Against Mastery

0603Wilfred M. McClay at Hedgehog Review:

Do we imagine that complete control over our biological fates will necessarily make us happier? Perhaps it will. But one can as easily imagine that there might be little room for uninhibited joy or exuberance in such a world. More likely it will be a tightly wound world, saturated with bitterness and anxiety and mutual suspicion, in which life and health will be guarded with all the ferocity of Ebenezer Scrooge guarding his money. Growing mastery means growing responsibility, and the need to assign blame, since nothing happens by chance. Some of the blame will be directed at the parents, politicians, doctors, and celebrities who make plausible villains, or conspiracy theories that explain why someone else is always at fault. But much of the blame will devolve upon ourselves, since in being set free to choose so much about our lives, we will have no one else to blame when we make a complete mess of things.

No, there is good reason to fear that the more our lives are prolonged and powers extended, and the more death becomes seen as an avoidable evil whose precise moment should be “chosen,” rather than an inherent feature of human life, the more common it will be to encounter people who live imprisoned by their fear of all risk, since the possible consequences of any risk will seem too vast, too horrible, and too fully avoidable, to be contemplated.

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