I read an article in the paper today where a researcher was saying that he reckoned we’d probably see the first successful head transplants in ten years’ time. Actually he suspected it would be head and spinal column transplants, as they would probably make more sense.
The problem is, I’m not merely cynical, I’ve had a lifetime in livestock agriculture where you are regularly forced to pick the ‘least worst’ option. Try coping with a cow who is trying to calve in the dark and the rain, in a muddy ditch; when as well as calving she’s suddenly developed calcium deficiency. You’ll pretty soon learn how to prioritise. Add to that I’m a writer, so I’m rather expected to be able to extrapolate and imagine. So as I finished the article and went to get on with some work, it occurred to me that in the future, there’s no point in trying to keep your body in good shape. If you’re rich, you can just acquire a nicer body when you wear this one out. If you’re not rich, you almost certainly don’t want a body that the rich might covert.
But then, because of the weight of my background, I mentally crossed out, ‘the rich’ and wrote instead, ‘the powerful.’ Because money is merely a form of power. The servants of an over-mighty state can accumulate vast power. Indeed the petty servants of a sanctimonious state which doesn’t keep a sharp eye on its minions can let them accumulate enough power to make the life of an ordinary person hell. End up in the wrong local authority nursing home if you don’t believe me.
Obviously I could be wrong in this. The easy way to convince me that I am is by showing me a newspaper headline which says, “Communist Party leader dies because they couldn’t find a suitable organ donor.”
As an aside, it struck me that the problem with the rich is that, by and large, we made them rich. The seriously rich are the people who sell us stuff we want. Like Facebook or Google. Or perhaps your weakness is cool phones? Obviously our whims change and suddenly some of the rich can find their income stream drying up. The reason they remain rich is that they’re smart enough to diversify.
So whilst we cannot control the rich, the State can. Yes there is a lot of talk about how various transnational companies are massively powerful. That is true. But whilst companies can be international, their employees all have to live somewhere. The State is the one who can send polite people round to explain, gently, that we know where your children go to school. States have laws and prisons. At the very least, upset the State and even the wealthiest of plutocrats can suddenly discover that there are very few places without extradition warrants out for them and it becomes unwise to fly, lest your plane is inadvertently forced to land in some country you’re wanted in, ‘because of engine problems.’
So the State can crush the rich, but doesn’t often do it, because senior people within the State want to join the rich. (In the UK, as of August 2019, to be in the top 1% of income tax payers in the UK (i.e. to be among the 310,000 individuals with the highest income), a taxable income of at least £160,000 is required. Know the right people and get yourself a nice job chairing the right quango, and you’re in.
And we’ve already seen that the Rich can take us for a ride, because they know us too well and give us the bright shiny things that we want.
But, and here is the rub, ‘we the people’ are the ones who can crush the State. This can happen in various ways at various levels. In a democracy, we the people can force a state to perform a handbrake turn. Brexit has showed that. The election of a Labour government in 1945 showed that.
When you have dictatorships, one party rule and totalitarianism it’s not as easy, but it still happens. If you doubt me, discuss the matter with the General Secretary of the Soviet Communist Party. He was one of the lucky ones, he lived through the experience. Ceaușescu faced a firing squad.
Indeed we might have a scissors, paper, stone situation with the Rich, the people, and the State. Obviously all three groups continue to exist, no group ever smashes the other because all the groups need the others or want to be part of them.
But anyway, back to the important idea, head transplants. Actually it might be brain and spinal cord transplants but it’s still interesting, and problematic. You see, it’s perfectly possible to spare a kidney for somebody. Or if you die in an accident, there are all sorts of bits of you that are still worth sharing around. But frankly, and between ourselves, by the time I’m ready to leave this body, it isn’t really going to be fit for anything else. You might be able to break it for spares, but it isn’t going to be a low mileage runner with only one careful owner.
Not only that but if you’re going to be the person who is having their brain, etc, transplanted into another body. You don’t want to move into something that might have five or six good years left in it. You want one with five or more decades ahead of it, before you move off into the next.
Now I can see there could be a shortage of donors. After all, how many people in their twenties die of something which leaves their body in perfect condition, just ready for the next tenant?
Still, there are times when we see a shortage of conventional organs for transplant and to quote Reuters, “LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – A senior lawyer called on Tuesday for the top United Nations human rights body to investigate evidence that China is murdering members of the Falun Gong spiritual group and harvesting their organs for transplant.
Hamid Sabi called for urgent action as he presented the findings of the China Tribunal, an independent panel set up to examine the issue, which concluded in June that China’s organ harvesting amounted to crimes against humanity.
Beijing has repeatedly denied accusations by human rights researchers and scholars that it forcibly takes organs from prisoners of conscience and said it stopped using organs from executed prisoners in 2015.”
After all, looking forward, executing prisoners by transplanting another brain into their body isn’t organ transplanting. And in some countries the law allows the death penalty for certain serious crimes.
So you never know, being young, fit, good-looking and driving at more than 10mph over the speed limit could well be the sort of heinous crime that deserves the death penalty.
There again, what do I know? Speak to the experts.
As a reviewer commented, “This is a selection of anecdotes about life as a farmer in Cumbria. The writer grew up on his farm, and generations of his family before him farmed the land. You develop a real feeling for the land you are hefted to and this comes across in these stories. We hear of the cattle, the sheep, his succession of working dogs, the weather and the neighbours, in an amusing and chatty style as the snippets of Jim Webster’s countryman’s wisdom fall gently. I love this collection.”