Culture of life in contemporary society

Alejandro Navas García.
department de Comunicación Pública, School de Comunicación, Universidad de Navarra.
Lecture given in Pamplona, 27 November 2001, at the XIII conference de Bioética: "La cultura de la vida".
Published in "Reflexiones Académicas" (Universidad Diego Portales, School de Ciencias de la Comunicación e Información), nº 14, 2002, pp. 141-167.

The sociological perspective

I am asked to provide a sociological perspective on the culture of life in our society. As well as being grateful for the opportunity to take part in an interdisciplinary dialogue such as the one offered by these conference, I thought it appropriate to begin by recalling in an elementary way the most characteristic features of sociological work, so that we can then better understand what this way of studying social reality applied to the phenomenon of life can do.

Sociology is interested in what happens when human beings live together, in society. Based on the assumption that sometimes the whole is more than the sum of its parts, it is considered that social coexistence gives rise to phenomena and processes that cannot be sufficiently explained by the mere personality of the individuals involved. But since this social life is extremely complex, the first thing the sociologist who approaches it with the intention of studying it must do is to delimit, to delimit as precisely as possible the scope of what he or she intends to analyse. Once the phenomenon we are interested in has been determined, we will seek to understand it, to grasp its meaning, since human actors usually give meaning to their behaviour, including that which puts them in relation to other members of society. Understanding these phenomena is no small task, but, in addition, the sociologist also seeks to explain, that is, to find the causes or factors that have influenced the phenomena studied. If this causal explanation is sufficiently capable, it can be articulated in the form of a hypothesis that may later become a theory of general scope. And if we are lucky, such a theory may even have some predictive capacity and allow us to intuit what may happen in the future, although it must be said that this ideal is rarely achieved. As the English politician said, predictions are very difficult, particularly those about the future.

Sociology, as discipline which claims to be scientific, emphasises its empirical character, since it bases its work on observation and experimentation. It is clear that in the so-called social sciences it is very difficult to experiment in order to verify the validity of the hypotheses formulated, so it is necessary to resort above all to the observation of life itself in that great laboratory which is society itself. But this is not always possible either, both because of the breadth and complexity of the phenomena studied and because of the difficulty of gaining access to the protagonists of social action, so the main source of the data that the sociologist handles comes from the interrogation of the actors themselves. This questioning can be direct, adopting various forms that can basically be grouped into two main types: quantitative - surveys that ask about specific variables and are then quantified - and qualitative - in-depth interviews, group for discussion - or indirect, which does not go to the actors themselves, but to what others have said or written about them. This second way of accessing data highlights the fact that sociology is a synthesis discipline , drawing on contributions from the most diverse sciences or fields of study: history, literature, economics, law, etc.

Applying - albeit in a rudimentary way - this methodology, I intend to formulate a few reflections that emerge from the observation of our social reality. To complement this vision, I will ask some qualified witnesses, whom I consider to be representative of the prevailing climate of opinion, to speak.

Current situation in relation to life

The end of the last century, which was also the end of the millennium, is still very close, and in circumstances such as these it is conventional and inevitable to take stock. Thus, in recent months there has been a proliferation of analyses of the current state of our culture, and it is fair to say that almost all of these commentaries have an ambivalent tone. The 20th century seems to have combined the greatest extremes of civilisation and barbarism, in what is perhaps no more than a simple reflection of the human condition, capable of the best and the worst. The West has achieved levels of economic development and welfare never before seen in human history - a decrease in infant mortality, widespread health attendance , longer life expectancy and B increased quality of life - together with achievements such as scientific and technological progress, universal - and largely free - education, the spread of political democracy, human rights, recognition of freedom and pluralism, appreciation of human dignity, improvement in the situation of women, etc. But the items to be put on the debit side are no less imposing: world wars, genocides, ethnic cleansing, holocaust, Gulag archipelago, atomic bomb, chemical and biological weapons, torture, manipulation, totalitarianism, terrorism, mass abortion and - probably soon - euthanasia, etc.

Faced with the spectacle of so much unleashed violence, the man in the street and, with him, the experts ask themselves some questions: Is violence something genetic, which is necessarily in our nature, or rather something learned, acquired through the process of socialisation or social interaction? Are we more or less violent today than in the past? Are human life and dignity more respected today than in the past? There is certainly no clear and easy answer to these questions. In any case, the contrasts between the achievements of civilisation and the aberrations of barbarism are particularly stark, which may explain, at least in part, the underlying unease that pervades us. In the face of the marvellous achievements that the scientific and technological development has brought us, we could exult with satisfaction and pride, but we are not entirely satisfied. There is an awareness that some obstacles, perhaps not entirely visible, hinder the functioning of the marvellous machinery of our modern culture, and this even before the fateful 11 September. This machinery, which is supposed to provide us with a happy life, is creaking in more than one way, despite the lubricant that the social engineers in the service of the welfare state are responsible for administering to it. I will try to show below some of the roots which, as I see it, explain this situation.

Cultural roots that explain the fate of life in today's society

In order to understand the way our society treats life, it is worth mentioning some of the most characteristic features of contemporary Western culture.

Modern man, supported by the extraordinary progress of science and technology, considers himself emancipated from the secular shackles that for millennia have even stifled the existence of societies and people. Freedom is now understood as emancipation, as breaking with the most diverse taboos. It is permissible, even desirable, to try everything, to go down new paths in search of different experiences. The values of the past no longer deserve respect. In general, everything that is traditional becomes suspect, it is necessary to innovate, to be original. Man no longer accepts outside tutelage, be it from tradition, nature or religion. What is proper to this new, adult and emancipated man is to accept no rules other than those he imposes on himself; if it makes sense to accept limitations, something that will not take long to be questioned. He is finally in a position to set himself up as the sovereign of his own existence. Prometheus and Faust can congratulate themselves, for their dreams are about to come true.

Progress, necessary and unlimited, thus becomes the great myth of modernity. In a way, it now occupies the place that traditionally corresponded to the good. Thus, the qualifiers 'progressive' and 'good' end up being identified. And in a correlative way, reactionary is evil at all, without palliatives. Nothing can stop this progress, the subject of which is ultimately written request the whole of humanity. "The history of the human race as a whole may be regarded as the execution of a hidden plan of nature, in order to bring about an internally perfect and, for this purpose, externally perfect constitution of the state; that is the only state in which nature can fully develop its dispositions", Kant declares in a tone as solemn as it is naïve. The 'cunning of reason' takes the place of God in the government of the world. Tocqueville writes some 50 years later, and as a good connoisseur of the ins and outs of politics, he is less naive than Kant, but in the prologue of 'Democracy in America' he also refers to that great democratic revolution that seems to extend beyond any resistance: "The development gradual equality of conditions constitutes, then, a providential fact, with its main characteristics: it is universal, it is lasting, it always escapes human power, and all events, as well as all men, serve its purpose development... This whole book has been written under a kind of religious terror, a feeling which arose in the author's mind at the sight of this irresistible revolution which for so many centuries has been marching over all obstacles, and which even today we see advancing among the ruins to which it gives rise".

