The Box With No Latch
New rule for human nature, folks: As soon as we figure out how to do something, somebody, somewhere, is going to do it.
This, to my knowledge, is inevitable. It’s as constant as the sunrise. Can anybody think of a discovery that, once made, wasn’t used? Some of them, granted, were only used for a short time or didn’t catch on or whatever, but some guy tried it out, guaranteed. If it turns out it was crap or nobody found it useful or something ‘better’ came along, we switched. Perhaps we forgot about the old thing. But somebody, somewhere was guaranteed to give it a whirl at least once.
So, here we are with this article from the Activist Post wringing its hands over genetically constructed/modified children. Two things I have to say about that:
(1) This was bound to happen. It will keep happening until such time as we find something better to do with our energy or, for whatever reason, genetically ‘constructed’ children become unpopular as the ‘results’ of this activity become somehow negative. No amount of saying ‘don’t do this’ before the fact is going to stop it. Delay it, maybe, but not stop. We only stop doing things afterwe’ve tried them out and melted our faces.
(2) The article contains a phrase I find massively worrying. Here it is (emphasis mine):
In other words, these genetically modified babies — if allowed to mate with non-GM humans— could potentially alter the very genetic coding of generations to come.
Whoah, whoah, whoah! “If allowed to mate?” What the fuck is that supposed to mean? These are people, right? Granted, born in an unconventional fashion, but still people. They can mate with whomever they want. I don’t care how much you hate the idea of GMOs (Genetically Modified Organisms), these individuals are alive. They are (or will be, hopefully) living, breathing, thinking human beings. No Chicken-Little, Luddite, jackhole gets to say who they sleep with or whether they have children. Unless their children are going to be bursting out of people’s chests a-la Alien and running about eating space-bound shipping personnel, nobody gets to dehumanize them by dictating their reproductive rights.
Science fiction has been down this road before, folks. It frequently ends with the super-intelligent genetically modified humans kicking our asses all over the planet, or the intelligent apes wiping us out, or we wind up building GMO ghettos somewhere and start setting up sterilization clinics and all kinds of other monstrous shit. Ugh! No.
GMOs are coming, folks. They’ll be here soon. They are going to be the next generation of pets. They are going to allow us to keep eating stuff when the rest of the planet dies and the oceans are empty of everything but plankton and jellyfish. They are going to become our friends and our neighbors and our soldiers and our leaders. It’s gonna happen, or at least science is going to give it a try.
If you’re scared, that’s normal – big technological changes are always scary. It isn’t going to be all roses and buttercups, either – I don’t intend to say that it will. What is most important about it, however, is that we do our best to utilize this new technology in a positive way. We should embrace it and figure it out and try to wrestle it into something that won’t be monstrous or dangerous or terrible. The best way to make sure that can’t happen is to freak out, marginalize, and rail against it. Then, the only people who want to work on it are the fringe scientists, the rogue states, the irresponsible corporations, and the criminals. That, my friends, doesn’t work out well for anybody.
Posted on July 3, 2012, in Critiques, Theories, and Random Thoughts and tagged genetic engineering, GMOs, human nature, Kahn, scifi, technology. Bookmark the permalink. 7 Comments.
I would amend your new rule based on my own feelings (which you capture at the end of your piece): As soon as we figure out how to do something, somebody, somewhere, is going to use it in a way that will be monstrous and dangerous and terrible. I agree with you that GMOs are coming, but we disagree as to where it will end up or that it can be a net positive.
To quote another GMO,
“No good will come of this, Pinky.”
Most technologies are a net positive, I would argue. The only exception I can readily think of is nuclear technologies, and even that is very, very debatable (and I lean towards positive).
Besides, your feelings aren’t an applicable universal rule, in that I can think of a huge number of technologies that aren’t bad and haven’t ever been used badly. Air Conditioning, for instance, or pants or the common garden rake. The compass. The spoon. Irrigation.
Sure, some of these are small potatoes things, but not all of them (the compass is HUGE). Besides, even if you can come up with some indirect methods the compass has been used for evil (Pirates! Imperialism!), it’s a hard argument to make that, on the whole, being able to find our way around is a bad thing.
Enter GMOs, which clearly occupy territory with things like electricity, combustion, and nuclear power in terms of ability to change the world and capacity to harm it. Can you make the argument that the world is better off without electricity? Good luck with that. For every death you summon up placed at electricity’s hands, I can give you thousands that would have never existed or died horribly. The potential of GMOs lies in that direction. If harnessed and used wisely, we can probably avoid the genetics wars everybody fears. Nasty stuff will happen, new weapons will be developed, but the potential to feed, heal, and improve everybody’s lives is too enormous to ignore.
Jesus. “GMO”s exist for all of one year and already some jackass is talking about restricting their rights? For God’s sake…
LOL, although I’m also reminded of how in the new Doctor, it’s incredibly clear that once humanity managed to travel to the stars, they also went about having sex with EVERYTHING, resulting in numerous humanoid crossbreeds. So there’s another addendum for you!
I think GMOs, and other life science-based tinkering, freak people out in particular more than other technology because the results and the repercussions can be so unpredictable. It’s harder to determine what the long term effects will be of consuming genetically-altered food, or how introducing a control species will pan out, as opposed to the use of a nuclear device or the internet, for example. And new organisms do have a tendency of getting out of hand, given that they have a mind of their own. (I’m thinking of cane toads as an example).
Unfortunately, then you get the argument, so shrilly delivered, that “This is bad because it isn’t natural”, which seems to be the tone in a number of the Activist Post’s pieces, and which begs the entire question…”Well, what IS natural?” Nature produces some pretty damn bizarre (and yet oddly beautiful) things.
When it comes to GMOs, the central question is whether or not they’re adding to genetic diversity or subtracting from it. Mutations are fine, and diversity’s good. If we have bat monkeys and spider goats and fish men, then hey…awesome. Life just got a lot more interesting. Like any other organism they’ll either thrive or die off. It’s the loss of genetic variety that I’d be more worried about, especially when you’re talking about humans and tinkering with our own code. We have a tendency to standardize and homogenize, and this can be dangerous, considering that it can leave systems and organisms less adaptable and more vulnerable to shocks.
I will admit however, that the rise of Dr. Moreau’s Chinese goat-men, led by genius-level human-rodent hybrids riding around in glass chairs like shot glasses, concerns me.
“The news comes after it was previously reported by British scientists that scientists were creating human-animal ‘monsters’. Such reports highlight the fact that rampant genetic experimentation is already taking place on many humans around the world, which has led a large number of scientists to call for new rules regarding the outlandish practice. Chinese scientists have already admittedly inserted human stem cells into goat fetuses, and United States researchers have actively researched the concept of engineering a mouse with human brain cells.”
Well, I agree with your horror at the “if allowed” thing. Whatever the negative consequences, once created, these people are, well, people. I don’t know that I have anything to add, really; you’ve already said it. Science fiction has, as you note, covered this debate already, so it’s somewhat shocking to see that in real life people still aren’t with the program yet.
I was also interested in your point that once something becomes possible, historically we have ALWAYS tried it out. True, for everything I can think of. Maybe not obviously bad ideas like garlic-and-limburger toothpaste, but… Anyway, there has to be a story idea there somewhere, right? 🙂 Obviously in a way it’s been done (Ice 9, among other things), but there has to be a new spin on it? Story concepts which come from important and true realizations about human nature do tend to be powerful ones, so it’s worth thinking about!
After posting that I wondered if my example might have been tried after all. And behold: http://www.hort.purdue.edu/newcrop/morton/durian_ars.html A plant which tastes like “garlic and limburger” and has a toothpaste based on it!