Friday, February 19, 2016
Genetic Engineering is not a "Bad Word" - A few thoughts on modern eugenics
Sir Francis Galton stated “The improvement of our stock seems to me one of the highest objects that we can reasonably attempt”. When we hear statements like this, we automatically recoil, but why? We have associated eugenics with genetic engineering and with horrors of the past, times when it was used for terrible purposes and through terrible means. I should like to think that an educated mind might be able to step back from that initial reaction and give it some very real thought. Many things that make us recoil in horror with bad memories aren’t really awful at all, they were just used in terrible ways by terrible people. Certainly, guns and war machines have been used in terrible atrocities, as have technological advances and the words of many philosophers, most often after being twisted far from their meaning... Yet, we do not stop making war machines or guns and we do not stifle philosophers. So, why then, do we immediately run in fear of improving upon ourselves?
Eugenics meant “well born”. While I do not agree with how eugenics was used in the past, genetic engineering does not mean born of a certain color or of a certain heritage, it has nothing to do with the color of your hair and eyes. These are of course all traits that you could use genetic engineering to select for, but there are far more important areas one could strive for. You, as a student, fall asleep studying and stressing, wake after few hours of sleep and race to your class or job. You are tired, you do not get to eat well all of the time and you are most certainly short on rest. Couldn’t you use a hardier immune system, perhaps a greater memory, or a higher stamina? Surely, you’ve met someone, at least once in your life, and thought, “I wish they were intelligent enough to understand what I’m trying to get across here”.
Every day, we seek to improve upon ourselves with exercise, diet, make-up, creams, lotions, pills, vitamins, medicines, and a host of other products designed to help us achieve some goal. We’ll honestly try just about anything, including in some cases, surgery. So, what is it about genetic engineering that so frightens us? Perhaps, we fear losing our freedom to think and to be who we are, but in truth we should fear that from the host of products we use regularly. After all, we are atoms and molecules held together by in large part, hydrogen bonds. We can be broken apart by a mere fever, but we don’t fear taking concoctions made of plants and herbs, that occur nowhere in nature and are very difficult for our body to even begin to break down. I wonder what it is that makes chemists so very trustworthy and if they might be willing to share their secret with geneticists for the good of humanity. Let’s be honest, genetic engineering has a much higher chance of successfully helping you to achieve your personal goals than the pills and mixes you buy at ridiculous prices in your local store.
You might object on a religious level, stating that we were all created by a great being and therefore, should not dare to consider changing what he created. But, if you brought that argument to my door, I would have to take you seriously and take you from your home, out to the wilderness. You could have no electronics or manufactured food, no technology, and would most certainly be forced to live off of the land. Unfortunately, we’d need a geneticist as well, as you have changed unnaturally via evolution in response to the unnatural changes that man has made to his environment. In other words, you have already been changed irrevocably by far more than just nature and there is nothing you can do about it, so what is the use in standing there denying anyone else the use of this technological advance out of fear that it might change us?
More likely, we return to the objection that the base idea of it was used by the Nazis in Germany and in many countries in fact, to try to purify races or groups of peoples and I assure you, I object to that as well. However, that fact in itself does not make it evil or bad. Anything can be used for ill, I could use an eraser to beat you with, but without erasers, our assignments would be an awful mess. It is time that we stopped cowering like children in fear of the past and instead, move forward as adults with open eyes. We must be aware of the past, lest we repeat it, but we cannot allow it to stop us from moving forward. Fear is paralyzing. Sperm donors already exist, women and couples choose the traits they hope their child might gain. The truth is, so long as it is available to all of us, just as surgeries and pills are, we have little to fear in our government regulated country. Those who work to afford it and want it will get it and those who do not want it can avoid it, until they unintentionally breed with a modified person. But then, that is considered natural in this mixed up world. It’s ok, so long as you didn’t actually agree to actively take part in it upfront and can benefit from it down the road. That seems to be the general consensus anyway. If it turns out poorly, you took no part in it, if it turns out well, you can benefit later. It is the safest choice, but perhaps, safe is no longer what we need when it comes to deciding what is best for our future as a whole. Genetic engineering is not without risk, but it can feed all the hungry in the world, help reduce illness, improve our quality of life and longevity, improve our world as a whole with more intelligent and more vital beings, and so much more. The potential for good extends so much farther than any of us can even realize right now, and if we need to discuss and put controls in place, I say that it is the generation reading this that should do just that. Just, don’t stop at merely discussing it. I do hope you get the ball rolling, per say, before I’m too old and dusty to enjoy any of it. If you do object, at least perhaps, I made you think on it and Socrates would be pleased with that.