The Futility of Human Control and Manipulation

Apr 30th, 2011 | By | Category: Ethics

With the advent of modern technology, humanity has sought increasing control with the goal being manipulation of nearly everything for the good of the human race.  Since the eighteenth-century Enlightenment, several historical developments have produced an openness in Western Civilization toward seeking to control and manipulate humans.  First is a mechanistic view of human beings.  For example, with organ transplants in medicine, the maintenance of organ donor banks, sperm donor banks, discussion about the harvesting of organs from cadavers, etc., it is not an immense step to view humans as near machines which, when one part breaks down, another is ready to replace it.  This is not medicine?s intent, but the level of expectation is that somewhere there is a ?part? for me.  What naturally follows is to view the human body as a machine that with proper maintenance and repairs can keep on functioning.  This produces an openness to accepting conception and genetic manipulation in the culture.  Another development is the increasing human control over nearly every aspect of life.  We live in climate controlled buildings, drive climate-controlled vehicles, access voluminous amounts of information, worldwide, at the click of a mouse, can travel anywhere in the world in less than a day and are living longer than at any time in recent human history.  The reason?  Technology.  Because of human dependence on technology, there is the natural expectation that all human problems can ultimately be solved by technology, including infertility problems, health problems and emotional problems.  The concept of the scientific imperative is another cause of modern technological openness.  This concept assumes that because technology has made a particular procedure, invention or practice possible, we therefore as a civilization must go forward with it.  The scientist?s ?can? becomes the civilization?s ?ought.?  This is a powerful assumption that is pervasive in Western Civilization.  The invention of a deadly weapon or procedure, even something as unthinkable as chemical and biological warfare, relentlessly presses on until someone determines we must produce these weapons.  The same logic drives conception and genetic procedures.  Once the procedure is developed, it is nearly impossible to stop someone, somewhere from using it.  Another development producing this openness toward technological manipulation is the modern emphasis on pleasure and pain reduction as virtual moral imperatives.  Think of common, everyday headaches.  The typical drug store in America is filled with dozens of remedies that can treat the headache.  Pain and discomfort are foreign to our lifestyle and our expectations are that ?there be a pill somewhere for this ailment.?  This expectation transfers as well to the ?good life? that modern conveniences have produced.  We expect, almost demand, ease, comfort and daily pleasure in the forms of good food, entertainment and self-indulgence.  In the words of Francis Schaeffer, ?personal peace and affluence? drive Western Civilization.  The result is an openness toward and the positive expectation about technological manipulation of human beings.

However, we are now facing a new reality in the West?the rising risk of antibiotic resistance; or what some are calling the ?superbug.?  Antibiotics work against bacteria, not viruses.  Yet patients press their doctors to prescribe them for viral infections such as colds and the flu.  Therefore, the bacteria develop a stronger resistance to the drugs.  The result is longer and more serious illnesses, lengthening people?s stays in the hospital and complicating their treatment.  An example is reported by The Economist:  ?Nearly 450,000 new cases of multidrug-resistant tuberculosis are recorded each year; one-third of these people die from the disease.?  There is little doubt that antibiotic resistance is a growing challenge for the medical community and for world health.  As with all things human, there are limits as to what we can completely control and manipulate.  Superbugs are not taking over the world but they remind humans that it is impossible to absolutely control everything about our world.  Superbugs should also remind us of our humility and our dependence on God as a species living in a fallen world.

See The Economist (2 April 2011), pp. 73-75 and James P. Eckman, Biblical Ethics, pp. 39-46. PDF

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