I just finished reading “The New Synthetic Biology: Who Gains?” by Richard Lewontin in the New York Review of Books.
I believe this article makes clear that there are tremendous amounts of insight and ingenuity in the ways that humans try to be creators and fixers. Or rather, to create fixes for errors of human intervention in the world’s body.
Humans (each of us) are living beings which come into existence within natural frameworks. We don’t spring out of ourselves like Athena from the head of Zeus. (Damn those brilliant Greeks! Predicting the ways in which we will misunderstand life and act out of those misunderstandings by right, out of the logic of capability.)
It is the error of striving after self-birth, to be the uncreate, to be our own prime mover, evident even, as I read it, in Noah’s Ark. Out of the womb of the man-made vessel afloat on the waters of erasure comes a new dispensation: out of a built technology comes renewal.
However, I would beg that the minions of corporate for-profit science, who act without forethought daily, to seek to eradicate the errors of human history without creating an unknowable future.
We know that we must clean water, use less energy, share wealth and food, re-imagine a “good life” for all the world so that cultures do not strive to copy the great waster of resources, the United States of America, but seek to live well within shared parameters.
Creating synthetic biological organisms is creating an unknown world.
I do not think it wrong to be alarmist.
I do not ask this for the sake of the Earth. I ask this for myself, the children I love, and the future of a known way of life. If I believe that life is of value–my life, your life, your self-conception that you are of value–that your identity has meaning, any meaning at all and by extension all self-conscious beings have this same value–then I ask that each of us stop committing ourselves to destruction and redesign.
I can imagine the horror of a synthetic biological mistake destroying all that I know. Every story of hubris is the story of the fall. This is part of our very understanding of human overreach. Yet it seems to be the only certainty there is.
And haven’t we seen the movie already? Do you think it’s you that will survive whatever destruction ensues? You will be Brad Pitt in World War Z and not the billions of walking dead. That’s the primary error right there–you imagine it will not be you who dies a horrible death.
Finally, I think that what humans have proven to be best at is what we will continue to prove: destruction. Those who preach to us of technological advances to extend life DO NOT have you in mind–only themselves. If there is a “next form” of the “human” it will not include you or your children or their children (if that future is still possible). You have no money, no power, no intelligence, no free access to energy or water, or food. You are at the mercy of the megalomaniacal “dreamers” of extension and their servants who toil to bring their terrifying dreams to life.
Your death will only be seen to serve the cause of new life. Revivify!
You want to know another odd Biblical irony–the notion of the “elect.”
Several of the Fathers of the Church consider that from the fact that at the time of the deluge only eight persons were saved, at the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrha only four—namely, Lot, his wife and his two daughters—escaped with their lives, and of the six hundred thousand able men who departed out of Egypt not more than two reached the Promised Land, the others all dying in the desert, it may be concluded that the number of the elect amongst Christians will be proportionately small. This agrees with what St. John Chrysostom said on one occasion when he was preaching in the city of Antioch: “What think you, my hearers, how many of the inhabitants of this city may perhaps be saved? What I am about to say is very terrible, yet I will not conceal it from you
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. Out of this thickly populated city with its thousands of inhabitants not a hundred will be saved; I even doubt whether there will be as many as that. For what indifference we see amongst the aged, what wickedness amongst the young, what impiety amongst all classes of people.” (from Catholic Matters)
I have begun to think that billionaires are wonderfully religious in their conceptions of their election–they are ruling the world after all. Surely they will not weep for you. Why should they, their election, just as your destruction, has always been written.
We certainly seem to have subverted nearly all natural frameworks, haven’t we? I read an article the other day that was talking about the fact that while world hunger has remained steady, an estimated 700 million people starving, obesity is on the rise, and will likely surpass the number of the starving, with a current estimated 500 million obese humans walking the Earth (no clarification as to the percentage of this population that resides in the USA, but I’m guessing it’s most). My point is, we are already living these biological mistakes, though we likely don’t understand them as such. The article was actually talking about the pharmaceutical companies jumping on the obesity bandwagon, because, you know, pharmaceuticals will be the “cure” for obesity, like synthetic biological creatures will create a “better” world.
ah, nice, yes…a very good example of the rise of technological industrial “foodstuffs” and the various ways the industrial practice (factories, processing, chemical additives, antibiotic treatments, hormone treatments and so on and so on) succeeds in feeding more calories to (more?) people with less nutritive value but doesn’t succeed in quelling unequal access to that food or further succeeds in creating greater and greater health dilemmas.
We value the wrong excitements and pursue these phantoms of “taste” and pleasure. I’d return here to the Emerson quote out of “Circles” from a previous post: “Dreams and drunkenness, the use of opium and alcohol are the semblance and counterfeit of this oracular genius, and hence their dangerous attraction for men. For the like reason they ask the aid of wild passions, as in gaming and war, to ape in some manner these flames and generosities of the heart.”