Ivo's Recommended Reads #5/2018

Happy Weekend, dear friends - I hope these reads will keep your beautiful minds well fed!

Ivo

  1. The moral case for genetically engineering homo sapiens.

  2. Germany's loss of a trusted ally.

  3. The poison of nostalgia.

  4. A fight we must not lose.

  5. The ills of modernity and how to face them.

  6. Reflections on assisted suicide.

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1. Individuals increasingly have the possibility to cause systemic harm for our entire species. To prevent ultimate harm - do we have the duty to do all we can to enhance our moral capacities, even through biogenetical engineering? Bryan Walsh (Medium) explores:

"[G]iven that technology will increasingly give all of us the power to inflict Ultimate Harm — either quickly and individually in the case of bioterrorism or slowly and collectively in the case of climate change — what needs to change is us [Professors Savulescu and Persson argue] . If the world will blow up if just one of us pushes the self-destruct button — or if all of us won’t stop pushing the climate change button — than what we need are human beings who can be trusted not to push that button. What we need are better people."


2. Under the Trump administration, the US government is taking a tough stance against Germany and has been calling into question the transatlantic partnership. How is this shift being perceived among pro-American Germans? Michelle Goldberg (New York Times) reports:

“'For me, the key thing is the Enlightenment,” [former German ambassador to the US] Scharioth said. “I think that keeps the E.U. together, the values of the Enlightenment — a free press, religious freedom, minority protection, free elections, democracy, a free judiciary independent of all the other branches of government, tolerance, respect for others. I’m afraid the United States might no longer be speaking out for these values...' Obviously, even before Trump, not everyone in Germany admired the United States the way Scharioth did... But those Germans who do believe in the best of American values are struggling to come to terms with a world in which the United States ... can’t be trusted."


3. We all have a tendency to yearn for a golden past of eternal youth and endless possibility - a past that might never have existed in the first place. Philip Stevens (Financial Times) reflects on the poisonous effects of nostalgia:

"Nostalgia has always had its place in politics... The deep irony about the now mythologised postwar decades, however, is that these were times when citizens looked unambiguously to the future. Technological advance was seen as progress, liberalism promised emancipation. The age of Sputnik, colour television and The Beatles was all about shedding the past. Its confidence flowed from the embrace of modernity... The lesson for mainstream politicians should be evident. The nationalists will always win when the argument is framed by nostalgia. Progressive politics need a message about the future powerful enough to reclaim the voters’ collective gaze. They could make a start by explaining how to ensure our children are better off than their parents."


4. Heatwaves are suffocating the Northern Hemisphere this summer. And despite the goals of the Paris Agreement, CO2-emissions are still rising. Even electricity generation from coal power plants is on the rise again. As the Economist reports in its current leader, we are losing the fight against climate change:

"Western countries grew wealthy on a carbon-heavy diet of industrial development. They must honour their commitment in the Paris agreement to help poorer places both adapt to a warmer Earth and also abate future emissions without sacrificing the growth needed to leave poverty behind... Politicians have an essential role to play in making the case for reform and in ensuring that the most vulnerable do not bear the brunt of the change. Perhaps global warming will help them fire up the collective will. Sadly, the world looks poised to get a lot hotter first."


5. While (on average) we lead longer, healthier, and safer lives than ever before, we struggle to match our expectations with the inherent unpredictability and randomness of existence. The School of Life identifies some of the ills of modernity - such as perfectibility, meritocracy, and anthropocentrism - and proposes a range virtues that can help us counter them:

"The conditions of modernity are in many ways profoundly better than those under which the vast majority of humanity lived for more or less the whole of history. But, along with its manifest benefits, modernity has brought a special range of troubles into our lives which we would be wise to try to unpick and to understand. "


6) How would you feel if someone close to you told you they wanted to die? Nick Cohen reflects on the assisted suicide of his friend and British political journalist Nyta Mann - a woman who died the way she lived: on her own terms:

"Only the (temporarily) healthy, on the right side of the greatest inequality, can still dream the Nietzschean fantasy ["what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger"]. We want stories of redemption. We talk of “struggles” against cancer and “fights” against diseases, as if mere fortitude can overthrow the suffering of the human condition. I shouldn’t need to add that our myths are self-serving. They allow us to imagine that we, at least, will have the guts and determination to recover when sickness strikes. I should recognise these comforting lies for what they are."

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© 2018 Ivo Nicholas Scherrer