Angilbert (fl. ca. 840/50), On the Battle Which was Fought at Fontenoy

The Law of Christians is broken,
Blood by the hands of hell profusely shed like rain,
And the throat of Cerberus bellows songs of joy.

Angelbertus, Versus de Bella que fuit acta Fontaneto

Fracta est lex christianorum
Sanguinis proluvio, unde manus inferorum,
gaudet gula Cerberi.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

"Better Off Dead?" What Kind of Fool's Thinking is That?

THE CONSEQUENTIALIST CALCULATION OF "having a life" suffers from serious problems. In assessing the "having a life" formula, we have seen in prior postings how the consequentialist has significant impediments in judging the value of life, viewed instrumentally, from the subjective perspective of the proposed victim whose fate these consequentialists have in their mind's hand. We have seen also that the objective efforts to measure the value of life is fraught with insurmountable problems. The third part of the consequentialists' efforts to measure the value of life relates to how that particular life affects third parties. This may be called the "side effects" test, and is both the most absurd and the most heinous of the "having a life" formula.

In evaluating what is to be done under his calculative imperative the consequentialist must consider the particular value he seeks to maximize (reduction of pain, or increase in pleasure, or whatever X is) from the perspective of the victim as well as those that will be affected by the victim's death or the victim's continued living.

The consequentialists' reckless disregard of life

All people have to be given equal consideration, so that all that matters is the maximization of an impersonal state of affairs--the greatest balance of X over not-X must be achieved for the world as such, not for any specific person. Let the X-chips fall wherever they may: what matters is that enough of them fall!

Oderberg, 163. In assessing this part of the consequentialist's ethos, we confront the consequentialist's double visage. We see what may be both their most foolish, buffoonish visage and claptrap, and, on the other, their most hideous face and gravelly voice. To be sure, they masquerade as intellectual clowns in one sense. But in another sense, they are sort of like the phantom of the opera who hides his corruption behind his clean, white mask of innocence. The clown-like thinking of consequentialists comes from their belief that a person who is unable to "have a life" is better off dead. We shall assess the consequentialist absurdity that the victim, whose life the consequentialists are assessing, benefits by his own death. Is there any meaning to the proposition that John, say, who has done nothing to merit death, is better off dead?

One Face of Consequentialism

For one, as Oderberg points out, the question of whether a person is better of dead is absurd or "incoherent" when asked from the perspective of the one dead. Oderberg, 163. How is the dead man the beneficiary of his death, when, by definition, one has to be alive to benefit from anything, any good, including--one would suppose without a reason for thinking otherwise--life?
[I]f a person must exist in order to receive all those things that can be benefits in the ordinary course of events, how can it be that death is an exception--that a person can himself benefit by being dead? . . . [We are left] in the original position that the dead cannot themselves benefit from anything, including being dead.
Oderberg, 163-64.

Apparently, the deep wisdom of the consequentialist foolish sage blithely ignores what must be the most obvious truism in the experience of man: You can't take any natural human good with you when you die.
Thus since the perpetual possession is given to none,
and one man’s heir urges on another’s, as wave impels wave,
of what importance are houses, or granaries;
or what the Lucanian pastures joined to the Calabrian;
if Hades, inexorable to gold,
mows down the great together with the small?

Sic quia perpetuus nulli datur usus,
et heres heredem alterius velut unda supervenit undam,
quid vici prosunt aut horrea?
quidve Calabris saltibus adiecti Lucani,
si metit Orcus grandia cum parvis, non exorabilis auro?
Horace, Epistles 2.2.175-79
No one comes to the house of Hades with his possessions.

χρήματ’ ἔχων οὐδεὶς ἔρχεται εἰς Ἀΐδεω.
Theognis, 726
You won't carry any riches to the waters of Acheron:
fool, you will ride naked in the hellish boat.

Haud ullas portabis opes Acherontis ad undas:
nudus in infera, stulte, vehere rate
Propertius 3.5.13-14.
The rich man's shade will carry nothing to his grave.

Nil feret ad Manes divitis umbra suos.
Ovid, Tristia 5.14.12.
Snatch, heap up, carry off, possess: it must be left behind.

Rape, congere, aufer, posside: reliquendum est.
Martial 8.44.9.
We brought nothing into this world: and certainly we can carry nothing out.

Oὐδὲν γὰρ εἰσηνέγκαμεν εἰς τὸν κόσμον, ὅτι οὐδὲ ἐξενεγκεῖν τι δυνάμεθα.
1 Timothy 6.7.

