Tuesday, 2002 December 17, 19:35 — humanities, luddites

a pox on bioethicists II

Apparently Mr Bush has created something called the President’s Council on Bioethics. Now, I’ve never heard that term except in connexion with some chin-puller’s opinion that it’s naughty to tamper with God’s Will Nature by curing infertility or whatnot; so it comes as no surprise to read that one Leon Kass, appointed to chair the Council, has written a book in praise of Death. He said in a speech:

After a while, no matter how healthy we are, no matter how respected and well placed we are socially, most of us cease to look upon the world with fresh eyes. Little surprises us, nothing shocks us, righteous indignation at injustice dies out.

Robert Tiernan, a student at Oregon State, quotes the above and goes on to warn of the tyranny of elder opinion.

Phooey. I can’t say about Kass, but Tiernan’s objections vanish if we discard the assumption that seniority will continue to dominate government and academia.

Max Planck, father of quantum physics, said:

An important scientific innovation rarely makes its way by gradually winning over and converting its opponents . . . . What does happen is that its opponents gradually die out, and that the growing generation is familiarized with the ideas from the beginning.

But if the tyranny of the elders is so powerful, how does the younger generation learn anything new? What happens is that elder scientists dominate because the younger allow them to, in hopes of getting their position in turn.

Without death to ensure automatic turnover, there will be no more lifetime appointments. (Will ceremonial monarchies survive?) I cannot predict what form the new institutions will take, but it is certain that the second generation of immortals will not stand for permanent second-tier status.

When aging is abolished there will be no excuse for not continuing to do fresh work. It may well be that even a permanently young brain gets stiff as the centuries go by; I suggest that that problem is better addressed with LSD (and newer subtler drugs) than with crude Death. I can imagine a custom of retiring, every century or so, for a period of artificial childhood.

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