By Daniel Chejfec
Many years ago, when I watched for the first time the Star Trek movie "The wrath of Khan" I was mesmerized by the scene in which Mr Spock is dying and talks with his friend, Captain Kirk, and try to help him deal with loss by saying "The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few" and Kirk answered "Or the one". I always felt there was something wrong with the whole set up, and found the conversation bizarre...
I recently came across a military analysis of the situation in which Iran becomes a Nuclear power and how to develop a deterrent between Iran and Israel. The calculations by the analysts are along the lines of what would be an acceptable loss of life for one side or the other, and they base their conclusions on how to reach a balance based on those assumptions...I felt I was watching the movie again!
Something is wrong when we start calculating based on the lesser loss rather than on what is right. If the needs of the few - or the one- are ignored, then the needs of the many are not worth the paper they are written on. The same logic of the needs of the many was behind Hitler's campaign against Jews, gypsies, mentally disabled and handicapped. One could say they were exterminated for a greater good; Stalin exterminated political opponents "for the good of the State (the many)".
But no situation makes this assumption so scary as one of the schools of Bio Ethics which exists today in our own society. Bio Ethics is a branch of philosophy that deals with issues related to continuation or termination of life among other issues; Bio Ethics is a mandatory course in most Medical schools. Within the discipline of Bio Ethics, a particular school of thought known as "Utilitarianism" postulates that certain individuals have more right to life than others. Those who will take more than they contribute to society are seen as a drain of resources and therefore they should be encouraged to terminate themselves for the good of society; to "increase the overall amount of happiness". No, I'm not making this up.
Utilitarianism is the idea that the moral worth of an action is determined solely by its utility in providing happiness or pleasure as summed among all sentient beings. It is thus assuming that the moral worth of an action is determined by its outcome. The most influential contributors to this ideology have been Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill. It is based on the idea of moral relativism and the principle of the greatest happiness (quite hedonistic indeed). Google the word or the authors and you will be faced with a stark reminder of the inhumanity of humanity.
Why do I find Utilitarianism offensive? Because each human life is unique and its potential to create makes it invaluable. Under Utilitarian rules Stephen Hawking, the paraplegic physicist considered to be one of the greatest minds of all times, would have been considered expendable as a child. So would have been the deaf musician Beethoven and many more.
When it comes to Human life, I prefer our tradition's approach that maintains that God created only one original couple (Adam and Eve) to teach us that he (or she) who kills one Human being, it is considered as if he (or she) has killed all the world. Each individual is important. Calculation on numbers of how many people would die this way or the other run counter to this principle. There are no acceptable losses, although sometimes there might be situations when you need to consider what losses you can live with in a worst case scenario - but never "acceptable"
When a society accepts the principles of utilitarianism and the concept of "the greatest amount of happiness", that society crossed a very problematic line; and many of the Bio Ethics departments in Medical schools are headed by bio ethicists who subscribe to the idea of utilitarianism.
Sorry Spock, Sorry Kirk. I'm still your fan, but the needs of the many do not outweigh the needs of the few - or the one; because those needs are one and the same. To preserve Humanity we need to preserve the individuals.