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Showing posts with label ethics. Show all posts
Showing posts with label ethics. Show all posts

Thursday, February 06, 2014

12 Years a Slave and a Different Perspective

I recently watched the movie 12 Years a Slave.  It was intense, but extremely well done.  And, it was an accurate depiction of what it means to be at the pinnacle of human objectification

Just as slavery in America, kidnapping, human trafficking, genocide, or eugenics, have a primary root in treating an individual as an object, those that have perpetrated these evils have chosen to, in whatever capacity, not treat them as being valuable in and of themselves.  When we see these sorts of injustices occur, at least on screen, there is something that tears us apart at the core of who we are.  That abysmal and ugly discomfort we get when we watch a movie like 12 Years a Slave is at full discord with something deep within us: the belief that human life is exceptionally invaluable. 

Because human life is so invaluable, it is clearly wrong to exploit other human beings for our own potential financial gain or success. 

There was only one other thing I found more disturbing than the objectification.  As I watched the film, it presented the varying sentiments concerning American slavery from all ends of the spectrum.  It showed the Deep South drenched in oppression and showed the North in an ideal and colorblind society.  What was peculiar wasn't necessarily these extremes, but the in-between, like a scene of kidnapping occurring right in Washington D.C. with the Capitol building close by in the background.  It was appalling to think that of all places such evil could happen, it occurred right under the nose of people that had the very power to do something about it.  The in-between was not just among the North and South.  The movie also depicted merciless slave owners and benevolent masters.  But unfortunately, even among the kindhearted, some chose to shun what was right and bury it deep within them.  That is what struck me with anger.  Some masters genuinely seemed, even if fleetingly, to come to grips with the full weight of their actions.  And yet, they still choose to treat others with depravity.  It was the silence among those who knew what was right and chose not to stand up for the right thing that tears at your soul in this film.  It is the benevolent master, who, though benevolent, still chooses to ignore exacting justice and keep a man a slave.  He ignores a woman being torn from her children and slaves sold naked.

Because human lives are at stake, it is clearly wrong to stay silent or permit treating human beings as objects – bartered or sold off for good.

The two affirming takeaways I got from the film made me question sentiments on the unborn.  I heard the analogues alongside of some popular arguments I’ve heard in favor of abortion:

“Women have a right to choose what happens to their own bodies.”
“I do what I want with my property.”

“If she is going to school or starting a career, she should not have to have the baby.”
“If I can’t have slaves, then what will I do?”

“It is not right for me to have an abortion, but it’s not right to force that on someone else.”
“I would never own slaves myself, but it’s not my place to tell them they cannot own slaves.”

What is the unborn?  It is a human being, but it has no voice.  And in the spirit of the law, it is a disposable object.

Sunday, July 25, 2004

Ethicist Confuses Chickens and Humans

Peter Singer is at it again. For those of you who don't know, Singer is a strong animal rights activist and bio-ethicist at Princeton University. The main problem with him is he frequently diminishes the worth of a human being while elevating the status of animals. He has publicly stated that parents have sufficient moral grounds to kill severely disabled infants and he equated this action to putting a suffering chimpanzee out if its misery. Quoting from a fact-index article on him:
He wrote "I think that a chimpanzee certainly has greater self-awareness than a newborn baby. There are some circumstances...when killing the newborn baby is not at all wrong... not like killing the chimpanzee would be. Maybe it's not wrong at all."
Well, Singer and coauthor Karen Dawn have just published an article in the L.A. Times opinion section comparing the slaughtering practices of chickens at KFC to the abuses of prisoners at the Abu Ghraib in Iraq. The commentary (which can be read here or here) Singer and Dawn describe some of the cruel treatment workers inflicted on the soon to be slaughtered poultry in a PETA released video. They then write "The sickening images echo the snapshots and videotapes that found their way out of another inhumane facility: Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq."

I find it interesting that in this sentence they appeal to a specific dynamic of humanity - the understanding of cruelty and the responsibility to not to perpetrate acts that would be deemed "inhumane". It seems to me that this one phrase negates the basis of their argument that all biological species should be treated with equal worth. I mean, you never hear anyone criticizing the female Black Widow spider for killing and eating her mate!

Singer and Dawn try to make the case that both instances the human who felt superior inflicted torture on the weaker victim. "In both Baghdad and Moorefield, W.Va., a simple cruel dynamic was at work. When humans have unchecked power over those they see as inferior, they may abuse it."

While I believe that human beings have a responsibility to treat animals with respect and dignity as God's creation (see this article for more), I find the approach of Singer and others at PETA disgusting. If I were a victim of the Abu Ghraib abuse or a family member, I would be deeply offended that these people would be comparing my suffering to some slaughterhouse chickens. In fact, as a human being, I am deeply offended! Singer in this approach devalues human life to the point where he puts it on par with poultry. Contrary to protecting chickens, all Singer and Dawn have done is make human beings a disposable commodity. And that is an inhumane position.
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