Immortality and its Implications

UMUC – ASIA
PHIL 342 – Moral Problems in Medicine
Foster Education Center, Room 13
Okinawa, Japan
FALL SESSION I, 2009
Saturdays, 12:00-18:00
Instructor: Christopher Melley
Student Name: J. Durden
Title: Immortality and its Implications
1. Introduction

The concept of mortality is one that dominates human thinking. Many worry about how to have a “good life,” for instance, before passing from the mortal coil. Because death is inevitable and – to a certain degree – unpredictable, most long range thinking seems to rectify itself with the inevitability of death. Much has been written of death. Don Marquis (1989) describes death as the ultimate loss: “The loss of one’s life is one of the greatest losses one can suffer. The loss of one’s life deprives one of all the experiences, activities, projects, and enjoyments that would otherwise have constituted one’s future.” Temkin (2008) writes: “Death is surely one of the greatest evils that men face.” Robert Freitas (2003), an expert in the field of nanotechnology and nanomedicine, conceptualizes death as a terrific loss for all of humanity:

34 billion people have ever walked the Earth, and 28 billion of us have already died. The equivalent total information waste is more than 28 billion books, enough to fill almost 2000 Libraries of Congress. The equivalent total economic waste about $60 thousand trillion dollars, enough to rebuild our current tangible civilization 600 times over.

He, along with other experts in relevant life-extension fields, believe that immortality may be within our grasp.
2. Background, Relevant Facts and Definition of Terms
Immortality of the type promised through the research conducted for this paper seems to be rather comprehensive – it claims to both stop (and even undo) the effects of aging, and purports to offer solutions in the case of organ failure or premature death. Mortality, as defined by most online dictionaries, means “the state or condition of being subject to death.”
There are essentially two immortality strategies on the technological horizon. The first of these involves completely eradicating aging at the cellular level. The secret lies in telomere, “repeating code at the end of each DNA strand, which are made shorter each time a cell divides, thereby placing a limit on the number of times a cell can replicate” (Kurzweil 2002). Essentially, once the telomere runs out, the cell is programmed for death (Kurzweil 2002). Ray Kurzweil (2002), an important figure in nanotechnology and attendant of the Alcor Convention on Extreme Life Extension, reports Michael West’s findings:
The immortal germ line cells avoid this destruction through the use of a single enzyme called telomerase, which rebuilds the telomere chain after each cell division. This single enzyme makes the germ line cells immortal, and indeed these cells have survived from the beginning of life on Earth billions of years ago.
Ironically, the secret to immortality has existed since the dawn of life on Earth. To best utilize this knowledge, Kurzweil (2002) reports that West suggests “…future gene therapies that would return cells to their youthful, telomerase-extended state.” Additionally:
West expressed confidence that new techniques would provide the ability to transfer the telomerase into the nuclei, and to overcome the cancer issue. Telomerase gene therapy holds the promise of indefinitely rejuvenating human somatic (non-germ line) cells i.e., all human cells.
While gene therapy utilizing telomerase may seem to hold the answer to indefinitely prolonging the life of our cells, the thought of such techniques taking mankind all the way to immortality loses its feasibility when you consider that telomerase gene therapy offers no solution to foreign threats (for example, pathogens) to keep us healthy. However, this is not the only weapon in science’s arsenal in the battle to achieve immortality.
The second strategy involves an eclectic synthesis of several technologies. Chief among these are nanomedicine, improvements in the field of artificial organs, and cybernetics. While a much longer paper could outline these technologies in depth (and explore the most recent developments in these fields), this one will attempt only to provide a brief sketch. Essentially, Freitas (2002), one of nanomedicines foremost experts, argues that molecular technologies combined with traditional (and ever improving) knowledge of medicine will be able to reverse the effects of aging on the body. He claims that the use of nanomachines (literally, machines built on the nano-scale – sometimes referred to as nanobots) will be able to keep our bodies alive for thousands of years. Should any part of our body become damaged beyond the point of repair through nanomedicine, Kurzweil (2002) lays out a vision of the future where improvements in the process of artificial body part replacement will not only be solvent, but affordable for everyone. Kurzweil (2003) further argues that nanobots could be utilized to interface directly with a human brain, increasing cognition and possibly even allowing for the specific neural networks of a particular brain to be stored as “data” and later interposed into another organic brain (to combat biological brain failure that would result in the death of one’s personality).
3. Practical Problem and Ethical Questions
It is apparent, then, that immortality may be within our grasp. Therefore, it becomes necessary to consider the ethical implications of immortality – what sort of impact would immortality have on life? As silly as such a question may sound at first, it may be instructive to ask: are there any negative impacts to immortality? Most people have a natural tendency to want to live forever (as even Temkin admits in his article), but does that mean that we should live forever? Immortality is an answer to death, so it becomes important to consider whether or not death is a bad thing. These questions have more than one answer and it is worth tackling them from multiple perspectives.
4. Ethical Argument and Counter-argument
Death need not necessarily be conceptualized as a bad thing – and such thinking is ancient. Epictetus (135), for example, argued as much nearly 2000 years ago:

Men are disturbed, not by things, but by the principles and notions which they form concerning things. Death, for instance, is not terrible, else it would have appeared so to Socrates. But the terror consists in our notion of death that it is terrible.

This argument seems to postulate that nothing is ‘disturbing’ in nature – the only reason men are disturbed is because they have conceptualized things as being disturbing. More recent philosophers have chimed in on a similar theme. Preston and Dixon (2007) quote Epicurus in their examination of the issue, who wrote the following in 1927:

Get used to believing that death is nothing to us. For all good and bad consists in sense-experience, and death is the privation of sense-experience. Hence, a correct knowledge of the fact that death is nothing to us makes the mortality of life a matter for contentment, not by adding a limitless time [to life] but by removing the longing for immortality. For there is nothing fearful in life for one who has grasped that there is nothing fearful in the absence of life. Thus he is a fool who says that he fears death not because it will be painful when present but because it is painful when it is still to come. For that which while present causes no distress causes unnecessary pain when merely anticipated. So death, the most frightening of bad things, is nothing to us; since when we exist, death is not yet present, and when death is present, then we do not exist. Therefore, it is relevant neither to the living nor to the dead, since it does not affect the former, and the latter do not exist.

The argument here, in other terms, is that death should not concern us, because it does not affect us while living and it cannot affect us after it occurs as we do not exist. (To Epicurus, the agony of death arises from its anticipation – this is similar to the way Epictetus argues that death is terrible only in man’s conception of death as being terrible.) According to Preston & Dixon’s (2007) analysis, the logic underlying Epicurus’ argument was hedonistic – he viewed pain as the only intrinsic (as the authors say – “bad in itself”) bad, and since death did not directly cause pain for its victim nor for anyone living, it follows that death is not bad. Furthermore, Preston & Dixon extend the argument:

Assuming that all of the premises are true, it would appear that being dead really is nothing extrinsically bad for the dead. When we weep for them, we are really weeping for ourselves. When we lament their passing, we are really acknowledging that we, not they, have been somehow diminished. In other words, being dead is nothing subjectively to the one dead; yet, objectively it influences those around the deceased in varying ways. Nevertheless, one must wonder why humanity has struggled, psychologically, philosophically, and religiously, with death for the subject….

It seems, then, that death is not be bad for those it afflicts directly, but it still seems ill for those left behind. Epictetus (135), however, has an answer. Stoicism is concerned with what an individual can control, and death is certainly outside of one’s control. Regarding the loss of one’s loved ones, he writes:

If you wish your children, and your wife, and your friends to live for ever, you are stupid; for you wish to be in control of things which you cannot, you wish for things that belong to others to be your own.

He urges a perspective that recognizes the impact of external and uncontrollable influences without being entirely fatalistic, and without giving up:

Never say of anything, “I have lost it”; but, “I have returned it.” Is your child dead? It is returned. Is your wife dead? She is returned…. “But he who took it away is a bad man.” What difference is it to you who the giver assigns to take it back? While he gives it to you to possess, take care of it; but don’t view it as your own, just as travelers view a hotel…. Remember that you are an actor in a drama, of such a kind as the author pleases to make it. If short, of a short one; if long, of a long one. If it is his pleasure you should act a poor man, a cripple, a governor, or a private person, see that you act it naturally. For this is your business, to act well the character assigned you; to choose it is another’s.

Such arguments and ways of thinking contrast sharply with conventional notions that death is bad (or that life is sacred, as seen in sanctity of life arguments or pro-life ethics).
Thinkers like Epicurus and Epictetus seem not to say that death is good; merely that it is not necessarily bad. Perhaps because they were never confronted with the tangible possibility of immortality, they never had a need to examine the issue further. Temkin (2008), however, presents the views of more recent thinkers who have had to confront immortality. Temkin seems to agree with Leon Kass that death is a good motivator:

…Many of our greatest creations resulted from the recognition of our own mortality. Kass believes that many people who fear death — understood, here, as the end of their earthly existence, and perhaps utter annihilation — have been spurred by that fear to great accomplishments. The idea, roughly, is that, consciously or not, many have hoped to achieve a kind of immortality, in the form of lasting recognition here on Earth, through great achievements. Moreover, many of these achievements are amongst humankind’s most lasting, inspiring, and ennobling feats. Thus, Kass suggests that some of the components that make our lives and our civilization most valuable would never have existed but for our mortality. Additionally, Kass suggests, our very recognition and appreciation of beauty, and life itself, may to some extent be conditioned by, and hence depend on, our awareness of our finitude.

