Ronald Bailey, the science editor for “Reason” magazine, describes himself as a “libertarian transhumanist.” In his 2005 book Liberation Biology: The Scientific and Moral Case for the Biotech Revolution, he argues that, despite what he considers the vastly exaggerated concerns of opponents of biotechnology and stem cell research, the emerging biotech revolution will improve our lives and the future of our children—far from endangering human dignity, he says, the rapid progress in biotechnology will enable more of us to live flourishing lives free of disease, disability, and the threat of early death. Unfortunately, he argues,
We find ourselves in the remarkable position of having many of our leading intellectuals and policymakers arguing that their fellow citizens should be denied access to technologies they know will enable them and their families to live healthier, saner and longer lives…
Rather, in his opinion, patients should have the freedom to embrace or reject stem cell and biotech benefits based on their own personal or religious values. He recently returned to this topic, polemicizing with political scientist Peter Lawler, a member of President George W. Bush’s Council on Bioethics, who during a debate concerning the ethics of radical life extension at Wheaton College in Massachusetts last week, made the case that using technology to radically extend human life spans, and boost human intellectual, emotional, and physical capacities, will end in coercion. To which Bailey replied as follows:
I advocate a liberal tolerant approach: People who reject enhancements for themselves and their progeny are free to do so, whereas those who want to upgrade their mental and physical capacities are also free to do so.
Now, what can we say in response to this? Well, as for the term “liberal,” especially in the current meaning of the word (a political ideology of reform, often associated with left-leaning movements), I’d prefer not to comment. As for the term “tolerant,” well, there is much to be said about this… Here is how CBC (Center for Bioethics and Culture Network) Wesley J. Smith puts it:
How can I put it in a way that Bailey will understand? Assume scientists find a “religion” gene that expresses for people to experience intense faith. And say, a fundamentalist Christian, decides he wants to ensure his kid will be saved for eternity–and so he transhumanizes the kid to have the “faith” gene, thereby creating a strong propensity in his child to believe. Would Bailey say that child had not been coerced into being religious? I doubt it.
He might say–I don’t know–that engineering for faith should be forbidden. If so, he would be violating transhumanist libertarianism by constraining the “freedom” to post humanize children to only those enhancements with which he–or better stated, the power structure–approves. If not, he accepts the transhumanist core belief that in some sense children are mere sentient products, properly accessorized to please the desires and fulfill the wishes of their purchasers (or not, as in the classicGattaca scene embedded above).
Transhumanism has revived the pernicious idea of the ubermenchen in the hubristic belief that they have the wisdom to intelligently design human life beyond how we evolved, were created, or were designed by a greater force than ourselves. They don’t, and they forget that often our human imperfections bring out the best in people–and indeed help produce greatness. (Would Abraham Lincoln have been Abraham Lincoln without what may have been his congenital melancholia?) In any event, the eugenic implications of transhumanist ideology are more than frightening.