Archive for the ‘Morality’ Category

‘I’ Article About Research into Artificial Wombs and their Morality

January 8, 2020

This is another science story from yesterday’s I for 7th January 2020. It’s about current research into developing artificial wombs. At the moment, these would be for very premature babies, but they could in theory go much further, which raises some serious ethical issues.

The article by Alla Katsnelson, ‘Baby in a bag: could humans be grown in an artificial womb?’ runs

Critically preterm babies face an uncertain future. Although a foetus is considered viable at 24 weeks of gestation, only about 60 per cent of babies born so young will survive, and many will experience life-long complications.

For those born a couple of weeks earlier, the statistics are even more dire: just 10 per cent of babies born at 22 weeks are likely to survive.

building a so-called artificial womb could potentially save these babies. In October, researchers from Eindhoven University of Technology in the Netherlands announced that they had received a grant for E2.9m (£2.5m) to develop a prototype of such a device. But the project isn’t the only artificial womb on the horizon. In 2017, researchers in Philadelphia transferred foetal lambs, aged between 105 and 115 days of gestation (equivalent to about 28 to 30 weeks human gestation), into a so-called biobag filled with artificial amniotic fluid. After several weeks in the bag, the lambs developed normally. And in March 2019, an Australian and Japanese research team kept younger lambs, about 95 days’ gestational age, alive in a different system.

Dr Matthew Kemp, who led the latter work, admits that researchers don’t fully understand foetal growth in the womb, which makes replicating it a challenge. The Dutch group noted plans to roll out a clinic-ready prototype in five years, but Dr Kemp says it will probably take much longer. And because the technology is so costly, it’s unlikely to be widely available any time soon.

So far, what researchers call artificial wombs are essentially souped-up incubators. They provide a fluid-filled space in which a foetus can receive nutrients and oxygen through a ‘placenta’. From there to full-on ectogenesis – incubating foetuses outside a human for the full duration of a pregnancy – is an enormous leap.

But many bioethicists note that technology moves quickly, and proactively thinking through the possibilities is important.

In this more futuristic vision, artificial wombs can do a lot for society, says Dr Elizabeth Yuko, a bioethicist at Fordham University in New York. It could allow people who can’t carry a pregnancy for whatever reason – illness, infertility, age, or gender – to do so. It might also shift some of the childbearing responsibilities carried by women. But it also raises concerns. For example, ex-utero gestation would probably turn reproductive rights on their head, says Elizabeth Chloe Romanis, a lawyer and bioethicist at the University of Manchester. If a foetus can gestate outside a woman’s body, the choice fo whether or not to have the baby might be deemed out of her hands.

Another issue is that our legal rights are predicated on having been born alive. “I don’t think that a gestating subject in an artificial womb necessarily meets that requirement,” says Romanis. “That raises some questions about human entities ex-utero that have never existed before.

There have been newspaper articles about the development of artificial wombs since the 1980s, at least. The Absurder published one c. 1985, and I think the Independent also published one in the 1990s. And the whole area of artificial reproduction has been a live issue since the first ‘test tube’ baby created through in vitro fertilisation in the 1970s. But it also raises the spectacle of the kind of dystopian society Aldous Huxley portrayed in Brave New World, where humans are bred in hatcheries, engineered and conditioned for their future role in society. The Auronar, the telepathic race to which Cally, one of the heroes of the Beeb’s SF series, Blake’s 7, also reproduced through artificial gestation.And one of the predictions in Brian Stableford’s and David Langford’s future history, The Third Millennium, is that during this millennium this will be the preferred method of human reproduction, at least in some extraterrestrial colonies. And over a decade Radio 4 broadcast a series in which various intellectuals created fictional museums. One was ‘the museum of the biological body’, set in a post-human future in which people were neuter cyborgs born from hatcheries. This is obviously very far off, and I doubt anywhere near the majority of humans would ever want to reject gender and sexuality completely, whatever certain sections of the trans community might believe.

As with cloning and Dolly the Sheep, it raises very profound and disturbing questions about humanity’s future and how far technology should expand into the area of reproduction.

Tory Candidate Recommends Paying Mentally Handicapped Less than Ordinary People

December 9, 2019

There really couldn’t be a clearer statement of the Tories’ contempt for society’s weaker, less privileged and disabled members. Mike put up a piece today reporting that the Tory candidate for Amber Rudd’s old constituency of Hastings & Rye, Sally Ann Hart, managed to outrage people at a local husting with her recommendation on how much people with learning difficulties should be paid. She said that they should earn less than people of normal intelligence, because ‘they don’t understand money’ (!) This lead to shouts of ‘Shameful!’ and one person in the audience shouting that they were autistic, and they wanted to get paid for the work they do. As they should.

Amber Rudd, when she held that constituency, only had a majority of 346 votes over Labour. After this, Mike reckons that the Labour candidate, Peter Chowney, might just take it. And Mike also makes it clear what Hart’s comment means:

I think it means it is Conservative policy to rip off and shortchange people whenever and wherever they think it is possible.

