Genuine Sainsburys photo, from the blog that brought you this.
One bonobo's view of the world...and stuff.
Tuesday, November 30, 2010
Tuesday, November 23, 2010
Consequently, on the whole, we don't believe in intefering in peoples' reproductive rights, do we? That's reflected in Articles 12 and 16 of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights. As a guiding rule, the decisions of others whether or not to have children are none of our damn business. That's not to say, of course, that we always think people are doing the wise thing by reproducing. Is it wise for a woman who makes her living scavenging on a Lagos rubbish dump to bring a child into poverty, filth and disease? Probably not. But breeding is what people do, and if there's any fault its the wider world for not creating satisfactory conditions for her and her child. Or we might be exasperated at the stereotypical woman on a sink estate who, in a dysfunctional search for meaning and identity, has multiple children who will be brought up in less-than-ideal socio-economic conditions. Or the the Pope-fearing woman who, unlike the majority of European Catholics, follows church teaching and end up with a pew's worth. We don't (do we?) despise these women but understand that they are the victims of circumstance. If their lives were better, they'd tend to have fewer children anyway, but what they're doing isn't usually regarded as immoral.
Where was ? So far, I think I've been trying to establish that people breed and, in the case of healthy children at least, nobody bats an eye. So are unhealthy children as special case? Is it reasonable to give birth to a child knowing that it will suffer?
Welllll...it depends what you mean by 'suffer'. And how much. And whether the sufferer might nevertheless come to find life bearable despite. As Gautama said 'Suffering is inevitable.' But most of us don't take Schopenhauer's5 view that it is 'better never to have been born at all'. On the other hand, most (but not all!) of us would accept that it would be example to terminate a pregnancy on the grounds that an ultrasound scan showed the foetus to be microcephalic. And then there's a middle ground. What if a scan shows conjoined twins? Or a hole in the heart? Or if amniocentesis shows a high chance of Downs Syndrome? All those (potential) children will suffer through their conditions. Interesting questions: Are we compelled to terminate? Are we compelled to have the ultrasound and amnio so we can spot problems before it's too late? I promise you I'm completely, utterly Pro-Choice. I'm the son of an abortionist, after all (my mum was a family planning nurse who provided contraceptive and termination services in Bootle, a deprived, largely Catholic area of Liverpool in the 1970s-80s). On the other hand...we turned down amnio for our own children: we wouldn't have aborted.
So maybe it's a judgement call on how much suffering we're prepared to allow. I'll buy that. But who decides? Is Downs Syndrome bad enough? Is it better or worse than random time travelling? Search me. Shouldn't these issues be judged on a case-by-case basis? Shouldn't the default position be that its the parents who decide?6
Another caveat: parents can get judgements about their children dreadfully, dreadfully wrong and at such time it is reasonable to intervene in defence of the child. (The Univeral Declaration on the Rights of the Child7 has precedence over the UDHR). There have been various cases where, for example, parents and medical staff have disagreed over whether treatment should be withdrawn and the child allowed to die. The point about these differences of opinion is neither side is right. They have to be referred to a Higher Authority, and that's what judges are trained for8. In fact, even if both sides were inclined to agree, in difficult cases, doctors would be ethically negligent not to go to court.
But so far I've only dealt with the 'Shit Happens' cases. The ethical decisions we make when dealing with the happenstances of life are in a different category to our deliberate moral choices. Like when a Time Traveller's Wife deliberately chooses to conceive a child who will likely suffer a medical condition.
Or are they?
Let's allow that The Wife is (selfishly/vilely) privileging her desire for a child over the child's suffering. However, I've tried to establish (to my satisfaction at least - feel free to argue) in the default case where children are likely, as most are, to be born healthy that women are entitled to their own reproductive decisions. Further - even if we could see inside others' minds - their motives for reproduction remain theirs alone. (As a starting point at least. We might have qualms about someone planning to have a child for organ harvesting, sexual gratification, a tasty snack9...). I've also tried to establish that it's damn difficult to draw the line between acceptable and unacceptable suffering: at very least there's room for legitimate disagreement. (Hold that phrase: legitimate disagreement. It's OK to disagree ethically - it's inevitable, even.). So if we have a woman who's making a reproductive choice for unknowable reasons but which is hers and hers alone to make, and the acceptability of that choice in terms of the suffering to the child is unquantifiable but is hers and hers alone to judge...well...I guess you can see where I'm going. For myself, I'd have to be pretty certain before I labelled such a decision as vile - there would have to be some pretty obvious extremes. But mainly, these matters demand tolerance - unless one's prepared to be more ethically certain than I ever am.
Let's take a real world example (-ish. I'll not go researching links). There have been cases where congenitally deaf couples have had children knowing that they, too, would be deaf - in fact, some have even advocated positively for their deafness. Are they right? OK - I'm starting to get uneasy myself with this one...but I don't know. (Is deafness more disadvantageous than time travel?). Sure - I'm entitled to my gut feelings...but maybe, just maybe I should get over myself. For example, if I were to discover later that the deaf child turned out to be perfectly happy...could we not say that my gut feelings had been a bit silly?
Time to get philosophical on your asses.
