X-Message-Number: 23053
From: "Mark Plus" <>
Subject: Leon Kass and the fiction fallacy
Date: Mon, 08 Dec 2003 20:12:30 -0800

Brian Alexander in his book, _Rapture: How Biotech Became the New Religion_ 
<http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/0738207616/> credits Robert 
A. Heinlein's short novel _Methuselah's Children_ (MC) with inspiring many 
in the movement to conquer aging and death through scientific means. 
(Apparently Gregory Benford refers to the novel's fans as "the 
Brotherhood.") For those who haven't read MC, it relates the highly risky 
adventures of a group of families artificially bred for longevity which 
steals a starship and makes two unsettling first contacts with alien races. 
When the long-lived characters return to Earth, they discover that their 
short-lived brethren, knowing that radical longevity was possible, developed 
techniques to attain it themselves, giving the novel's hero a totally new 
perspective on his long-term future.

Meanwhile, Leon Kass, Immortalism's current arch-enemy, seems 
idiosyncratically focussed on fictional portrayals of characters who bring 
disaster upon themselves from meddling with the natural order and reaching 
for things allegedly beyond human propriety. (Curiously, Kass doesn't seem 
to be bothered by the Borgs on his side, like the defibrillated Vice 
President or the cochlear-implanted Rush Limbaugh.) Apparently Kass is too 
Matrix-bound to consider other perspectives, and he would have everyone take 
the Blue Pill, indefinitely. Refer, for example, to the Slate article, 


Considering that you can find fictional examples to support any worldview 
you choose, maybe both sides should set aside the make-believe and 
concentrate instead on what real people with morally defensible motivations 
want from biotechnology. After all, with the stroke of a pen you can make a 
fictional character in a story do anything you want, whereas human behavior 
in the real world doesn't fall into such neat patterns.

Either that, or else Immortalists could co-opt the ultimate neo-Luddite 
bogeyman, Victor Frankenstein. If American culture has been able to give 
vampires a public-relations makeover so that novels, movies and television 
shows regularly portray them sympathetically, with blonde American girls 
even choosing them as lovers, then I don't see why Frankenstein couldn't get 
the same treatment. Maybe cryonicists could at least acknowledge an oblique 
relationship with vampires, since the cryonaut, like the person becoming a 
vampire, has his blood removed in a process that (we hope!) leads to a 
dispensation from mortality.

Mark Plus

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