Tag Archives: regulation

What Is in the National Interest?

          The above question was recently put to me. At the time, I had no ready answer and some will probably conclude from this essay that I still don’t have an answer. However, after thinking a bit about it, I have arrived at an answer of sorts, and it is likely the best I’ll be able to do. It is not a delineation or a prescription but an attempt to suggest a way of thinking about the question.

I think the essential ingredient in an answer for what is in the national interest is to focus on the principles laid out at the nation’s inception. In short, follow a path that best exemplifies our principles. To do this I think requires meeting two primary goals. The first goal is to preserve the nation in order that the second can be carried out. The second goal is to firmly root the nation in its core principles. The first in the absence of the second seems to me almost pointless.

Let’s take a brief look at the first goal. Preservation implies two essential things to me. (a) A basic defense capability, which I think David Stockman has aptly described, “Indeed, in the post-cold war world the only thing the US needed was a modest conventional capacity to defend the shorelines and airspace against any possible rogue assault and a reliable nuclear deterrent against any state foolish enough to attempt nuclear blackmail.

(b) To be a good shepherd for the resources inherent in the land mass that provides the stage for the political, economic and cultural activities we refer to as the nation.

Given that we already have more than sufficient capability for meeting part (a) of goal one for a basic defense capability, the primary activity related to defense should be the downsizing of our military forces until we have met the minimum requirement for a basic defense guided by the definition given above. One thing this should do is free up a lot of human and economic capital to be deployed otherwise.

To be a good shepherd, part (b) of goal one, first and foremost, requires that we preserve and conserve our resources. This entails having a rational plan for exploiting resources. Renewable resources, e.g., farm land and forest, should be used in a sustainable manner. Non-renewable resources, e.g., metals and minerals, should be used only for necessary activities and with the maximum efficiency possible with the intent of extending them as far into the future as reasonably possible. It goes almost without saying that inherent in being a good shepherd is minimizing pollution of the environment and making good faith attempts to clean up past pollution. It also means that going forward we avoid new pollution to the extent possible and clean up any pollution that can’t be entirely avoided. In short, be able to defend the nation, if necessary, use resources wisely and maintain a healthy environment. Much of the freed up capital referred to above should probably be dedicated to the preservation goal.

This brings us to the second goal. A nation rooted in its originating principles has three parts. (a) The first step in meeting this goal is to consider the originating principles. I will offer here a definition that some might disagree with but makes sense to me. I arrive at this definition by an extraction of general principles from the founding documents such as the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and, in particular, the initial amendments referred to as the Bill of Rights. In short, I offer my sense of what these documents imply.

To me it seems that the founding documents imply as paramount a citizenry of sovereign individuals. This is the core ingredient in the evolution and development of each person as a human being. A sovereign individual is one who is free to exercise control over his or her decisions about all manner of things, such as what he or she does or agrees to be done to their body, how they conduct themselves, how they support themselves, what they think, what they express and how they express themselves, among others. The obvious limitation upon this freedom is that it reaches a limit when it clearly impinges on someone else’s rights to their personal sovereignty. The principle of personal sovereignty should not extend to organizational entities, for example, corporations.

Part (b) of the second goal recognizes that government has as its basic function responsibility for the preservation functions described above. One likely point of conflict between individuals and government in the question of defense is that of governmental violations of personal sovereignty in the name of defense. Personal sovereignty trumps government in such cases. Another likely point of conflict is intervention in foreign countries to protect personal or business interests. The principle of individual sovereignty requires that individuals assume responsibility for their actions. Thus, one should use discretion in making decisions to put personal or business interests at risk in foreign countries. Perhaps one can find an insurer that will assume the responsibility for a price. Otherwise, citizens should act prudently and not expect to be bailed out by the government or saved by the military. Another potential point of conflict is calls for intervention in countries experiencing internal strife. This should be considered only when the situation is dire enough to generate an international effort to bring it under control. This would be best handled through an organized international body that can make a relative objective determination that the effort is necessary. We should, however, always be willing to offer temporary or permanent sanctuary, as required, to persons fleeing persecution, natural disasters, war and so forth. We should also be willing to offer a helping hand to those in need of material assistance, whenever possible. and hopefully as part of an international effort.

The second function, part (b) of goal two, of government should be to have an active role in regulating activity inconsistent with the principle of preservation, where that activity can be clearly demonstrated to be inconsistent with the principle. These conflicts are most likely to be related to property and its use and in how individuals conduct themselves. The burden of proof should be on the government, not on the individual, and when there is doubt the decision should go to the individual. In all matters in which government regulation is permitted, it should be constrained by maintaining, to as great an extent as possible, the personal sovereignty of its citizens, while still meeting the goal of preservation. Regulation should also ensure that citizens operate on a “level” playing field, where no individual or group is permitted an advantage not available to others due to government regulation or failure to regulate in favor of preservation.

