On the Ethical Issue of Abortion (2): Hare, Golden Rule and Soe Hok Gie

I would like to continue the abortion discussion from the previous post. One of the interesting arguments against abortion is the argument of abortion against the golden rule. One of the proponents is R. M. Hare. He says that

“when I am glad that I was born (the basis, it will be remembered, of the argument that the Golden Rule therefore places upon me an obligation not to stop others being born), I do not confine this gladness to gladness that they did not abort me. I am glad, also, that my parents copulated in the first place, without contraception. So from my gladness, in conjunction with the extended Golden Rule, I derive not only a duty not to abort, but also a duty not to abstain from procreation.”

One interesting point of the argument is to say that abortion is actually against the Golden Rule. If we are glad that we are here right now, then we should not abort any potential. This is because Golden Rule teaches us to do to others what you would like others do unto you. Thus say, abortion is wrong from the perspective that if we are in the position of the ‘potential,’ despite the fact that we do not have yet any decision whether to born or not, we should be given a chance to live by our mothers considering the fact that they have experienced happiness and thus have a duty to give such gladness to their potential as well. Another interesting point is by applying the Golden Rule against abortion, the ethic can actually be extended to human beings’ duty to procreate. This then means that copulation using contraception can be regarded as against the Golden Rule since it also prohibits the procreation process. Such a position would then open a new debate in procreation and contraception which is out of the scope of what I would like to discuss.

What about Gie?

When I was reading Hare’s position about abortion, I was then somewhat remembered about Soe Hok GIe, an Indonesian political activist. Differ from Hare, he says that the best fate is actually not to be born rather than being born and can live until old since he also says that the worst fate is the old age. This saying is somewhat understandable from my point of view. Considering what he had been going through his life and what Indonesia’s situation in that particular time really looked like, he might then start to wonder that it was better not to be born. The question is then: what about Gie’s argument if we relate this to Hare’s argument and abortion? Can we actually say that by aborting the fetus, we actually have saved the fate of the unborn and there is nothing wrong with that?

Answering such questions need a broad perspective about the condition where someone really lives. As mentioned above, Gie might say such things considering the political and economical situation at the place and time where he was still alive. So the right question to consider is not about whether in aborting child we have negated the Golden Rule or supporting the best fate advocated by Gie. We just have to simply ask, considering our current circumstances and the future, what is the best fate of the fetus? Are we really glad to live in this world right now? Can we predict what the future really looks like so once grown up, our children can also feel this gladness?

The problem is we never really know about the future, in particular in this fast-pace changing world. People might argue that the current condition is probably the best condition related to information technology, food distribution, etc. In short, this current condition is the best imaginable condition. But, world keeps changing and the issues such as climate change, robotic, the advent of artificial intelligence, social media and security are hot topics that can still be debated in the near future. Such issues actually will shape how the future will look like. For example, in the advent of AI and robotics, can the future people feel as glad as we are experiencing now with our information technology? Or with the climate change and uncertainty from some countries about the policy, will it be better for the fetus not to be born since at the time they are grown-up, the would probably start to struggle finding good quality air or struggle to find foods. Even in Indonesia itself, this topic can be made longer including the fate of minority (racial, religious, sex, etc.) and what is their position in Indonesia since it seems that the problem of intolerance in Indonesia in particular is still alarming.

These are probably the things that we need to consider if we would like to argue about the abortion and the Golden Rule. It is true that we are probably glad with our situation right now, but how about the future? If the future does not look as good as ours, then the Golden Rule does not dictate us to copulate and procreate and finally to avoid any abortion. It actually tells us like what Gie’s saying, namely to give the best bet to the fetus for not being born.

This is the thing that we should actually consider. Every human being should have an idea what the future would be for the unborn which also can turn our discussion to the ethic of procreation (which I would think to discuss it later). This also partially explains why people might consider abortion for the imperfect fetus or those who are predicted to be born with disabilities. They might probably think about the future that does not look good for the unborn, in particular in the area where they are living. We might be glad by our situation right now, but considering the future, at some situations Gie might probably right for not letting the fetus to be born.

