August 31, 2016
Much is lost
By Hendrik van der Breggen
The Carillon, September 1, 2016
Much is lost
At the beginning of the film Lord of the Rings, as forces of darkness gather strength, Lady Galadriel whispers sadly: “The world is changed. I feel it in the water. I feel it in the Earth. I smell it in the air. Much that once was is lost, for none now live who remember it.”
I think our society is forgetting some important truths. Here are some examples.
We used to think we should help those who feel suicidal (remember Suicide Prevention Week?). Now, for many, suicide is understood as an exercise of personal autonomy. Also, we are beginning to encourage the weak and infirm to take advantage of “physician-assisted dying” (a euphemism for physician-assisted killing).
We used to think doctors' conscience rights were important. Now doctors' rights of conscience not to refer patients to others who will kill them are suspect.
We used to think children, especially handicapped children, should be given great care. Now 90% of prenatal children diagnosed with Down syndrome are aborted.
We used to think abortions should be rare and the option of last resort. Now, for many, abortions are a badge of autonomy, honour, and equality (of course, only for those who have the privilege of already being born).
Moreover, a U.S. presidential candidate acknowledges that unborn children are actual persons, but denies them the right to life. Yet the 1973 Roe v. Wade court decision that made abortion legal in the U.S. stated abortion rights would collapse if the unborn were persons.
In Canada, we used to think that if science could establish that the unborn child is a human being, then the law should reflect that. But our law continues under the delusion that the unborn child isn't a human being.
Speaking of human beings, the director of U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH) believes, contrary to sound reason, that the human embryo is merely a potential human being (it's in fact a human being with potential). We used to think using human embryonic stem cells and mixing them with animals isn't a good idea. Now the NIH is seriously considering such research.
We used to think tolerance of others' opinions was good. Now, when it comes to gender identity and expression, it's not acceptable to disagree (even via careful reasoning and appeals to medical and mental health concerns). In fact, a gay pride parade organizer says to those who disagree: “No! No! You are not entitled to your opinion.” Moreover, according to some, you are “homoppressive.” (Hmmm. Does a doctor's concern about the well being of smokers make her “smoker-oppressive”?)
We used to think that reason carefully used with evidence should put a check on feeling (which is sometimes out of touch with reality). Remember anorexia nervosa, the disorder in which a person feels overweight when in fact isn't, so diets to a dangerous extreme? Here reason shows feelings, though sincerely held, can be untrue.
But now, for many, feelings are trump. Consider Bruce (“Caitlyn") Jenner. He is a man who feels he is a woman and so has had plastic surgery to “feminize” his face and throat, has taken hormones to grow breasts, and may undergo genital surgery to remove his testicles plus use his penis to construct a “vagina.” But he isn't a woman. In view of the dangers with sex-change, isn't this like offering liposuction to someone with anorexia? Yet the world applauds.
If my feelings about myself are sufficient justification for my identity, why stop at transgender (e.g., a man identifying as a woman)? Why not trans-age (an adult identifying as a child)? Why not trans-species (a human identifying as a dog or cat or dragon)?
We seem to have lost sight of reason and truth.
Is all lost? Happily, Lady Galadriel speaks also of hope that weds reason and truth with love and courage—and forces of goodness unseen.
Hendrik van der Breggen, PhD, is associate professor of philosophy at Providence University College. The views expressed in this column do not always reflect the views of Providence.