Saturday, July 17, 2010

A Philosophical View of Speaker for the Dead

Introduction and Synopses
            Orson Scott Card is an author best known for his works in Science Fiction. His most recognized contributions to the Science Fiction genre are two books: Ender’s Game (1985) and its sequel Speaker for the Dead (1986), both of which won the Hugo and Nebula science fiction awards. Subsequently, he has written several sequels and prequels to these original works. The series currently has eleven books with a twelfth forthcoming. 
           Having read several of his books, primarily in relation to the Ender’s game Series. I noticed his books deeply embedded with explicit and implicit philosophical themes that range from genocide, protecting nature, to human behavior. I have decided to focus in on of Card's works and analyze the core philosophies and morals that are addressed directly and indirectly in Speaker for the Dead, Card’s second written book in the Ender’s Game Series
          The protagonist isAndrew Wiggin, commonly known as “Ender” or “Ender Wiggin”. The book takes place around 5270 AD, in an unknown part of the universe. A this point, humanity is continuing to expand into the universe colonizing habitable worlds.
Ender was born some 3,000 years ago on earth, before the colonization efforts had begun. Ender was recruited at the age of six to go to battle school; a military training base in outer space. In as few short years Ender, still a young child, played the leading role as a military strategist and commander in the defeat and xenocide, or extermination, of an apparent hostile alien race known by the humans as “Buggers”. Ender was viewed as a hero; a savior from the threat of the alien species.
 Shortly after the Buggers were eliminated, Ender and his sister Valentine, left the earth and the rest of humanity behind to go with the first colonization group to the Buggers home world. Ender travels at faster-than-light speeds and thus due to relativistic space travel by the time he gets to the Buggers home world all those that he knew back on earth were long dead while he had aged a relatively small amount. On this planet Ender found a message preserved for him from the Buggers. It turned out the Buggers were not the threat that everyone had assumed them to be. The Buggers had preserved an egg and psychically led Ender to it in hopes that he would take it another world and be able to perpetuate the Bugger race. 
The Bugger’s home world was not suitable to hatch the egg, so Ender once again took to the stars traveling at faster than light speeds searching for a suitable location. During this time, he wrote a book called The Hive Queen, an autobiography of the buggers' including the good the bad and the ugly.  He sent this to earth under the pseudonym “speaker for the dead” where it became classic literature. Since that time is has become a custom among some to have a “speaker” speak in behalf of the dead, telling their full story rather than the sanitized version that is so often spoken at funerals. Since the publication and acceptance of this book Speaker for the Dead, Ender became increasingly unpopular, he is viewed as the monster that had destroyed the only other sentient life that had been discovered.
Ender, now in his 30’s, identified as the planet Lusitania as the only known habitable planet for the buggers. Lusitania had already been colonized by humans for several years. However, Lusitania was already inhabited by Sentient creature called Pequeninos, commonly referred to as Piggies. As Ender, going by his given name of Andrew Wiggin, lands on the planet, he enters under the pretense of being a Speaker for the Dead. However, he secretly is there to introduce yet another sentient life form on the planet--the Buggers.
There are strong parallels to how humanity viewed the buggers 3,000 of years ago. The humans on Lusitania feared the piggies and many held animosity and even hostility towards them. While technologically the Piggies were several thousand years behind them, piggies learned quickly despite the human's best efforts to protect their technology. Further, the Piggies carry a virus that is lethal to most life including humans; which if they were to achieve space travel could effectively work as a terraforming agent for any plant they would inhabit.  To further strain the relationship, through a misunderstanding, the Piggies killed a few of the human residents on Lusitania. In response, humans on a neighboring world sent a strike force to Lusitania to eliminate all life on Lusitania including the Piggies, the humans, and the yet-undiscovered recuperating Buggers.
This xenocidal act was philosophically justified by giving ultimate value to human benefit. Any non-human was ranked lower on the importance hierarch, which degrades the value of their ambitions, pleasures, pains, and thoughts. Non-humans were place on the Hierarchy of Foreignness, which essesnsially is a heuristic that can be used to justify ultimate self-interest, ethnocentrism, and non-human manipulation for human benefit. On his website Orson Scott Card discusses different classifications on the Hierarchy of Foreignness:
By definition a varelse is someone so alien and dangerous that you can't know them and can't reach an understanding with them; but that inability to know them makes it quite possible that they are potentially raman [on the same level as human] after all, but you have no way of discovering it… Once having admitted the possibility that, to defend your own community, you might have to obliterate another, do you then find yourself leaping to the conclusion that any degree of strangeness is enough to make aliens worthy of treatment as varelse?
The Piggies are seen as less-than-human and feared because of the sentience they have and the potential competition for resources, planets, and dominance. The humans thus feel justified in eliminating all the Piggies in an effort to make human life most pleasurable at the sacrifice of other “less valuable” life. This justification seeks to employ a method of Utilitarianism; that the most happiness in the long run would come from the elimination of the Piggies and all those on Lusitania. While this is a version of Utilitarianism,  it does not harmonize with classical views of Utilitarianism, as constructed by Jeremy Bentham or John Mill.

