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Monday - Ed's journal
Well, today is monday. Good start to the week was forgetting to turn on my alarm clock. Woke up at 8am, looked at the clock and thought 'hmm, guess I'm on a late today' (housemates, I shall be back for Exalted about 18:30, which is a little later than usual).

Forgot my swipe card on the way in, too, and they have a new guy in the coffee shop, who's just made me a weak and watery large coffee. So, my week is already not going well.

But a late start meant I got to listen to about 10 minutes of 'Start the week'.

The subject they were discussing was 'enhancement' of the human race. It was a bit of a plug for a new book: "Enhancing Evolution: The Ethical Case for Making Better People" by John Harris.

But the key was this - we're enhancing the human race every day, by learning, developing technology, healthcare, and all manner of things. We give people glasses, and treat them for diabetes. What's so bad about 'vaccinating' them, so they can permanently be resistant to disease. He was talking about the fact that we're getting very close, scientifically speaking, to being able to grow from scratch new organs for a person, that are a 'perfect' biological fit. Given that we have a shortage of transplants (due no doubt, to increasing life expectancies) is it really so bad to use stem cells to increase the supplies of transplants, and reduce the 'complications'?

Anyway. Thought I'd pose a poll.

If you were told that it was possible to re-write your genetic code, such that your children would be born resistant to disease, with a longer life expectancy, and generally fitter and healthier, and smarter, would you want that done?

24 comments or Leave a comment
elrohana From: elrohana Date: October 15th, 2007 08:55 am (UTC) (Link)
I voted no, a) because I don't plan on having kids and b) because I think we've screwed with enough things on this planet, and longer-lived humans is the last thing poor old Mother Earth needs.
sobrique From: sobrique Date: October 15th, 2007 09:18 am (UTC) (Link)
OK, well, I'll leave aside a, since ... well fair enough.

I'm curious though, you'd be against it because of environmental impact, and because the human race ... well, is fundamentally destructive.

Doesn't that also go for things like healthcare and the like?
elrohana From: elrohana Date: October 15th, 2007 09:27 am (UTC) (Link)
Frankly, yes. The human race sucks. In about 40 or so years most of the people I care about will be dead and so will I. What happens to humanity after that is actually of no interest to me, I'm selfish like that. I think the planet would be better off without us, and the more I see of human behaviour, the less I believe that there are gods, because if there were, how could they continue to let us wantonly destroy the world like this?
mister_jack From: mister_jack Date: October 15th, 2007 10:04 am (UTC) (Link)
jorune From: jorune Date: October 15th, 2007 01:08 pm (UTC) (Link)
Best joke of the day, Amazing.
phlebas From: phlebas Date: October 15th, 2007 09:11 am (UTC) (Link)
I voted no:
I'm a programmer. I work on a program (a COBOL compiler) which is complex, but far less so and far more predictably so than the human genetic code. And every so often I'll make a small, apparently benign, change to fix something and it'll bring the whole edifice crashing down because of some subtle dependency I hadn't noticed.
sobrique From: sobrique Date: October 15th, 2007 09:16 am (UTC) (Link)
So you'd be against it because of questions of reliablity?

OK, so to extend a bit, if it were possible to do with a high degree of accuracy - let's just say we get it to 100% certainty that this 'hack' would change this thing, and only this thing, a known amount?

Or perhaps there was some room for later 'fixes' of bugs. Retroviral dna mods. Whatever. That's maybe sci-fi.

But in general principle, if it were possible with a high degree of accuracy, would that change your opinion?
mister_jack From: mister_jack Date: October 15th, 2007 09:13 am (UTC) (Link)
Not that I plan on having kids but if I did, then I'd want them to smarter, fitter, healthier, not suffering from genetic defects and generally more likely to lead happy, healthy lives.

I think genetic enhancement is inevitable. It's going to be possible; and people are going to choose to do it. The big question we should be asking, I think, is how best to manage that in a way that doesn't produce huge inequalities and social problems.
sobrique From: sobrique Date: October 15th, 2007 09:21 am (UTC) (Link)
One of the things they covered, is that any 'new tech' medical stuff is very rarely free when it's first available. With a cost attached to any of this 'genetic stuff' then you're entirely correct, you'd instantly have a stratification of 'those that did' and 'those that didn't'.

Which'd get wider as time passed. At least, once the initial falloff in treatment and people able to afford it stabilised a bit, you'd all of a sudden have a generation that are all a bit above average (and thus skew the average).

