Sunday, January 27, 2008

What Needs To Be Said

There's a lot that needs to be said (and realized, and done differently) with regard to the ways different kinds of people are thought of, treated, and considered from an ethical standpoint.

A lot of it is very difficult to say, though, because it doesn't tend to fit into some tidy, fully self-consistent ideological framework.

And there's this weird bias I've noticed that seems to cause lots of really important points to go ignored (or even blatantly disregarded) because they can't easily be shoved into this-ism or that-ism (or because they seem to superficially contradict something "nobody would argue with", even when the points being made are a lot more nuanced than they might seem at first).

Dale Carrico puts some of what needs to be said very well in a recent post (emphasis mine):

It is not only those who go so far as to actively advocate involuntary modification who are typically described as eugenicist in my understanding. There are disciplinary pressures beneath the threshold of conspicuous coercion that will yield eugenic effects just as surely (and more efficaciously) than blatant force will do. Certainly programs of involuntary medical intervention constitute the most hideous and heartbreaking end of the eugenicist spectrum, but one can easily observe comparable homogenizing and restrictive effects arising from popular misinformation, from social stigma, from mass mediated promulgation of norms, from uncritical and inertial workings of orthodox institutional healthcare mechanisms, and so on...

Not everybody needs, as some "transhumanists" [and, I might add, others in general who claim no allegiances to any particular subculture, but whose views are essentially mainstream] apparently seem to do, to literally see a Nazi cracking a whip in the service of genocide before they will grant that even now society is conspiring unnecessarily and at great human cost to cast certain perfectly liveable and dignified and legible human capacities, morphologies, and lifeways as less-than-human, as offenses to humanity demanding "remedy" whatever those who incarnate them might have to say in the matter, and so on.

What he said.

I think a lot of people ignore the fact that the entire culture that would necessarily have to spring up in the service of enforcing "compassionate" involuntary modification would, in and of itself, comprise a terrible abuse racket. In some ways, such a culture already exists, and every time someone tries to make a claim that yet another neutral, non-deadly variation or state of being ought to be pathologized, this culture is bolstered rather than weakened.

So, sorry to rain on your utility function, but I'll have no hand in promoting the kind of culture that would have more and more people locked up for not "curing" their children of nonfatal variations, and that would perpetuate the revocation and diminishment of assistive services on the basis of a distorted, backward belief that these somehow drain the coffers of "deserving" normals.

The reality encompassing all sentient persons is huge, messy, complicated, beautiful, and yes, dangerous. Certainly, this reality could be improved in some respects, and I'm all for doing so when doing so allows more people to live outside the shadow of painful, deadly conditions (cancer, poverty, etc.). But beware the trap of feeling like good intentions alone are enough to justify whatever you do. And also beware the trap of trying to frame everything that makes you vaguely uncomfortable as an "emergency". There are enough real, deadly, actual emergencies in the world already. And the existence of a diverse range of live and conscious animals is not one of them.

6 comments:

Dale Carrico said...

So, sorry to rain on your utility function, but I'll have no hand in promoting the kind of culture that would have more and more people locked up for not "curing" their children of nonfatal variations, and that would perpetuate the revocation and diminishment of assistive services on the basis of a distorted, backward belief that these somehow drain the coffers of "deserving" normals.

Another truly powerful comment from you, Anne. It is especially troubling to find the demands for diminishment of assistance emerging from the mouths of people who otherwise claim superabundance is well on the way, from nanofactories, ubiquitous automation, energy too cheap to meter, and so on.

I do appreciate the fact that among other things you redirect your attention to the biopolitical normativity in mainstream technical culture. I direct a lot of my attention to very extreme technophilic variations of that discourse in which the biases and perplexities seem to me to be especially clear and symptomatic, but it is true that a danger of my focus is that it might seem to let mainstream culture off the hook and focus on a few marginal nonrepresentative figures. As you say, this is the opposite of my intention, but it is very useful the way you point this out.

abfh said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
abfh said...

This absolutely needs to be said, again and again, until the message finally gets across. A culture of coercive modification already exists to a far greater extent than most people realize, and almost everyone now living has been affected by it in one way or another. If we go on a diet because society tells us we're fat, or if we get breast implants because we think we're not going to find a boyfriend if we don't, that is coercive modification.

I've mentioned on my blog that I color my hair and feel conflicted about it. Although I like the color better than my natural color, I'm aware that there is a significant element of coercion, in that women are expected to color their hair as soon as it starts to go gray. There are so many types of socially enforced modification that many people don't even notice.

Kakalina said...

The troubling thing is that there are people out there who think that eliminating the people with the condition will eliminate the condition. This is absolutely not true, as has been demonstrated again and again in genetics, particularly in the study of heavily inbred families (My mother is part Pennsylvania Dutch, part Cornish--both groups have a history of intense inbreeding of cousins due to the isolated region in which they lived. The medical ramifications are rather unpleasant). Humans are not cows or dogs or whatever, and for whatever reason, procreation between people of similar ethnic background only intensifies both the ethnicity and the medical issues that are common to that cultural group (for example, Hodgkinson's among Azhkenazi(spelling?) Jews). People of Multicultural descent (I prefer this term to Multiracial, since regardless of their place of birth and ethnic descent, we are all of the same "race) appear to be healthier and stronger than people with a strong vein of heritage from the same general reason (like me and many other European-Americans). This, of course, does not mean that we should discriminate against Europeans and their descendents. It's simply a medical reality.

Edgar Allen Poe has an excellent quote in which he remarks that he does not believe that "Human Perfectability" (I like that word "Perfectability"--it sounds really funny) is ever possible, and that he doubts that the human race has improved at all over the past 6000 years in terms of wisdom or happiness, only in activity. I tend to agree--we make the same mistakes we always have, though whether this is out of instinct or out of cultural habit I am not so sure.

Layne said...

"I'll have no hand in promoting the kind of culture that would have more and more people locked up for not "curing" their children of nonfatal variations"
Thank you so much for writing this.

Andrea S. said...

I know I'm posting to something that is already several years old, but:

One example of "coerced modification" is when doctors commit surgery on babies with various intersex conditions for the sole purpose of shaping their genitals to conform with the appearance typically associated with either one assigned sex or the other. (Note that some intersex conditions do come with a variety of medical issues that may genuinely need some form of intervention for the continued health of the child--but this is distinct from the kind of surgery I'm talking about which is done due to the assumption that a child raised with "ambiguous appearing genitals" will be confused or otherwise distressed) This surgery is usually pressured by doctors onto parents while the child is in infancy or early childhood. There are societies created by people with intersexed conditions who protest this early, non-consensual "treatment"