Francis Fukuyama fears that biotechnology will make monsters of us. Steven Rose weighs the evidence Published on Sat 1 Jun It was not some futuristic speculation, but an argument that the collapse of Soviet communism and the triumph of US-style liberal democracy meant that, effectively, the world was now under stable management. He has been rowing back ever since.

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The novel was about what we now call information technology: central to the success of the vast, totalitarian empire that had been set up over Oceania was a device called the telescreen, a wall-sized flat-panel display that could simultaneously send and receive images from each individual household to a hovering Big Brother.

The telescreen was what permitted the vast centralization of social life under the Ministry of Truth and the Ministry of Love, for it allowed the government to banish privacy by monitoring every word and deed over a massive network of wires. That year saw the introduction of a new model of the IBM personal computer and the beginning of what became the PC revolution. But instead of becoming an instrument of centralization and tyranny, it led to just the opposite: the democratization of access to information and the decentralization of politics.

Instead of Big Brother watching everyone, people could use the PC and Internet to watch Big Brother, as governments everywhere were driven to publish more information on their own activities. Many of the technologies that Huxley envisioned, like in vitro fertilization, surrogate motherhood, psychotropic drugs, and genetic engineering for the manufacture of children, are already here or just over the horizon.

But this revolution has only just begun; the daily avalanche of announcements of new breakthroughs in biomedical technology and achievements such as the completion of the Human Genome Project in the year portend much more serious changes to come. This is the world of classical tyranny, technologically empowered but not so different from what we have tragically seen and known in human history. In this world, disease and social conflict have been abolished, there is no depression, madness, loneliness, or emotional distress, sex is good and readily available.

There is even a government ministry to ensure that the length of time between the appearance of a desire and its satisfaction is kept to a minimum. No one takes religion seriously any longer, no one is introspective or has unrequited longings, the biological family has been abolished, no one reads Shakespeare.

They no longer struggle, aspire, love, feel pain, make difficult moral choices, have families, or do any of the things that we traditionally associate with being human. They no longer have the characteristics that give us human dignity. Indeed, there is no such thing as the human race any longer, since they have been bred by the Controllers into separate castes of Alphas, Betas, Epsilons, and Gammas who are as distant from each other as humans are from animals.

Their world has become unnatural in the most profound sense imaginable, because human nature has been altered. They are, indeed, happy slaves with a slavish happiness. For one can go on to ask, What is so important about being a human being in the traditional way that Huxley defines it? After all, what the human race is today is the product of an evolutionary process that has been going on for millions of years, one that with any luck will continue well into the future. There are no fixed human characteristics, except for a general capability to choose what we want to be, to modify ourselves in accordance with our desires.

So who is to tell us that being human and having dignity means sticking with a set of emotional responses that are the accidental byproduct of our evolutionary history? Huxley is telling us, in effect, that we should continue to feel pain, be depressed or lonely, or suffer from debilitating disease, all because that is what human beings have done for most of their existence as a species. Certainly, no one ever got elected to Congress on such a platform. In Brave New World , religion has been abolished and Christianity is a distant memory.

To use biotechnology to engage in what another Christian writer, C. Both writers suggest that nature itself, and in particular human nature, has a special role in defining for us what is right and wrong, just and unjust, important and unimportant. This is important, I will argue, because human nature exists, is a meaningful concept, and has provided a stable continuity to our experience as a species.

It is, conjointly with religion, what defines our most basic values. Human nature shapes and constrains the possible kinds of political regimes, so a technology powerful enough to reshape what we are will have possibly malign consequences for liberal democracy and the nature of politics itself.

It may be that the technology will in the end prove much less powerful than it seems today, or that people will be moderate and careful in their application of it. But one of the reasons I am not quite so sanguine is that biotechnology, in contrast to many other scientific advances, mixes obvious benefits with subtle harms in one seamless package. But such threats are actually the easiest to deal with because they are so obvious.

Like nuclear weapons or nanotechnology, these are in a way the easiest to deal with because once we have identified them as dangerous, we can treat them as a straightforward threat.

As a result of advances in neuropharmacology, psychologists discover that human personality is much more plastic than formerly believed. It is already the case that psychotropic drugs such as Prozac and Ritalin can affect traits like self-esteem and the ability to concentrate, but they tend to produce a host of unwanted side effects and hence are shunned except in cases of clear therapeutic need. But in the future, knowledge of genomics permits pharmaceutical companies to tailor drugs very specifically to the genetic profiles of individual patients and greatly minimize unintended side effects.

Stolid people can become vivacious; introspective ones extroverted; you can adopt one personality on Wednesday and another for the weekend.

Worst of all, they just refuse to get out of the way, not just of their children, but their grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. On the other hand, so few people have children or any connection with traditional reproduction that it scarcely seems to matter.

Human genes have been transferred to animals and even to plants, for research purposes and to produce new medical products; and animal genes have been added to certain embryos to increase their physical endurance or resistance to disease. Scientists have not dared to produce a full-scale chimera, half human and half ape, though they could; but young people begin to suspect that classmates who do much less well than they do are in fact genetically not fully human.

