Re: Mother Teresa

From: Dan Adams (
Date: Tue May 30 2000 - 16:32:54 MDT

--- Sarah Lawrence <> wrote:
> At 2:46pm +1000 on 2000/05/30, Emlyn quoted:
> >Daniel Ust (or Damien Broderick hacking his
> account) wrote:
> >> > Every Mother Theresa after the first (at any
> point, the "marginal"
> >mother
> >> > Theresa) adds something (even if only a little)
> to society; a net
> >benefit.
> >> Given Mother Theresa openly _professed_ views on
> human suffering -- about
> >> its necessity; i.e., the necessity of it in the
> form of the stifling
> >poverty
> >> and rampant disease in Third World countries and
> not in the sense of, say,
> >> needing a little adversity to make us stronger --
> I'd think there's a high
> >> cost associated with even one Mother Theresa. If
> ever there was a
> >character
> >> that seems almost out of a Rand novel, it is her.
> Yes, I think that Mother Teresa was a deeply
> unpleasant, immoral human
> being and I can think of no ways in which she added
> anything to the
> world, except perhaps as an example of what not to
> do, how *not* to
> live. I find it frightening that so many people --
> even otherwise sane
> people -- think that she was a good person, or dare
> not say otherwise.
> There appears to be a taboo against speaking out
> against people like
> Mother Teresa. Perhaps it is the taboo against
> criticising religious
> ideas?

Interesting point and I must take up the "St." Mother
Theresa controversy. As a former Catholic seminarian,
current Zen Buddhist, and, above all, virulent
atheist, you may imagine that I have a rather strong
opinion on this (and virtually everything else - but,
that's just because I'm a pedantic blowhard ;-)
Mother Theresa as a person has been criticized quite
thoroughly (and accurately) in these posts. Her
personal views on *many* (read "all") topics were
unfortunate. As extropians, we must understand that
the software (Mother Theresa v.1.5 beta) running on
that particular hominid's wetware computer was largely
culturally determined within the constraints set by
her genetic design parameters.
What the hell does all this mean? It gives us a
context in which to understand how she developed her
behavioral heuristics which is, of course, an
explanation, not a sanction. [Author's note : Don't
worry - there's a point coming soon] Given that she
was raised as a devout, pre-Vatican Catholic, we can
understand that her moral and social choices were made
based on a world-view and set or mores which are
largely (at best) laughable to *us* ("us" in this
context referring to transhumanists and extropians - a
group that is not only more temporally current - like
everyone else - but, also espouses highly
futuristic/technophilic/individualistic values). The
particular character qualities (attitudes, beliefs,
values, and opinions) which were beneficial in her
circumstances have become, at best, quaint and, at
worst, morally indefensible/reprehesible. Thus
concludes the discussion of Mother Theresa v.1.5 beta
(and you thought I was going to defend her ;-)
[That was all just prologue - here's the point] The
far more interesting question is what damage, if any,
did Mother Theresa do to others on the planet by her
actions. The obvious answer regarding poverty and
disease - and her legendarily impotent stance against
it - is quite a lot. I would, however, argue that she
has helped through some form of mimetic dissemination
(a good will meme if you please) that we have all
picked up on. We all enjoy helping others (or, to
argue the converse, people react empathetically to
pain and, as such, seek to avoid it and help others to
do the same) and we can be inspired by a dedication to
help others. I believe she did this. Note that the
fact that her method of help was ineffective
(bordering on sadistic) is not in contention. We are
arguing deontologically that to see another try to
help others both gladdens and inspires us vicariously
- perhaps, even to the point of making us more aware
of those around us and how we can lessen their
suffering. Stories of her have had this impact on me
despite my full knowledge of her less-than-enlightened
social politics.
Well - there's your topic! Discuss! Now, if I can
get Anders to rip into me on this one, then I'll know
I'm doing my part ;-)
And, if Mother Theresa was serving the right god - I
would remind her that "the road to hell is paved with
good intentions!"

Dan Adams
Boston College

"I cannot articulate enough to express my dislike to people who think that understanding spoils your experience...How would they know?"
   - Marvin Minsky

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