Precious Life: X-fi and the double trouble effect

Life is not cheap, but it’s certainly not precious sometimes. The rules of morality are usually deduced from first principles, but there has always been a space between psychology and philosophy especially regarding the meaning of wrong. In the film “Precious Life” the central issue is that a baby boy will die without a bone marrow transplant. However, while most mothers hope their children grow up into successful adults, this mother is grooming her offspring to be a suicide bomber.

---“Life isn’t precious,” Raida says to the stunned interviewer, a well-known TV personality there whose efforts to publicize the child’s plight resulted in a huge cash gift from an anonymous Jewish donor that financed the operation and a long hospital stay, along with the attention of a brilliant pediatrician, Dr. Raz Somech, who saved the boy’s life.--- read more:

There has certainly been an evolution in human morality.Marc Hauser’s Moral Sense Test does away, in fact discards the elements of abstract reflection in right and wrong. His concept is not based on universal principles, or utilitarianism, or religious precept; the classic underpinning of moral theory. Instead, the insight into morals is questionnaire based. And what the respondents think does not fit the classic theory. He showed that people are most likely to behave immorally if to do so does not involve a deliberate action, that is, intention. You must mean to, regardless of what actually happens.

…The baby was being cared for in an Israeli hospital, but the family did not have the $50K  to perform the necessary transplant. Eldar placed the baby’s picture on the evening news, and luckily,  an anonymous Jewish donor  whose son perished   in the fighting , came up with a donation to cover the expense:

"During the last war in Gaza, Eldar couldn't get into the war zone and do his regular job, but this didn't mean that Eldar would remain inactive. He received a phone call from a doctor in an Israeli hospital, asking him to help save a life of a young boy. Eldar found out that the boy is the son of a Palestinian woman who already lost two children to a rare disease, and the third one, suffering from immune deficiency (commonly known as "bubble boy" syndrome), and was treated in an Israeli hospital. While the news media filed reports from Gaza, Eldar but his energy into this subject matter first by reporting on this story which would see Israelis donate money towards saving the boy. Digging further, the reporter turned docu filmmaker discovers that the mother wishes to see her boy grow up to be a martyr, blowing up Jews in a Jerusalem bus. But is it really what she wants?" read more:

“After performing a complex transplant, the surgeon talks to the nervous, exhausted mother, Raida Abu Mustafa, explaining what must happen for her baby, Mohammed, to survive: “After the transplant, the graft reacts adversely to the patient. And the body, on the other hand, also tries to reject the graft, because it’s perceived as a foreign body. So there’s a struggle between the two elements, which must live side by side. And each has its hopes and ambitions. But if they co-exist, they’ll survive.”

The doctor is talking specifically about little Mohammed’s chances, but he’s also referencing a more complex transplant: the state of Israel, a country grafted onto the eastern shore of the Mediterranean Sea in a 1948 operation that was perceived as the intrusion of a foreign body by the surrounding Arab world. … It’s a feel-good story Raida seemingly ruins with the film’s big, second-act surprise. Asked in the middle of a chat about religious holidays how she feels about shahids (suicide bombers), Raida startles us by saying, “For you life is precious, but not for us.… After Mohammed gets well, I will certainly want him to be a shahid. If it’s for Jerusalem, then there’s no problem.” “Then why are you fighting to save your son’s life, if you say that death is a usual thing for your people?” a crestfallen, angry Eldar demands…. Read More: a

"Ra’ida, who is fluent in English, began by noting that her son’s health was “not good,” before saying that the documentary, for obvious reason, hasn’t played in Gaza and only her immediate family has seen the film. She added that she was actually afraid for her neighbors to see the film, because they wouldn’t necessarily understand why she took the actions that she did. Dressed in a green head scarf, she ended the talk on a more optimistic note, noting that given her experiences, she had hope for the future. After Ra’ida and her family signed off (the event was taking place at 7 a.m., Gaza-time), Eldar echoed Ra’ida’s thoughts and said that he was optimistic that Israel and Palestine will eventually find peace. He added that he hopes the “cognitive dissonance” that that he initially encountered when shooting the film will apply to others who watch the film as well,... read more:

The predicament is a bit like the “Trolley Problem”  credited to Philippa Foot which is about the principle of double effect- a single action having both positive and negative outcomes. Essentially it is this: a runaway train is hurdling towards five people working on the rails, but they can be saved by diverting the train onto another track where one guy is working. He loses his life, but five are saved.Obviously, you do not intend to kill the guy, but in a way you do. He is the price of saving the five, meaning his death is ostensibly morally neutral, but then taking a life cannot be regarded as a dispassionate act.

