Thursday, 31 July 2014

Two New Thought Experiments for the Ethics Classroom

1. The Callous Terrorist: a dangerous terrorist is on the loose. He tried to bomb your government’s headquarters. Fortunately he failed. However, he has announced that he would try again until he succeeded. Now the police have got a lead on his whereabouts. It appears that he is hiding amongst the crowd in a busy marketplace. The police come to the conclusion that their best chance of taking out the terrorist is to machine-gun the crowd. It is either that or risk letting the terrorist escape. They decide to shoot, killing everyone in the process, including the terrorist. When questioned after the shooting, police say they had had no intention of killing all those people, but that unfortunately the terrorist had left them no choice, so that all responsibility for the incident lies solely with the terrorist who callously chose to hide amongst the crowd. 

Questions for discussion:
Who is responsible for the deaths of the people shot by the police?
Was it morally acceptable for the police to shoot into the crowd?
Is there a morally relevant difference between the way the police have acted in this scenario and the way Israel is acting in Gaza? If yes, what is it?

2. The School Burning: after I took away your house and your livelihood, you are determined to take back what is yours, so you threaten me and make several unsuccessful attempts on my life. When I finally decide to eliminate the threat and get rid of you for good, you hide in a school, which you are hoping I won’t dare attack. However, it turns out that in this you are mistaken. I burn down the school. You narrowly escape with your life, but all the children in the school die. I say that this wasn’t my fault and that you alone are to blame for this. I was, after all, only defending myself, and you should have known that I would do whatever it takes to stop you.

Questions for discussion:
Who is responsible for the deaths of the children in the school?
Was it morally acceptable for me to burn down the school?
Is there a morally relevant difference between the way I have acted in this scenario and the way Israel is acting in Gaza? If yes, what is it?

Thursday, 24 July 2014

Nothing Justifies the Mass Murder of Civilians

Israel is at it again: killing unarmed and defenceless Palestinians en masse. No matter where they go, an Israeli rocket may always find them. The bombardment is indiscriminate. There is no safe haven for anyone in Gaza. More than 700 Palestinian civilians have been killed during the past few weeks, most of them women and children, compared to two (!) Israeli civilians. 

Given these numbers, it is utterly ludicrous when Israeli politicians brazenly claim that they have no choice, that they are just defending their own people against Hamas terrorists, who, regrettably and “demonically”, now use their own population as “human shields” and try to get international support for their cause by piling up lots of “telegenically dead” Palestinians. In all seriousness Israel’s bombardment of Gaza is styled as a “war between good and evil” (Daniel Abraham, writing in Israel’s leading newspaper Haaretz, July 24th), which of course leaves no room for negotiation. You cannot, and more importantly should not, negotiate with the devil. A compromise is out of the question. The good must prevail and evil needs to be eradicated, wiped out completely, no matter what the costs are. 

Whoever doubts that interpretation, whoever dares criticize Israel’s actions, can only be an “Israel-hater” and “anti-Semite”. How convenient that must be: always to be able to remind the world of the Holocaust, to claim a permanent victim status that gives you the licence to do whatever you damn well please. It’s the oldest defence in the world, which throughout history has helped to justify countless wars and mass killings. The Nazis also claimed that they were only defending themselves when they started killing Jews. And that it was necessary to save the world from a great evil. Not that any of this is even remotely convincing. There is always a choice, and nothing can justify the mass murder of civilians. Yes, Hamas is attacking Israel, but with very limited success. Yes, they may well want to see Israel destroyed, but that is quite understandable given how Israel has treated the Palestinians in the land they have occupied for nearly 50 years now. No matter what they say, Israel is not the victim in this conflict. If you rob a people of their freedom, if you trample on their rights and deny them a life in dignity, then it is no wonder that they fight back in an attempt to regain what has been taken away from them. 

Benjamin Netanyahu and his cronies in the Israeli government are war criminals, not only because they violate international conventions that forbid targeting civilians, but because they don’t give a damn how many people die as long as they are not Israelis. Their actions are thoroughly despicable.  

Thursday, 17 July 2014

Sex and the Posthuman Condition

Some of the readers of this blog may be interested to learn that I have now incorporated many of my previous blog posts in a book that Palgrave Macmillan are going to publish next month. It is called Sex and the Posthuman Condition. The book looks at the way sexuality is framed in enhancement scenarios and descriptions of the resulting posthuman future and how those representations are informed by mythological and other historical and literary paradigms. I examine the glorious sex life that we are allegedly going to enjoy, due to greater control of our emotions, a vastly improved capacity for experiencing pleasure, and, most importantly, the ready availability of sex robots that are willing and able to fulfill all our dreams and desires. Through a series of philosophical and literary explorations, questions are raised about both the replacement of the real flesh-and-blood human lover with a machine or other kind of artefact (from Ovid's Pygmalion to the soon-to-be-perfected sexbots) and the mechanization of the process of love (from De Sade to neurotechnological manipulations of our love-related emotions and attitudes), as well as the values that underlie such ideas and developments.