Never mind whether they do a good job or not, if someone has a learning disability, the Tories are saying not only that you can – but that you should – pay them less money.

He goes on to describe what the Tories’ re-election would mean for other disabled people across Britain.

But we can see what kind of nation the Tories would create if they are elected into government again on December 12: one in which the hostile environment they have already built for disabled people would spill over into open contempt, with more pushed into poverty, and possibly even more deaths than we’ve seen in the last nine years of Tory misrule.

See: https://voxpoliticalonline.com/2019/12/08/will-labour-take-hastings-rye-after-conservative-candidates-disablist-remark/

The Tories really do amaze me. Just when you think they couldn’t get lower or scummier, they do. Their morals are so low they’re subterranean. And I also wonder if Hart herself isn’t a bit defective in the old grey matter. Years ago I read a piece in New Scientist about some of the problems suffered by people with injuries or other impairments to specific parts of their brain. One region of the brain apparently regulates morality. According to the neurologist interview by the magazine, those of his patients who’ve suffered damage to that area will do things like start eating the food off other peoples’ plates in restaurants. They do so simply because, with that part of their brain not working correctly, they no longer understand that’s not the right thing to do.

It’s tempting to speculate that Sally Ann Hart may have a similar mental impairment. But sadly, I doubt it. She doesn’t appear to have suffered any damage to her brain. She just has a nasty attitude to the disabled.

As for disabled people not understanding money, while that’s no doubt true of some, it most certainly isn’t true of others. Some autistic people, for example, are superb mathematicians, but find it difficult to cope in social situations. And there are too many people of normal intelligence, who are unable to deal properly with money. I’ve heard stories of people falling on severe financial difficulties because the money they should have used to pay the rent or the mortgage they’ve instead spent on an expensive car or luxury holiday to somewhere exotic. They’ve made a stupid choice, but they aren’t mentally handicapped and shouldn’t be paid less for their work either.

But Hart’s comments about the disabled also reveals much about the wider Tory viewpoint, at least for some members of the party. One writer on American Neoconservativism believed that they had an essentially Hobbesian worldview. That is, they followed the 17th century philosopher Thomas Hobbes in considering people purely as isolated units in society, engaged in a ‘war of each against all’. This also seems to be Hart’s thinking, in which those physically, mentally or socially inferior are to be taken advantage of and exploited. Because they are unable to cope for themselves, and so ultimately it’s for their benefit. Hence the punitive benefit sanctions and the Work Capability Test. These may strike everyone with an ounce of compassion and objectivity as grossly unfair and cruel to the point of murder, but to the Tories it’s all for the good of those at the receiving end of it. They have to be kept in line, even by exploitation, as they cannot cope and function as proper, self-reliant, responsible members of society otherwise.

It’s a disgusting attitude. Stop this Tory exploitation of the disabled and, indeed, anyone else on Thursday. Get them out, and Corbyn in!

Boris’ Insulting Views on the Children of Single Mothers

December 5, 2019

Yesterday Mike put up a piece revealing our comedy Prime Minister’s views on the children of single mothers, taken from Mirror Online. As you would expect, they were characteristically ignorant and boorish. Johnson had written in a magazine column that they were ‘ill-raised, ignorant, aggressive and illegitimate’. Men were ‘feeble’ if they were reluctant or unable to take control of their children. It was also ‘outrageous’ for married couples to have to fund the desire of single women to procreate without fathers, and he felt that a way had to be found to ‘restore women’s desire to be married’.

Mike goes on to demolish these awful generalisations, and begins by pointing out that many children raised by single mothers are actually valuable members of society. Also, may single-parent families are the product of the break-up of two-parent families. As for men being feeble if they’re unable to control their wives or female partners, some of the best women he knows are uncontrollable, and woe to the man who tries. He also characterises Boris’ remarks about ‘women’s desire to be married’ as that of a ‘sexist control freak’, and points out that he says nothing about men’s desire to be married.

Mike states that

Allowing such a sexist, misogynist ignoramus to the highest office in the land will reflect appallingly badly on the UK among other nations – and who knows how much harm he could do domestically?

and asks if the people who think he has something to offer are prejudiced in their own ways against good government.

See: https://voxpoliticalonline.com/2019/12/04/boris-johnson-thinks-children-of-single-mothers-are-ignorant-and-illegitimate-charming/

In fact Johnson’s views are fairly standard Social Conservatism. This values marriage and the traditional sexual morality of restraint and rejection of homosexuality. Now I’m concerned about the decline of marriage and the traditional family in Britain, and I don’t feel that it is healthy, either psychologically or for society, for children to be brought up by a single-parent. But many single mothers, it has to be said, do an excellent job of raising their children. During and after the War there was a generation of children raised by single mothers, which had nothing to do with family break-up or illegitimacy. They were caused through the fathers’ death during the War. Furthermore, evidence suggests that the absence of a father may make no difference to the psychological welfare of the children of such families if there is another male figure around, who can perform that role, such as an uncle. As for women’s desire to be married, that was the product of the very restrictive norms past society placed around women, which located them very definitely in the home raising children. It’s the traditional women’s role which has been comprehensively attacked and rejected by feminism. As for his attacks on single women’s desire to procreate, not only is he here objecting to ordinary married couples having to support single women, but there’s also an implied objection to the state having to provide fertility treatment for them. He hasn’t articulated it, but it could also be seen as a coded attack on conventional, heterosexual couples having to fund through their taxes fertility treatment for single, lesbian women.

Of course these view aren’t confined to Boris by any means. The Conservatives always have had a deep hatred of single mothers. Way back in the 1990s they were included among the various groups Peter Lilley despised, and who he claimed he had in his little book as he pranced across the stage at a Tory conference in a parody of the Mikado. And then there was Thatcher’s mentor, Sir Keith Joseph, and his infamous comment about how single mothers were a threat to ‘our stock’. Which is a eugenicist statement that could have come from the Nazis. In fact, I’m surprised they haven’t adopted the Nazis’ watchword for creating a good marriage – ‘choose a partner, not a playmate’.

As for the attitude towards men, there are two, mutually contradictory reasons for Johnson’s silence on male willingness to marry. The first is that he probably subscribes to the traditional view that it’s women, who are most concerned about securing a long term relationship, while men are more interested in keeping everything casual. It’s the received view you can see every day in agony columns with titles like ‘Why Men Are Afraid of Commitment’ and so forth. The other, opposing view, which is far more common on the anti-feminist right, is that men are more concerned with marriage and preserving the traditional family. It’s women that are a threat to this, because of their promiscuity. They’re only interested in settling down after they’ve had their fun, are entering their middle years and need a provider. As you can see, it’s a misogynist view that is deeply distrustful of women’s sexual freedom.

Boris also clearly shows his own reactionary view of family structure with his comments about ‘feeble’ men being unable to keep their women in line. He obviously doesn’t believe that marriage or the bond between two partners shouldn’t be one of equals, but rather the women should be clearly subordinate to the male head of the house. It’s another view that’s been justifiably attacked and largely discredited by feminism.

There’s undoubtedly much more that could be said of Johnson’s comments. They clearly those of someone, who has a highly reactionary view of the family, and they’re dangerous. I’d like to see the traditional family preserved, but families break up for a reason, and not all of them are as trivial as some of the more notorious instances. Spousal abuse – most often by the male partner against the female, but sometimes the other way round – is very often a factor. The Tories have cut down on funding for women’s refuges, which has left some women in abusive relationships in real danger, as they no longer have safe spaces they can flee to.

And although he hasn’t mentioned it, the right are also worried about the declining birthrate throughout the developed world. In Britain and many other countries, it’s actually below replacement levels, so that without immigration the population would actually be shrinking. But I can remember reading an article about this over a decade ago in the New Scientist. Some demographers concerned with this problem have pointed out that the most fertile nations are those like Scandinavia, where men take more part in domestic chores. They’re lower in nations like Italy and even China, where they tend to be left to women. From which you could argue that if you want to create more stable, fertile families, then men should be encouraged to help more around the house.

I’d like to see a revival of the two-parent family, but Johnson’s views don’t offer this. Instead, they’re just a reactionary yearning after an idealised family unit that ignores the real problems besetting family life, problems that have caused families to break down for perfectly good reasons. Johnson and the Tories would like to restore that family by severely restricting women’s freedoms to leave.

And finally, Johnson himself is a massive hypocrite. For all he’s written about two-parent families, he himself has been married many times and has fathered a number of children outside the marriage bond. He isn’t married, but lives with his current girlfriend in No. 10, which should make some of his supporters with very traditional attitudes to marriage take pause.

He is here, as in so many other areas, a bigoted hypocrite, whose views may actually be dangerous, and prevent the creation of happy, secure families. He should not be in No. 10. Get him out!

 

Legendary Comics Creator Announces that He Will Vote Labour

November 22, 2019

Today’s I for 22nd November 2019 has this report by Jasmine Andersson that the great comics writer and artist, Alan Moore, has declared that he’s going to vote Labour. The article runs

The comic book writer Alan Moore has revealed that he will cast his vote for the first time in nearly 40 years – for the Labour Party.

The 66-year-old, known for creating Watchmen and V for Vendetta, said he plans to vote for the party in order to make his mark in “unprecedented times”.

He has called the Labour manifesto “the most encouraging set of proposals that I’ve ever seen from any major British party”.

In an open letter on Twitter, Mr Moore wrote: “Here’s something you don’t see every day, an internet-averse anarchist announcing on social media that he’ll be voting Labour in the December elections,. but these are unprecedented times. I’ve voted only one my life.”