The engine of progress is science, which pursues a knowledge goal of the laws that govern the functioning of physical reality. Classical and medieval man lived in a world of which he formed part as just another natural being, although he was endowed with understanding and will, with 'logos', which helped him to know this reality and to stand out from it. He was a microcosm, a compendium of all the forms of being present in reality, and, by divine design, king of creation, which was subject to his rule. It is therefore not surprising that one of Adam's first tasks in Paradise was to name the animals. Naming implies dominion, but also kinship, familiarity with that which we name.

This world, to which man feels related despite transcending it in a certain way, is not hermetic, but allows itself to be known. Man is its master, but in a way reality rules: it is the measure or criterion of truth and goodness. Truth consists in the adequacy to reality, and behaving ethically means doing justice to reality, respecting it and treating it as it deserves. The ideal of a full, successful life consists in the contemplation of the order of the world and then of the divine essence itself.

This harmonious relationship between man and the world fell apart at the beginning of modernity. The division of reality into two distinct and heterogeneous realms - think, for example, of Descartes' 'res cogitans' and 'res extensa' - between which there is no natural mediation - Descartes, who is still a Christian, will solve the problem by turning to God - will radically change our attitude to nature. The modern man is no longer in the mood for contemplation. The new programme is clearly formulated in Bacon's 'Novum Organon', undoubtedly one of the programmatic texts of scientific modernity: "To dissect nature... to overcome it by action in order to establish the Kingdom of Man... We can do as much as we know". And Hobbes, another of the champions of modernity, will say that to know something is "to know what we can do with it when we have it in our power".

Modern science can only emerge in a Christian humus, for it is precisely Christianity that desacralises nature, which thus ceases to be something divine or full of gods, and is reduced to the status of a mere creature. If it is no longer to be revered, it is possible to observe and investigate it without limitations. It is not surprising then that the Franciscan friars of Oxford or Paris were the pioneers of experimental science in the modern sense, for their religious charisma made them particularly sensitive to everything that had to do with nature. And the great scientists who inaugurated the classical stage of modern science - Descartes, Galileo, Kepler, Newton - were profoundly Christian and believed they could read God's will written in the book of nature through the unequivocal language of mathematics. The next stages of this journey are well known: deism, agnosticism, atheism and even anti-theism.

The establishment of the kingdom of man requires the elimination of God, a dangerous competitor for sovereignty, and after the deism that characterises the 18th century, Haeckel can solemnly proclaim, as a typical representative of the positivist 19th century, that "the world must bear in mind that the most important thing of the century is this: there is no supernatural". XIXth century, that "the world must bear in mind that the most important finding of the century is this: there is no such thing as the supernatural". And Swinburne declared enthusiastically in 1871: "Glory to man in the highest! For man is the lord of all things".

After the crisis of fundamentals that particularly affected physics and mathematics in the first third of the 20th century, the sciences became more modest in their cognitive pretensions. Bohr expresses the new state of opinion by stating, for example, that "physics does not find out what nature is, but limits itself to dealing with what can be said about nature". Reality seems to impose insurmountable limits on its exact knowledge and goal, as classical physics intended, but this does not prevent the spectacular development of research aimed at the technological mastery of nature. It is above all the practical application of the new knowledge that is of interest, which brings science and technology to the heart of economics and politics. The issues of concern to scientists now almost always have far-reaching economic and political implications. The investment required to carry out the research is enormous, but the profits to be made from the commercial exploitation of these discoveries are even greater: there is business to be done. Politics is feeling overwhelmed, and in an attempt not to lose ground in the face of the course of events, it is forced to surrender to the experts. award As the Nobel laureate in chemistry, Richard Ernst, recently declared, "science has a responsibility to look to the future and tell society what to do".

The primacy of economics, characteristic of our times, goes hand in hand with the interests of scientists and technicians to overcome the resistance that some governments, still anchored in a traditional vision of man and the common good, are timidly trying to put up. It would be considered unacceptable for a timorous government to hinder such promising developments. In a globalised world such as ours, such an obstructionist policy would only force laboratories and companies to emigrate. It is estimated that the turnover in the biotechnology sector will reach 25 billion dollars in 2001 in the United States - where there are some 1,500 companies dedicated to this activity - and some 15 billion in the rest of the world. And this has only just begun. Maryland-based Human Genome Sciences (HGS) is one of the leading companies in this sector. Its aggressive policy is appropriately rewarded by analysts and the public, which has made it one of the stars of the stock market. During the 'Bio 2001' fair, organised by the Biotechnology Industry Organization (to which almost 1,000 companies and research centres from 33 countries belong) and held last June in San Diego with the presence of 14,000 participants - companies, laboratories, universities, etc. - Jim Davis, Vice-President of HGS, clearly stated his forecasts for the immediate future: "We want everything, all the genes and all their variations, all the proteins and all their variations, all the functions, all the possible applications, and this for the world". It is revealing of the way business works that each of its research teams has a patent attorney associated with it, who is responsible for filing the relevant applications as soon as something worthy of commercial exploitation is discovered.

Developments are coming thick and fast: in vitro fertilisation, genetic engineering, medical advances such as pre-implantation diagnosis, cloning, life extension, and so on. And the alliance of disciplines that have hitherto worked separately is opening up promising - or terrifying, depending on how you look at it. To listen to the new prophets of nanotechnology, computer science, robotics or neuroscience would strike a sensible person with both fear and amazement. Watson, who together with Crick discovered the helical structure of DNA - which won them the Nobel Prize award in 1962 - said a few months ago that he considered it an ethical imperative not to leave the future of mankind in God's hands. The testimonies could be multiplied, but in order not to leave the distinguished Nobel club, I will give the floor to one of its most conspicuous representatives, Harold Varmus, who won the Nobel Prize for Medicine in 1989 for his research on oncogenes, headed the US National Institute of Health for six years and currently directs the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York, one of the most prestigious centres for cancer research and treatment: "The ethical questions raised by the use of human embryos have already been resolved. Very few Americans are now thinking about this issue. There is now a trend towards increasing acceptance of these new developments. When people see the tiny speck of leftover cells from assisted fertilisation, which, like thousands of embryos a year, is destined to end up in the dustbin, they will forget about the problem... I consider it a moral obligation to use human embryos for research.