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Will We Face “The Price of Everything” Era?

There are two current cases that finally drive me to write down this article. First of all, when one of my friends gave me a screenshot picture about those who offer service to be your couple when you are going to a wedding party or other parties that you have foreseen that you will be asked about “when you get married?” The second case does seem more serious than the former. I took the case from the BBC website telling a story in Dubai that the government there offers one gram of gold for those who are success in reducing one kilogram of their body weight in a 30-day of exercise. The Dubai government thinks that this incentive will work to fight against obesity that lingering the country.

At a glance, it does seem that there is no something to be objected in regard with both of the cases. Is it wrong to pay someone to be your couple just for a while? Since you pay him/her for both of your good, could it be considered as wrong action? Furthermore, by giving gold as incentive, is not it a good idea to drive people to hinder obesity and drive them to a more healthy life? But both cases cannot be only highlighted from such a point of view. There is a more deep strong objection, as Michael Sandel strongly puts it, namely a society that is currently paving its way toward a market-society rather than market economy.

What Money Can’t Buy?

The subtitle of this article is actually derived from the book written by Michael Sandel. For those who never read the book, let me give you a brief view about the book. In the book, Michael Sandel says that actually we are now living not only in a market economy but also in a market society. Market society can be easily described as society that is driven mainly by the market mechanism and it could be said: money.

Market society strongly depends upon cost-benefit analysis but the analysis’ basis is money. Thus, you must put a price tag for every single thing that you have in your life including a price tag for yourself when you are dead or when you are suffering severe injury by accident, for example. In a market society, everything is valued by money. The more valuable the things, the more expensive it will be paid.

The interesting parts of the book lay on the examples Sandel gives to his readers. But, for me individually, the most interesting example lies not in the book rather to his former book “Justice” in regard with the case of Ford Pinto gasoline tank. For those who are interested to know the detail of the case, it can be easily found out by google. There you could find many articles describing the case, including the ethical issue of the case. But in order to explain briefly the case, I would like to give you a short explanation.

Engineers in Ford had been aware the vulnerability of the gasoline tank of the Ford Pinto when it collided with another car coming from the rear. But, “company executives has conducted a cost-benefit analysis and determined that the benefits of fixing it were not worth the eleven dollars per car it would have cost to equip each car with a device that would have made the gas tank safer.” To sum up the cost-benefit analysis, this is the calculation posed by Sandel in his book.

 

Benefit

Cost

Occasion

Price

Occasion

Price

Life lost

$200,000/life

Adding safety device

$11/car

Injury

$67,000/injury

Estimation Number of life lost

180

Amount of cars

12,5 million

Estimation Number of injury

180

Total

Around $49,5 million

Total

$137,5 million

 

From the table, it is clear that the cost outweigh the benefit that will reap. Based upon this calculation then the company decided not to adding a safety device and this case went to surface after “more than five hundred people died when their Pintos burst into flames and many more suffered severe burn injuries and then one of the burn victims sued Ford Motor companies for the faulty design.”

In Indonesia, there are also real examples when money can buy everything including justice. Corruptors in this country can easily bribe judges in order to flee from law enforcement. There are also cases where our corruptors’ prisons are indeed very luxurious just because they can pay much money. Prison that should have to be a place where justice is preserved is then altered to a place where injustice is hold up. It does seem that prison can be more correctly said as the place of perversion of justice.

When we back to the above cases, it is clear that money does seem can buy everything. It can buy a couple just for several hours and also to be used as incentive to a healthy lifestyle. The question is: is a couple a matter of money? Will there be a moment where I could use my own money to buy my future wife? Furthermore, should I always be incentivized by money in order to preserve my own good life? Should I release my consciousness and succumb to the money in order to achieve healthy life?

Human beings and their dignity

When we talk about human beings, there is something that is currently often neglected: human dignity. It is often get disappeared because of we are now living in a market society where dignity can be simply quantified by money. Thus, what does matter is no longer about dignity but rather about how much money I should pay equivalent with your dignity.

