[This article is the third in a series on Elitism, Conservatives and Progressives.]
Sitting here blogging while waiting on tenterhooks for the vote in the Commons on the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill. Mustn’t watch more TV…I just heard a TV BBC 1 newsreader describe the debate on the creation of hybrid embryos for stem cell research as ‘a clash between science and ethics’. I was so angry I wanted to punch the screen. Huge numbers of ordinary people (and peers by a massive vote when the bill came through the Lords a couple of months ago) regard it as immoral and unethical to stop research that could benefit thousands of people. Far from being a clash between science and ethics it is more a straight clash between medieval church ignorance and 21st century secular realities and medical advances.
This dismissal of the concerns of so many people as ‘medieval church ignorance’ is a typical highly-educated liberal dismissal of those that question, on religious grounds, the brave new world being delivered by science, as was Arianna Huffington’s article, GOP Debate: A Competition to See Who Could Be the Biggest Neanderthal, decrying conservative positions on issues like abortion, stem-cell research and evolution in a Republican presidential debate.
Now I do not have clear-cut positions on any of these issues, which presumably puts me in the Neanderthal category. Let’s start with abortion. I happen to be aware of an impressive body of philosophical and empirical evidence that supports the Buddhist understanding of reincarnation (I have in mind the evidence amassed by the late, great Professor Ian Stephenson’s, as summarised by Jim Tucker), so late-term abortions cause real difficulty for me (would you like to be aborted. Harvard Professor Stephen Pinker’s idea that mothers aren’t doing much wrong in killing their new-born children (complete with a pile of specious justifications) is the kind of thing that empowers the conservative in me (the one that says we aren’t currently competent to tinker in this area), as does the reaction to the Archbishop of Canterbury’s carefully expressed concerns about the increasing tendency to view abortion as a form of birth control. I am by no means advocating the proscription of abortion. My alarm is the substantial segment of liberal opinion that believes there is no ethical dimension to abortion beyond a women’s right to be in control of her own body. My position is not clear-cut.
In The Universe in a Single Atom the Dalai Lama discussed a his reaction on seeing a television programme showing an animated sequence of a possible future where human-like zombies are cultivated for their human organs. While the animated sequence was clearly intended to convey a bright new feature, the Dalai Lama was horrified, presumably that these beasts may well be sentient, and given the modern confusion about the reality of the mind and sentience, I think these fears are well placed. Baroness Murphy’s lack of any awareness of these issues, her deference to men in white coats with their famous scepticism and the contemptuous dismissal of other’s reservations doesn’t fill me with confidence. I am not opposing stem-cell research but I worry about the lack of any sensitivity by advocates of stem-cell research. On this issue my position is not clear cut either.
And then there is Huffington’s decrying of the Neanderthals that ‘would reject evolution most passionately?’. But what does Arianna Huffington mean by ‘Evolution’? She doesn’t seem to be aware that there is a huge spectrum of discussion on this, both inside and outside the scientific community, but of course she means whatever the high priests in white coats mean, and anyone who doesn’t pay obeisance to that are the Neanderthals. Neanderthal Sam Brownback’s New York Times op-ed article on the subject seemed more reflective and mature and showed more awareness of the issues.
There is an institutional liberal arrogance, entirely convinced of their rightness (being on the side of ‘21st century secular realities and medical advances’ rather than ‘medieval church ignorance’) and righteousness (being on the side of the weak and oppressed) that I find both disconcerting and suspect may be self-defeating. Today’s thoughtful reminder of the principles of liberalism by Juan Cole with the conclusion of the bruising democratic primary where the Democrats became too distracted by destructive identity politics is welcome on the other hand.