Moore was one of a new generation of British and American comics creators, who emerged in the late 70s and early 80s. They took comics seriously as a medium, and brought a sharp intelligence to them, pushing the boundaries of what was previously seen as trivial children’s literature to explore adult themes and issues, such as power, morality and responsibility, gender and sexuality, and racism, gay identity and alienation. I’ve mixed feelings about Moore, as he was one of the creators behind the move towards darker, grittier interpretations of comic book superheroes like Batman. He has said now that he considers his graphic novel, Batman – The Killing Joke to be his worst work. This portrayed Batman as an angry, psychotic vigilante, who was merely the opposite side of the coin to the Joker. Moore now regrets how that destroyed the innocence of the character and other, similar superheroes. It was the increasingly dark, rather sordid tone of comics in the 90s that put me off reading them, with a few exceptions.

Moore, and other leading comics creators from that time, like Neil Gaiman and Pat Mills, are still well worth listening to for their considerable insights into the craft of storytelling and the literature of the fantastic. Moore and Mills have been particularly outspoken about the exploitation of working people and oppression of minorities by the right, and big corporations. Moore’s V for Vendetta, which first appeared in the adult comic, Warrior, was very much a reflection of Thatcher’s Britain, when many on the Left feared that the Leaderene with her connections to the Far Right would turn the country into a Fascist dictatorship.

It’s no secret that Moore’s an anarchist. But I’m delighted that Corbyn and the Labour party have impressed him so much that he has decided that they stand for the real, radical change that Britain needs to the point where he’s going to vote for them. Just as I hope that others will also do likewise, and throw off the justifiable cynicism and apathy that stops so many from voting due to the stranglehold of Thatcherism across the political spectrum.

Thatcherism’s out of date by forty years. It’s time it was thrown out, and a real party committed to the British people elected. One that brings them the radical change Moore and so many others feel we most desperately need.

Panorama Documentary Tomorrow on British War Crimes in Iraq and Afghanistan

November 17, 2019

Okay, I’m sure that this is something that no-one wants to see: allegations of war crimes against civilians in Iraq and Afghanistan. I’m afraid I’ve only caught a glimpse of it, but there was a trailer tonight for tomorrow’s edition of Panorama, 18th November 2019, which showed that this would be the subject of its investigation.

I understand that much of the curriculum at Sandhurst is about the morality of war, and the British army has prided itself that it uses the minimum of force. And the British armed forces for centuries have been subject to the rule of law. One of the slavery documents I found in the archives when I was working at the Empire and Commonwealth Museum here in Bristol was a parliamentary inquiry into allegations of atrocities against women and children by British troops during a slave rebellion in the West Indies.

But the men and women in our armed forces aren’t moral supermen. For all their training, courage and professionalism, they are human beings under immense stress. They were sent in by Blair to fight an illegal war in Iraq, which is already a war crime, though one for which the former Prime Minister and his cabinet and advisers are culpable, rather than the troopers who fought it. There were problems with supplying them adequately with the right equipment, so much so that they were supposedly nicknamed ‘the borrowers’ by the Americans because our troops had to borrow theirs. And the enemy fights dirty. I’ve heard it said that the Taliban in Afghanistan used to smear their bullets in excrement so that people shot by them would become infected in addition to the gunshot wound. I’ve also read reports online of the allied forces coming upon individuals, who it was highly probably had been the very Taliban, who had been firing on them moments before, but who swore they were no such thing. Even when it looked like they were washing their hands to remove the cordite stains.

In the American territory in Iraq, decent conduct seems to have broken down completely. I’ve reblogged pieces from The Jimmy Dore Show and other American left-wing news shows, which described how a former American diplomat to the zone complained about what he found there. The mess of one set of American troops was adorned with Nazi emblems and regalia. The private military contractors – read ‘mercenaries’ – were out of control, running drugs and prostitution rings. They also casually shot Iraqi civilians for fun. The real-life trooper, who was the subject of the Eastwood flick, The Sniper, a few years ago, also claimed to have shot civilians, including women and children. And the American military command also collaborated with sectarian death squads.

In this chaos and carnage I can quite believe that some our troopers would also take out their frustrations and aggression on the very civilians that Blair told us he was sending them in to liberate.

I’ve no doubt that this is going to stir up controversy, and I hope that the documentary is thorough and balanced – much more so than its wretched smear job against the Labour Party. And if it is found that British soldiers and personnel have committed atrocities against civilians, it will also be remembered that the ultimate responsibility for these wars lies with Tony Blair and his fellow war criminal, George Bush.

Michael Brooks on Ellen Degeneres’ Hypocrisy and Friendship with George Dubya

October 12, 2019

Michael Brooks is a co-presenter and has his own show with Sam Seder on Sam Seder’s Majority Report. In this video, he adds his comments to the criticism Ellen Degeneres has earned about her friendship with George ‘Dubya’ Bush and her hypocritical treatment of her writing team. Degeneres, who considers herself politically liberal, and who came out as a lesbian on her own show a few years ago, provoked outrage when she was filmed sitting next George Dubya and his wife at a football game, chatting affably.

Left-wing Americans and others, who simply believe that America’s invasion of Iraq was morally wrong and support gay rights, were understandably upset that Degeneres was sitting with the man responsible for the illegal invasion and for trying to have it written into the Constitution that people of the same sex could not marry.

