This week, SkyCity announced they plan to cancel the mid-year show with philosopher Peter Singer. Graeme Hill interviewed him several weeks ago and again this week. He writes about his experience with Singer and the controversy.
Long-time animal rights advocate and ethics academic Peter Singer was on the line the other week to talk about some anniversary of his book The Life You Can Save: So Why The F*** Don't You, You Horrible Selfish Prick?! Okay, the subtitle is mine, as Singer is far too affable to say it. All going well that interview will be published in the future but today a controversy swirls around something else he said a long time ago and which he still stands by.
The icky bit ... Singer: Parents of severely disabled newborns should have the right to euthanase the child.
Disabled people have understandably felt diminished by this and they and their supporters have rallied to successfully get SkyCity to cancel his gig.
So how disabled, Peter?
"I don't try to define 'severely disabled' because the decision as to whether it is better for an infant to live or die should be made by the parents, in consultation with doctors and others with knowledge of life with a child with that condition.
"As awful as it is to contemplate, these decisions are made every day."
We're dealing with a philosopher here. They eat dilemmas for lunch and spend their afternoons postulating, "If this is that, then surely that is this" ... or 10,000 words to that effect. Collect PhD. That's a wicked summary but it'll do for here. These thinky-types are less fearful of going to difficult places than the rest of us and that's precisely why they're worth listening to and precisely why, covered in tar and feathers, they occasionally need to be cut down from trees. So today I've come along with a Stanley knife.
Philosophers gleefully ply the troubling edges of thought, morality and ethics. They hit subjects we naturally recoil from today that may turn out to be standard in the future. It's their rather cushy job to instill doubts about our preciously held assumptions and what they are founded upon. We can be so damned sure of ourselves, and mistakenly so. Then again they can be so damned rational it's infuriating.
I asked Singer, regarding veganism, is zealotry (like supermarket stickers meat-shaming et al) beneficial/harmful to the cause? Your suggestions for the best way forward?
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"Whether such tactics are harmful to the cause is a factual question, on which there just isn't enough good data."
Cripes, Spock ... just after your opinion.
I've wanted to avoid Nazis in this article because it's too easy, unfair but mostly because the Kiwi Eye is always attracted to an NZ in script (gidday!) but never before have I seen the Nazi parallel rested upon so quickly. Understandable to a point, given they euthanased the disabled of all types, sentient, young and old in the name of efficiency and racial purity. Singer isn't. He has an idea of a metric of suffering and the ability to reduce or augment suffering. It's a challenging thought to our ideas of good and bad. The Nazis absolutely hated contrary thought lest their entrenched and assumed views were challenged in clear view. Singer is the antithesis of that.
For those of you rejoicing in this cancellation "victory", shame on you.
Shouts of Nazi will drive people to see what SS uniform Singer is dressed in today and discover that you are clearly wrong. You'll lose. He'll win. Don't wilfully misrepresent people's positions in the hope you'll not be found out.
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I read a fabulous article by Danyl McLoughlan in The Spinoff about this affair and worried how I could better it … but then a grinding of mental gears woke me up. McLoughlan strongly defends Singer, as I do - but then he equivocates.
So I want to push back against this result and any perception that Singer belongs in the same category as the far-right activists Stefan Molyneux and Lauren Southern.
He resides in the comfort that this guy's no Molyneux or Southern, so this is different. Is it? It's handy that in this case you agree with most of what Singer espouses. Now, what if you didn't? Would you speak up to defend him being heard? Would a cancellation be lovely? A principle isn't a principle until it costs you.
I suspect one day soon we may have a McCarthy Moment, when after one too many witch-hunts, public denunciations or cancellations somebody will finally break the spell as Joseph Welch did in the greatest piece of television ever recorded during the McCarthy trials into un-American activity ... Senator McCarthy … You've. Done. Enough. Have you NO SENSE OF DECENCY?
I believe that the true quality of a society is how well it treats and values its most vulnerable. With morality and ethics we do our best to get it right most of the time but how we get better at it is by listening to people like Singer. It's messy. We're inextricably caught up in the web of biology and probably always will be. Biology doesn't give a s*** about our sensitivities, suffering or pleasure. We're just left with making the best of it.