Sunday, November 09, 2003

Terry's Law

In Florida, the state legislature hastely passed a low entitling the parents of a women in a persistent vegitative state to reattach her feeding tube. It is being contested in the courts by her husband who insists that she would have preferred to be removed from life support. Once again the case plays as a dispute between the religious right, promoting the enforcement of arbitrary restrictions, and the friends of individual freedom and preference satisfaction.

Is it a normative question or is it an empirical one? The suggestion that rarely surfaces is that Terry might prefer to remain on life-support because the current cultural assumption is that most people would prefer not to have their life prolonged by extraordinary means. That may be so, but I want to survive as long as possible and I don't care how many tubes or machines it takes.

How many of these tacit empirical assumptions drive what appear to be the debates about normative issues--in particular about whether "traditional values" and rules trump personal preferences?

A recent Gallup Poll indicates, for example, that ethnic diversity is becoming the current orthodoxy. 50% of individuals aged 30 and under believe that members of ethnic minorities should remain ethnically distinct rather than "blending in" as compared with 34% of Americans over 30. This is the coming orthodoxy, trickling down from the politically correct elite to the masses.

But no one seriously addresses the question of what members of ethnically "diverse" groups prefer, at at least what they would prefer if they were informed and cooly deliberative. Moreover, ethnicity as promoted in the public schools and mass media, seems so innocuous--a matter of spicy foods, street festivals and ethnic costume--that no one worries about it. And, as popularly presented, there are always escape clauses--the idea that you can choose whether to identify with your ethnic group of "blend in," and that you can choose how, and how much, ethnicity you want.

Maybe ethnicity, reconstructed in this way, is innocuous and unlikely to promote the real thing: ethnicity as practiced in the Balkans or Paterson, New Jersey. Even so, it is depressing that people have so little sense of individual identity and so few interests that they latch onto their supposed ancestral cultures to define themselves.

What is that impulse? Any authentic ethnic affiliation is an unchosen characteristic that constrains.