Accepting such logic, it is not unreasonable to assume that human productivity might sink. Without the fear of death to motivate people, what reason would there be to achieve anything? Later, Temkin considers whether or not all people will have enough money to benefit from immortality, which brings to mind considerations of justice (specifically distributive justice) and contrast with Kurzweil’s contentions that technologies will be cheap and affordable. Still other authors, like Horrobin (2006) have explored other practical considerations like overpopulation, “the nature and value of intergenerational interchange,” and even the issue of boredom. The literature on the subject is immense and to conduct a full analysis could well result in a work the length of a book and is beyond the scope of this paper – which seeks only to flesh out some of the basics.
5. Personal Position and Justification
I am in favor of immortality and believe it can be justified using many of the ethical theories mentioned above. Immortality could end up as the single greatest and most important human achievement in history. The following arguments appear here rather than above as they represent my personal thinking based on my understanding of the underpinning ethical/moral theories and arguments/counter-arguments, rather than a rigorously researched examination of these positions.
Stoicism maintains, as Epictetus wrote, that things (such as immortality, or death) are not bad in and of themselves – the only thing that makes them appear bad to us are the notions we have regarding those specific things. If, therefore, one were apprehensive about immortality because one feared becoming bored in an eternal life, one would be inclined to feel that immortality was bad or immoral. Stoicism, in my understanding, would resolutely argue that this is not the case – and therefore, under a framework of stoicism, immortality would be justifiable.
It is hard to know exactly what Kant would think about immortality. Based on my limited understanding of Kant, I would argue that he too would find nothing inherently wrong about immortality – so long as one maintained a good will in its application. He would not be in favor of a rich elite, for example, utilizing immortality with the intention of becoming an entrenched class of rulers; but I do not think he would find fault in immortality with for every person, so long as people maintained their good wills. The length of one’s life never seemed to concern Kant much, and I am uncertain how he felt about death – but such concepts don’t seem to be Kant’s main thrust anyway. He was more concerned about how we should live our lives, regardless of the length.
I believe immortality is easily justifiable under a utilitarian ethic. The technologies outlined in this paper would greatly reduce the amount of suffering and pain in the world caused by illness, age, and death. Furthermore, should nanotechnology come to fruition in the way its proponents envision, we might also reduce our depedence on animals for things like product testing (especially in the field of pharmaceuticals). This would also greatly reduce suffering. Again, the only case where immortality would seem to cause trouble to utilitarian thinkers is if it were used by an elite few in order to gain an advantage over the disenfranchised many.
This brings us to the area of pragmatics and practical considerations. There seems to be a tension among practical thinkers who are in favor and practical thinkers who are not in favor of immortality. This, I believe, belies the fact that a certain sort of context-sensitive ethic is necessary to truly evaluate whether or not immortality could be justfiable. However, I think it is informative to look at other examples of practical thinking – I don’t believe pragmatic philosophers would resolutely argue that killing innocents is always wrong. There are certain examples where it makes pragmatic sense – in self defense, in the line of duty as an officer of the law or soldier of the military, and so on. Pragmatic thinking seems to dovetail with stoicism, then, in that actions/things are not inherently bad, but only become bad through poor use. Therefore, there is no reason to roundly reject immortality for pragmatic considerations alone – only immoral use of immortality. (This means things like distributive justice and overpopulation would need to be handled, but discussing such things in depth is outside the scope of this paper. I am merely trying to give an overview of whether or not immortality is a sound idea in theory, not how to practically employ it.)
Natural law theorists might argue – as they often do with new technologies – that we are tinkering with nature and should therefore abstain from immortality. However, as is the problem with most natural law arguments, there is no clear way to define what is natural and what isn’t. Definitions of the word vary wildly, from “of or pertaining to the universe” to “growing spontaneously, without being planted or tended by human hand, as vegetation.” The first definition could be interpreted quite easily to justify immortality – obviously, if the universe didn’t intend for it to happen, it wouldn’t be possible. The second definition does not allow for a justification of immortality, however – and these wildly different defintions belie the difficulty in trying to argue from a natural law point of view. Who rightly defines what is natural and what is not? If something can happen, does that not make it natural? Human beings exist in nature, so how can we act unnaturally? Natural law doesn’t present a strong enough objection to immortality to convince me.
Still others might argue that we should not tinker with immortality, as this would interfere with God’s plans for us. This position seems to commit the same error in reasoning that natural law arguments do, as how can we truly know what God’s plan is for us? For all we know, it could be God’s plan for us to achieve immortality through technologies like nanomedicine – perhaps this is how we will come to know heaven and the eternal life? The word of God, after all, is open to wide interpretation. This scenario reminds me of a joke I once heard that basically goes like this: A man is on his roof in the middle of a flood. First, another person in a raft comes by and asks the man if he would like to get in and be saved, and the man says “No, thank you, I have been praying for God to save me.” Later, a second person with a kayak comes by and offers another rescue, but still the man refuses, believing God will save him. A helicopter comes by and offers the man a ladder, but still the man refuses, believing firmly that God will save him. The man eventually drowns, and when he gets to heaven, he frustratedly asks God why God did not save him. God replies “What do you think I sent the rowboat, kayak, and helicopter for?” This paper makes no claims about whether or not God exists, but if he did (for the sake of argument), it seems supremely arrogant to assume we could understand what his plan is or is not. If we reject immortality on the basis that it is not in God’s plan for us, we could easily wind up like the man in the joke.
Immortality is obviously justifiable using the sanctity of life ethic, which places the value of life as above all other values. Another quote might be instructive here, this time from Doerflinger (1989):

Life, a human being’s very earthly existence, is the most fundamental right because it is the necessary condition for all other worldly goods including freedom; freedom in turn makes it possible to pursue (without guaranteeing that one will attain) happiness.

Even the quality of life stands to improve and justify immortality – with an infinite amount of time to improve one’s life, there is no more worry whether or not life will become unbearable. (Assumedly, nanomedicine and the other technologies outlined could also be used to cure disabilities, though this is not the focus of the paper.) Death is the ultimate opponent to thinkers who value sanctity of life, and so I imagine they would unanimously be in favor of immortality.
This brings me to the final point I would like to make regarding this issue. Given that the technologies discussed would seem to be able to compensate for any possible illness or injury one could imagine, the biggest potential harm immortality could cause would seem to be boredom and apathy, which may even lead to despair. Therefore, I think it is important that if we became immortal, we allow for the ability for humans to choose when and how their life will end through suicide. After all, some people don’t want to live forever, and a routinely “wrong” thing to do in any ethical or moral system of thinking is to force something on someone else (murder is forced death, rape is forced sex, assault is forced injury, and so on). Autonomy and personal choice, then, must also be respected. Death and suicide would be justifiable in the sense that they really do not cause pain to the person choosing them (as argued by Epicurus), and any sadness felt by those left behind would reflect incorrect thinking (as argued by Epictetus). This being said, immortality is an exciting prospect that would revolutionize much about life; perhaps least of which would be philosophical thought.
Works Cited
Marquis, D. (1989). Why abortion is immoral. The Journal of Philosophy.
Temkin, L.S. (2008). Is living longer living better?. Journal of Applied Philosophy, 25(3), 193- 210.
Freitas, R.A. (2003). Death is an outrage. Retrieved October 9, 2009, from http://www.kurzweilai.net/meme/frame.html?main=/articles/art0536.html
Kurzweil, R. (2002). The Alcor conference on extreme life extension. Retrieved October 10, 2009, from http://www.kurzweilai.net/meme/frame.html?main=/articles/art0531.html
Kurzweil, R. (2002). We are becoming cyborgs. Retrieved October 10, 2009, from http://www.kurzweilai.net/meme/frame.html?main=/articles/art0449.html
Kurzweil, R. (2003). The future of life. Retrieved October 10, 2009, from http://www.kurzweilai.net/meme/frame.html?main=/articles/art0554.html
Epictetus. (135). The Enchiridion. Retrieved October 10, 2009 from http://classics.mit.edu/Epictetus/epicench.html
Preston, T.M., & Dixon, Scott. (2007). Who wants to live forever? Immortality, authenticity, and living forever in the present. International Journal for Philosophy of Religion, 61(2), 99- 117.
Horrobin, S. (2006). Immortality, human nature, the value of life and the value of life extension. Bioethics, 20(6), 279-292.
Doerflinger, R. (1989). Assisted suicide: Pro-choice or anti-life. Hastings Center Report.

