What doesn’t kill you…

All writing is re-writing, Russell Stone keeps saying. Let’s re-write that Nietzschean cliche: What doesn’t kill you makes you a liver. So live.

On tap today in Bioethics: we finish with Blackford’s Humanity Enhanced, continue with Powers’ Generosity: An Enhancement, and get on with more final report presentations (on transhumanism, designer babies, and Henrietta Lacks’ HELA cells.)

In A&P it’s more Hitch, drawing ominously closer to the terminus of his Mortality. And, more presentations. The end is nigh.

Blackford’s last word:

I’m convinced that the crisis we currently face is not the coming of Frankensteinian or apocalyptic technologies that must be controlled as a matter of urgency. Rather, there is a crisis of liberal tolerance…

our lawmakers [have] an opportunity to show their credentials as successors to Locke and Mill. May they rise to the challenge.

In other words, let us go boldly into the unknown country of reconstructive bio-engineering, in the spirit of personal liberty and experimental freedom. Don’t over-regulate. Don’t block progress. Have no fear.

I want to get behind that message, but then I read Powers’ Aussie novelist (not such a knock-off of Blackford, after all) channeling Bill McKibben’s Enough voice and again I feel the pull of those old reservations:

Enhancement will mean nothing, in the long run. The remodeling of human nature will be as slapdash and flawed as its remodelers. We’ll never feel enhanced. We’ll always be banned from some further Eden…

 And then, our Sisyphean hero Stone rehearses the old fear:

So this is how the species ends. Homo sapiens divided, if not into Eloi and the Morlocks, then into demigods and dispossessed, those who can tame living chemistry and those who are mere downstream products…

Meanwhile, Craig Venter’s alt-universe alter ego Thomas Kurton pushes fearlessly forward. 

 Apparently Kurton’s group has found a network of several crucial genes that help build the gates and portals that channel the brain’s molecules of emotion. Control for any of them, and changes in the rest correlate with changes in sanguinity… Tune each of the genes to the right flavor, and you have subject C3-16f [“Miss Generosity”]… 

 And “that’s the beauty of the digital-replacement world.” We’ve not all moved there yet, this is still fiction. But the engineers and technotopians are moving, many say resistance is futile. And foolish? Kurton is seductive, with his “microbes that live on dioxins and digest waste plastics. Fast-growing trees that sequester greenhouse gases. Human beings free from all congenital disease.” Sounds too irresistibly good.

“Technology changes what we think is intolerable,” but the ethical question is whether what we conclude is intolerable can change the technologies we decide to live with, and without. And that question is still open, or so we ethicists must presume.

And as for Miss Generosity, at this pivotal stage of our story: “She herself is far too sunny for her own good. It hasn’t yet dawned on her that this story might actually be nonfiction.”

It had definitely dawned on Christopher Hitchens, at this stage of his Stage Four decline, that the story of his cancer was all too true. And yet, what grace and focus he musters to give us his eloquent insider’s account of just how it feels to leave the country of the living with eyes open to the real meaning of life-and-death reality. How it felt to contemplate never seeing England again.

Nietzsche was wrong, Hitch reports: what hasn’t killed you (yet) still weakens and debilitates. That may seem a necessary illusion for most of us, for most of our days. Hitch ends chapter 6, though, with the most Hitchian of statements: “the realm of illusion must be escaped before anything else.” 

In case you missed it, an earlier observation counters the mood of disillusion and offers more than solace for a life well lived. 

“A life that partakes even a little of friendship, love, irony, humor, parenthood, literature, and music, and the chance to take part in battles for the liberation of others cannot be called ‘meaningless’ except if the person living it is also an existentialist and elects to call it so. It could be that all existence is a pointless joke, but it is not in fact possible to live one’s everyday life as if this were so.”

So don’t. Just live.

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