Even the Allman Brothers, immersed in the haze of drug use, recognized the truth that apparently slips by the consequentialist's absurd maxim that a man who cannot "have a life" may be better off dead because he enjoys something after death.
Can't take it with you, everybody knows
Can't take it with you, when you go
Can't hide your love away, save it for a rainy day.
You can't take it with you when you go.
Shall we reject the entirety of Western, nay the entirety of human wisdom, indeed shall we ignore reality itself, and give the consequentialist an exception to the rule that you cannot take any benefit of life, including life itself, with you when you die?

The absurdity of the consequentialist formula is readily apparent. To argue with the consequentialist that someone is better off dead is not to enter into reason's dialectic, but to enter into realm of burlesque intellectual jokery and jestery. Jokery and jestery, a person may add, in very bad and very morbid taste.

The Frightening Visage Behind the Consequentialist Mask

We may therefore be tempted to laugh at the consequentialist's buffoonery, but we must not think them harmless jesters. Because behind the incoherent and silly notion that, from the perspective of the dead man, a man is better off dead, lies the real impetus behind the consequentialist argument. The real impetus is that those who are alive may be better off with another man dead, even if that man is entirely innocent.

We have seen how the consequentialist thinking that a person may be better off dead is an incoherent, ridiculous argument. It means nothing in and of itself. But it does mean something important when viewed in light of the consequentialist's "side effects" argument which is part of the "having a life" analysis they engage in.

What it means is that the consequentialist's real focus is whether the rest of us may be better off by having a person dead.* All consequentialists, we learn, have the morals of Caiaphas the high priest, morals of expediency.** It is better for one innocent man to die so long as we are all better off. When we get to this stage, argument, even dialogue, ceases because there is no longer any morality, no longer reason, but only corruption. These folks walk another way, they are on the road to perdition. Of these we can only say with Confucius:
With those who follow a different Way,
It is useless to take counsel.
Analects, xv.39. No, there is no use in taking counsel with these advocates of death. These sorts of arguments by the consequentialist moral monsters demand outrage on our part.

The reason the very thought that someone might be killed because others would be better off if he were dead is repugnant and offensive to morality is that the protection of the innocent, if it means anything, requires that the desires, preferences and feelings of other people in respect of that person must be reasonable. . . . On the traditional view of morality, when the life of an innocent person is at stake, the desire of third parties are of secondary important and must conform to the primary principle that the right to life of the innocent is inviolable. Desires evoked by threats or duress, generated by lack of concern, other priorities, self-interest real or imaginary--all of these are per se unreasonable if they in any way form part of a process of reasoning that seeks to justify the killing of the innocent or other actions that constitute a direct attack upon an innocent's well-being . . . . The side effects test of whether a life is "worth living", then, is as untenable as any other test . . . . [as it issues] in conclusions that deny the most basic protection to the most vulnerable members of society--the young, the sick, the disabled, the elderly, the comatose, and many others besides. If, as traditional morality holds, it is a mark of a civilized society that it protects the innocent--if, indeed being an innocent has any claim whatever on our moral sense--then a society that based its attitude to human life of the concept of a "life worth living" could never call itself civilized.

Oderberg, 165,167, 168.

To the extent that we have swallowed the consequentialist anti-Gospel, its kakangelion or "badspel," we have, it would seem, lapsed into barbarism, a barbarism whose prophets were John Stuart Mill (1806-1873) and Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832), and whose modern apostles, among many others, includes Peter Singer and his ilk. What is fearful of this modern barbarism is that it enjoys the power of modern science and the tools of the modern state. The modern barbarian holds neither sword nor scimitar, and sports not a beard as of old. Instead, the modern barbarian flies jets, can drop H-bombs, and may be clean shaven. The only thing the old barbarian and the new have in common, it would seem, is that neither speak Greek.
*In fact the common good may require a person who is not innocent, that is one guilty of a heinous crime (e.g., rape and murder of children) or serious moral offense (e.g., genocide), be put to death. In that sense, the common good may be better off as a result of the death. But that question is an entirely different one from the one tackled here. Viewed from a moral perspective, is the common good ever better off by the killing of an innocent man? The response of traditional morality would be an exceptionless no.
**Cf. John 11:50: ". . . quia expedit nobis ut unus moriatur homo pro populo et non tota gens pereat." ". . . it is expedient for you that one man should die for the people, and that the whole nation perish not."

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