In the service of my on-going agenda to assist the Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy by getting us to put aside our differences and unite against the Vast Left-Wing Conspiracy, I present the following bit of pseudo-intellectual tripe from the Culture of Death for my readers to tear into tiny smidgens:
[T]here is room in this formulation for both nature and nurture to determine our moral selves. Our inherited neurologic circuitry is a template that is "finished" by institutional indoctrination which fires that circuitry repetitively throughout our development (e.g., "thou shalt not kill, thou shalt not kill," ad infinitum). It both feels right and, when fully indoctrinated, is programmed into the fully moral individual. There is a very large literature suggesting that during "critical periods" of brain development, environmental triggers (language for example) act on the neural template to potentiate development of particular skills or behaviors. Although evidence remains circumstantial (e.g., in primate studies) developing morality may follow a similar paradigm. Accordingly, my thesis here is that our repudiation of PAS and euthanasia is a moral intuition, without rational foundations.
This little bit of nonsense comes from a new article in the journal Critical Care Medicine by one Constantine A. Manthous, M.D., of the Yale School of Medicine. The article is called "Why Not Physician-Assisted Death?" The article is available, apparently, only by subscription. Here is the abstract. The quotation comes from Wesley J. Smith's post here.
Does the above paragraph remind you of anything? If you've ever read Lewis's space trilogy, it should. Here are a few excerpts from Lewis's That Hideous Strength:
"Before going on," said Frost, "I must ask you to be strictly objective. Resentment and fear are both chemical phenomena. Our reactions to one another are chemical phenomena. Social relations are chemical relations. You must observe those feelings in yourself in an objective manner. Do not let them distract your attention from the facts."
"And that," continued Frost, "is why a systematic training in objectivity must be given to you. Its purpose is to eliminate from your mind one by one the things you have hitherto regarded as grounds for action. It is like killing a nerve. That whole system of instinctive preferences, whatever ethical, aesthetic, or logical disguise they wear, is to be simply destroyed."
"I get the idea," said Mark, though with an inward reservation that his present instinctive desire to batter the Professor's face into a jelly would take a good deal of destroying.
But interestingly, Professor Frost sees what Professor Manthous fails to see--that the claim that some value judgment or ethical belief is only or merely a product of social conditioning producing neural firings, chemical events in the brain, etc., can be made of anything. The same can, for example, be said of Manthous's claimed preference for patient liberty, when in the abstract he states that a rejection of assisted suicide "constrains unnecessarily the liberty of a small number of patients." What does "unnecessarily" mean, and why should we care about "patient liberty" if we can explain away our moral intuitions as mere neural firings? I suppose in Prof. Manthous's case, the inclination to view physician-assisted suicide as a good thing is a result of neurologic circuitry that has been finished by institutional indoctrination which fired his circuitry repeatedly throughout his intellectual development during, say, college and med school: "The right to die is an expression of freedom and autonomy," ad infinitum. In which case, why should we care tuppence about it? Why should he?
Frost is more consistent, as we see from his reply to Mark's question about whether we should regard the tendency of the universe as good or bad if it results in the extinction of all organic life:
"[Your question] presupposes a means-and-end pattern of thought which descends from Aristotle, who in his turn was merely hypostasizing elements in the experience of an iron-age agricultural community. Motives are not the causes of action but its by-products. You are merely wasting your time by considering them. When you have attained real objectivity you will recognize, not some motives, but all motives as merely animal, subjective epiphenomena. You will then have no motives and you will find that you do not need them. Their place will be supplied by something else which you will presently understand better than you do now. So far from being impoverished your action will become much more efficient."
It turns out in the story that the "something else" which is to replace motives in the initiate is neither more nor less than demon possession. And Frost, who has thoroughly given himself over to the Macrobes, as he calls the demons, finds that his own self-conditioning to regard all motives and feelings as merely biological phenomena is highly inconvenient when the Macrobes drive him to commit suicide and he is unable to resist.
But to get back to Prof. Manthous, it is astonishing that a highly regarded journal should have published as scholarship what looks so strikingly like a parody of scientism. Are we supposed to be impressed by the assertion that the objection to murder is nothing more than neural firings encouraged by our upbringing? Is this supposed to be an argument? And, as Smith points out, why are such airy assertions a legitimate substitute (in an ostensibly peer-reviewed journal article) for engaging with the actual literature by opponents of physician-assisted suicide?