Dangerous Ideas

Dangerous ideas challenge our thinking. How society reacts can change lives...for better or for worse.

Dangerous Ideas

New information can be revolutionary. It can shatter old understanding and dogma.
Many of the Great Mysteries have been solved thanks to scientific exploration. The great scientific minds that seek understanding, that do not accept assumption or mere acceptance, forged forward in the face of criticism and ostracism.

Darwin as an Ape
“A Venerable Orang-outang”, a caricature of Charles Darwin as an ape published in The Hornet, a satirical magazine, 1971. License: Creative Commons CC0.

When Galileo surmised that the Earth goes around the Sun, this dangerous information threatened the status quo. This observation meant that the dogma of the day had to be reframed in order to remain powerful.

Many of the ‘great discoveries’ that have threatened the systems that control the masses have been observations and descriptions of Nature. Charles Darwin took his time releasing his Theory of Evolution by means of Natural Selection; because he knew it would come as shock and be a challenge to religious mindsets. It was only when another naturalist, Alfred Russel Wallace wrote to him having hit on a similar realisation that Darwin was confident to publish, and face the music.

Step with me, into the fictional, as I paint a picture for you of how understanding Nature has led to some dangerous ideas as the upholders of old dogmas seek to remain powerful.

The story begins about 30 000 years ago, in Europe during the ice age at the end of Paleolithic period. Our protagonist is Ayla, a Cro-Magnon woman. The author of this story is Jean Auel. This is a story pieced together using anthropological and archaeological findings and imagination. Auel spins a tale that begins wonderfully, builds intensely and then halted. With long stretches between books, the final two taking 12 and 9 years respectively to complete, followers of the series were left waiting for the revelation that was sure to come. Why did she take so long to write this series? Was she afraid of where it seemed to be heading? Was she on the verge of revealing a dogma-shattering idea? When she finally picked up the story again, it was, to say the least, the most disappointing thing I have ever read. There was so much potential in this epic tale, which ended up being nothing more than a story worthy of a day time television drama.

A female Paleolithic figurine, Venus of Willendorf.  Credit: Wellcome Images | Wikimedia Commons | CC BY-SA 3.0.
A female Paleolithic figurine, Venus of Willendorf. Credit: Wellcome Images | Wikimedia Commons | CC BY-SA 3.0.

This epic tale all rested on a key piece of information. Ayla had been observing the ways of ‘the Mother’ and had realised how babies are actually made. That it was not divine intervention, but that the ‘essence’ of the man was critical in the making of a baby. She shared this realisation with the person who controlled the people by controlling the knowledge. She seemed to understand that this bit of knowledge could damage society, as men would realise they were more than just hunters and lovers, that they were Fathers. That they would want to ‘own’ this in some way. It was here that Auel lost the story. She got busy exploring cave paintings and forgot to emphasis just how critical this knowledge was.

So let us leave Auel’s fiction there, and continue with mine. As more and more people came to understand this new information, relationships changed. The matriarchal society fell, as men claimed ownership over women and children, and demanded more say. New systems were developed where Fathers negotiated with other Fathers over the trade of daughters, where women and children were becoming commodities. Over time, various systems sprang up. Variations on the patriarchal theme. The key element that men were needed to make babies took the power away from women, took away the mystery that had elevated them, and replaced it with control.

This continues today.

Big Brother is watching
Big Brother is Watching
Credit: Борис У. |Wikimedia Commons | CC BY-SA 3.0.

Only now, the playing field is different. In modern times, we have had suffragettes and feminists stand up for women’s rights. Reclaiming what has been taken away, but in a modern context. And just as it started with reproduction, much focus on women’s rights centre around reproductive rights.

From birth control, abortion and birth choices to medically created opportunities such as IVF, surrogacy and egg donation, reproduction is a broad and complex field to be negotiated.

One of the most dangerous ideas that exists on the edge, and threatens to up turn women’s autonomy is that of foetal rights, biological rights (in case of donation) and parental rights (in case of surrogacy). We know that developing foetuses are potentially awesome humans…but does that trump the already awesome human carrying it? And when the human carrying the foetus has to make difficult decisions, surely those decisions belong to her, and her alone? But it seems that others with emotional investment, biological investment, financial investment, and medical investment all want to control the autonomy of the ‘carrier’.

Portrait of Galileo by Justus Sustermans (1597-1681). License: Creative Commons CC0.

This seems to be a fundamental point: we need to protect the autonomy of the ‘carrier’ as HUMAN. When we reduce this awesome individual to no more than a ‘carrier’, we begin down the slippery slope to a Brave New World. Perhaps you prefer Gattaca. Or 1984. Either way, for every fictional story, there is a real world example to learn from. Remember, the truth is often stranger than fiction.

Let me take you to 1938, in The Netherlands, you are a young teenager. After doing the seemingly benign thing of being registered based on your family’s heritage, you are ‘awarded’ a yellow star. Your bicycle is confiscated by the government, for some apparently reasonable purpose. Then you are sent to a special school. Nothing seems amiss, until your fellow students start to disappear. Families are being summoned to go to ‘labour camps’ (to help the war effort?), others start to go into hiding. It isn’t long before you find yourself facing the same fate.

It all started with the seemingly benign and insignificant registration and then those determined to be unacceptable, were simply disposed of.

never again. via wikimedia commons
never again. via wikimedia commons

This particular, all too recent, episode in human history must never be repeated.

There are some basic human rights that should never be violated.

One is bodily autonomy.

This covers reproductive rights, medical interventions and the right to refuse them, or access them at all points and on behalf of your children, sexual autonomy, the right to die with dignity, this means no death penalty and the right to determine your own death and dying.

The role of the government is to provide opportunity, to provide a sense of community and support. This means a full suite of health options and freedom to decide. This means transport (safe roads, public transport options) and access to services (health and education primarily). This does not mean telling people what to think, or dictating their personal, medical, educational, or lifestyle choices

As a large society, we need to have certain ‘rules of engagement’ to protect the vulnerable and keep people safe. Most of these are common courtesies: don’t steal, don’t drink and drive, don’t smoke in eateries or near children, don’t piss on the footpath. Others are to protect these basic human rights to body autonomy: don’t discriminate, don’t kill, don’t abuse, don’t rape.

But it is more complex than that.

Probably on purpose, because if it were simple then it would be impossible to hoodwink people.

Be Warned

When we take away a seemingly small and insignificant right from a seemingly small and insignificant portion of society, we move a step closer to taking larger and more significant rights from larger and more significant portions of society. So next time you shrug away something because it doesn’t affect you…consider this.

You could be next.

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