Re: What does it mean to be human?
Virginia Postrel is a political and cultural writer who is a contributing editor for The Atlantic, editor-in-chief of DeepGlamour.net, and the author of The Substance of Style and The Future and Its Enemies. She is currently writing a book on glamour for The Free Press. She previously wrote an economics column in The New York Times for six years, served as editor of Reason and has worked as a reporter for Inc. Magazine and The Wall Street Journal. She serves on the Board of Directors of the Foundation for Individual Rights and is a popular blogger and speaker. She was educated at Princeton University and lives in Los Angeles.
Virginia Postrel: What does it mean to understand human beings as biological creatures, as material, as manipulable? Aside from the obvious benefits of being able to cure diseases and extend life, which have their own implications for societies . . . If everybody starts to live a long time what does that mean? We’re already experienced a doubling of life expectancy worldwide over a hundred years or so. Really quite remarkable. That changes the way societies organize themselves. Not in the sense that people say, “Okay. Now we’re going to get married later and have fewer children.” But it happens partly because of life extension. There’s that . . . sort of the obvious social consequences, but then there’s the deeper philosophical issues. If we are really material, what does that mean? How do we think about that? What do we think about consciousness? If it’s an emergent property of chemical reactions as opposed to a little ghost in your head, does that make you feel worse about yourself in the same way that maybe if you have to give up and be . . . universe centered on earth and man, does that make you feel worse about yourself? You know amazingly enough we got use to that, and we don’t feel worse about ourselves than we did with the earth as the center of the universe. I think we’ll get over this other too. But it raises a lot of issues. What do you do about when you find the biological roots of certain kinds of criminal behavior, or socially destructive behavior? How do you deal with that? It’s a deep, difficult question, especially if the person hasn’t actually done anything bad. How do you think about that? Or if they have done something bad, then you can say we identified the gene that led to this personality disorder. Does that get them off if they killed six people or something? So that, I think, is one big area.
Recorded on: 7/4/07
What do you do about when you find the biological roots of behavior?