The Pre-Established Harmony – Not

The New York Times: Living for Today, Locked in a Paralyzed Body

When Attorney General John Ashcroft attacked an Oregon law allowing doctor-assisted suicide in 2001 – a case that is still working its ways through the legal system – patients with the disease were among those who supported the law in court. But while the legal case and much of the national attention has focused on the issue of the right to die, less is known about those patients who want to live, and, like Dr. Lodish, will go to extraordinary lengths to do so.

Debates between Liberals and Conservatives on some “lifestyle” issues are usually represented as disputes between those who believe that people should get what they want and those who believe that desire-satisfaction should be circumscribed by some independent, non-utilitarian principles of morality. The assumption is that people whose “quality of life” is seriously not up to snuff want death with dignity, that individuals in bad marriages want out and that members of ethnic communities want to preserve and identify with their ancestral cultures.

What people want is an empirical question and it seems likely that different people want different things. Cultural myth-makers obscure this obvious fact, often in the interests in telling us what we want to hear. It would be nice to think that people whose survival imposed substantial financial and emotion burdens on their families, and society at large, wanted to be put down. Over the past 20 years the media have featured innumerable stories of individuals who were crippled, chronically ill or elderly who wanted to suicide out to accommodate those of us who weren’t–yet.

Many of us, particularly males, would like to believe that everyone wants out of “relationships” that aren’t mutually satisfying. During my youth, clinging women who cramped their mens’ style were berated in song and myth. Good counterculture chickies stood by their men, went waitressing to support them, had their babies and gracefully let go when the time came. Soon feminists got into the act and assured women that being dumped for a new chickie or a younger trophy wife was a blessing in disguise: they would find true love in new relationships or, even better, make careers as artists, poets or fashion designers and find themselves. In any case, the Pre-Established Harmony would kick in and everyone would be better off.

Nowadays we’re assured that that members of ethnic minorities want nothing more than to preserve their native languages and cultures. In North America we actively promote “multiculturalism” and bi-lingual education. Geneology has been big business since Roots made it big in prime time and former students of Indian boarding schools established for the purpose of “killing the Indian to save the man” are suing their alma maters for “loss of language.” Internationally, the 14 and 16-year old daughters of a French secular-Jewish lawyer and his secular-Muslim wife who are testing French law by wearing the hajib to school have become poster children for multiculturalism and religious tolerance.

Samira Bellil’s Dans l’enfer des tournantes as far as I know hasn’t been translated into English. We hear very little about immigrants who want to assimilate, members of ethnic minorities who want nothing more than to be unhyphenated 100% Americans or the majority of ethnically Muslim women in EU countries who want nothing to do with veiling, the folkways of the banlieus, or the misogynistic culture of their ancestors.

I don’t know what most people want: that’s an empirical question. What I do know is that we can’t count on a Pre-Established Harmony to guarantee that people we want dead would prefer to die, that cast off wives and lovers will do better on their own or that members of ethnic minorities want to follow the (real or imagined) way of their ancestors.

H.E. Baber (PhD Johns Hopkins) is a professor of philosophy at the University of San Diego, specialising in metaphysics and philosophy of mind. This article appeared on her blog The Enlightenment Project.

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