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Wednesday, October 16, 2002

Peter Singer: Ethicist. Academic. Card-Carrying Member of the Idiotarian Party.

[First things first. I'll book passage to Oslo later. This has been germinating longer.]

The are two thoughts that come to mind when Peter Singer's name is mentioned. The first is throw mama (and baby) from the train. The second is that, for him, the comment "I hear he loves chicken" is a description of disquieting ambiguity. For those of you who have not heard of him, Singer is the bioethics chair at Princeton University, and is most notorious for having stated that there is no moral problem with the dispatching of newborns and others who lack self-awareness because they do not possess full personhood. Then there's his unconventional views regarding pets... Shocking and indeed infuriating stuff. But...

The most important fact to consider when dealing with Singer is that he is not to be taken seriously. He's the opposite of serious. He's Yahoo Serious, to borrow a figure from his homeland, but he's somehow less (!) funny. His unseriousness is seen in that (as the first link indicates) he does not live by his misnamed "ethics":

"It is not only on the theoretical level that Singer provides a cautionary example about the professional expertise in practical ethics. The concluding paragraphs of the genial profile of Singer in The New Yorker revealed that he has hired, at considerable expense, health care workers to tend to his mother, who is suffering from Alzheimer's disease. He is a good son, and his ideas about morality have made him also a prosperous son; but what makes this otherwise common act of filial piety noteworthy is that it flagrantly violates the son's own moral theory.

After all, Singer's mother has lost her ability to reason, and to remember, and to recognize others. She has ceased to be a person in her son's technical sense of the term. In these circumstances, Singer's principles surely require him to take the substantial sums of money that he uses to maintain her in comfort and in dignity and spend them instead to feed the poor and save the lives of innocent children. And early in Practical Ethics, Singer declares that the true test of an ethics is its ability to guide life: "Ethics is not an ideal system that is noble in theory but no good in practice. The reverse of this is closer to the truth: an ethical judgment that is no good in practice must suffer from a theoretical defect as well, for the whole point of ethical judgment is to guide practice." Although he strenuously denies that from the ethical point of view we ought to treat friends and family differently, Singer's actions seems to proclaim that what is right and what is rigorous applies only to other people's mothers."

Therefore, Singer should be regarded as a shock comic, not a serious scholar. He's the evil clown of academia, the Madonna of the ivory tower, speaking solely to churn up a controversy or ignite a furor. It's performance art with a Ph.D. Were it not for the possible downstream effects of his ideas, he could be ignored like the most recent Madonna bomb.

Now Pete's weighed in on 9/11, smearing himself with feces, like all edgy performance artists, in his effort to make some sort of obscure point.

Here's the slam-bang intro:

"Consider two aspects of globalization: first, planes exploding as they slam into the World Trade Center, and second, the emission of carbon dioxide from the exhaust of gas-guzzling sport-utility vehicles. One brought instant death and left unforgettable images that were watched on television screens all over the world; the other makes a contribution to climate change that can be detected only by scientific instruments. Yet both are indications of the way in which we are now one world, and the more subtle changes to which sport-utility-vehicle owners unintentionally contribute will almost certainly kill far more people than the more visible aspect of globalization."

SUVs are worse than 9/11. Let that sink in for a few moments. Singer's saying that Kim Ji-Soo driving her two year-old daughter Christine around in a Ford Expedition is worse than Mohammed Atta driving an airliner into a skyscraper. Well, Singer doesn't have to worry about Kim and Christine (and Peter Hanson, the husband and father) driving around anymore: Atta was flying the plane they were on. Incidentally, they were travelling to Disneyland, and presumably Singer does not approve of that, either.

Now, to fisk the article at length would not be difficult. In addition to the bongload of crapademia noted above, there are respectful citations of Marx, an uncritical paean to the U.N., and the lauding of the farcical Kyoto Treaty. Why, as with all things Singer, there are so many targets that it would be like grenade-fishing in a lake teeming with stupidity. In fact, to display less common sense, Singer would have to be on a ventilator.

But, I don't have the time and interest to wallow around in the sty with the likes of him. Instead, I will conclude with a public service announcement to those inclined to take the evil bozo seriously (i.e., those unable to differentiate their gluteous from a grass divot):

This is a sport utility vehicle.

This is September 11, 2001. [Warning: Very disturbing imagery.]

Any Questions?

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