By: Hendrik van der Breggen
At the beginning of the film Lord of the Rings, as forces of darkness gather strength, Lady Galadriel whispers sadly: “The world is changed. I feel it in the water. I feel it in the Earth. I smell it in the air. Much that once was is lost, for none now live who remember it.”
I think our society no longer remembers some important truths. Here are some examples.
We used to think we should help those who feel suicidal. Remember National Suicide Prevention Week? Now, for many, suicide is understood as an achievement of personal autonomy. Also, we are beginning to encourage the weak and infirm to take advantage of “physician-assisted dying”/ “medical aid in dying” (euphemisms for physician-assisted killing).
We used to think doctors’ conscience rights were important. Now in Canada doctors’ rights of conscience not to refer patients to others who will kill them are suspect.
We used to think children, especially handicapped children, should be given great care. Now a large percentage of prenatal children diagnosed with Down syndrome are aborted.
We used to think abortions should be rare and the option of last resort. Now, for many, abortions are a badge of autonomy, honor, and equality (of course, only for those who have the privilege of already being born). Think of Oprah Winfrey’s recent support for the “Shout Your Abortion” campaign.
Think, too of the last U.S. presidential race. Presidential candidate Hilary Clinton acknowledged that unborn children are actual persons, but denied that they have the right to life. Yet the 1973 Roe v. Wade court decision that made abortion legal in the U.S. stated abortion rights would collapse if the unborn were persons.
In Canada, we used to think that if science could establish that the unborn child is a human being, then the law should reflect that. But our law continues under the delusion that the unborn child isn’t a human being until birth. And so far any attempts by Members of Parliament merely to investigate this have been dismissed.
Speaking of human beings, the director of U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH) believes, contrary to sound reason, that the human embryo is merely a potential human being (it’s in fact a human being with potential). We used to think using human embryonic stem cells and mixing them with animals isn’t a good idea. Now the NIH is seriously considering such research.
We used to think tolerance of others’ opinions was good. Now, when it comes to gender identity and expression, it’s not acceptable to disagree (even via careful reasoning and appeals to medical and mental health concerns). In fact, a couple years ago a gay pride parade organizer in my home city in Manitoba said to those who disagree: “No! No! You are not entitled to your opinion.” Moreover, according to some, you are “homoppressive.” (Pause. Hmmm. Does a doctor’s concern about the well being of smokers make her “smoker-oppressive”?)
We used to think that reason carefully used with evidence should put a check on feeling (which is sometimes out of touch with reality). Remember anorexia nervosa, the disorder in which a person feels overweight when in fact isn’t, so diets to a dangerous extreme? Here reason shows feelings, though sincerely held, can be untrue.
But now, for many, feelings are trump. Consider Bruce (“Caitlyn”) Jenner. He is a man who feels he is a woman and so has had plastic surgery to “feminize” his face and throat, has taken hormones to grow breasts, and has had surgery to remove his testicles plus use his penis to construct a so-called “vagina.” But the “vagina” isn’t a vagina (it’s fake, a simulacrum). Biologically, Jenner is not female. In view of the dangers associated with sex-change (in transgender-friendly Sweden the rate of suicide for those who have sex-change surgery is 20 times greater than normal), isn’t this like offering liposuction to someone with anorexia? Yet the world applauds.
Moreover, if my feelings about myself are sufficient justification for my identity, why stop at transgender (e.g., a man identifying as a woman)? Why not also trans-culture/ethnicity/ nationality (an American man identifying as a Filipino woman)? Why not trans-age (an adult identifying as a child)? Why not trans-species (a human identifying as a dog or cat or dragon)? Upshot: Feeling as a sufficient guide to reality reduces to the absurd.
We seem to have lost sight of reason and truth.
Is all lost?
Happily, Lady Galadriel speaks also of hope that weds reason and truth with love and courage—and forces of goodness unseen.
I pray this is so.
Hendrik van der Breggen, PhD, is associate professor of philosophy at Providence University College, Otterburne, Manitoba, Canada. Hendrik’s teaching and research interests include philosophy of religion, philosophy of science, critical thinking/ logic, and ethics. Over the past ten years, Hendrik has written (and continues to write) the newspaper column “Apologia” in which he attempts to make philosophy accessible to the general reader. Past and current installments of “Apologia” are available at Hendrik’s blog. Links to Hendrik’s other articles can be found at his faculty profile page. The views expressed here or in his column/blog do not always reflect the views of Providence.
Image: “A world of Lord of the Rings” photo by Dirk Förster of the Rakotzbrücke (devil’s bridge) in the Azalea and Rhododendron Park Kromlau, in Gablenz, Germany.