With each new finding or application, the same process is repeated on the part of public opinion: horrified rejection, rejection without horror - the situation begins to 'normalise' -, recognition of the importance of the issue - the prophets of this new world are experts in handling the mechanisms that shape public opinion -, curiosity and interest in the issue - which deserves to be studied in depth -, acceptance for some exceptional and rigorously determined cases, de facto generalisation, legalisation, peaceful acceptance. Man sample thus has a B capacity to get used to and accept the most apparently unusual or aberrant behaviour, as long as it is repeated with the necessary frequency.

Although it may seem unstoppable, this process is not a mere triumphal procession, and many voices are being raised to denounce its inhuman nature and to point out that not everything that can be done should be done, from agreement with the demands of a natural ethic, which postulates respect for reality as one of its fundamental principles. Here we are not only dealing with representatives of traditional religions in general and Christianity in particular - one must think of John Paul II and his tireless crusade for a culture of life to counteract the growing empire of the culture of death. There is no shortage of testimonies from prominent members of the scientific community itself, who have retained a modicum of lucidity, allowing them to see the evils caused by those genies that they have so happily let out of the bottle and would now like, with a mixture of disappointment and nostalgia, to bring back into submission, in an endeavour that is as commendable as it is impossible. For example, there is the venerable Erwin Chargaff, one of the fathers of genetic research, who, faced with the evolution of his discipline and from the vantage point of his 96 years, can only formulate, bewildered, a question: "Why?" In an interview last June, he said that "we live in a terrible time, just because it is necessary to talk about these things. Perhaps I have become a reactionary, but I have long thought that molecular biology has gone off the rails and is doing things for which it cannot be held responsible. Science today is committing real crimes... Natural science has become part of the market economy". Ian Vilmut, the author of the cloning of Dolly the sheep, has also taken on the role of the repentant sorcerer's apprentice and never tires of drawing the public's attention to the dangers of cloning. Rudolf Jaenisch, one of the founders of transgenetics, declared around the same time as Chargaff that he was now devoting himself to rereading A. Huxley's Brave New World and G. Orwell's 1984. "It's incredible what these two authors were able to intuit. It is astonishing to see how real so many of their predictions have become," he concluded, rather frightened.

But today, it seems that no one is able to stop the advance of the logic of finding and its application, which means that everything that is conceived in theory and can be developed in practice must be experimented with and, if necessary, exploited and generalised. Andrew Grove, head of Intel, puts it bluntly: "I have a rule of thumb borne out by more than 30 years in high technology. It's very simple: what can be done, will be done. Just as with natural force, it is impossible to stop technology. It finds a way to make its way regardless of the obstacles people put in its way". But legal philosopher Reinhard Merkel goes even further: "We no longer limit ourselves to asking what is technically feasible. Now we are asking ourselves what we want, what we wish for. And this is our decision alone. Technology opens up possibilities for us, but it does not tell us which paths to take. If the ends are unclear and the means become increasingly powerful and even autonomous, the future becomes risky and threatening. Ray Kurzweil, one of today's foremost cognitive scientists, assumes that in the near future, as the computational, genetic and nanotechnical revolutions come together, we will be able to connect human brains and computers - something he considers "sensible, desirable and inevitable" - producing hybrids that may be somewhat repulsive to our current aesthetic canons, but far more capable. There has already been, for example, the implantation of a transmitter in the brain of a quadriplegic, who has a mouse on a computer screen. To reassure the more fainthearted spirits - Kurzweil's tone may be enlightened, but it is also conciliatory - he reminds us that these intelligences will have been derived from man's biological intelligence, i.e. human thought, which is then reflected in our technologies. If we had an idea of the end of this evolution, or at least of what is floating around like goal in the minds of its promoters, we could pass judgement, approving or condemning. But the worst of these technological delusions are to be found in the words with which Kurzweil ends his presentation: "I believe that we have the ability to shape the destiny of agreement with our values, as soon as we can get agreement on the content of those values". Goethe wrote that when the goal is not clear, the path becomes much longer, even erratic. The situation becomes even worse if, once we have lost our way and become agitated as a result, we press the accelerator pedal to the metal to increase speed. Given the spectacle that scientists, businessmen and politicians are offering us with their delusional plans, I fear that in the coming decades our society is liable to take a considerable tumble before it comes to its senses.

The control of death

We have seen in broad outline how the modern world has embarked on a risky adventure, sparing no means and no effort, to try to control everything related to the origin of life and the determination of its characteristics. The logic of the situation, which is to a large extent the logic of power - which always tends to expand - demanded that attention should soon be turned to death as well. Death is undoubtedly the supreme power, to which all are subject, but if it is not feasible - at least from entrance- to completely escape its hegemony, it is possible to take some steps to loosen its grip on us.

On the one hand, he tries to gain time and prolong his life, to delay as long as possible the annoying appearance before his court. Cheerful and enterprising as he usually is, the modern man throws himself into this task with enthusiasm and optimism. As a reflection of this state of mind, I will quote Tom Kirkwood, who was the first British Gerontologist Full Professor and is currently working at the National Institute for Medical Research in London. It is significant that he was the keynote speaker at this year's prestigious Reith Lectures, which he devoted to the prospects offered by geriatrics. The core of his message, full of optimism, is quite simple: we are not programmed for death, but for survival. From entrance, we will aim to reach a life expectancy of around 120 years, although this is only the first step. There will be so much time available, that filling it may be a real problem, so Kirkwood insists on the need to plan and prepare adequately for the prolonged future that awaits us around the corner. This warning is not superfluous; Woody Allen recently addressed an open letter to Craig Venter, the President of Celera, in which he told him that he did not want to become immortal through his works or in the hearts of his compatriots, but that he would like to continue living simply in his apartment as he has been doing so far. I don't know if this prospect would be appealing. In view of the recent release of his latest film, it is worth remembering that he has stated on more than one occasion that he regularly makes one film a year because otherwise he would not know how to spend his time. Is it desirable, both for him and for the audience, that we could attend in due time for the release of his film issue cien? Kirkwood is right when he worries about how to fill with content all those years we are supposed to have available?

