Anything peaceful and voluntary.

Dead Man’s Ideology

I am very fortunate to be rehearsing what will be a great production of Dead Man’s Cell Phone by Sarah Ruhl. My director is extremely insightful, talented, and experienced. My cast is some of the best and brightest that our town has to offer. The script is a taut, well-written poetic fantasy (per the NY Times). I love it! Except for my perception of the message the playwright wishes to get across.

Much as I try to find balance of viewpoints in the script, it seems to me that it constantly comes down against technology and against organ sales. Gordon, the dead man, the one who acts as a middle man for organ sales, is the only one who offers a half hearted defense of these. “Morality can be measured by results,” he says. I do not find the utilitarian justification entirely compelling. It could easily be coupled with an ethical argument. The closest it gets to that is his mention that, “I make people feel good about their new organs” calling it “compassionate obfuscation,” (which seems a slam at “compassionate conservatism”, not that the silly concept would not deserve it).

He argues that he “connect(s) people” but this is only to deflect from being forthright about selling them. What is so wrong about selling them? We sell blood, sperm, and eggs. There is a reasonable intersection of the quantity desired and quantity provided for these, unlike the deep divide of those who want kidneys and those who want to provide them. Would not the sale of organs be the ultimate conclusion for those who appreciate the idea of self-ownership? If I have a right to myself, wouldn’t I have a right to all that composes me and what I may to do with it? If not, who owns me?

As Jean (the protagonist) says, “In our country we can only give our organs away for love.” Unfortunately, there must not be enough love to go around. There certainly are not enough available organs to meet the demand. Why should individuals not be freely able to give their organs to whomever they want for whatever they want to receive in return? As Adam Smith so aptly pointed out, “It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker, that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest.” This interest can of course be broadly defined. To our own family members we may willingly give our organs out of love, and we may even extend it to our dear friends or admired acquaintances (as Virginia Postrel did for Sally Satel). But what about to the man across town, to the woman in another state whom we disagree with on religion or politics, to the stranger in another country? There is little chance that we would feel such love and compassion for these, yet they need organs none the less. Markets are the only way to assure that these needs will be met by a consensual agreement. The sooner we see money, not as “filthy lucre”, but merely a medium of exchange, the sooner we will see the sale of organs as being a beautiful transaction to satisfy the wants of both giver and receiver.

It continues to amaze me that so many people still hold knee jerk reactions against technology. Jeffrey Tucker writes about a concept called “miracle fatigue” by which so many great things are created and advanced that it is easy to dismiss them and diminish their benefits as well as the institutions that have created them. In an article, he writes about “video talking” to a friend in Germany over his phone. This technology has allowed people to form and sustain relationships that they enjoy and are not merely tethered to the physical realm. Before the internet and advancements in telephony we had to find enjoyment by the limited and arbitrary nature of those geographically around us. Granted, as with any tool, there can be drawbacks, and the play certainly addresses those. But to take an overall dim view on these advances that people have voluntarily taken on because they perceive them as adding pleasure and ease to their lives is a misanthropic perspective that focuses on the limited, negative aspects of innovation.

Dwight (my character and love interest to Jean) urges the protagonist to give up the phone saying, “It’s not good for you. Life is for the living.” Technology and organ sales can contribute so much to the quality of life. It is my hope that the audience who sees this show will think critically about the ideas presented and not side with a dead man’s ideology but seriously contemplate the life-giving benefits of technology and markets.

For more on organs sales, visit here. If you will be in the Tucson area during early September, please catch our show!

Robert Anthony Peters will be speaking at Libertopia Festival 2011 in San Diego

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