19 May 2013

A short note on gendercide, belief systems, and culture

This is a short note on the boundary layer between "gendercide" and diversity of belief systems, with particular reference to recent events in Canada.

There's been a bit of a kerfuffle in Ottawa lately as another batch of simpleton "pro-lifers" try to raise the abortion question.  Again.  (For a summary, see this CBC article.)  Even accounting for the strategic change in language of anti-choicers - away from morality and towards human rights - it's the same tired old stuff.

What piqued my interest, though, is an aspect of the argument about gendercide - the aborting of female embryos and fetuses only because they're female - which it seems many, many people are strongly against.

Don't get me wrong - abortion only for the sake of eliminating a female child is certainly a despicable act because it implies that females are somehow undesirable.  But I don't think too many people have worked out some of the implications of making such a claim.  There's one implication in particular that I want to write about briefly here.

While some - perhaps many - women who abort embryos and fetuses based only on their gender, will be forced to do so by their spouses or families, there will also be some women who choose this course.  I don't know how many, but it stands to reason that there must be some.

The question is this: when a woman of (legally) sane mind chooses to abort a pregnancy because of gender alone (i.e. the woman is expecting a girl), which right trumps the other - gender equality or right-to-choose?  Clearly, it is gendercide by any reasonable definition.  And if, for the sake of argument, there are no external forces acting to coerce the woman, then it must be her choice.  So if she chooses to abort her pregnancy, then she's committing gendercide, but if she is prevented by law from committing gendercide, then she loses her right to choose.

Now, because we slavishly worship "privacy" unmediated by any sense of evidence-based decision-making, we really cannot ask the women to explain herself.  We would not know that she seeks to commit gendercide; we would simply have to take her word that she has legitimate (whatever that may mean) reasons to abort the preganacy.  This raises its own questions about how laws against gendercide could possibly be enforced, which in turn provides an out for anyone wishing to commit gendercide - simply claim that it's a private matter.  Let's set that aside as it regards the role of privacy in a successful society - which isn't the point of this post.

Let's say that, for some reason, the woman's rationale to commit gendercide is common knowledge - this puts us on the horns of the dilemma I've sketched above.  Let's also say that other options - e.g. (temporarily) moving to a country without gendercide laws - are excluded for various imaginable practical or ethical reasons.  If there is a law against gendercide, and if the rationale of the woman is known to be gendericidal, then she can either break the law or abdicate her right to choose, neither of which is a "good" outcome.

Some may think that I am artificially tightening the boundaries of the problem to ensure the outcome I desire.  While it is true that I'm artificially tightening the boundaries, it is not true that I'm trying to force a particular outcome.

My interest is to examine - and to promote discussion and thought about - the boundary layer between beliefs and actions in this case.  I know what I think on the matter (so far), but I'm not yet convinced that I'm correct, because I have not considered (nor am I especially sure I can consider) all the aspects that deserve study before setting some kind of norm on the matter.

I think the dilemma stems from not having taken into account the different cultural and other forces that cause the woman to believe that gendercide is acceptable.

The principal reason that certain groups in Canada are advocating for anti-gendercide laws is that gendercide appears to be quite common in cultures the members of which constitute a significant portion of immigrants into Canada these days.

So it may well be that the woman who chooses gendercide willingly and who would violate some future Canadian law by seeking it out, will face the dilemma because of the differences between her culture of origin and the culture here in Canada.

"Culture" is a messy word; it is often used to stand for vague and self-contradictory notions and claims.  While everyone claims to know it when they see it, very few can offer specifics in how to tell them apart or what are the triggers that cause "cultural changes."

