Thursday, March 30, 2006

What I learned about the Maya

The Maya considered themselves to be living in the fifth incarnation of the universe, and that it would be destroyed by earthquakes at a date their sages wisely put in their far future, on 23rd December 2012. I will keep my eyes open. I also learned that the Maya, who I always thought of as ‘kindler and gentler’ than the Aztecs, were also in to the whole human sacrifice thing in a big way. Having fewer captives and slaves, they mainly sacrificed orphans and bastards, much like our modern society. I suppose I should feel more reconciled to abortion if our modern facilities were dedicated to the Jaguar God of the Underworld...
I will write something about Serenity soon, and also West Papua, but in the meantime Here is a long quote from ‘Brave New Worlds: Genetics and the Human Experience’ by Bryan Appleyard.
...Ethical committees are constantly deliberating over the morality of the latest biological initiatives. This is a strange spectacle, for, although the word ‘ethics’ is repeatedly used, its meaning is far from clear when used by public figures. Do they mean a single moral system that could be applied to us all? Or do they mean a specific system that is intended for use within one area of expertise or policy? The distinction is important, because a local ethical system does not demand a general statement, only an expression of its utility within a particular discipline. A general ethical system, in contrast, implies a moral basis that is common to us all. ... And society, in liberal democratic terms, is not one system but many. Indeed, the whole point of a liberal democracy is that it has no ethical positions beyond the minimum needed to sustain itself. ...
Much of the time, of course, we pretend otherwise; we pretend we are more unified than we actually are. Political rhetoric needs at least the illusion of strong moral visions. But when politicians are faced with the strong moral feelings of various special-interest groups ... they find these illusions exposed. The vague moral vision of the political speech collapses when confronted with such a dilemma. To adopt either ethical stance would alienate too many people. And, of course, the passionate advocates of both positions find the resulting neutrality of the state almost as repellent as the ideas of their opponents.
As a result, when politicians ask for ethical advice on some specific issue, it is not at all clear what they mean, what they want, or what they intend to do with this advice. The history of ethical thought is long and complex, but it has produced no system to which everybody in a secular, democratic state is likely to subscribe. There are only opposing forces, as in the abortion debate. The process of counselling politicians tends, therefore, to follow the same pattern: A technological advance- say, human cloning- is considered. Those against and for are heard. A committee in some way takes the temperature of public feeling on the issue, perhaps by reading newspapers or taking a poll, and then produces a report. The report will be a compromise between various levels of unease- from extreme revulsion to mild concern- and the demands of business and technology. It will, in other words, be a simple balancing of forces. Ethics, in any recongisable sense of the word, does not come into it.’

No comments: