Thursday, 8 January 2009

Of men and animals: the new revolution

Some will have seen the interview of Professor Peter Singer (left) in the Catholic Herald conducted by Quentin de la Bedoyere.

Our Quent (actually the Marquis de la Bedoyere) is a lovely chap in many ways but has historically had a slightly ambivalent attitude to the moral teachings of the Church to which he belongs. In recent year he has matured and mellowed and now sees a lot more sense in the Church's teaching than he did in the days when he wrote, with his wife, Irene, Choices in Sex: a booklet for young people in which they describe love, among others things (to be fair), as a prostitute ensuring that her client gets value for money.

Err, right, Quent. Don't ring us. We'll ring you.

In fairness, though, silly thing as it was to write, I don't think they quite meant it to sound as bad as it inevitably does.

Now Quent writes for the Catholic Herald on a regular basis on the subject of science and faith. In that column he recently interviewed Peter Singer and did so in a manner which has since been described as "non-judgmental".

Right. Got that? Non-judgmental.

Well read it and see what you think. Here it is reproduced on his website called - perhaps a tad pompously - "Second Sight".

Can one really be "non-judgmental" about all things? Or might one be open to the criticism that one gave too much ground by so doing especially when dealing with particular evils.

To illustrate the point let us re-write our Quent's "non-judgmental" interview as if it had been written in the 1930s after interviewing the infamous founder of the Third Reich. Here goes:

"So the German government is almost certain to remove allegedly human rights from the Jews (as reported in The Weekly Waffle on August 8). I read this with mixed feelings; like many readers, I am strongly opposed to giving special rights to any ethnic group but that is a long distance from suggesting that we should say that they have no human rights. So I went to the fountainhead: Adolf Hitler, who - among other appointments - is now Fuehrer of the German Reich. He is regarded as the political champion of the cause.

Herr Hitler is a highly accomplished political leader with a particular interest in the racial question. But his views are seen by many as extreme. He has been nicknamed "the Great Dictator"; he has been attacked in Britain and America as having eugenic views at odds with civilised society; the Churches have been strongly critical; some political leaders even suspended diplomatic relations with Germany when Herr Hitler was became Fuehrer; there have been loud outcries from organisations devoted to the care of Jews.

A little imp in me suggests that such a chorus of indignation only musters when their target has something of threatening substance to say. And Hitler wrote in 1926: "As the Churches do not feel themselves bound or limited by political confines, so the National Socialist Idea cannot feel itself limited to the territories of the individual federal states that belong to our Fatherland".

The Weekly Waffle prefers to reserve its indignation until it has listened to what a leader actually has to say, and then to make a reflective judgment of the points with which we, or more particularly our readers, agree or disagree. I must thank him for his cooperation in entering into dialogue with us.

Herr Hitler on a stroll with friends to look at the sights...

Herr Hitler described himself to me as a National Socialist. That is, he holds that the criterion for proper political action is the Volkisch idea of "One Nation, One People and One Leader" as the best way of meeting the needs, or interest, of the people and of the parties required to make any political decisions for the nation. But the parties, he insisted, must include only fit Aryan people. Hitler argued that race is race no matter what sort of Aryan is involved. To think otherwise, he claimed, is to fail to discriminate on the grounds of health and race - a characteristic which is far more relevant to any political decision than anything else.

I asked how he could hold that all fit Aryans should be treated preferentially and the unfit and non-Aryans not. “To be sure, the races differ in their characteristics and therefore in the degree of importance they may be afforded. The rights, which is a popular but potentially misleading term, of the unfit and non-Aryans can’t by definition be human rights; and political judgments will vary from race to race according to their Aryan or non-Aryan origins, fitness and health and the political circumstances pertaining.” He clarified this for me with an example. “Should we have to choose between rescuing a fit person or an unfit person from death, we would - other things being equal - give preference to the fit. When it comes to a question of taking life, or allowing life to end, it matters whether a being is one who is fit, healthy and of the master race or not. Such a being has more to lose than a being incapable of being fit and healthy or part of the master race.”

But, and it was a significant point: “If, for example, a person had suffered brain damage so severe as to be in an irreversible state of unconsciousness, then it might not be better to save that person.”

The uncompromising application of the criterion of race and health had already led us into controversial territory. I felt this took us further. His principle, it seemed, must lead to the unfit or non-Aryan, not being a healthy member of the master race, having no special status. He concurred firmly. “And even when the non-Aryan is developed and educated, it will still be inferior to the healthy Aryan master race, and so no claim can be made on the basis of that either. The new-born Aryan will have greater right to consideration than the mature non-Aryan or the unfit and so merits preferable consideration. Though the inconvenience that may be caused to the state should be taken into account, of course. The same could be said of any non-Aryan or unfit person who lacks the racial superiorityad health of the Aryan master race.” I instanced the objections made about this view by so many people of substance and concern. But he did not resile.

“I think that every fit Aryan is entitled to equal consideration of his or her interests. The joys and the pains of the unfit or non-Aryan should not be given equal weight with the joys and pains of the fit Aryan - and here Aryan includes both you and me, but not the lower races, the unfit and, above all, not the Jews. I don’t think that is devaluing the non-Aryan.

“On the other hand, just as I think it is less wrong to kill a non-Aryan or an unfit person, say, than an Aryan (because the non-Aryan or unfit person has no right to live, and so has less of an interest in continuing to live) so I think non-Aryans and the unfit who are thus not members of the healthy master race have less of an interest in continuing to live than fit Aryans. I’m open to other arguments, but it isn’t easy to see what can justify us in granting a more serious right to life to an unfit or non-Aryan person than we give to a fit Aryan who will always have superior racial characteristics and physical and mental level.”

How about the use of non-Aryans or the unfit for medical research? He thinks that much more effort should be put into other methods which involve Jews but he would not necessarily exclude all non-Aryans or the unfit if the balance were right. “A good test would be whether experimenters who use Jews would be prepared to carry out their experiments on non-Aryans at a similar mental or physical level - say, the unfit or those of an inferior race like the Slavs.”

I put it to him that he is often quoted by militant American eugenicists and white supremacists. But he told me that he had no sympathy with this. “They do harm to the cause. National Socialism can only achieve its objectives by winning the struggle in Germany and persuading the German nation that it is right. Opening up the struggle to include American people is not the way to do that.”

The concept of the sacrosanctity of human life, as Catholics would see it, is derived from a belief system which Hitler rejects. It must be translated as a special status given to the healthy Aryan, at any stage in his or her life, because they belong to the fit master race. So I asked him how he saw the Catholic view that humans have an obligation towards their people and homeland, and that lack of pride in one's nation is not only a defiance of God but a corruption of the individual who chooses to ignore his duty. It comes, he told me, very close to his objectives - although the basis differs.

So what are we to make of Herr Hitler? At the very least we cannot question his sincerity. His views have been well and consistently worked out and he has maintained them against manifold attacks over the years. And even if we disagree, perhaps strongly, with his basic criterion and where it can lead, I think that many of us would share some of his key objectives. I am left with a comment from my daughter, a biologist who has written much about racial characteristics: “I’m not worried about the philosophy, but if giving Aryans special rights means that they are protected from the weakening of their gene pool and race and are enabled to prosper, then I am all for them.”

The Weekly Waffle

Well! That makes you sit up and think, doesn't it? Maybe "non-judgmental" interviews aren't always such a brilliant idea after all. It just depends whom you are interviewing!


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