Dean Koontz, Wesley J. Smith and bioethics

Dean Koontz and beloved Trixie Koontz

I’ve long wondered why the very same people who cry rivers at the mistreatment of animals are the very ones who have no qualms whatsoever about infanticide as long as it is performed in utero.  As PETA President and co-founder Ingrid Newkirk famously said, “A rat is a pig is a dog is a boy.  They’re all animals.”   

Enter Wesley J. Smith, a man on a mission.   Author of 12 books, most recently A Rat Is a Pig Is a Dog Is a Boy: The Human Cost of the Animal Rights Movement      

I first came across Smith’s name in an Author’s Note back in 2001.     

 Utilitarin bioethics as portrayed in One Door Away from Heaven is unfortunately not a figment of my imagination, but a real threat to you and to everyone you love.  This philosophy embodies the antihuman essence of fascism, expresses the contempt for individual freedom and for the disabled and the frail that has in the past marked every form of totalitarianism.  One day our great universities will be required to redeem themselves from the shame of having honored and promulgated ethicists who would excuse and facilitate the killing of the diasbled, the weak, and the elderly.     

Serendipitously, as I was finishing this novel, Encounter Books published a nonfiction work offering the best survey of utilitarian bioethics written for a general audience that I have yet seen.  If, for your own protection and for the sake of those you love, you want to know more about the subject than I’ve covered herein, I highly recommend Culture of Death: The Assault on Medical Ethics in America by Wesley J. Smith.  You will find it more hair-raising than any novel you’ve ever read.    

I read this now and realize with a shiver how incredibly prescient Dean Koontz is.  (And I will forever envision Ezekiel Emanuel as the evil antagonist, Dr. Preston Maddoc.  It’s fitting.)    

 Koontz has long been my favorite author, and here’s a tidbit to explain why, from the perspective of Leilani, a 9-year-old girl in One Door Away from Heaven:    

 When you’ve got this I-survived-the-nuclear-holocaust left hand and this kick-ass-cyborg left leg, you expect people to be especially aware of you, to stare, to gawk, to blanch in terror and scrurry for cover if you hiss at them and roll your eyes.  But instead, even when you’re wearing your best smile and you’ve shampooed your hair and you think you’re quite presentable, even pretty, they look away from you or through you, maybe because they’re embarrassed for you, as if they believe that your disabilities are your fault and that you are–or ought to be–filled with shame.  Or, to give them the benefit of the doubt, maybe most people look through you because they don’t trust themselves to look at you without staring, or to speak to you without unintentionally saying something that will be hurtful.  Or maybe they think you’re self-conscious, that therefore you want to be ignored.  Or maybe the percentage of human beings who are hopeless assholes is just fantastically higher than you might want to believe.  When you speak to them, most only half listen; and in their half-listening mode, they realize that you’re smart, some people go into denial and nevertheless resort ot a style of speech hardly more sophisiticated than baby talk, because ignorantly they associate physical deformity with dumbness.  In addtion to having the freak-show hand and the Frankenstein-monster walk, if you are also a kid and ifyou are rootless, always hitting the road in search of Obi-Wan Kenobi and the bright side of the Force, you are invisible.    

And another on late-night TV and American culture:    

 The hosts were funny, but the cynicism that informed every joke soon depressed her, and under all the yuks, she perceived an unacknowledged despair.     

 Increasingly since the 1960s, being hip in America had meant being nihilistic.  How stranget his would seem to the jazz musicians of the 1920s and the ’30s, who invented hip.  Back then hipness had been a celebration of individual freedom; now it required surrendering to groupthink, and a belief in the meaninglessness of human life.    

I could do this all day.  I pulled the book off the shelf because I saw that Koontz wrote the preface to Wesley J. Smith’s new book, A Rat is a Pig is a Dog is a Boy.   If this is the conclusion to the introduction, I can’t wait to read the rest:    

 When we self-blind ourselves to the Truth of the world’s magnificent complexity and mystery–of which we are a fundamental part –we do not only cut a thin wedge from the roundness of existence and convince ourselves that this one theory or ideology is the whole Truth. In our narcissism, we also insist that those who refuse to wear our blinders are villainous and depraved and corrupt. In this regard, an ideologue is no different from a member of a religious cult who has carved a sliver off the body of Christian theology and has made it his end-all and be-all. But the entire truth of a vast forest is not embodied in a single leaf.    

 A recognition of the world’s complexity requires an acceptance of the truth that intentions and nuance matter. Puppy mills are an outrage and should be shut down because they horribly abuse breeder dogs for no purpose but profit. This isn’t the same as a scientist, following merciful protocols (as most do), using lab rats in search of cures for disabling diseases. A sound argument might be made for the cruelty of denying a wide-ranging and undomesticable animal like an elephant the freedom to roam, keeping it chained to a stake for no purpose but to entertain us with clever tricks in the circus; though a well-designed zoo park might not be cruel at all. Training a dog to do tricks is not cruel, because dogs are pack animals and consider us members of their pack, because they would rather be with us than elsewhere, and because their natural inclination to play makes learning tricks a joy for them.    

 Among other things, this book is a rational, reasonable argument for the need to accept the nuanced complexity of the world and to resist the dangerous simplifications of antihuman ideologies. Wesley  J. Smith knows too well that if the activists ever succeeded in their goals, if they established through culture or law that human beings have no intrinsic dignity greater than that of any animal, the world would not be a better place for either humankind or animals. Instead, it would be a utilitarian nightmare in which the strong would destroy the weak, in which power-crazed leaders would destroy everyone who loved peace, in which the wealth of the world would be concentrated in the hands of a murderous few, in which mercy would be unknown and the only virtue would be the ability to survive, in which the only right would be the right to die.    

Many long-time Koontz fans deserted him with his newer (post 2000 with the publication of From the Corner of His Eye) focus on, well, faith.  Most of the books written in the past decade have embraced finer points of Catholic theology, most especially the sanctity of life.  Cross that with sci-fi, mysticism, mystery and add a dash of romance and a fine dusting of distrust in government, and you find Koontz.  I adore him.       

My first two Koontz recommendations: One Door Away from Heaven and From the Corner of His Eye (or, if you’re lucky like me, amazing friends will get you autographed copies for Christmas!)    

In the meantime, follow Smith’s regular blog Secondhand Smoke (one of my weekly reads) or this one A Rat Is a Fish Is a Dog Is a Boy, which “covers issues involving animal rights/liberation from a critical perspective, with emphasis on the contents and reactions to my (currently upcoming) book called A Rat Is A Fish Is A Dog Is A Boy. It is not my intention here to defend animal industries but to stand for human exceptionalism.”   


3 Responses

  1. […] I’ve discussed the relationship between Smith and Koontz before here. […]

  2. Hi I am from Australia.

    Please check out this essay and website.

    Plus 2 related essays on the ethics of killing altogether.

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