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Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Peter Singer - A Sociopathic Scam Artist

Darcey of Dust My Broom contemplates Peter Singer and makes his judgment: "One sick puppy."

Get the scoop about Singer at Sigmund Carl and Alfred's. Singer is a practical demonstration of why utilitarian ethics produce mass murder. Whacking a "less than perfect" human infant or offing the Alzheimer's victim? Not a problem! Killing a great ape? The horror, the horror!

Nat Hentoff on Singer:
Singer has been influenced by Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832), the founder of modern utilitarianism. He held that the foundation of morals and legislation should be, as Singer explains him, "to maximize pleasure or happiness and minimize pain or unhappiness." Once killed, the disabled infant will be freed of pain. As an Australian, however, Singer may not be fully aware that in this country, he is advocating the commission of a crime....
According to Singer, the reason why a human infant may be killed ethically is that it is not self-aware:
From "Practical Ethics": "Human babies are not born self-aware, or capable of grasping that they exist over time. They are not persons." But animals are self-aware, and therefore, "the life of a newborn is of less value than the life of a pig, a dog, or a chimpanzee."
But the grounds for offing baby are not limited to a child who will suffer, "It does not seem wise to add to the burden on limited resources by increasing the number of severely disabled children." :
As an example, he speaks of severe forms of spina bifida, which, he says "can affect as many as one in 500 live births." He adds Down's syndrome, which is also not rare. Parents, by disposing of such infants, may still have a chance to have "another pregnancy, which has a good chance of being normal."
Singer on Specism:
This is speciesism, pure and simple, and it is as indefensible as the most blatant racism. There is no ethical basis for elevating membership of one particular species into a morally crucial characteristic. From an ethical point of view, we all stand on an equal footing -- whether we stand on two feet, or four, or none at all.

The animal liberation movement . . . is not saying that all lives are of equal worth or that all interests of humans and other animals are to be given equal weight, no matter what those interests may be. It is saying that where animals and humans have similar interests - we might take the interest in avoiding physical pain as an example, for it is an interest that humans clearly share with other animals - those interests are to be counted equally, with no automatic discount just because one of the beings is not human.
The sociopathic scam artist contradicts his reasoning in "Practical Ethics" in the following paragraph:
The sphere of altruism has broadened from the family and tribe to the nation, race, and now to all human beings. The process should be extended ... to include all beings with interests, of whatever species. But we cannot simply propose this as the ultimate ethical standard and then expect everyone to act accordingly. We must begin to design our culture so that it encourages broader concerns without frustratiug important and relatively permanent human desires.
Okay, but all of Singer's ideas are aimed at narrowing the sphere of altruism. He argues quite intensely for killing deformed or defective human beings, including human infants with spina bifida or Down's syndrome.

The fallacious nature of Singer's ideas can be demonstrated as follows:
  1. Accept that the interests of a beings that have interests should be on an equal moral basis. Therefore we must regard all beings as being of one species.
  2. Accept that sick or deformed babies may be killed on the basis that they are sick or deformed or don't come up to the parent's standards.
  3. Accept that it is not wise to add to the burden on severely limited resources by increasing the number of severely disabled children or adults.
  4. Per 3, accept that adults who are mentally deficient can be euthanized.
  5. Look at that monkey and decide that he's a very sick and deformed member of our one species and his intelligence is far below normal. That's one severely disabled individual who is not worth the cost of the monkey kibble.
  6. Per number 2 or 3 or 4 proudly whack the monkey while congratulating yourself on your superior ethical consciousness.
A Modest Proposal Of Practical Ethics.
I would propose this formulation to Princeton University, except that I believe in God and (like Nato) certain absolute moral values. Nato is an ardent atheist who is over in Iraq trying to save some human lives and create a chance of a better future for millions of human beings.

Perhaps the following arguments may be of some use to one of my readers who doesn't believe in either, because Singer's "principles" are those that justify only self-convenience. A world following his "ethics" would work out something like this:

