When two bioethicists published a paper exploring the logical and moral merits of infanticide, they and their peers were caught off-guard by the angry response that followed. Professor Julian Savulescu, the editor of the journal in which the offending article was printed, defended it and was highly critical of the response: “This ‘debate’ has been an example of ‘witch ethics’ – a group of people know who the witch is and seek to burn her. It is one of the most dangerous human tendencies we have. It leads to lynching and genocide. Rather than argue and engage, there is a drive to silence and, in the extreme, kill, based on their own moral certainty. That is not the sort of society we should live in.”
As much as I hate the over-used and curiously pretentious quotation incorrectly attributed to Voltaire, I have to admit that “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it” does sound much nicer than a murderous witch-hunt.
That’s why the latest news from the same-sex marriage “debate” is noteworthy, as some SSM activists and sympathisers appear to shift into more of an “I disapprove of what you say, and I hope you die poor, humiliated, and soon” mode, with regard to the popular and successful science-fiction author Orson Scott Card.
Card’s 1985 novel Ender’s Game has finally been made into a movie. But what ought to be a glorious moment for Card and the many fans of his books has been soured by the uncomfortable revelation that Card is a raging homophobe. A quick glance at his twitter feed will show that, having just learned of Card’s unspeakable homophobic bigotry, numerous disenchanted fans have peered into the soul of this “awful human being” and decided his movie must fail… if he won’t just die and take his hate with him.
Let’s put this in perspective. When the infanticide controversy arose, those of us in the field who oppose utilitarian ethics were neither surprised nor outraged. In fact, for philosophers and bioethicists who value human life it is refreshing to see our opponents take the widely accepted views of our abortionist society to their logical conclusion. In the end, we find ourselves agreeing to the extent that abortion and infanticide are, for better and for worse, logically consistent.
More frustrating are those who will not debate, will not reason, and refuse to even consider the possibility that they are wrong; who prefer some ad hoc rationalisation for the status quo. As Professor Savulescu noted, the purpose of his Journal “is not to present the Truth or promote some one moral view. It is to present well reasoned argument based on widely accepted premises.”