On the other hand, and in only apparent contradiction to the previous one, the lives of those people who meet - or fail to meet, depending on how you look at it - certain conditions are shortened. It is not surprising that euthanasia should appear on the scene at this stage of the drama. In my opinion, there are several circumstances that explain both the current discussion surrounding its legalisation and its increasing application in practice.

Earlier I alluded to the primacy of the economic, which is characteristic of our current society. In this sense, the undeniable crisis of the welfare state - the overburdened public coffers can no longer cope with so many benefits, which nobody wants to give up - and some consequences of the lengthening of life expectancy and the consequent demographic ageing that modern societies are experiencing (a few days ago it was made public that Japan is now the first country in the world in which the over-65s outnumber the under-15s). There is a lack of young people to support the elderly, and the latter, although they enjoy a prolonged old age, end up falling ill and suffering from a variety of ailments that require costly treatment - surgery, hospitalisation, medication, check-ups, etc. -. If we were to shorten this final stretch of their lives, we would make considerable savings, both in terms of money and work, as it is well known that the elderly in the terminal phase often have a lot to do. Any cost-cutting policy can count in advance on the approval of a society in which economy is the supreme law, and 'rationalisation' one of its main imperatives.

I mentioned earlier that our scientific and progressive culture believes it can do without God: the horizon loses its transcendent, supernatural dimension and is limited to the mundane. If eternal salvation is no longer of interest, what now demands our attention is health. Its definition, as formulated by the WHO, is unequivocal: complete physical, mental and social well-being. It is understandable that achieving it becomes a demanding life programme. As the level of wealth and well-being we have achieved is very high, there is a lot of time and energy available to devote to the care and repair of the body. This is the world of fitness, dieting, gym, lifting, sunbathing, etc. It is important to feel good, to feel good, and a whole industry emerges to offer the corresponding services. And if in the past this subject of concern seemed to be a women's thing, men have quickly made up for lost time and are now fully integrated into the dynamic. A glance at any issue of a magazine such as 'Men's Health' - 23 editions worldwide, with a total circulation of 3.2 million copies - is enough to see the dimensions of this phenomenon. Hedonism almost never appears alone, but often establishes a self-interested alliance with violence and cruelty, as we knew even before the Marquis de Sade took it upon himself to remind us. If the entire horizon of desire or expectation is reduced to the achievement of maximum pleasure, others will be seen as dangerous competitors for the enjoyment of scarce pleasures, for contrary to what Marcuse thought, this is not Jauja, so there is no room for universal satisfaction. The sexual revolution with its entourage of promises of happiness for all must be renounced, or at least postponed immediately, because the economic boom and optimism of the sixties, which heralded an imminent society of abundance, are not likely to reappear in the short term. The dynamic of pleasure-seeking at all costs has, moreover, some perverse features, as the mere reiteration tends to tire us out. Simply maintaining - not increasing, we are not greedy - the Degree of enjoyment requires increasing the dose, and in this process we soon find insurmountable physical limits. It becomes inevitable, therefore, to look for new forms of pleasure, and it will not be long before we discover that suffering - usually alien - can be a source of exciting sensations. Nietzsche already warned that contemplating the suffering of others causes great pleasure, but that it is even more pleasurable to make others suffer. Applying a purely egoistic logic, there is no reason to respect anyone. And the introduction of some clause that leads to limiting pleasure - for example, by prohibiting those kinds of pleasure that require harming others - would, if applied rigorously to the end, lead to the nullification of the hedonistic approach itself.

Sickness and pain, suffering and death are in this context the embodiment of evil, which should not exist at all. It will even be considered sample bad taste or bad manners to talk about them. Death tends to disappear from social life, it becomes invisible. Nowadays, people rarely die at home, surrounded by their loved ones. Our children and young people hardly have contact with it, they have not seen a dead person up close. Suffering is not tolerated and when, despite the remarkable advances in palliative medicine, it cannot be eliminated, the extreme solution is to eliminate the sufferer himself. The dog is dead, the rabies is gone, as the saying goes.

The classics conceived of human existence as a task entrusted to us, either by nature - Pindar's "become what you are" still rings in our ears - or by God. Life was perceived as a gift, which it was up to us to make fruitful. Success was not assured in advance, hence the dramatic character of the human condition: a misuse of freedom could lead us to disaster, to the rejection of God and to the adherence to some finite, created thing, therefore incapable of fulfilling our longing for plenitude. The uncertainty about the time available to carry out the task gave a particular thrill to the adventure of living.

The modern, on the other hand, wants to become the sole master of his life and destiny. If history itself takes an unsatisfactory, disappointing course, one possible reaction is to put an end to it. As Wittgenstein saw very well, "if suicide is approved, then everything is permitted". When life is considered a good that its owner can dispose of at will and, at the same time, society no longer reproves the practice of suicide, the door is wide open to the generalisation of euthanasia, which in its first phase will be practised as assisted suicide. What is initially considered a right - of incurable or terminally ill patients - will soon become a duty - of families, health personnel and authorities - which will be imposed, even against their will, on those who, although they are in the situations defined by law, do not have the capacity or the will to ask for it.

When a society ceases to protect life, in all its stages, it becomes brutalised and corrupt. In the case of suicide, as Kant has already pointed out, the subject himself is degraded by considering himself as a mere means. For Kant, what is proper to human dignity lies in the fact that man is never seen, both by himself and by others, as a mere instrument, but always as an end - in himself and for himself. For the classics, human dignity appears inseparably linked to natural spontaneity. When those who should be especially predisposed to protection and care - family, doctors, rulers - are precisely those who have the elderly or the sick killed - and the logic of the situation again demands that the circle of candidates be inexorably widened: the mentally ill, the young, etc. - social life takes on a sinister and disturbing character. To put it in Kantian terms, there is a relapse from the state of civilisation to the state of nature. It is the law of the jungle, i.e. the law of the strongest, for it is well known that when there is no law, the strongest prevails. The rule of law, of which we are justifiably so proud, seemed to have left behind this primitive way of solving the problem of social order, but it is clear that we can always go back to past situations that have apparently been overcome. After the rule of law it is the same as before it. We are certainly more refined than our ancestors, but no less brutal. As soon as you dig a little beneath this façade of civilisation and good manners, you can see a background of unsuspected cruelty.

