A renegade teacher tells the students at the school straight out, much earlier than they were supposed to know, what their purpose in life is, claiming that knowing what one’s life is for is the only way to live decently. Unlike the free persons of Britain, she tells the cloned kids, they won’t be able to choose for themselves how to live, to work in a supermarket or move to America in search of fame and fortune. Their unprecedented social determination contributes to free persons’ unprecedented determination to live as they please for a long, long time.
The clones we see do live as decently as people in their circumstances could live; they display the virtues appropriate to their real situation. But their decency doesn’t come, as it did for British servants in aristocratic times, from finding honor in serving great men. Ishiguro also wrote the psychological masterpiece The Remains of the Day, which is about the crippling disillusionment experienced by a loyal, capable, and rather erudite servant coming to learn that the aristocrat he serves is a self-indulgent appeaser of Hitler.
The clones’ servitude is particularly touching because it’s so free of illusions; both master and slave, in this case, have to live with the fact of naked exploitation. The cloned persons are eerily detached from the persons they were made for. So they are much more free than the servants of old to live for themselves as relational beings, for what they really know and love about persons. They are allowed, sort of accidentally, the best possible life available to them, arguably one better than the free persons they were made for.
The film ends with the central character—a cloned woman (Kathy H.)—sharing her hard-won wisdom. She’s spent most of her life reading and daydreaming to a romantic tune (“Never Let Me Go”), full of what she imagined was unrequited love. (She eventually finds out it was requited, soon before the man who, so to speak, always loved her makes his final donation.) Her period of donation was deferred by volunteering to be “carer,” a clone assigned with caring for clones in “the recovery center” as donors—sometimes for third or fourth time. Non-clones have to not know clones well enough to care for them. But clones still need care (as do we are all)—both physical and emotional—to stay alive as possible and so to be put to maximum possible use. Kathy found that work more enjoyable than not, and she rather stoically but sensitively did what she could to ease the suffering of the doomed. She was able to identify, to a limited extent, with people like her whom she didn’t know well enough to love. That’s not to say, of course, that her caring was exactly voluntary.
Unproductive personal love is no cause for deferral, but giving care that enhances the performance of the donor’s function is. Nature, in effect, gives members of our species a deferral from early death to be caring moms and dads, without whom our species would have no future. Kathy’s denied that natural deferral, but the one given her by her makers was judged to be almost as indispensable. Kathy, in fact, took a perverse pride in caring well enough that her donors did better or gave more donations that most, while remaining unusually unagitated about what was happening to them. She was assisting “the state” in its murderous tyranny, but she was also helping the donors live as long and as happily as possible.
A clone who dies as a result of his or her final donation is said to “complete.” That, of course, makes a kind of sense. A complete life, even Aristotle says, is one in which one has fulfilled one’s proper function in the most excellent way possible. A being a function, Aristotle adds, is a good-for-nothing, and he encourages us to believe that it would make no sense to say only human beings are free in that negative way. Aristotle denies that there’s such a being as a free person who can live without a purpose or even with a purpose that’s merely a “preference.”
The clone’s life ends because he or she has fulfilled as well as possible the function he or she has been given—not by nature, as Aristotle would say, but by other men. In that sense, a citizen has led a complete life when he dies in battle of years of service to his country. And contemporary Darwinians are about restoring the idea of a complete life by nature; we should think in terms of doing our duty as social beings, by falling in love, having kids, raising them properly, and then accepting nature’s impersonal intention that each of us step aside–disappear as persons or particular beings–for the good of the species.
From a Darwinian view, in fact, the clone’s life completes relatively early because he or she has done a kind of manmade or conscious and volitional duty to the species. Other lives last longer, because they make their contribution to the species in the slower, more purely natural way. But at some rather definite point those lives are superfluous too. In either case, the idea of completion is a pitiless afront to the real longing of persons to stay around. Whether the function we allegedly complete comes from other persons or nature or our country, we know it’s not our own. Free persons, if given the choice, would rather live incompletely or for an indefinitely long time.
It turns out, Kathy says, that everyone loves and everyone dies. Everyone “completes,” and nobody in love ever has enough time. So those who “complete” (die) and genuinely self-conscious (or possess self-knowledge) don’t really believe that that some experience of completion is some kind of decisive compensation for personal extinction. We persons don’t leave consciousness for good with our deepest thought being “my work here is done.” I know I wasn’t here mainly to work, and I’d rather stay, for example, with to love my children then merely “live on,” in a not really personal way, in them and their fading memories.
The idea of completion is based on purposes that are less than personal. And so the difference between a relatively short life and a relatively long one is insignificant, although any particular moment we’d rather have more time.That’s the main reason why it’s so monstrous, we can see, for the personal donor to be killed just to keep some persons around a bit longer.
But Kathy know she’s being harmed less than those who made her think. The free persons of Britain don’t think they have some function that completes their lives; they work to escape the imperatives of completion altogether. But it turns out that personal love is main reason to wish–for but not one that can be the source of– some kind of significant “deferral” from one’s natural destiny. Every genuinely self-conscious person knows him- or herself to a be a momentary speck between the two abysses of eternity in this world—a speck of infinite value because of who he or she is as a knower or a lover.
Everyone dies, no conscious life every really completes, and there’s no escaping from the incompletely requited longings connected with who we are and whom we love. It’s understandable why the free persons of Britain work so hard to escape completion. To the extent escape really seems possible through our own progressive, scientific efforts, who can deny that we might well exploit unto death those we don’t really know and love?
Still, the undeluded awareness of Kathy, the carer, that those who created her don’t care for her at all (she’s in the very opposite situation of just about anyone who has parents or who has believed in the personal Creator) doesn’t morph into anger. Her compensations are her real knowledge that their injustice can’t get them what they think they want, and her real gratitude for the life she’s been given (and not really by them).
There’s one more part on RELIGION, which I will delay for a while.
And be assured I won’t make fun of Rep. Weiner’s funny name.
Soon I will turn to a great TV show with terrible ratings–FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS.