24 January 2007

The price of progress

In his post Alternative histories Norm is arguing with Will Hutton's point of view on China so touchingly expressed in the Guardian's CiF article. (I have expressed my own disgust by Will Hutton and his ilk in a longish post here. )

Looking up to Norm as a moral compass and an impeccable example of academic style, I was not surprised by the subdued manner in which he takes Hutton to task. What caused me a second take, however, was the following sentence:

Achievements should certainly be noted where there are such, but if they're bought at an exorbitant, a gigantic, cost, then they can't be treated as unambiguously positive.
I know I am still incensed by Hutton's garbage and it may muddle my reception. However, it was still strange to find such an ambiguous statement by Norm. Does it mean that there is an acceptable price of progress (measured, of course, in human lives)? If 30 million lives is a price too exorbitant, is 3 million acceptable? Or 300 thousand?

Worse: does the sentence mean that we can consider the revolting idea of Hutton's "balance sheet", accepting in fact the mere principle of counterbalancing pure evil by economic/social progress? That our children and grandchildren will be taught a new version of history that embellishes the evil by addition of "but the economy flourished" or other such drivel?

I hope not, I hope that the moral relativism was not hidden in this message from Norm whose stance (to take torture as one example) does not allow trading absolute moral imperatives for a real or imaginary salvation in any form.

Tagging Norm.