Sean Mann

Sean Mann (Born Apr. 6, 1932 - Died Oct. 31, 1988) was the Allan K. Wood Distinguished Professor of Bioethics and Korean language at the University of California, Berkeley.


Early life
Dr. Mann was born on April 6, 1932 in Newton, Kansas. As a youth, he became fascinated with the idea that all living things have moral value, even the very small. His passion for defending the rights of the living, even the very small, grew out of his horror at his schoolmates' treatment of animals. In one such frequently cited incident, Mann saw a young squirrel beheaded by a set of pruning shears.

The perpetrator of the act, Travis Robey, grew to be a powerful mayor of Newton, where his populist politics and penchant for hyperbole struck a chord with the citizenry of the small, farming community. Mann was appalled by Robey's success and didn't return to Newton until the mayor's death in the final days of March 1974. Upon his return, Mann refused to speak Mayor Robey's name and instead referred to him as that "merciless, bloodthirsty twit."

After taking his B.A. in philosophy and biology from Kalamazoo College in Kalamazoo, Michigan, Mann moved on to Johns Hopkins University, where he began working on his Ph.D. in the burgeoning field of bioethics. However, just prior to finishing his dissertation, he left school to work as a missionary in southern Korea. After spending eleven years preaching the Christian gospel and immersing himself in Korean dialects, Mann travelled to the United Kingdom to finish his doctorate. He was asked to leave Bristol University after the publication of his controversial monograph, Images of the Christ as Represented through Korean Ideograms. It is still uncertain whether the university occasioned his departure because of the provocative nature of his language analysis, or because he fradulently used the university presses to produce his work.

Mann returned to Kansas in 1958, where he became an itinerant bookseller and part-time preacher. After some time travelling around the state, he enrolled at the University of Kansas and took his Ph.D. in 1960.

Academic Career
After leaving the University of Kansas, Dr. Mann took a position as associate lecturer in bioethics at Whitman College in Walla Walla, Washington, and immediately began revising his doctoral dissertation for publication. This work - an analysis of comparative philosophical perspectives on biology and moral life - was published to immense disappointment and ruthless scholarly attack in July of 1962. This fact is especially notable because its 1965 reprinting would revolutionize the field of bioethics.

A Question of Value: Life, Death, and the Very Small earned Mann the reputation of being the Martin Luther of the field, demonstrating his willingness to stand by his convictions in the face of popular onslaught. He was dismissed from the Whitman College after publication (ostensibly for romantic involvement with students, though today this is widely doubted), but was quickly hired by the Department of Bioethics at the University of California, Berkeley.

His next book, Biopiracy: The Scourge of the Future, was well before its time. From his interest in the history of the patent for typewriters, Dr. Mann actually envisioned a time when plants and living things, even the very small, might be controlled by patents. His views on this subject, germinating for some time, led to his revolutionary anarcho-syndicalist political views. However, his radical ideology always deferred to his evangelistic Christian beliefs.

Predictably, these two currents of Mann's life did not harmonize as well as he would have liked. He was shunned by the Revolutionary Tendency for Workers' Struggle for the address he delivered at an IWW rally in 1971 expounding the necessity of belief in Jesus Christ for the triumph of the anarcho-syndicalist movement. Furthermore, the "independent" flock of religious believers he gathered in California were none too impressed by the fervor of his revolutionary politics.

Despite the fact that he was caught in the crossfire of these two very different viewpoints, Mann maintained that his beliefs were reconcilable but did not attempt to unify his constituencies. Instead, he exhibited the utmost respect for both. As one would-be "Mannist" quipped, "[t]he professor did not force his politics on us, he left us free to worship. I could tell - I knew him well, you see - that he wanted us to believe more, but he chose to remain silent. For this, I feel he was a true believer."

Mann's political "flock" similarly seemed to accept his dual loyalty. IWW supporter Hans Drucker mentioned that "Mann would be silent as a gas-ridden ghost whenever religion entered the conversation. He knew how we felt; we knew how he felt. No hurtful words ever crossed lips in the Professor's presence." Some admirers might have felt that Mann could reconcile the beliefs, but the vast majority did not. Dr. Mann spent much of the late 1960's and '70's without a political or religious organization to disseminate his writings.

Late Life
Perhaps out of loneliness or frustration with organized politics and religion, Dr. Mann returned to his time in Korea. Fusing his evangelical faith with his knowledge of Korean symbology and language, Dr. Mann set out to reinterpret Christ's teachings. Through painstaking research, Dr. Mann described how two thousand year old Korean Ideograms proved Christ's presence in the Asian country.

Mann spent the last year of his life hobbled by pinworms and incontinence. His last communication, a letter he wrote to the pastor of the church of his youth in Newton, Kansas, was written in indecipherable hand and signed with an "X".

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