Monday, July 9, 2007

Crime Statistics Sucker-Punch Nqakula, Selebi

Charles Nqakula must think the South African public very forgiving – or stupid. A few months ago he went on record stating that those complaining about the problem of crime should stop “whinging” and leave the country. Now that he’s been force-fed some humble pie with the latest release of crime statistics, there’s been a spectacular change in choral melody: the exact word he used to describe the dramatic rise in violent crime was “unacceptable”.

Calling Nqakula ‘slow on the uptake’ is an insult to snails. By monthly comparison, there are almost just as many ‘casualties’ in Iraq. Has it taken him 5 years as Minister of Safety and Security to realise that the level of crime might be “unacceptable? With all due respect to the man, he’s certainly not the sharpest tool in the ANC/SACP shed. Actually, I wonder what they do in that shed – backmasking the communist manifesto into the latest Kwaito hits – because short of brainwashing, I’m mystified at the reason for their starry-eyed support. Take another ‘prodigious’ talent sprung from the embers of struggle: Jackie Selebi; national commissioner of the SAPS; president of Interpol – and kissing-cousins with a crime syndicate boss and alleged murderer.

In the beginning of this year, Selebi rhetorically asked, “what’s all the fuss about crime?” It’s hardly surprising that these modern-day aristocrats with their private security details and VIP convoys are out of touch with reality on the street. When asked about the effect of crime on the impending 2010 World Cup, he replied that he doesn’t lie awake at night “with 2010 on his forehead”. He promptly alluded to the botched bombing attempts in Glasgow last week, saying that nobody was scurrying to cancel 2012 Olympic Games. The subtlety in his spurious comparison must’ve evaded his clumsy grasp: Glasgow’s bombings were botched; the horrifying crimes aren’t. Does that make him obtuse -- and a martyr? Sharp as a marble, Jackie… With the horde of foreign media attending the event, it might end up being the proverbial bull’s eye on his forehead. Perhaps he should be lying awake.

In what must rate as the worst comeback in recent memory, Nqakula, when pressed to resign by Afriform, said that he’d rather stay on; even trying to turn the tables by demanding to know what they’re doing to stop the wave of crime. Well, Charles, they’re addressing the problem of crime – and starting with you. A comprehensive response to crime requires visionary leadership, iron resolve and a willingness to think outside a blinkered and antiquated box – qualities Charles seemingly reserves for the dinner table.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Rip van Winkle?

This polish geriatric woke up from a 19-year coma to discover his grim 'worker's paradise' transformed into a flourishing democracy with all its perks -- like having something to buy, and the money to buy it with.

I've always had a suspicion that purely scientific accounts fall somewhat short in giving satisfactory explanations for our existence: consider his wife who nurtured him all those years. I've barely lived that long, for crying out loud!

Anyone who claims that such devotion and loving care is purely the result of biochemical, synaptic sparks can climb back under the cold, clammy rock they got out under. There's enchantment to life -- one just needs to look hard enough.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Only in South Africa...

would thieves flaunt their audacity by relieving the resident archbishop of his peace ‘trophy’ (among other things) and then be incompetent enough to get bagged by our inept police force. If they had succeeded, would it at least have had symbolic relevance of the ‘struggle’ against crime that is now needed?

Friday, June 8, 2007

On Euthanasia, Part 2

Medical science has progressed in leaps and bounds, but the fountain of youth remains elusive -- stem-cell research being the closest to attain this panacea. Death ultimately is unavoidable; it is only tempered by the means it is approached. In addressing such an emotionally charged matter, a clear distinction needs to be made between the similar, but cardinally different concepts of Active- and Passive euthanasia:

Active Euthanasia is the express intervention with the purpose to kill for the relief of mental/psychological suffering; or the alleviation of economic burden; or for the convenience of the patient/family/society. This can further be divided into voluntary and involuntary euthanasia. The former is done with the consent or at the behest of the patient or proxy, while the latter is performed without consent.

Passive Euthanasia is the withdrawal or failure to implement artificial life-support in terminal patients, where death seems imminent with no hope of recovery or cure. The physician accepts the inevitability of death – having tried to save and prolong life; the patient is remitted to the forces of nature. In such cases, the disease or injury is the death-causing agent, not any intervention from the physician. This ethical form is practiced in most hospitals.

I’ve already handled the issue of personal autonomy with regards to suicide or ‘surrogate-suicide’ by the physician in part 1 so will take it from a broader perspective:

The only remotely ethical ground that I can see for the justification of voluntary euthanasia is if it believed that the death would be to the benefit of the patient; it would be morally wrong to kill if it were thought that the patient had any prospect of still living a worthwhile life. From this it follows that voluntary euthanasia is only merited when the physician believes that the patient does not have a worthwhile life. This is tantamount to saying that the ongoing life of the patient lacks any value, hence it can be terminated. I find the gall of such a statement repulsive; what hubris to even think of making such a call.