I'm not a big fan of Deontological Ethics which say10 that 'good' is definable by fixed principles, on the obvious grounds that if there are Rules, how the hell do we decide what they're meant to be? Even Kant’s Categorical Imperative requires us to make, I think, quite arbitrary judgements about what is right. I’m not necessarily saying that’s wrong – so long as you’re heart’s in the right place – but we shouldn’t pretend we’re accessing universal principles by so doing. Essentially the Categorical Imperative boils down to Rabbi Hilel’s ‘Golden Rule’ – do as you would be done to. But there’s a big problem with this: What if I don’t want to be treated the same way as you? (“Curse this time travelling! I wish I’d never been born!” ...“Actually – I find its worth all the pain and inconvenience”)
A variant of this has become popular: Scientific or Naturalistic Ethics, the notion that we are all imbued with an ethical sense by nature of our biology. Some, such as Peter Singer and Sam Harris, hold that Morality can be derived scientifically. Singer, for example cites experiments where subjects are example of a train speeding down a track towards a set of points. Down one branch of the track there is someone on the track. On the other there are five. Subjects universally agree that it’s morally legitimate – imperative, even – to operate the points so that the train kills one instead of five. So we’ve established a universal principle. Except…I can see how easily such principles might be overridden. (“What if the five people are Jews?!”) I suggest that all we’ve established is that we make moral judgements, not what they should be.
The suggest that a basic mistake that many people make, not just 'ordinary' people but Deontological Ethicists make is to categorise decisions or actions as 'Right' or 'Wrong'. I don't just mean that people classify various things incorrectly, but that the categories themselves are insufficient. Much of our thinking seems to rest on Aristotelian logic. But maybe on matters of Ethics we need to take a leaf out of the book of Islamic philosophers such as al-Ghazali (Avicenna) and Ibn Rushd (Averroes) who categorised the world more subtly - in line with Islamic theology which (contrary to popular belief) doesn't simply categorise behaviour into forbidden/allowed but has various gradations ('ahkam'). Plus, it's probably no coincidence that Fuzzy Logic was invented by an Iranian11.
Then there's Dialectic. Now, obviously as a good Marxist I'm a Dialectical Materialist. But as a way of looking at the world, it's only a means to an end - a way of simplifying problems to the level at which they're tractable. Just so long we realise that the real world is complicated, though, and problems are multivariate. Kierkegård preferred to look at it differently. Complexity is irreducible and the truth is not in the decision one reaches, but in the process of grasping towards it. (There is a good Radio 4 'In Our Time' on this. Highly recommended.). Thus some decisions are to be approached with 'Fear and Trembling.' Plus, see my quote at the end of this post.
Except we do, ultimately, come down on one side or another, both as societies and individuals. As societies we derive laws and societal norms which provide us with an ethical framework so that we don't have to think everything through from first principles every damn time. But note that codification does not confer 'Rightness' on ethical principles. Nor, even in democratic societies does it mean that, having reached an agreement, everyone must nuckle down and agree. All that we mean by a 'Law' is something enforced by power - whether the power of a majority or of a priveleged minority with control over truncheons than anyone else. But so what? What I'm trying to say is that we shouldn't expect an ethical consensus stable enough to provide the basis of custom or law. It follows, then, that there will always be people who dissent from some laws, 'agreed' ethical positions or norms of behaviour. If they carry their dissent into action, we should remember that they are not necessarily breaking a moral code, and when we punish them...all we are in fact doing is exercising our superior power to enforce our norms. In fact arguably society needs dissent - including plain, old criminal nastiness - to remind us what we think.12 However...we should always be aware: We may be wrong.
Getting back to individuals. Yes, of course we all have our opinions of what is Good/Bad, Vile/OK, What I'd do/I'd never do a thing like that, etc. I guess my plea is that we choose carefully the occasions when we elevate what may be mere matters of personal taste to the status of morality.
Or am I wrong? Am I weak-willed hyper-liberal moral relativist with no ethical underpinning? Discuss.
However...we're only talking about a piece of Chick Lit, and one's entitled not to like the characters in books. (I don't like anyone in 'The Lord of the Rings', after all ;-) )
I've rambled enough. I'm a rambling man. I shall leave you with some examples, though. Which of these hereditary conditions would you judge sufficiently serious to avoid passing on to a child?
- Heart disease
- Huntingdon's Disease
- Bipolar disorder
- Being born in a socially deprived area
- Dark skin pigmentation (face it - it causes genuine hardship!)
Unleash the footnotes...
1 In fairness, the other person cast it aside as Chick Lit...although I still say they should have read on and not been swayed.
3 Is 'un-vasectomised' a real word? Never mind - it doesn't make a vas deferens.
4 Yeah, dentistry is costly in the UK too now - although one would expect Time Travellers to get NHS treatment. I've saved a fortune by managing to get on an NHS dentist's list and cancelling my insurance.
9 "Eight pounds and four ounces...Good size for a baby...Damn small turkey, but." Line from a Roddy Doyle book - can't recall which one.
Posted by Edward the Bonobo at 2:43 pm
Wednesday, November 10, 2010
- The object to the right is a bear's egg. Yup. An egg. From a bear.
