Symbols are important to nations, and often horribly abused in politics. Senator Sam Brownback of Kansas, from the state that avoided teaching science by redefining it, gave a tedious presentation during the recent stem cell debates. In it, he made the following analogy: bald eagles come from eggs, and it is illegal to destroy a bald eagle egg, so since humans come from eggs shouldn’t it make sense to make destroying a human egg illegal? The symbol of the American Bald Eagle, representing the beauty and power of the U.S., was dragged through the mud to make a political point.
What was that point? Well, I guess Sam Brownback wants to make the destruction of eggs illegal. If you destroy the egg, you cannot have the eagle. If eagle eggs are special, and human eggs are special, where does this line of reasoning stop? The danger with porous analogies such as this one (since eagles come from eggs, and it’s illegal to destroy such an egg, human eggs should be illegal to destroy) is that it suggests all kinds of other arguments. For instance, from this I assume that Senator Sam Brownback is a fierce opponent of poultry farming and products. Every time the man eats breakfast, he’d be robbing a chicken of its brood. I guess this is an opportunity for him to close that “pesky poultry research facility at KSU”:http://www.asi.k-state.edu/DesktopDefault.aspx?tabid=1036, thus further descending Kansas into the scientific dark ages. Or, maybe, Sam Brownback should get to work on making illegal “Kansas’ poultry industry”:http://www.leewardpro.com/customplates/licenseplates/kansas-poultry-association.html.
Actually, Senator, it is illegal to destroy bald eagle eggs because the bald eagle is “an endangered species”:http://www.usflag.org/baldeagle.html,
“In 1940, noting that the national bird was “threatened with extinction,” Congress passed the Bald Eagle Protection Act which made it illegal to kill, harass, possess (without a permit), or sell bald eagles. In 1967, bald eagles were officially declared an endangered species (under a law that preceded the Endangered Species Act of 1973) in all areas of the United States south of the 40th parallel. Federal and state government agencies, along with private organizations, successfully sought to alert the public about the bald eagle’s plight and to protect its habitat from further destruction.”
It’s not illegal because the U.S. Congress acted to protect the eagle embryo based on a myopic definition of life, but rather because humans had driven them to extinction and we had to save them from ourselves.
The President also used a symbol: he surrounded himself with children born from frozen embryos in fertility clinics. He tried to make the following point: these children wouldn’t be here if stem cell research had existed 5-6 years ago and used human embryos as a source of stem cells. Like Brownback, the President seems to have missed the point and in doing so made a very porous analogy. These children were not produced from *discarded embryos*, which is what the Senate bill authorized for stem cell research. These children were produced by embryos that were still viable and thus could be implanted. These children were not even the product of the embryos that *failed* to implant in the host womb (many embryos die in the womb during the difficult implantation process). Should mothers who kill 5 embryos before one implants be held on murder charges? How can you have children from discarded embryos? Where do these terrible analogies, these awful hollow symbols, end?
I fear that should the definition of science invented last year by the Kansas State Board of Ed continue, or even take hold in other states, the future of intellectual politics is beheld in the faces of Brownback and Bush.
(For part I, see “entry 185”:185)