Foot’s next question was that the train is approaching and you are standing over the tracks with an obese man. Real fat. If you shove him onto the tracks the train will stop because of his tremendous weight, saving the five. Do you have the guts? Most respondents would say no since the killing is deliberate even though the costs and benefits are identical.

"Applying the doctrine to the trolley problem, it’s been argued that in the first scenario, there is no intention to kill the man on the spur. If you diverted the train but spur man miraculously escaped, you would be delighted. But in the second scenario, you intend the death of the fat man. If he were to bounce off the track and flee out of the trolley’s path, this would thwart your aim, because the five people would still be killed. You need the chubby projectile to be hit by the

lley." read more:

In battle it allows combatants to understand the difference between say American soldiers in Afghanistan killing civilians by accident and the Taliban or suicide bombers killing civilians intentionally. The scenarios appear morally equivalent and it also reveals the quirky nature of cognition that shapes or judgment  in various ways making the issue one of psychology; yet it also unfolds like a drama of universal moral instinct with its own logic, a logos as opposed to pathos, and this is pure philosophy.

…”Eventually, we come to wonder if Raida, a physically beautiful, compassionate woman, believes her own shahid story. In some ways, the mother is shrewder than her TV saviour, a humanitarian who wants to tell a story of Jewish benevolence featuring a grateful Palestinian. All to further the cause of Middle East peace: Look how we can all get along! It’s a wonderful story. But what would happen to Raida and her child if she returned home a traitor?

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Precious Life is short-listed for best documentary film at this year’s Academy Awards. Given Hollywood’s liberal politics, it may well win – and it’s a fascinating, troubling, ultimately hopeful film. Here’s hoping two good people, Raida Abu Mustafa and Shlomi Eldar, survive its success. ” Read More:

The Hauser study is interesting because philosophers, as a general rule, do not give a damn what you think since what you think is deemed irrelevant to the question of what is correct, right and true; first principles trump survey answers. Hauser envisions morality as a natural system with biological origins and a evolutionary history making the love of wisdom bleed into the science of the mind: psychology. Universal moral rules have engendered divisive responses since Plato and Socrates locked horn on the Eternal Good. Rule based behavior can lead down some very strange alleyways as seen in the philosophical thought experiment of John Searle:

“The Chinese Room argument, devised by John Searle, is an argument against the possibility of true artificial intelligence. The argument centers on a thought experiment in which someone who knows only English sits alone in a room following English instructions for manipulating strings of Chinese characters, such that to those outside the room it appears as if someone in the room understands Chinese. The argument is intended to show that while suitably programmed computers may appear to converse in natural language, they are not capable of understanding language, even in principle. Searle argues that the thought experiment underscores the fact that computers merely use syntactic rules to manipulate symbol strings, but have no understanding of meaning or semantics. Searle’s argument is a direct challenge to proponents of Artificial Intelligence, and the argument also has broad implications for functionalist and computational theories of meaning and of mind.” Read More: a

"Perhaps the strongest critique is that Searle’s argument is entirely ontological and metaphysical because it does not matter whether the system has an “understanding” as long as it perfectly acts as if it would understand. When the simulation of cognition is as good as cognition itself, it does not matter—or is just a metaphysical question— whether it’s a simulation or not. This topic has been reflected in many Science Fiction novels, most popular is Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep from 1968 in its adaption as the Hollywood film Blade Runner. Remarkably, both Searle and his A.I. research critics assume that something was technologically feasible which, in its time and still today, is science fiction. There simply exists no rule book—in other words: no algorithm—for transforming Chinese questions into Chinese answers..." Read More:

At the end of the day, the Palestinian and Israeli in the film are after answers to different questions, and like the Chinese room, they can communicate without understanding. But still, those questions boil down to what is right and what is not so right, and what to do about it…… BTW, Prof. Hauser is planning a book: “Evilicious: Why We Evolved A Taste For Being Bad.”


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Though Eldar and Raida don’t themselves come to blows, she tells him that a half-and-half settlement will never work, and that baby Muhammed will, God willing, grow up to be a martyr for the cause of Palestinian autonomy. Life isn’t precious, she maintains, against such larger religious questions.

Such a stand seems crazy. Raida is in an Israeli hospital whose Jewish doctors have just saved her son when Gaza’s could not; and she is advocating that he turn on them. But consider the pressure from Arabs who consider her a traitor for accepting the assistance of Jews, and her backlash could be seen as a way to placate the angry neighbours amongst whom she must live when this is over.

One might even play devil’s advocate and ask why she should change her views. Not long after she and her family return to Gaza, renewed fighting breaks out and Israeli bombs rain down outside her home.

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