- The best course of action when pursued by a rhinoceros is to grab hold of its horn, very tight, with both hands and don't let go!
- Special precautions need to be taken when eating custard creams. They are the most dangerous type of biscuit and should only be eaten under close supervision. 1
- The way to tell the difference between a rabbit and hare is that one says 'bounce, bounce, bounce...' as it hops along wheras the other says 'boing, boing, boing...'
- Babies fly around the room when nobody is looking.
- There are three species of bird: chickens, ducks and pigeons. Flamingos, for example, are a tall kind of chicken.
1 FACT: More biscuit related injuries are caused by custard creams than other types of biscuit! http://www.theregister.co.uk/2009/09/08/killer_biscuits/
Posted by Edward the Bonobo at 12:47 pm
Wednesday, November 03, 2010
(Bear with me - I'll try and fix the formatting. Blogger has its own ideas)
1/4 lb/125g self raising flour
1/2 lb/250g porridge oats
1 tsp. bicarbonate of soda (baking soda)
Some finely grated ginger (don't know how much. 'To taste'.) Or you can use ground ginger
1/2 lb/250g soft brown sugar (or I doubt anyone will notice if you use white)
1/2 lb. butter or margarine1/2 lb/250g treacle, warmed so that you can pour it out of the tin. (stand the tin in some hot water)1 egg (optional)
Milk to mix into a thick pouring consistencySieve the flour and bicarb together. Add other dry incredients and mix. Warm the butter with the grated ginger and mix in. Add the treacle and (finally) the beaten egg. Add as much milk as it needs (it should still be fairly stiff). Pour/spoon into a well greased, shallow baking tin. Bake at 175C/350F for 1 to 1 1/2 hours. Turn out. Cool. Best eaten the next day and keeps for ages in an airtight tin
Posted by Edward the Bonobo at 4:43 pm
Monday, November 01, 2010
I've long been prone to Seasonal Affective Disorder, which has always hit me most in November, just as soon as the clocks go back, and mid-January to February. Presumably Christmas distracts me in between. Fuck knows why I migrated northwards! I'm cleary more the Mediterranean type.
SAD used to be regarded sceptically - one of those things diagnosed by American psychiatrists* - but it seems there's some pretty sound physiology behind it:
...the cause may be related to melatonin which is produced in dim light and darkness by the pineal gland, since there are direct connections, via the retinohypothalamic tract and the suprachiasmatic nucleus, between the retina and the pineal gland.There is also well documented evidence that its incidence increases moving towards the poles, and of a relationship with bipolar disorder.
Light boxes have come shooting down in price. I got mine for £50 from Amazon. There are all sorts availabe. What you don't want is one of those alarm clocks designed to simulate dawn breaking. (They may work - but they're not the same). You want 10,000 lx of full spectrum light output. Blue lights are available (eg from Philips) , but there's no reason/evidence for them - athough there is some evidence for yellow-green at lower lux, since the human eye is most sensitive in that region.
Experience so far. Well...it's a bit wierd. The first thing you notice is that they make the room seem dimmer, because all the surrounding shadows look more shadowy. Plus the full spectrum light is a little cold looking. My model has a little perceptible flicker at the ends of the tubes, which is not a good thing (could give headaches). Maybe more expensive models are better for that. As for use - to get a sufficient dose you're meant to sit 20cm in front of it for half an hour. That's never going to fit in with my daily routine. Maybe I could manage 10cm for seven and a half minutes (note to non-scientists: inverse square law), but that seems a bit extreme. So I guess I'll have to schlep it in to work where I can sit with it further away for longer. Tcha. It can be a conversation piece.
Apparently I should have started it a few weeks earlier, before the nights really drew in, but better late than never. It's too early to notice results, but I'll keep you posted.
Btw - I once knew of a couple who ended up splitting up over SAD. He was a petrochemical engineer and his work took him to Alaska. But she couldn't get on with the climate and so she moved down to Florida.
She just couldn't stand his lattitude.
End with a song:
* Everyone knows, for example, that American psychiatrists over-diagnose things like ADHD. Oh? Why do we think that? Mightn't it be that over here we underdiagnose?
Posted by Edward the Bonobo at 11:40 am
Regular readers will know about my annual charidee pumpkin-a-thon. See previous examples. Nowadays we do them for Unicef.*
Anyway - here's some of this year's crop. Mwwwwu-wa-ha-ha-ha-haaaa...
Now...in our experience, children will practice their jokes on their parents for about three weeks beforehand. Repeatedly. Endlessly. So imagine our surprise when this year...
...we got a Paki joke.
From an eight year old.
I mean...how is one meant to react?
My costume? Sink Plunger. Egg whisk. Head torch........Dalek!
* Speaking of which...this demented eejit is planning to run up and down Ben Lomond 100 times during 2011, hopefully raising some money for Unicef along the way. Please visit his Just Giving page: "In general, it takes about an hour to get to the summit, and 30 minutes back down." !!!!!!! (I should point out that this is someone who runs up and down the Himalayas).
Posted by Edward the Bonobo at 9:41 am