Jeremy Bentham’s view of Utilitarianism was revolutionary to philosophy. Bentham asserted life should not be measured by how well one reasons, but rather their ability to suffer or feel pleasure. While humans may be able to reason better than piggies or non-humans, that does not mean human's are more acutely aware of pain or pleasure. As Bentham explained in his book, Introduction to the Principle of Moral and Legislation:
The day has been, I am sad to say in many places it is not yet past, in which the greater part of the species, under the denomination of slaves, have been treated by the law exactly upon the same footing, as, in England for example, the inferior races of animals are still… The French have already discovered that the blackness of the skin is no reason a human being should be abandoned without redress to the caprice of a tormentor. It may one day come to be recognised that the number of the legs, the villosity of the skin, or the termination of the os sacrum are reasons equally insufficient for abandoning a sensitive being to the same fate. What else is it that should trace the insuperable line? Is it the faculty of reason or perhaps the faculty of discourse? But a full-grown horse or dog, is beyond comparison a more rational, as well as a more conversable animal, than an infant of a day or a week or even a month, old. But suppose the case were otherwise, what would it avail? the question is not, Can they reason? nor, Can they talk? but, Can they suffer?
            In the book Speaker for the Dead, humanity has not progressed as Bentham has seen or hoped for. Rather, humanity had digressed to inflicting pain on sentient being simply because they view them less-than-human whose pleasure or pain is less valuable than humans. They have reasoned and found it best to destroy an entire species for human primacy.
            Similarly, John Mill defended animal rights proclaiming:
It is "to most persons" in the Slave States of America not a tolerable doctrine that we may sacrifice any portion of the happiness of white men for the sake of a greater amount of happiness to black men. It would have been intolerable five centuries ago "to most persons" among the feudal nobility, to hear it asserted that the greatest pleasure or pain of a hundred serfs ought not to give way to the smallest of a nobleman… Nothing is more natural to human beings, nor, up to a certain point in cultivation, more universal, than to estimate the pleasures and pains of others as deserving of regard exactly in proportion to their likeness to ourselves. These superstitions of selfishness had the characteristics by which Dr. Whewell recognizes his moral rules; and his opinion on the rights of animals shows that in this case at least he is consistent. We are perfectly willing to stake the whole question on this one issue. Granted that any practice causes more pain to animals than it gives pleasure to man; is that practice moral or immoral? And if, exactly in proportion as human beings raise their heads out of the slough of selfishness, they do not with one voice answer "immoral," let the morality of the principle of utility be for ever condemned.
           Jeremy Bentham developed the felicific calculus to be able to calculate how to achieve the most pleasure and least pleasure for all involved.  A leading argument against equality asserts there is significant uncertainty in the levels of pain or pleasure a non-human experiences. However, recent philosophy and science has shown that in most cases the majority of these assertions against equality are false. Peter Singer, an Australian philosopher and a prevalent voice on the animal rights issues, said the following in regards to sensational equality of animals and humans:
[E]very particle of factual evidence supports the contention that the higher mammalian vertebrates experience pain sensations at least as acute as our own. To say that they feel less because they are lower animals is an absurdity; it can easily be shown that many of their senses are far more acute than ours.
            As we examine Speaker for the Dead we see that it does not discusses animals with lower level reasoning and unintelligible communication but rather a highly rational species that learns, adapts, communicates and can express themselves equally as capable as humans.  The human's responses demonstrates a degradation of human philosophy reverting to the shared foundations to racism and illogical bias.
            One of Card’s predominate themes in this book is equality, honestly, and fairness; we need to question all out beliefs in honest light and see the world as it really is. As it says in Speaker for the Dead describing the philosophy of a speaker for the dead:
No human being, when you understand his desires, is worthless. No one's life is nothing. Even the most evil of men and women, if you understand their hearts, had some generous act that redeems them, at least a little, from their sins.
For Card, a speaker for the dead is the ideal philosopher. A speaker for the dead is impartial, deals unbiasedly with the facts, and reveals the person in all honesty. They holding everyone equal as individuals and everyone with inherent worth.
Conclusion
This is a theme in many of his books and a primary theme of this one.  Who are we to judge if a species, if a person, or if an animal feels any differently about painful experiences, or joyful experiences than ourselves? We have been egocentric as a species, we prone to assume that we are the most important.  Egocentrism and selfishness is biologically bound to us individually, societally, and interspecifically. No one can feel the pain of others, and thus we deem that it worse for us to feel pain than for others. However, for the best society for everyone , for the greatest happiness for all, we need to follow the golden rule, perhaps best known from Jesus Christ when he said “And as ye would that men should do to you, do ye also to them likewise.”

