Steve Talbott picks an excellent argument with Bill McKibben who argues in his new book, “Enough: Staying Human in an Engineered Age”, that once we’re able to alter our children’s DNA, our offspring will have no sense of a self that is their own. Talbott’s point is that McKibben gives too much credit to the power of DNA to determine who we are:
By appearing to validate the scientist’s (and the public’s) conviction that we are our protein-producing DNA, McKibben is assisting the engineers’ program. For while his commendable aim is to convince us to pull back from the eugenic brink, the fact is that those who think they are their DNA are exactly the ones who will clamor for a new and improved self, or at least for new and improved children.
Will the genetic engineers make our lives meaningless? This is ever so close to the truth, yet light years away from it. No one can, in absolute terms, rob someone else of meaning. What makes life meaningless is our rejection of meaning — a rejection we have already given expression to when we conceive ourselves as the product of DNA “mechanisms”.
Talbott then goes on to the larger point:
That the worshippers of machinery, efficiency, and power are engaged today in a fateful assault upon the human being is beyond all doubt. McKibben performs a valuable service by documenting this assault for a large audience from the mouths of the commandos carrying it out. There is no shortage of testimony.
And then the truth:
If it’s true, as I have suggested, that we unavoidably affect each other’s destinies — for ill, but also for good — then everything hinges upon our understanding of this mutuality. And the first thing to grasp is that healthy human exchange is, and is essentially, a matter of mutuality. We are called to engage each other in a mutually respectful dance or conversation, which is very different from unilateral manipulation. Conversation or manipulation: *this* is the decisive distinction.
Finally, the Parthian shot at the transhumanist extropians, et al.:
You can’t read the futuristic scenarios and personal hopes of the re-engineers of humanity without being struck by the utter childishness of it all. Genetic modifications that will save us from the necessity of bodily excretion; nano-contrived plants that look exactly like orchids but can grow in frigid climes; robots that wait on us like slaves; a cyber-nano- genetically engineered “elite race of people who are smart, agile, and disease-resistant”; nanobot swarms able to wander the human bloodstream and keep us eternally healthy; technological horns of plenty that will convert every “desolate” village into “a Garden of Eden, with widescreen TVs and cappuccino machines for all”….and so on ad infinitum.
And many of these visions come from the same people who delight in ridiculing the “childish hopes” of the traditionally religious!
I’m a-liking Talbott…
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