In response, Degeneres tried to explain herself on her own show. She said that her friendship with the wretched former president was no different than the other friendships she had we people, whose political views she didn’t share. She then said that we all should be kinder to each other.

Sam Seder made a video himself about her attempts to excuse herself. He made the point that Bush was responsible for the deaths, multilation and displacement of millions of people in Iraq and the Middle East. He also rebutted her call for people to be kind to each other on the grounds that you can believe in it, but does it mean you should be kind to a serial killer, who hasn’t stopped killing, believes there’s nothing he’s done wrong and will take that kindness as an indication that you’re fine with him killing.

In this video, Brooks also weighs in against Degeneres. He points out that she’s also a union-buster. Despite claiming that her writing team were all family to her, when they took part in the Writers’ Guild strike she sacked them all and replaced them with blacklegs.

But the main piece of his video is another, posted on Twitter by Rafael Shimunov. This shows the terrible reality behind Degeneres self-justification by placing behind her images of Iraq and its war-torn people. He also points out we shouldn’t be surprised by Degeneres’s friendship with Bush. They’re both part of the rich 1 per cent, supporting each other against the majority.

I realise that this is an American matter, and that Degeneres is hardly known over here, although I have seen her show broadcast on one of the cable/satellite channels. But there are issues of integrity here, which also affect journalists and broadcasters generally. Alistair Campbell and Tony Blair are still putting their oar in about current events, with Blair commenting on Corbyn’s leadership of the party and Campbell interviewing McDonnell in GQ. Both Blair and Campbell share the responsibility of the Iraq invasion with Bush, and could fairly be described as war criminals. They have no moral right whatsoever to give political judgments or recommendations to anyone on the left. At the same time, there is a new film ready to be released about the civil servant, who leaked the papers about the Iraq invasion in order to prevent it. This woman has far more integrity, and the film about her, is in my view, of far more moral worth, than Degeneres’ pleadings for kindness towards a man, who destroyed an entire country simply as a display of imperial dominance and corporate profit.

One of the female Labour politicos – I’ve forgotten who – has sparked controversy because she refuses to be friends with Conservatives. As these videos show, she has a point.

The Babylonian Condemnation of Libel and Slander

October 3, 2019

A few days ago I put up a few verses from the Old Testament, Exodus and Deuteronomy, which condemn telling lies. This was for the benefit of certain individuals, like Rachel Riley, who have been all too happy to make false accusations of anti-Semitism against others. When they themselves are criticised, however, they falsely accuse their critics of libelling them and threaten them with court action. Riley has done this to Mike and 16 others, after they blogged about how she and Tracey-Ann Oberman, in their view had bullied a sixteen year old schoolgirl with anxiety. The girl had put up a post supporting Jeremy Corbyn. This was then criticised by the two, who said they were going to ‘re-educate’ her and demanded that she meet them in London. The girl couldn’t as she had to be in school. They then accused her of anti-Semitism, and encouraged their supporters to pile in. When Mike put up his account of this sordid incident, Oberman appeared and claimed it was libelous. When Mike asked what was libelous about it, he received no reply. He was then informed that Riley was taking him to court.

The Babylonians, like the Hebrews, also condemned libel and slander. Their precept against it is preserved in the Counsels of Wisdom, a collection of short moral adages. These appear to have been copied sometime between 700 and 400 BC, although the texts themselves may date back to the period 1800-1000 BC. It runs

Do not utter libel, speak what is of good report,

Don say evil things, speak well of people.

One who utters libel and speaks evil,

Men will waylay him with the retribution of Shamash.

D. Winton Thomas, ed., Documents from Old Testament Times (London: Thomas Nelson & Sons 1958) 106.

Shamash was the Babylonian sun god.

Similar sentiments are expressed in the Ancient Egyptian The Teaching of Amenemope. The scroll of this held by the British Museum may date back to 1000-600 BC, but there is a fragment written on a potsherd which may date back 1100-946 BC. The precept against libel runs

Injure not a man, with pen upon papyrus-

O abomination of the god!

Bear not witness with lying words,

Nor seek another’s reverse with thy tongue.

(Page 182).

Thus, what Riley and Oberman appear to be doing to silence their critics, who seem to be mostly supporters of the Labour party and Jeremy Corbyn, is utterly wrong, even by Babylonian and Ancient Egyptian standards as well as those of Ancient Israel and today.

 

Two-Part Series Beginning Tomorrow on BBC 4 on History of Eugenics

October 2, 2019

According to this week’s Radio Times, BBC 4 begins a two-part series tomorrow, Thursday 3rd October 2019, at 9.00 pm, on the history of eugenics, Eugenics: Science’s Greatest Scandal. The blurb for the programme on page 103 of the magazine reads

The controversial theory of eugenics was a driving force behind the Nazi death camps. Adherents believed it was possible to improve the genetic quality of the human race by discouraging reproduction by people with “undesirable” traits. Journalist Angela Saini and disability rights activist Adam Pearson reveal how these shocking beliefs permeated the British establishment in the first half of the 20th century, gaining influential supporters such as Winston Churchill and Marie Stopes.

