For the love of Kafka

For the love of Kafka, here’s an excerpt from his diaries, 1910 – 1923.

11 February 1913: While I read the proofs of “The Judgement”, I’ll write down all the relationships which have become clear to me in the story as far as I now remember them. This is necessary because the story came out of me like a real birth, covered with filth and slime, and only I have the hand that can reach to the body itself and the strength of desire to do so:

The friend is the link between father and son, he is their strongest common bond. Sitting alone at his window, Georg rummages voluptuously in this consciousness of what they have in common, believes he has his father within him, and would be at peace with everything if it were not for a fleeting, sad thoughtfulness. In the course of the story the father, with the strengthened position that the other, less things they share in common give him – love, devotion to the mother, loyalty to her memory, the clientele that he (the father) had been the first to acquire for the business – uses the common bond of the friend to set himself up as Georg’s antagonist. Georg is left with nothing; the bride, who lives in the story only in relation to the friend, that is, to what father and son have in common, is easily driven away by the father since no marriage has yet taken place, and so she cannot penetrate the circle of blood relationship that is drawn around father and son. What they have in common is built up entirely around the father, Georg can feel it only as something foreign, something that has become independent, that he has never given enough protection, that is exposed to Russian revolutions, and only because he himself has lost everything except his awareness of the father does the judgement, which closes off his father from him completely, have so strong an effect on him.

Georg has the same number of letters as Franz. In Bendemann, “mann” is a strengthening of “Bende” to provide for all the as yet unforeseen possibilities in the story. But Bende has exactly the same number of letters as Kafka, and the vowel e occurs in the same places as does the vowel a in Kafka.

Frieda has as many letters as F. and the same initial, Brandenfeld has the same initial as B., and in the word “Feld” a certain connexion in meaning, as well. Perhaps even the thought of Berlin was not without influence and the recollection of the Mark Brandenburg perhaps had some influence.

Eugenics vs Euthanasia

In light of information gleaned from Chapter 11, The Gene, I shall revisit my previous post on  whether severely disabled children may be euthanised.

In 1933, the Nazis enacted the Law for the Prevention of Genetically Diseased Offspring. The law mandated that “Anyone suffering from a hereditary disease can be sterilised by a surgical operation.” An initial list included mental deficiency, schizophrenia, epilepsy, depression, blindness, deafness and serious deformities. The law stated that “Once the Court has decided on sterilisation, the operation must be carried out even against the will of the person to be sterilised…where other measures are insufficient, direct force may be used.”

The slip from sterilisation to outright murder came virtually unannounced and unnoticed. In 1939, Richard and Lina Kretschmar petitioned Hitler to allow them to euthanise their child, Gerhard. Eleven months old, Gerhard had been born blind and with deformed limbs. The parents – ardent Nazis – hoped to service their nation by eliminating their child from the nation’s genetic heritage. Sensing his chance to ramp up gene-cleansing efforts, Hitler approved the killed of Gerhard. 

To justify the exterminations, the Nazis had already begun to describe the victims using the euphemism lebensunwertes Leben – lives unworthy of living.

The killing began with “defective” children under three years of age, but by September 1939 had expanded to adolescents. Juvenile delinquents were slipped onto the list next. Jewish children were disproportionately targeted – forcibly examined by state doctors, labeled “genetically sick” and exterminated, often on the most minor pretexts.

By October 1939, the program was expanded to include adults. 

The eugenics movement in 1933 differs starkly from euthanasia in terms of purpose. The former sought to produce a superior society by means of genetic selection while the latter seeks to relieve an individual from suffering. Thence, the former encompassed a broader scope of illnesses, many of which will not fall under the eligibility criteria of euthanasia. Furthermore, while the courts were able to order involuntary sterilisation, euthanasia of adults must be voluntary, with full and informed consent. This then begs the question of whether severely disabled children may be euthanised.

Firstly, can severely disabled children possess a will to live? If yes, how can we determine that will? If the will to live is determined, arguably, involuntary euthanasia will be ethically and morally wrong.

In 1939, Gerhard Kretschmar was involuntarily euthanised. Today, he would have failed the first of four requirements, which is the presence of hopeless and unbearable suffering. As society has progressed over the years, more has been devised to improve the lives of others such that suffering may be bearable and life, of hope. More importantly, the purpose of involuntary euthanasia today lies in the interest of the child, and not the parents’ or the state’s.

In order not to slip into humanity’s horrific past, power must not go unchecked and unchallenged. The horror of the Nazi era began when the German parliament endorsed the Enabling Act, granting Hitler unprecedented power to enact laws without parliamentary involvement. Support for genetic cleansing grew due to state-controlled media, propagating only one side of the story. The slip of judiciary and medical judgement was likely due to the political and psychological environment of the Nazi reign. Hence, one should not trust fully and blindly the systems of power, but question with one’s own conscience.

