[Im]Moral Relativism: Considering a Clone Holocaust

Let’s talk about holocausts.

After weeks of examining a plethora of novels, films, and short stories about the ethics of cultivating clones for medical benefit, I think it’s safe to say that one artistic decision holds true no matter what the medium – every genre seems to spawn parallels to Nazi Germany.

The Island, for example, uses a nearly fascist facility design to house its clones; meanwhile, the themes of insider/outsider bias (“You’re not like me”), confinement, manipulation through misinformation, and economic and physical exploitation surface again and again, rendering the clone facility an aesthetic labor or death camp. Most tellingly, towards the climax of the film, it employs a particularly visceral gas-chamber scene that obviously parallels death camp horrors. The clones are deemed expendable by the Island corporation; consequently, they are stripped of their belongings and lined up for their own deaths, oblivious to their pending fate, just as Jews were once shepherded to “showers.” The Island might not be a cinematic masterpiece, but this footage creates chills.

German death camp

(Gattaca is also worth mentioning here, although it skirts the issue of cloning to focus on genetic predestination. It features stark totalitarian settings and genetic discrimination – certainly the “valid” favoritism is reminiscent of a pro-Aryan world order – as well as a Gestapo-esque police force, hearkening to the idea that your very blood can betray you.)

Similarly, Ishiguro’s heroine, Kathy, of the novel Never Let Me Go, has a wistful touch of Anne Frank about her; she a young girl whose ideas about the world are shaped wholly by her spatial confinement and her interactions with the same few recurring characters. Nevertheless, it is the harsh outside world which ultimately decides her fate: loss of innocence, loss of childhood, and death. Nor is there much resistance within society; even the clones themselves perpetrate the cycle, as carers – just as Germans turned a blind and inactive eye, seventy years ago.

Anne Frank

Overall, it is certainly an evocative comparison between two morally corrupt worlds. In each case, it adds to the power of the story, building dramatic tension in a way that some regard as a play on pathos. After all, our culture [justly] regards Naziism as an immoral extreme. To summon it while discussing the ethics of culling clones saturates the issue with outrage, terror, and a sense of overpowering injustice.

I do find the equation of these two worlds plausible. Still, I would like to point something out.

Consider the rationales propelling a hypothetical clone holocaust. If you separate the idea from its distasteful classist/capitalist facet (e.g., clones would probably only available to the wealthy), it boils down to the idea that clone organ harvests would legitimately save lives. True, these gains would come at the cost of a clone’s life, which makes it a hard moral justification to swallow. But the Nazi Holocaust remains, for me, an even less moral scenario, when millions of people were killed.. just ’cause. Social Darwinism was in vogue. They were inconvenient. They were “inferior.” They didn’t fit in Hitler’s warped worldview.

And personally [while I obviously don’t think that either situation is just], I believe that, in the event of my own immediate death, I would much rather be killed in order to save another life than to be killed for something arbitrary, like my ancestry or religion, used against me out of the crude need for a social scapegoat.

There is no justification in this blog. I’m not rationalizing anything. I think that both situations, real and hypothetical, reveal vile moral standards. I just think that, in the Grand Scale of Evil Things, a potential clone holocaust would be marginally less evil than the Jewish Holocaust was, because it at least is working towards an outcome of medical advancement that… doesn’t necessarily justify the means, per se. Fine. But, if we’re being honest here, I must admit that I find this motive much more accessible than the irrationality driving the Holocaust.

My point in all of this speculation is this:

I don’t believe the parallels to Nazi Germany are necessarily meant to evoke a visceral, knee-jerk reaction from the audience, or the readers. I think it’s meant to be a reminder. If humanity is capable of arbitrary mass-murder of millions of Jews, the authors seem to be saying, we are definitely capable of justifying a world of clone murder to ourselves, falling into a dark world order as meekly as people did seventy years ago, in a much more dramatic scenario.

So: tread carefully.

Julia Ray

~ by juliamray on February 10, 2012.

2 Responses to “[Im]Moral Relativism: Considering a Clone Holocaust”

  1. This is a revised version of my earlier comment.

    Your argument for the parallels between the concentration camps of Nazi Germany and the lives of clones in their world is very interesting. It also led me to think about where holocausts/genocide originate. What I concluded is that genocides occur when those in power look at a group (Jews, clones, etc.) as less than human. This less human factor is blatantly clear in The Island. The rich and powerful see the killing of clones as morally justifiable due to the fact that these clones were not in fact human. To further justify the clone genocide, humans looked at the ability to use clones to make an incredibly healthy race with amazing new life spans. To me though, the science fiction and far-fetched nature of cloning makes the conclusions that clones are less than human somewhat understandable despite being false. However, how did Hitler and the Nazi Party justify their killings of neighbors and fellow countrymen. Well, Hitler was seeking to perfect his race as well. He sought to create the perfect Aryan race. Not all people involved with Hitler pursued this same goal, but much of the Nazi society did not take issue with Hitler’s movement. Because of Hitler’s ambitions and hate of other races rubbed off on the German people, and as a whole Germans started to view persecuted groups as less human than themselves. The Nazis began by exterminating those with mental and physical abilities who seemed clearly alien, and they continued to project the same views on other groups such as Jews, gypsies and others. The Nazi’s and the society from the Island were clearly in the same practice. they both sought a “perfect” race by persecuting groups of people by claiming they weren’t all that human after all. This is a sickening parallel that I hope our society can avoid by looking at history and literature. Let’s hope we learned our lesson.
    Great blog, it really got me thinking.


  2. Aldymane,

    Thanks for your comment. I think there are definitely real parallels to be seen here, not least the seeking of a “perfect” human society. I think you’re absolutely right in calling attention to the dehumanizing of an entire group of people in order to justify violence against them. I also think that this is made much easier when given the perk of the language we use against cloning — I actually just read an article called “Bad Copies” by Patrick Hopkins that talks about this (it’s one of my major sources for my paper on Never Let Me Go). We inherently identify clones as “copies” of “originals.” If that isn’t a language establishing their hypothetical inferiority, I don’t know what is. It’s definitely dehumanizing and I think it could quite conceivably lead to a second holocaust — especially, as I wrote in my blog, with the added perk of the justification of medical advancement.

    I’m glad you agree with me. Certainly it makes a powerful argument against ever developing human clones; they’d be decimated by a world which can barely cope with the diversity it already houses. It’s worth thinking about. It certainly isn’t a very flattering revelation for us and our rampant superiority complexes.

    At least we’re able to talk about this problem and address it now, however. Maybe someday we will live in a more tolerant society. I hope that we’re in the process of moving towards one. (Optimism!)


    Julia Ray

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