A culture, as far as I can tell, is a systems concept, in that cultures can be nested hierarchically within one another based on shared attributes (hence, "subcultures").  I think a culture is really a collection of individuals who share a set of beliefs, behaviours, preferences, aesthetics, etc.  Since most cultural attributes can be described in terms of beliefs or behaviours (e.g. a preference that is not genetic or biological will, as far as I can tell, be based on some underlying belief), I tend to think of only belief and behaviour as the fundamental attributes that characterize cultures and distinguish one culture from another.  Sometimes, the beliefs upon which preferences (or aesthetics) are based may be lost in history; the belief has been forgotten because the preference is a more direct manifestation, which yields acceptable (or unacceptable) behaviours in the group.  In some cultures, for instance, men have a preference for women who seem "plump" by modern Western standards.  Exactly what belief underlies this is not clear - obviously those with that preference no longer know; only the preference remains.  Some have suggested that a preference for plumpness in prospective mates arises from a perception that such women will produce more healthy offspring.  If this is true, the need to produce offspring is obviously genetic, but the specific manifestation (plumpness in this case) is not.

So we have a confrontation between two cultures.  In one, gendercide is a norm; in the other it is not.  The gendercide/choice dilemma arises from overlapping the two.  But culture is based on belief - especially with respect to phenomena like gendercide - so the dilemma is really a conflict between two systems of belief.  Modern western sensibility dictates that men and women must be afforded identical rights.  However, cultures that tolerate gendercide are composed of individuals whose beliefs place women as secondary citizens (if as citizens at all).

Therefore, if we pass anti-gendercide laws, we are essentially telling immigrants that they must change their belief systems.  This is the point that I think not many people realize (yet) about the gendercide issue.  I also think that when they do reach this realization, it will give them pause.

Some may argue that in a truly free society, people should be able to believe whatever they want.  They tie this to a right of freedom.  But beliefs enable action.  Eventually, every belief will impact an action in some way.  The argument for approving of every belief runs counter to anti-gendercide laws, as I described above.   Those people are therefore left with the quandary: do they make gendercide illegal, or do they support completely open belief systems?

Fortunately, I think this is really a false dichotomy, and in particular, I do not think that anyone really wants their society to support a belief system that is completely open.  If it were completely open, then any belief at all would be as valuable and as meritorious as any other.

I think this is the case because it is already true.  There are some beliefs that are already known to be unacceptable for excellent reasons.  We already classify beliefs by whether they are reasonable or not - usually with respect to the behaviours that they enable or encourage.  The question is not whether we limit the range of acceptable beliefs, but rather where we draw the boundary between acceptable and unacceptable beliefs.

These boundaries must be placed justifiably - we must be able to explain why we've found the "right" demarcation of acceptability (recognizing, of course, that new evidence may invalidate those explanations and require the demarcations to be moved).  Thus, the boundaries of acceptable beliefs must be driven by evidence and reasoning.  Careful study will reveal, in most cases, what beliefs can drive/enable what behaviours.  We can evaluate the suitability of the behaviours - at least with respect to one another.  We can then determine which beliefs promote/enable/drive suitable behaviours.

Similarly, we can consider any given belief, reason out what behaviours it enables/drives, and use that analysis to determine the suitability of the belief.

I do not know for sure, but I suspect that no competent, reasonably well-educated person in a modern Western society would find acceptable the belief that female children are not "worth" as much as male children and can therefore be arbitrarily killed off before birth.  I certainly hold no such belief (indeed, as things stand today I cannot see gender playing any role whatsoever in establishing a person's "worth" - no matter how "worth" is defined).

So, here's what I think: gendercide is highly unethical and should be criminalized here in Canada (if it isn't already*).  And that implies that anyone intending to immigrate to Canada needs to understand that living here in our culture means abandoning the beliefs that gendercide is acceptable and that women are inferior to men.  I understand that such a change of mindset can be difficult, but it is necessary.  It's necessary because, as a society, we need to have as consistent a set of beliefs as possible.  Inconsistent belief sets lead to logical paradoxes that can, in turn, be used to justify pretty much anything.  And that would undermine the whole point.

* Some might argue that there are existing laws that cover gendercide; I leave such discussions aside because they all follow from accepting the claim that gendercide is unethical, which is the point here.

No comments:

Post a Comment