Works Cited
Bentham, Jeremy, and Laurence J. Lafleur. An Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation ;.New York: Hafner Pub., 1948. Print.


Card, Orson Scott. Speaker for the Dead. New York, NY: TOR, 1986. Print.


Card, Orson Scott. "Student Research Area - OSC Answers Questions." Hatrack River - The Official Web Site of Orson Scott Card. Web. 18 July 2010. .


King James Bible. [Cambridge, England]: Chadwyck-Healey, 1996. Print.


Mill, John Stuart. Dr. Whewell on Moral Philosophy. [Charlottesville, VA]: InteLex, 200. Print.


Rollin, Bernard E. The Unheeded Cry: Animal Consciousness, Animal Pain, and Science. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1989. Print.


Singer, Peter. Animal Liberation. New York, NY: New York Review of, 1990. Print.


Tuesday, July 6, 2010

The Secret is How to Die

Dan Brown’s hit book The Lost Symbol opens with the words “The Secret is how to die. Since the beginning of time, the secret has always been how to die” (3). Truly, there are only two guarantees in this life: (1) you will be born, and (2) you will eventually die. As such, birth and death should be of great interest to everyone.

In society, talking about death is taboo. Death is something that is not fully understand. In fact, it is something that many do not wish to contemplate. For those lives that death has touched, it leaves a burning hole, a feeling of loss, often chased by despair and depression. As society politely sweeps the dead under the carpet with as little exposure to the living as possible, the people avert their eyes from the unknown and unknowable. We fear death because we know it not, we cling to life because it offers warm familiarity. Death is no tragedy, death is no sin, it is a step into the dark, a step all must one day take. The secret is how to die.


    In Greek there is a word that is defined as “good death”, this word is Euthanasia. Euthanasia is the practice of allowing one to choose when they wish to end their life.  Euthanasia is most often performed when an individual has decided there is more unavoidable pain and displeasure to come than happiness and they would prefer to end their life prematurely. The choice to be euthanized can extend to the family of the person if the said person is not in a condition to grant consent.   Currently, there are only five countries that legally allow a form euthanasia.


 As one examines the nature decision making, it is a parent that individuals constantly make choices they believe will bring happiness and joy. We weight the possibilities and make an individual choice of which option will afford us the most happiness or the least amount of displeasure. All our rights have been given to us so that we can achieve a greater level of freedom and happiness as individuals and as a society in general. There comes a point where the happiness of the individual and society would be greater if the individual were allowed to end his life.


That being said the legal acceptance of Euthanasia should be carefully defined and outlined as this concept could introduce several cultural and social issues if improperly applied. Many of us feel at points in our life that we would rather not have to continue living, we may feel that there is nothing worth living for. More often than no we come to realize in retrospection how wrong we truly were. It would be inappropriate and irresponsible for society to allow a healthy sixteen year-old boy to end his life prematurely because of a failed romantic relationship. Although he may wish his life to be over it would be rash and illogical for him to do it on the basis of utilitarianism and on the study of others such experiences.


Despite the potential negative implication of Euthanasia if inappropriately applied, the beneficial qualities far outweigh potential depravities. Let us consider a case wherein Euthanasia would be considered moral by utilitarian standards.


Doris’ husband was 82 years old when he started having serious medical issues. He had specifically placed in his will that “[He] didn't want any extreme measures taken [to preserve his life].” The time came when he was no longer conscious and his life was in question. Doris was influenced by her children to place her husband into a special care facility. She visited him every day that he was in the facility. Doris described it first hand:
     He was in intensive care. Tubes were inserted in his neck, oxygen was given, and he had a tube down his throat. Every day different specialists examined him. He remained unconscious.                       
     After a while, the tube down his throat caused a problem, so it had to be removed and a tracheotomy performed. He had to be suctioned to keep the fluid from filling his lungs. The tubes in his neck area became inflamed, so they were moved to his other side. He was turned constantly to avoid bedsores.
     Every day we were told he was improving in one area but failing in another. The resuscitation cart was always outside his door. The one time he regained consciousness, he started shouting that he wanted to get out of there. The doctors assured me that he didn't know what he was saying.
     This went on for 45 days. Every day I stayed with him, and the family gave me what support they could.

            As we consider the ethical values implicit in the Euthanasia issue we must put ourselves in the plae of Doris and her Husband. What is the ethical thing to do in that situation? Is it ethical to prolong his life indefinitely or would it better to stop his suffering?


            Doris chose, with the affirmation of the doctors, to discontinue further treatment. Her husband was placed on a morphine drip to quell his pain and was taken off of treatment. He died the next day.
This is a day of rights, where all humans are given the ability to choose what they believe to be right. From the Universal Declaration of Human Rights to the Declaration of Independence we have past milestones in obtaining freedom and morality while remaining in civilized society. For one to be restricted on a reasonable medical request to end one’s life is paramount to taking one’s life out of their control. In the afore mentioned Declaration of Independence it states:          


“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness”


            To deny euthanization can be seen as an obstruction to the pursuit of happiness. When the pain and degradation of life, or unavoidable future pan and degradation, outweighs the pleasure and happiness that their life bring the logical course of action in the pursuit of happiness is to end your life. This would beneficial not only the recipient but also society as a whole, as it would allow for better medical attention, less money spent by the family and government, and better peace of mind and closer for the family and friends knowing that the person is no longer in pain.   


            As responsible loving pet owners often we see this issue much clearer.  There comes a time when you can see an animal is in pain, when you see that it hurts every moment of every day. To euthanize it is the responsible thing to do, it is the charitable thing to do, the human thing to do. How are humans different? How much more do humans deserve this treatment when they so ask for it? We deserve to die in dignity in whatever way we see fit, to aid in the reasonable termination of life is not a tragedy, it is not a sin, it is a service. We all must die at some point, when you leave this life do you want to do it in a situation of control or a situation of compulsion? The secret is how to die.

Works Cited 
Brown, Dan. The Lost Symbol. Doubleday, 2009.

Harris, NM. "The Euthanasia Debate". J R Army Med Corps 147 2001: 367-370.

Doris. "DORIS' STORY." Compassion & Choices. Compassion & Choices. Web. 06 July 2010.       .

Jecker, Nancy Ann Silbergeld., Albert R. Jonsen, and Robert A. Pearlman. Bioethics: an Introduction to the History, Methods, and Practice. Sudbury, Mass.: Jones and Bartlett, 2007. Print.

17 USC. Sec. 304. 2000. Print.

Meier, Diane E., Carol-Ann Emmons, Sylvan Wallenstein, Timothy Quill, Sean Morrison, and  Christine K. Cassel. "NEJM -- A National Survey of Physician-Assisted Suicide and Euthanasia in the United States." NEJM -- Conflict of Interest in the Debate over Calcium-Channel Antagonists. The New England Journal of Medicine, 23 Apr. 1998. Web. 06 July 2010. .