Immortality and the Meaning of Life

UMUC – ASIA
PHIL 140 – CONTEMPORARY MORAL ISSUES
CAMP KINSER
FALL SESSION I, 2009
Monday and Wednesday, 1645-1930
Instructor: Christopher Melley
Student Name: J. Durden
Title: Immortality and the Meaning of Life
1. Introduction
Since the beginning of human history, one of the most basic and best understood facts about human existence is that it eventually ends. However, advancements in technology may, within our lifetime, overcome death and allow humans to live essentially forever. In my paper, Immortality and its Implications, I outlined briefly the technologies involved in making immortality happen and whether or not immortality could be theoretically justified under various ethical and moral theories. The focus of this paper will be on how immortality would change our very conceptions about life and perhaps even personhood – ideas such as what it means to be alive, what it means to lead a good life, how to be a good person, and more. Temkin (2008) outlines how this topic is necessarily difficult to encapsulate: “…If we lived forever our psychologies would probably evolve, and we might find whole new life plans available to us that we can’t currently conceptualize…”
2. Background, Relevant Facts and Definition of Terms
The kind of immortality being examined in this essay is the kind that could keep our physical existence living indefinitely, through a combination of nanomedicine, artificial organ replacement (or cybernetics) and methods of storing our neural networks as data to later be superimposed on another brain. I outlined this sort of immortality in another paper, but it is important to define immortality as such – other thinkers would talk about an intangible sort of immortality, an immortality for the “soul” or “spirit” that transcends time (is an atemporal existence). Such a discussion is outside the purview of this essay.
An entire book could be written on the practical implications (and limitations) of immortality. There are many potential problems with getting immortality to work – overpopulation and sustainability (could the world support an immortal population, especially one that grew?), distributive justice (making sure everyone had equal access to immortality), social impacts and more. I’d like to sketch out some of these problems before moving forward with the examination of immortality.
Temkin (2008) succinctly sums up the main worries of overpopulation: “…if we succeed in extending lifespans indefinitely, where would everyone live, and from where would the resources come to support them?” The two primary concerns would be living space and living necessities (food, water, etc). Preston & Dixon (2007) elaborate (with the help of another work by Nussbaum):

Imagining a world of limited resources, if none ever dies, the resources will eventually run out. In a world where none dies, but some continue to be born, the burden will fall most heavily on the young, “for the people already around, who already command resources, will cling to them tenaciously. Life will be like a university faculty with no retirements, in which the old, tenaciously clinging to their tenured posts, will prevent the entry of an entire generation of young people” (Nussbaum, 1994, p. 223)

This has strange utilitarian implications – death, while perhaps a harm for the individual, may be of benefit to the needs of the larger population. The authors then outline how ceasing new births could potentially be an answer – that is, if one could find a workable solution to ensure immortal humans were not reproducing – but also provide a counterpoint to their own argument, in that the prevention of new births also represents a loss (of new ideas, perspectives, energy and so on).
While immortality may sound appealing at first, one worries about whether or not it would further entrench a class system that has already developed across most of the world – the rich versus the poor. Temkin (2008) outlines this concern:

…we live in a horribly unequal world. It has been claimed, for example, that a mere one half of 1% of the income of the top 20% of income earners would be more than sufficient to double the income of everyone in the bottom 20%. Given this, and given that millions of innocent children ‘die [each year] from easy to beat disease, from malnutrition, and from bad drinking water’, is there not a moral imperative to address the plight of the world’s needy, and try to give them something of a normal human life span, before we engage in longevity research? Surely, the benefits of longevity, if successful, would almost certainly go first to the world’s best off, who would willingly pay handsomely for them, and would only ‘trickle down’ to the world’s less fortunate, if it later became easy and cheap to do so. Are there not strong considerations of justice, equality, humanitarianism, and prioritarianism to worry about this predictable result?

It is easy to hope for an ideal system, and indeed, the thinkers in the fields that may ultimately bring us immortality seem to think they can do so affordably and distribute this boon to all. However, things rarely work out inventors and scientists intend – a recent and potent example would be the way the inventors of the atomic bomb petitioned the White House to never use their device (and, if memory serves, some of the research involved in the bomb’s creation was co-opted from ‘harmless’ research into then alternative energy sources).
Temkin (2008) would warn us of the potential social impacts of immortality. He outlines how currently, there is a large difference between ourselves and our grandparents but how in an immortal world a difference of only 60 years may cause us to regard our grandparents as peers. Given that, he writes:

But, speaking for myself, I think it would be terrible if I came to regard my mother or daughter, not so much as a mother or daughter, but as a peer. Likewise, as lifespans have increased the desirability of lifelong monogamy has been increasingly challenged, and many have started second families in their 50s. If we lived indefinitely, mightn’t we naturally have many spouses over the years? And then, depending on the rules of procreation in play, many children or stepchildren? What impact would this have on our notions of familial loyalty and duty?

Perhaps these represent valid concerns about the impact immortality would have on society and its values. However, as Temkin pointed out elsewhere in his paper, it is hard to know exactly how immortal life would go – as he said, we might evolve new ways of living that could be superior to our current way of life in such a way that is incomprehensible to us now. Perhaps we would come to regard all life as within our family, rather than being only concerned with those people we immediately know – and wouldn’t this cause us to live more responsibly with respect to the environment and the way we treat others?
The problem with many of these practical considerations is that immortality represents such a fundamental shift in thinking (and existing) that we can’t know all the answers. We are applying our reasoning, which has its basis in a mortal world, to a hypothetical immortal world. The way that we perceive time, for instance, would almost necessarily change if we were to become immortal – presently, humans are inclined not to worry so much about the long range impact of their activities, especially impacts that extend beyond their own life. And why should they, these people might argue? I can imagine a hypothetical argument: “After all, let someone else worry about it. The future will always be more advanced and maybe they’ll just invent a solution for me.” If we were immortal, such thinking wouldn’t suffice – we would come to worry about impacts one hundred, one thousand, ten thousand years down the line, because we would be around to experience them.
Additionally, regardless of how much we might worry about the practical implications of immortality, our worrying has little to no effect on whether or not the technologies that will grant us immortality are going to continue to develop. This may sound like an argument in the vein of technological imperative – that is, because we can achieve immortality, we must. But this is not the case. I am arguing instead that immortality appears to be inevitable (barring the apocalypse or a cataclysm like a massive energy crisis that alters the face of civilization and technological progress as we know it), therefore, we shouldn’t be concerned with whether we should stop it, but how best to utilize (and in some cases, distribute) it.
Therefore, for the sake of argument, I’m going to suggest that we assume a somewhat idealized conception of immortality – one where we aren’t concerned with the practical considerations, as they’ve already been solved. (Yes, the miracles of technology and social engineering have solved problems of overpopulation, distributive justice and familial concerns.)
3. Practical Problem and Ethical Questions
As stated above, while the practical considerations are important, they aren’t the main thrust. In an idealized world like the one I’ve posited for the sake of argument, one wonders – would one really want to be immortal? Will being immortal improve the value of one’s own life? How will being immortal alter the meaning of one’s life? Is being immortal right? Below, I hope to examine these issues and provide a solution to problems that may arise.
4. Ethical Argument and Counter-argument
One author that seems to appear consistently in the literature of immortality is Bernard Williams, whose thoughts are summarized by Temkin (2008):

Williams notes that if our lives persisted unendingly through time, then there would either be significant alterations in a person’s deepest projects, commitments, and character, or there would not. Either alternative, Williams argues, would be deeply problematic for the value of immortality for us.

To summarize in brief, Williams claims that if our concerns and character changed, why would we care about our future selves? Essentially, if one’s concerns and character cannot remain constant throughout one’s immortal life, Williams argues that one would find no reason at all to find immortality desirable. On the other hand, if our concerns and character do remain constant throughout all life, Williams posits that we will become bored and view suicide as an attractive option. Either way, the immortal life does not seem desirable to Williams. Williams’ argument suffers because it seems to be a false dilemma – a logical fallacy where the issue is simplified to only two choices. What if the appeal of immortality was precisely that you could change your concerns and character and explore life to the fullest, for example? There seems to be little warrant to the claim that an eternal life dedicated to purely one cause would become boring, also – especially in light of how immortality may change our conceptions and allow us to find new values or reinterpret existing ones. In short, Williams seems to be stuck thinking about immortality in a mortal way, and doesn’t give enough thought to the way life would change.
Some argue against immortality on the basis that it goes against nature. Horrobin (2006) is instructive on this point:

…There is an apparent conflation of the notion of the ‘ordained’ in a religious sense–the idea that the world and nature was designed by an all-powerful creator – and the idea of nature as being that which is governed by the laws of physics, and has evolved through blind natural selection and morally neutral stochastic events. However, the two concepts are absolutely distinct. Biological nature, as evolved and purely physical has no apparent component of the ‘ordained’ whatsoever. To suggest otherwise is to illegitimately conflate the physical aspect of nature with an entirely separate notion of supernatural ordination, in an attempt to perform an ‘end run’ around the glaring problem of the naturalistic fallacy.

