Saturday, July 20, 2002
Here's an essay from Ronald Bailey at Reason disagreeing with the majority conclusion of the Kass Bioethics Council. He reaches the same conclusions I do: On therapeutic cloning, no ban, no moratorium, regulation for safety, efficiency and to ensure informed consent; on reproductive cloning, a moratorium.
Friday, July 19, 2002Cloning and "Iron Cages"
I'm going to try to satisfy Charles Murtaugh's desire to see that iron cage match between me and Patrick Ruffini.
Before I start, I should note that, at some point, Patrick begins to conflate “life” with “personhood,” via “human life.” I’m going to assume that was unintentional, and respond as if he was talking about personhood the whole way through.
Here’s the money shot:
I have always felt that the answer to this should fulfill one basic requirement. As life moves through these stages, one of them should be. Such a shift can't simply be a matter of the same being moving to a higher stage of development. One of these must involve a categorical change, when the entity is transformed from one being into another being totally apart. To my mind, only one of the options above satisfies these requirements, and that is conception. Before then, there is merely a potential for life. Afterwards, the being has been set on an inexorable path towards life (buffeted by natural challenges, to be sure) which need not be interfered with.
So, in other words, the question of “when does personhood start” calls out for a bright line rule, and conception seems to provide it. Why? Because before conception “there is merely a potential for life” and afterwards “an inexorable path towards life.”
Well, I disagree. Certainly there is nothing inexorable about the path to “life,” qua personhood, of an in vitro embryo. Only when the embryo is implanted in a womb does the path even begin to look like a downhill coast.
Might implantation provide the bright line Patrick is looking for? I still don’t think so. Again the “path to life” of an implanted embryo is not inexorable. Many things can go wrong, and do.
Does this mean we have to give up looking for a bright line? I don’t think so. We just need to look in another place for a “categorical change,” a shift “sufficiently dramatic so as to set the being on a fundamentally different path, away from insignificance and towards [personhood].”
And the place to look is in the development of the central nervous system. Prior to having the neural apparatus we associate with phenomenal consciousness, no being can legitimately be said to suffer or have interests. Once that neural apparatus begins to develop, we can begin to consider the being a person. Before it does, there is no one there.
Ultimately, I can agree with Patrick that we should err on the side of caution when we make this analysis. We would, therefore, grant a being the status of a person when we saw the beginnings of neural development, rather than insisting on completed neural development, or “sufficiently” completed neural development.
Now then, since Charles Murtaugh started all this. I want to speak to a point brought out in James Wilson’s Personal Statement. Here’s the key passage:
A fertilized cell has some moral worth, but much less than that of an implanted cell, and that has less than that of a fetus, and that less than that of a viable fetus, and that the same as of a newborn infant. My view is that people endow a thing with humanity when it appears, or even begins to appear, human; that is, when it resembles a human creature. The more a cell resembles a person, the more claims it exerts on our moral feelings. Now this last argument has no religious or metaphysical meaning, but it accords closely, in my view, with how people view one another. It helps us understand why aborting a fetus in the twentieth week is more frightening than doing so in the first, and why so-called partial birth abortions are so widely opposed. And this view helps us understand why an elderly, comatose person lacking the ability to speak or act has more support from people than a seven-week-old fetus that also lacks the ability to speak or act.
I can’t agree with these arguments from generalized moral intuition. That people grant status as persons to things that look human says nothing about whether they should do so.
Certainly, we could come up with lots of examples under which this intuition would be wrong.
While, in the end, all our moral reasoning bottoms out into intuition, this is much too high a level to start making appeals to it.
Wednesday, July 17, 2002Matt's got a brand new site
Check out Matthew Yglesias's snappy new site. Looks good to me.
John Derbyshire of NRO shows that it's possible to agree with the broader aims of the struggle against terrorism while disagreeing with the specific policies of the government. It just goes to show that there is doubt, even on the right, and that the issues surrounding the success of America's war plans are being discussed critically.
Josh Marshall says Social Security privatization is dead. Guess somebody forgot to tell the president.
Even Orrin Hatch says release the SEC files. Why is the WH stonewalling?
Joe Conason thinks that the president should ask for SEC's file on the Harken investigation to be released. So do I.
And, frankly, I just can't understand why the White House isn't getting in front of the issue by releasing everything, and I mean everything: SEC files, Harken BOD minutes and the identity of the buyer of Bush's shares. Somebody will dig the stuff up eventually.
Drip, drip, drip.
Another good take on corporate scandals, the president and Republican fortunes in general, from Christopher Caldwell. Why is this a problem for the president? Caldwell writes:
What kills the President is that every time Harken comes up, Democrats get to retell the story of how he made his money. And this, basically, is the story of the spectacular unfairness with which moneymaking opportunities are lavished on the politically connected. It is the story of a man who has been rewarded for repeated failures by having money shot at him through a fire hose. It is the story of a man who talks with a straight face about having "earned" a fortune of tens of millions of dollars, without having ever done an honest day’s work in his life.
Here's a Byron York backgrounder on the the president's blessed business career. Although NRO would have it that everything about Harken is old news, I don't see anything in here about the recently revealed agreement Bush signed not to sell his shares. And who was the buyer?
Tuesday, July 16, 2002
Matthew Yglesias seems to be saying that the correlation between women's rights and liberal attitudes towards pornography is an artifact. Can't say that I agree, or even that I understand what his argument is in this regard.