The third function of government, part (c) of goal two, should be to conduct the nation’s relations with other nations. The original question about national interests had inherent within it a question about “foreign policy,” which is where we have finally arrived. The nation should conduct itself with other nations in a manner that is consistent with how it conducts itself with its citizens. It should recognize the sovereignty of other nations as being an important principle to be followed. When matters arise with other nations that would be regulated among our own citizens, the nation’s policy should be to lead by example and through persuasion. Under no circumstance should force, coercion, deception, or manipulation be employed, unless the activities of the errant nation clearly impose a direct threat to our preservation as a sovereign nation. In such cases, the nation will conduct itself with the restraint necessary to meet and neutralize the threat and no more. In short, the view taken here is that to affect others, the first step is to put one’s own house in order and then let your conduct serve as a model to others; i.e., be an exemplar of your own ideals.

One caveat is that there are serious hurdles to implementing such an approach to governance. The reason for this caveat is the influence of the “deep state,” which has already spread throughout our society like a metastasizing cancer and has probably so corrupted the body politic that all of its vital systems have possibly been compromised beyond repair. In my view, there are already arising corporate structures that, in effect, subjugate traditional nation states to corporate interests. These structures are subverting the interests of our nation and and its citizens as well as other nations and their citizens. An example is recent trade agreements that permit legal action by corporations against governments who are party to the agreement and pass laws that are viewed to be in conflict with the interests of the affected corporations.

I think we are already in a transition phase that is well on the way to the death of sovereign nations and their replacement by zombie states. The only hope for reversing this process, in my mind, is a widespread grass roots movement of citizens intent upon seizing back control of their lives and creating new structures through which to lead those lives. The last time such a movement occurred was the rise of the counterculture in the 60s and early 70s. In its failure should be found lessons to be learned.


Bioethics and Life Extension*

          We all have a vested interest in matters related to biotechnology. In particular, we should be especially interested in how government and government advisory bodies are looking at biotechnology. Whether we like it or not, our future is in the hands of government and government advisory bodies that determine through legislation and regulation what is or is not permitted. A good example of how legislation and regulation impact us as individuals is the activity of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) [See FDA Review]. This agency literally has the power of life and death over each of us through the exercise of its authority to regulate what we consume whether it is nutritional or medicinal in nature and without regard to what our personal wishes may be. For example, the FDA has denied terminally ill patients access to experimental drugs because they may have dangerous side effects. What could be more dangerous than a terminal illness? I spent some time on the site for the President’s Council on Bioethics because I think that this advisory body will significantly impact future legislation on and regulation of biotechnology.

One area that has been a concern of and subject to the attention of the President’s Council on Bioethics (PCB) is the divide between what it terms enhancement as opposed to therapy. This distinction is made in a book length report on ethical considerations in biotechnology (Beyond Therapy) that was released in 2003. Therapy is viewed as current and future interventions directed at curing or controlling diseases (e.g., AIDS) and correcting defects (e.g., cystic fibrosis) as traditionally understood. Enhancement on the other hand is viewed as potential interventions directed at improving natural conditions (e.g., life span) and abilities (e.g., memory). The PCB addresses age-retardation and life extension in a working paper prepared for its members (Ageless Bodies). What the PCB has to say on life extension has the potential to impact our personal efforts to enjoy and extend our lives.

One of the concepts mentioned in the discussion of bioethics by the PCB is the precautionary principle. “Over the past few decades, environmentalists, forcefully making the case for respecting Mother Nature, have urged upon us a “precautionary principle” regarding all our interventions into the natural world. Go slowly, they say, you can ruin everything. The point is certainly well taken in the present context… (Emphasis added)

The precautionary principle asserts that any action or policy that is potentially harmful, especially to the environment or to human health, should not be taken unless there is a scientific consensus that there is no danger. Thus, the burden of proof is on those who propose an action. Critics of this principle point out that since science cannot prove a negative, the criterion stipulated in the principle would essentially give regulators absolute discretionary power. Thus, a powerful tool for blocking scientific progress in many areas, including biotechnology and nanotechnology would be placed in the hands of groups with political and ideological rather than scientific motivations.

We should be alert to attempts to incorporate the precautionary principle into legislation and regulations that bear on research and development in biomedicine and related fields. If this principle should become the guiding light for government regulation of biotechnology research, it may be much longer than any of us have imagined before advanced biotechnology techniques for life extension are developed and implemented, if ever.

A second, distinction made by the PCB is between the impact of life extension on individuals and the impact on society. The Commission admits that there is likely much potential good to be gained by individuals from biotechnology. “Powerful as some of these concerns are, however, from the point of view of the individual considered in isolation the advantages of age-retardation may well be deemed to outweigh the dangers.”