Horrobin suggests that arguments that appeal to natural laws, for instance, are either knowingly or unknowingly relying on an underlying assumption about the existence of a creator. In contrast, Horrobin seems to suggest then that what is “natural” is merely what can happen – if immortality can happen, then it is natural. In simpler and more poignant terms, nature is reality, or even, nature is existence. To go against nature would be to go against reality, which is impossible. As humans, we do not rewrite the rules of reality – we merely understand them better and use them more to our benefit. We do not worry now about whether or not it is unnatural to drive a car, ride in a bus, fly in an airplane – though I am certain that as these technologies were coming about, people argued that they went against the laws of nature and should thus be abandoned as folly. The idea here is that a thing is natural if it exists, because if it exists, it clearly follows all of the rules of nature – otherwise it would not exist.
In my research, I came across an interesting paradox – religious thinkers tend to think immortality is fine in the context of an eternal afterlife (and in fact necessary for a meaningful life, as Thaddeus Metz goes to great pains to illustrate – he calls this the “immortality requirement” or IR). However, they rally against immortality in the current life as it goes against God’s plan. Let me first expound upon the immortality requirement by presenting Metz’s (2003) words:

Many religious thinkers maintain that for anyone to be oriented toward something higher in the relevant sense, one must possess a soul that will forever survive the death of one’s body. This is an instance of a more general view that is here called the ‘immortality requirement’ (IR). According to the IR, a person’s life is meaningless if she is not immortal.

And yet, these are the very same thinkers who argue that we should not pursue immortality because it goes against God’s plan! This not only smacks of inconsistency, but also of folly. There is an old joke that goes something like this: A man is on his roof in the middle of a flood, praying to God to save him. A person on a raft comes by and offers the man help, but the man refuses, claiming that he is sure God will save him. Another person in a kayak comes, only to be rebuffed by the man in the same manner. A helicopter arrives on the scene and drops a rope ladder down to the man, who politely insists that God will save him from his plight and refuses to make use of the helicopter. The man drowns, dies, and upon arriving in heaven, frustratedly asks God why God did not save him. God replies: “What do you think the raft, the kayak, and the helicopter were for?” The point here is that it is supremely arrogant to assume (given that God exists and is all powerful) we know what God’s plan is. It could just as easily be argued that it is God’s plan to grant us immortality at this moment in time, and that all along he meant for heaven to be on earth!
Let us examine Metz (2003) in more depth. He makes several arguments about the immortality requirement, but I’d like to focus on one in particular. He argues that immortality would be necessary to achieve perfect justice:

…Eternal life in heaven is necessary to reward the highly virtuous (given that they would strongly desire it). And supposing it is true that life’s meaning depends on being highly virtuous and receiving reward for it, we have an argument that entails the immortality requirement.

For Metz, the only way to achieve perfect justice would be with a perfect reward for virtuous living, but this seems to fly in the face of many moral theories – while it is easier to do the right thing if you are motivated to do so because of a reward, one could argue that having a reward is not a necessary precondition for right behavior. Right behavior should be pursued because it is right, period. This is also a limited interpretation of justice, on the view that justice is a system of punishments and rewards for behavior, rather than the view that justice is fairness for instance. Under a justice as fairness framework, immortality may be necessary in that it may be the only way to guarantee that everyone could receive fair treatment (as many are denied fair treatment as a result of time constraints or because they died before their case could be proven – in an immortal life, 20 years would not be so long to wait for justice).
Still other authors are worried about the meaning of life in light of immortality. As Horrobin (2006) points out:

…Suppose that, once free of our presently absolute life span constraints, then lives as lived would have no shape, no drama, no form, no meaning! It seems that what is worried about is not that there will be no variation, drama, form, or meaning, but rather that absent this particular structure, the present meaning of ‘human nature’ will be fundamentally changed or lost. It appears clear that beyond the particular structure alluded to, the author finds it difficult to see that there are or may be other worthwhile interpretations of ‘human nature’ that presently exist, or else will spontaneously arise. It is true that their form may appear alien to the worrier, or else be difficult to foresee, but is a claim that such different life structures are not, or would not be ‘human’ warranted?

The worry that life will become meaningless after immortality seems to be an argument from ignorance, then, which is a fallacy. Just because we cannot perceive the ways in which life will become meaningful does not mean that we must conclude an immortal life will be meaningless.
5. Personal Position and Justification
Truly, this paper only scratches at the surface of immortality. However, I think enough has been discussed to provide answers to the questions raised earlier. It does not seem apparent, first of all, that immortality would be wrong to pursue. After all, nothing in the moral realm seems to be absolutely “right” or absolutely “wrong,” that is, good or bad without context. We cannot reject immortality by merely saying “it is wrong to live forever,” for instance. We might reject it on the basis of practical considerations, but for the sake of argument, I am maintaining that these considerations will be taken care of. Secondly, as to how immortality may alter the meaning of one’s life, it seems impossible to arrive at a conclusive answer. Worry about this question, however, may be misplaced – if anything, immortality seems to suggest that humans will find a deeper and more satisfying meaning to life by living forever. The other two questions – would being immortal improve the value of one’s life and would one want to be immortal – deserve a little more time to answer. Being that this is a personal position paper, I will answer them personally.
I answer positively to both questions. My personal philosophy has always been to seek self-improvement, and if death is removed as an obstacle, it would be possible to continue this journey of growth and development indefinitely. Life, as we know it, often forces one to make one choice which is mutually exclusive with another (or many other) choices for various reasons – aging makes it harder to learn new skills and pursue different interests. Music, for example, is something I’ve always enjoyed listening to, but practical considerations (like having a job, getting an education, and so on) prevented me from taking the time to learn how to play and compose music. The mechanics of aging make it harder and harder for me to learn music the longer I wait. With immortality, however, I could take theoretically take up music (or any other interest/skill/hobby) and pursue it to the fullest. Some (like Temkin) argue that constantly learning and starting over in new fields would not appeal to them, and that they may grow bored with things they already love because once they’d found the best in that field (their favorite songs, works of art, and so on) they wouldn’t be able to tolerate anything less. Immortality, I would think, would have just as much an impact on the arts as it would anything else. Music is very time dependent, for example, but in an immortal world where we experience time much differently, who is to say what form music would ultimately take? I am sure that language would evolve, as it would no longer be necessary to “get to the point” all the time, and that would have an impact on any field that depends upon language. Furthermore, perhaps in an immortal world, humanity could come to a universal language (or several universal languages with different purposes) to better understand each other. There is a caveat to my acceptance and enthusiasm for immortality, however.
I think it would be important to respect the autonomy of those who wished to commit suicide. After all, many have fought long and hard for the right to die, and many thinkers have written about the importance of dignity in death (and being able to choose a proper time to die). Immortality would allow for people to decide when the most fitting end for their life should be, and allowing people to commit suicide would be an answer to considerations about an immortal life becoming too boring – once a person had done all they had wanted in life, they shouldn’t be forced to remain alive if they don’t wish to. Even if I don’t personally see any reason why I would want to kill myself, I should not be able to force life on people who do not wish to be alive – much like I should not be able to force death (murder) on people who do wish to be alive.
This paper is brief and my research only scratches at the surface of thought regarding immortality – it is a rather thick concept. I find it hard not to get excited about the idea, which seems to be in stark contrast with the literature on the subject. For example, there’s a lot of arguments about how we would all become bored or lives would be unrecognizable and uninteresting, or without death we would not be sufficiently motivated to do good things. Yet counterarguments are hard to come by. How great would it be if revolutionary minds, minds that helped humanity understand reality that much more, were still alive today and operating at peak capacity? I do not think Einstein, for example, was motivated by the fear of death – I think he was motivated by the desire to understand the nature of reality. What if Einstein were still around today to pursue that curiosity? How much better would we all be for it? Immortality represents such a drastic change in what it means to be human, it has the potential to be either the best or the worst thing to happen to us. Let’s not forget about the ways it could be best even while we try to prepare for the ways it could be the worst.
Works Cited
Metz, T. (2003). The immortality requirement for life’s meaning. Ratio: An International Journal of Analytic Philosophy, 16(2), 161-177.
Temkin, L.S. (2008). Is living longer living better?. Journal of Applied Philosophy, 25(3), 193- 210.
Preston, T.M., & Dixon, Scott. (2007). Who wants to live forever? Immortality, authenticity, and living forever in the present. International Journal for Philosophy of Religion, 61(2), 99- 117.
Horrobin, S. (2006). Immortality, human nature, the value of life and the value of life extension. Bioethics, 20(6), 279-292.

Expectations – The Essay

It’s been a while since I really had to write an essay. Our new (new) commanding officer, as a part of taking over, tasked all of his Lance Corporals and below with writing a 4-8 page (double spaced) essay on “what is expected of you.” I am currently TAD (temporary additional duty) to the rifle range, but indulged in writing this essay anyway. Below is what I will be submitting. It probably isn’t very interesting to those who don’t care about the military or the Marine Corps, but meh.

