As opposed to being uneasy....

Let me start with an apology for an excited utterance I made in an earlier post. "Uneasy" and "opposed" are not synonyms, and I should know better. (And opposition to uneasiness does not equal uneasiness about opposition, either.)

This is all the fault of that blasted Leon Kass, who opposes the public eating of ice cream! He has gotten me into trouble again!

I stand accused (by a commenter named Wild Bill with no blogsite) of starting a "lynch mob" because when I linked to a Glenn Reynolds piece which says Kass is "uneasy" about organ transplantation, I characterized such uneasiness as "opposition" to organ transplantation.

Mea culpa! My apologies to all concerned -- particularly to Stephen Green, who was nice enough to link to me only to get slammed for it by some anally retentive, apparently blogless Kass Klone. Now, I am going to attempt to straighten out this mess (which means I will probably make it worse).

Here, in the interest of fairness, is a full quote of Dr. Kass's apparent position on organ transplantation:

Leon Kass: ....[S]tep-by-step, we walk down a path to whose final destination we may not wish to go.

Ben Wattenberg: I just made up a list here of things that interfere with, or structurally change, the nature of humanity: antibiotics and vaccines and insulin, organ transplants. If somebody said to you thirty years ago, “We’re going to take the heart valve of a pig and put it in a human being,,” would you not have said “oh my God, yuck. I couldn’t believe the idea that you’d really put a pig’s valve in a human heart.” And yet, here we are, and people walk around with it.

Leon Kass: Well, look, repugnances are interesting things. They don’t settle any moral question but they are at least a sign that we may be crossing a kind of boundary about which crossing we should think before we do it. I think that organ transplantation was a kind of boundary. Medicine didn’t ever cut into one person’s body for the sake of some other person’s body.

Ben Wattenberg: Do you oppose that?

Leon Kass: I don’t oppose that. Of course I don’t oppose that. On the whole, this is a great blessing. But to say that it’s a great blessing doesn’t mean that it doesn’t come with some kind of cost and that we’re better off if we’re at least aware of the cost so that we might be able to forestall certain other kinds of things where the cost really outweighs the benefits. The prophetic novel for this whole field, written in 1932, seventy years ago…

Ben Wattenberg: Is Brave New World.

Leon Kass: [Aldous] Huxley’s novel Brave New World. And in this novel, Huxley has foreseen a society that takes all of our humanitarian goals and pushes them to their ultimate realization. Conquest of poverty, of disease, of psychic distress, the elimination of war, the creation of a harmonious society. It’s accomplished by cloning, genetic engineering, scientific education through sleep…sleep education and all kinds of artificial amusements, of a rather trivial sort. And what you’ve got, we’ve eliminated all of the world’s problems only to discover that the price for doing that is that the world is now peopled by creatures of human shape but of very stunted humanity. They don’t read, write, love, govern themselves....

So, Glenn Reynolds was right to define this as "uneasiness" and I am wrong to call it "opposition."

Here is what I said:

Josh Chafetz at OxBlog asks whether this report (that Idi Amin seeks kidney donor) is a sick joke.

It sure sounds like a sick joke to me. For once, in this very limited instance, I have to express agreement with Dr. Leon Kass -- who opposes organ transplantation.

No human organs should go into that guy!

OK, so if I change that to "I have to expresss agreement with Dr. Kass -- who is uneasy with organ transplantation" my point is exactly the same. I don't want human organs going into that cannibal who has already consumed more organs than the most debauched, degenerate sex maniac ever to grace the halls of a gay bathhouse.

Kass is uneasy about new kidneys; I am with him in the limited instance of Idi Amin. I abhor Idi Amin as the epitome of human evil, and I have gone out of my way to condemn him repeatedly.

And this latest post was was supposed to be about Amin, not Kass.

But since I've been dragged back into Kass, I will say this: the man's objections to the (gasp) "assault on mortality itself," should come as good news to insurance companies, who want nothing more than to stop paying for expensive life-prolonging treatments.

For those like me who don't have the time or inclination to read everything Kass has written, the best summary I have seen can be found here.

