Writing at First Things, our colleague Wesley Smith has a brief but profound essay on the situation in Switzerland, where materialism has produced mad results: A "raucous" industry of suicide clinics, against a backdrop of lunatic concerns over plant suffering.
Among the Swiss, a proper aim to ease suffering has evolved into a war on humans — specifically, on human sufferers — extending and shading over into a horror at the idea that a wildflower should be "decapitated." It seems mad to us, but Wesley explains how it all reflects a twisted logic.
In 2008, bioethicist Yuval Levin in his book Imagining the Future: Science and American Democracy identified a subtle but momentous shift in the philosophical driver of the West:
The worldview of modern science . . . sees health not only as a foundation but also a principal goal, not only as a beginning but also an end. Relief and preservation–from disease and pain, from misery and necessity — become the defining ends of human action, and therefore of human societies.
At first blush, this seems a minor matter. Who doesn’t want to alleviate suffering and promote the general welfare? But read the above quote again. That reasonable approach to the problem of suffering is not the attitude Levin describes.
Rather, it seems to me that he detected a fundamental paradigm shift driving us away from the reasonable mitigation of suffering in favor of a Utopian — and ultimately dangerous — elimination quest that threatens the unique dignity of man and relativizes the importance of human life.
Consider: When eliminating suffering becomes the "defining ends of human action," it easily transforms into eliminating the sufferer. Perhaps more insidiously, what constitutes suffering encompasses more things — even becoming projected and anthropomorphized onto the natural world.
Now it makes sense. Well, it doesn’t make sense, but you know what I mean. Read the rest.