The Wisdom of Ignorance

Human cloning is undoubtedly a topic that gets strong opinions circulating. While I don’t think I can personally get behind it, The Wisdom of Repugnance seemed to be against it for the wrong reasons. Kass undoubtedly meant to be inflammatory, but in the process he dehumanized and devalued several minorities. He also perpetuated several outdated stereotypes and often came off as a whiny old conservative white man who can’t deal with changing values in society.

One of the biggest problems Kass complained about was the fact that “today, defenders of stable, monogamous marriage risk charges of giving offense to those adults who are living in ‘new family forms’” (17). Basically, he seems to be upset that the norm of family living is no longer two married heterosexual parents who procreate and produce 2.5 children through sexual intercourse, which he views as the “natural” way. However, he fails to give credibility to families who have formed in other ways, and in fact he seems to want to deny them the same standing that he confers on the “natural” families. Additionally, he speaks to the “inherent procreative teleology of sexuality” (18). This is a direct assumption that the only purpose for sexuality and sexual acts is for producing children. Not only does this not have an effect on why human cloning should or should not be legal and has no scientific standing, it completely erases the existence of homosexual couples and it also erases the validity of couples who can’t have kids due to infertility and couples who choose not to have children. Single parents are also lost in this narrative.

Kass also gets bitter about the advances made by feminism and the gay rights movement, because he doesn’t want to “treat the natural heterosexual difference and its preeminence as a matter of ‘cultural construction’” (18). However, as any student in an introductory gender studies class can tell you, the similarities between genders far outweigh the differences. Also, Kass doesn’t offer any factual evidence for these differences, which severely hurts his argument – this is a problem that plagues his entire article. So upset is Kass over the loss of his “natural” sex, he goes on to say that “it liberates women from the need for men altogether” and vilifies “manipulative science that likes to do all these things to Mother Nature and nature’s mothers” (20). This basically reduces women to the role of motherhood alone and asserts that anything outside this role is not only unnatural but threatening toward men, because then they will be unnecessary. Once again, no evidence is offered for the idea that women “need” men except for the sole purpose of procreation, although given his other beliefs, it’s not surprising that he brings this point into his argument.

Speaking of Kass’ lack of factual evidence, he also stresses that “almost no one finds any of the suggested reasons for human cloning compelling; almost everyone anticipates its possible misuses and abuses” (20). However, he offers no statistical evidence and has done no research himself. He also asserts that “the repugnance at human cloning belongs in this category [father daughter incest (even with consent), or having sex with animals, or mutilating a corpse, or eating human flesh, or even just (just!) raping or murdering another human being]” (20). With no evidence, he equates the creation of new life (however questionable its ethics) with some of the most horrifying acts that we can imagine – and even somehow tries to say that incest (which he very nearly equated with homosexuality earlier in the article) is worse than rape and murder.

While I can’t say I disagree with the idea that human cloning should be banned, much of Kass’ reasoning is terrible and much of it doesn’t address the problems with cloning itself but rather Kass’ own prejudices about contemporary society in general.

-Amanda Thompson


~ by Amanda Thompson on February 2, 2014.

2 Responses to “The Wisdom of Ignorance”

  1. I found myself sharing many of these same sentiments as I read Kass as well–though I hadn’t had a thoroughly formed opinion on human cloning at the time, simply his crotchety old man tone made me want to support it! I hope more modern anti-cloning activists are aware of this and are taking steps to avoid the same pitfalls.

    -Reese F.

  2. That is a great counter-punch to “The Wisdom of Repugnance.” I’m sure that it was cathartic to write. It is to read it. “The Wisdom of Repugnance” article is so bigoted, hostile, and ‘in your face’ that it’s almost jocular. Given that it was written in 1996, many people truly felt the way the author does. Almost twenty years has shown at least some progress on the all of the issues (women’s rights, gay rights, surrogacy etc.), progress that is difficult to differentiate into anything narrower than democratic, as opposed to republican.
    Occam’s razor (the principle that the simplest solution is usually the best solution) is very helpful in delicate and dangerous topics, such as politics, so I often boil down genetic sciences’ and the like’s progress to a simple measure between the left and the right.
    Good things take time. Reese’s comment (above) noted the “crotchety old man tone” in Kass’s article. Seemingly most people of older generations than “Generation X” would support Kass’s stance on cloning, and even many “Generation X’s” are ambivalent about it. The major constraint on progressive sciences, such as cloning, is public opposition. This opposition will fade in time and can easily be viewed in the classic context of progressivism vs. conservatism. It is not an issue of ‘if’ but ‘when?’

    Adam W. Gill

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