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[TraditionalDogmatics] from George Will

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  • StAthanasius373@aol.com
    WASHINGTON -- There are some things humanity cannot get used to without jeopardizing its humanness -- without becoming beastly. Creeping toward us, as on
    Message 1 of 2 , Jan 23, 2001
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      WASHINGTON -- There are some things humanity cannot get used to without
      jeopardizing its humanness -- without becoming beastly. Creeping toward us,
      as on little cat feet -- little monkey feet, actually -- is perhaps the
      gravest imaginable crisis, one that could result in the end of history as a
      distinctively human, and humane, story.Recently a rhesus monkey named ANDi
      ("inserted DNA," backwards) became the first genetically altered primate ever
      created. Created, not begotten; the result of manufacture, not procreation.
      There is a world of difference. Humans are primates. We are next. Or at any
      rate, we are in line for genetic "enhancement."Not until ANDi reaches sexual
      maturity will scientists know if the jellyfish gene inserted into his genetic
      makeup -- a gene which seems to be in all his tissues -- is in his
      reproductive cells and will be passed along, making possible a man-made line
      of primates. But such an outcome is just a matter of time. So, probably, is
      the maximum genetic transfer -- human cloning.Let us stipulate that genetic
      manipulations can yield therapeutic blessings. Genetically altered animals
      can illuminate causes and possible cures or ameliorations of many diseases.
      Genetic manipulations in humans can be therapeutic for diseases, even
      injuries (e.g., to spinal cords), and will make possible research clarifying
      the roles of nature and nurture in shaping human beings.Enhancement is not
      therapy, it is eugenics. Genetic selection -- the negative eugenics of
      preventing certain traits in children -- is already common, through genetic
      screening and amniocentesis. However, at least negative eugenics is supposed
      to serve an existing norm of health. But positive eugenics, any tailoring of
      an individual's genetic endowment, even when less ambitious than cloning,
      will put us on a slippery slope to the abolition of man. Leon Kass, a
      biologist and ethicist with the University of Chicago, explains why in his
      essay "The Wisdom of Repugnance."Genetic manipulation extends the belief that
      all children should be wanted -- a principle justifying abortion -- to
      embrace the belief that children, to be acceptable, should, in their genetic
      traits, satisfy our wants for their identities. Eugenics exemplifies the
      modern project -- to control the future, including the imposition of our
      design on our children, while our autonomy remains uncontrolled. A casualty
      of this project is, Kass says, the awe and respect for life arising from "the
      unique, never-to-be-repeated character of each human life."When parents stop
      saying (in Kass' words) "yes to the emergence of new life in its novelty,"
      when they stop saying yes to whatever the child turns out to be, then the
      meaning of having a child, and the parent-child relation, will be profoundly
      altered, with consequences that are unforeseeable but cannot be benign. When
      parents can preselect their child's genetic constitution, procreation will
      become manufacture, children will become artifacts, identity and
      individuality will become confused, and parents will become despots.Hubris
      and narcissism will color even the well-intentioned transformation of a child
      -- for its "own good" -- from an unscripted surprise into someone's artifice
      or project. And there is a fundamental threat to humanity in the reduction of
      another being to an extension of a person's will. There must be a despotism
      of the enhancer over the enhanced, a despotism that would not be justified
      even if the enhancement really were an improvement. It would condemn a child
      to never achieving true independence from its parents.It is, Kass says,
      "moral myopia" to think that all values must yield to the goals of better
      health and desirable traits. A cost of such yielding can be the reduction of
      man to the status of just another man-made thing.But such warnings may be
      overwhelmed by what Kass calls "the technological imperative" -- whatever
      science can do, will be done. That imperative seems irresistible because
      today's moral vocabulary is so impoverished that society can hardly even
      formulate good intentions. Part of that vocabulary is desiccated
      utilitarianism that weighs only tangible harms and benefits: If something
      reduces an individual's suffering or improves an individual's well-being, it
      should be done. Another part is simplistic libertarianism -- anything
      consensual should be permissible and anything that expands choices is
      good.But it is not good, Kass insists, if human nature becomes just the last
      part of nature turned into raw material for human willfulness. ANDi is an
      intimation that nuclear explosions are not the only way science can end the
      human story. Biology might do that more gradually than physics can, but no
      less decisively, and even more repugnantly.

