3 days ago the UK Parliament voted to allow the creation of human-animal hybrid embryos for research purposes. In the US, a Federal law is being proposed to ban such practices.
I last wrote about this subject just over a year ago, when the Bill was first proposed. I remain divided on it. I have a visceral response, running alongside a mistrust of the scientific establishment, that says no. But I can also see that a lot of good can come out of it. These embryos will have to be destroyed after 14 days, early enough in my opinion for nothing significant in the way of consciousness to be present. But I can’t prove that, and I may be wrong. So I am cautiously in favour of this research.
At the same time Parliament has passed a number of other related matters: allowing the creation of so-called ‘saviour siblings’, removing the need for a father with IVF treatment, and voting down a proposal to reduce the time limit for abortions from 24 weeks.
What needs paying attention to in all this is the astrology. Chiron is currently stationing in Aquarius, and it is conjunct the North Node and stationing Neptune, also both in Aquarius. This is powerful stuff. Aquarius is associated with Science. Science tends to treat nature one-sidedly as an object of investigation, and ignores nature as subject with which we imaginatively identify. To this extent Science is inhuman. Chiron’s presence in Aquarius is pointing this out, he is saying be careful what you do while I am in this sign, for I am a centaur, I am nature, and I was wounded by the unthinking and heroic Hercules; likewise, you too can do irreparable damage in your heroic but unconsidered quest to manipulate and conquer nature.
With Chiron's conjunction to Neptune, there is the suggestion of the mad (Neptune) scientist, and the crossing of natural boundaries.
With Chiron’s conjunction to the Node, we are talking about long-term karmic lessons for humanity, and often the only way lessons can be learnt is for mistakes to be made. There was a Chiron-Node conjunction in Aquarius at the time of the first oil strike in 1859, and the parallels are obvious. There was also a Chiron-Node conjunction at the time of the first controlled nuclear reaction in 1942. With these precedents we can be pretty sure that Science is going to make some ghastly mistakes around the creation of human life. And probably do some wonderful things as well, like reducing the number of people born with crippling diseases.
As a bio-ethicist pointed out on TV the other night, what you are often dealing with in these situations is competing ‘Goods’. It is good, for example, that a baby has a father, and it is also good that lesbian couples can have children through IVF. People get very passionate about just one side or the other, and understandably so. But I don’t think that is reasonable or helpful, because there ARE 2 sides, and there are usually no easy answers.
There is one issue which for me does have an easy answer, and that is the need to reduce the time limit on abortion from 24 weeks. The pro- and anti-abortion arguments often seem to me to be riddled with wrong-headedness, because they easily ignore the central issue, which is that an unborn baby after a certain (hard to determine) point is a sentient human.
The scientific argument, which carries the day politically, is that abortion is OK if the baby could not survive outside the womb, and as medical treatment improves, so does the time limit go down. This argument is inhuman, it is Science at its worst. It is saying that if Science would not be able to save you once you are born, then you are not human, so we can kill you.
The pro-lifers have a certain amount going for them, but we are often dealing with ideology rather than experience. Does a newly fertilised egg, or even a few week old embryo, have consciousness in any substantial sense? It is hard to know, and we certainly can’t be dogmatic about it. Once you get dogmatic/ideological, you may still be right, but you’re right for the wrong reasons.
I think the ‘pro-choice’ camp also gets wrong-headed, because though choice is an important issue, it is a secondary one. The primary issue is that we are dealing with a sentient human consciousness and the responsibility towards that, in my opinion, needs to come first.
So abortion is complex, and can’t be boiled down to the slogans of pro-life versus pro-choice. It seems to me to be obvious that there is a sentient human being way before, even months before the 24 week time limit that we have in the UK. That said, determining a time limit remains a very difficult problem.
While I am on my soap box, I have had on my mind the Buddha’s saying from 2500 years ago that ‘All Worldlings are Mad’. The saying certainly makes its point. But Indian Buddhism was a monkish religion, and so there are overtones of the superiority of the renunciative lifestyle compared to us mere, ‘mad’ mortals.
All the same, the scientific argument for abortion concerning the viability of the baby outside the womb reminded me of this saying. How could any sane person think like this? Not just one person, but a large collective of people? Similarly, how could a large collective of people take as a moral good the idea of endless economic growth for its own sake, when resources are limited? And when economic activity has the purpose of meeting material needs, why are you promoting it for its own sake? Why does one race of people consider itself superior to another? And so on.
You can see that the Buddha was right, that what he said 2500 years ago applied then and now. Wisdom is about not having these insane attitudes. Wisdom is not about complicated theories, it’s about seeing what’s in front of your nose (which is something the education system can paradoxically knock out of you, it makes you both clever and stupid.) But it can be remarkably difficult to see what is in front of your nose when everyone around you can’t. What society has told you since you were young seems like self-evident truth, and we get a lot of psychological security from thinking like everyone else.
So I think this is the main reason that ‘all worldlings are mad’: that we take our opinions from those around us, and this incidentally means that crazy ideas can take root and become authoritative and respectable. Of course, no-one would ever admit to taking their ideas from those around them. And in my experience this applies just as much to educated people as it does to uneducated people, and to liberal thinkers as much as it does to conservative thinkers. The alleged connection between CO2 and global warming is a perfect example of this. It is a provisional and arguable truth that has been turned by collective thinking into an absolute truth that no 'reasonable' person would reject.
You start to get some wisdom when you have the inclination, and the psychological security, to look independently at what’s in front of you. ‘Ignorance’ comes from the word ‘ignore’, it is a wilful, albeit unconscious, act. Ignorance is thinking that you know when you don’t. Wisdom begins with realising that you don’t know, as Socrates said. OK, I’ll get off my soap box now.