The additional snippet about the programme by Patrick Mulkern on page 100 says

A thorny subject, eugenics (or “genetic determinism”), the notion that of breeding what some might consider a “better human”, is covered in two parts by science journalist Angela Saini and disability campaigner Adam Pearson.

Tonight, they look at its roots in this country in the liberal sphere of London’s Bloomsbury in the late 19th century – some decades before it was seized upon and put into horrible practice by the Nazis. There’s a concern, even fear, that eugenics is alive and well and making a comeback in academia, science and social policy. Gene editing may mean medical benefits, but who knows where it will lead? 

The blurb for the second and final part of the programme in next week’s Radio Times on page 105, which is on next Thursday, 10th October, at the same time, 9.00 pm, runs

Science journalist Angela Saini and disability rights activist Adam Pearson continue to uncover the disturbing story of eugenics. The controversial idea that the human race could be improved by selective breeding took hold in certain scientific communities before the horrors of the Nazi Holocaust exposed the terrifying possibilities the theory offered. They also look at how eugenic practices such as the sterilisation of the poor continued long after the Second World War and ask whether current medical breakthroughs such as gene editing could be misused.

There’s another little piece about it by Patrick Mulkern on page 102. This states

“It would have been better by far if they had never been born” – chilling words from the past but part of an ideology that has threaded its way through to today.

Eugenics didn’t die with the Nazis. Programmes of selective breeding to weed out disability and mass sterilisation of the poor have continued in parts of the world. 

Science journalist Angela Saini and Adam Pearson (a disability campaaigner who’s been abused in the street because of his looks) front the concluding part of this incisive doc. it suggests that medical breakthroughs, market forces and prejudice are leading us into a new era of eugenics.

As Jeffrey Davies, one of the long-term commenters on this site reminds people, the Nazis began their campaign of mass extermination which culminated in the Holocaust of the Jews and the genocide – porajmos – of the Gypsies – with the mass murder of the disabled, Aktion T4. Dubbed ‘lebensunwertigen Leben‘ – ‘life unworthy of life’ – the congenitally disabled were taken by special SS ambulance units to clinics and insane asylums, where they were murdered with poison gas.

The Nazis had already enacted a considerable edifice of legislation providing for the sterilisation of the disabled, based on that passed by 24 states in the US. They boasted that they had not done anything novel themselves. After the War, some states still carried on sterilising those they considered genetically undesirable. The mentally handicapped continued to be castrated in American mental hospitals. In Sweden, the authorities were afraid that if the disabled and mentally incompetent were allowed to breed, they would put the country’s nationalised health service in crisis, and so they passed eugenics legislation in that country. Those targeted for sterilisation included the Tartare – a traveller people. The Romany and other ethnic groups were exempt from the legislation, but the Tartare were not as they were regarded as ethnically Swedish. This judgement was overturned a few years ago when the Tartare victims sued for compensation. The legislation also targeted those seen as not conforming to proper social or sexual morality. Promiscuous women were also sterilised, for example. The programme only came to an end in 1975.

It will also be interesting to see what the programme has to say about eugenic’s survival among certain parts of the Tory party. Maggie’s mentor, Sir Keith Joseph, caused outrage in the mid-70s when he declared that unmarried mothers were a threat to our stock. The Tories’ current campaign of throwing the severely disabled off benefits using rigged fitness to work tests looks to Mike and very many other disability rights campaigners like another eugenic campaign of mass killing. And Iain Duncan Smith, one of its chief architects, even had the gall to begin an article praising his government’s welfare to work policy with the statement that the infamous slogan on the entrance to the concentration camps, Arbeit Macht Frei – ‘Work Makes You Free’ – was actually a good policy, wrongly tarnished through association with the Nazis. That odious little paragraph disappeared from the article shortly after, but not before it had been noticed and commented on by the left-wing and disabled people’s press and blogs.

And one of the most notorious of today’s eugenics supporters is the malign Toby Young, who was exposed a little while ago attending a eugenics conference at University College London. Which was, unsurprisingly, full of people who could rightly be described as Nazis. This is a good reason not to read anything by the vile scumbag, or take his views remotely seriously.

Eugenics doesn’t solely affect the disabled. It’s used against working people as a whole and Blacks and other ethnic minorities. The argument is that the poor are poor, and will always be poor, because their genetically inferior. Passing legislation to improve their conditions and opportunities is wasteful and harmful, because it will encourage them to outbreed their genetic superiors in the middle and upper classes. There are a slew of organisations in the American Libertarian right which pursue or have pursued that line, which are connected to the Republican Party. It will be very interesting to see what this programme has to say about them.