    • StAthanasius373@aol.com
      CHICAGO -- Given ancient traditions, and contemporary resentments of America s global ascendancy, it is fanciful to think that the priest who lives here, hard
      Message 2 of 2 , May 15, 2001
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        CHICAGO -- Given ancient traditions, and contemporary resentments of
        America's global ascendancy, it is fanciful to think that the priest who
        lives here, hard by Lake Michigan, might one day be summoned to the west bank
        of the Tiber River to hold the world's oldest office. However, Francis
        Cardinal George, 64, the first Chicagoan to be Chicago's Archbishop, is
        temperamentally and intellectually suited to continue the work of Pope John
        Paul II.But, then, George is invaluable here, as a critic -- loving but
        unenthralled -- of American culture at a moment when complacency obscures
        reasons for anxiousness. A holder of doctorates in theology and political
        philosophy, George, who laughs easily and often, wears his learning lightly
        but wields it seriously. He casts a cool eye on today's triumphalism, which
        is the sin of pride tarted up for the post-Cold War victory parade.The
        evaporation of Marxism, with its beguiling (to intellectuals) brew of
        pseudo-science and messianic promise, and the collapse of other collectivist
        creeds have left no rival to the American model of market-oriented social
        arrangements. But George argues that America once was and needs to be again
        more Lockean and less Hobbesian.John Locke, so important to America's
        Founders, tempered his philosophic individualism by stressing shareable norms
        that come to us from nature and common experience, and which require us to
        take into account something other than our own desires. But Locke's
        intellectual precursor, Thomas Hobbes, portrayed human beings not as
        possessing personhood, not as rational or responsible, least of all as free.
        Rather, Hobbes said, they are subject to irresistible stimuli and are, George
        says, "as determined as any physical object." Human rights as Hobbes
        understood them are banal, arising from, and being defined by, irresistible
        urges.People comfortable with such a characterization will, George warns,
        lose their ability to stand "outside" their actions and witness their
        self-creation though moral choices. And a society morally anesthetized by the
        reduction of persons to bundles of impulses, and by the definition of rights
        in terms of power (powerful desires), should not be surprised by 1.3 million
        abortions a year, and one in three children born out of wedlock.Hobbes
        famously said that life in the state of nature is completely presocial
        ("solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short"). But a society that postulates,
        as Hobbes did, a world void of natural norms, will be a barely social
        society. Such a void, says George, will be filled exclusively by every
        individual's interests and drives. This limits our horizons to our own
        experiences. The classic American antidote to such truncation of moral vision
        is education. But there can be, George tartly notes, "well-instructed moral
        cretins."Man, said the philosopher and novelist Iris Murdoch, is a creature
        who makes pictures of himself -- and comes to resemble the pictures. George
        warns that Hobbes' picture of mankind, or any radically individualist
        depiction, can be self-fulfilling. Against such depictions, the church bears
        witness to a particular and universal notion of the good.This puts -- or
        should put -- believers in perennial, and healthy, tension with any society,
        but particularly with pluralistic societies, and especially with those
        permeated with modernity's mentality, which eschews the idea of a
        transcendent source of norms. George celebrates evangelical Christians'
        "model of discipleship." He says "they understand faith as a surrender" that
        prevents surrender to the culture and "the collapse of religion back into
        culture."The three great carriers of American culture -- universities,
        entertainment and the law -- currently teach, George says, the supreme value
        of something value-free -- a mere process, "choice." So politics is becoming
        a mere "ensemble of procedures" for "regulating the pursuit of our personal
        satisfactions." The resultant culture is comfortable with merely comfortable
        religion -- religion that is, George says, a "personal motivator" but not "an
        organizer of life."In an increasingly secular society, in what Max Weber
        called the "disenchanted world," faith decreasingly infuses life. It
        organizes neither space (towers of commerce, not a cathedral, are at the
        center of the city) nor time (even Catholic schools take spring breaks, not
        Easter breaks). This result is what George calls "religious
        indifferentism."In an era of watery convictions and thin theological gruel,
        George's forthrightness must be bracing even to the unchurched: "Although the
        Catholic Church does not embrace religious pluralism as an ideal, she
        understands it in the context of her eschatological confidence." John Paul
        II's calendar for 2003 is filling up. Long may he remain full of humor and
        remarkably robust for one well-stricken in years. But a worthy successor
        could be found just off Lake Shore Drive.

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