The Society of HumanKind
'The Sanctity of Life' is the sub-title of the Principle of Peace. Its theme is the need carefully to preserve and develop every human individual whatever their qualities or characteristics. There remains however, a wide field of debate about how best that may be achieved, and how that principle is to be applied in the complexities created by our growing knowledge and evolving social life.
Take, for instance, the stance of the Society that the value of every individual is inestimable. What, then, is the view of the Society on abortion? Or on euthanasia? Or the validity or otherwise of research on human embryos? Has it any authoritative opinion on whether or not attempts should be made to develop a means to create human life, other than by the given reproductive system of our species? These questions have posed serious problems for every system of moral ideas. They cannot be avoided by the Society of HumanKind.
It would be well to begin this discussion by rehearsing some of the conclusions reached elsewhere in these writings. In the first place, as is argued in the Treatise on Justice and Tolerance, and in the Essays on Childhood, Freedom and Politics and elsewhere, an acceptance of the Axioms and choice of the Dogma establishes the rank and priority of the Conditions of the Dogma, i.e. that the infinite survival of our species must take precedence over a continuous growth in our knowledge.
The emergence of the Society of HumanKind should finally remove from our history any risk of another epoch in which humanity retreats into violence, anarchy and ignorance while culture, learning and scholarship are denounced and derided and the sum of human knowledge shrinks. However, if at any time the Society is faced with the stark choice of a new Dark Age or the certain extinction of our species, then it must be prepared to plunge into that twilight even at the cost of the persecution and suppression of the Society itself. After all, these writings have managed to emerge once in our history and we can therefore hope for the Society to rise again, but only if our species survives.
That basic premises and the priority of the Conditions of the Dogma which it reflects has implications for the issues raised in this Essay. They are touched on in the first founding book, the 'Foundations'. In the Treatise on the Individual an argument is set out, based on an extreme case, for the preservation of every human life. The reader may recall that the example used was that of a totally incapacitated child who may never even be aware of its own identity, yet who may still be subject to the Principle 2.2 because of the effect its existence may have on others.
On the other hand the reader will also recall that the Treatises on Tolerance and on Justice show that the survival of our species can be distinguished from the survival of each individual member of humanity by an application of the Principle of Progress to our social problems. Those Treatises make it clear that the survival of the whole must take precedence over that of any individual member of our species. Finally in this survey of the earlier conclusions reached on the issue of the sanctity or otherwise of every human life, it should be noted that the Treatises are careful to insist that any departure from the Principle of the sanctity of every human life must be very carefully justified and reluctantly adopted only as an ultimate last resort.
The outcome of the various earlier comments and arguments on this subject in the founding books of the Society of HumanKind is that, despite the powerful commitment of the Society to the preservation and development of every individual, decisions resulting in the loss or curtailment of human life may nevertheless occasionally be necessary. How the Society might reach such difficult decisions was not discussed in those earlier works. That task will be undertaken here.
It should first be frankly acknowledged that the concept of the sanctity of life creates a potential for conflict within the founding ideas of the Society. That tension lies between the Principles of Peace and Progress. The maintenance of the Conditions of the Dogma requires the Society both to preserve and develop each individual, and also to ensure the infinite survival of our species. The problem for the Society is that, in the reality of human social life, those objectives are not necessarily compatible, and may be mutually exclusive on occasion.
That is so because the greatest, and some might say the only real, threat to the destruction of our social order, and hence our survival, is to be found in the actions and behaviour of members of our own species, both individually and in groups. If the history of human society has any recurring themes one of them must surely be that of a constant struggle to contain and suppress the tendency of some members of humanity to develop and deploy, whether consciously or not, ever more sophisticated ways of destroying their fellows, our environment or the social order on which our survival depends. As has already been noted in this Essay, the priority of the Conditions of the Dogma makes the survival of our species our first concern. It follows that the Society can properly support the sanction of death for individuals or groups who cannot otherwise be prevented from presenting a real or substantial threat to our continued survival as a species, despite that action being directly contrary to its obligation to preserve and develop every such member.
The problem to be explored here then, is wholly internal to the Society of HumanKind since it arises from an apparent conflict between two parts of its system of ideas. That conflict has many ramifications. For instance, it is not possible for the Society to argue from the Axioms that once a viable human being is in existence it must always be wrong to destroy it whatever its attributes or condition. On the other hand, neither can the Society specify which characteristics or qualities of individuals must always be encouraged or preferred. Equally, the Axioms cannot be drawn upon to conclude that no harm will ever result if all individuals are tolerated whatever their attributes or behaviour. The Society is faced with these difficulties because the freedom created by its Axioms leaves no independent measure by which these matters may be judged, and therefore no authoritative way of balancing the value gained by the preservation of any individual against the risk to our infinite survival that individual might present.
