Dorothy Day Caucus of the American Solidarity Party A Revolution of the Heart
by Marianne Fulop Bovee
Jean-Paul Sartre wrote that because there is no God there is no human nature. Thus it is our responsibility to choose who we will become. The implications of this worldview are currently finding new manifestations in our society. However, in saying there is no human nature, it is not only the individual who ends up deciding who we are: it is also institutions and those in power who will try to decide who we are to become.
Three Market Square, a company in River Falls, Wisconsin, recently had a microchip “party” that resulted in data-filled microchip implants being inserted into the hands of its employees, between the thumb and the forefinger, in a procedure that took place “within seconds.”
The practice of inserting microchips into human bodies is catching on world-wide. It seems to be in line with the rest of our love affair with technology, which has as an unsaid motto: “If we can, we should.” Technology is a good thing when it advances and supports humanity; it is used unethically when it does not serve humanity but works harm, such as with the dropping of an atomic bomb on a civilian population.
At first glance it all seems innocuous enough. Microchips at Three Square Market and other places make the work of employees more efficient: one can enter the building in the morning with a scan. No need to log into the computer: simply enter the computer program with a wave of the hand. No need to take out money or a credit card to buy a snack: purchase it with a wave of the hand.
Amazement at the technology may result in missing a critical point: in the name of efficiency, productivity, and utilitarianism, our humanity is redefined.
In maximizing the greatest good for the greatest number, only measurable values are taken into consideration. And measurable values come down to data. How fast does an employee log into the computer in the morning? Time is money. It takes time to type in a password. Wave a hand and it’s done. How much time is taken up by the employee going to lunch and paying first? Time is money. With a wave of an augmented hand, money is saved. Efficiency is increased, productivity is increased, and profits go up.
Concerns about the possible ramifications of normalizing this technology are dismissed. A GPS is not inserted into the microchip at Three Square Market. Insertion is voluntary. Where is the danger?
However, it doesn’t take much imagination to see where this is headed, and history has shown imagination is necessary to avoid destructive unintentional consequences. For starters, this technology has dangerous ramifications without the GPS. A microchip can contain data of all sorts, used not just for the workplace but for everyday living. Go to the doctor, present your microchip. Go shopping for clothing, present your microchip. Open the car door and start the car, with a wave of the microchip. All identification data will be located on the microchip.
The efficiency of the microchip at work will increase social and business pressure for customers and consumers to use the microchip outside of the office. There is the very real possibility that people who refuse the chip could become socially isolated. Cyberwarfare aimed at whole populations, or simply massive malfunctions, would result in people unable to open their car doors, drive to the doctor, or pay for medicine at the drugstore. Under the guise of freedom it would increase dependency. With ubiquitous use of the microchip, inserted at birth, the potential for control of the individual seems limitless. The possibilities of technologically-induced malevolent behavior utilizing these technologies are the stuff of nightmares. The harm which could be carried out by microchips make present-day computer viruses seem the play-things of children.
Exactly how is our humanity being redefined? From the currently dominant perspective of utilitarianism, especially when wed to capitalism, people are viewed as data to be used in the wheel of efficiency for profit’s sake. We are commodities. We are tools in machines utilized for others’ purposes.
Dog and cats sometimes have chips inserted into their bodies for identification purposes, but that is because dogs and cats cannot communicate. Their nature entails the inability to engage in human speech. Consequently, pet owners assist and care for their pets by inserting a microchip into them so they can be more easily located when lost.
Human beings are not dogs and cats. It is in their nature to be quite capable of stating who they are, pulling out a wallet to pay for goods and logging into a computer. Independent, free behavior is a fundamental component of human flourishing. Yes, it might be more efficient to treat us like dogs and cats, but efficiency is not the ultimate value: utilitarianism is a poor first principle for a child of God.
John Stuart Mill, one of the preeminent proponent of utilitarianism, explains in his Harm Principle that the state should not interfere in the lives of its citizens unless those citizens are harming others. This is problematic for two reasons: first of all, what does it mean to “harm” others if there is no human nature? Does it simply mean to cause more pain than pleasure in another person? Secondly, what does it mean to “interfere” when all manner of action is approved by one’s consent? If the state wants to do something and we consent to it, can it be viewed as interference?
The state is analogous to the company in the case of the microchip implants. If the idea of human nature has been eliminated or is at least amorphous, how can one object to actions against it, such as the inserting of the microchip? If the insertion is taken as a voluntary act, how can it be seen as interference? What does it mean to engage “voluntarily” in an activity that becomes part of a company culture, even a societal norm, with all the accompanying social pressures and threats (and realities) of condemnation and ostracism for those who don’t comply?
It is the theist who believes the human person is more than a random collection of atomic particles, more than a bundle of pleasures and pains. We have an immaterial soul created by an immaterial God, and our natures are set by God.
Actions which belong to those natures should not without good reason be usurped by higher powers even if it serves some other purposes for those powers.
The words of Pope Pius XI in his encyclical Quadragesimo Anno are amplified by St. Pope John Paul II in his encyclical Centesimus Annus: “The principle of subsidiarity must be respected: a community of a higher order should not interfere in the internal life of a community of a lower order, depriving the latter of its functions, but rather should support it in case of need and help to coordinate its activity with the activities of the rest of society, always with a view to the common good.”
The principle of subsidiarity is rightly applied to the affairs of the state and its citizens but in a very real way, it also applies to other communities.
In the case of parents and children, for example, parents would not interfere in the internal life of their children at play, depriving them of their functions, unless such interference was needed in the case of quarrels or other need, and they would only interfere with a view to fostering the common good. If a group of children were engaged in a game of make-believe, would the parents step in and assign each child a role in their play? No, because they are quite capable of doing that, and it belongs to their nature to be able to carry out such tasks. If a group of teenagers were playing baseball, would it belong to adults to interfere and insist on assigning each player his/her role on the field? Should adults interfere with the lives of children for the sake of making their play more efficient, to save time and energy? Such interference would certainly make the task more efficient, but it would not enhance human flourishing.
It belongs to our human nature to be able to carry out functions belonging to it. We are endowed with the natural right to carry out such tasks when we are able to without being usurped by a community of a higher order.
Microchips should not be inserted into our bodies for the sake of efficiency and productivity, even with our consent. There is an issue even more important than consent, and that is human nature. We are not allowed to sell ourselves into slavery; consent is meaningless when the fundamentals of human nature are concerned. Without an appeal to human nature, or any nature for that matter, there are no objective boundaries. Without God, there is no objective reality, no nature at all. Without God, we are reeds in the wind, and mere consent can neither save nor guide us. Keeping God in the picture--and therefore, human nature--will best serve as a guideline in a rudderless world; and ironically enough, maximize the greatest good for the greatest number.
Marianne Fulop Bovee has undergraduate degrees in economics and English and master’s degrees in English and philosophy. Her master’s thesis from Marquette University is titled “Heidegger and the Principle of Contradiction.” She teaches philosophy at a college in Wisconsin.
Tara Ann Thieke