"Where is your brother?", Yahweh asks Cain after he has committed his crime. We are responsible for each other, as the human condition demands. Robert Spaemann puts it graphically when he says that the human person - and, I might add, the divine person as well - cannot exist in the singular. For centuries, even millennia, the fact of being born or dying was experienced as something natural, that is to say, it obeyed a spontaneous dynamic, alien to human intervention. With the massive practice of birth control, abortion, assisted fertilisation - to which we may soon have to add cloning and eugenics, made possible by the eventual developments in genetic engineering - and with the foreseeable spread of euthanasia, birth and death will be subject to a large extent to human control. Society will then increasingly resemble those distinguished clubs or societies, where current members co-opt candidates who meet the established conditions. Those who do not make the grade would never be born, and those who fail to make the grade for whatever reason - for we are still some way from achieving eternal youth - would be liquidated - painlessly, but also mercilessly. The tendency of our modern culture to convert what was previously considered to be something goal, independent of man and beyond the reach of his action, into something subjective, something subject to his power and the object of a decision or choice, is thus exacerbated. Heinrich Böll, little suspected of acting as a puppet under Vatican control, declared that he would a thousand times prefer to live in the worst Christian world than in the best pagan world, because in the Christian world there would be room for those who would have no place in the pagan world: the crippled, the sick, the elderly and the weak in general. And more than room, they would find love, whereas in the pagan or atheistic world they would be considered useless and worthless. In a way, the same intuition beats in Horkheimer's famous words - especially relevant if one takes into account his Marxist affiliation - when he recognised that, ultimately written request, the decisive argument against murder is a religious one subject . As is well known, Australia is, together with the Netherlands, one of the pioneer countries in the application of euthanasia, which attracts the interest of all subject scholars. The University of Newcastle, according to a paper published in the 'Medical Journal of Australia', has interviewed 683 doctors to find out their opinions and what they are doing in this respect. The data are worrying, with 36% saying they have given terminally ill patients heavy doses of drugs with the intention of hastening their death and alleviating suffering. More than half of these doctors - 20 per cent of those interviewed - admit that patients had not order had their death hastened. The authors of the study found that the doctor's religion is a determining factor in whether euthanasia is practised or rejected: Catholics are much less in favour of euthanasia.

The art of distinction

Every culture is complex - it results from an articulation of technologies, rules and symbols - and systematic, at least in tendency. Neither individuals nor peoples can easily live in contradiction or incoherence. Nor, of course, is there ever perfect coherence or agreement, either between the supreme principles and the whole set of secondary values, models, norms and standards, or between the latter and the behaviour of the members of the collective in question. A certain tension between the ought to be and the to be seems connatural to human conduct. And every society is constantly faced with the task of adapting norms to changing historical circumstances. But if it is connatural for man to tend towards coherence, it seems to me that this trait characterises in a particular way the modern way of thinking, possibly under the influence of science, systematic and rigorous knowledge.

If this is so, the modern is faced with the delicate but unavoidable task of trying to overcome the cultural schizophrenia that results from the exaltation of the protection of life in principle and its trampling in practice. The first Enlightenment writers lashed out with all their might against as many manifestations of hypocrisy as it was possible to register in the life of the Ancien Régime. Now we were going to be authentic, sincere, clear. But if we do not want to fall into pure cynicism, and it seems that we have not yet reached this point, we will have to make delicate balances to justify these flagrant contradictions between what is proclaimed and what is done in practice. It is doubtful that this business can succeed, but at least an attempt is being made to save face, if only for a while. I will now quickly examine some of the arguments most commonly used in this attempt to soothe faint-hearted consciences, where this need is perceived as a problem to be solved, because in some cases this concern is not even raised, thus giving rise to an attitude that effectively borders on cynicism. (Craig Venter, whom I have already quoted above, stated bluntly last May, in an address to a medical student graduation celebration, speech : "Revolutions are not made by sheep. This is someone who does not want to waste too much time on ethical debates about what can and cannot be done).

Reconciling such disparate and even contradictory objectives requires a particular subtlety in the application of the art of distinction. What, for a direct, 'prima facie' consideration, guided by the common sense of the man in the street, seems an insoluble dilemma, becomes perfectly reconcilable once the question has been placed in the hands of experts - we have already seen that knowledge is power - masters in the differentiation of aspects or nuances.

A first strategy is simply to deny the existence of the problem: there is no contradiction or conflict of interests between the biotechnology industry and the demands of religion or simple humanism. In any case, there are intellectuals who are fond of stirring up and stirring up controversy, because that is what they do for a living, and when there is no crisis that calls for their diagnoses and proposals for solutions, they will have to invent one to defend their own prominence. This is the position of Carl B. Feldbaum, President of the Bio, as I explained to him at speech at the opening of the San Diego fair to which I referred above. The core of his message could not be more reassuring: believers of all religious denominations should be receptive to the new possibilities opened up by biotechnological progress, because, after all, all - religions and industry - are pursuing the same thing: to help and heal mankind. "Science is a method, not a faith, so the two need not be mutually exclusive. Feldbaum is surprised that misunderstandings arise: "We would like to say to humanity: wait and see what we have for you. We are going to improve your life, you can be grateful to us. But not all people are grateful to us. Many are suspicious, some are even angry. But this is not a replay of the stereotypical conflict between scientists and enemies of machines, but a lack of trust and communication between our industry and people of goodwill, who are in part deeply believers". Since all parties involved seem to have the best will - everyone is good - one must trust that a sincere dialogue will necessarily lead to agreement - even if one has not read Habermas, we might add. This is how Feldbaum ends his speech: "Ladies and gentlemen, I hope that we will continue this dialogue here and that it will never be interrupted" (we see here another typically modern idea at work, a central element of the evolutionary paradigm: everything is possible if there is enough time).

But as we may not all share Mr Feldbaum's delightful naivety - I stand by his words and rule out other mischievous hypotheses - it is necessary to press other argumentative registers to try to convince the reluctant. One possibility that immediately leaps to mind, very congruent with the positivism inherent in science itself, is to bow to the inexorability of scientific and technological developments: science as a destiny - even a curse - from which it is impossible to escape. It is worth recalling here the epitaph that the great mathematician Hilbert, witness and protagonist of the convulsions that shook physics and mathematics at the beginning of the 20th century, had placed on his tomb: "We are obliged to know and we will know". There seems to be no escape for us.

