Tanzanians use Facebook quite differently from how Aussies do. It’s one place you can see their interest in wisdom as they post infographics about why you should drink more water, or proverbs from TB Joshua or Joyce Meyer. So when our friend asked the other day “Can someone enlighten me on how to handle transgender issues and what does the scripture say about it?”, that’s a genuine question. Tanzanians, especially in the middle class, are very interested in ethical issues so a bit further down the thread someone else added his question: “There is also the hard question of whether couples who are unable 2 get children naturally (by procreation) should b allowed 2 get children thro intracytoplasmic sperm injection(A.I). What do u think?”
Neither Arthur nor I could work out what to reply: reproductive ethics is such a complicated ethical issue to answer in a Facebook comment! The friend whose wall it was came on and here’s what she said: “Your question is abit hard to answer but i am just thinking it is not wrong so long as those involved are a couple…I stand to be corrected though, this is more like using eye glasses to assist in clear sight…”
What’s fascinating about her response is what she thinks she’s responding to. Her response is about whether it’s OK to use anything that’s ‘unnatural’ at all; hence the analogy of eye glasses. In Arthur’s and my worldview, to use artificial technology is not in and of itself a problem; the question is about the nature of those technologies and the ethical issues involved from there. We don’t have an a priori objection to using technology in medical matters. It did not even occur to us to read the question in this way. We assumed it to be about the ethics of artificial insemination as opposed to some other medical procedure, yet she read his question to be about using a medical procedure at all. She hints at other ethical issues surrounding it (e.g. she wants them to be a couple) but that’s not her main point.
This little example showcases our different assumptions. Western culture is pretty much committed to the idea that science is good and to be used to solve problems within ethical limits. Tanzanian culture is not asking about those ethical limits: they’re asking whether science should be used at all. It’s not that Tanzanian culture is a step back from western culture. It’s that we have different assumptions about the way the world is made up. There are different ideas that need interrogating. So we read a question on Facebook differently according to what our assumptions are.
Tamie Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at meetjesusatuni.com.