Illusory Endeavors

The age-old question: if you could know your future, would you really want to? Would you want to know when you would achieve major milestones in your life? Perhaps you would. Would you want to know who you were going to marry? Sort of takes the fun out of the exploration, doesn’t it? Would you want to know exactly from what profession you were going to retire? Would you want to know exactly when your life would be over, and under what circumstances?

Of course, various artists have explored this topic in depth over the decades, and humanity appears largely void of this sort of precognition…lucky us, to not have to make the call.

This story, however, makes it sound as though we may be landing in the neighborhood:

The implications of this are frightening, unethical, a direct result of our God complex, and catering to the narcissism of the parents, to say nothing of the negative ramifications on the children in question.

A valuable part of childhood is exploration. Personality develops as exploration occurs. Exploration leads to multifaceted individuals…you know, the “Renaissance person” that seems so rare as our culture forces us to mold ourselves into a single label so that everyone knows where to file us in their heads. We are so desperate for these labels that we seem to now want to confine our children before they even have a chance to explore. The scientist interviewed in this video openly states that he will encourage a specific set of parents to push their child into business pursuits, because of quantified test results that would seem to indicate that the child will be strong in this area. As though we can quantify a human being, reducing a person to numbers and formulae in order to predict what they will be most successful in pursuing.

Two goliath ethical train wrecks present themselves to me here: First, the forcing of persons into categories. I’ve spoken here before of how everything in life interweaves, becomes a lens through which we can view everything else…essentially the Burkian principle of communication theory. From a psychological perspective, I’ve often seen…especially in adolescents…the concept of a self-fulfilling prophecy take hold; that is, living out what someone has convinced you of because you aren’t aware that there is another alternative. Imagine a person with Harvard potential refusing to further their education beyond high school, even though they want to, because they have been told that their family is one of farmers, and that this person is capable of nothing other than agriculture. There is nothing wrong with agriculture…if that is what this person chooses to do. The point is that this hypothetical person’s not being encouraged to see outside of this box limits their potential in such a way that they may never even realize that they were robbed. There is a similar principal at work in diagnoses: while naming something gives you power over that thing (or problem), there comes with this power the danger of identifying yourself with that label (“oh, I can’t help it…I’m bipolar.”), and thus an absence of effort to improve or change.

This is what will be forced upon these children, based on some tests and numerical read-outs. This set of numbers, you’re an artist. This set, you’re a scientist. How about a set that indicates you should be a janitor? What happens when you know people…you know, have connections to those testing your child, who could make it really look like they could be a business administrator or national leader? Who will watch those watchmen? More practically, and from a less nihilist perspective, who will encourage the child who received numbers stating he/she should be a chemical engineer to pursue their passion for the violin? What if, in failing to do so, a future first chair for the London Philharmonic goes unrealized because the violin was considered taboo for a talented child as they were forced by parents toward being that chemical engineer?

And, at the risk of returning to my soap-box, who said you could sum up a human being in numbers, anyway? The children who are subjected to this testing are being robbed under the cruelest of circumstances: the premise that they are being given a gift.

The second ethical issue is our worship of success at the forsaking of all else. In an industrialized culture, and an increasingly industrialized world, East or West, we value people based solely upon what they can produce. The product is all-important, and if one cannot contribute, then they are less important to the society as a whole. Personal welfare and family time are expected to be sacrificed at the altar of the next business deal. Vacation? That’s for the weak. Sick time is for the weaker. After all, if you’re not at work producing something, then of what use are you?

The concept of viewing a man or woman as being of inherent beauty and worth simply because they are human has been lost in our rush to build, create, and accumulate wealth. While building and creating are natural human pursuits, and are good things in and of themselves, they are never justification for the harm of another human being. Ever.

Yet, mankind (at the risk of a sweeping cliche) now takes this one step further, not only pushing production at the expense of intrinsic human value, but programming a child from birth as to how exactly they will produce.

So, applaud this engineering marvel and scientific breakthrough, while looking at how it will benefit you, if you choose, but do so knowing that it benefits one at the expense of the humanity of another, and, in so doing, reduces the humanity of us all. I hope this is not a true prediction of our brave new world…

Thoughts?

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