A question about human beings’ dignity can be proposed by a simple question: when there is a human being died, why do not we consume his/her flesh? Tracing his/her evolution pathway, is it correct that human beings are the latest evolution of animal? And why does, on the other hand, we can easily consume steak made from cow, chicken, and so on? Do we actually have the same nature, namely animal? Why should put differences to human beings?

Consider this thing: if we value an animal is merely a thing that can be utilized to be consumed, we want them to be formed as what we desire. Thus, no problem will arise, for example, when they died since we will freely consume them. But, if we exalt an animal as our god, for example, we are very reluctant to kill them. We rather choose other animals to be consumed. Even the dead-body of such an animal will be well-cured and should naturally diminish. What is the thing that we can actually pick up in this matter?

The answer lays in the dignity and how we put others in this matter, especially human beings in our current circumstances. When we put a non-utilization paradigm upon others, we are very reluctant to utilize others since we know that it will harm their dignity. The case is same with human beings. Human beings are not merely things that can be freely utilized by others as Kant points out: human beings cannot be utilized as means to achieve end. Rather, human beings are end in themselves. Human beings cannot be considered based upon what they are useful for. They should be valued in a more transcendental and holistic way since possibilities is always within them. This means that human beings are free and can choose their own path to achieve their good equipped with reasons, affection, and so on. Hence, we exalted them because they are priceless by their dignity. The further question is then: why should we are nowadays put price tag on human dignity?

The answer can be put upon the fact that our current circumstance does not realize the moral limit of the market as Sandel points out. When everyone thinks that he/she could buy other’s dignity and utilize them to his/her individual end, everyone will follow. This is a vicious circle. Since no one is reluctant to live alone and rather follow their peers, everyone will also follow majority who think that money can but everything. This then puts market society in the rise.

A further question will be asked: why can people put dignity as a commodity? The answer lays in the fact that we are now living in what Erich Fromm calls a having-mode structure. We are now overwhelmed with the paradigm that we are what we have and not we are what we are. With the premise that “we are what we have,” it is clear that I will be valued based upon what I have rather than what I should be as human beings. It may be very potential then to throw away dignity in order to have material things so we will not be viewed as inferior by others.

This is the simple example of vicious circle that lingers our society: having-mode structure will lead people to become greed since the more I have, the more other will value me. Thus, those who have much means will do everything efficiently to use other to have more. And on the other side, those who lack of means will sell everything include their dignity to have more means to have more. Indeed, both of them are downgrading their value as human beings since they neglect their dignity as human beings that are actually priceless and not based upon material things.

Thus, should we always walk in this kind of market society? Should we always put a price tag in everything? I am no longer amazed then if one day no one will do anything voluntarily just because they are not incentivized. No one will think about how to be a good human being by conducting healthy lifestyle except one gram of gold will be given upon them and also no one will think to find his/her own couple that he/she will spend the rest of his/her life since they may think that everything can be bought including couple. No one will value love as a transcendental value and no one will value human dignity as priceless either. In such a future, everything will be price tagged and there is a guide book named “The price of everything” that will be a guide to make a policy, to conduct justice, and so on. And in that era, we never remember what we ought to be as human beings.

 

Rethinking Current Students’ Future: Would You Pay Them Back?

As a final year student, it is very common for my friends and me talking about the future: what kind of future that we do really hope? Such a conversation is actually booming nowadays among my friends as many of them have tried their very best to achieve their desired job with a competitive salary offered. This writing will then talk about future as I am also a final year student when writing this article. But, as my previous works, I will not let you go with my final decisions. This writing, I do really hope, will bring you think more clearly about future and the most important point: to get the other side of the common, to consider the anti-mainstream side.

Contrasting future

When talking about future, as fresh graduates coming from reputable universities, it is very common to seek jobs that offer high salary. Oil and gas companies are always on the top of the list. Ten million rupiah of monthly salary is indeed very common for graduates working for such companies. Moreover, the amount can be higher if graduates are placed in an isolated area. The salary offered is indeed very competitive and that is the reason why many persons will be queuing in front of the desk of the companies in any kind of job fair.