Hell and the Mean and Exploitative Rich in the Non-Canonical Gospels

August 6, 2019

Leafing through the book The Apocryphal Jesus: Legends of the Early Church by J.K. Elliott (Oxford: OUP 1996) yesterday, I got to the chapter on heaven and hell. The book’s a collection of extracts from apocryphal Christian literature, the Gospels and various lives of the Apostles that weren’t included in the Bible because they were not considered historically reliable by the bishops of the Early Church. Despite being outside the accepted canon of scripture, they were nevertheless widely read and have influenced Christian art and literature. These writings include descriptions of the delights of paradise and the torments of the damned. Most of the torments are for moral offences, like fornication, adultery and homosexuality and failure to live according to proper Christian standards or neglect or rejection of Christianity. It’s grim stuff, and is the type of material and doctrines that now puts people off religion. How can a loving God inflict all these torments on people for all eternity, especially since the sexual revolution of the 1960s? Pre-marital sex is now the norm, homosexuality is accepted and opposition to it is seen as bigotry. It’s a good question, and I’m no fan of the hellfire and damnation preaching myself. As for Hell, I tend to follow the Father Duddleswell attitude from the books about the Irish priest by Neil Boyd. God’s justice demands it exists, but his mercy means there’s no-one in it.

But several of the torments described in these apocryphal books are for the rich and the exploitative. Like some of the people in the Tory and Brexit parties. One of the extracts is from the Acts of Thomas, in which the apostle raises up a dead woman, and commands her to tell what she has seen. And amongst the damned were people hung up by various parts of their bodies, including the hands.

Those hung up by the hands are they who took that which did not belong to them and have stolen, and who never gave anything to the poor, nor helped the afflicted; but they did so because they wished to get everything, and cared neither for law nor right. (p. 191).

In the Apocalypse of Peter, it is Christ Himself who describes the torments of hell, including those reserved for the rich.

‘And beside them, in a place near at hand, upon the stone shall be a pillar of fire, and the pillar is sharper than swords. And there shall be men and women clad in rags and filthy garments, and they shall be cast thereon to suffer the judgement of an unceasing torment; these are the ones who trusted to their riches and despised the widows and the women with fatherless children … before God.’ (p. 194).

In the Apocalypse of Paul, it is this apostle, who is taken by an angel and shown the heaven and hell, including this description of what happens to usurers:

And I saw another multitude of pits in the same place, and in the midst of it a river full with a multitude of men and women, and worms consumed them. But I lamented and sighing asked the angel and said, ‘Sir, who are these?’ and he said to me, “These are those who exacted interest on interest and trusted in their riches and did not trust in God that he was their helper.’ (p. 202).

We now have a government that is packed full of rich, highly rapacious individuals, who really don’t have any thought for the poor, the widows and the fatherless. And all too many of them are connected to the financial sector, like Jacob Rees-Mogg. Mogg and several other Tories come from the Christian right. It’s a pity they don’t read these passages, and those in the Bible itself, urging concern for the poor, the sick and marginalised, and do the right thing.

Which is stopping these exploitative, murderous policies of immiseration and exploitation, and resign!

As an old piece of graffiti in Bristol used to say: ‘Repent of your sins, Maggie Thatcher!’

 

Japanese Scientist Obtains Permission for Animal-Human Hybrids

August 1, 2019

This is very ominous. A Japanese scientist has been granted permission to create animal-human hybrids, according to yesterday’s I. The man intends to use them in research for the possible creation of organs in animals, that could be used for transplantation into humans. There are limits to his research, however. He states that at the moment he will not keep them alive for longer than 15 and a half days, so it isn’t like he’s going to produce complete animal-human hybrids, like the chimpanzee-human creature developed by rogue scientists as a new slave animal in the 1990s ITV SF thriller, Chimera. But it is a step in that direction.

The article, ‘Human-animal hybrid research is approved’, by Colin Drury, on page 22, runs

Human-animal hybrids are to be developed in embryo form in Japan after the government approved controversial stem-cell research.

Human cells will be grown in rat and mouse embryos, then brought to term in a surrogate animal, as part of experiments to be carried out at the University of Tokyo.

Supporters say the work – led by the renowned geneticist Hiromitsu Nakauchi – could be a vital first step towards eventually growing organs that can then be transplanted into people in need.

But opponents have raised concerns that scientists are playing God. Critics worry the human cells could stray beyond the targeted organs into other areas of the animal, creating a creature that is part animal, part person.

For that reason, such prolonged experimentation has been banned or not been financed across the world in recent years.

In Japan, scientists were forbidden from going beyond a 14-day growth period. But those laws were relaxed in March when the country’s education and science ministry issued new guidelines saying such creations could now be brought to term.

Now, Dr. Nakauchi’s application to experiment is the first to be approved under that new framework.

Human-animal hybrid embryos have been made in countries such as the United States, but were never brought to term. The US National Institutes of Health has had a moratorium on funding such work since 2015.

“We don’t expect to create human organs immediately, but this allows us to advance our research based upon the know-how we have gained up to this point,” Dr. Nakauchi told the Asahi Shimbun newspaper.

