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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
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.
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.
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