Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Doing the math

“Utilitarian thinking.” Not something used in common speech, even if it is a common form of thinking. Yet I see it displayed in the cyclical “election calculus” whereby individuals weigh the value of the lives lost to abortion, and conclude that they are of less consequence than the lives lost, say, in the Iraq conflict, or fortunes lost due to Wall Street financial manipulations.

Now I have little doubt that the average person will agree that they have as much right not to be murdered as does say, Bill Gates. Now Bill Gates may have more money and influence than the rest of us (George Soros excluded), and his murder would impact many more people than would yours or mine, but we would still reasonably conclude that the value of his life and our lives is intrinsically the same; not measured by what we have but by what we are. Put another way, we would rise to the defense of our own lives quicker than we would leap to sacrifice our lives for Bill Gates. And, this is to be expected.

Now what about if the comparison is between myself and my child? If I am a good parent who loves my child, I would give my life to save the life of my child; my life has been spent and my decisions made, my child’s life lays open before him. Love makes one willing to sacrifice for the good of the beloved.

Oddly, I see a utilitarian calculus come into play both at the beginning of life and the end of life. Those at the end are sometimes judged as a burden which the rest should not have to support, a classic utilitarian calculus which is the same as that which resulted in the elimination of the German handicapped and “unfit worthless eaters” in the 1930s, a sentiment, sadly, promoted in England today by Baroness Warnock, who speaking on the duty to die, says "I think that's the way the future will go, putting it rather brutally, you'd be licensing people to put others down." Hitler would be proud.

Ok, what about the other end of the spectrum? Here I see the comparison made that the loss suffered by an abortion is so little, because so little has been lived, compared to the loss of the life of someone who is a noncombatant tragically killed as a consequence of armed conflict. This is the sort of Utilitarian calculus which weighs one as large, and one as small.

If I were a math teacher, I’d grade this calculation with an “F,” for the value of the loss is not loosing what you have, but the lost opportunity to have. That this is the proper calculation is intuited by the instinctive anguish at the accidental death of a child or young person, rather than someone on the backside of the prime of life. “He had his full life ahead of him.”

On top of this we’ve already established that what we compare is an intrinsic value, not the value of added worth. Me & Bill, member? The value of a soul is does not increase or decrease, it simply is constant. Line them up. Would you kill 1.5 million Americans and confiscate their goods to pay the deficit off? Of course not. Why then is it ok to kill 1.5 million unborn babies this year? Their souls are worth just as much as those other 1.5 million.

Perhaps the objection is that this is a “religious argument,” souls and all. Be glad, because it is the only thing between the state and your life.
To quote Fr. Majewski, "People have complained that I am only concerned with one issue; I say 'Are you out of your mind? no one cares more about people in all aspects of life than the Catholic Church!'"

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