He added that he planned to proceed slowly, and will not attempt to bring any hybrid embryos to term for several years, rather growing the hybrid mouse embhryos to 14.5 days, when the animal’s organs are mostly formed, and the hybrid rat embryo’s to 15.5 days.

Such caution was welcomed by bioethicists in the country.

There was also a little capsule, containing the comment that

Some bioethicists are concerned about the possibility that human cells might stray, travelling to the developing animal’s brain and potentially altering its cognition.

Which seems to be a concern that this research could unintentionally also result in animals acquiring some form of human intelligence accidentally.

The British philosopher Mary Midgley attacked that part of the biotech industry and those scientists, who looked forward to bioengineers being able to redesign whole new forms of humans in her book, The Myths We Live By (London: Routledge 2004). She writes

That ideology is what really disturbs me, and I think it is what disturbs the public. This proposed new way of looking at nature is not scientific. It is not something that biology has shown to be necessary. Far from that, it is scientifically muddled. It rests on bad genetics and dubious evolutionary biology. Though it uses science, it is not itself a piece of science but a powerful myth expressing a determination to put ourselves  in a relation of control to the non-human world around us, to be in the driving seat at all costs rather than attending to that world and trying to understand how it works. It is a myth that repeats, in a grotesquely simple sense, Marx’s rather rash suggestion that the important thing is not to understand the world, but to change it. Its imagery is a Brocken spectre, a huge shadow projected on to a cloudy background by the shape of a few recent technological achievements.

The debate then is not between Feeling, in the blue corner, objecting to the new developments, and Reason in the red corner, defending them. Rhetoric such as that of Stock and Sinsheimer and Eisner is not addressed to Reason. It is itself an exuberant power fantasy, very much like the songs sung in the 1950s during the brief period of belief in an atomic free lunch, and also like those in the early days of artificial intelligence. The euphoria is the same. It is, of course, also motivated by the same hope of attracting grant money, just as the earlier alchemists needed to persuade powerful persons tthat they were going to produce real, coinable gold. (p. 166).

She goes on to argue that such scientific hubris comes from the gradual advance of atheism with the victory of the mechanistic model of the universe introduced by Newton in the 17th century. As God receded, scientists have stepped in to take His place.

On the clockwork model the world thus became amazingly intelligible. God, however, gradually withdrew from the scene, leaving a rather unsettling imaginative vacuum. The imagery of machinery survived. But where there is no designer the whole idea of mechanism begins to grow incoherent. Natural Selection is supposed to fill the gap, but it is a thin idea, not very satisfying to the imagination.

That is how the gap that hopeful biotechnicians now elect themselves to fill arose. They see that mechanistic thinking calls for a designer, and they feel well qualified to volunteer for that vacant position. Their confidence about this stands out clearly from the words I have emphasised in Sinsheimer’s proposal that ‘the horizons of the new eugenics are in principle boundless – for we should have the potential to create new genes and new qualities yet undreamed of … For the first time in all time a living creature understands its origin and can undertake to design its future.’

Which living creature? It cannot be human beings in general, they wouldn’t know how to do it. It has to be the elite, the biotechnologists who are the only people able to make these changes. So it emerges that members of the public who complain that biotechnological projects involve playing God have in fact understood this claim correctly. That phrase, which defenders of the projects dismiss as mere mumbo jumbo, is actually a quite exact term for the sort of claim to omniscience and omnipotence on these matters that is being put forward.

One of the most profound artistic comments I have found about the implications of this new biotechnology is the sculpture ‘The Young Family’ by the Australian artist Patricia Piccinini. This shows a hybrid mother creature, bred for organ transplantation, surrounded by her young. Curled up like an animal, her human eyes peer back plaintively at the spectator. It’s a deeply disturbing work, although Piccinini states she is not opposed but optimistic about scientific progress. She says

In terms of the real world, these are some of the key issues that I am trying to question and discuss with my work. I’m not pessimistic about developments in biotechnology. We are living in a great time with a lot of opportunities, but opportunities don’t always turn out for the best. I just think we should discuss the full implications of these opportunities.

So if we look at The Young Family we see a mother creature with her babies. Her facial expression is very thoughtful. I imagine this creature to be bred for organ transplants. At the moment we are trying to do such a thing with pigs, so I gave her some pig-like features. That is the purpose humanity has chosen for her. Yet she has children of her own that she nurtures and loves. That is a side-effect beyond our control, as there will always be.

That is what makes the question of breeding animals purely for organ-transfer so difficult to answer. On one hand we need organs to help people in need, on the other hand we are looking at an animal that wants to exist for the sake of itself. I can’t help but feel an enormous empathy for this creature. And, to be very honest, if it would save the life of one of my children, I would be will to take one of these organs. I know it is probably not ethically right but sometimes honesty, emotions, empathy and ethics don’t always line up.

I am not nearly so optimistic. For me, this sculpture is a deeply moving, deeply disturbing comment on the direction this new technology can go. And I fear tht this latest advance is taking us there.