File spoon-archives/habermas.archive/habermas_2001/habermas.0101, message 16

Subject: HAB: Bio-technology - Not for Habermas! / Zizek - "Who's afraid of the big bad clone"
Date: Wed, 10 Jan 2001 23:04:45 -0500 (Eastern Standard Time)

On Thu, 11 Jan 2001 02:23:23  matthew piscioneri <> 

> Personally the idea of a bio-technologically achieved Enlightenment leaves me 
shamelessly swiped from:

Who's afraid of the Big Bad Clone? 
Slavoj Zizek

The argument of those who oppose cloning is that we should not pursue it, at 
least not on human beings, because it is not possible to reduce a human being 
to a positive entity whose innermost psychic properties can be manipulated. Is 
this not another variation on Wittgenstein's "You should not talk about what you
cannot talk about"? The underlying fear that can be discerned in this 
prohibition, of course, is that the order of reasons is actually obverse: we 
should claim that we cannot do it, because otherwise we may well do it, with 
catastrophic ethical consequences. This paradox of prohibiting the impossible  
emerges at its purest in the conservative reaction of the Catholic Church to 
cloning: if they effectively believe in the immortality of the human soul, in 
the uniqueness of human personality, in how I am not just the result of the 
interaction between my genetic code and my environs, then why oppose cloning 
and genetic manipulations? Are those Christians who oppose cloning not yet 
again involved in the game of prohibiting the impossible - biogenetic
manipulation cannot touch the core of human personality, so we should prohibit 
it? In other words, is it not that these Christian opponents of cloning 
themselves secretly believe in the power of scientific manipulation, in its 
capacity to stir up the very core of our personality? Of course, their answer   
would be that, by treating himself as just the result of the interaction 
between his genetic code and his environs, man will freely renounce his 
dignity: the problem is not genetic manipulation as such but the fact that its 
acceptance signals how man conceives of himself as just another biological   
machine and thus robs himself of his unique dignity. However, the answer to 
this is, again: but why should we not endorse genetic manipulation AND 
simultaneously insist that human persons are free responsible agents, since we
accept the proviso that these manipulations do not really affect the core of 
our Soul? Why do the Christian opponents still talk about the "unfathomable 
mystery of the conception" man should not meddle with, as if, nonetheless,      
by pursuing our biogenetic explorations, we may touch some secret better left 
in shadow - in short, as if, by cloning my body, I at the same time also clone 
my immortal Soul...? 

Cloning thus confronts us with the most fundamental ethico-ontological 
alternative. One can pretend that all the furor caused by its prospect is just a
repetition of the standard reaction to every great technological invention,     
from machinery to cyberspace: the moral furor and fear, which express the 
subject's perplexion, is then followed by "normalization," i.e. the new 
invention slowly becomes part of our lives, we get used to it, invent new norms
of conduct with it... However, things are nonetheless more radical here,        
since what is at stake is the very core of human freedom. In an essay for 
Sueddeutsche Zeitung , Juergen Habermas defended the prohibition of cloning 
with a line of argumentation which implies an interesting paradox; his          
main point is that cloning involves a situation which somehow resembles that of 
slavery: an inherent part of myself, a part which at least partially 
codetermines my psychic and bodily identity, becomes the result of a purposeful 
intervention/manipulation of another human being. In short, Habermas's argument 
is that what makes cloning ethically problematic is the very fact that my 
genetic base - which hitherto depended on the blind chance of biological 
inheritance - is at least partially determined by the conscious and purposeful
(i.e. free ) decision and intervention of another person: what makes me unfree, 
what deprives me of a part of my freedom, is,  paradoxically, the very fact that
what was hitherto left to chance (i.e. to blind natural necessity ) became 
dependent on the free decision of another person. Here we encounter             
the crucial difference to slavery: when a slave is subordinated to another's 
Will, he is thereby deprived of his own personal freedom; however, when a clone 
is produced and its genome (ca. 6 billion genetic marks comprising the entirety 
of inherited "knowledge") changed by genetic manipulation, he is not in any 
homologous sense deprived of his freedom - it is only the part of him that 
previously depended on natural chance that is subordinated to another person's 
freedom. For this reason, the case analogous to the liberation of a slave is 
here neither the liberation of the subject from determination by a genetic 
code, nor a situation in which the concerned subject himself, after growing up 
and mastering biotechnology, would be able to manipulate himself, to intervene 
in his body in order to change it according to his free decision, but just the 
negative gesture of abolishing the determination of my genetic code by another 
person's decision and manipulative intervention - in short, I regain my freedom 
insofar as the structure of my genome is again left to the blind chance of 
natural necessity... Does Habermas thereby not imply that a certain minimum of 
ignorance is the condition of our freedom, so that thorough knowledge and a 
manipulative intervention into the genome deprives us of a part of our freedom? 
Here, the alternative is inevitable: either our genome does determine us, and 
then we are just "biological machines," and all the talk about prohibiting 
cloning and genetic manipulations is just a desperate strategy of avoiding the  
inevitable, of sustaining the false appearance of our freedom by constraining 
our scientific knowledge and technological capacities based on it; or our 
genome does not determine us thoroughly, in which case, again, there is no real 
cause for alarm, since the manipulation of our genetic code does not really 
affect the core of our personal identity... 

There is, however, another dimension at work here. The anxiety about
encountering one's genetic clone is as a rule confounded with the anxiety that 
arises when I am in danger of being deprived of my symbolic identity, i.e. when 
I am compelled to identify fully with some imposed symbolic features - to be 
like my mother or father or some other ideal-ego figure. (This situation is best
exemplified by Billy Wilder's Fedora , a film in which a daughter is forced to 
take over the identity of her mother, an old actress: she undergoes plastic 
surgery to look like her mother when she was still young, she is taught to talk 
and to behave like her, etc., so that her mother's career is prolonged - 
everyone thinks that the mother has simply somehow succeeded in staying and 
looking young... This situation, of course, ultimately drives the daughter to 
suicide: she is unable to sustain this radical deprivation of her identity.)  
The crucial difference between this situation and that of cloning is that here 
we are dealing with symbolic violence, with the violent imposition of an alien 
symbolic identity, of a "self-image" which is not the direct reality of 
someone's genes but was freely created by another subject. So the anxiety  
people experience apropos of the prospect of being cloned relies on a 
conceptual confusion: one should strictly distinguish between direct genetic 
"sameness" (as in the case of identical twins) and the symbolic identity 
imposed by forms of social violence.

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