My brother sent me this link to the Grey Lady's "Opinionater" -- what a self-incriminating boorish blog-name, surely.
This is our old friend Peter Singer, who likes to experiment with abrupt categorical announcements, if only to enrage the fundy's at whom he always seems to be shouting.
I do not know what metaphysical framework Singer chooses to be working from these days. Is he a materialist? Is he a materialist that hopes for some "becoming" "higher consciousness" magic that will somehow arise out of higher orders of complexity?
I think the latter, because it seems vogue these days to associate divinity, in a condescending way, with complexity of all sorts -- complexity of the unknown past (i.e., the Big Bang and its attendant events); complexity of the evolutionary process; complexity of the unknown future; complexity of unknown facts of the universe. "God" seems to be a large variable for all that is currently inexplicable.
What is known about Singer, though, is that he places man on a continuum with the rest of the evolutionary milieu. Consciousness, for one thing (and a rather significant thing at that), is not held by Singer to be exclusive to man and the angels. He would certainly discount the possibility of Christian Angels. And he insists that consciousness is produced by higher complexities of quite physical processes -- perhaps (according to Penrose) even by quantum mechanics (which is the gold standard of complexity these days, especially if you shake in a soupcon of chaos theory). Consciousness is shared with the animals, at least potentially so. Who is to say, then, that a dolphin does not have a consciousness like that of man? Surely, Singer suggests elsewhere, a dolphin has a greater consciousness -- nay, even personhood -- than a human child less than two years of age.
Thus, man is "consubstantial" not with Christ (Who does not, Peter wishes, exist): he is really and only consubstantial with animals, who are all essentially the same -- from the first protean single-cell organism to the most complex organism, which may be man now, but may not be later.
The Church says, in an ironically Arian moment, that man is "homoi-ousios" (of like essence) with the beasts of the field. Peter un-Singer says that he is "homo-ousios" (of same essence).
I have really done Singer a favor here in posing his metaphysical argument to the best of my abilities. His popularity is due to his profitable erection of very chic modern ethics on this metaphysical boat. His ethical discriminatory system seems to borrow much from Joseph Fletcher (an honest man, possibly, but a monstrous man). Both Singer and Fletcher are concerned about the evolutionary development of the species, and are quite willing to discuss, in a sanguine eugenic/cleansing/holocaustic way, the "cutting back" of much human overgrowth ... as if mankind were ground cover that is a "plant" where it's wanted, and a "weed" where it's not. Fletcher, in this context, was quite excited about the idea of abortion, especially when made readily available to poor black people (so did his fellow travelers Margaret Sanger and the Rockefeller Foundation) (it is "eugenics" when the Nazis do it: it is "reproductive rights" when the Allies do it).
And now we have ethicists (and other scientists/philosophers who say ethical things) who have read evolutionary liturgical texts long enough that they are simply making applications to their contemporary experience -- as all theologians do and must do. That is why Singer and Benatar are not embarrassed to caress the idea of human extinction -- or, at the very least, some "helpful" form of "die-back." They have sucked from the nipple of evolutionary theory long enough that they have successfully rid themselves of the burden of human noblesse oblige toward the rest of Creation ... they no longer are bound by the doctrines of "Creation" at all ... a priori meaning has been evicted ... and now all experience and observation are subject only to the opinions of the last fifty or so years.
I wonder though if they are faithful enough to their doctrines. Perhaps this is not important to them. But if I were a Darwinist, I'd be peeved. Is not the perpetuation of the species an important objective to each member of the species? On what basis does a member of the species ever have the right to commit suicide? And, moreover, what right does any member of the species -- in an evolutionary framework -- have to consider the extinction or "pruning" of the species?
Apparently, everyone these days has a right to say anything (excepting, of course, us non-darwinists). But usually, darwinists are generally sanguine about a species seeking to save itself and perpetuate itself. They ask us to understand this about troublesome pests like kudzu and mosquitoes -- so why not the most pestilent species of all? Us?
Here is the most surprising point of Singer's depressing essay. He tells us precisely why he makes the quite metaphysical claim that we should regularly consider population decrease -- and that we should especially think twice before bringing another child into the world. In discussing Benatar (and he gives Benatar way too much credibility, at least for those who are not adepts in death cults), he suggests that we calculate a "benefit analysis" for our future children, before we arrange for their emergence into viability. I suppose we can make this analysis during that languid period of embryo-fetus-air-breathing-baby-before-personhood (I'm counting, since Singer didn't add it up, about 27 months from uterine implantation).
The analysis is to determine the benefits of -- get this -- existence. And why not? If there's no God -- or rather, no personal God Who really cares about any of this -- then someone had better figure this out.
Here is the crux of the argument, provided by the ethical Singer:
To bring into existence someone who will suffer is, Benatar argues, to harm that person, but to bring into existence someone who will have a good life is not to benefit him or her. Few of us would think it right to inflict severe suffering on an innocent child, even if that were the only way in which we could bring many other children into the world. Yet everyone will suffer to some extent, and if our species continues to reproduce, we can be sure that some future children will suffer severely. Hence continued reproduction will harm some children severely, and benefit none.
Singer goes on, beyond Benatar, to suggest that no one would deny the goodness of a "non-sentient" universe, because "no one's rights would be violated." I suppose it should be pointed out that such a universe exists only in the sentience of beings like Benatar and Singer, and that no one seems to care that the denial of sentience might be a violation of the rights of at least a few. At the end of his essay, the Princeton ethicist wants to mitigate his starkness, and registers a sort of "just kidding" qualification in a grammar that only modern academicians can produce: I do think it would be wrong to choose the non-sentient universe.
Whew. And I thought he was serious.
But qualifiers aside, is that it? Is that the criterion for Singer -- the violation of rights? I should not bring a child into the world, he suggests, because that child might experience more pain than I'd care to admit: and therefore, if I knowingly subject a child (or a grandchild, or a great-grandchild) to the possibilities of pain, then I am violating the rights of future children by "harming them severely" and "benefiting none."
Singer confesses (for all humanity) a lot of guilt for the sins of humanity past, present and future. I think in Princeton he might have imbibed too much of the latent doctrine of total depravity that persists there, perhaps in the groundwater: of course, this is a doctrine of total depravity without any deity -- which makes the revenant doctrine quite the dead desiccated middle finger. I would think, testily, that Singer's confession violates his own metaphysics.
But Singer's guilt makes me happy. Despite his doctrine of the consubstantiality of humans with matter, the presence of his non-consubstantial "guilt" leads me to believe that Singer continues to harbor traces of Adam's burden for Creation. Singer cannot completely evade the racial (and linguisitic) memories of his father's naming of the animals, and of Adam's certainty that the salvation of the Animal Kingdom relies solely on the salvation of its stewards.