This argument admits a political variant: if we don't do it, others will. And those others - "they" - are unscrupulous people, whom we cannot trust: unscrupulous communists, fundamentalists of various stripes, heartless capitalists, and so on. If it is "we", sensible and reasonable people, who are the custodians of these techniques, there is a guarantee that they will be used for the benefit of all mankind. Undoubtedly, there are inevitable risks in handling these technologies, but our security systems are the most reliable in the world, so we can sleep easy. "With us you can work with human foetuses without any problems"; "Russian genetic research knows no limits"; "there is no money, but everything is allowed": with these simple slogans Russian scientists try to attract the interest of foreign investors. "Russian science is completely neglected, nobody seriously cares about it. This sentence by biologist and award Nobel laureate Ilja Metschnikow, framed in a simple picture, presides over the office of geneticist Sergej Inge-Wetschtomow in St. Petersburg, and seems to adequately describe the current situation, with the probable exception of physics in the service of military interests. Indeed, compared to the prospects opened up by the lack of control of scientific research conducted under conditions such as those in Russia, the picture Feldbaum paints is almost idyllic.

If the development of the life sciences has the character of an unappealable destiny, then there is no point in arguing, unless you simply want to waste your time. This is the position of André Rosenthal, researcher in genetics and General Manager of the Schering subsidiary 'Metagen-Society for Genetic Research': "We have to decide whether we want a scholastic discussion or new therapeutic possibilities," he says with regard to pre-implantation diagnostics and therapeutic cloning. Not everyone can combine the dual status of scientist and business with such forcefulness.

In other cases, it is precisely ignorance that is invoked to justify more than dubious behaviour. I quoted above H. Varmus, who simply wants to put an end to the ethical discussion surrounding the use of human embryos for research. I have already said above that I refuse to think badly, but it is difficult to accept that a scientist of his stature can calmly state that "the discussion on human dignity and respect for life has already produced too much confusion. In the meantime, we don't even know what an embryo is". Asked about his definition of life, Varmus replies: "There are many definitions. There is no doubt that a cell lives, expresses life. But how we define organisms, that's another question". The interviewer interjects: "According to this, you don't see a man in the fertilised egg. Answer: "That's right". Question: "When does the man come out of the egg?" Answer: "Everyone judges it differently. There can be no right answer. After examining various possibilities - fertilisation, nesting - Varmus is inclined to accept the presence of a human being when the embryo already has nerve cells, circulatory system and is able to survive outside the womb. "I see this process of development as a gradual one. Full individuality comes sometime after birth. But all this does not mean that an embryo can simply be sacrificed because it has reached a certain stage". This final clause restores a touch of humanity to his previous statement, but it is certainly not justified from a logical point of view (although we are willing to forgive Degree lapses in logic, if they contribute to saving human lives). If we go back to what is written, without searching for other intentions, we have to recognise that Varmus' ethical pronouncement - so to speak - becomes somewhat more understandable when he refers to the close connection of research with industry and commerce at another point in the interview. "Here at Sloan-Kettering, it's hard to find science without commercial application," he says. Once again we come up against the hegemony of economic reason; keeping institutions like this going - and, incidentally, making some money, for courtesy does not take away from bravery and scientists are also human - may require sacrificing a certain number of human embryos on the altar of commercial profitability, but people like Varmus are sample willing to officiate as high priest without major qualms. At the risk of sounding repetitive, I insist on the fabulous business figures in this field. It is not surprising that when faced with sums running into billions, in whatever currency we want to use, even the most apparently firm principles falter hopelessly. What will not happen when, as is so often the case, there are not even solid principles, but only accommodating opportunism. And this phenomenon is not exclusively American. As is well known, German Chancellor Schröder has recently appointed a National Ethics committee , officially intended to advise the federal government in determining life-related policies, but in fact called upon to provide an alibi to legitimise the Chancellor's claim to revise the existing restrictive German legislation and replace it with a more 'modern' one. The opportunistic German chancellor does not even have a certain vision of the issue he would seek to impose; as he has expressly pointed out, his concern is primarily economic: he fears that harsh legislation will scare companies and laboratories away to more permissive countries. A few months ago, the spokesman of the opposition Christian Democrat parliamentary group addressed a question to the executive on the links of the members of this committee with companies in the sector, whether as owners, employees or advisors: the question has remained unanswered, at least so far.

The profit motive knows no bounds, the biotechnology sector is no different from any other, so everything seems little to these voracious men of business. The United States is the country leading the way, as is well known, but others, such as the United Kingdom, Australia and Singapore, have embarked on this scientific and economic adventure with even fewer qualms. The British Parliament approved therapeutic cloning at the end of last year, and since then the conditions for research in this field have only improved, which has helped to consolidate Britain's leading position in this field in Europe. Industry representatives note with satisfaction that there was hardly any opposition in British society to the authorisation of therapeutic cloning, which is interpreted as another sample of traditional Anglo-Saxon pragmatism, but they regret that there are protests against the testing of new medicines on animals and against the cultivation of genetically modified plants for human consumption (the tabloid press, also typical of the country, spoke of "Frankenstein food"). Disinterest in the fate of humans, concern for the fate of plants and animals: times of confusion. These days, with the film of the first Harry Potter novel just released, and the first of the Lord of the Rings trilogy about to be released, public opinion is preoccupied with the epic narrative, which makes it timely to quote Tolkien. After unexpectedly encountering what remains of the motley Ring community, and once initial mistrust has given way to friendly dialogue, Éomer exclaims in admiration: "It's hard to be sure of anything among so many wonders. Everything in this world has a strange air about it. Elves and dwarves roam our lands together, and there are people who speak to the Lady of the Forest and live on, and the Sword returns to a war that was interrupted many years ago, before our fathers' fathers rode in the Mark. How do we find the straight path in such an age?

-As ever," said Aragorn. -Evil and good have not changed since yesterday, nor have they one meaning for Elves and Dwarves and another for Men. It is for Man to discern between them, both in the Golden Wood and in his own house.

It is understandable that the industry is going its own way, which is to maximise profit, from agreement with a purely economic logic. On the other hand, it is more difficult to understand position the reasons that have led the Church of Scotland, after more than 30 years of reflection and debate on the issue - it should not be forgotten that the South of Scotland is one of the most active centres of research activity in the sector; Dolly the sheep was not created there by chance - to "adopt its own path within the Christian world" and to give the approval to therapeutic cloning and related developments.

And since we have already approached the Christian world, it is pertinent to point out, prolonging Horkheimer's quotation, that the notion of human dignity has emerged and consolidated in a metaphysical and Christian cultural context. It is good that man is considered not only as an end for himself, but also as an end in himself, as Kant claims. But in the end, his absolute status is only sustainable if it comes from an original connection with the Absolute, which will justify - as the Western tradition has until recently recognised - attributing a sacred character to this human dignity. In the end we are faced with man as the image of God and with the mystery of divine filiation.

Giving free rein to the scientific-technological manipulation of the human organism will then require breaking the moorings with this religious vision of man, and the approaches that have expressly proposed this goal have abounded in recent years. By way of a representative example, and because of the notoriety he has achieved in public opinion, I cite the biologist Richard Dawkins. "We are machines made to survive, robots blindly programmed to conserve those selfish little molecules that are generally known as genes". So begins his book The Selfish Gene, published in 1976, which immediately became a worldwide bestseller.

But taking off the mask and speaking out in order to shake off obsolete humanist prejudices, in the style of Dawkins, is not Exempt of complications, as one risks getting involved in endless debates or having to endure annoying interpellations from a sector of the public that still clings to the traditional view of man. Dawkins himself, who is an entertaining broadcaster and a frequent guest on television and radio programmes, recently had to listen to one such programme where a occasional student asked him on the phone how he - Dawkins - could wake up every morning with the sad knowledge that he was nothing but a bunch of selfish genes in a cold and godless world. To be confronted again and again with such interpellations as this subject becomes tiresome, and we know that the prophets of this new transgenetic kingdom are not always willing to waste their time with - in their eyes - sterile discussions, when there is so much to do. Hardly any of the spokespersons of this scientific paradise, at whose gates we are arriving, have so far dared to question the goodness of democratic mechanisms when it comes to articulating public opinion and adopting decisions relevant to society, but one can guess that some would feel more comfortable if they could adopt by decree the measures they deem necessary, without going through the window of sterile debates with incompetent interlocutors. We are thus witnessing a repeat of the drama of the expert - or visionary - having to coexist with contemporaries, often including the powerful, who do not realise position what is at stake and thus put obstacles in the way of progress.

If, therefore, we accept the rules of the democratic game better or worse Degree and want to avoid a head-on clash with the predominant convictions, we need to hone the art of distinction in order to socially homologate our pretensions. The strategy is clear. It is a matter of nuancing, of establishing distinctions in such a way that, without breaking the anthropological reference framework in force in our society, it is feasible to legitimise the practices we want to introduce. From agreement with the pathway of habituation mentioned above, once an exception is allowed, however minimal it may be, it will be very easy to generalise that case, to reach common use and even abuse. The distinctions resorted to sometimes have some real basis, but in others they will be mere rhetorical constructions. I list some of the most widespread of late.

In the field of ethics and anthropology, a distinction has been made between 'man' and 'person', with a foundation that goes back to Locke. According to this thesis, not all men would be persons - which is what is really valuable and worthy of respect. Personal status is made to depend on the actual presence of certain qualities: report, self-awareness, the capacity to reason and to express and defend interests, etc. Those who cannot show these qualities requirements would not be worthy of the respect that we normally pay to persons, and could be rejected or, in the limit, eliminated. It is clear that this concept of personhood leaves out many people, and not just the terminally ill: babies, sleepers, the feeble-minded, and so on. It is not surprising that discussion on a proposal so contrary to our most basic anthropological and ethical intuitions has sometimes taken on controversial and personal overtones. Peter Singer, one of the pioneers in the defence of this point of view, has also found himself in situations similar to that of Dawkins, as when a paralysed man in a wheelchair approached him during a television programme to accuse him of arguing that with his argument he was ultimately proposing written request that he should be killed, since he was a worthless life. Singer's thesis is also that an adult pig can be more valuable than a human baby. But once again it is clear that the theories and arguments that one defends in texts and on discussion are one thing, but life itself is another. Peter Singer's own mother has recently fallen ill - of a senile condition - and her caring son has arranged for three nurses to take turns throughout the day so that his mother is well cared for at all times. In a recent interview, someone reproached Singer for this incoherent behaviour, because according to his own thesis, his mother had been deprived of the status of a person and could even be liquidated without any problems. Singer's response could not have been more eloquent: "I think what has happened has opened my eyes and I now see that these situations are very difficult for those who are directly affected. It's more difficult than I thought it would be before, because it's different when it's your own mother. Being personally affected by the problem in question financial aid, undoubtedly enriches or even changes the simple theoretical consideration of the problem. This is what happened a few years ago to the close collaborator and wife of the president of a British organisation promoting euthanasia. The woman fell ill with cancer and, after a short time, decided to... divorce. I have outlined above a number of reasons that can help the spread of euthanasia. Among the circumstances likely to act as a brake on this seemingly unstoppable trend is undoubtedly the fact that the parliamentarians who, in each country, will have to decide on the relevant bills, may themselves become passive subjects of this practice, a danger which, for example, no longer exists when legislating on abortion. I may be accused of arguing ad hominem, but in a way every argument is, and especially so when it comes to issues that touch so closely on the core of human life.

In a more strictly biological or bioethical sphere, other distinctions are currently gaining ground. For example, the distinction between the pre-embryo and the embryo. Only the latter deserves respect, while the former - non-existent for biologists - would be available for research or therapy. In turn, there is also talk of two types of embryo: the one in the test tube and the one in the mother's womb. Only the latter would be entitled to rights. A distinction is also made between potential life and actual life. It can already be seen that there is an interest in arbitrarily disposing of potential life. Others speak of human being and human life as distinct realities. The human being, a concrete individual, deserves respect, but not human life (it is already understood that the embryo is included in this second category). A correlative distinction is made between the dignity of man and the dignity of human life. This seems to be a mere exercise in logomachy, but the intention is clear: the dignity of human life, which does not correspond to a specific individual, leaves its subject in the hands of possible manipulators.

The resource distinction also reaches the legal field. The concept core topic is here 'decriminalisation'. It is conceded that certain conducts, which have always been condemned in the Western tradition, are still considered crimes. It is not always possible - nor strategically opportune, as it would require too much time and effort - to radically change the mentalities of the people and of legislators and judges - the latter classically infested with a suspicious traditionalism. It is enough to open the door, even if it is only a small crack, to some exceptions: these practices are still considered criminal - that is, we maintain our scale of values - but they are no longer punishable in certain exceptional cases. The case of necessity was already covered by traditional legal systems, so there is no need to invent anything new. Decriminalisation thus becomes the first step on the sometimes astonishingly short road to legalisation. It should not be forgotten that the penal code is a very adequate reflection of the moral conscience of a society.

But even if practices that seemed criminal or inhumane to our moral tradition become legalised, not everyone has the stomach for the new guidelines.

And even those who do so, with more or less enthusiasm, often fail to prevent their conscience, an annoying mechanism that refuses to go away, from telling them that deep down they are not doing the right thing. If one is not willing to rectify and walk the path of the prodigal son, there will always remain the resource of denying everything. Nietzsche, with his usual lucidity, warned of this at the time: "-I have done this, says my report. -I could not have done it, says my pride, and it does not relent in its position, implacable. Finally, the report surrenders".

It is well known that extreme situations are a magnificent laboratory for observing human behaviour in circumstances that rarely occur in ordinary life. For this reason, the actions of the German medical class under the Nazi regime continue to provide material for reflection and discussion in bioethics, both because of the possibility of deepening the analysis of such exceptional - and terrible - events, and because of the access to hitherto classified documents, which provide new information. I shall confine myself here to quoting the words of a doctor who worked for a number of years in one of the concentration camps during her interrogation at the Nuremberg trials: "In the midst of the utmost routine, one never lost the feeling of living in a completely extraordinary environment, so that absolutely everything that happened here did not count. Even while doing all that, you couldn't believe what you were doing. The thing is, if you do something absolutely incredible and you can't believe it, you end up not believing it. This is a mechanism well known to psychology, of which we all have some experience. It can happen that more or less premeditatedly, and perhaps not by virtue of a single tremendous decision, but rather as a result of a chain of small concessions, in matters of detail, one finds oneself with blood on one's hands. The sudden realisation, if one has the slightest capacity for reflection, can be traumatic. How is it possible that one, a dutiful and honest person, has come to this situation? Something is wrong, something is wrong. And as one enjoys the recognised status of a respectable person, it cannot be that everyone is deceived, so one simply could not have done all that one's conscience accuses one of doing. It is decreed that these actions were not committed and the report is charged with erasing these disturbing memories.

Another argument used to justify the most extravagant developments has to do with the coherence and logical rigour so dear to modernity. This is the figure of speech that can be called 'crossing the Rubicon'. Once we have given in on one occasion and the corresponding avalanche has come upon us - for example, that of abortion - we would be obliged, by logic, to be coherent, grit our teeth and, even if we do not like it, accept everything else, for it would not be consistent to deny now what was granted before. Obviously, those who are in favour of the new conquests that are to be imposed on us take it upon themselves to insistently remind us of the lack of logic involved in accepting one thing and denying the other, both being of the same kind, or even the second being a mere consequence of the first. They know that our public opinion is very sensitive to this subject of argumentation and, like a boxer who repeats his blows on an already open wound, they tirelessly return to the fray. There is no doubt that coherence is a value, and the Enlightenment of the 18th century and the young people of the 20th century were right to criticise this. But if it is very difficult to rectify and backtrack in situations that have gotten out of hand, as in the case of abortion in Western societies - where even political parties of Christian or humanist inspiration do not dare to go against the abortionist status quo when they come to power - we could at least allow ourselves the exception of being inconsistent for once in order not to repeat the mistake and, in this way, save human lives.

It is time to end, and one could say that I have said rather little about the culture of life, which was the topic of both conference and my discussion paper. I recognise that in general, and therefore also with regard to the position of life in society, it is easier to denounce evil than to build good. However, I hope that in this case I will be forgiven for taking the easy way out, because meeting it is very difficult to build a culture of life without first unmasking the culture of death. A culture of life seems to be one of respect, of letting be, and this is an attitude that does not fit in well with the profile of the modern, active and domineering by essence.

After having gone all out in the knowledge and consequent exploitation of the physical and natural world, the modern world has not stopped at man himself. Everything that has been done with plants and animals can also be applied to humans - in fact, many of the developments in genetic manipulation or cloning, which are now the source of so much controversy, have been applied by veterinarians to their patients for decades. After all, as a reductionist anthropology tells us, there would be no essential difference between animal and man, since the (neo-)evolutionary paradigm has equalised our respective conditions. If man comes from the animal, it is claimed, there is no reason for him to try to place himself above it. This is an argument that we find, for example, in some approaches of deep ecology.

We can ask the modern to stop, reconsider and turn back, but this manoeuvre subject is difficult to implement. The inertia is high, and as there would be much to change - and not only accidentally - such a radical turnaround is unlikely. Another option is to show the perverse consequences of the course adopted, both those we are already suffering and those that foreseeably await us in the future. And, by the way, intellectuals in general, and therefore academics as well, have almost always enjoyed playing the role of Cassandra. The advantage is that it is easy to get it right, and if one is able to go beyond the narcissistic 'I said so, but the world didn't listen', there is often an opportunity to make good arguments to help steer social action in a desirable direction. The turn taken by Jürgen Habermas illustrates this well. In his latest book, 'Die Zukunft der menschlichen Natur. Auf dem Weg zu einer liberalen Eugenik?', published just a few weeks ago, the hitherto champion of the enlightened cultural project abandons his merely procedural and pragmatic approach to make room for realist considerations, which to some extent recover the idea of human nature - the very title of the book is eloquent. The whole point of the book is to warn against the dangers of eugenic liberalism. Will others have the lucidity and the ability to rectify that sample Habermas has here?

It is obligatory to debate - here we are with Habermas - but, nevertheless, as Aristotle already pointed out, there are limits that the speech, the philosophical or political discussion , should not cross. He illustrates this thesis with the example of one who reasons in favor of the murder of one's own mother. Such a person, according to the Stagirite, does not deserve arguments, but a rebuke. Those who try to defend respect for human life and dignity often find themselves in a situation similar to that of the Aristotelian example, and having to formulate reasoning for the defense of the obvious and evident can become desperate. The serious thing about this discussion is that it is not aired within the walls of the university seminar , where any position can be said and defended, no matter how extravagant it may seem: once the session is over, the classroom is abandoned and the interlocutors re-enter the world of everyday life. On the contrary, there is a complex machinery or alliance at work here that integrates science itself, Economics and politics, and which every year claims as many millions of human lives as the Second World War did.

The classics used to say that the virtue of fortitude, rather than being the impetus for difficult or risky actions, lay in the ability to resist the onslaught of adversity with fortitude. In view of the forces mobilised by the culture of death, one does not have to be a particularly competent Cassandra to realise that the hour of resistance is upon us. In addition to a tempered spirit, a lucid and attentive mind, which knows how to make itself position of the goods and interests at stake, is a prerequisite for success in this confrontation, which promises to be long-lasting.