Re: SOC/BIO: George Will joins the bioluddites

From: Anders Sandberg (
Date: Sun Jan 21 2001 - 18:21:01 MST

Hmm, the rhetoric isn't new, but we better get better at countering
these memes at the source.

Note the assumption that genetic engineering will make us beastly -
there is room for an entire postmodern essay about the assumptions
hidden in that reasoning. It is intriguingly modernistic/conservative
in its bias against the beastly and implications that good old family
values must be retained despite claiming to be against the modern

I think the core of Kass' argument is that by designing children we
remove the respect for the unique. But he makes a fundamental error
here by assuming genetic determinism. Our unique personal identity
does not stem from our genes - they are a necessary but not sufficient
basis - but from how we develop as a dialectic between the genes,
environment and our own actions/thoughts. New life emerges in its
novelty even among a bunch of clones.

I think the big problem postmodernists (Damien, as the resident expert
here might disagree) see with transhumanist technologies for
self-modification is that they make someone (me or my child) an object
of transformation, hence reducing the person. Making humans objects =
bad. But if I change myself, then I am both subject and object in a
strange loop, and I would say the criticism against transformation
making us into objects become invalid. In the case of a child there is
no object in the first place, but only later does something appear -
something that becomes a subject. The issue is how to get around
simplistic genetic determinism poisoning the upbringing of children,
but that is not different from how to deal with other neurotic
mistakes in upbringing. It is a cultural problem, not a problem
inherent in genetic engineering.

I found it humorous that Kass blames utilitarianism and libertarianism
for the technological imperative in this context, since I attended a
lecture with Torbjorn Tannsjo, a leading Swedish utilitarian (well
known here for his controversial editorials where he applies
utilitarianism ad absurdum to medical ethics) about genetic
engineering of humans. He surprised me by becoming libertarian on this
issue (otherwise he is a firm socialist), saying that the best
solution would be no government control over what bodies are ideal and
that it would entirely be up to the parents to decide on what genes to
insert. He then defended it well against the assembled social
democrats who were itching for government controls. How this squares
with his socialism and utilitarism is left as a puzzle. But I guess
Kass wouldn't be happy about this kind of unholy agreement.

Anders Sandberg                                      Towards Ascension!                  
GCS/M/S/O d++ -p+ c++++ !l u+ e++ m++ s+/+ n--- h+/* f+ g+ w++ t+ r+ !y

This archive was generated by hypermail 2b30 : Mon May 28 2001 - 09:56:21 MDT