Mon | Sep 25, 2017

We have a problem

Published:Friday | November 13, 2015 | 11:00 AM

It's funny! The nation is in uproar over the deaths of 19 premature babies - born before 37 weeks in the womb; and rightly so! For all human lives are valuable, including the most vulnerable.

But hardly a word of remorse over the more than 20,000 human foetuses - even more vulnerable - killed each year in Jamaica after about 15 weeks in the womb.

What's the difference? The 19 were wanted, while the 20,000 were not? What power! When you don't want human life, or you find him or her inconvenient, it's OK to kill? Why vilify Hitler, then? Why not find a final solution for unwanted old people and the mentally ill?

Or is it that we are dealing with even more perverse logic: We object if the deaths are because of government negligence, but it's OK when we intentionally kill unborn Jamaican bodies inside the wombs of their mothers?

Or maybe we believe that humans in the womb are not humans "in the real sense"!

We have a problem thinking ethical problems through to their logical conclusion: The issue is not the rights of mother vs rights of the unborn child; both have the unalienable right to life, and neither can trump the other. If the inconvenient human foetus does not have the unalienable right to life, then we begin to slide down a very slippery slope.

Surveys report that nearly half of Jamaican teenage girls and one third of females under 17 in Kingston are forcibly initiated into sex. And some get pregnant.

Proposed solution: abort all the unwanted pregnancies - year after year after year.


The real problem


We seem to have difficulty analysing the real problem: Jamaican young people become sexually active at too young an age, and many against their will. The movies, media advertising, and peer pressure have socialised boys into believing that to become a real man, he must bed the girls; and the girls into believing that sexual inexperience is a sign of childishness. And what is more, the girls are taught that sex is a commodity to be traded for free bus rides and fried chicken lunches, and more!

When educational achievement is low in a society, people will seek to validate themselves and find their sense of self-worth in their personal appearance and physical abilities. These are not negative in themselves, but can distort one's personality if taken out of proportion. Psychologists have been telling us that too many - maybe most - Jamaicans suffer from personality disorders, but it doesn't seem to bother our policymakers. But then, they are products of this same society, and suffer the same problems.

How would a well-ordered society deal with sexual matters? What sort of values would we prefer to drive the civilisation in which we live? Advocates present basically two diametrically opposed models. In one model, sexual intercourse has a very high value, and ideally takes place between persons in a serious, lifelong committed relationship. Children will therefore be born into a family with two parents who want them, and will raise them and educate them to be productive members of society.




In the other model, sexual intercourse is a vehicle for personal individual pleasure, which is to be sought from wherever and whomever it can be found. Since pleasure is the focus, then no commitment to the sexual partner is necessary; indeed, such commitment may be counter-productive. Since pleasure is the focus, then the natural consequences of sexual intercourse (that is, pregnancy) must be avoided, and, therefore, methods to prevent conception (that is, contraceptives) must be employed. And then if an unplanned and unwanted pregnancy still results, then abortion is necessary and essential.

Since pleasure is the driver of society, then ganja and hard drugs must also be allowed. In fact, each individual is encouraged that "if it feels good, do it", to "do it 'til you're satisfied", and "don't stop 'til you get enough".

When you think about it, this has nothing to do with religion; it has to do with rational people thinking through - to their logical extreme - which norms and values will lead to a well-ordered society, and which will lead to the disintegration of society. We modern people are not the first to do this; great philosophers like Socrates and Plato and Aristotle did so hundreds of years before Christianity or Islam was born, and their writings are available for anyone to read.

Ultimately, it boils down to whether we want a well-ordered society, or one in which anyone can do what he or she wants.

Jamaica's big problem is that we have a vision of Jamaica as a well-ordered society, but we practise norms and values which can lead only to disorder and hedonistic chaos.

• Peter Espeut is a sociologist and a Roman Catholic deacon. Email feedback to