Salary will then become a natural benchmark for students seeking jobs when they are going to be graduated. Several students may talk about how high salary that is offered by a company combined with premium facilities such as fitness center, transportation fee, incentives and so on. That is also why I was not amazed when one of my lecturers said that actually there was a graduate from my university who did not accept a job offered by a local company based upon the reason that the salary offered was considered too low. High salary seeker does seem very likely to be a propensity for fresh graduate students. A critical question that will be arising then: is it wrong to put a high salary as a benchmark? Should we only consider money in this life?

I will not answer such a question explicitly; rather I will bring all of you to think the other way. That is why I give the subtitle for this section is: contrasting future.

I have several friends who do not have any kind of background in engineering as my friend at my current campus. Some of them may have social science in background or have not yet earned any bachelor degree. And my friends of this type are currently working as activists. There are some of them who stand and strive for women’s rights in Indonesia, advocating to Indonesia government to not forgetting the 1998 and Munir -a well-known Indonesia activist- tragedy, building an inter-religions network for peaceful society and so on.

When I was just in my second year at this campus, I had an opportunity to have internship at a local daily as a journalist. I then had earned enormous and invaluable experiences that I thought that I could not get it anywhere else. It was not just about interesting stories to attend press conference in some new areas but rather about a network built among journalists and how they viewed lives. Let me tell you some of the stories.

When I was conducting my internship there, I met a woman photographer from the same daily. We were given a task to make news in a public hospital in Jakarta. I then talked to her about her experiences as photo-journalist. At a glance, I was amazed when she said, “My salary is not that high. To be honest with you, it is only about 3 million rupiah for a month. But I have invaluable experiences by becoming journalist. One of the most important is that I can become a channel between people and government, to create awareness about something that our government is reluctant to hear about by photo. I can take picture that will say everything. And lastly, it is about my freedom and independence. The daily never neglects  my independence” My mentor in the daily also said, “Do not think to be rich if you choose to be a journalist but you will be very proud because you work for people and live for them not for yourself.”

On the day, I also realized that how small the salary given to the journalist compared with those who work in oil companies, as an example. But I did find an extraordinary philosophical background in every step they take. At the very least, it is not the salary that becomes the driving force; rather it is mainly about their irrational side of human that deliver them to take a risk, working for people and justice. I know that they could have earned more money if they resigned but I do realize that they are not that susceptible.

My journey expanded when I met several social activists in Indonesia. One day I was assigned to by the daily to cover news about Yap Thiam Hien Award, an award dedicated to human rights activist to honor Yap Thiam Hien who was a great lawyer coming from Chinese minority and Christian background. In the session, there was a woman talked about the case of her son that was still not clear and unfortunately when I was writing this article, the condition still unchanged. She told how she and several activists always tried to ask attention from government to clear the 1998 case and the case for her son. Every Thursday, she and many social activists stand in front of Presidential Palace and the case is well-known as “Kamisan.” Every activist in this country should have known very well about the regular action and they should have also known how hard-hearted our government really is to clear the case.

As my relation expanded, several social activists also told their story about how to ask for justice in the country, about clearing human rights abuse that happened in 1998, asking for tolerance by praying in front of Presidential Palace for GKI Yasmin people even though I know very well that some of them Muslim but they fight for minorities’ rights and many examples depicting how irrational they are. They could have got a better job, I know for sure. But when I dived down into their circumstances, I never reached my rational mind about their thoughts in their lives. One day, one of my friends asked me about how could they survive and the best answer that I could give was only to say that “I really do not know. But what I believe is they can still survive almost without something that we are struggling for, namely money. And I always respect them, I salute them.”

What is your goal?

One day I was watching a television program broadcasting a story about two lawyers. The first one is a lawyer who, having been graduated, dedicates himself to work for others, namely to pursue justice for those who are very vulnerable without asking much money to be paid. When a reporter covering the news was invited to his house, the pictures taken were so real. He has no any kind of luxurious things in his modest house. Another lawyer comes from different background. In his early era, he decided to build up his fame in order to earn money and it could be clearly seen when a reporter covering how his house is fulfilled with luxurious things. But nowadays, he then told the reporter that he had changed his mind to “help vulnerable people” since he eventually realized that this opportunity would also bring his fame to constantly increase.