LCpl Durden
ELMACO Calibration
7 August 2009
Expectations – A Holistic Perspective
Answering the question “what is expected of you” could be tackled in many ways. Given the personal nature of the interrogative, I feel that a more personal tone is appropriate for this essay – speaking in the first person rather than attempting a more removed and academic tone. There are many expectations of me. There are certain expectations that exist because I am a United States Marine, because I am a Lance Corporal, because I am a Marine on Okinawa, because I am a part of 3rd Marine Logistics Group, because I am a part of Combat Logistics Regiment 35, because I am a part of 3rd Maintenance Battalion, because I am a part of Electronics Maintenance Company, and because I am a part of Calibrations Platoon. There are expectations that arise because of a combination of any or all of the aforementioned stratifications. There are expectations that exist because of explicit orders and directives, and there are expectations that arise from interpretations of those orders and directives. More loosely, at times, there may be expectations of me based upon my gender or age or even marital status, however, such expectations generally lie beyond the intended scope of the question. I will attempt to address all of these expectations to the best of my ability in the page limit allowed.
As a United States Marine, many expectations exist for me. This paper could focus entirely on that subject and exceed the established length limit, so I will be brief. I am expected to be technically and tactically proficient, loyal to my nation and Corps, striving always to be the best in everything that I do and constantly seeking self-improvement. I am expected to be a leader, no matter what station I find myself in (as there exists opportunity for leadership at all levels). As a Lance Corporal, personnel of lesser grade are to render obedience to appropriate orders from me, and I am in turn to observe and follow such orders and directions as may be given from time to time by superiors acting according to the rules and articles governing the discipline of the Armed Forces of the United States of America. According to Marine Corps order, I am expected to maintain a passing physical fitness test score (135 points, with no less than 3 pull ups, 44 crunches, and running 3 miles no slower than 28 minutes) and remain in the prescribed body weight and body fat composition standards for my height. I am expected to complete annual training such as the rifle range and gas chamber as well as continually pursue a higher degree of belt in the Marine Corps Martial Arts Program.
As a Marine forward deployed on Okinawa, I am expected to behave as an ambassador for the United States of America. Extra scrutiny will be applied to my conduct at all times, especially on liberty status, as I will directly reflect not only on the Marine Corps to our host nation, but also the United States Government and the United States of America itself. The specifics of my conduct and the rules and regulations governing what is appropriate and inappropriate behavior are further elucidated by orders that get filtered down through my various parent commands – beginning with the Commandant, then going through Group, then Regiment, then Battalion, then Company, and then sometimes Platoon. I am expected to know the text of all of these directives and may be questioned by senior personnel regarding them – I will be honest and state that I do not know the text of all of these various orders. I contend that I know the vital information – things like the liberty order and orders regarding civilian attire – and I also know who to go to or where to go to look up information should I have a question.
As a Marine assigned to 3rd Maintenance Battalion, I am expected to conduct myself in accordance with the Commander’s Intent. Thankfully, the Commanding Officer has distilled his intent down to three basic words – fight, fix, and serve. I am to remember that I am involved in a war effort on (currently) two fronts and train as if I am going to be in the fight: that is the first part of his intent. I am to continue to fix the gear that comes into my shop, providing the maintenance function that the battalion exists for while striving continuously to improve my proficiency in my MOS: that is the second part of his intent. I am to remember always my oath of service and remind myself why it is I signed up what it means to serve the United States of America: that is the third part of his intent.
As a Marine assigned to Electronics Maintenance Company, I am expected to be among the best Marines the battalion has to offer. At ELMACO, we have some of the highest ERO counts in the battalion and some of the fastest turn around times – I am expected to continue that trend. Furthermore, as a calibrator, I am expected to be among the best Marines that the company has to offer. I am expected to cross-train in all of the various calibration disciplines, to include mechanical, electrical, repair and organics. I am expected to not only be an expert on the calibration and maintenance of the gear that I work on, but also to be an expert in that gear’s operation and use in the Fleet Marine Force, so that should an operator have any questions pertaining to that gear, they can come to me for the answers.
So far, all of the expectations I have mentioned are, generally, stated explicitly within orders or policy statements, and sound fairly reasonable on paper. However, there exist also certain implied or unstated expectations that also dictate my conduct, morale, and proficiency.
As regards physical fitness, though orders and directives state that I am expected only to maintain the minimums, operational policy is to expect the maximums out of every Marine. This means that a 135 PFT is no where near good enough – in fact, in most cases, anything less than a 225 (defined by official Marine Corps policy as a “1st class” PFT) is unacceptable and potentially a cause for remedial physical training programs. So far, in my nearly two year career, I have seen little leniency as regards this aggressive pursuit of physical perfection. I enlisted as what my recruiter termed a ‘triple threat’ – a failure at all three events of the IST – as it was my intent to improve my physical fitness. It has taken a long time to achieve a 224 (yes, one point shy of a 225 – which is yet another source of ridicule: “Couldn’t run just ten seconds faster or do one more pull up?” Actually, no, I could not) PFT, and I often feel as though it is in spite of being in the Marine Corps. I have been injured numerous times and have had stress fractures serious enough to warrant my being on light duty for four months during my MOS school. This was a result of running for 8 to 13 miles every other weekday with little or no training on proper running form, or proper selection of footgear. I was likewise subjected to remedial physical training programs that required even more running – despite the fact that my 3 mile run was around 22 minutes at the time. (I was on the remedial program because of my overall PFT score, which was a 2nd class around 185, due in large part to hovering around the minimum requirement for pull ups.) Despite demoralizing and physically hazardous mandatory physical training that can, at times, exceed two hours per day, I am expected to pursue physical training on my own time as well. This is despite the best advice from experts in the fields of health and physical fitness, who all suggest a maximum of 30-45 minutes of strenuous activity per day if a 5 day a week program is to be pursued. By Marine Corps order, I am expected to be at unit PT five times a week for at least thirty minutes; operationally, I have observed that most units PT for longer than the maximum, and my unit in particular seems to PT for an hour every day. (For Marines on remedial programs that have to PT for as much as an hour during chow, this totals to two hours per day they might have to PT – and there always exists days where unit PT can be as long as two hours, also.)
To be proficient at my job, it is expected, above all else, that I be physically fit. As the honor graduate of my MOS school with a 189 PFT, having received the highest academic grades the school had seen all year (or so I was told), I received a 4.6 proficiency mark and a 4.3 conduct mark. The 4.6 was tied directly to my grade, I was told, and the 4.3 was assigned because of my “low” PFT. Having never been involved in administrative troubles (no NJPs, no Page 11’s, etc), I was remiss to see Marines who had been involved in such trouble receive higher conduct marks than myself, the honor graduate. Furthermore, I had been involved in diffusing incidents before they became problems – breaking up an underage drinking incident and allowing my command to deal with it before it went to a higher authority – and yet still I received “average” conduct marks, marks below even Marines who had had administrative trouble while at the school. This trend has continued into the fleet, where my proficiency mark suffers because my PFT is “low” (despite having risen over 30 points since arriving on island, being one point shy of a 1st class), even while my SNCOIC tells me that I am basically performing the job of a Staff Sergeant while at work. This is illustrative of a preference for pull ups when it comes to physical fitness – I have low pull ups but perform very well in the two other events. In the last PFT I conducted for score, I had seven pull ups, 100 crunches, and a 19:45 three mile run. Marines who have 20 pull ups, 100 crunches, and run the three mile at 26-28 minutes receive preferential treatment. When questioned as to the caliber of new Marines being sent to the Okinawa Calibration lab, one Marine at the school house responded “oh yeah, those Marines are locked on. They get 20 pull ups.” Pull ups have become synonymous with a Marine’s ability to perform at seemingly all levels of command, irregardless of whether or not that Marine is actually proficient at performing the duties required by their MOS.
I am expected to know the exact text of all orders and directives that pertain to me, at any given moment in time. Any officer or SNCO may, at any point, inquire as to an obscure order or regulation, and I am expected to know the exact answer on the spot. However, sometimes even if I do know the exact answer as the order reads, that answer may not be good enough. A great example of this would be regarding the order that authorizes sandals as civilian foot wear. Even though I may be wearing sandals that the order defines as authorized with my civilian attire, should a Sergeant Major tell me that my footwear is not authorized, I must agree with him and remove my footwear. There was once an incident where a SNCO told me that the measurement of the space between the top edge of my pocket and the bottom edge of my ribbon on my service uniform was incorrect – though this SNCO did not have a ruler. I stated respectfully that I had measured the gap and was confident that it was correct. The SNCO continued to reprimand me for being out of regulation – later, during an inspection, my measurement was found to be correct. The implicit expectation here is to simply agree with whatever I am told, irregardless of what may or may not be correct.
