Skip to comments.Brave New World V2.0
Posted on 04/22/2002 10:31:59 AM PDT by gordgekko
Our Posthuman Future
Consequences of the biotechnology revolution
By Francis Fukuyama
Farrar, Straus and Giroux
256 pgs. US$25/C$39.95
Brave New World V2.0
By Steven Martinovich
web posted April 22, 2002
It would appear that history has not, in fact, ground to a halt. Back in 1989, social philosopher Francis Fukuyama made the extraordinary claim that because "the major alternatives to liberal democracy had exhausted themselves," history had effectively come to an end. Ten years later, he backpedaled by announcing that history wasn't at an end because science continued to make progress. Fukuyama picks up that thread in Our Posthuman Future: Consequences of the Biotechnology Revolution with a compellingly argued new thesis.
Ostensibly focusing on advances in science, at its core Our Posthuman Future expends much of its efforts on exploring the concept of human nature and how our understanding of it has changed through the millennia. Fukuyama grounds his theory of human nature in the concept of "natural rights," favored by America's Founding Fathers for their Declaration of Independence and constitution, but since dismissed as outmoded - wrongly in his opinion - by academics and philosophers. Fukuyama argues that there is such a thing as human nature, ill defined as it is, and the fact that we all share it guarantees our equality. The spread of biotechnology, neuropharmacology and even a radical increase in our lifespan threatens who we are as human beings.
Fukuyama argues that our liberal democracy is a construct of our human nature and that the reason why the system is so successful is that it has best met the needs of humanity. The problem, according to Fukuyama, is that potential advances in biotechnology promise to change human nature. Our political systems, therefore, will have to adapt to a new humanity. Instead of our benign society, he argues, we will leap into an uncertain future filled with genetic class warfare and the end of our brand of humanity.
If Fukuyama is right, our future will be more Aldous Huxley than George Orwell. Humanity will attain, writes Fukuyama, a "soft tyranny envisioned in Brave New World, in which everyone is healthy and happy but has forgotten the meaning of hope, fear, or struggle." We will be healthier, artificially mentally adjusted, live longer and demonstrably different from even our recent ancestors. Changing our very essence, argues Fukuyama, will create this posthuman.
Fukuyama's arguments are convincing if you believe that the advances in biotechnology that he fears are even possible. As Colin Tudge pointed out in last year's The Impact of the Gene: From Mendel's Peas to Designer Babies, even in theory it's difficult to constructing a "better" human being. While it is technically possible to create a designer baby, nothing is impossible after all, Tudge argued that it won't likely be very feasible considering the monumental challenge of understanding the millions, perhaps even billions, of genetic factors that influence a single variable like intelligence.
Fukuyama and Tudge both agree, however, that it would be a mistake for humans to begin tinkering with their genes. It took over five million years for the modern human being to evolve and given that we can never have absolute knowledge, modifying the genes of our descendants meddles with processes we do not completely understand and may bring repercussions we may be regret decades or centuries down the line.
To that end, Fukuyama argues that immediate legislative action is needed to halt this slide into posthumanness. Reproductive cloning must be immediately banned, pre-implementation diagnosis and screening must be regulated and only genetic therapy - not enhancement - should be permitted. Although he attempts to straddle the line between the free market and increased government intervention, it is clear that Fukuyama believes biotechnology should be placed in the same class as biological and nuclear weapons. If he's right, biotechnology is even more dangerous as the other two would allow us to die as what we are, human beings.
Steven Martinovich is a freelance writer in Sudbury, Ontario.
Buy Francis Fukuyama's Our Posthuman Future: Consequences of the biotechnology revolution at Amazon.com for only $17.50 (30% off)
His fears are justified based on his premise, but his hypothosis is only one of many possible ones. Regardless, it is a restatement of the chicken or egg dilemma, or, do we shape our environment or does it shape us? Was prehistoric man's basic nature really the same as ours today? Even without genetic meddling, will our basic nature be the same a million years from now?
Perhaps it's later than we think. Fukuyama can call for all the controls he wants; that's not going to stop freelancers from pursuing their own visions of the Holy Grail. And regardless of either Fukuyama's vision of tight controls or the realities of laissez faire science, we already live in interesting genetic times.
That's actually an interesting question given the recent pronouncements by some scientists that humans have stopped evolving because we can now deal with any environmental change and we no longer choose our mates based on the principles used by our distant ancestors.
Tinfoil hat or not, it is possible.
I thought they stopped allowing Epsilons from making major social pronouncements.
He should just quit. Anyone that could make such a feeble prediction has no business trying to predict the future. He might be interesting on a superficial level, but is guaranteed to be wrong. People like this always see catastrophe ahead unless everyone does as they suggest.
The truth is no one person knows enough to provide a perfect future. Only millions of independent people looking out for their own self interest will provide a future in which we will all want to live. Central planning doesn't work.
To which I respond, "Keep your Fukuyama laws off of my genes!" Who asked him, anyway?
This is particularly rich. The whole issue of biotechnology is one of hope and fear. Fukuyama would crush those hopes and fears with the iron fist of government coercion. What does that remind you of?
|given that we can never have absolute knowledge, modifying the genes of our descendants meddles with processes we do not completely understand and may bring repercussions we may be regret decades or centuries down the line.
I don't understand how people can think that this guy is some kind of totalitarian. The above statement is the fundamental principle of conservatism. It is the belief that "the way things are" is not some arbitrary choice that we can mess with at will, but instead is the product of trial-and-error in a world where no one is smart enough to foresee the consequences of intentionally meddling. This does not just apply to genes, it applies to any kind of 'engineering' of human beings or their societies. The horrible unintended consequences of most social engineering programs are well known. Try to help the poor by giving them money, and you end up with fatherless ghettos. Human processes are simply too complex for human brains to comprehend. I absolutely believe this author when he says that well-meaning people will do well-meaning things with this biotechnology, but that their intentions are irrelevant; they are messing with things that no one truly understands, and the potential for horrible unintended consequences is very high.
