Russell and Duenes

Dr. Leon Kass: High-Tech Amusements and a Bottle of Soma

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I’ve been reading Dr. Kass’ lecture, Defending Human Dignity, as I continue to think about bioethical issues and particularly about how our technological advances alter what it means to be human, or to have true dignity as humans. Kass makes a remarkable statement about what we might get, and what we might lose, from our technological inventions.

But there are reasons to wonder whether life will really be better if we turn to biotechnology to fulfill our deepest human desires. There is an old expression: to a man armed with a hammer, everything looks like a nail. To a society armed with biotechnology, the activities of human life may come to be seen in purely technical terms, and more amenable to improvement than they really are. We may get more easily what we asked for only to realize it is vastly less than what we really wanted. Worse, we may get exactly what we ask for and fail to recognize what it cost us in coin of our humanity.

We might get better children, but only by turning procreation into manufacture or by altering their brains to gain them an edge over their peers. We might perform better in the activities of life, but only by becoming mere creatures of our chemists or by turning ourselves into bionic tools designed to win and achieve in inhuman ways. We might get longer lives, but only at the cost of living carelessly with diminished aspiration for living well or becoming people so obsessed with our own longevity that we care little about the next generations. We might get to be “happy,” but only by means of a drug that gives us happy feelings without the real loves, attachments, and achievements that are essential for true human flourishing. As Aldous Huxley prophetically warned us, in his dystopian novel Brave New World, the unbridled yet well-meaning pursuit of the mastery of human nature and human troubles through technology can issue in a world peopled by creatures of human shape but of shrunken humanity—engaged in trivial pursuits; lacking science, art, religion, and self-government; missing love, friendship, or any true human attachments; and getting their jollies from high-tech amusements and a bottle of soma.

Read the whole thing here.



Written by Michael Duenes

May 3, 2010 at 10:51 pm

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