Lebensunwerten Lebens: Life Unworthy Of Life – Derek Jeter

July 9, 2012

Allied counsel Thomas J. Dodd looks at the Shrunken Head of Buchenwald at the Nuremberg Trials. The image, used to illustrate the barbaric “pathological phase” in Nazi culture, belied the Holocaust’s careful scientific planning. In reality though, allied prosecutors wrestled with the apparent moral nihilism of Darwin’s theory of evolution, and the profound legal problem involved with prosecuting Nazi crimes without an established code of positive law. The book shows how Nazi doctors were accused and convicted of “crimes against humanity” — a concept Allied prosecutors themselves found dubious — crimes based on the same theories of eugenics practiced in the United States for decades.

R.R. Reno writing in this month’s First Things referred to the mainstreaming of the phenomena of “after-birth abortion,” a locution authors Alberto Giubilini and Francesca Minerva use to describe killing newborns “whose parents don’t want them.” Reno termed it “Mainstreaming” because he had come across the article by these authors in TheJournal of Medical Ethics, an altogether mainstream, peer-reviewed scholarly publication. Or, in other words, precisely the place where one would least expect such advocacy.

Heretofore this kind of thought has only been found on the fringes of the pro-choice movement where the wacky professor Peter Singer  lives. Or in the Groningen Protocol where the kind and ever-merciful Netherlands, a state which currently allows “Children with severe abnormalities whose lives can be expected to not be worth living” to be “terminated.”

The popular pro-choice movement does not want to acknowledge the logic of its advocacy when pursued to its rational ends, so it is not often we confront the haunting exposition of “after-birth abortion.”

Yet here it is:

… the authors follow the ruthless logic of the pro-abortion position to its conclusion. “If criteria such as the costs (social, psychological, economic) for the potential parents are good enough reasons for having an abortion even when the fetus is healthy,” they observe, and if we can’t give a cogent explanation why a fetus suddenly becomes a person simply by passing through the birth canal, “then the same reasons which justify abortion should also justify the killing of the potential person when it is at the stage of a newborn.”
R.R. Reno, Life Too Inconvenient for Life

Whew! When we think like a liberal we understand the following:

The editors of the TheJournal of Medical Ethics apparently think that these sorts of arguments should be taken seriously. They will of course say that the journal is committed to “stimulating discussion” and “airing controversial views.” What’s the harm in thinking it through? Aren’t free exchanges like this good for us? Doesn’t it help us refine our moral arguments and perhaps overcome our irrational responses of disgust and moral dismay?

In 1920, two distinguished German professors published an argument in favor of euthanasia. The argument turned on the claim that there are some lives unworthy of life. Giubilini and Minerva use that haunting phrase, perhaps unaware of its origins. And they extend it. Their argument for “after-birth abortion” gives us permission to destroy newborns who aren’t unworthy but are inconvenient.
R.R. Reno, Life Too Inconvenient for Life

Hence the German for “lives unworthy of life” is the title of my piece here.

It is here that Jonathan Haidt’s new book, The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion, comes into play, because you need to understand who these people are who use these terms and how their blindness defines who they are.

Haidt observes that our moral culture is shaped primarily by emotion. Very few people reason out moral truths, most of us live by our gut reactions. The fixed points in our moral universe are the deeds so heinous we can’t imagine performing them – or can we? As Reno introduces the Haidt book:

Haidt’s basic claim that our moral outlooks are largely intuitive rather than reasoned refutes the standard liberal presumption that conservatives are motivated by subrational emotions (“fear,” for example) while liberals are “reasonable.” One of the main thrusts of The Righteous Mind is that people tend to be liberal or conservative because they have different emotional responses to the same social realities. And not just different. He concludes that conservatives are sensitive to things that liberals have difficulty seeing.
R.R. Reno, Our One-Eyed Friends

This fact became clear to Haidt when he did research for his doctoral dissertation. He developed a set of stories designed to bring out moral responses:

  1. One involved a family who ate their dog after it had died of natural causes.
  2. A second  had a woman using an old American flag as a cleaning rag.
  3. A third described a man having sex with a chicken, which he later eats.

Reno explains:

To explain this difference, Haidt offers an analogy to our capacity for taste: “The righteous mind is like a tongue with six taste receptors. Our innate moral intuitions fall into six categories or “foundations”: care, freedom, fairness, loyalty, authority, sanctity. Care, freedom, and fairness tend to focus on individuals. We see someone suffering, and our care taste bud is stimulated. Loyalty, authority, and sanctity focus on social realities. They are what Haidt calls “binding” foundations, because they unify people into social groups. No individual is harmed when someone uses the flag as a cleaning rag, but doing so involves a symbolic disregard for the moral value of patriotic loyalty.
R.R. Reno, Our One-Eyed Friends

It is these “binding foundations” that liberals have a blind spot for. Note that the last two, authority and sanctity, are fundamental to a religious mindset. The only “authority” that liberals bend their knee towards is choice – whatever preserves choice is good and anything that challenges it (loyalty to country, obedience to God, or recognizing the sanctity of His existence by killing life) is to be questioned.

Liberals have inherited this suspicion of heritage. We share the assumption that freedom must mean freedom from -- freedom from the limitations imposed on us by the old institutions: church, community, family. It seems not to matter that such freedom presupposes our alienation from one another. Existential alienation is a small price to pay for enlightenment, the fulfillment of the progressive movement, or the satisfaction of appetites.

It is hard to recall the medieval definition of freedom, which was not the political license to follow our bellies or the philosophical encouragement to send our elders packing. Freedom was understood, rather, as a growing into the habits, the virtues, that allow us to fulfill our end as human beings without the impediments of vice.
Anthony Esolen, The Freedom of Heaven & the Freedom of Hell

Hence when Haidt asked the same questions to students at the University of Pennsylvania about his set of stories designed to bring out moral responses, the results were quite different. The Penn students experienced feelings of disgust, but for the most part they stepped back from those feelings and reassessed them to be morally permissible. For example, after hearing the chicken sex story, one Penn student said, “It’s perverted, but if it’s done in private, it’s his right.” It may be ugly, but as long as nobody else is harmed and no one’s rights are violated, it’s OK.

Killing infants with severe abnormalities whose lives can be expected to not be worth living falls into the same bag. Liberals will preserve the “choice” of termination no matter how heinous the crime against the sanctity of life is. They just don’t “see” it that way.

Seeing with the social as well as with the individual eye, as it were, unites American conservatives with the vast majority of human beings who in all known cultures place a great deal of importance on the “binding” foundations. All known cultures, that is, except the subculture of people who grow up in Western, educated, industrial, rich, and democratic societies, WEIRD societies, as Haidt calls them.
R.R. Reno, Our One-Eyed Friends

Spot on in my book.

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