What I would like to tell you in the story above is about your goal. The former lawyer has pure tendency in his conscience that he should help other people because it is the right thing to do so. In contrast, the latter feels that helping the vulnerable will help him to increase his popularity. Based upon the Kantian ethic, the former is indeed the more ethical person since he do not use others as mean to achieve his goal. On the other hand, the latter use others to achieve his goal. It could also be further said that the former knows the substance of becoming a moral person while the latter not, based upon Kantian ethic. Thus, what is the important point that I would really like to deliver?

In every journey to pursue a goal, every person should sacrifice something; at the very least they will sacrifice their time to work restlessly. But will they remember that there is something that is often forgotten and the worse fact is this condition is actually not realized?

When I first encountered my seniors in orientation weeks, they talked about young generation, especially student coming from public universities, to give their should bearing responsibility in order to pave the way for advancing the country and releasing anxiety from people living under poverty. The question is: why should those people? Why the responsibility cannot be placed upon others, who come, let say, from private universities?

As people living in one country, responsibility should be actually taken by everyone in this country. Each of us should contribute to build this nation and guarantee that no one will go to their bed while still hungry: this is the very least goal. By doing this, our solidarity as Indonesians is likely to get stronger.

But, as the two lawyers story that I have just told, student graduated from public universities will have more “burden” to take the responsibility since part of the cost for conducting their study will be extracted from taxpayers. Thus, it is clear that students from such universities owe to the Indonesians people as a whole. The next question is: how will be it paid back? Should they just give the money in the same amount of the subsidized value? The calculation of the payback is not actually that easy. A comprehensive balance should be made.

If a person coming from reputable university, he/she will be automatically attracted to well-known companies and such an opportunity cannot be easily gained by those who do not come from public universities. How could a person pay this opportunity to taxpayers? Furthermore, based upon my own experience, studying at public reputable university will broaden your mind about the actual condition of Indonesia and become more critical about the policies undertaken in the country. How could a price tag be put on such thing? I do not think I could.

There are many more priceless experiences that actually can be taken when studying in such a university that I thought will only strengthen the burden to pay back for this country and also to the taxpayers who have paid part of my cost but then opening many doors of opportunities. The question is: would these students be the second lawyer who only think about preserving themselves and then just utilizing taxpayers as a mean to achieve their end, namely to be rich? Or would these students be the first lawyer who will dedicate themselves to build up this country and preserving justice for all Indonesians like the activists regardless of how much money they will earn?

Sometimes I am just ashamed because those who never experience of studying at my university will stand to demand justice of those who are oppressed without have to worry about millions of rupiah waiting ahead while students coming from the university think about how much money they will get from companies. Do we realize that it is actually very often we use our people as means to accomplish our desire? Have we realized that actually these are the people who actually pay some of our education and they also deserve to get theirs back?

If Indonesia government nowadays cannot successfully preserve justice for them, then it will be the homework for the generations to come to accomplish it. Some of them will choose the way to be activist as done by several of my friends and everyone will have the freedom to choose their unique path that actually can be realized. But one thing that should be remembered: future is not only about us, it is about the whole people who have indirectly get interaction with us and especially Indonesians.

They need these young generations as well as these generations need them to open for them big opportunities while studying at their campuses. Thus, will you pay it back as your future dream? It depends upon you since as a free person I have no right to insist anything upon you who read this article. I just give another view about future and about those who are really anti-mainstream in our current circumstances. 

Indonesia’s Young and Future Generations and Their Comfort Zone

First of all, I would like to thank to one of my friend, Aloisius Reinaldo Tanujaya, for having this conversation in our way to buy a thermocouple as a preparation for conducting our research. This writing is then produced based upon our talk on our way to Cikapundung market, Bandung.