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Utilitarianism and Gun Control



Utilitarianism is the belief that morals should be governed in quantitative happiness; that one’s actions should be governed by asking yourself the question “What will bring the greatest amount of happiness to greatest amount of people”.  It makes morals a mathematical formula rather than a subjective religious or belief system.

When talking about utilitarianism, there are two names which are attributed to its' rise: Jeremy Bentham (1748 – 1832)(above on the right) and John Stuart Mill (1806 – 1873)(above on the left), both British philosophers. Bentham in particular was a staunch believer in quantifiable ethics wherein happiness is paramount. It is the foundation of the belief that the good of the community is simply the sum of the pleasures of the individuals' that comprise it.

Bentham identifies seven categories of calculation when considering a choice: Intensity, Duration, Certainty, Propinquity, Fecundity, Purity, and Extent. To quantify happiness we can divide a a total of 10 points between dichotomous options. Each point represents a degree of happiness relative to the other option(s).

To demonstrate and define each of these categories I will take a current event and go through these categories to see what ethical action would be correct in the eyes of these utilitarian’s. The issue that I will be discussing is whether or not guns should be more difficult to purchase. Should we increase the training expectations and prerequisites of buying a gun? Let us look at the criteria and the point breakdown.

Intensity
            Intensity can be simply defined as pleasure, generally in a very sensual immediate way. To determine this, you can ask “how strong is the pleasure?”

In regards to gun control, many people use guns as a form of recreation and receive pleasure from using them. Guns also gives you a feeling of independence with the ability to defend yourself if needs be. For a small population, guns also increase access to rare food through hunting.Increasing gun control would lower the percent of people that would have this pleasure while not using them would not net you any additional pleasure at all. 

In opposition, shooting or owning guns does not give everyone pleasure and for some may puts added weight on their lives which could diminish potential future pleasure. Owning a gun has been correlated with increased risk of violent death (not necessarily caused). Owning guns also increases the change for firearm accidents. Also, while much debate has centered around gun control and gun crime rates, by comparing 1st world countries, there is a correlation between gun ownership and crime. Theoretically effective gun control should decrease crime.  Also there would be negative pleasure for people if you were to be shot by a gun, if your animals were killed, if the gun was used to take away pleasure from other people. Guns have been a chief tool of pain in the 20th and 21st centuries. 

Keeping in mind we are looking at intensity, the potential happiness gained by owning a gun seems much lower than the potential decrease in happiness from owning guns (e.g. getting shot, higher crime). This category would most likely favor increasing gun control as there is more potential pain than there is pleasure to be gained.  Let us make the ratio 7/3 for gun control.


Further Restrict Gun Control
No Further Gun Control
Intensity
7
3

Duration
            Duration can be defined as the length of the pleasure. So we ask ourselves, “how long will those pleasures last?”

            How long would the pleasure last of gaining more gun control than to not? The potential gain of further gun control could include peace of mind and security knowing that guns were under heavier moderation and potential depravities were less likely to occur, this would last indefinitely. It would also arguably firearm abuse and displeasure caused by them. Possibly the greatest factor is the displeasure that could be averted by the harms created by misappropriate use of firearms. The potential duration of such unhappiness is very lasting. 

          In opposition there is momentary pleasure revived from recreational gunmanship, there is also a long lasting potential safety and security of mind that owner’s, if restricted the number of participants would be reduced. All in all there is more happiness to be found, or unhappiness averted, in restricting gun control than in keeping it as it is. Let us make the ratio 8/2 in favor of gun control.


Further Restrict Gun Control
No Further Gun Control
Intensity
7
3
Duration
8
2

Certainty
            Certainty can be defined by the question: how likely is it that the act will bring about the anticipated pleasure?

            This is a big issue for the anti-gun control argument as although antidotal evidence is available and cited in favor of gun control the certainty that this will happen is not very strong, furthermore it is argued that even if guns were restricted the depravities would still occur through different mediums, thus making gun control somewhat pointless. On the same hand there is great certainty that recreational gunmanship for everyone gives pleasure every time and that the peace of mind knowing you are have the means to defend yourself is a certain thing.