The Commission goes on to take the view that the impact of life extension and biological enhancement in the aggregate of individuals comprising society are another matter altogether. The PCB contends that society composed of citizens who are the beneficiaries of life extension may suffer as a whole even though each individual is personally benefited. “…If individuals did not age, if their functions did not decline and their horizons did not narrow, it might just be that societies would age far more acutely, and would experience their own sort of senescence—a hardening of the vital social pathways, a stiffening and loss of flexibility, a setting of the ways and views, a corroding of the muscles and the sinews…”

The Commission spends some considerable time lamenting the possible corruption by biotechnology of what it means to be human. The essence of this concern is captured in these comments from the conclusion to the working paper referred to above, “…Is human life, as our ancestors understood it and as our faiths and our philosophies describe it, really just a problem to be solved? The anti-aging medicine of the not-so-distant future would treat what we have usually thought of as the whole, the healthy, human life as a condition to be healed. It therefore presents us with a questionable notion both of full humanity, and of the proper ends of medicine (Emphasis added).”

The former Chairman of the PCB, Leon Kass, has offered the following opinions about the mortality of man, 1) “Mortality as such is not our defect, nor is bodily immortality our goal…the human soul yearns for, longs for, aspires to some condition, some state, some goal toward which our earthly activities are directed but which cannot be attained in earthly life…Man longs not so much for deathlessness as for wholeness, wisdom, goodness, and godliness.” 2) “The finitude of human life is a blessing to every individual, whether he knows it or not.” (Both quoted in Liberation Biology by Ronald Bailey. Apparently, for Kass it is not possible to have a truly meaningful and satisfying life while bound to the material world. Thus, Kass would appear to have no qualms about pressing on you the blessings of a short life so that your soul can achieve godliness.

In Liberation Biology, libertarian author Ronald Bailey points out that bio-conservative opposition to biotechnology can be found on both the left and right ends of the political spectrum. Joining Leon Kass on the political right are such figures as John Hopkins University professor Francis Fukuyama. Fukuyama has been prominent thinker among neo-conservatives but has drifted somewhat out of that orbit recently as he has become disenchanted with the war in Iraq. In his book, Our Posthuman Future: Consequences of the Biotechnology Revolution, Fukuyama argues that biotechnology will lead to radical inequality and poison the political process. Neo-conservative editor of the Weekly Standard William Kristol also fears biotechnology and supports restrictions on its development. Kristol acts on his fears in various ways including giving bio-conservatives a platform such as the following book. Writing about the stem cell debate in The Future is Now: America Confronts the New Genetics edited by William Kristol and Eric Cohen, Fukuyama claims “…the need [is] for an institutional framework for the regulation of all human biotechnology, and not just research funded by the federal government.” When asked in an interview if the government had a right to tell its citizens that they have to die, Fukuyama replied, “Yes, absolutely.”

The political left has also produced a number of bio-conservatives and activists against biotechnology. One of the earliest to emerge on the left was Foundation for Economic Trends president and author, Jeremy Rifkin. In his book The Biotech Century, Rifkin presents a catalog of reasons why we should fear biotechnology and argues that in spite of obvious potential benefits the risks far outweigh the benefits and development of biotechnology must be restrained. Another left-wing, bio-conservative is Marcy Darnovsky the Associate Executive Director of the Center for Genetics and Society based in Oakland, CA. Darnovsky, among other things, is concerned with the social justice aspects of biomedicine and argues that “…we need ways to apply the brakes…” on designer medicine and designer babies. She argues that these are technologies that will only benefit the wealthy and leave the rest of us as second-class citizens. She suggests that there are far too many more mundane problems that need resources to waste them on low priority projects such as biomedicine. A final example from the left is Daniel Callahan, Co-founder of the Hasting Center, which has a focus on bioethics. The following quote illustrates his thinking on life extension; “There is no known social good coming from the conquest of death…The worst possible way to resolve this issue is to leave it to individual choice.”

Advocates for life extension should adopt as a guiding principle the words of John Stuart Mill; “Over himself, over his own body and mind, the individual is sovereign.” One might ask, which political philosophy best embodies the above principle? In my view, the libertarian philosophy comes the closest to advocating Mill’s principle. Unfortunately, the libertarian political philosophy has not had much success in making the transition to politics. From the above discussion it is clear that there is potential opposition to life extension from both the left and the right. Thus, life extension advocates should take care to support candidates from any political party whose views are consistent with their objectives. They should also be watchful for legislation that could serve to block progress toward life extension and actively lobby against it. One certainly cannot afford to ignore politics!

*This essay reflects minor modifications to the original, which was Published in Long Life the in-house journal of the Immortalist Society.