Human Exceptionalism

The Problem of Technology When “Virtue” Becomes Passe`

In keeping with our discussion today of the power of technology–and adding in Yuval Levin’s insight that society has replaced “promoting virtue” with “preventing suffering” as its overriding purpose–you end up with this story: A man is accused of using the Internet to assist the suicide of a mentally disturbed young man who lived 4000 miles away. From the story:

A British woman tried to alert U.S. police four years ago to an online predator she believes coaxed her emotionally fragile son to kill himself. Mark Drybrough, 32, hanged himself July 27, 2005 in his home in Coventry, just east of Birmingham in the English midlands. He was recovering from a nervous breakdown and under psychiatric care.

After his death, his family found two months’ worth of online correspondence he’d had with a person known variously as Falcon Girl and Li Dao. “In his conversation with Mark, he was claiming he’d watched somebody else die on camera to try to encourage Mark to do it,” his mother, Elaine Drybrough, said in an interview from her Coventry home. “I think he’s been enjoying himself.”

Police in Saint Paul, Minnesota are now investigating area resident William Francis Melchert-Dinkel, 46, for allegedly using the Internet to encourage, advise and assist people to commit suicide, possibly including Carleton University student Nadia Kajouji. Ottawa police said she had been in contact with Melchert-Dinkel. In the messages to her son, Elaine Drybrough said Falcon Girl was at times “quite loving — he calls people ‘honey’ and … making a bit like he’s being helpful or whatever. I think his entire coaxing and persuasion (convinced) him to go ahead with it. (But) as far as we know, he did not die on camera.”

With the growing power of all things technological, it becomes a matter of urgent concern to strengthen virtue within society. But the minute you bring up that concept, people start screaming about moralism–such as when the story broke in the UK–which I reported here at SHS–about the 13-year-old boy becoming a father. The nation became all atwitter and pundits tub-thumped about the need to reestablish moral values in England!!–except no one had any suggestions about how to go about that task for fear of being accused of religiosity or fuddy-duddyism.

So we are stuck with “choice” as the foundation–and that leads to terminal nonjudgmentalism, one consequence of which is sad stories such as this.

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