By Roberta Green Ahmanson
November 24, 2015
Planned Parenthood executives bargain to sell aborted body parts, Bruce Jenner strikes a pose across the cover of Vanity Fair, Justice Anthony Kennedy spews purple prose in Obergefell, and California Governor Jerry Brown signs a law allowing doctors to kill.
All in the name of dignity.
Underlying all of these events is a rapid and radical transformation in our culture’s understanding of what it means to be human, and, in particular, what it means to have dignity. Dignity apparently justifies abortion, transgenderism, the redefinition of marriage, and physician-assisted suicide.
But what exactly constitutes this New Dignity? The work of George Kateb, professor emeritus at Princeton, provides a clue. In a book titled Human Dignity, Kateb writes: “Since nature has no telos, the human species is at its greatest when it breaks out of nature.” Human dignity is grounded, according to Kateb, in our ability to defy nature—to go beyond natural limitations and thereby create ourselves anew. Kateb agrees with Sartre: the freedom to “become different through an upsurge of free creativity,” which “can never be conclusively defined or delimited,” is “the philosophical anthropology that underlies human dignity.” This is the meaning of human dignity in a world with no clear origin, no purposeful end, no intrinsic meaning, and nothing real beyond matter in motion.
The New Dignity demands new positive freedoms, freedoms to—to remake our gender, to marry someone without regard to sex or the procreative potential of the union, to choose our time to die and enlist the medical profession in ending our lives, to not only abort a child developing in the womb but also to harvest his or her body parts for commercial gain. It also calls for new negative freedom, freedoms from—from all unwanted pain or discomfort, from limitations on what I can do to or with my body, from language or ideas that offend me or that challenge decisions I have made.
Dignity is no longer so much about who or what we are; it is about what our unfettered will can do, and what it can forbid others to do. Read the rest at Public Discourse.