Since Princeton University will apparently pay pretty good money to promulgate any sort of deranged but deservedly rare idea, here's how you can obtain the chairmanship of Princeton University's Center for Human Values using practical ethics. First, you write a book explicating the following:
  1. Per Singer's asserted principles in "Practical Ethics", whether we will recognize a particular being as having a moral claim on us will depend on whether that being is a person - i.e. whether the particular being is aware of itself as having an existence over time.
  2. Assert in your turn the self-evident proposition that only a being that is aware of its own existence over time can be aware of another being's existence over time.
  3. Suggest that any being not aware of other beings' existence over time can not be truly aware of his or her own existence over time or must be mentally deficient somehow. Note that such deficiencies may result in serial murders, etc.
  4. Note that Singer's assertion of the right of parents and doctors to euthanize a baby with spina bifida or Down's syndrome on the grounds that the baby is not, at that time, a person characterizes personhood as being inherent in the moment. In other words, a strong certainty that a being will become a person in several years is of far less significance than the fact that such a being is not a person now.
  5. Personhood, therefore, must always be regarded as a temporary condition.
  6. Note that Down's syndrome children are commonly quite cheerful and happy beings who give little evidence of suffering if not abused and are unequivocally self-aware.
  7. Therefore by Singer's principles, grant that at any given time the rights of beings who are not self-aware but will in the future be so without experiencing unusual suffering must be subordinated to the rights of beings who are self-aware at the current time, if the currently self-aware beings are being or will be caused suffering or deprivation by the currently non-aware non-person.
  8. To state it more simply, both suffering and personhood must be measured first in the present and then in the future. What is now present must be given more weight than what will be or may be present in the future.
  9. Congratulate Singer for his advances in human ethics and assert your determination to work for the fulfillment of his principles for the advancement of self-aware beings.
  10. Be sure to note that Singer is, of course, quite correct in asserting in "Animal Liberation" that "No matter what the nature of the being, the principle of equality requires that its suffering be counted equally with the like suffering ... of any other being."
  11. Point out that since you are aware of your own suffering that you do not have Singer's position and his salary, you have a legitimate interest which must be recognized.
  12. Assert that Singer has had those things and profited from them and should now render them up to you under the principle of equality of like suffering.
  13. True, he will miss them. But you are missing them. See point 8 - your current suffering must outweigh his possible future suffering from the deprivation.
The book should get rave reviews from a horde of practically ethical untenured bioethics professors. Be sure to take an autographed copy as a gift for Singer when you go to claim his job. One must recognize that Singer may decline to recognize your suffering and turn over his position to you. In that case, it will be necessary to write a scholarly monograph covering the following points:
Since the principles covered in your scholarly monograph are exactly the same as those contained in the book you must logically recognize that it is improbable either that Singer will return to self-awareness and turn over his position to you or that he will do the ethically correct thing and euthanize himself. Furthermore, it is questionable if anyone in the administration at Princeton University retains the slightest shred of self-awareness, or they would already have recognized your superior claims to the position. But perhaps it is the deeply irrational provisions of tenure which prevent them from firing him.

Therefore you may find it necessary to take matters into your own hands as a self-aware being. After mulling this problem in practical ethics over, you will realize that removing the administratively unself-aware staff might not be the best option. It is quite probable that you will find those irrational provisions of tenure useful once you, as a self-aware being riding a bicycle, have assumed Singer's position as Chair of Princeton University's Center For Human Values.

Now the pre-eminent argument of Singer's ethics is that suffering must be avoided at all costs, and the claims of self-aware beings must be recognized. So bicycle over and kill him quickly and kindly while he is asleep, unself-aware and not a person. You may find that the gangland-style bullet to the back of the head provides the best mix of efficiency and practical ethics. Recognize that his family members might experience suffering at his demise, so do the same for them while they are asleep.

Now it is an irksome fact that unfortunately there are still elements of society who deny the self-evident propositions of practical ethics a la Singer. You must recognize that these backward elements may arrive, cloaked in their superstitious frenzy and police uniforms, and arrest you. Therefore write a detailed exposition of your accomplishments in explicating practical ethics and deliver it to the police department in person by bicycle.

They may not believe you, but if they do you will certainly be acquitted on grounds of insanity and remanded for psychiatric evaluation. It is certain that some wise and self-aware exponents of the new enlightened bioethics will recognize your extreme level of sanity and ethical enlightenment (after all, they too have had their eyes on some petty dukedoms of academia) and release you. The academic community has a strong tradition of admiring those who advocate and indeed commit murder, so you should be ensconced in your Singer Memorial Chair of the Princeton University Center For Human Values in no time. Your lecture fees should rival Ward Churchill's.

All will be well, as long as Nato does not come back from Iraq and assert his absolute moral values by whacking you in turn. Be sure to drink plenty of coffee to limit your spells of non-personhood, because you may have many admiring emulators.

(Please be sure to send along a portion of your profits, okay? Not to do so would cause me suffering, and there can be no moral justification for refusing to take that suffering into equal consideration with yours at having to cough up, even if you did do the hard work. Just keep sending the money until I tell you my suffering has been eased, all right? Remember, everyone must sleep sometime.)

If Peter Singer were supreme dictator, we would have had to kill my sister when she was an infant because she has Down's Syndrome. She is almost 30 years old now and everybody loves her. She participates in theater, dance, and Special Olympics, has many friends, a boyfriend, and loves to go shopping. I learn from her.

If we determine that Peter Singer adds to society's unhappiness and general lack of well-being, and has mucked up our discourse and political culture by giving intellectual weight to what would otherwise be, essentially, a childish 'Oh...animals are SO cute!' sentiment, is that ethical grounds for euthanizing Peter Singer?

[Note to the hyper-sensitive: that was sarcastic.]
Pedro, I think Singer's ideas are a good example of how incredibly difficult it is to try to derive a workable set of moral guidelines from purely rational grounds. Such systems almost always end up as some variant of "do what seems best" which converts to "do what you want to do".

Carl at No Oil For Pacifists has written really well about this. See the great debate with Boomr.
You wrote, "Pedro, I think Singer's ideas are a good example of how incredibly difficult it is to try to derive a workable set of moral guidelines from purely rational grounds. Such systems almost always end up as some variant of "do what seems best" which converts to "do what you want to do".You are correct, it's called communism which has lead to the death of over 300,000,000 people!!!!!!
At least Peter Singer is saying SOMETHING.

....The nauseating arrogance of people who think a high tone can give life to tired, conventional ideas...
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