Regular readers to this blog might realize that I find Leon Kass as tedious as a committee meeting, and if I had my druthers I'd druther not write about him at all. My prim, proper, and paranoid research assistant Justin Case disdains my sloppy approach, and because he is the one largely responsible for forcing me into blogging (boy! do I sound like a passive-aggressive moonbat or what?), he made me blog -- repeatedly -- about the very dull Kass!

But by getting a tad carried away and trying to spice things up (in the process overstating Kass's sentiments on organs), I ran afoul of a pitfall Roger Simon warned about recently:

Writers are in a double-bind (who isn’t?). If they’re not smart-mouthed, no one’s interested, but if they are, they’re likely to put their foot in that not-all-that-smart mouth. Or at least regret what they say. (Or, in extreme Mailer-Hemingway cases, get punched out).

This has happened to me on more than one occasion (not the punch out, however), last night being an extremely minor example (one major one being seated opposite William F. Buckley at a dinner party four days after a vicious slam I wrote of one of his Blackford Oakes thrillers appeared on the front page of the SFChron book review).

From the Classical Values standpoint, this tricky double-bind reminds me of Scylla and Charybdis: get too anal and you can bore people; get too exciting and you crash and burn.

I hope I don't get in trouble for saying this, but I consider blogging a bit like art. Words are shades and colors, and depending on your style, sometimes you throw them on the canvas brutally and spontaneously, whereas in other blogs you meticulously document, research, and even footnote.

In either case, of course, if you believe in such a thing as artistic integrity, you must always adjust the colors when they are incorrect, don't match, or are simply ill-chosen. I will correct or adjust my errors as necessary, but as to my thoughts, politics, and opinions, they're mine, and I would be completely worthless were I to change my mind on something because someone disagreed with me.

There seems to be a school of thought contending that the bigger the writer, the worthier he is. Recently there was a tiff between Rich Hailey (hope I have the name right) and Michael Fumento which degenerated into a yelling contest over who had more readers. This reminded me of an email exchange ("flame war" would be a better description) with a friend in Oxford's graduate program in foreign policy. He cited (and sent me and all twenty seven of the people on his email list) a thoroughly despicable essay -- on patriotism! -- written by the notorious Marxist deconstructionist Howard Zinn. I countered with a piece from Zinn's conservative critic Daniel Flynn, and the following exchange -- abbreviated greatly here -- took place:


Reasonable minds may differ on the definition of patriotism - which is a refuge of many a scoundrel. But Zinn of all people is anything BUT
reasonable. His leftist text, "A People's History of the United States" ought to be a college text on the rhetoric of deconstructionism. I forced myself to read through it, and, while Zinn may consider himself a patriot, if he had his way Americans would be ashamed of themselves, scrap the Constitution, do away with private property, and their country's sovereignty. All in the name, apparently, of "patriotism."

OK, if he so desperately wants to call himself a patriot, then I'll just be against patriotism, and for the Constitution. Oh, yeah, and for freedom too. My freedom. If Zinn wants to take my freedom away in the name of patriotism,
then I guess I'd have to consider him an enemy. Stalin, Mao, Hitler, and Ho
Chi Minh all called themselves patriots too.

Here's a review of Zinn's history. Guess what? it's biased against Zinn! Must have been written by a very unpatriotic person!

Hmmmm.....Can't we build labor camps for guys who dare criticize our finest
patriots like Howard Zinn?


(You can read the long attachment, "Howard Zinn's Biased History,
By Daniel J. Flynn" here.)

My Oxford buddy then replied as follows:


That was a lovely little diatribe, but it reeks of sour grapes.

While Zinn's book holds an amazon sales rank of 330, Flynn's red-baiting
tripe registers a mere 17,285. I guess the American, book-reading public has little use for such dated, McCarthy-era vitriol.

By the way, here's an update on the reconstruction of Iraq as reported in
today's NY Times. I wonder how Halliburton got all the contracts?

The standard which my friend urges upon me is based on an illogical assumption: that the innate utility or truthfulness of a piece of writing (or any other piece of art, for that matter) may be determined by reference to its popularity.

