FORCED OPTIONS: Social Decisions for the 21st Century by Roger L. Shinn

FORCED OPTIONS: Social Decisions for the 21st Century

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A balanced, sensitive, well-informed overview of the major moral-technological issues looming before us. Shinn is Reinhold Niebuhr Professor of Social Ethics at Union Theological Seminary, and might be labeled a WCC (World Council of Churches) liberal. But his theological stance remains in the background here as he briefly describes what he calls ""the big problems"": energy, food, water, population, new discoveries in genetics, and nuclear war. All of these present us with ""forced options"" (W. James) because one way or another they have to be dealt with. After citing pertinent facts and statistics on everything from the world's annual fish catch to industrial pollution in China, from amniocentesis to chlorofluorocarbons and the ""greenhouse effect,"" Shinn lays down some grand methodological guidelines: ""On some judgments intelligence requires an open mind, ready to change opinions in the light of new evidence. On other judgments loyalty requires commitment in the face of challenges. Both intellectual clarity and ethical integrity require a distinction between the two situations."" Openness to new information makes Shinn hesitate, for example, to condemn nuclear power plants, since recent Swedish studies suggest feasible means of waste disposal, while most proponents of conventional energy sources ignore the steady loss of human life through black lung disease, oil rig accidents, etc. On the other hand, Shinn's commitment to human rights and the integrity of nature makes him resist attempts to downgrade either in the name of supposedly objective political or economic needs. Finally, information and commitments interact, positively and negatively: commitment to relieving hunger created the Green Revolution (now, however, under a cloud), commitment to national interests created the neutron bomb. Conservatives may be unreceptive to Shinn's Christian humanism, specialists may dispute him on one or another point: the book is exemplary, nonetheless, as an ethical balance sheet of contemporary civilization.

Pub Date: Sept. 15th, 1982
Publisher: Harper & Row