Transhumanist libertarian: Still against democracy

Posted by Jesse Reynolds August 26, 2009
Biopolitical Times
Ron Bailey

In his analysis of Obama's upcoming appointment of a bioethics advisory council, libertarian Ron Bailey critiques the recommendations made by my colleague Marcy Darnovsky in an article published at the Science Progress. Permeating his comments now, and earlier, is a disturbing hostility to democracy.

The benefit of Bailey's piece is that it makes clear the difference between progressive liberals committed to social justice such as ourselves and libertarians such as Bailey and Peter Thiel.

In his response at Reason, Bailey paints a false dichotomy between "data-driven" decisions and ideology. In this, going beyond "data-driven" health and safety issues into matters of probable social impacts and public opinion is denigrated as "an ideology, one which amounts to democratic authoritarianism."

Nowhere does he recognize that his own views amount to an ideology--a rather radical libertarianism, of the anti-democratic sort that Thiel has recently advocated, to a storm of criticism (1, 2, 3).

Granted, he does a raise a valid, general concern about the ability of a majority to deny rights to a minority. Democratic societies are not immune to oppression.

Yet as an example Bailey cites President Obama's opposition to reproductive cloning:

But other progressives see no problem with ideology-driven bioethical inquiries. For instance, the nation's progressive-in-chief: In March, when President Obama issued a new executive order setting up a review that would allow for the expansion of federal funding for human embryonic stem cell research, he also declared: "We will ensure that our government never opens the door to the use of cloning for human reproduction. It is dangerous, profoundly wrong, and has no place in our society, or any society."

Hold on a minute! Where is the supposedly non-ideological data-driven question: Is human reproductive cloning research ethical? It turns out that President Obama's proposed ban on reproductive cloning is motivated by exactly the kind of ideology-driven inquiry decried by Peroski. What if a data-driven inquiry found that cloning could be done safely so that cloned babies would have as much of a chance to be healthy as those produced conventionally? Would it still be "profoundly wrong"? No answer.

The ethics of reproductive cloning have been debated thoroughly for decades now, and the overwhelming consensus is that it would be profoundly wrong, and not only because it's impossible to get to safety with risking harm. Bailey is simply an outlier here, and in a tiny minority.

Public opinion surveys show that an overwhelming 85 to 90 percent of Americans are opposed to human reproductive cloning and would like to see it banned, whereas only a tiny percentage would like to engage in the activity. This opposition is certainly not a radical ideology.

Furthermore, the US's lack of any governance of powerful reproductive and genetic technologies--a remarkable exception among industrialized nations--is praised by Bailey as

a good thing too, since lack of government intrusion allows for the expression of moral pluralism. So far, at least, with regard to many biotechnical advances, the majority in the U.S. doesn't get to impose its values on the minority, as has happened in many other countries.

In other words: Fortunately, with regard to many biotechnical advances, the minority in the US has so far been able to impose its values on the majority, unlike what has happened in many other countries.

Such opposition to democracy is not surprising, given Bailey's transhumanist agenda. He knows that his vision is not popular. In order to implement it, experts such as himself and fellow anti-democratic libertarian Peter Thiel must be trusted and given authority, lest the wishes of the unreliable and ideological masses actually be enacted.

Previously in Biopolitical Times: