Suzanne Fields

Conservatives are winning the argument. Anybody who watches the Democratic candidates for president can see and hear the donkeys braying, usually at each other, and reacting, not acting. Like it or not, the creative ideas in foreign policy and on the domestic front are coming from the right.

That means that conservatives are updating themselves. By definition, conservative means conserving what works, measured through time against absolute values of right and wrong. That leaves lots of room for debate over what's absolute, which is why conservatives argue with one another as they confront the future together. The debate, though often irritating, sharpens the mind and ultimately public policy.

But there's a unique problem confronting conservatives today who use a map of morality to drive their ideas. You can find it at the intersection of modern politics and modern science. It's called bio-ethics. The hyphenated word covers a multitude of sins and virtues that bump into each other at rapid speed, rendering debate dark and difficult. But help may be close at hand.

Ethics and Public Policy Center, a Washington think tank whose purpose resides in its name, has begot a new quarterly called The New Atlantis: A Journal of Technology and Society. The first issue illuminates some of the potholes, detours and cul-de-sacs that make driving hazardous for conservatives.

The journal takes its name from the fable by Francis Bacon, published in 1627. Bacon argued that science would improve human life, but he hinted that social, moral and political difficulties would confront a society shaped by scientific attempts to seize control of nature.

We've entered a world of high-tech hubris that Francis Bacon couldn't have envisaged, but where the questions he raised accelerate down that slope made slippery by the science and technology that enhances human aspiration while at the same time threatens to dehumanize the culture - or destroy it.

Household robots are harmless enough as vacuum cleaners and may even help an old person change a light bulb, but do we want humanoid robots as "companions" to the elderly? We know that women can sometimes now give birth in their sixth decade with the help of in-vitro fertilization, but is that reason enough for them to do it?

Suzanne Fields

Suzanne Fields is currently working on a book that will revisit John Milton's 'Paradise Lost.'

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