Further, when assimilated into a legal system that purports to enforce a just social order, these concepts are mutually exclusive. How can such killing be legalised on the premise that some lives lack value when justice in society is based on the non-arbitrary and non-discriminatory premises of ineliminable human dignity and worth.

With the acceptance of voluntary euthanasia, the most compelling reason to reject involuntary euthanasia is removed. Is someone can benefit from being killed, is it reasonable to deprive someone from this benefit simply because they haven’t or are incapable of asking for it? At the very least, acceptance of voluntary euthanasia, allows the claim that certain people cannot be harmed by the termination of their worthless lives – they may be allowed to exist on the indulgence of society. Hence one would find the most vocal advocates of voluntary euthanasia also endorse involuntary euthanasia and even infanticide: enemy of civilized humanity #1, Peter Singer, being case in point.

I won’t even bother going into all the complexities of how voluntary euthanasia can result in coerced ‘voluntary’ euthanasia where ‘the right to die’, becomes ‘the duty to die’. With the horrifying onset of HIV/AIDS as a terminal disease, such a ‘culture of death’ would have inestimable results in Africa which has prided itself as a culture of resilience and life.

Monday, June 4, 2007

Witty Book Review

This is not a novel to be tossed aside lightly. It should be thrown with great force.

-Dorothy Parker on Ayn Rand's 'Atlas Shrugged'

Sunday, June 3, 2007

On Euthanasia, Part 1 – Suicide

In trying to elucidate what is probably the most incomprehensible and troubling of human behaviours, it would help to look at it from the perspective of history. Suicide has long been condemned by western society and philosophical thought since ancient times (with the possible exception of the Stoics and Epicureans), where the bodies of suicides where often hung at cross-roads and ‘mock’ murder trials held over the dead. (Notably, eastern thought has been more accepting given the influential Buddhist concept of illusionary reality and the achievement of Nirvana through a rejection of desire and the ‘self’.)

Even Plato and Aristotle give antiquated arguments against suicide. Plato’s Phaedo gives the primordial variation of the modern Judeo-Christian view: God, as the giver of life, should also be the taker. Aristotle’s Ethics argument was reiterated by Aquinas in his Summa Theologiae:

It is altogether unlawful to kill oneself, because every part, as such, belongs to the whole. Now every man is part of the community, and so, as such, he belongs to the community. Hence by killing himself he injures the community. (IIaIIae.64.5)

Hume’s ‘On Suicide’, an attack on the Thomistic notions, gives the classical enlightenment view, where suicide is construed as a libertarian right to be exercised as any other. In contrast, J.S. Mill in his landmark essay 'On Liberty', contends that liberty lies in the power of the individual to make choices; hence any choice that would deprive the individual from the ability to make further choices (such as selling oneself to slavery or suicide) should be prevented.

Although it’s a fallacious appeal to consequence, the following argument is useful to point out the absurdity of the libertarian view. If suicide is a right, then persuading your best friend with a gun to his head not to pull the trigger is a violation of that right and therefore the moral equivalent of kidnapping, theft or the suchlike.

Closer to home, existentialism argues that man is confronted with life – he doesn’t necessarily own it. Indeed, by definition, it is things distinct from one, such as undershorts, that can be owned. The likes of Camus argue that it is in embracing life that sense is made of the absurd – where suicide is an abdication of our responsibility.

In all this flows a sacrosanct view of human life. It is this principle -- the respect for the human person -- that was first formally postulated by Kant as the fundamental principle for his system of ethics. It has been used by contemporary legal philosophers such as Ronald Dworkin as a foundation for rights theories where we have the moral duty to honour and respect the inherent value of human life, regardless of the value of that life to others or to the person whose life it is.

It is self-evident that for all humans to have unalienable rights, they can not be derived from subjective criteria such as wealth or intellect, but rather a respect for the intrinsic worth of each individual.

Undeniably, suicides are usually faced with immense physical or psychological trauma such as acute social isolation, which precipitate an anguished loss of meaning, hope and purpose. Thus one has to question the rationality of a decision taken in that state of mind, given that it is a permanent solution for what is often a temporary problem.

Given the above, is it permissible for suicide within the context of euthanasia? Wait for part 2.

Razors pain you, Rivers are damp,
Acids stain you, And drugs cause cramp.
Guns aren't lawful, Nooses give,
Gas smells awful. You might as well live.

- Dorothy Parker -