Turned up to eleven: Fair and Balanced

Thursday, December 13, 2001

I was tipped off by Instapundit to this Dr. West and Mr. bin Laden in the Weekly Standard (a mag I don't normally read). Now I used to think that Bill Kristol was an intelligent, if misguided neocon, but now I am convinced he has gone off the deep end. I am going to go my bloggin' best to rip him a new cornchute, so bear with me.

IN TESTIMONY before the Senate last July, Dr. Michael West, president of Advanced Cell Technology and lead scientist on the team that recently cloned the first human embryos, quoted Scripture:

As the Apostle Paul said: "When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things." (I Cor. 13:11) In the same way, it is absolutely a matter of life and death that policymakers in the United States carefully study the facts of human embryology and stem cells. A child's understanding of human reproduction simply will not suffice and such ignorance could lead to disastrous consequences.

True enough. But a childish understanding of ethics also will not suffice, and childish ignorance by scientists of their moral obligations can also lead to disastrous consequences.

Clearly, anyone who doesn't agree with Mr. Kristol is childish. Clearly Dr. West doesn't understand ethics and morals, he is just trying to invent a life saving technology!!!.
This is followed by some very forced writing that basically says that 9/11 pushed cloning/stem cells of the table, but now we must bring it back. This is followed by the next, absolutely staggering claim...

Perhaps it is significant that the genetic challenge and the challenge of terrorism seem to have arrived together. For both require us to confront fundamental questions about life and death, good and evil, civilization and barbarism. The new genetics leads us to expect an indefinite extension of life, to believe that medical science may one day smooth the jagged edges of our mortality. Terrorism confronts us with the permanent fragility of life, and with the destruction that modern technology, in the hands of evildoers, can unleash upon its creators.

Obviously, Bin Laden was sitting around, biding his time, waiting to see if stem cell research would progress far enough so he could launch his attack???Does cloning really make us deal with the question of civilization v. barbarism? Maybe if you are a neo-Luddite neocon it does (Alliteration with neocon is fun and easy...see if you can come up with some!!). Is anyone really expecting genetic engineering to yield eternal life? One straw man, please! Now we get to the really good part.

Aldous Huxley understood the connection. In his novel, the brave new world comes into being in large measure as a remedy for human fear--a way of "perfecting" existence so that men and women can lead long, healthy, and pleasure-filled lives. It is an escape from the burdens of history, suffering, and war. As Mustapha Mond explains in "Brave New World," "What's the point of truth or beauty or knowledge when the anthrax bombs are popping all around you? . . . People were ready to have their appetites controlled then. Anything for a quiet life."

Apparently we are all supposed to get our moral guidance from a novel written for teenagers, and read by most in high school English classes? Written in 1932, before the discovery of the structure of DNA. Now, Huxley was obviously very concerned about the eventual dystopia that technological advancement might bring, but the comparison to "Brave New World" is so trite, so hackneyed, that not only is it bad logic, but it is also incredibly bad writing. Not only that, but the section quoted has NOTHING to do with cloning or genetic engineering. If you thought that was bad, wait till you hear this...

For the last decade, Americans have had a generally quiet life--happy, healthy, upwardly mobile, unburdened by history. The holiday ended when the planes hit the first World Trade Center tower. What confronts us now is a band of nihilistic terrorists who despise mere health, comfort, and life. Our enemies worship death--not just our death, but their own apocalyptic, civilization-destroying suicide. Osama bin Laden put it bluntly: "We love death. The U.S. loves life. That is the big difference between us." The challenge to America--a nation that "loves life," and rightfully so--is that confronting such death-seeking terrorism requires a willingness to fight and perhaps to die. It requires courage, and even heroism.

Hatred of life and glorification of death lead in obvious ways to evil. But life understood as an absolute devotion to health and material well-being may invite us to tolerate, even celebrate, morally questionable pursuits (like cloning human embryos for research or harvesting organs) and morally debilitating expectations (like a life without challenges, tragedy, or suffering).

In case you missed it, Kristol is taking morality lessons from Osama bin Laden!!!!!! Apparently, Kristol is of the opinion that wanting to extend our lives by medical means makes us liable to be blown up by planes crashed into buildings! Despite the qualifier at the beginning of the second paragraph distancing himself from OBL's statement, it is apparent that our willingness to allow cloning research to proceed is why we were attacked!! Now we get to some "analysis"...

Thus, Dr. West informs us, "for the sake of medicine, we need to set our fears aside." But are all fears about what man will do with his new genetic powers unjustified? Dr. West doesn't think "the abuse of this technology, its potential abuses, should stop us from doing what we believe is the right thing in medicine." But aren't the likely abuses of a technology as important as its speculative benefits? Dr. West's mission, he says, is "to end suffering and disease." But does pursuing such utopian dreams make us willing to tolerate, accept, and ultimately normalize evil means?

Notice two bald distortions, and one unsupported assertion. Dr. West speaks of "potential abuses", while Kristol and his lackey make them "likely". Meanwhile, the benefits are "speculative". The unspoken assumption is that the abuses will happen, but the benefits are never to be seen. At the end of the paragraph, we are asked an utterly misleading question, whether we will accept these obviously "evil means." Did I miss something, or is there absolutely no justification for this characterization. As usual, the word of Kristol is gospel...

As the ethicist Paul Ramsey put it, "any person, or any society or age, expecting ultimate success where ultimate success is not to be reached, is peculiarly apt to devise extreme and morally illegitimate means for getting there." And peculiarly apt, one might add, to redefine the project so that it seems morally blameless, as Sen. Arlen Specter and other zealous advocates for unlimited research have tried to do, by saying that cloned embryos are not really cloned embryos

When all else fails, attack your friends when they don't agree with you. Add a "ethicist" with an impenetrable quote, and no one will read it anyway. But what does that quote mean? In essence, he is saying that some people think that the ends justify the means. Is this really a penetrating thought? By the way, the advocates, such as Sen. Specter, are "zealous", and want "unlimited" research? That is simply a lie. By the way, who is "ethicist Paul Ramsey"?? He is a member of the faculty at Princeton, and as evidenced by this article The Inhuman Use of Human Beings, he runs with the Kass crowd, and has been against embryo research for some time. Now, there is nothing wrong with citing your bodies, but he is not exactly an impartial observer, is he? We get to the climactic paragraph, where the crap really hits the fan, and all the rhetorical guns are loosed...

In short, what America now faces are two grave threats to a dignified human future--one which is obvious, and one which comes so wrapped up with real and apparent goods that it is hard to detect. The first is the dehumanization of the terrorists, who have so little regard for life (including their own) that they make killing their only purpose and modern technology their weapon. The second is the dehumanization of the eugenicists, who seek a brave new world in which technology makes human (or post-human) life perfectly healthy, pleasant, autonomous, and secure--even if some moral boundaries must be breached along the way. Both threats are upon us now.
So therapeutic cloning is just like murdering thousands?? Apparently, Dr. West is now a eugenicist (a seriously loaded word), and life in his world is "post-human". For more on this, see Ron Bailey's article on chimp-girls and pig-men (these guys must have watched Seinfeld!!) cited below. When we get to the end of this article, what do we notice?? Not one argument was made against therapeutic (or reproductive, for that matter) cloning. We had some ridicule, an appeal to the authority of an adolescent sci-fi book, and an appeal to the authority of a pro-life, anti-embryo research ethicist, but no actual argument!! I just hope that our response to the threat of modern, life saving medicine is as vigorous as to fanatical terrorists!!! Sheesh, I can't believe I wasted this much effort on this drivel