Leon Kass, the scientific community frowns on your deathist shenanigans and paternalistic tomfoolery. We will continue to denounce your anti-freedom, control-freak bioethical views until the day your theocon allies are booted out of the White House, which will occur on January 20, 2009. Enjoy your eight months.
That’s why it’s exciting to have prestigious cognitive scientist Dr. Steven Pinker, author of what is possibly the best book on evolutionary psychology ever written, How the Mind Works, come join the fray. In The Stupidity of Dignity, published a couple weeks ago at The New Republic, Dr. Pinker sees right through Kass’ hyper-theological, far-right, intolerant, paternalistic bioethics.
Pinker presents several good reasons for why the concept of “dignity”, an all-purpose freedom-restricting platitude used by theocons in America’s capital at and at the Vatican alike, is not very useful in bioethics. He pokes fun at the recent, laugh-out-loud 555-page volume, Human Dignity and Bioethics, writing, “Although the Dignity report presents itself as a scholarly deliberation of universal moral concerns, it springs from a movement to impose a radical political agenda, fed by fervent religious impulses, onto American biomedicine.” Fortunately for America and the world, mainstream bioethicists will have none of it.
According to Pinker, many of the Dignity contributors are hot under the collar about the bioethicist Ruth Macklin, writer of a recent editorial in British Medical Journal, Dignity is a Useless Concept, making her “the villain of almost every piece”. But it doesn’t take a professor of bioethics to see why the “dignity” of Kass and the Vatican is a concept that can be molded into pretty much whatever the writer wants it to be. A bright High School student could do it as a weekend project.
In his piece, Pinker exposes us to the ludicrousness of the report, sparing us from slogging through its 555 mind-numbing pages. Pinker writes, “the volume finds room for seven essays that align their arguments with Judeo-Christian doctrine. We read passages that assume the divine authorship of the Bible, that accept the literal truth of the miracles narrated in Genesis (such as the notion that the biblical patriarchs lived up to 900 years), that claim that divine revelation is a source of truth, that argue for the existence of an immaterial soul separate from the physiology of the brain, and that assert that the Old Testament is the only grounds for morality.” Pinker also included my favorite Kass quote — the one about how eating ice cream in public makes us no different than animals. You can’t make this stuff up.
Having naysayers like Kass makes being an advocate of life extension both fun and easy. However, just because Kass and company are off the deep end does not mean that there aren’t valid concerns about the ethics of life extension. That’s why Aubrey de Grey is organizing the evening session “Aging: the Disease, the Cure, the Implications” next month in Los Angeles. Why transhumanists and other forward-looking thinkers have discussions in journals and on blogs, such as this one, about the ethics of this whole project. Although radical life extension will not radically increase the population over what it would otherwise be (population expands exponentially either way), our lifestyles with the current manufacturing base are indeed unsustainable, which is why we must invest in clean manufacturing processes, like nanomanufacturing, and low-waste or no-waste power sources, like solar thermal, thorium reactors, and nuclear fusion.
When George W. Bush is ejected from the White House and replaced with Barack Obama, Kass’ time in the sun will be over. He will continue to age, all the while denying medical treatments that could extend his life, until he presumably dies. However, I would welcome a discussion with Leon Kass in the year 2050 or beyond. Dr. Kass, if you ever come around and take advantage of rejuvenation therapies, in which billions of dollars are already being invested, don’t be afraid to drop us life extensionists a line. We’ll be waiting, having fun and enjoying life.