I am expected to maintain proficiency as regards techniques in the MCMAP program, though I am rarely afforded the opportunity to train under a MCMAP instructor. When the opportunity is provided, precious little time is actually spent on perfecting the techniques, and far more time is spent doing “death runs” or combat PT (usually in excess of an hour). I am told the reason for this is so that I am tired and less likely to perform techniques at full force, injuring myself or my sparring partner. However, a counter argument could be posited that states I am more likely to incorrectly apply or perform the technique, unnecessarily exposing myself or my partner to risk of injury. Regardless, there is very little opportunity for sustainment, unless the expectation exists that I practice MCMAP in or at the barracks with my roommate in an unsupervised manner and without protective gear or medical personnel readily available. Being a man with moderate amounts of common sense, I do not think this expectation actually exists – but how else am I to maintain proficiency if I am not otherwise afforded the opportunity in an organized environment?
Along the lines of the expectation to constantly improve myself, it is expected that I complete MCIs or perhaps even enroll in off duty education courses. One MCI, which can be completed in less than an hour, currently provides a Marine with a 15 point advantage to their composite score (up to 100) points. A three semester hour course at a college also provides a 15 point advantage, but exist in the same category as MCIs and can’t add additional points. Therefore, for the economical Marine looking to maximize their time, only MCIs should be pursued, as they are easy and provide the most amount of points for the least amount of effort. Those 15 points are awarded even for MCIs that have nothing to do with a Marine’s MOS – such as warehouse operations for a calibrator – and the more MCIs done (even past the 7 that would maximize a Marine’s composite score), supposedly the better. I currently have 18 MCIs and 10 semester hours of college completed for my grade (all done since arriving on Okinawa in January), but, getting back to my point about pull ups, this does not overshadow or make up for my perceived deficiency as regards my physical fitness. Therefore, the expectation to improve myself via education does not seem to be as important to the Marine Corps as other expectations.
Even though the expectation to pursue off duty education exists, there seems to be little support for it at times. I have been late to many classes and missed many review sessions simply because I was not allowed to leave early to catch the Green Line to get to my class on time. Catching the Green Line wouldn’t be a problem if I were allowed to drive to my class; however, POV packages are nearly impossible to obtain unless you are married or have (I am told) a letter of appreciation from volunteer work. I have no problem being late to a class because I had sufficient cause to stay at work, but more often than not, the extra hour I spent at work was passed cleaning up the shop or waiting for a liberty brief to commence – the same liberty brief we receive every week, informing us (as Lance Corporals and below) that we are stupid and that we have to be back in by midnight and that we can’t leave base without a buddy and that we shouldn’t get too drunk or cause too many problems.
At times, it seems that the Marine Corps expects me to be married. A Corporal I once had put it best: “So, you’re telling me that because I was not responsible enough to get married before I was 20, I am less important?” Marines who are married receive preferential treatment on Okinawa – they receive gold cards and POVs almost immediately upon arrival in an automatic fashion. Dependents – spouses and children – are often talked about in terms that make it seem like they are making a larger sacrifice than the service members themselves. This is especially true of the service members who don’t have dependents – the ones who are thousands of miles away from family and loved ones back in the states – it seems our sacrifices are overlooked.
Little legitimate concern is demonstrated for single Marines with complex familial relationships – commanders try to demonstrate empathy by saying things like “I want you to call your family once a week!” but also demonstrate a lack of concern when they almost try to force this upon you, despite having no knowledge of what one’s familial relations are. To be specific (and if you’ll allow me to be a little personal), I suffered severe emotional abuse for 17 years at the hands of my mother, and have had no part in her life for the better part of 3 years – and intend to keep it that way. Recently, the family readiness officer has tried to get every Marine to sign up for the mass communication tool (or whatever it is called), and I was told I could not leave mine blank – that I had to put someone down on it. Rather than offer help or even provide guidance on a productive way to deal with my situation (which, I already know of productive ways to deal with it – the chaplain, counseling, etc) I was instead coerced into including my mother on that tool. Rather than display genuine concern for my complex family situation, I was treated in an impersonal and unfeeling manner by the sole entity at my command that was supposed to deal with “family readiness” for all Marines equally – regardless of marital status.
As regards my living space, I am expected to keep it “field day” clean. The problem with “field day” clean is that there is no objective order on just how clean a barracks room should be, so the level of cleanliness necessary each week is dependent entirely upon the moods and opinions of whoever is inspecting the room. Often times, field day is used as an implement of mass punishment, a reaction to an individual brazenly disrespecting the guidelines for general cleanliness during a random weekday inspection or perhaps as a retaliation for other indiscretions. There was one week since I’ve been at this company where we had field day every night until 2300 – this was due later, I was told, to the fact that a particular SNCO had told all the NCOs that the NCOs had lost control of the company and that they needed to take action to get control back. (Nevermind the fact that punitive field day tends to undermine genuine respect and loyalty – Marines will follow orders from superiors, period, as that is the law, but leadership through charisma, respect, and persuasion is almost always more powerful than leadership through authority alone.) These field day expectations go hand in hand with the expectation that I should be married, because if I were married, I would not be expected to field day whatsoever. I would also be exempt from other idiosyncrasies involved with living in the barracks – I wouldn’t be expected to: shower, change over, eat breakfast and be at work in under an hour while competing with two other roommates for facilities, be pulled by the barracks duty at any time for any various task (mostly police calls), stand at formation in the middle of the night because an individual on another deck thought it would be funny to pull a fire alarm, and so on. (There are other examples, but I mean only to illuminate the gist.)
Above all else, I am expected to, in the vernacular of our time, “suck it up.” All of the perceived complaints or grievances I have made in this essay are generally answered by that phrase – “suck it up.” In fact, as a rule, I generally believe that I do suck it up. If you were to ask my direct superiors if I had a poor attitude or complained often, I am confident that you would not find that to be the case. I understand that the military is hard and I understand that service is not necessarily supposed to coddle or be enjoyable. However, it seems that there are certain things that happen that contradict what is supposed to be happening, based on my best interpretation of the orders and directives that I have read.
I would like to state that I do reflect often on why I enlisted and what it means to serve my nation – especially when my morale is low or I feel demotivated. I still believe I enlisted for all of the correct reasons (to serve my nation, to have a higher purpose in my life other than wealth or other popular notions of ‘success’) and I still want to serve my nation. When I enlisted, it was my dream to serve for twenty years or more in the Marine Corps – pursuing my education during my first enlistment with the intention of becoming a commissioned officer later in my career. However, of late, I have become disillusioned with that goal. To be honest, at times, I wish my EAS date were closer so that I could pursue other goals – getting a masters and Ph.D in philosophy and becoming a university professor, for instance. (Perhaps then, it is a good thing my EAS date is still a ways away – I might still find it a sound decision to stay in the Corps.) Far too often, it seems like the Marine Corps misuses its human resources, assigning important tasks to (and promoting) individuals who have an extremely high PFT, but not to individuals who might otherwise be best suited for the task. I can think of very few tasks indeed that would rely solely on one’s physical fitness, and can think of none in my present command and station (ELMACO calibration platoon). Furthermore, constructive criticism is often viewed as dissent and insubordination, and summarily punished and stifled. Criticism is one of the best tools for growth – even the framers of our Constitution recognized this when they allowed freedom of speech and freedom of the press. Criticism requires one to better oneself and to be able to defend oneself from attack – it is not necessarily meant as dissent or insubordination.
This essay was not intended to be disrespectful, nor is it indicative of a desire to be insubordinate. It was not written to appease my peers or appease my superiors – as I’m sure some essays will be written in those ways. It was written to answer the question that I had been asked in a manner as honest and straightforward as I could manage. I will continue to follow the orders and directives of superiors appointed over me, whatever those orders and directives may be. Writing this essay was one such order, and it was written while I am preparing to go on the rifle range. It could be argued that I liberally applied my first amendment right – the right to freedom of speech, particularly – from the Constitution I took an oath to protect and defend. When my opinion is asked of me, I will give it – but my opinion has no bearing on how I will discharge the duties appointed to me. That, I believe, is the very essence of service in the first place. My modest hope is that my service will be useful and valuable, but it is not my place to dictate how I am to serve my nation.
Lastly, I would like to thank you sir, for taking the time to solicit and digest feedback from your lower ranks. Even if nothing comes of it, it is nice to be asked what I think from time to time.

