Transgressive technologies: Does a posthuman dystopia await us? Part Two
By Mark Wegierski
Another danger which awaits today is what could be called the pharmacopia -- the continuing development of pharmacological narcotics, stimulants, and hallucinogens, which create a state of addictive stimulation. This is often coupled with surreal music and sound and light effects at so-called "raves," semi-clandestine multi-hour dance-parties, where the taking of the drug called Ecstasy (MDMA) is virtually de rigueur. The "rave" experience, fairly common among some young people, is already quite close to VR. Large numbers of highly addictive, highly enrapturing, chemical and plant substances, are supposedly illegal, yet are fairly easily available to young people or most others who wish to find such substances. But a greater danger may become a generally-available "feel-good" drug (such as the "soma" of Aldous Huxley's Brave New World), which may kill the possibility of "the true spiritual" in human beings, because of the constant feeling of satiated comfort it gives.
The third danger is the extension of the body-piercing and body-transforming concept to ever-more transgressive levels. Some aspects of this visible today are the overindulgence in cosmetic operations; the grotesqueries of hyper-muscle-building (almost always enhanced by drugs, such as steroids); the phenomenon of "sex-change" surgery; and increasingly transgressive body-piercing. This may culminate, for example, in various types of extreme body-piercing, tattooing, and branding, by comparison to which a small nose-stud will seem tame.
The fourth main danger is genetic subversion, which some call by the trendy name "algeny" (from alchemy). What this might mean is increasing inter- as well as intraspecies genetic engineering, including the attempt to create new lifeforms. The advances in genetics will be initially powered by the promise of eliminating hereditary defects in the womb, which few people will probably object to (i.e., to produce a physically healthy child, rather than one afflicted with severe disability). They will also be powered by the desire to create replacement body parts, for an increasingly aging population. Some of these trends can already be seen in the mice produced for scientific research, which have genetically human blood flowing through their little bodies, as well as "transgenic" pigs, whose organs are to be used as substitutes in humans. A possible extension of these concepts would be the production of brainless fetuses, who grow in a woman's womb for the sake of the organs they would later supply. A similar concept is to clone a brainless twin from every normal baby born, where the former would be maintained only as supplier of fresh organs for the latter. There has been an incredibly intense debate over stem-cell research, as human embryos are usually considered to be the main source of stem cells. Some researchers, however, have tried to identify and work with stem cells from adults, which neither harms the adult person, nor requires the destruction of embryos. In November 2001, there was the announcement of the cloning of a human embryo. It was said about the procedure that it would be used only for “therapeutic” purposes, i.e., to harvest stem-cells that could be later be grown into substitute organs – rather than to try to replicate a whole new person.
Geneticists have also experimented with splicing the genes of mice and carrots, and creating "monstrous" flies, with eyes in places where they never naturally occur. Genetic engineering could be seen to hold the peril of human extinction within itself. Suppose genetic engineers develop an oil-eating bacteria, to deal with oil slicks, which somehow mutates into having a preference for human blood! There is a fundamental genetic threat to humanity from ostensibly positive motives, and not only from such obvious things as biological warfare exercised by some rogue country's or terrorist faction’s fanatical leaders.
It has been suggested that because of the increasing prevalence of estrogens and other chemicals in the environment, there are occurring drastic declines in men's virility, especially in Western countries, as well as the far quicker onset of characteristics of puberty in young girls. At the same time, there is an explosion of obesity-related diseases, as the percentage of obese persons continues to grow. Cancer rates are also burgeoning, most likely because of the increasing poisons in the food, water, air, and earth. The increasing prevalence of prostate cancer in men, and breast cancer in women, is probably environmentally-related.
Food produced by modern industrial methods and involving genetic modification often appears to be carcigenous; yet a return to more organic methods of farming (and avoidance of genetic modification techniques) is now difficult, since the food supply would likely drop so rapidly, hundreds of millions of people would probably be pushed to the edge of starvation. However, the extreme industrialization of food production, for example, by feeding cattle the ground-up remains of their own species -- has resulted in mad-cow disease. These industrial methods are accompanied by massive use of artificial growth hormones and antibiotics, because the cattle no longer eat grass in the fields, but are continually penned up.
The story of modern medicine and technology is indeed one of initial fantastic success, which has, it could argued, nevertheless stalled in the last few decades. Indeed, one can see a hypertrophy of advance, a law of diminishing returns, in the current-day fight for health. The health-consciousness of a few is magnified through the media highlighting "beautiful people" and sport-stars, whereas the spectator public grows ever less healthy and overweight.
As modern medicine carries out evermore advanced and seemingly miraculous procedures, the possibilities of dangerous manipulations also increase. What is not often noted is that many birth defects today arise from the polluted environment, as well as sometimes from the manifestly unhealthy lifestyles of one or both parents; i.e., extraordinary technological interventions are now possibly required more frequently as a result of what could be characterized as other forms of "progress." It can also be noted that because of over-use of antibiotics, fearsome new strains of disease are making a comeback.
To be continued next week.
Mark Wegierski is a Canadian writer and historical researcher.