Sometimes ‘intellectuals’ are anything but that

The problem with people who say things that make us scratch our heads — we call them “intellectuals” — is that too often, we accept their ideas simply because they are credentialed members of the deep-thinker community.

It helps if they hold doctorates and have been published. They are even more believable if they are “scientists” or “philosophers.”

Well, gosh, this guy’s a scientist. He must know what he’s talking about. What do I know? The same goes for philosophers, who must know more about ethics than the rest of us. They spend lifetimes studying, after all.

And then we encounter someone like Peter Singer.

Syndicated columnist Betsy McCaughey mentioned him in a recent piece. What she wrote about Singer was so outrageous that I decided I had to fact-check her.

She wasn’t exaggerating.

Singer gained prominence as an animal rights activist and author (“Animal Liberation: A New Ethics for Our Treatment of Animals,” 1975). He’s also the author of “Practical Ethics.” The Encyclopaedia Britannica’s editors think so highly of him that he authored the EB’s article on ethics. And Singer is a professor of bioethics at Princeton University.

He believes there are situations in which it is perfectly acceptable to kill infants after they have been born. McCaughey wondered in print how that squares with laws against murdering babies.

Singer makes it clear he has no tolerance for those whose ethics disagree with his. “My views are perceived to be threatening by a segment of this society, and it’s a segment that comes largely from the Christian viewpoint. And that segment feels in some sense of crisis because it has lost some important battles, notably the abortion battle,” he commented at one point.

Here’s how he feels about babies: “No infant, disabled or not, has as strong a claim to life as beings capable of seeing themselves as distinct entities existing over time,” he wrote in “Practical Ethics.”

How about the disabled? “It may still be objected that to replace either a fetus or a new-born infant is wrong because it suggests to disabled people living today that their lives are less worth living than the lives of people who are not disabled. Yet it is surely flying in the face of reality to deny that, on average, this is so,” Singer wrote elsewhere in “Practical Ethics.”

Sick to your stomach yet?

Don’t let Singer himself upset you. There are lots of nutcases in the world.

What is more worrisome is that the community of intellectuals accepts — indeed, encourages — him.

This is nothing new. You may have read about the eugenics movement that extended well into the 20th century. It was led by scientists claiming “undesirables” had to be bred out of the human race. They included all sorts of people ranging from immigrants to criminals — and people with intellectual or physical disabilities.

About 65,000 people, mostly women, were forcibly sterilized so they could not bring more “undesirables” into the world.

Some people argued against eugenics. Too many went along because proponents of violent eugenics were, like Singer, intellectuals. The Holocaust was based in similar “science.”

Perhaps the community of intellectuals, especially in higher education, ought to be a bit more discriminating in who it embraces.

Mike Myer can be reached at: mmyer@theintelligencer.net.


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