Appropriation: Physical and Cultural

A lot has been written about cultural and physical appropriation. The family of Henrietta Lacks recently filed a lawsuit over the nonconsensual use of her cells. This is stupid, they should just give all rights to them for free medical research because to do anything else would be evil. Those are legal rights since, morally, their family has no right to those cells. I say that because life-saving medical research outweighs almost every other priority. If your otherwise dying diabetic child needs insulin and you can’t afford it, I regard it as fully moral and ethical to steal the insulin. Likewise, the Lacks family has no moral right to obstruct research that could and has saved millions of lives.

That is an extreme example but it leads to the others because Henrietta Lacks’ story is not a tragedy and to treat it as such reflects the desire by the left for everything to be tragic. Holy fuck, it is a story where the fucking Polio vaccine is invented and they still must turn it into an attrocity! This is a demographic where most conversations about sex end up being about rape and most conversations about relationships end up being about abuse and if they end rape and end domestic abuse then they’ll hyperbolize subtler and less bad behaviors into the new rape and the new domestic abuse and hold candlelight vigils for the victims of feeling uncomfortable.

Outrage over dressing in another culture’s outfits and displaying their stuff in foreign museums is criticized by the right for being too woke. Yet, their approach lacks any specific ethical or moral philosophy. When weighing the neurotransmitters involved, would people be happier and would their lives be healthier and more satisfying if, as a general rule, these abstract culture war issues which don’t affect personal lives very much did not arise. Does the culture war, on net, increase or decrease human suffering? Clearly, it increases human suffering.

Whether the Benin Bronzes are in London or Lagos affects vastly less than 0.1% of the population and it does not affect those people very much. It is a nothing burger while the pundits screaming about it do cause needless human suffering. PhDs in Anthropology feel like they need the Benin Bronzes while almost everyone in Nigeria south of the cocaine class needs democratic socialism and a more just international trade system. In the end, the culture war obscures actual human needs and causes human suffering. For the most part, appropriation is an abstract issue divorced from human welfare.

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