Human Exceptionalism

What the Big Brained Folk Think About the Intrinsic Dignity of Human Life: Not Much

Ryan T. Anderson has an interesting entry over at the First Things blog about an ethics conference he attended at Princeton. It makes for sobering reading. He begins with a quote from Princeton philosophy professor Elizabeth Harmon. From his column:

“Look, when we think about ending an early human life, this is something that is really bad for the embryo or early fetus that dies, it’s losing out tremendously–I agree with that as I already said…I think it’s really dangerous to slide from noticing that something is bad for something, to thinking that that gives us a moral reason [not to do the bad thing]. And just to prove that that doesn’t follow, think about plants. So lots of things are bad for trees, and plants, and flowers, and often that gives us no reasons whatsoever, certainly no moral reasons. In my view, fetuses that die before they’re ever conscious really are a lot like plants: They’re living things, but there’s nothing about them that would make us think that they count morally in the way that people do.”

Harmon has clearly not yet read the Swiss ethics report establishing plant “dignity,” but no doubt she will get on board as the plant rights train picks up steam. Beyond that little jibe, note how accepting her anti-human exceptionalism values literally opens the door to using unborn humans as if they were mere natural resources, such as for experimentation, fetal farming, and the like. And that is precisely where many of the biggest brained among us wish to go.

Ryan reports that Peter Singer took his utilitarian thinking even farther, to perhaps permitting not just the killing of supposedly human “non persons” such as infants, but also adult human persons:

“The intrinsic value of Jane’s life may be an important reason, or may not be, depending on the circumstances.” For example, Jane’s life does not produce a net increase of value in the world if “Jane’s death is a necessary condition for Helen, who will live a life of even greater value than Jane.” This could justify aborting a genetically defective child to conceive a healthy replacement (Singer’s own example)–but also justify killing some adults. The relevance of Singer’s fourth consideration also varies, since, he argues, some chimpanzees are “certainly more self-aware than some humans, and more self-aware than fetuses or, for that matter, newborn babies.”

I have always said, that if moral distinctions can be made between so-called human non persons and persons, why not also within the person category? And that is precisely where Singer seems to have gone in his presentation.

Ryan thinks the discussion was important both to expose the Singer-type advocacy to public scrutiny and to help the church get its act together. He opines that bringing “disagreements” out into the open is a very good thing because it alerts people to the consequences of ideas. That is idealistic and nice, but perhaps this work is making me cynical: I am not sure that most people care.

Beyond that, I am frankly, appalled. These ideas should be rejected out of hand. And indeed, it is a mark of how far the intellectual elites have taken us down the moral abyss already that the propriety of infanticide, fetal experimentation, and killing one adult to benefit another must now be seriously debated.

Or to put it another way: The problem is that this discussion explicitly treats such ideas as if they were legitimate and no different say, from a debate about whether a 20% or 30% capital gains tax would be best. Indeed, Singer was brought to Princeton–our most prestigious university–not in spite of these views, but because of them. Princeton’s faculty thus acted shamefully in approving the appointment that they wouldn’t someone else with the same academic credentials (Singer doesn’t even have a Ph.D) who wasn’t so “cutting edge” in his thinking, thereby granting Princeton’s imprimatur of respectability to infanticide (which it would never do if Singer were promoting the same agenda only based on racism.)

Disagreement is good. Getting our big brained betters to reveal their true agendas is, alas, now a necessity. But be very clear: The most of the influential institutions of society–perhaps other than the churches which are rapidly losing influence and in some cases cannot be distinguished in their views from those promoted by the big brained–are now controlled by those who utterly reject human exceptionalism. Worse, this isn’t just a mind game to them: They want their ideas implemented, a goal they are pursuing come hell or high water. Learned debates will not cause them to pause for a split second.

It will be up to the average folk to thwart the new eugenics that, like Sauron in the Lord of the Rings trilogy, is re-manifesting and threatens to bring much darkness into the world.