Friday, December 30, 2011

On Cloning

From May 5, 2010. Again, I don't know what prompted this, but here it is, even if it's a repeat!

Politicians should make the final decisions about whether to legalize cloning. Politicians, when acting as elected representatives of the electorate, have the broadest mandate and the most comprehensive access to information upon which to base a decision.

When deciding whether to legalize cloning, anyone making the decision must consider a number of factors. Cloning represents a brave new world with tremendous potential for good and ill. Politicians, through debate involved in the electoral process, will have the best sense of what the public will accept as legitimate.

We cannot expect religious leaders to make a final decision because too much diversity exists between religious viewpoints, not to mention secular viewpoints. On topics in which morality plays a paramount role, such as abortion rights, we find that no coherent religious point of view exists. We cannot even define a religious point of view because we have a difficult time defining what constitutes a religious stance. Does Scientology count? Do all forms of Christianity count, from Unitarians to Pentecostals? Should all varieties of Jewish practice receive consideration? When we consider that the U.S. consists of religious practices and beliefs from around the world in addition to our Christian and Jewish heritage, from shamanism to Hindu to Muslim to Buddhist, how could we define the class of decision-makers? Without at least a nominally coherent set of decision makers, we cannot expect a coherent decision to issue forth on such a sensitive topic.

The possibility of using doctors—just medical doctors, or do we consider professional scientists in this class as well?—holds some promise, but this class fails in comparison to politicians also. Doctors can provide a scientific perspective on the issue that that we can’t expect lay people, such as politicians and religious leaders, to provide. Setting aside the moral and religious concerns raised by cloning, the scientific concerns of a biologically unique undertaking must raise serious scientific questions. As cloning represents a form of biological reproduction not found among humans or other more highly evolved species in nature, scientific knowledge becomes crucial in helping us assess the potential costs, risks, uncertainties, and benefits of cloning. For all of their knowledge, however, doctors cannot provide us with answers to questions of how we want to shape and form our society. Doctors, like religious leaders and persons from all walks of life, can participate in political decisions and act as political leaders in helping society make these decisions. When doctors enter the public realm, they do so as politicians, not as physicians.

The unique value of politicians in this circumstance arises from their role in democratic society. Politicians must act as generalists. Politicians must know and understand the values and morals of the electorate (notwithstanding the flaws of their personal morality). Politicians must seek scientific understanding of the consequences

"Stars" in Politics

Cleaning out to start the New Year, I found this essay that I wrote. I don't recall having posted it before, and when I read through it quickly, it still seems basically sound to me. Anyway, I post it for what it's worth.


The U.S. has grown into a polity marked by equality and universal sufferage. Freedom of expression, growing out of the First Amendment to the Constitution, also serves as a benchmark of U.S. politics. Any limitation on the participation of any group—whether of those with whom we agree with or those with whom we disagree—should not be our policy or goal.
The effect of entertainers on contemporary electoral politics is not new. While MTV’s “Rock the Vote” draws the attention of young people in recent elections, it’s basic tenant, that participation in the electoral process is not only socially acceptable, but a genuine good, is not unique. The use of “stars”, names from Hollywood and the entertainment world, has been ongoing at least since the Second World War, when well known actors participated in films supporting enlistment in the armed forces. Ronald Reagan, who served as president of the Screen Actors Guild, and who later served as host of GE Theatre, moved into politics. Reagan joined George Murphy, an actor later elected senator from California, as an example of entertainers who made the transition from fame as entertainers into elected officials. This trend has continued not only in California—witness Arnold Swartzenegger—but also in other parts of the country and involving politicians of a completely different political persuasion. For example, consider comedian-turned-actor Al Franken, recently elected senator from Minnesota. Given that breadth of the political spectrum represented by these few samples, one cannot argue that any particular political party or political perspective gains more from the use of entertainers as candidates or surrogates for candidates. The development of candidates and points of view seems to have little bearing in the eyes of the voting public. A candidate may gave gained name recognition from a career in sports (e.g., Bill Bradley, Jack Kemp, Tom Osborne) or entertainment, but this only provides an initial gateway past the barrier of name recognition.
The issue of concern in this topic must go the role and responsibility of the media. The media, once exclusively the realm of print, but now led by television and internet sources, must play the key role in discerning whether the fame of a entertainer merits the thoughtful consideration of a voter. Some voters, no doubt, would follow the lead of a famous person just because of the person’s perception of the entertainer’s stage persona, but this kind of limited critical thinking is as old as democracy, and it won’t go away by attempting to ban or downplay the roles of the famous in our electoral system. Instead, we need opinion leaders in all forms of media to foster critical assessments of all those who stand for public office. Much of the media have always enjoyed a strange, symbiotic relationship with the famous, including politicians, at once glorifying them and vilifying them; using them and being used by them. To the extent that members of all facets of the media resist the trap of this strange duet, the more useful the media’s role in democratic societies.
As politics in a democratic society should involve a widespread and varied consideration of all manner of perspective in our complex society, to consider limiting or pre-judging any group is a mistake. Instead, society, led by leaders in the media willing to take up the cause of the public good, should weigh and consider perspectives from all manner of sources. The famous will always flourish in democratic societies, whether military leaders, reformers, entertainers, or sports figures. The question, the challenge, for all becomes our collective ability to discern the merely famous from those who hold the ability to provide leadership and judgment in political office.