Eugene Volokh points out the following:
Across both space and time, greater tolerance for sexually explicit material has been highly correlated with greater equality for women, and greater educational, professional, and political opportunities for women.
I have to say this doesn't strike me as surprising. Often it is the same social ideology that both represses women's rights and suppresses sexually explicit entertainments.
You wanna get liquid with me tonight, baby? Josh Marshall lampoons what should become the George Bush catchphrase, if there's any justice in the world. It's funny on so many levels.
For those of you interested in cognitive neuropsychology or philosophy of mind, here's an essay by Stephen Kosslyn of Harvard. After some interesting ruminations on mental imagery, the computational model of mind and evolutionary psychology, Kosslyn concludes:
There is a gigantic project yet to be done that will have the effect of rooting psychology in the rest of natural science. Once this is accomplished, you'll be able to go from phenomenology—things like mental imagery—to information processing—thinking about things you can model on the computer—to the brain—thinking about how a particular kind of information processing arises from this particular brain we have—down through the workings of the neurons, including the biochemistry, all the way to the biophysics and the way that genes are up-regulated and down-regulated.
I can agree with most of this, but I'm a sceptic when it comes to the logical supervenience of phenomenal consciousness on the physical.
What can George Bush tell us about cloning?
Today, Paul Krugman has a column about the circumstances surrounding a sweetheart deal that enriched George Bush, a tale of baseball, backslapping and barely concealed bribery. The story is the coda to a business career in which there was never a shortage of helping hands, willing and eager to bail out the oftentimes sinking ship of Bush’s personal finances.
But if the Rangers deal is the end of the story, the beginning can be found in a pair of hands closer to home, those of George Bush the elder. By all accounts, George Bush the lesser was a ne’er do well as a young, and not so young, man. Fortunately for him, his father’s position, both financial and otherwise, allowed him that crucial leg up.
Parents naturally want to help their children. I’m reminded of an anecdote about Richard Daley the elder, once mayor of Chicago and father to the current mayor. When asked about nepotism in his administration, he asked what sort of father he would be if he didn’t help out his own son.
Generally, people can empathize with parents helping children. Difficulties arise only when parental help becomes so extreme as to come into conflict with our notions of fair play. It’s the old problem of guaranteeing some degree of equality of opportunity in a society that doesn’t guarantee equality of outcomes.
So long as differences in opportunity caused by differences in parental outcomes don’t become too severe, too distorting of general social mobility, we’re prepared to accept them. But when those differences cease to be simply a helping hand offered across generations and become instead entrée into a network of privilege, they become the basis for a hereditary aristocracy.
What does this have to do with cloning? Well, parents will help their children any way they can and as much as they can. George Bush’s career, and indeed life, provide ample illustration for this. Can anyone honestly maintain that, offered the choice to better his son’s life through some therapy developed from cloning, Bush the elder would have chosen not to? I think not. If the chance to help your child is there, you take it.
So what can George Bush tell us about cloning? His life tells us that parents will help their children. Given this, and the potentially life altering benefits of cloning and genetic research, such benefits must not be confined to those who can afford to fly to a Swiss clinic. They must be available to all.
If you want the answer to the question of cloning from George Bush, don’t listen to what he says. Examine his life.
Monday, July 15, 2002
Another pundit who seems to get it. Nicholas Kristof writes:
The challenge is not catching criminals but injecting public scrutiny into a culture of cronyism in which executives, accountants, regulators and "independent" board members all ooze empathy for each other.
The psychological barrier of Euro-Dollar parity is broken. Dollar free fall anyone?
On Friday, polemicist and investment guru Andrew Sullivan made a buy recommendation. Here at Homeobox, we'll track the markets from that fateful Friday to see how much money we would have made if only we'd listened to Andrew. Market closes on Friday: DJIA - 8684; NASDAQ - 1373; S&P 500 - 921.
Five real tests for British membership in the Euro, from Gary Younge of the Guardian. Check it out.
Bill Safire examines the travails of the corporate world and concludes that "the capitalist system is not in crisis."
Well, I agree that capitalism isn't self-destructing. But I do think it's being subverted by members of the proletariat (read executives, who are, after all, employees) to the disadvantage of capitalists (read 63 year old 401(k) holder whose retirement nest egg has just evaporated).
Bill Buckley opines on the moral authority of president Bush to call for a cleanup of the corporate world's Augean stables. And gets it exactly wrong. According to the redoubtable Mr Buckley, past misdeeds should be no bar to present positions. Let's sample Bill's prose:
Oh? Did the old ways of Augustine impugn his preachments on changing his ways? Should St. Paul have stopped preaching? Was George W. Bush's background as a tippler disqualifying of his resolution to sobriety?
Missing from the analysis is the fact that, on the road to his corporate Damascus, the president doesn't seem to have had a similar conversion. One can imagine Ari Fleischer, spokesman for St. Paul, spinning as follows: While persecution of Christians is unacceptable today, at the time St. Paul was engaging in the practice, it was much like driving your camel 15 mph in a 10 zone. When asked for comment, St. Paul replied: As far as the persecution of Christians goes, there's not a lot of black and white in the area.
Conversions generally require recognition of past misdeeds and repentance. Sorry Bill.
Sunday, July 14, 2002
A Financial Times story has the best one sentence encapsulation of the current corporate shenanigans, from William Crist, president of pension fund Calpers: "Mr Bush misses the point. It's not just criminal activity . . . it's the fact that these companies are run by insiders for their own advantage."