by Beverly Nuckols on July 6, 2010 at 7:55 PM
Ronald Bailey is the Science Editor of Reason Magazine, a print and on line journal dedicated to “free minds and free markets.” The focus tends to be Libertarian, secular, and technological. Most of the time I agree with the views of Mr. Bailey and his fellows at Reason, but we disagree on “worldviews.” For instance, he's been highly critical of Ben Stein's "Expelled, No Intelligence Allowed, the movie that exposed systematic discrimination against scientists who believe in a Creator or who are skeptical about evolution.
Like Ronald Bailey, and many of the advocates of transhumanism, I’m an optimist about the future of humans and our lives here on Earth. I love technology, medicine and science, as long as no one is killed for it. I base my optimism for the future on my belief in the Creator in charge. Since I believe we’re made in the image of God, I am convinced that we mere humans can’t divide that Image. I’m not worried that our children won’t be human no matter how enhanced and no matter whether or not they are Homo sapiens
(I realize there may be a future when our problems are much worse than they are now if we understand Judeo-Christian prophesy. However, I also have hope in the forgiveness of the Creator and recognize the Source of the human capacity to invent solutions to our problems. )
Mr. Bailey is a strong proponent of transhumanism, the purposeful use of science and technology with a goal beyond enhancement or “better than well. “ He anticipates the posthuman, the next step in human evolution, but does not believe that the pre-born human organism is human or deserving on protection from killing. Bailey has debated the personhood or humanity of embryos with Conservative thinkers like Robert P. George and Patrick Lee on the pages of Reason, the National Review On-line, and both scholarly and popular books devoted to bioethics, embryonic stem cell research, and what it means to be human.
Last week, Bailey reported on the "H+Summit" conference at Harvard. The Summit brought together those interested in transhumanism, to present research and various future possibilities. The column is titled "Plastic Brains, Femmebots, and Aliens Watching TV; Dispatches from the Humanity+ Summit." (Those of you with no background in Science Fiction – or hyperactive 14 year old boy geeks around the house - may have some trouble relating to the title and/or to the comments. I’m working on an article on Science Fiction and Bioethics that may help. Watch this space.)
In addition to reporting on the Summit, Bailey was one of the speakers, presenting on "The Democratic Threat to Transhumanism." (April 2009 version of the paper is here).
During his talk this June, Mr. Bailey reports that he asked the audience whether,
they think their neighbors should get to vote on whom they marry? Whether one should be able to use contraception? Likely not. So why should people get to vote on whether a person can increase his or her healthy lifespan using transformative technologies? For example, using human embryonic stem cell lines to cure one’s illnesses? And why should balloting limit a person’s access to new reprogenetic technologies? I then pointed out that contemporary history unfortunately shows that majorities in modern democracies are only too happy to ban technologies (e.g., stem cells, cloning) that are the precursors to transhuman progress.
I showed that of all the leading democratic countries, only the United States had no national policies banning such technologies. To my surprise, when I pointed that out, the many members of the audience applauded and cheered. I ended by explaining that as a minority preference (at least for now) transhumanists must argue for liberty and not be seduced by democratic happy-talk. When people of good will deeply disagree on moral issues that don't involve the prevention of force or fraud, it is a fraught exercise to submit their disagreement to a panel of political appointees or a democratic vote. That way leads to intolerance, repression, and social conflict.(emphasis mine)
The problem with applying Mr. Bailey's non-interventionist policy to the technologies he wishes to use is that the effects of his actions are not limited to his own personal protoplasm. Forget social experimentation, he would use and harvest functioning organisms – causing them to cease to function - from the human lineage for his own personal gain without consent or benefit to the other organism. The act of intervening before the organism is capable of said consent or benefit does not make the use any less an act of aggression. Causing that organism to die is the ultimate "force or fraud."