Human Exceptionalism

More Cornerite Eugenics Apologetics

The eugenics string got kicked off the regular Corner dialogue, but I bring it to you here, if you are interested. Stuttaford calls Leon Kass a “crank” because he (Kass)claims that one of the things in life that focuses us, is the knowledge of our mortality. He also claims we should consider accepting the aging process gracefully. This isn’t to say we should not treat illnesses. It isn’t to say we should not pursue wellness. But it is to say that there is more to life than youthful vitality. But when describing Kass’ wisdom, it is always better to allow the master to speak for himself:

“Let me suggest, then, that a flourishing human life is not a life lived with an ageless body or untroubled soul, but rather a life lived in rhythmned time, mindful of time’s limits, appreciative of each season and filled first of all with those intimate human relations that are ours only because we are born, age, replace ourselves, decline, and die–and know it. It is a life of aspiration, made possible by and borne of experienced lack, of the disproportion between the transcendent longings of the soul and the limited capacities of our bodies and minds. It is a life that stretches towards some fulfillment to which our natural human soul has been oriented, and, unless we extirpate the source, will always be oriented. It is a life not of better genes and enhancing chemicals but of love and friendship, song and dance, speech and deed, working and learning, revering and worshipping. The pursuit of an ageless body is finally a distraction and a deformation. The pursuit of an untroubled and self-satisfied soul is deadly to desire. Finitude recognized spurs aspiration. Fine aspiration acted upon is itself the core of happiness. Not the agelessness of the body nor the contentment of the soul nor even the list of external achievement and accomplishments of life, but the engaged and energetic being-at-work of what nature uniquely gave to us is what we need to treasure and defend against the devilish promise of technological perfection.”

A crank? One need not agree with Kass. But frankly, to call him a crank in my view is to demonstrate an extremely stunted moral understanding.

P.S. In a subsequent reply, Ramesh Ponnuru nailed it: He writes:

“Andrew, where exactly in that passage from Kass did he describe all possible life-extending interventions as wrong, or say that they should all be illegal? Besides, most of what he’s talking about wouldn’t be eugenic interventions anyway. So, yup, it’s a strawman.

“Derbyshire’s comments are almost purely rhetorical. ‘We are the masters of government, not its slaves.’ Nice to hear. Never denied it.

“To return to the actual topics in dispute: 1) The fact remains that Derbyshire leans heavily on the inevitability of eugenics when dismissing arguments against some types of it, while dismissing arguments for the inevitability of governmental eugenics for no particular reason. 2) Derbyshire made the familiar (though absurd) suggestion that anyone who is concerned that some types of eugenics can instrumentalize human life should be opposed to free choice in mate selection; I rebutted the idea; once again, he says nothing in response.”

Well, that’s John Derbyshire.