What makes us human?
Is it form? The intellect? Is it the soul?
Ah, the soul.
The unquantifiable “X” we all simply assume we possess. What is a soul? What is its worth? What is its purpose?
Kazuo Ishiguro gives us all the questions without providing any of the answers, leaving us to ponder in the wake of devastating heartbreak.
Many years ago, in a retreat of sorts, we were given a bunch of cards during a particular group activity. We were asked to write things significant to us in those cards, each one of a different sort. People, possessions, and values. All these had to be those we found most valuable.
Then the story began. Apocalyptic world; everything’s gone to the dogs. The last boat out is leaving the port and there’s one seat left. Decide: leave your loved one and take the seat yourself; bribe the guards with your possessions and get seats for both you and your companion; or, throw someone off to get seats for you and your companion.
I never hesitated.
Immediately I threw out the “values” card. I had written honesty on it. Clearly, when faced with survival, morality would be the first thing I’d throw out the window.
But this little bit of memory is barely tangential. Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go poses terrible questions. If the end was a world without cancer, would the death and destruction of sentient human clones be acceptable means?
It would be easy, too easy, to say that when that junction comes we will know what to choose. To say that when it comes to human cloning we would know better than to create farms of human beings from whom we may harvest organs for donations. To say that we would be far too upright to even consider such a heinous crime.
But the reality is that I know, clearly, that I would not hesitate. As powerful and moving as Ishiguro’s portrayal of the clones may be, there is a nagging reality that should I be given the opportunity, I would easily turn a blind eye to these human farms if it meant freedom from disease for me and my loved ones.
It’s not that the dystopian world of Ishiguro’s making is heartless. It’s that it knows quite truthfully the moral ambiguity of having human clones as organ donors and chooses not to acknowledge it. In the end, was the fact that Hailsham gave these clones their lives and their childhoods enough to assuage the guilt that lurks beneath this scientific tragedy?
Perhaps it’s the clones’ unwillingness to fight their destiny that is most heartbreaking of all. This is what they were made for. This is the goal of their lives. They may have dreams, they may have wants, but none of these are more important than serving their purpose. There is not even an attempt to escape, to fight back.
Perhaps it is the resignation that makes them completely human. Much more human, even, facing head on the nihilistic reality of their very existence. There is no question that they have souls.
The only question is do we?