We vary greatly as individuals and by culture, but we share a common humanity that allows every human being to potentially communicate with and enter into a moral relationship with every other human being on the planet. The ultimate question raised by biotechnology is, What will happen to political rights once we are able to, in effect, breed some people with saddles on their backs, and others with boots and spurs? The answer is obvious: We should use the power of the state to regulate it.

And if this proves to be beyond the power of any individual nation-state to regulate, it needs to be regulated on an international basis. We need to start thinking concretely now about how to build institutions that can discriminate between good and bad uses of biotechnology, and effectively enforce these rules both nationally and internationally.

The discussion remains mired at a relatively abstract level about the ethics of procedures like cloning or stem cell research, and divided into one camp that would like to permit everything, and another camp that would like to ban wide areas of research and practice. Since it seems very unlikely that we will either permit everything or ban research that is highly promising, we need to find a middle ground.

The global economy that has emerged as a result is a far more efficient generator of wealth and technological innovation. Excessive regulation in the past, however, led many to become instinctively hostile to state intervention in any form, and it is this knee-jerk aversion to regulation that will be one of the chief obstacles to getting human biotechnology under political control.

Information technology, for example, produces many social benefits and relatively few harms and therefore has appropriately gotten by with a fairly minimal degree of government regulation. Nuclear materials and toxic waste, on the other hand, are subject to strict national and international controls because unregulated trade in them would clearly be dangerous.

If the United States or any other single country tries to ban human cloning or germline genetic engineering or any other procedure, people who wanted to do these things would simply move to a more favorable jurisdiction where they were permitted. Globalization and international competition in biomedical research ensure that countries that hobble themselves by putting ethical constraints on their scientific communities or biotechnology industries will be punished. People get away with robbery and murder, after all, which is not a reason to legalize theft and homicide.

Putting in place a regulatory system that would permit societies to control human biotechnology will not be easy: it will require legislators in countries around the world to step up to the plate and make difficult decisions on complex scientific issues.

The shape and form of the institutions designed to implement new rules is a wide-open question; designing them to be minimally obstructive of positive developments while giving them effective enforcement capabilities is a significant challenge. Even more challenging will be the creation of common rules at an international level, the forging of a consensus among countries with different cultures and views on the underlying ethical questions.

But political tasks of comparable complexity have been successfully undertaken in the past. I believe that this polarization is unfortunate because it leads many to believe that the only reason one might object to certain advances in biotechnology is out of religious belief.

Particularly in the United States, biotechnology has been drawn into the debate over abortion; many researchers feel that valuable progress is being checked out of deference to a small number of antiabortion fanatics. That is, without understanding how natural desires, purposes, traits, and behaviors fit together into a human whole, we cannot understand human ends or make judgments about right and wrong, good and bad, just and unjust.

Like many more recent utilitarian philosophers, Aristotle believed that the good was defined by what people desired; but while utilitarians seek to reduce human ends to a simple common denominator like the relief of suffering or the maximization of utility, Aristotle retained a complex and nuanced view of the diversity and greatness of natural human ends.

The purpose of his philosophy was to try to differentiate the natural from the conventional, and to rationally order human goods. While there were significant disputes over what human nature was, no one contested its importance as a basis for rights and justice.

Among the believers in natural right were the American Founding Fathers, who based their revolution against the British crown on it. Nonetheless, the concept has been out of favor for the past century or two among academic philosophers and intellectuals. Modern biology is finally giving some meaningful empirical content to the concept of human nature, just as the biotech revolution threatens to take the punch bowl away.

Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.


Unnatural selection

Share via Email The reasons for the persistence of the notion of the equality of human dignity are complex. Partly it is a matter of force of habit, and what Max Weber once called the "ghost of dead religious beliefs" that continues to haunt us. But another important reason for the persistence of the idea of the universality of human dignity has to do with what we might call the nature of nature itself. Many of the grounds on which certain groups were historically denied their share of human dignity were proven to be simply a matter of prejudice, or else based on cultural and environmental conditions that could be changed.


Don't mess with human nature...

By Francis Fukuyama. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux. ISBN: 0———7. This is not a pop-science account of modern biotech. Instead, the questions raised by the development of biotechnology have been used as a springboard from which to dive into a discussion of rights theory and the framing of an argument against the positivistic rights discourse with which modern liberalism and science have draped themselves.


'Our Posthuman Future'

Human Nature[ edit ] Fukuyama defines human nature as "the sum of the behavior and characteristics that are typical of the human species, arising from genetics rather than environmental factors. Fukuyama refers to the irreducible totality of these qualities as "Factor X", "the complex whole" as opposed to "the sum of simple parts", which forms the foundation of human dignity. Moreover, he believes that "every member of the human species possesses a genetic endowment that allows him or her to become a whole human being, an endowment that distinguishes a human in essence from other types of creatures. Therefore, biotechnology targeting human nature will inevitably affect the discourse of values and politics. He provides several arguments to defend his human nature-based theory of rights: Classic philosophical accounts by Socrates and Plato argue for the existence of human nature.

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