However, despite that discouraging introduction the problems faced by the Society are not insoluble. In the Treatise on Morality the judgement of humanity in that period of our history which will follow our conquest of time is used as a means finally to determine questions of the morality or otherwise of our conduct in life. Later, in the Discourse to that first book, an account is given of how we shall all have to face judgement on our actions and decisions, if the realisation of the Aim of the Society of HumanKind then follows that apocalypse. Those two ideas combined together, and coupled with the earlier conclusions of this Essay, give a method by which we can hope to reconcile the Principles of Peace and Progress on the subject of the sanctity or otherwise of human life, and so make the difficult decisions described in this Essay.
The first, and most important, factor to be taken into account when such a decision is contemplated is that, once implemented, the action of destroying a life cannot be reversed. Any decision we may make to end a life will have consequences that will be both final and irrevocable. All who truly understand our uncertainty as it is revealed in the Treatise on Knowledge and reflected in the philosophy of the Society of HumanKind will realise that any estimate of the likely consequences both for the subject and for the rest of humanity of any decision vitally affecting the life of even a single individual can never be anything other than a tentative best guess in the prevailing circumstances.
On the other hand, a decision to preserve a life will at least be open to alteration on later reflection. However, such a life-preserving decision has its own adverse consequences. It will generate heavy responsibilities, not just for the original judges in the matter who must, of course, take some burden of liability for the future conduct of the individual they spare, but also for every other member of humanity who may then find themselves in a position to influence the subject for good or ill during the remainder of his or her existence. Perhaps more importantly, a decision to preserve a life will generate an expectation that the subject himself will take responsibility for amending or reconstructing his own life. In all, it must be apparent that while the range of possible outcomes, and our power to influence, affect or control them, is immeasurably increased by a life-preserving rather than a life-destructive choice, the spread and depth of responsibility for the effects of the decision is also greatly increased.
Drawing these complex threads together it can be concluded that when faced with the complex and contentious questions arising from the issue of the sanctity or otherwise of life discussed in this Essay, the Society should adopt a measured, two-step approach. It should opt in the first place for that course of action which will best ensure the infinite survival of our species. Only when that condition of the Dogma has been fully safeguarded or is not threatened should the Society then turn to a consideration of the need to maximise the potential of every individual member of humanity. In either case, the Society should ask itself the question, "Will we be able to face the rest of humanity for eternity with the consequences of the decision we are about to take?" As with all moral choices in the era of the Society, a commitment to the Objective of the Dogma and the Aim of the Society means that we shall be obliged to account for any decision we may make on the sanctity of human life, both to the subject and to every other member of the human species at the reunification of humanity.
To summarise the general conclusion reached in this Essay, the logic of the Axioms and Dogma must lead the Society of HumanKind to a doubly conservative and utterly cautious stance on the sanctity of life. The whole effort of the Society and all its members should always be directed in the first instance to the attempt to bring any decision touching the sanctity of the life of any member of our species within the ambit of the Principle of Peace. It may then be resolved by the preservation, protection and full development of every individual no matter what their qualities or characteristics. That objective is itself most effectively pursued by ensuring that the kind of questions on the sanctity of life set our earlier in this Essay are anticipated if that is at all possible.
If however, avoidance fails and a life-destroying decision has to be faced, then the Society should ensure that the decision is dealt with on an immediate, specific and individual basis rather than by any attempt to generate long-term or generally applicable prescriptions. The Society must, in any event, always try to follow the path laid out earlier; that is, to consider and reach its decision on the basis of its judgement of the likely outcome for the achievement of its Aim rather than any other consideration.
Taking the example of the questions posed earlier, the view of the Society must be that it should always seek to resolve questions of abortion by improving our knowledge of contraception and conception avoidance. It should meet demands for euthanasia by efforts to improve both our medical knowledge and the condition of the subject. It will accept that it is necessary to undertake embryonic research only if we have an overwhelming need to improve our chances of survival as a species. And the Society will sanction a search for other ways of creating human life only as a precaution against a perception of a real risk of our existing systems failing us. Only when those anticipatory precautions fail will it then seek a solution that can be defended in our immortal era, when it is examined and judged by the whole of humanity. Including, it must be remembered, those whose lives (however prolonged or instantaneous) are affected by the decision. In any event and in all circumstances it will abide by the conclusion of the Essay on the Authority of the World Council of Elders, and leave it to that body to act as final arbiter of such questions if, despite our best efforts, they are nevertheless raised.
But then that is no more that to say that we should face and resolve these issues in accordance with the philosophy of the Society, by an approach soundly based on the Principles, and on a recognition of the unalterable, unavoidable uncertainty of our knowledge. Then we will do so with great caution and inertia, and with an overwhelming concern to preserve the chances of salvation of both ourselves and all others of our kind.
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