Humanity: The Remix
(Page 3 of 8)
On the left, Bill McKibben has argued just as passionately against human bioengineering in his book Enough (Henry Holt, 2003). In recent years, he and other ecologically minded progressives, including Rifkin, have found themselves in agreement with Fukuyama and Leon R. Kass, a conservative appointed by George W. Bush to head the President's Council on Bioethics. All have warned of the social dangers posed by human cloning, whether for making babies or for creating embryos for research purposes. Critics see cloning and embryo-based stem cell science as today's key gateway technologies leading us toward a posthuman world. Better to confront the biotech juggernaut now, they say, before it gets even more menacing.
This concern has led to other unexpected alliances and conflicts, presaging the many ethical showdowns we'll face in the years ahead. If we have the know-how to safely cure spinal cord injuries, cheat death, and tint your skin green, why keep it off the market? On the other hand, how do we balance individual desire and freedom against the needs of others, including other creatures? Defining life and death, already touchy issues, will become even more volatile in coming decades. Finally, there's the question that seems destined to haunt the 21st century: Will we control our technologies, or will they control us?
THE WISH TO EXCEED our bodily limits is as old and varied as human myth. Transhumanism in its recent form is often traced back to the curious circle of thinkers who gathered around a guy named Max More, a British cryogenics advocate turned philosophy student who changed his name from Max O'Connor to reflect his personal quest for perfection. More was in graduate school at the University of Southern California in 1988 when he and a fellow student, T.O. Morrow, founded the journal Extropy. (Its title is an invented word that's meant to be the opposite of entropy.) The Extropy Institute followed in 1992. By then, their call for building sleeker, quicker, sexier humans had begun to catch on, especially among young males. Heavily influenced by the writings of Ayn Rand, among others, More decreed that the institute would be virulently libertarian, and it remains so today, even as he himself is said to have become somewhat more moderate.
Other groups have sprung up as well. By 1998 a handful of European and American thinkers had coalesced into the kinder, gentler World Transhumanism Association. In contrast to the Extropians, WTA officials like the Swedish philosopher Nick Bostrom, now at Oxford University in England, acknowledged that corruption, accidents, and other forces could thwart their futurist visions and needed to be addressed. In particular, they were concerned about equalizing access to technology across borders and classes. The WTA appears to have veered even more to the left since James Hughes took over as director in 2001.
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