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Man has been trying to improve himself by his own power since the beginning. The results speak for themselves.
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Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Institutionalized Discrimination

There is a disturbing trend of frank discrimination based on a person's lifestyle choice. People who engage in a particular behavior face difficulty getting and keeping jobs, and they must prove to prospective employers that they do not engage in that behavior.

This particular behavior is associated with health issues, and according to a New York Times article about it, prospective employers are trying to promote a healthier workplace and minimize health care expenses.  You might think it would be a lifestyle choice that is associated with incurable and transmissible diseases that cause gradual and irreversible degeneration of health and, toward the end, enormous suffering and health system utilization. A lifestyle associated also with other unpleasant but incurable communicable virus infections. In general, people sick with transmissible diseases are encouraged to stay home, and having an incurable transmissible disease would seem like the kind of thing you would not want in the workplace. But that would be discrimination and illegal.

No, the lifestyle choice in question is smoking.

No doubt that smoking is associated with health problems -- in the smoker.  We are not talking about second hand smoke issues, we are talking about people who smoke outdoors or at home or in their cars, but not at work. No one has ever caught cancer from a cancer sufferer or heart disease from a heart disease suffer.  (People have caught AIDS from people who have it, though.  In fact, that's the only way to get it.) Smokers, as smokers, pose no threat to their coworkers.

So ultimately, this is about money. Employers do not want to pay for employee health benefits for smokers. The whole "healthier workplace" thing is just a, well, smokescreen. It's about the money, and being able to discriminate against people who engage in a particular lifestyle choice to save money.

The article quotes people worried that other lifestyle choices might soon be targeted, but one gets the impression that the NYT presents them as Chicken Littles worried that the sky is falling.

But should obesity not be next? Obesity is probably far worse of a national, nay, global health issue, being associated with chronic and non-communicable diseases such as diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol, and a whole host of related circulatory and organ diseases. And, as many as half of the people in this country are overweight.  Not nearly as many people smoke. Only skinny people should be able to get and keep jobs.  No gaining weight after you get hired.

After obesity is sedentary lifestyle -- people who watch too much TV and internet and who do not exercise regularly. Exercise is the opposite of smoking and obesity -- where smoking and obesity cause health problems, exercise causes a corresponding health benefit.  Sedentary lifestyles lack those benefits.

Then there are potentially dangerous hobbies and sports, like motorcycle riding, skiing, roller blading, mountain biking...

Soon, only the very fit and very boring, and those with incurable transmissible diseases like AIDS, will be able to get jobs. (Wasn't it the book 1984 in which everyone was made to do exercises every morning?)

And lest anyone get on me about the AIDS thing, let me say this: If it is reasonable that people with AIDS not be discriminated against, a position I actually favor, then all the more should smokers not be discriminated against.

About the discrimination against smokers, the article ends with four words: "It's a good idea." Quitting is a good idea.  Encouraging employees to quit is a good idea.  Similar things could be said about obesity and being sedentary.  Caution is warranted with risky pastimes.  These are good idease. Discriminating against smokers is just plain discrimination.

But the Times thinks it's a good idea.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

What do assisted suicide advocates really want?

Hawaii has turned down an effort to legalize assisted suicide for terminally ill people, the third time in 6 years such legislation has been introduced in that state and was, well, euthanized in committee.

The bill apparently would have applied only to those who are terminally ill, and not those who are seriously injured and disabled but otherwise not facing imminent death.  Testimony against the bill dramatically outweighed testimony on its behalf.  Those supporting the bill basically said, "The way I die should be my choice."

Opponents pointed out that people with serious illnesses are not always in the right frame of mind to make that choice. One said he would have lied in the first 5 years of his disability to get the doctor to help him die if assisted suicide were legal.  But after he accepted his condition, he got on with living with a disability and now has no desire to kill himself.

Another said, "We do not need a law that is presented to people when they are vulnerable, sick and unable to think clearly." This person has been a quadriplegic for 20 years but still paints art by holding a brush in her mouth. If assisted suicide is legal, it is automatically a pressure on them to ask for it. If it is legal, people are going to suggest it. A doctor, a nurse, a friend. "You're suffering so much," a person who cares about your welfare might say, "You know there's a way to end it."

It used to be that anyone who wanted to commit suicide was by that very fact considered to be not thinking clearly enough to make that decision. When the conditions of life make you want to die, you simply can't see the reasons to live, reasons that are really there but that you cannot see. And by "see" I mean not simply "be aware of." For instance, someone could say to you, "but what about your kids?" And you could say, "Oh, they'll get over it, I'm too much of a burden to them now anyway, they'll be happy enough when the will is read." 

