Editor's Letter In Ethics Issue Of New Internationalist Magazine
Vanessa Baird asks 'How are we to live?'
Using question marks in headlines or titles is something of a taboo at the New Internationalist. It's viewed either as a cheap rhetorical device or a cop-out: we should be sure of what we are saying and say it unequivocally.
The rule is sometimes broken. But I think this magazine probably takes the biscuit. The front cover is a particularly shameful - or shameless - example. My defence: morality or ethics really isn't a subject that lends itself to easy assertions.
Which is why I thought it might be difficult to get people to write for this issue. Quite the contrary. Most people asked just agreed straight away - a commissioning editor's dream come true. Taslima Nasrin, the now-infamous Bangladeshi writer living with a fatwa over her head, swiftly took up the challenge to write about the moral value of disobedience. She wrote her piece from Sweden where she is now in hiding.
Peter Singer, one of the most active, respected and controversial ethicists at work today, was also quick to agree and soon had a piece on developing a 'global ethics' winging its way to us from Melbourne. While eminent sociologist Zygmunt Bauman must have gone into overdrive to get his critique of the 'workethic' to us in record time.
Strong emotions have been aroused in preparing this magazine. First I received a worried fax from a member of the Board of NI Australia asking if Peter Singer was really contributing to the issue. Did I know what a stir his latest book on 'life and death' was causing in the country? His views on euthanasia were upsetting a lot of people. Meanwhile, the translator working on Taslima Nasrin's piece was starting to get cold feet, worried that the article might anger fundamentalist Muslims. A different set of emotions was being aroused by Dinyar Godrejs report from the Netherlands on euthanasia. But people who read his article were moved not to anger but to tears. Dinyar himself said it was the most emotionally wrenching article he has ever been asked to write, and the feelings it awakened remained with him for along time afterwards.
It's not surprising really that 'morality' gets the emotions going. 'How are we to live' is a matter closer to our hearts than we often imagine. Often how strongly we feel only emerges when someone is trying to tell us what's right and what's wrong - and we find we don't agree...
Some issues of the NI provoke lots of letters. Others hardly any. And it's often hard to predict which way it will go. But my hunch is this one will get alot of you going. Which is exactly the way it ought to be!
for the New Internationalist Co-operative