Thursday, January 05, 2006

"Dangerous Ideas" Revisited

I missed one very disturbing paragraph in my review of the Dangerous Ideas Symposium.

Officials in the Pentagon, the major funder of neural-code research, have openly broached the prospect of cyborg warriors who can be remotely controlled via brain implants, like the assassin in the recent remake of "The Manchurian Candidate."

So writes John Horton while denying the existence of souls. Sputnik and anti-Soviet worries made science education a national endeavor and scientism the national creed. How much will the military fund these transhumanists who deny the existence of the self? How much of a boost will military backing give to their anthropology, or lack thereof? Nobody can compete with military funding, and the ideology might even have benefits in combat: it's much easier to kill enemies in a war if you've reduced both Self and Other into trivial component parts.

My vote for Most Dangerous Idea comes from Dostoevsky's Kirilov character in "Demons/The Possessed":

"Man has invented God so as to go on living without killing himself."

By fortuitous coincidence, last night I was flipping through my Christmas present, John Zizioulas's Being As Communion, and it opened to a discussion of this very idea as a "disturbing alarm":

[...]if the only way of exercising absolute ontological freedom for man is suicide, then freedom leads to nihilism; the person is shown to be the negator of ontology. This existential alarm, the fear of nihilism, is so serious that in the last analysis it must itself be regarded as responsible for the relativization of the concept of the person. Indeed every claim to absolute freedom is always countered by the argument that its realization would lead to chaos. The concept of "law," as much in its ethical as in its juridical sense, always presupposes some limitation to personal freedom in the name of "order" and "harmony," the need for symbiosis with others. Thus "the other" becomes a threat to the person, its "hell" and its "fall," to recall the words of Sartre. Once again the concept of the person leads human existence to an impasse: humanism proves unable to affirm personhood.

That's the only paragraph I've read in the book. Maybe there is something to that sortilege scripturae thing.

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