Most us still imagine society as a community of reasonably intelligent, reasonably independent individuals capable of managing their own affairs. Many of those in our expert class profess the same; but down deep, in the secret crevices of their hearts, they have a hankering for the cattle-management model Aldous Huxley captured so vividly in Brave New World and C. S. Lewis imagined in The Abolition of Man.
Let’s start with a simple irony. Much of today’s chatter about “defending democracy,” the sanctity of personal rights, and the sacred quality of human dignity comes from people who, consciously or otherwise, jeopardize all three by their actions. The evidence is abundant. And Aaron Kheriaty’s forthcoming book, The New Abnormal: The Rise of the Biomedical Security State (to be released November 1), is Exhibit A. Every few years a book comes along like Patrick Deneen’s Why Liberalism Failed or Carl Trueman’s The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self that hits a cultural nerve and mustn’t be ignored; that combines elegantly lucid writing with vital and timely content.
The New Abnormal is just such a book. It’s a compelling account of the tech-driven “surveillance and control” state now emerging around us—reputedly for our own good, of course—by a doctor and scholar who’s paid a heavy price for noticing it, recognizing the implications, and resisting them.
But more about that in a moment. First, some background.
Hans Jonas, the philosopher, argued that three things set humans apart from all other living creatures. The tool enables man to pursue his needs; to imprint nature with his knowledge and will. The image—the grandeur of human art—expresses his memory, his desire for beauty, and his imagination. But the greatest factor distinguishing humans from other creatures is the grave. Only human beings bury their dead. Only humans know their own mortality. And thus only humans can ask where they came from, what life means, and what comes after it. The grave, for all its pathos, is actually a statement of reverence and hope. A nearly universal fact of human civilization is this: The body, even in death and decay, carries the resonance of something unrepeatable and holy, something “other than” this world and its cycle of futility.
When a biblically-informed culture speaks of “the dignity of the human person” and “the sanctity of human life,” it grounds those concepts in the Word of God. Consider Genesis 1:27: “God created man in his own image; in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” And note Genesis 2:7: “Then the Lord God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.” The American founding was shaped in equal measure by biblical and Enlightenment thought. But even the Enlightenment, as experienced here in the United States, drew its morality and anthropology from the Jewish-Christian ages that preceded it.