Posthuman Blues — I haven't

Posthuman Blues — I haven’t read Francis Fukuyama’s new book, Our Posthuman Future, but I did get a chance to chat with the man himself a couple weeks back in St Louis. While I don’t agree with him on most counts, I respect the fact that he didn’t resort to table thumping “repugnance” assertions about genetic manipulation, but rather set forth creative and thought-provoking arguments. Here are two that struck me (as best as I remember them).

First, about life extension… Our worldviews tend to get cemented into place sometime in our twenties. The usual course of things is that generations die out and are replaced by the next in line. And this is one main way the world changes. It is common for academic fields, for instance, to become ossified as the elderly doyen of the discipline wields his influence over the research programs for decades. The field is revitalized only when the master succumbs, releasing the creative energies he has suppressed. The same can and does go for society as a whole. However, suppose life expectancy is increased to, say, 200 years. We won’t then see this generational churning, and as a consequence we may get locked into the control of elder generations for long stretches, stifling innovation and social evolution. And we don’t want that.

Second, about cloning…. Suppose an infertile couple decides to have a daughter by creating a clone from the mother’s genes. The daughter, a perfect genetic replica of the mother, grows up into late adolescence, and the father finds himself looking into the very face of the young women he fell in love with so long ago. Won’t he experience uncanny echoes of his desire for his young wife? But it is not his wife; it is his daughter. Does this not create an unhealthy, perhaps dangerous, psychosexual tension in their relationship. Can their relationship ever be normal? And doesn’t a daughter deserve that?

I was about to grace you with my replies, but I think it might be fun to see what others come up with first (and I need to go to bed). I think the debate over scientific freedom is likely to be among the most important, with the most profound consequences, over the next decades. So if you disagree with Fukuyama, as I do, you need to know what to say. Technology is opening up possibilities we don’t yet know how to think clearly about. So it won’t be easy. But we’ve got to give it a shot. So shoot!

Author: Will Wilkinson

Vice President for Research at the Niskanen Center