But that could be all wrong. Yes, "your" illness could be a burden to them, but maybe they love you and want you around in spite of it. It's the illness talking, the illness and shame and some sort of guilt for being a burden; it's the illness and faulty reasoning that block the full perception and internalization of the reality of things. And there are two parts of that reality to consider: One is that modern medicine has wonderful pain killers that do not directly kill the patient when used correctly, so one need not suffer if one lives--let it not be said I want to make people experience a prolonged and agonizing death.  The other is that no matter what the situation, life is worth living and anything to the contrary is false no matter how grim things appear.

If you can't see the whole picture, you simply act with insufficient knowledge and therefore are likely to act wrongly.

And it used to be that someone who wanted you dead was considered a monster. Now he's your best friend, the one most concerned about your welfare.  Because, the reasoning goes, sometimes the thing that is in your best interest it to undergo the worst possible threat to your best interest. Death terminates your future. How on earth can it offer you the best future? Death might terminate the suffering of a cancer patient, but only by terminating the patient. Death does not cure cancer.  Death does not relieve pain.  Death gets rid of the sufferer, not the suffering.

Now, this is the third time such legislation has been introduced in Hawaii and the third time it has been killed. Is it that assisted suicide advocates do not get the picture?  The people of Hawaii do not want vulnerable people being pressured to die at the precise moment they are most vulnerable.

The advocates of assisted suicide do, however, and they keep pushing it. But why?

Look, someone who wants to kill himself can do it.  What does he care about the law prohibiting it? He'll die, and he won't be prosecuted.  The only disadvantage is life insurance that does not pay out for suicide.  But even the legalization of assisted suicide would not change that clause of life insurance, because the insurance companies do not want someone to buy a big policy just to leave beneficiaries a big payout when they commit suicide after paying a month or two of premiums. They want to insure people who will die when their time comes, and they'll play the odds.  But a suicide is like playing with loaded dice, it skews the odds, it's cheating. So it isn't about protecting insurance money.

Is it about ending suffering.

So it is becoming clear that "assisted suicide" is not the right of the ill person to kill himself, but the right of someone else to help him do it.  Keep that in mind. It's not about the rights of the terminally ill to self-determination, but it is about the rights of the healthy to make the terminally ill die more quickly.

One can make an analogy with abortion.  It's not about the right of a woman to procure an abortion, but the right of the physician to perform one. And the physicians who perform abortions make a lot of money. So it boils down to the right of physicians to make money off of women's ability to get pregnant.

One has to wonder then if there won't be some money involved in helping people die. It may not be a source of money like abortions are, but it may be a way to save money. And it does relieve the suffering the healthy experience during the decline of their loved one. So perhaps the push for assisted suicide is about the right of the healthy to limit the expenses and emotional burdens they incur for a sick person.

That's how it seems to me anyway.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Getting Rid of the Real Problems of Society: Men

Over at IEET, always good for a chuckle once one gets past the indignation of their flawed reasoning, Hank Pellisier (a newspaper reporter by trade) suggests that an all-female future society of humans would be way better than what we have now.

This all-female society would come about through technology.  Experiments in mice have achieved the ability to modify the ovum of one female mouse so that it acts like sperm to fertilize the ovum of a second female mouse.  The resulting bi-maternal baby mice, called Kaguyas, are all female of course.  They are somewhat smaller and longer-lived than regular mice.  If this technology is applied to humans, males will become obsolete (except perhaps as sex toys – the folks at IEET are always careful to point out the sexual advantages of the technologies they espouse) and with their demise will follow the demise of many social ills.

He is right in some respects, but overall the article is severely and fatally flawed, which appears par for the course at IEET. A longer bodily life is certainly desirable, for instance, and a smaller size would make humans more efficient in terms of the use of resources.  Furthermore, our present society does have its ills and evils, including wars and violence on the scale of nations, child abuse, murders and other violent crimes, and so forth, most of which seem to be perpetrated by men.  Get rid of men, and most of these ills would disappear, or so his logic goes. 

But his logic fails in most other respects.  He does not consider, for instance, that injustices will persist among an all-female society and that they will have to deal with them somehow.  In the absence of men, 100% of all crimes would be committed by women.  And we have no way of knowing if, absent of men, women would resort to violence in the same frequency as our present society to rectify injustices or to get what they want.  I can imagine a lower proportion of murders by baseball bat, for instance, but a higher proportion by poisoning.  A lower proportion of muggings but a higher proportion of thefts by subterfuge. Fewer rapes but more seductions. Would there be fewer crimes per capita altogether? Maybe. But who can really know?

The fundamental flaw with the article, though, is the author’s tacit presumption that the members of the all-female society of human Kaguyas that he envisions would think like he does.  This first of betrays a kind of arrogance: I am reasonable and think thus and so about Kaguya humans; the Kaguya humans of the future would also be reasonable; the Kaguya humans would think like me.

