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Human Exceptionalism

Life and dignity with Wesley J. Smith.

Yearning for Tyranny of Moral Enhancement



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The Gray Matter Brigade is at it again–pushing artificial means of “moral enhancement” to improve the behavior of the human race. Part of the meme is to become extraordinary without having to earn it through discipline and hard work. With regard to moral enhancement, the hope is to use artificial means to make us think and act in ways that the moral enhancers perceive to be moral.

The whole idea stinks of tyranny. And now from the publication that brought us advocacy for “after-birth abortion,” I bring you, “Moral Enhancement, Freedom, and What We (Should) Value in Moral Behaviour,” by George Washington University bioethicist (of course!) David DeGrazia:

Public policy decisions regarding MB [moral bioenhancement] should be acceptable from any reasonable view of morality. I suggest that this area of overlapping consensus is fairly broad. That, in large part, is because we can agree on many things that can go wrong with our moral agency: our motives, our insight or our consequent behaviour. Thus, our public policies might support research into and possibly—if and when some forms of MB are demonstrably safe and effective and the state is prepared to make them universally available—encourage or even require the use of certain MBs that help to reduce or eliminate any of the following moral defects.

Many of the “moral defects” that DeGrazia identifies–as usual in articles of this kind–reflect the sensibilities of contemporary academic liberalism, the prism through which proper “morality” will be defined by the bioenhancers: 

  • Lesser forms of moral cynicism that make one more likely than a good person to be corrupted, to cheat on taxes, not to bother to contribute what one agrees is one’s fair share,etc—a more ordinary failure of motivation.
  • Defective empathy as found in persons with narcissistic personality disorder and in others who are very self absorbed—a failure of insight
  • Significant prejudice against the interests of those outside one’s group of identification, a failure of insight or motivation
  • An inability to focus on unpleasant realities (eg, starving children, the abuse of women, the worst conditions of factory farms) that all reasonable people can agree are morally problematic—a failure of insight… [We are all against starving children, but judging the morality of many of these matters would be subjective, particularly when it comes to defining "abuse" of women (denial of abortion on demand?) and "factory farm" practices.]
  • Inability to find creative solutions to difficult problems involving competing interests and values, a failure of insight
  • Inability to grasp subtle, complicated details that are of undeniable moral relevance (eg, the ways in which affluent persons benefit economically from the legacies of colonialism and slavery and from current injustices such as treaties with dictators or strongmen who disserve their country people), a failure of insight.  

All reasonable persons can agree that the items on list represent moral defects.

No we can’t. For example, I know of a certain president who sure seems “self absorbed,” and utterly possessed of “narcissistic” tendencies–and yet, I would never say he has a moral “defect.”

At the risk of making this blog too long, I think it is worth listing the harsh techniques that the would-be enhancers apparently believe the state should be allowed impose (in some cases) on its citizens to make them “moral:”

  • Glucose as a means of increasing resistance to temptation to do something wrong or to stop trying to do what one should.
  • Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors as a means to being less inclined to assault people
  • Propranolol as a means of decreasing unconscious racial bias.
  • Deep-brain stimulation (eg, electrical stimulation of theamygdala) as a means to reducing aggression
  • Neuro feedback to increase sympathy and/or treat antisocial personality disorder (psychopathy)
  • Selection of embryos that contain a gene coding for a greater disposition to altruism.
  • Genetic interventions to gametes, embryos or postnatal human beings [e.g, babies]  as a means to the same end.
  • Embryo selection or genetic engineering as a means of avoiding or neutralising genes associated with antisocial personality disorder
  • Either of these means as a way of securing a stronger predisposition to fairness
  • An artificial chromosome that includes multiple genes coding for stronger predispositions to a variety of moral virtues

Moral enhancers should enhance themselves so they reject their blatant authoritarian tendencies!

Moral enhancement is just a tactful term for brainwashing. True morality is a product of character and character can’t be enhanced–it has to chosen, developed with hard work and discipline, and lived moment-by-moment–even in the face of adverse consequences for doing what is right.

What the enhancer really yearn for are ways to make us think the way they think. No thank you. I’ll take freedom.



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