IEET > Rights > Fellows
Bigotry’s New Frontier
Dale Carrico   Aug 6, 2005   Amor Mundi  

In a new public relations campaign, the Christian bioconservative Center for Bioethics and Culture is now encouraging its supporters to purchase and sport blue wristbands emblazoned with the words “THE HUMAN FUTURE.”

What, you may be wondering, do these bioconservatives mean by the human future?

Well, one thing we can say of it from the outset is that there would appear to be only one future that is a “human” one for the CBC.

How fortunate for us all that there are bioconservatives on hand to let the rest of us know all the many kinds of humans that fail now and will come to fail in the future to pass muster as proper humans.

Wearing this bracelet, say the organizers of “The Human Future” campaign, is “raising the red flag” - this despite the fact that the bracelet is blue - “when human dignity is at stake.”

Always remember that there is a decisive family resemblance between the conventional anti-choice politics of social conservatives, which would hijack the concept of “life” in the service of projects to take away every woman’s right to make informed healthcare choices—and the efforts of bioconservatives to hijack the concept of human “dignity” in the service of projects to ban and restrict therapeutic choices and avenues of medical research for everyone. And all this just to better reflect their own parochial interests and tastes. (And usually it is literally the same people who are making these parallel arguments.)

“The Human Future” campaign, the CBC continues “is about celebrating the beauty and complexity of human life in all of its various stages from the zygote to the death bed.” The enthusiasm of bioconservatives for fetal not-quite-yet persons and vegetative no-longer-quite-still persons is, of course, too well known. No doubt it is a matter of coincidence that in speaking for those who cannot speak for themselves bioconservatives can multiply their own voices incomparably, especially in an era when fewer and fewer people otherwise seem to make choices and voice opinions these bioconservatives approve of.

True to form, the promised bioconservative “celebration of complexity” turns its attentions soon enough to the policing of every trait, every capacity, every technique, every value, every lifeway that nudges the least bit outside the straightjacket of customs and norms that define “dignity” for bioconservatives in particular. Apparently this is the sort of “celebration” that is possible only so long as everybody is attending exactly the same party, whether they want to or not. One recalls H.L. Mencken’s definition of “puritanism” as “[t]he haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy.”

“CBC is about equipping people to face the challenges of the 21st Century and we use all the tools necessary to raise awareness about these issues,” declare the campaign’s organizers. Permit me a moment to relish the rich commonplace hypocrisy of bioconservative technophobes enthusing even figuratively about “equip[ment]” and “tools”... and now let’s look a bit more closely at “the issues” about which the CBC would raise our awareness.

ssues related to the taking, making, and faking of human life are the issues that will dominate the 21st Century,” the CBC assures us.

One is disappointed to discover that lives lost to back alley abortions, lives lost to sexually transmitted diseases left unaddressed in “abstinence only” sex-education programs, lives lost to treatable diseases left untreated among uninsured Americans and among countless people in the developing world due to the impact of intellectual property regimes beholden to the profits of Big Pharma, lives lost to starvation in the midst of abundance, lives of soldiers and civilians lost in illegal wars, lives lost to deliriously proliferating handguns, lives lost to deteriorating environmental standards, safety standards, healthcare standards, lives lost to multiplying Greenhouse storms… that none of these lives lost would appear to represent the sort of takings of life that exercise the bioconservative imagination, particularly, if the CBC website is any kind of guide to their preoccupations. Now, aborted fetuses… well, boy, that’s another matter!

As for makings of life that represent 21st Century “issues,” assisted reproductive techniques are apparently very troubling, even when they eventuate in perfectly recognizable fetuses. For issue that is not “an issue,” what is wanted, don’t you know, are very particularly the fetuses that conventional couples arrive at through coupling conventionally. Also, cloned kittens as pets are a problem. Designer super babies and clone armies are also unexpectedly something to worry about quite a bit, even if you are not a writer of dystopian science fiction novels. Curiously enough, worrying about such B-movie monsters turns out to provide all sorts of otherwise counterintuitive insight as to why a pregnant woman shouldn’t be able to know whether or not the fetus she is carrying has phenylketonuria and why we shouldn’t spend money to cure Parkinson’s Disease if embryonic stem-cells are involved. I had no idea!

Most intriguing of all, of course, is the suggestion that in the 21st Century one burning “issue” will be that some apparently living humans will be, in fact, just “faking human life.” Clearly, the bioconsevatives are trying to get out ahead of the 21st Century Cylon Problem. One hesitates to ask just what kinds of genetic and prosthetic medical therapies will be enough to nudge some humans toward the status of “fake human life.” Perhaps I should rethink that Lasik treatment, especially since I’ve already got that whole queer problem happening (why, I’m probably just a fake human just fake living already!).

I wonder, will these 21st Century fake humans know that they’re fakes themselves or will only the bioconservatives know? Just think how terrible it would be to be living your life, muddling along with your modest hopes and pleasures and frustrations, thinking all along you’re a human being with, you know, a human life, and then discover all the sudden that because you’re a medically delayed twin (clone), or the product of some other assisted reproduction technique, or the beneficiary of some genetic therapy or whatever that therefore you’re not a human at all, not living at all, not a rights-bearing, dignity-inhering human at all, but a fake after all! If only more people had donned the bioconservative blue bracelets while there was still time!

This bioconservative campaign looks like to me like something of an historical first: A declaration of pre-emptive bigotry against certain kinds of human beings who don’t even exist yet.

One would have thought their hostility to people of other faiths or too-different versions of their own faith, to gay people, to scientifically-literate people, to cheerful nonconformists, to anybody who thinks poor people and women are actually already proper human beings, and to anybody anywhere on earth with scarce oil or other resources they happen to be entitled to by virtue of wanting them would be quite exhausting and time-consuming enough for conservatives without adding to the enemies list as well “all people who may undergo life-enhancing consensual genetic, prosthetic, and cognitive medical therapies that bioconservatives are unfamiliar with or otherwise scared of at the moment.”

Of course, one expects American social conservatives to treat the humans they disapprove of as subhumans. The soldiers of the Christian American “culture of life” can always be counted on to declare their bigotry loud and proud (and at considerable length) in this way. But you have to hand it to them this time, getting ahead of the curve like this, joining hearts and hands to extend their antipathy to people who haven’t even managed to arrive yet on the scene.

Bioconservative bigotry has found a New Frontier. I have no doubt at all that there will be many more to come.

Dale Carrico Ph.D. was a fellow of the IEET from 2004 to 2008 and is a lecturer in the Department of Rhetoric at the University of California at Berkeley.



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