Biopolitics Worldview Mutual Misunderstanding: Self-Loathing Versus the Pursuit of Excellence


Your brain on Intel Core 1,200

This past weekend I had the pleasure of participating in the Stuck with Virtue conference at Berry College in Rome, Ga. I found the conference intellectually enjoyable and the hospitality wonderful. The conference series aims to deal with the moral consequences of technological progress.

At the beginning of my talk, "For Enhancing People," I suggested that I had been invited in order to prove to skeptics in the audience that, unlike unicorns, extreme libertarians actually do exist. Extreme, in this case, meaning that I argue that people should be allowed to use a wide variety of technological enhancements in the future (biotech, infotech machine/human interfaces, etc.) with the goal of boosting their intellectual and physical capacities. Such enhancements, I think, would help people live more flourishing lives, and perhaps, even to improve their practice of virtue.

I think it is fair to characterize my fellow participants as believing that such enhancements pose considerable moral dangers. But just how far our thinking diverges on this issue startled me. During the formal sessions, bioethicist Benjamin Mitchell from Union University offered some penetrating counterpoints to my talk. During a coffee break, I was talking with Mitchell about his concerns and he told me that he thought that people who want to take advantage of enhancements must suffer from a great deal of self-loathing.

I was shocked by his comment. Why? Because, as I explained to Mitchell, in my experience when I talk to people who want to use technologies to enhance themselves, they express their desires as seeking after excellence. Self-loathing versus the pursuit of excellence. No wonder biopolitics is so vicious.

The conference papers including mine will be published in a future issue of the journal, The New Atlantis.