It is only going to take one stupid mistake to create some virus or microbe that turns out to be the ultimate disease organism, against which humans have no defense. Frankly, I think that one is far more likely than any of these "how humans will behave in the 23rd century" scenarios. There are crazy people out there, like the mysterious anthrax killer, who would try to build such a thing on purpose, just because they're nuts. Give them a technology with which to build it, and they will do so. And if they don't, the Saddam Husseins of the world will.
For the longest time, we all thought we had the "nuclear genie" in the bottle. Laws, treaties, and regulations would keep atomic weaponry out of the hands of kookburgers. Does anyone believe that anymore? How far is Al Qaeda or Saddam from smuggling one of these damned things into New York or Washington? Nobody really knows, but the guy who says "Absolutely no way" is as crazy as they are.
Biotech is a technology that can be applied using much simpler means that are easily acquired and just as easy to hide. It looks like the anthrax spores really were done by one Mad Scientist someplace using techniques that are unknown to our bioterrorism experts.
Could the technology have benefits? Sure. My personal method for dealing with such tradeoffs is to measure the cost of making a mistake. If we make a mistake with this stuff, literally everyone could die. That's a big penalty for making a simple mistake. Personally, I would avoid that one. Let's make our mistakes with choices like whether to explore space, or mine the oceans. It's easier to live with the consequences if things go badly.
Dumb, dumb, dumb. How does he plan to stop cloning, once it becomes feasable? If I want to clone myself -- horrible thought! -- who could stop me? I'd go to some country where it's legal, and get it done. I'd bring my "son" home, and who would know the difference? Better still, I'll bring the impregnated woman home with me, and my clone will be born an American citizen. What will the feds do if they discover that he's a clone? Kill him? Of course not. When cloning is possible, all the laws in the world won't stop it. Nor should they.
Who "owns" YOUR DNA?
End of argument.
Problem is that we do not know enough to use this technology. That famous cloned sheep did not live very long. It also took hundreds of dead sheep before they got it. We do not even know what every gene in the human body does - and that is less than 5% of our genome. The rest we barely understand, but we know that it is extremely important in telling what the 5% we know about does. Seems to me that this is a very dangerous procedure, destructive of human life (the many tries it takes to get a working clone), and demeaning of the individual produced in such a manner. Seems to me it is quite a lot to lose just to satisfy the egos of a few rich people who wish to xerox themselves.
That's hard to say in my case. The UN has declared that my DNA is on the "World Heritage List" of irreplacable treasures.
Uh-huh, and the National Organization of Women has declared my natural bodily fluids to be "Most Pure" on the planet.
Yes. It's rare indeed to find a totally untapped source.
"I do not reject women, Mandrake, but I do deny them my essense." - Gen. Jack D. Ripper, "Dr. Strangelove"
Mandrake: Now look, Colonel... Bat Guano, if that really is your name, may I tell you that I have a very, very good idea, I think, I hope, I pray, what the recall code is. It's some sort of recurrent theme he kept repeating. It's a variation on Peace on Earth or Purity of Essence. E O P. O P E. It's one of those!
Guano: Put your hands up on top of your head. Start walking.
Mandrake: Don't you know that General Ripper went as mad as a bloody march hare and sent the while wing to attack the Soviets? Don't you know that?
Guano: "I think you and your pals are a bunch of deviated preverts, and Gen. Ripper caught you and was going to turn you in for all your preversions."
Mandrake: "Shoot the bloody lock off the soda machine, so I can use the change to call the president and get the Wing recalled. Shoot it, SHOOT IT, you bloody twit; that's what the bullets are for!"
Guano: "Okay, Mandrake... I'll get you your change, but you know what's gonna happen to you if you DON'T get the President of the United States on the phone?"
Guano: "You're gonna have to answer to the Cocoa Cola company!"
Muffley: You mean, people could actually stay down there for a hundred years?
Strangelove: It would not be difficult mein Fuhrer! Nuclear reactors could, heh ... I'm sorry. Mr. President. Nuclear reactors could provide power almost indefinitely. Greenhouses could maintain plantlife. Animals could be bred and slaughtered. A quick survey would have to be made of all the available mine sites in the country. But I would guess... that ah, dwelling space for several hundred thousands of our people could easily be provided.
Muffley: Well I ... I would hate to have to decide.. who stays up and ... who goes down.
Strangelove: Well, that would not be necessary Mr. President. It could easily be accomplished with a computer. And a computer could be set and programmed to accept factors from youth, health, sexual fertility, intelligence, and a cross section of necessary skills. Of course it would be absolutely vital that our top government and military men be included to foster and impart the required principles of leadership and tradition. [Slams down left fist. Right arm rises in stiff Nazi salute.] Arrrrr! [Restrains right arm with left.] Naturally, they would breed prodigiously, eh? There would be much time, and little to do. But ah with the proper breeding techniques and a ratio of say, ten females to each male, I would guess that they could then work their way back to the present gross national product within say, twenty years.
Gen. Buck Turgison: "But, Doctor, wouldn't that require abandonment of the so-called monogamous relationship?"
Strangelove: Regrettably, yes. But it is, you know, a sacrifice required for the future of the human race. I hasten to add that since each man will be required to do prodigious ... service along these lines, the women will have to be selected for their sexual characteristics which will have to be of a highly stimulating nature.
Thank you for that inspirational moment.
[strains of "We'll Meet Again on a Sunny Day" are heard in background, as flashes of nuclear weapon detonations fill the screen.]