Reproduction and Cosmology
When thinking about reproduction and the laws and technology that surround it, one must understand the cultural and historical contexts that bring forth these ideas and allow them to be maintained.
Geertz’ “Thick Description” chapter elaborates just how these ideas are born and are distributed amongst cultures. These ideas then have the power to influence future decisions as future ideals and laws are introduced. The author opens up the reading by elaborating on Langer’s theory on the introduction of new ideas into society, how “they burst with tremendous force” and become so popular that they “crowd out almost everything else” (Geertz 1973, 3). This new idea then becomes integrated and accepted as general intellectual knowledge used to explain all aspects of human life. Geertz argues that this idea is applicable to anthropology and the goal to define culture. Instead of taking the ideas about culture that are introduced and declaring them as truth, he explains that the analysis of culture should be “an interpretive one in search of meaning” which is what he attempts to do in these writings (Geertz 1973, 5). Geertz describes culture as webs of significance that man has created himself and suspended himself. This meaning that man creates his own culture by whatever he deems important. He supports his argument about the interpretation of culture by using the study of ethnography and Gilbert Ryle’s notion of “thick description” which explains cultural behavior in context, such that it becomes meaningful and may have different meanings to those integrated in the culture and those outside of it. More importantly, arguing the necessity of using analysis in ethnographic research in order to understand where ideas in different cultures hold their basis and understand their importance. These ideas on cultural analysis are extremely relevant to this course as we continue to read and question where foundational ideas on religion and biotechnology within cultures hold social value and why they exist.
On the first day of class we discussed that in most cases, religion is synonymous with culture. When reading the next articles, it is important to recall the notion of “thick description” which allows the reader to try to put the actions of an individual or group in the context of their own culture, or in this case, their religion. Hamdy’s article questions if the narrative of religious fatalism, which is the “notion that humans exert little or no control over their own destinies”, prevents people from pursuing biotechnological intervention (Hamdy 2013, 146). This question was placed within the circumstance of organ transplantation for those of Islamic faith. Despite almost all religious leaders declaring that organ donation is “halal”, or permissible, many Muslims face an internal struggle about the ethicalness of transplantation. There are several beliefs in faith that may influence the decision to pursue intervention such as: “the body belongs to God. It belongs to no one else to give away, and it is not for me to take” or the idea that the sickness was God’s will and who are we to try to intervene (Hamdy 2013, 143).
While some physicians may label these patients as “fatalists” or “backward”, the author argues that religion is not the only reason why patients decline organ transplantation. Instead, she says that people’s interpretations and understandings of religion and biomedical efficacy are both taken into account when calculating cost-benefit analysis for medical interventions, such as organ transplantations. They use religious logic, such as the idea that the body is owned by God, in order to help them make decisions that hold both social and medical risks. Because in the eyes of the law, brain death does not equal death, organ donors are still considered alive. As a result, the patient in need of an organ must find their own means of acquiring an organ, either through a family or through the black market. However, many patients do not have the monetary, medical, or ethical means to go about having organ transplantation. The author provides an example of a patient, Ali, who has all of these means yet refuses to get a transplant based on religious morals, specifically that it was God’s plan to test him with this disease. Ali explains that his initial misgivings came from being personally responsible to find his own donor, in this case, his wife, and worry about their pain and health in order to benefit his own – as a result, he turned to God to help him find the strength. Once it was discovered that his wife was not a match, Ali turned back to his faith in God’s will to give him the strength to be on dialysis for the rest of his life. Hamdy uses this example to demonstrate the people embody different ideas on the will of God based on circumstance in order to establish contentment with how much of their lives they feel they control and what they feel they should control. This leads me to believe that the interpretation of God’s will could also be formulated by the idea that it could be God’s will to seek treatment or seek a physician, who could be the tool that God uses to provide health. But all these chosen interpretations can lead to the question of who are we to judge what is or isn’t God’s will? This is why I think Hamdy makes a strong argument that all we can do as humans is interpret it and by having an appreciation of how people choose to embody religion and interpret divine will, we can better understand the ethical formations or decisions that people make.
In “Father, State, Motherhood, and the Birth of Modern Turkey”, Delaney highlights the influence that history and kinship ideas have on the idea of nationalism and therefore have influences on the culture. The author argues that nationalism is built upon the symbolism of father state and motherland, and as a result, because the nation-state is gendered, then gender inequality is inherently present. After WWI, the Ottoman Empire’s territory was going to be distributed amongst the British, French, Italians, and Greeks. Mustafa called upon the people to come to the defense of the Motherland who “had been prostituted under the capitulations and was about to be mutilated by the partition” (Delaney 1995, 186). He called upon their sense of honor to protect their mother against those who threatened her. There was an Ottoman Empire and an Ottoman State but never an Ottoman Nation, so Mustafa took the term Turk and used the ideas of father state and motherland to create a new national identity. Women are imagined as soil or earth that needs to be fertilized by the seed of man in order to have growth. As a result, Mustafa took on the name of Ataturk, or “father of Turks”, and became the generative life force that created the new modern western-type nation-state. This transformation had gendered influences on the understanding of who could be considered a citizen. A child of either a Turkish father or mother is a Turk, but only a child of a Turkish father can be a citizen. The conception of the Turkish nation-state was created under gendered themes and has influenced laws and ideas of citizenship. As a result, this leads me to believe that gendered themes, even those based loosely in the notion of nationality, can have the ability to influence national thinking when pertaining to future laws or beliefs on biomedical technology.