It also betrays a terrible ignorance of human nature.  If anything of human history is apparent, it is the notion of rebellion against authority.  Everything from the fall of Adam and Eve to teenage rebellion against parents to resentment among any present generation for the injustices they’ve inherited from their forbears to young executives bringing new ways of doing business and moving the dinosaurs into early retirement to a new corporate president or new political leader getting rid of the old guard to install his own people, humans ascending into positions of power always think they know a better way of doing things than those who have held power.  They want to wrest power from those who have it and hold in suspicion everything about the established order as part of the power structure they seek to change.  I’m no Marxist, but Marx seems to have nailed an interesting feature of human nature in identifying such forces that shape human history.

So I imagine the Kaguya society of the future, even though in its schools would teach their offspring how unjust the male-female society of the past was and how much better their present society is, would eventually come to realize how many good things were lost in the process.

Now I will list a few ways this will happen.  I will begin with the natural course of their technological progress in terms of reproduction.  We currently understand the technology as taking an ovum from one female and modifying it in the lab, and then putting it in physical contact with the ovum of another female also in that same lab.  Once fertilization occurs, the embryo would be implanted in some female, quite possibly but not necessarily one of the two who supplied the ova.  In fact, it may be that they will develop an artificial uterus, so that total biological reproduction would be done by scientists. (Anyone see the old movie Logan’s Run?)  I would think though that there would be a strong tendency for one of the mothers to want to gestate the baby herself.

They may just realize that it would be far more convenient if some implantable technology were used to modify an ovum as it emerges from the ovary, and then to transport that ovum outside the woman’s body, and somehow inject it into the other woman’s body.  And it would be more efficient if somehow the altered ova would be produced in great quantities, had some sort of self-propulsion, and some sort of “radar” that leads them to the target ovum.  And perhaps they would develop technologies that would enable all of that.  Of course, such technologies would start off as threats to the established order, as repugnant uses of technology that take power away from the scientists who engineered the wonderful society they have.

At the same time, in learning about the horrible male-female society, they will discover old, banned books like Jane Austen novels and those on human relationships by John Paul II, which do not shy away from the weaknesses and challenges men face in being virtuous, but which also show that men are quite desirable for women when they are virtuous.

And they will realize one of the good things that was lost in losing men was how a man and a woman, by the power of their own bodies could engage in an act of intimacy and end up parents.  The Kaguyas would come to resent always being dependent upon a technician, a laboratory, technology.

And they will crave the complementarity of the sexes, lost in their society, where men’s weaknesses are ameliorated by women’s strengths, and vice-versa.  They (or a large percentage of them at least), as human females, will still have a natural attraction to sharing a life with a man, especially a man who is in command of himself.

And then they will see that, in making their reproduction more personal and convenient, they are making some females to become male-like.

And they will discover that they could, by replacing an X chromosome with a Y in the right spot, make actual human men. And they will see this as way more efficient, a triumph of technology, over bi-maternal technologies they will have used up to then.

And they will imagine that perhaps having good, solid men around would mean their children would grow up better by having a father than by having two mothers, or no parents at all except technicians. They will begin to crave family life.

And the revolutionaries of the Kaguya society would fight to establish a male-female society and overthrow the old, obsolete, and unjust all-female Kaguya society that was imposed upon them by the well-meaning but thoroughly misguided science and philosophy of the early 21st century humans.

So I say, let’s work on making men (and women, too) more virtuous, to cure the ills of society through controlling ourselves.  Let’s see past the Kaguyas of the future, to see what their own revolutionaries would see, and achieve that directly, skipping over the doomed-before-it-starts Kaguya society as a waste of time.

Finally, we should look at the ethical reasoning employed in the article.  It is pure consequentialism, but myopic at best.  Consequentialism is justification of the means by the ends.  Yes, it would be good to rid society of violent crimes, extend life, and make people more efficient with resources.  But is getting rid of half of the diversity of the race the way to do it?  Is making the race dependent upon technicians a suitable means?  Are men really the problem – or is injustice and lack of self control really the problem?

It is myopic for two main reasons.  First, it fails to consider adequately and seriously the downside of the obsolescence of men.  They joke at IEET about who would take out the garbage as a downside. But really they are for anything that tears down the established order to impose their own limited concept of utopia. And so they ignore the fact that men and women actually complement each other, in ways mentioned above.  A society of one or the other (except perhaps as an occasional social gathering) leaves that society walking with one leg.

Secondly, it presumes that bodily life is the only life people have.  Tacit in the discussion is the notion that gender is not bodily and therefore not limited to male or female.  I disagree, but if it is true, then it shows that a “person” is not his body—but then that could only mean that the person is really the soul.  So, the focus on bodily life is shallow at best and somewhat contradictory.  But if the person is the soul (and in Christian metaphysics, that would not be precisely true), then its welfare is not bodily but spiritual.  And the advancement of trans- and post-humanist ideas generally speaking are not well ordered to human spiritual welfare.