Futurisms: Critiquing the project to reengineer humanity

Thursday, December 8, 2011

The Cases For and Against Enhancing People

A recent issue of The New Atlantis features several essays on transhumanism which may be of interest to readers of this blog. I’ll describe them briefly in this post and the next.

The first essay is “The Case for Enhancing People,” by Ronald Bailey, the science correspondent for Reason magazine. Ron is well known for supporting transhumanism and enhancement technologies; he makes the case for them in his book Liberation Biology: The Moral and Scientific Case for the Biotech Revolution. Here’s a snippet of his essay for us:

Contrary to oft-expressed concerns, we will find, first, that enhancements will better enable people to flourish; second, that enhancements will not dissolve whatever existential worries people have; third, that enhancements will enable people to become more virtuous; fourth, that people who don’t want enhancement for themselves should allow those of us who do to go forward without hindrance; fifth, that concerns over an “enhancement divide” are largely illusory; and sixth, that we already have at hand the social “technology,” in the form of protective social and political institutions, that will enable the enhanced and the unenhanced to dwell together in peace.

In response to Ron Bailey’s piece, we’ve published an essay by Benjamin Storey, an associate professor of political science at Furman University. The essay challenges Ron’s particularly libertarian strain of transhumanism, but also speaks to some of the fundamental questions raised by human enhancement. Here’s a taste:

“The Case for Enhancing People” is obviously the work of a sharp and curious mind, but Bailey’s libertarian commitment blinds him to the moral difficulties of our biotechnological moment, and condemns him to endlessly exploring what Chesterton called “the clean and well-lit prison of one idea.” When we step outside that prison, we find ourselves confronting a complex political, historical, and moral-existential landscape in which there are no easy answers. Politically, we face both the difficult task of attempting to responsibly shape mainstream moral life without going overboard in “childproofing our culture,” as Yuval Levin has put it, and the sobering reality that technology and individual liberty do not always exist in harmony. Historically, we stand before an uncertain future, in which there is no reason to believe that all technological change issues in genuine human progress.

This is a bracing and carefully wrought exchange; I believe readers will find it well worth their time.

2 comments:

  1. The real problem is that the possibility of genetic engineering will be used as an excuse to regulate. Such regulation will be rendered easier if we already have a bureaucracy that's used to inquiring about children's genomes.

    Just look at how affirmative action was given a boost by the already extant tendency toward racial classification.

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  2. The distinction must be made between eugenics (enhancing ones kids) and self-enhancement by competent adults. The first is a legitimate subject of public debate. The second is purely a private. Making the second a matter of public debate is considered an invasion of privacy by many of us.

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