This morning, when looking for a podcast to listen to, I found one on the ABC, which I hadn’t seen before, called The History Listen. I selected an episode about SOS (or Sisters Overseas Service) a grassroots underground organisation that sprang up in December 1977 when New Zealand made it virtually impossible for women to have abortions. SOS raised money to send women to Sydney for one night. Abortions were legal in Sydney and by doing this they were enabling women to make their own decisions without breaking the law. Because of the nature of the organisation, there is no record of how many women took advantage of the service but one of the organisers estimated that it may have been as many as 100 women per week.
As I listened, I realised that there are similarities in the story I was listening to and the newer story about kids who identify as a different gender to the one they were born with.
Science enables a new procedure to change/improve/extend people’s lives. In most cases (especially with regards to extension) the new procedures are widely applauded. However some new procedures are controversial, especially if they are considered “optional”. Of course, it could be said that everybody coped before any of these medical procedures were invented. I mean, we died younger and life was probably a lot more painful and unpleasant but the species carried on in the way evolution dictated. In that sense, all medical procedures are surely optional.
The thing that abortion and sex-change surgery have in common is the involvement of minors. Supposedly, that’s what the objections are about. Parents (or potential parents) are not being trusted to consider or care about the welfare of the child/child to be. Just as it is assumed (by some) that if men are allowed to marry men, they might want to marry warthogs next, it is also assumed that if women are allowed to abort babies, they will all use the capability irresponsibly and willfully terminate all future pregnancies. And it is also assumed that a nine year old does not know enough about him/her/themselves to decide whether they want to be a man or a woman and therefore it must be the parents bullying them into it because the parent didn’t get the gender of child they wanted.
Our massive brains (the ones which mean we often need help to give birth and we are able to invent machines to fly to the moon) … that organ is a presumably a product of evolution. It is that organ which allows us to preserve our own species so effectively. It is that organ which enables world travel, the internet, understanding of hygiene, protection against awful diseases like Polio, etc.
It is also our brains which allow every single human to be different. Different likes, hates, characteristics, preferences, areas of interest. And it is our brains which hang on to old outdated ideas about morality. If you believe that morality is set by some force outside humanity, then yes, morality is a fixed ideal. But when you consider that in Victorian times it was considered immoral for ladies to show their ankles in public… things have changed a lot and the vast majority of society has accepted those changes.
Isn’t it interesting how evolution brings change but evolution also makes it so hard for humans to cope with change. We create dogmas to give our world order and define who we are and what we mean. And the dogmas become so widely accepted that they feel unshakable, unquestionable, omnipotent. We seem to lose faith in our own ability as a species to assess danger, make decisions, care about each other. We start to think that the dogma guides us, rather than that we guide the dogma.
And yet science is a discipline where change MUST be accepted for the science to work. Science ignores (where possible) emotion and politics and even economics and plunges on with an unquenchable thirst for more knowledge, more data, more questions answered. And more and more, the science we have turned into technology dominates our world – phones, internet, weather forecasts, medicine, transport, etc. Few of us live a day without interacting with this ever-changing field of technology in some way.
It is not surprising that the human journey is rarely peaceful, I guess. We are so torn between wanting to know more and being desperately willing victims of inertia.