The Essays.

I’ve posted some of my old essays from school. There are some that I have that aren’t saved on my drive, so to share them I’d have to type them up; I might be willing to do that if there’s enough interest. In either case, enjoy.

The Truth is Out There – Or Is It?

J. Durden
Mr. Hoffman
Honors Physics
15 February 2006
The Truth is Out There – Or is It?
Mahatma Gandhi once said, “There is no god higher than truth.” The pursuit of truth has long been a motivator of man, and perhaps the sole motivator. Ever since humans came into existence, the pursuit of truth has marked our evolution. It began in the stone ages with mythical tales of creation and the inquisitive nature to understand the world around us – observing, and learning through these observations how to manipulate our environment. As time progressed, these two paths contrast more and more sharply.
Just as man has evolved over the years, so have these two schools of thought – into religion and science. Science can be understood as a comprehensive understanding of the truth – a pursuit that attempts to understand everything that is to be understood. In contrast, religion can be thought of as a conceptual understanding of the truth – its value inherent but not overtly stated, calling upon faith at an individual level with results not so easily repeatable by others. Both pursuits touch on the foundation of what the truth truly is, and yet neither understanding of the truth is correct.
Science has long been the endeavor of intellectual men, yet perhaps because of this, its validity is constantly under attack. Take, for example, a rudimentary history of science. First, Newton revolutionized scientific thinking with Newtonian Mechanics. Many years later, as his theories were debated and talked about, some realized that they implied a deterministic universe – ultimately one in which there was no choice, because everything was a reaction to something that had happened before it. Some sought new understanding with quantum mechanics (which itself implies a probabilistic universe), while others (led by Einstein) sought to retain most of Newtonian mechanics and merge it with a new theory – the theory of Relativity. Physicists have long sought for a Unified Field Theory, one that explains all there is to know about everything. Both quantum mechanics and relativity imply that reality is different for each observer. In the theory of relativity, each observer experiences time in a unique way, while in quantum mechanics, the observer affects reality merely through observing.
Many forget, however, that science is intrinsically incapable of discovering the truth. Due to the way the null hypothesis works, science never ‘proves’ a hypothesis. It simply attempts to mount enough evidence so that a hypothesis must be rejected for another, improved one. There is never enough evidence to say that a hypothesis is true. Scientists say “this is false,” but they never say “this is true.” Hypotheses may be particularly strong but never true. This is a fact that is often forgotten as the distinction between science and truth is blurred. Sometimes it is the scientists who are guilty of this blurring, but more often it is the ‘believers,’ those people who prescribe to the version of reality that science provides without technically being scientists themselves. Essentially, the truth is understood on an individual level, even though science never purports to know the truth.
In contrast to science, religion requires no proof of itself. There is no way to prove the central ideas of most religious texts (e.g., the existence of deities). Though certain stories (particularly from the Bible) have been verified through investigation, such verification is not necessary to understand the view of truth that religion provides. It is much more common that scientific theory and observation conflict with religion, in fact, than the alternative. (This tends to be a driving force for some scientists, who attempt to reconcile science with God but never seem to reach an agreeable compromise on the matter.)
Religion and its believers have no qualm with the fact that it can not be factually verified. In fact, religion calls for faith and not proof. Faith, by definition, is “belief that does not rest on logical proof or material evidence” (www.dictionary.com). One must believe, without fact, in order to understand the truth that religion provides. Yet this begs the question – what prompts the individual to believe in the first place? Most often it is a personal experience that is not verifiable by other individuals. Thus, religion is a view of the world whose truth relies on the experience of the individual, and is best understood individually.
Both science and religion touch on a core element of the truth, and that is that the truth is inevitably understood best on an individual basis. Yet both science and religion attempt to unify the populace in their understanding of truth – a practice that leads only to division, disagreement, and inevitably hatred. While both science and religion have their benefits, people must understand their practical limits. Truth is best understood on an individual level, and because of this, perceptions of truth will inevitably have differences. These differences must be respected in order to attain true progress and for individuals to be able to freely find their own personal truth in this world.

The Horatio Alger Essay (in-class write, APUSH)

J. Durden
Mr. Michel
APUSH
2 Feb 2006
THE HORATIO ALGER ESSAY
“There is not a single man in the United States who is poor for any reason other than his own lack of ability.” This paraphrased quote from a Reverend preaching the Gospel of Wealth reflects the mindset of the rich during the Gilded Age (1865-1900) – a time remembered for its excesses and rampant corruption. After the Civil War, technology (such as the railroad and steel) as well as attitude (the government’s laissez-faire approach to business) combined to create unique opportunities for those with the ingenuity to seek them. The opportunities seized upon in this time would never again be available, and led to the creation of great social disparity. The wealthy practice philanthropy, which benefited the downtrodden class they helped to create. Even minority groups found a new chance to become a bigger piece of the social milieu. It was opportunity, seized upon by the few but felt by the man, that had the most impact on people’s lives throughout America in this epochal time period.
The severe economic disparity attached to this era was itself a result of opportunity. While America had had millionaires before, they had been few and far between. For the first time in American history, a whole class of millionaires existed, with luminaries such as Andrew Carnegie, John Rockefeller and the Vanderbeldts at the top of the heap. These men (sometimes rising to their wealth from veritable poverty, as Carnegie had) fueled the industrialization of America. Their factories attracted farmers and immigrants alike to the cities, further entrenching wage slaves and implicitly, disparity, into the fabric of American culture. Their railroads funneled people to the West, where many tried (and failed) to strike it rich, requiring these people to also become wage slaves. Towards the end of the Gilded Age, Patronage fell out of favor, leaving a vacuum of power filled by these entrepreneurial titans – a wedding of business and government that would last well beyond the era being discussed, and one that helped ensure the rich would stay that way. Business would provide campaign funds and politicians would provide favorable legislation – even the Sherman Anti-trust Act of 1890 (supposedly designed to crush monopolies) was used as an anti-labor union tool by businesses. And while disparity had existed prior to the Gilded Age, it was no where near the extent to which it was widened during these short 35 years.
In part perhaps to soothe their guilt, the wealthy aided the poor they helped create through philanthropy. In this way, the money made by the few was infused back into the public schools, libraries, universities and other public institutions. Fueled by a paradoxical Gospel of Wealth (that at once stated ability was God-given and blamed the poor for being too lazy to make themselves rich), millionaires sought to depart with their money before they should “die in disgrace.” Carnegie, for example, gave away about $350 million of his total $400 million before dying. One could even argue that political bosses (who seized opportunity via graft) practiced philanthropy to a degree – they brought necessities such as plumbing to poor immigrant neighborhoods in exchange for votes. This was during a time when most – including the government (e.g. Chinese Exclusion Act) – were outwardly racist and contemptuous of the New Immigrants (Irish, Itallian…) that flocked to America during this period.
Minority groups, such as the New Immigrants, found many new opportunities in this era as well. While many bemoan the New Immigrant’s squalid living conditions in cities (especially New York), few recall that these conditions, and the wages these people earned, were better than those found in their home countries. Women were the ones to see the most improvement in this time. Inventions such as the telephone and typewriter greatly expanded the amount of jobs women could take. While it may true that working women were predominantly single due to lingering prejudices, women from all walks of life could become leaders of reform movements. A forerunner of the Populist party, Mary E. Lewis, urged Kansas to “raise less corn and more hell.” Expanded opportunities for African Americans (living in the North – Southern blacks were still largely disenfranchised thanks to the Black Codes and the court decision Plessey v Ferguson which legalized segregation) was reflected in W.E.B. Du Bois, the first African American to earn a Ph.D. From Harvard.
The Gilded Age was not a period dominated by disparity, but one ripe with opportunity. Disparity was actually a result of the seizure of this opportunity by business tycoons like Andrew Carnegie. Philanthropy helped spread the wealth, and minorities continued to gain new opportunities – a trend that would extend beyond the Gilded Age itself.

