Life as an Extreme Sport

Nature’s Dignity?

It’s nearly 4am, and I can’t sleep. I’m in that weird stage of finally cooling off enough to be comfortable, but having been awake so long that I can’t seem to fall asleep. I should be working on my project, but I’ve been awake so long I don’t trust myself to not do what, when I was in my teens, would have been referred to as a 3am idea (an idea that seemed brilliant at that time, but in the light of day was a disaster). It’s not something that I can really afford to 3am at this point.

So, I web browse. Specifically, I Google News browse, where I come across an article in the local paper, the Seattle PI, about the recent cloning of a dog in Korea. Specifically about the ethics of. “Okay”, I think, “It’s probably an editorial written by someone over at UW. I wonder if it’s someone I know?” So I click to read, and see what has to be some of the stupidest tripe I’ve seen in a while, an obvious “we need to get something out sounding wise, but don’t have anyone to say anything meaningful, so we’ll mouth platitudes” from the PI editorial board. In a “just in case it goes away” security measure, I shall post the entirety of the article here:

Images of a cute, cloned Afghan hound puppy named Snuppy hit the news wires Tuesday to coos from dog lovers and wows from scientists.

Yes, it’s impressive what can be done with cells scraped from a dog’s ear and empty egg (which is how Snuppy came to be in Seoul), but there’s a danger of looking away from the messy, ethical questions tied to this whiz-bang world of research. How far will we really go?

As researchers close the cloning gap between mice and men in the name of stem cell research, it’s important to keep what possibility lies at the end of this road in mind: cloning humans. Whole ones, not just the bits of tissue and sinew required to treat or prevent such diseases as diabetes or neurodegenerative conditions such as Parkinson’s. Suddenly, the premises of sci-fi flicks such as “The Island” — which focuses on the plight of cloned beings — seem more sci, less fi. So how will we, as a world community, regulate this sort of research without hindering it for the wrong reasons?

It’s vital that we come up with a thoughtful roadmap for how to proceed. If we don’t, we risk leaving those questions in the hands of religious and scientific fundamentalists who stare either into their scriptures or cell cultures until, as the Guided by Voices song, “I am a Scientist,” goes, “Everything fades from sight” — including the lines they ought not cross. Maybe religion doesn’t have a place in the lab, but ethics always will, and it’s our responsibility to see that nature’s dignity is preserved.

Blahblahblah, slippery slope, blah, oh noes scifi might be based in reality!, blahblah, scientists are as bad as religious fundamentalists; they hit all the cliche’s and managed to say absolutely nothing of any substance. And best of all, they end their editorial with the comment that “it’s our responsibility to see that nature’s dignity is preserved”. Nature’s dignity? What the hell is that?

I find that in these confusing situations, it’s often best to start with the OED. It’s not until we get rather far down the definition list that we see this, for nature:

IV. Senses relating to the material world.

10. a. The creative and regulative power which is conceived of as operating in the material world and as the immediate cause of its phenomena. Cf. balance of nature s.v. BALANCE n. 13d.
Sometimes referred to as if having a non-specific but independent existence or character (usually with capital initial); cf. sense 10b.

b. Usu. with capital initial. This power personified as a female being. Freq. as Dame Nature or Mother Nature.

11. a. The phenomena of the physical world collectively; esp. plants, animals, and other features and products of the earth itself, as opposed to humans and human creations.

{dag}b. In wider sense: the whole natural world, including human beings; the cosmos. Obs.

It’s worth noting that OED considers the sense that the PI editorial board is using as obsolete. So then on to dignity:

1. The quality of being worthy or honourable; worthiness, worth, nobleness, excellence.

That’ll do – the rest are variants of.

So, okay. We’re talking about the quality of nobleness or worth of the phenomena of the physical world (obs). It might just be me, but I think that nature is going to have that dignity, as much as an incorporeal and non-personified thing can, regardless of what humans do. It’s not nature’s dignity that needs protecting (how do you protect something that is greater than you to the point that it encompasses the whole of you and every other thing on the planet, hell, the ‘verse?), it’s our own. And humans have shown, time and again, that they’ll do any and everything to spit in the face of human dignity whenever possible.