            On the pro-gun control side argument the point is that you can still have guns, you just must “jump through some extra hoops”, and this with certainty will give us all a greater peace of mind as we know that many of those that would abuse guns are deterred by this process.

            All in all we can say that there is more certain pleasure in gun control than the certainty of displeasure. Let us make the ratio 3/7 for certainty against further gun control.


Further Restrict Gun Control
No Further Gun Control
Intensity
7
3
Duration
8
2
Certainty
3
7

Propinquity
            Propinquity is a measure of how soon the pleasure can be enjoyed, the further away the pleasure the less power it has.

            As gun control is based largely on aversion of potential future unhappiness whereas those not wishing to have further gun control are enjoying their benefit now, I believe this category would be in favor of those not in favor of further gun control. They are currently enjoying their happiness while those in favor of gun control would gain only incremental happiness as gun control was eventually legislated and enforced. Let us make the ratio for this category 2/8 in against further gun control.


Further Restrict Gun Control
No Further Gun Control
Intensity
7
3
Duration
8
2
Certainty
3
7
Propinquity
2
8

Fecundity
            Fecundity can be defined by the likelihood that the pleasures or pains that it causes will be followed by similar pleasures or pains. If the chain effects of the action will likely be good than this that is positive for fecundity, where if they are negative than it’s negative.

            If this was law was passed it could potentially lead to a less violent society, it could lead to further weapon restriction legislation possibly leading to the abolition of deadly weapons in society, thus reducing death, both intentional and accidental. It would make it easier to track gun crimes, and thus better deter such crimes, particularly passion crimes. It could lead to a more peaceful society with less mortal confrontations.

            Another possibility is that this would allow criminals and those with ill intent to better prey on the people causing for an increase in predatorily crimes such as robbery, rape, or murder.

            For the greater amount of people there would be more potential fecundity happiness if gun control was heightened. Let us make the ratio for fecundity 8/2 in favor of gun control.  


Further Restrict Gun Control
No Further Gun Control
Intensity
7
3
Duration
8
2
Certainty
3
7
Propinquity
2
8
Fecundity
9
2

Purity
            Purity is a factor for the probability that the event will not be accompanied by unhappiness. An act that causes only pleasure is far better than one that causes some happiness mixed with pain. How pure is the emotion?

            The probability that gun control will bring you pure happiness is low; there will likely be those incidents and people that will suffer because of the choice. The same is true about the antithesis.

 I would postulate that the better happiness mix would exist in the pro-gun control emotions. Let us make the ratio 6/5 in favor of gun control.


Further Restrict Gun Control
No Further Gun Control
Intensity
7
3
Duration
8
2
Certainty
3
7
Propinquity
2
8
Fecundity
9
2
Purity
6
5

Extent
            The question here is “how many people will it affect?” where in more is better.

            For pro-gun control this is a very good category as the choice to increase gun control is aimed to better society as a whole. If further gun control was enforced there would be very few people that it would immediately affect negatively and only a few in the future. Increasing gun control would affect everyone in society in a positive way immediately as it makes gun misuse less probable. Let us make the ratio 8/2 in favor of gun control.

Conclusion


Further Restrict Gun Control
No Further Gun Control
Intensity
7
3
Duration
8
2
Certainty
3
7
Propinquity
2
8
Fecundity
9
2
Purity
6
5
Extent
8
2
TOTAL
43
27
          
           According to these thoughts about the gun control debate I believe the utilitarian morality would support a move towards further gun control.

            In conclusion I wish to share a personal story.  While I was living in Las Vegas I was in the house of a young man in his 20’s.  He told me that he had recently gone to a pawn shop that sold guns. He desired to buy a gun so the clerk give him some paperwork to fill out. When filing to buy a firearm in Nevada, it is required to ask if the person is a registered felon, if they are schizophrenic or suffer from mental conditions, if they have a violent history, and other such question. My friend instead of checking the ‘no’ boxes accidently checked all the ‘yes’ boxes.  They did not check his application and sold him the firearm on the spot.  Two weeks later they called him and asked him to return the gun. Although this is antidotal, it serves as an indication of how gun control legislation and mindset needs to be reformed in the United States.




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