Francis Fukuyama, Professor of International Political Economy at Johns Hopkins and originator of the “End of History” thesis, has published a book that signals the beginning of a new history, one established by biotechnology. Whereas questions of political power drove our old history and ended with a consensus for democracy, the new history will struggle, according to Our Posthuman Future, over maintaining our very humanity.
Unfortunately, despite an impressive survey of science and philosophy, and a thorough wringing of hands, the terrors Fukuyama raises are inadequately thought-through. We are left with a future that is not convincingly doom-ridden.
Fukuyama believes that growing knowledge of the brain will permit dangerous manipulation. “Neuropharmacology” is one means. Prozac (for depressed girls) and Ritalin(for hyperactive boys) are on their way to androgynizing our youth. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors(SSRIs) ease adult worries. Do we want bland happiness replacing hard-edged creativity? he asks.
Of course, drug treatment for mental disorders has emptied many “mad
houses” and saved countless lives from despair and delusion. Its regulation is
one of the major functions of parents, doctors,and various existing
bureaucracies. To be fair, Fukuyama admits to some medical need for
brain-altering drugs. And he proposes no new controls, only worries.
Next, he agrees that soon microbiologists may extend life through the
encouragement of DNA repair genes and the re-extension of chromosomes that
shorten when cells replicate. However, he concentrates on the possibility that
added years will be ones of disability rather than of rejuvenation.
Recent experimenters report the end of senescence and the “maintenance
of normal human cells in a phenotypically youthful state…” [See EXTENSION OF
LIFE-SPAN BY INTRODUCTION OF TELOMERASE INTO NORMAL HUMAN CELLS by Andrea G.
Bodnar et al in Science 16 January 1998.] Thus there are hopeful prospects for
the beneficial extension of life. Of course science has a long way to go and
many way stations to pass before it may cure all the effects of age in a single
body. But we should not raise difficulties at this stage.
terrified by other changes to “human nature” that will be possible through
genetic engineering. Women already are discarding those of their eggs with
genetic disabilities, will soon select the fertilized egg that has the best
characteristics, and, in a few more years,will have microbiologists actually
design a child’s DNA. There will be an intelligence arms race, a convergence of
characteristics, and “a loss of our humanity.”
He reasons from an a
priori assumption that there is a “human nature” which must be protected and
tries to define the squishy term. He has a particular problem with facets of
character. Women are “normally” more caring than men. Most societies deplore
murder (unless it is of some other ethnicity). Parents protect children
(except…). He flounders with specifying what he wants to save. The reader is
mentally left with modifying the proposition once uttered by a Supreme Court
judge: “I can’t define pornography [non-human character] but I know it when I
Fukuyama desires the maintenance of accidental evolution,
normal life spans, and biological stasis except for curative medical treatment.
He has little faith in parental, medical, and governmental, case by case, good
judgment. He would create a new regulatory agency in the United States and
agitate for cooperative efforts by all countries.
However, what great
prophet would we appoint to manage a science whose eventual effects we can’t
predict and which may impact on a humanness we can’t define? This writer would
prefer a step-by-step,democratic approach. Lets only legislate against human
cloning when we have a clear consensus that the practice is unhealthy for the
children produced; against life extension when we know it only may extend a
cruel disability; and against baby tailoring when more is understood of the
genetic basis for character.
Let’s leave scary futures and busybody
alternatives to Science Fiction.