happen.

What are we going to do about them? Watch the Super Bowl and rate the commercials? Is that it?

I’ll be working on my next post, starting tomorrow morning, right when I get out of bed.

See you tomorrow.


Anonymous said...


Sorry, but I can't buy your assertion that "Those who refuse these tests for religious reasons are no better than those who plant the bombs full of nails in a shopping area, except these parents set of their bombs in their own nurseries."
I believe there is a vast difference. Yes, both are badly misguided, but in the case of bombers, they are deliberately conducting an action they have strong reason to believe will kill many people.
The parents on the other hand have good reason to believe that most of the time the actions will have no bad consequences. Most babies are healthy. What they are chosing to do is subject their children to a risk. That risk may not be terribly high, but it is real.
Let's compare that with parents who take their children for unnecessary car rides. Accidents kill far more children than rare diseases or terrorist bombs. Shall we conclude that every parent who puts a child in a car, or allows them to be in any environment with higher risk that absolutely necessary is indistinguishable from a terrorist bomber?
To convince me, you'll need to do a better job of supporting the idea that accepting risk to life and killing people are the same thing.

beepbeepitsme said...

This becomes the issue. Most of us are politely used to not questioning someone's religious beliefs. And many religious people get quite upset when their beliefs are questioned. Yet questioning the beliefs, ideas and actions of others and ourselves is what we do on a continual basis.

No belief system should be given a pass on this. We don't give economic beliefs a pass, or political beliefs, or cultural beliefs, but the tendency has always been to say nothing if someone has a strange religious belief.

If someone had a religious belief that as part of their religious ritual pedophilia was practised, the majority of us would question that because there is a strong cultural abhorence of pedophila.

Yet, it is tolerated when some religious people claim that homosexuals should be incarcerated because in their religious belief system, homosexuals are an abomination.

We are certainly not consistent when it comes to questioning religious beliefs.