The Reputation of Canadian Philosophy is in the Balance

On social media platforms all across Canada and the United States, academics, activists, lawyers, physicians, and students, have come alive to the eugenic impetus of MAiD and its latest incarnation, Bill C-7, as well as to the philosophical underpinnings of these policies. Indeed, as I have noted in previous posts on BIOPOLITICAL PHILOSOPHY, eugenics is a fundamental element of the history of public policy in Canada. Whether in practices and policies of extermination, sterilization, and assimilation of Indigenous people or in the development of MAiD and Bill C-7 to end the lives of disabled people, furthermore, philosophers have always played a formative role in the promulgation of eugenic legislation in Canada (go here).

Canadians have a tendency to enact structural gaslighting by pointing out social injustices elsewhere in the world while disregarding, minimizing, and even covering over the deep inequities and exclusions in Canada itself. Consider Canadians and racism, for example.

People in Canada participate in structural gaslighting with respect to racism when they engage in what Black journalist and activist Desmond Cole (2020) refers to as the “magical thinking” according to which racism is a characteristic feature of American society, but doesn’t operate in Canada, doesn’t hold anyone back. This magical thinking, Cole argues, conceals the ongoing racism and settler colonialism of Canada whereby Black and Indigenous people in Canada are disproportionately apprehended by police and even killed by them and the Canadian government continues to confiscate unceded Indigenous land while depriving Indigenous communities in Canada of equal services, infrastructure, opportunities, adequate educational systems, and so on. 

Canadian philosophers are not exempt from this national tendency of Canadians to disregard or minimize social problems and injustices in their own backyards. For example, although Canadian feminist philosophers spearheaded the push back against the publication of an objectionable article in an American feminist philosophy journal and, furthermore, although Canadian philosophers led resistance to the bestowal of an award for transphobic discourse in the U.K., most philosophers in Canada continue to ignore and even condone the ableist and racist eugenic public policy that their colleagues down the hall, in the province next door, or at the other end of the country have developed and persistently promote.

Can philosophers and bioethicists in Canada be accountable for the culture of eugenics whose production in Canada and Canadian philosophy they have implicitly and explicitly enabled?

Will Canadian philosophers continue to allow a group of their colleagues who exhibit little philosophical, analytical, political, or experiential understanding of disability or the circumstances of disabled people’s lives to determine the shape and outcomes of these circumstances, of these lives?

And will they continue to ignore the ways in which the arguments and actions of their colleagues have promoted a hostile environment for disabled people in Canadian philosophy, in the Canadian university, and in Canadian society at large?

At present, the actions and assumptions of Canadian philosophers and bioethicists are in the spotlight across various platforms of media and under tremendous public scrutiny in unprecedented ways. The reputation of Canadian philosophers and indeed professional philosophy in Canada itself are currently at stake and in the balance in crucial ways.

It is, therefore, long past time that philosophers in Canada and elsewhere learn about the threats to disabled people that MAiD and Bill C-7 pose. Eugenics has conditioned Canadian philosophy’s past and conditions its present but must not be enabled to condition its future.

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