This talk began with our sharing about academic world in Indonesia and worldwide. Sharing and comparing based upon experiences then shows that actually Indonesians can actually survive when they are studying abroad. This is the notion that I have always defended: Indonesia does actually not lack of any experts since its students can attain sophisticated achievements abroad. This condition shows that actually Indonesians should not have any inferior feelings toward foreign people. Furthermore, endowed with the abundance of natural resources, Indonesia should have been able to lift up its marginal people. But, a cliché question remains: why does the country seem very hard to make its people more prosperous?

Corruption, lack of transparency, negligence in conducting clean and effective government may be raised as the most reason aspects. These aspects are put to blame since they will not bring Indonesia to be effective, especially when this country should compete with other nations. I strongly agree with this argument, but there is one main problem remains: this has something to do with current and future generations.

Let start by asking a question: how many well-known university student who want to pursue their career in multi-national companies, especially in oil and gas sector that can give a huge amount of salary? I bet more than 50% of students will likely go to such companies. Working in such companies has two main advantages. First, in regard with cost and benefit analysis, the huge amount of salary offered by such companies is promising, especially for the fresh graduate student. Second, working in such companies somehow will bring indirect effect of the rise of self-esteem since it will be regarded as “more valuable.” But, will it bring any good to the nation?

The answer does heavily depend upon in what way the people view the work they are doing. For Hegel, working is a state when people actually can achieve a higher degree of consciousness when they realize that they can subdue their nature. It is true that the first time, people work as a slave but in regard of time, they should have realized that they can be a master of the nature. In this respect, people will stop act like a slave. They will learn about properly subduing nature and then become the master.

Unfortunately, this condition seldom happens when people have chosen multinational companies that have offered numerable advantages. In this respect, people will always learn about subduing nature but they are incentivized to not become a master by becoming a slave of material, just say money for short. In this circumstance, cost and benefit analysis does still exist. They are reluctant to get out from the companies because they have been incentivized by living glamorously. They are scared that if they get out from the company, they will face a risk that they cannot bear. It can be said that such people are trapped within their comfort zone.

The problem is Indonesia will lose its experts if the condition continuously happens. Young and future generations will not think about how to speed up the development of the country. Rather, they will always think that they should be rich and not to take a risk in building this country. This can pose a further problem such as gated society but I will not explain such a society in this article. What is important to note here is: once the potential experts are incentivized with materials, there is a huge risk that the country will lose many experts.

But the opposite condition may happen. People may choose to work on multinational companies temporarily and then choose to resign and then build up this country. When I talked such notion to people, a question that is often posed is: From where can we get the capital? The answer is indeed very easy. Once you enter a university, you have many friends and connection is established. Why do not build a company based upon this solidarity? Another possible answer: you need not to build everything from zero. Many national companies are waiting for the experts to come and they will be very happy to accept people who have proper knowledge. Thus, the good question is not about capital, it is more about: how dare you to get out from such companies?

I was then remembered once I entered my current university and once I got into my current study program. In orientation days, people stood in front of the new students shouting everything that had something to do with this country, about building this nation and so on. Furthermore, in my process to enter the student union, I was always insisted that I should get out from the comfort zone.

Now, I just can pose a question: where are you now, my seniors? Have you been accepted in multinational companies and get blind with the huge salary? What a hypocrite you told me in orientation days! Have you ever thought to get out from that comfort zone or have you chosen to just let your soul be sold unto them? Remember that you are Indonesia’s experts and you have huge potentials to build up this country.

The main problem lies within ourselves: how dare we to challenge ourselves? I often feel that conquering a mountain is absolutely easier than conquering myself. In mountaineering, I know that I should achieve the peak of a mountain and the journey will soon end. Even though the journey is long and tough and I have never had an imagination of the peak, I know the peak is there. But how about conquering myself? I never know the location of the peak until I realize that I have conquered it. The journey can be so much long. But at the last, I know that it will be worth for having conquering myself and let not my soul sold. But, the prerequisite does exist: innumerable risks faced by everyone taking this way.