Stages of emotions

Zen teacher Seung Sahn Soen-sa advises his student who had found herself consumed with anger at her son. He wrote:

After sitting yong maeng jong jin (silent meditation), your mind was clear. A clear mind is like a clear mirror, so when anger appeared, you reflected with angry action. You love your son, so you were angry. Is this correct? Don’t check your mind – when you are angry, be angry. When you are happy, be happy. When sad, be sad. Afterwards, checking is no good.

Your previous anger and the anger you talked about in your letter are different. Before yong maeng jong jin, it was attached anger; after yong maeng jong jin, your anger was only reflected anger. If you do more hard training, the reflected anger will change to perceived anger. After more practicing, perceived anger will disappear. Then you will have only loving anger – inside you will not be angry, only angry on the outside. So attached anger, reflected anger, perceived anger, loving anger – all are changing, changing, changing. Anger is anger; anger is the truth. Don’t worry, don’t check yourself – it has already passed. How you keep just-now mind is very important.

Acceptance and reflection of one’s emotions will bring about greater inner peace.

Albert Camus – Notebooks 1935 – 1942

The peculiar vanity of man, who wants to believe and who wants other people to believe that he is seeking after truth, when in fact it is love that he is asking the world to give him.

Human Head Transplant

With the approach of 2017, we look at Canavero’s mad ambition to replace a human head with another. His “franken” leap in medical science will take place in China as the West frets over ethical issues, amongst other concerns. Not only will it be the most expensive surgery, it will also be a long and costly, mind-boggling road to recovery.

Regarding this controversial attempt at playing God, there are several concerns, one of which he seemed to have replied with nonchalance.

1. If the recipient later fathers a child, will the child be his? Canavero replied candidly that it simply would not be his. In fact, he delighted over the fact that the donor would be able to have a descendent, posthumously. One can already forsee legal and sociological problems. Yet, how different is it from men who adopt, or father a child from his spouse’s previous marriage/relationship? 

2. Is the cost of surgery and recovery care justifiable? In answer, we ask “Is the cost of sending men to space justifiable?” For the progression of Science and increment of possibilities and opportunities, yes.

3. If successful, how does a man’s need for a body trump the needs of a few others? The fact that the entire body will be transplanted to a head will necessarily deny others of lungs, heart, liver, etc. The recipients of organs are determined by the urgency of their need, and the viability of the transplantation. In accordance with this sound medical practice, the tetraplegic/paraplegic will not get his turn, especially when the transplantation of body is more likely to fail than transplantation of a single organ. 

4. Is this a head or body transplantation? What is transplanted is technically the head, according to the surgical plan of decapitation and reattachment. However, as the mind controls all bodily functions, it can be said that the head has received a new body. Furthermore, the purpose of the surgery is to offer physical movement to tetraplegics/paraplegics. Hence, it may be argued that this is a body transplantation.

Tell me about genes

An excerpt from The Gene by Siddhartha Mukherjee:

Morgan began to breed flies sometime around 1905. A year later, he was breeding maggots by the thousands, in milk bottles filled with rotting fruit in a third-floor laboratory at Columbia University. Bunches of overripe bananas hung from sticks. The smell of fermented fruit was overpowering, and a haze of escaped flies lifted off the tables like a buzzing veil every time Morgan moved. The students called his laboratory the Fly Room.

Like Mendel, Morgan began by identifying heritable traits. Did fruit flies have mutations as well? By scoring thousands of flies under the microscope, he began to catalog dozens of mutant flies. A rare white-eyed fly appeared spontaneously among typically red-eyed flies. The mutants would prove crucial to experiments: only the outliers could illuminate the nature of normal heredity.

Between 1910 and 1912, Morgan and his students crossed thousands of fruit fly mutants with each other. The result of each cross was meticulously recorded: white-eyed, sable-coloured, bristled, short-winged. When Morgan examined these crosses, he found a surprising pattern: some genes acted as if they were “linked” to each other. The gene responsible for creating white eyes, for instance, was inescapably linked to the Y chromosome: no matter how Morgan crossed his flies, the white-eyed trait tracked with that chromosome. Similarly the gene for sable colour was linked with the gene that specified the shape of a wing.

Morgan’s experiments had established that genes that were physically linked to each other on the same chromosome were inherited together. If the gene that produces blue eyes is linked to a gene that  produces blond hair, then children with blond hair will inevitably tend to inherit blue eyes. However, occasionally, a gene could unlink itself from its partner genes and swap places from the paternal chromosome to the maternal chromosome, resulting in a rare blue-eyed, dark-haired child.

It is fascinating to learn that gene theory was found amidst the buzz of fruit flies!