Wednesday, December 08, 2004

Sorry, but your non-existent soul just died

Slavoy Zizek in the London Review of Books has a great article about "biogenetic intervention." It is a response to arguments that modern medicine threatens to destroy human nature by improving it out of existence, most notably made by Francis Fukuyama in Our Posthuman Future: Consequences of the Biotechnology Revolution

Now, I have many, many problems with Fukuyama et al.'s views. And I hope to bring out more of my objections as time goes on. For now, I will just highlight an especially cogent point that Zizek made.

He writes:
It's not so much that we are losing our dignity and freedom with the advance of biogenetics but that we realise we never had them in the first place. [...] We are not being told, to quote Tom Wolfe, 'Sorry, but Your Soul Just Died': we are in effect being told that we never had a soul in the first place. If the claims of biogenetics hold, then the choice is between clinging to the illusion of dignity and accepting the reality of what we are.
That's exactly right. It is not the therapies that undermine the traditional view of human nature; it is the basic neuroscience underpinning the therapies. Therapies like genetic engineering, Prozac, and Ritalin are only the logical culmination of a revolution that began with the repudiation of vitalism in the 19th century and continues today with the repudiation of dualism. Prozac may make it very obvious that happiness is not a property of the soul, but the real enemy of the soul is the neuroscience itself. Biotechnological therapies merely demonstrate the strength of a theory about the human body and mind that, like Darwinism, has already undermined traditional accounts of the soul.

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