According to, Hillary Clinton ("Living History" ranked 39) and Ann Coulter ("Treason" ranked 21) are more popular than Shakespeare ("Complete Works" ranked 5702). Or, if we really wanna get sour about it, "The Grapes of Wrath" (ranked 819).

Frankly, I am surprised at myself -- being concerned with things like the inherent value of writing or art! It's out of character for me. Flynn versus Zinn as "sour grapes"? That's almost as bad as my own attack the other day on what I saw as blatant bigotry by a bigger and better blogger, one Howard Veit. Can't I just leave well enough alone? At TTLB I am just a small reptile, and history shows what happened when reptiles got too big for their britches:

"Fellow reptiles, I do not hesitate to tell you that we face grave problems. And I do not hesitate to tell you that we have the answer. Size is the answer! Increased size! There are those who say that size is not the answer. There are those who even propose that we pollute our pure reptilian strains with mammalian amalgamations and cross-breeding. And I say to you that if the only way I could survive was by mating with egg-eating rats, then I would choose not to survive. But we will survive. We will increase both in size and in numbers, and we will continue to dominate this planet as we have done for 300 million years. Bigger is better, and biggest is best!" (William Burroughs,1989:54)

No sour grapes, and no holding back. I will continue to say what I think at the risk of being wrong, and I will correct myself as necessary.

Once more, I sincerely apologize to Stephen Green for carelessly mischaracterizing uneasiness as opposition, because I know there are a lot of persnickety critics out there just waiting to pounce like the hyperactive velociraptors they are.

However, I want one last chance to defend my recklessness -- because I think that I may have touched inadvertently on a truth which Kass will never admit. Reflecting on Kass's stated opposition to life extension, his championing of mortality (that means death if I am not mistaken), I don't think it is too much of a stretch to discern a strong, necessarily covert, disapproval of organ transplantation. That we've-gone-down-that-slippery-slope type of talk, at least to my mind, reveals a medieval mindset which would rather not have opened this Pandora's box of horrors like organ transplantation in the first place. But Kass the modern politician, who chairs an important presidential commission, is enough of a realist to know his job and his credibility would be on the line if he gave voice to what he really thinks. Thus, when pressed in interviews he knows enough to concede grudgingly that of course he does not "oppose" organ transplantation. After all, it's fait accompli and we live in the modern world.

But it's a modern world he opposes, and I think that the totality of the Kass ethos is opposed to organ transplantation as a part of that modern world. Even if it cannot for political reasons give voice to direct opposition.

I suppose you can say I am uneasy with Kass.

Isn't that a mealy-mouthed way of saying I am opposed?

UPDATE: Dead issue now. (Amin, that is.) This time it looks like real death. Hope he stays that way. Once again, I find myself in partial agreement with Kass. Mortality can occasionally be good.

UPDATE (04/11/05): It's been over a year and a half (and probably a million words) since the above post, but I have another delectable Kass tidbit to add; his statement that organ transplantation is akin to cannibalism:
Referring to organ transplantation as “simply a noble form of cannibalism” (185), Kass turns in Chapter 6 to argue that there are a series of powerful presumptions that tell against the propriety of organ donation. Since this is so, Kass argues, the existing prohibitions on the sale of human organs for transplantation should be maintained, for to allow such exchanges would be “to forget altogether the impropriety overcome in allowing donation and transplantation in the first place” (195).
Gee.... That would have gone so well with Idi Amin....

And I now see that the alleged "Glenn Reynolds piece" I cited above, not only doesn't exist, but the link goes to a blog about dogs.

I wonder how many other links have gone to the dogs.

It isn't fair.

posted by Eric on 08.16.03 at 01:55 AM


Hi Eric, and thanks for the link. I do have a small quibble though. It's hard to call it a yelling match when only one side was yelling.

About readership anyway.

Take care,

rich hailey   ·  August 16, 2003 2:07 PM

Hi Rich,

Appreciate your remarks, and you are right, of course. This whole Fumento thing really shocks me, as I had greatly respected him and I am amazed by his remarks to you. No matter what anyone's disagreements, personal insults like that are way out of line.

Eric Scheie   ·  August 20, 2003 10:25 PM

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