Machinations of a Minority

The Machinations of a ‘Minority’
It is incorrect to use the singular ‘feminism’ when one really wishes to address the plural ‘feminisms,’ as there are quite literally over a dozen different brands of women’s movements. Ranging from the traditional (termed “equity feminists” by some, like Christina Hoff Sommers) who uphold equality among the genders (an oft repeated slogan for this brand goes “level playing field with no favors”) to the radical who promote misandry and divisiveness, talking about ‘feminism’ in general doesn’t make much sense. Feminism (or feminisms, that is) is a concept that is taken for granted in today’s society, however. Most of its basic tenants (or what is promoted by certain groups as basic tenants) get taken for granted. For example, it is widely assumed that women are, to some extent, oppressed, and perhaps even deserving of the same protection from the law that minority groups receive. “Feminism–together with political correctness–has been the most influential ideology in western societies for the past three decades. There are no other ideologies that even come [close] to it in terms of the extent to which it has penetrated western societies” (Glasson). Another men’s rights activist, R.F. Doyle, asserts “This bias is so institutionalized, it is taken for granted.” Few question the basic assumptions that certain feminist luminaries propagate. Who would – especially when one runs the risk of being branded a sexist and a bigot for speaking out?
The sad truth of the matter is that a radical minority form of feminism, staunch in their belief that society is a ‘patriarchy’ designed to oppress women, has stolen the mantle of feminism and is hiding behind its basic principles of equality to promote ideas that serve only to divide our society further. Sommers, in page 18 of her book, calls them ‘gender feminists,’ and states bluntly: “the gender feminists have stolen ‘feminism’ from a mainstream that had never acknowledged their leadership.” Yet, what is the good of exposing a radical group and slighting their radical views? After all, there are many crazy people in this world, and many more with even more extreme views; this much is true. The scary thing about these gender feminists isn’t necessarily the views they hold but the power they wield. The gender feminists wield tremendous political power through a variety of outlets. For starters, the gender feminists have a lot of money at their disposal – ranging from multimillion dollar budgets in some places of the country to a ‘meager’ half a million in others (Sommers 127). Furthermore, Sommers asserts “Sex/gender feminism (“gender feminism” for short) is the prevailing ideology among contemporary feminist philosophers and leaders. But it lacks a grass roots constituency” (22), or put simply, very few people believe what gender feminist leaders are spouting, yet they are still the leaders and are the ones driving the movement.
But before we jump too far ahead, let’s first take a quick examination of what, exactly, these gender feminists believe. Iris Young sums up a key element of their beliefs succinctly: “Gynocentric feminism defines women’s oppression as the devaluation of women’s experience by a masculinist culture that exalts violence and individualism” (qtd. in Sommers 24). The terms used are a bit different (substitute gynocentric with gender and masculinist with patriarchy) than the ones Sommer uses, but the idea is still the same. Gender feminists have convinced themselves that our very culture exists to oppress women, and further, oppression of women is encouraged by our society and culture. Diana Scully gives a voice to these radical views: “Given the prevalence of rape and given the socio-cultural supports for sexual aggression and violence against women in this society, perhaps we should be asking men who don’t rape, why not! In other words, we should be asking what factors prevent men from abusing women in rape-supportive societies” (qtd. in Sommers 44). Implicitly, we therefore should not ask men who are raping women why they are raping women – according to gender feminists like Scully, it should be obvious! Society supports it! Unfortunately, the oppression doesn’t end there. The very construct of knowledge – of schools, of math, of science – is a male construct, designed to oppress women! Elizabeth Fee articulates this belief: “Knowledge was created as an act of aggression—a passive nature had to be interrogated, unclothed, penetrated, and compelled by man to reveal her secrets” (qtd. in Sommers 66) while Catharine MacKinnon claims that, for men, “to know has meant to fuck” (qtd. in Sommers 66). “In a similar mood, Sandra Harding suggests that Newton’s Principles of Mechanics could just as aptly be called “Newton’s Rape Manual”” (Sommers 66). It doesn’t take much to debunk these ideas. For one, what is a rapist ‘rewarded’ with in our society? A felony charge with a strong likelihood of spending the rest of his life behind bars. With such enticing awards, it really is a wonder that rapes aren’t more commonplace! And if knowledge is a construct designed to oppress women, why did these prominent feminist leaders study at the academies for many years to then become a teacher, further entrenching themselves in patriarchal oppression?
Maybe it’s because they have a political agenda, like say, transforming the entire academy and construct of knowledge into a woman’s epistemology? (Note that this is a huge issue, one that could very well be the subject of an entire essay or book of it’s own right, and therefore difficult to distill down to one paragraph.) Essentially, gender feminist leaders believe that there is a man’s way of knowing, and a woman’s way of knowing. The man’s way can be thought of a narrow and vertical, while the woman’s way can be thought of as horizontal and inclusive. Often, this woman’s way of knowing is referred to as “connected knowing.” The emphasis is on subjectivity and emotions (Sommers 67). This enterprise, as stated before, is very well funded. “The transformation projects receive generous funding from major foundations and from federal agencies…” (Sommers 53) and more specifically, transformation projects receive from half a million to $4 million to multimillion-dollar budgets…money largely provided by public funds (Sommers 127)! Furthermore, feminist teachers justify indoctrinating their students by arguing that because all teaching is political to some degree, all teachers indoctrinate—therefore, the degree of indoctrination is irrelevant (Sommers 95). The absurdity of such logic is self-evident. This logic would justify a law where any kind of violence was punishable by death, for example. If you punch someone, it is the same as murdering someone, because both are acts of violence! “Thomas Sowell notes that the statement “All teaching is political” is trivially true in just the way the statement “Abraham Lincoln and Adolf Hitler were both imperfect human beings” is true” (Sommers 98). Gender feminists are enable to affect change because they understand the political power necessary for such change. They don’t just work as teachers – they work as administrators, as officials in organizations that provide money, as researchers in research centers that research women, and so forth. Where they can’t be such people, they work to influence them. Many administrators and politicians are keenly sensitive to the fact that women have been oppressed in the past – this sensitivity is often abused in order to convince the officials to support gender feminist projects (Sommers 52). Remember that speaking out against gender feminists is a difficult thing to do. One political scientist describes American academies as “islands of intolerance in a sea of freedom”, while one professor describes his own school’s atmosphere as “McCarthyist” (Sommers 107). “To criticize the new Feminist scholarship without having tenure is reckless in the extreme: it is now virtually impossible to find public fault with academic feminism without paying for it in the drastically diminished prospects for jobs or advancement in the Amercian academy” (Sommers 134). Furthermore, “…male faculty quickly became aware that resistance to feminist proposals would automatically be condemned as sexist and reactionary” (Sommers 135). Again, the parallels with the McCarthy era are obvious – fear has been and always will be an effective political tool to wield to promote your own agenda. Conversely, knowledge and education have traditionally been the most effective means of combating fear, as demonstrated during the McCarthy era.
The effects of controlling the academies are rather self apparent: from the academies, one can control research efforts as well as the education of children all the way from grade school up. “What began as a reasonable attempt to redress the neglect of women in the curriculum has quietly become a potent force affecting the American classroom at every level, from the primary grades to graduate school” (Sommer 53). Textbooks, now widely in use in high schools around the country, have been altered to be filled with “filler feminism” to meet new requirements that history should have 50% men and 50% women, regardless of the truth of history. (Remember, truth is a male construct designed to oppress women.) This has had measurably deficient effects on our nation’s already culture-starved teenagers (Sommers 60-62).
Even more deplorable is the way that gender feminists have been able to control the statistics that have become commonly accepted and taken for granted. Of particular interest is their terror rhetoric – they try to instill fear by claiming that the world is a male patriarchy that promotes violence, rape, domestic abuse, and so forth. They then proceed to back up these assertions with “studies” and “surveys,” but as already outlined earlier, many gender feminists have inserted themselves into the institutions that these studies come out of. Unsurprisingly, the legitimacy of these studies is questionable at best. Let’s take the issue of rape as an example. While rape is a horrible and deplorable crime, isn’t it equally deplorable to lie about the extent to which it pervades our society solely as a means to garner support for your own agenda? One study found an infamous statistic – that “one in four female respondents had an experience that met the legal definition of rape or attempt rape” (qtd. in Sommers 211). However, 73% of women that had been classified as having been raped (or victims of attempted rape) did not agree with this conclusion (Sommers 213). In an example that hits closer to home, a study found that 683,000 women had been the victim of completed, forcible rapes in our country (Sommers 215-216). This works out to 77.96 rapes an hour, rounded up to 78 rapes an hour, as seen on a giant sign on the main stairwell here at BHS. There are two fatal flaws with this survey, however – one is that no respondent was directly asked whether or not they were raped. Why not? The person conducting the survey had conducted an earlier one where he had asked precisely that question and found significantly lower numbers. With this new survey, he now has one of the most widely quoted studies regarding rape (Sommers 216-217). Secondly, the fourth question in the survey expands the interpretation of rape to include young teenager who may have gotten friskier than they should have but certainly did nothing that would pass for legal rape (Sommers 215-216). When the director of the UCLA Center for Women and Men was confronted on the inaccuracy of the one-in-four statistic, she said “The statistics don’t really matter that much in the big picture. We’re just trying to focus on the real issue here, to debate about civil rights, not bicker about numbers” (qtd. in Kammer 213). Perhaps she didn’t realize that the numbers ARE the real issue. “’It makes a big difference if it’s one in three or one in fifty,’ said April Groff of the University of Michigan, who says she is ‘very scared.’ ‘I’d have to say, honestly, I’d think about rape a lot less if I knew the number was one in fifty’” (qtd. in Sommers 217). Even more disturbingly, such studies distract from the apparent biases against men in the legal system. Take for example this case of false rape reports: “In [1990 and 1991] women in [seven Washington DC-area jurisdictions] filed 1,842 rape reports, and police concluded that 439 were unfounded… [One] woman said she lied because she needed an excuse for having been late to work” (Kammer 176). Jack Kammer sums up his view nicely: “A false allegation of rape can have consequences as severe as – or even worse than – an actual rape. Why is it punished so lightly, if at all?” (176).
“These feminist ideologues are helping no one; on the contrary, their divisive and resentful philosophy adds to the woes of our society and hurts legitimate feminism” (Sommers 17). There are many more examples of gender feminism gone awry, of the power they wield and shouldn’t, and of the unspoken struggle for men’s rights in a society that looks at such ideas as absolutely ridiculous, but the scope of this document is such that there isn’t enough space to detail them all here. Therefore, I implore you to read the books I have read, and to read others. Such is the first step to solving this problem – raising awareness about it. Once awareness has been raised, perhaps people will come to realize that the answer lies not with “men’s rights” or “women’s rights,” but with policies that treat the genders as true equals. Cathy Young advocates “an equal rights movement—not a National Organization for Women, but a National Organization for Gender Equality” (266). Ultimately, as a society, we need to “get over our obsession with gender differences and recognize that the sexes are neither fundamentally different nor exactly the same” (Young, 267) to ensure that the abuses of gender feminists stop and never happen again, and likewise, so that we don’t regress into a time not unlike that which created the need for a feminist movement in the first place. But it all starts with you, the reader, and with changing your perception of the “gender wars.”
Works Cited
Doyle, R.F. “Society Is Biased Against Men.” 2000. Opposing Viewpoints. Bellingham High School Library. 6 Dec 2005 .
Glasson, Karl. “Feminism Has Harmed Men.” 2005. Opposing Viewpoints. Bellingham High School Library. 6 Dec 2005 .
Kammer, Jack. If Men Have All The Power How Come Women Make All The Rules?. 2nd ed. http://www.rulymob.com.
Sommers, Christina Hoff. Who Stole Feminism?. New York: Touchstone, 1995.
Young, Cathy. Ceasefire! Why Women and Men Must Join Forces to Achieve Equality. New York: The Free Press, 1999.