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Guest Thinkers

Special Education and Natural Rights (Or NEVER LET ME GO–Part 2)

So it might not be so good for ratings to be doing a series on a movie that tanked at the box office.  But here’s some more on NEVER LET ME GO:

The boarding school we see might be regarded as a privileged moment in the history of donor-clones. Their strangely benevolent guardians gave themselves the tricky task of raising them as “special” in two ways. They had to be educated not to rebel against the special function they’ve been given, and so they’re taught to afraid to escape into the world outside and to accept who they are.  That means they can’t be told too much, too soon, about what their special fucntion is. 

Every film ever made about little kids in English boarding schools has the “subtext” of homelessness and abandonment;  they all want to go home.  The cloned kids, it’s true, don’t have memories of some particular home, but they still have the human longings for home–for even “regression to the womb” they never experienced–and so to live decently have to find out slowly how radically homeless they are.  We’re reminded in some eery way of the educational process of “turning around” in the cave or comprehensve process of political socialization described in Plato’s Republic.

Thanks to the humane reformist impulse of their women guardians, the cloned persons also taught to be “special” in the sense of the unique and replaceable persons or individuals we all are. They’re taught to be capable of personal love and to display their singular inwardness through art and poetry as conscious and creative mortals to others. The use of the old-fashioned term “souls” by these women guardians shows that even in their post-Christian world they’re moved by the idea that each of us is made in the image and likeness of the loving personal Creator.

Those two views of “being special,” of course, are incompatible, and one would, soon enough, have to give way to the others. So the school was closed as a failed experiment of misguided reformers, and the social utility—the benefit to other free persons—of the first view of being special obliterated any concern with the second.

This special school’s guardians were different from those in Plato’s Republic in not consistently preparing children for the task in service to their society for which they are fitted. But the idea of justice in Socrates’ city depended on a thorough examination of each child to determine what he or she is best at by nature. The clones, in fact, are much more than mere bodies, and so not best fit by nature for the function they’ve been given.  The political decision was made to take no real interest in who they really are.

Nature, it would seem, disappears as a standard when it comes to clones; their purpose is given to them not by God or nature but by those who created them. The children are done a monstrous injustice by a human standard willfully trumping the natural (or divine) one. We Americans especially readily say that these kids are being denied their inalienable natural rights.  They are by nature free persons, and so they are radically different from the domestic animals we legitimately breed for destruction. Their “nature”–or who or what they are–was not in fact determined by those who made them.

In the Republic, we have to add, citizens are socialized to be of loving, friendly service to their fellow citizens.  But the clones, of course, aren’t citizens, and those they serve are socialized not to be their friends.  The English they serve don’t think of themselves as citizens either.  The clones aren’t made to improve the quality of the English citizenry.  They are, instead, for the indefinite perpetuation of free persons who refuse to think of themselves as parts of any whole greater than themselves. 

The clones aren’t nobly serving some common good:  If there were some such good, they would be excluded from it as non-citizens.  But there is, in a highly individualistic, high-tech time, no such good;  there’s no public view of what citizens share as beings with souls. That’s one reason we’ve increasingly become all about keeping bodies around as long as possible.

There was a rumor among the clones that if the real purpose of the gallery of their art and poetry was to provide evidence for their capacity for personal love. Clones who could prove they were in love—in the traditional, monogamous, intimate, personal sense—might qualify for a deferral for a few years from becoming donors. The clones, of course, were capable of such love (despite being unable to have children, etc.), but it turns out that the rumor was untrue and nobody in power cared.

 So the effort at ethical education failed. The undeniable evidence that clones could be fine artists and poets (unlike even the chimps and the dolphins) was ignored. Cloning didn’t stop, but their “humane” education did. The schools became factories, where the clones, apparently, were treated as brutally as agri-business chickens. To abandon the production of spare-part clones, after all, would be to abandon medical progress and return to a dark time of incurable diseases, terrible suffering, and early death.

The good news is that the new factory schools probably prepared them better for the special function for which they were made; the bad is that the persons, as Aristotle says,  can’t become who they are by nature without social habituation or cultivation. The evidence that clones have souls, we learn, withered away.

We might have a moment’s chill here as we think about what’s going to happen as biotechnology eradicates the distinction between procreation and manufacturing. If we morph into conscious robots capable of manufacturing other conscious robots, as the transhumanists predict, why wouldn’t  all the robots be regarded by the other robots as resources to be used?  We won’t believe that all robots are created equal, and we don’t really believe that robots, even if conscious in some sense, will be capable of personal love.

We can also see, of course, why so many people serious about souls, rights, and human dignity dig in against even cloning or manufacturing embryos to be destroyed in pursuit of the progress of medical science. The bodies of human persons can’t ever be regarded as just another natural resource.

Yes, there’s still more (lots more).  Stay tuned.


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