It'd be almost the same as the whole 'subhuman slavery' thing, only it'd actually have a basis for the 'well, they're just not as clever, fit or strong' types of prejudice.
necessitysslave From: necessitysslave Date: October 15th, 2007 10:22 am (UTC) (Link)
see Gattaca... All to possible.

I really like the last slide of the film. Which was something like "If we did select people to be born based off of their genetic makeup, we would not have had Einstein, Newton... and a lot of the most important people in history."
sobrique From: sobrique Date: October 15th, 2007 10:48 am (UTC) (Link)
I don't know. I mean, gattaca does portray a very plausible case, I agree. And one that very definitely needs to be avoided. But ... well, I don't see why we wouldn't have 'great minds' any more.
jorune From: jorune Date: October 15th, 2007 01:06 pm (UTC) (Link)
Gattaca, not only possible but probable.

A quote from Thucydides:
"The strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must."

But this doesn't mean that all societies must develop on the lines of the film. We have the moral instruction of religions and philosophy, what we lack is the moral courage to follow them. Move to a different culture or form your own.
sobrique From: sobrique Date: October 15th, 2007 02:01 pm (UTC) (Link)
By their nature, any culture stratifies. The more enlightened ones do a bit to mix up the strata, and try to ensure that 'opportunity exists', but this is more to curb the dissatisfaction of the proles, than any real need to do so.

To get people to work hard, they need to be able to see opportunity for change in circumstances. Up the ladder, as it were. In order for this to happen, the ladder must exist in the first place - communist societies don't work, because people quickly realise that arsing off and doing nothing is about as good for their prospects.

But what's the solution? Even the meritocracy that is the theoretical endpoint of capitalism, is discriminating against the 'below average'. The baseline gets progressively better with progress - in this country 'poor' means 'can't afford a new playstation 3' - but it's still the case that we have a society divided by it's relative education and finances.

Now, if we were to have 'some' of our people being above average, then ... the degree of change would have to be negligably small over a given time interval, such that being on the 'leading edge' of such a treatment wouldn't effectively create a 'master race' then it could work.

In many ways, we are doing something similar, with wealth, healthcare, and medicine - The spread on life expectancy is from about 35 in Zambia, to 85 in Angora (apparantly).

The solution of course, is to make such things available to all, but I remain unconvinced that such a thing will ever happen.
mcnazgul From: mcnazgul Date: October 15th, 2007 06:32 pm (UTC) (Link)
Actually, it depends on who discovers it and whether they believe in open source or not.

While Gattaca is a possibility, I am of the view that such a society would become over time immunologically fragile so you'd end up with an Eloi/Morlock scenario. Which if we take the propietary pharmaceutical model means all those ubermenschen die of the common cold. The kind of genetic rewiring would provide quite a different scenario.

And you can never, ever rule out the lone gunman. This is true not only in politics but also in genetics as well. Rewriting your DNA would need to be an ongoing process.

While I admire elrohana's stance, I am also of the view that someone has to teach responsibility to the troglodytes and if it has to be me, then I'm going to take all the advantages I can because I'll need them.
From: feanelwa Date: October 15th, 2007 11:18 am (UTC) (Link)
I think if I were to have children (I don't want to anyway) I don't want them to be super-enhanced people, because they might have even less reason to look after poor human me when I am old.

I think I would go for the resistant to disease part, but not the rest. I mean it is rubbish to be intelligent around here, and mine would already probably turn out intelligent because most of my family are and have been. I wouldn't want to burden them further with knowing how shit everything is. Then if I did, I wouldn't want them to have to put up with it for longer as well.
tya From: tya Date: October 15th, 2007 11:46 am (UTC) (Link)
I don't want kids, but hypothetically, I'm in, why would I want my kids to potentially, suffer migraine headaches, pollen allergies, bad eyesight and possible other hereditary disorders which my family suffer?. Although GATTACA is an incredibly tedious film, it does raise some interesting ideas.
purp1e_magic From: purp1e_magic Date: October 15th, 2007 12:42 pm (UTC) (Link)
I've said undecided, because it would depend entirely on how such a thing was implemented.

I took Sophia to the doctors last week for her jabs. Everybody gets them.

On the other hand, would I send Simon to a priivate school? No, because the money spent on doing that could be better spent on things that I think would achieve more for him. Moving into the catchment area of a very good school has a whole host of benefits. Extra curricular activities, chosen based on his current needs out of a wide range, in different settings and with different sorts of people... It's a choice based on how the private school system works.

And then there are also things that people will tell you are good for you, but really just aren't. Certain medications will make you build up a tolerance, so that easy fix solution won't work the time you really need it to. Others will mask the symptoms so that you're doing yourself damage without realising. Some peole will swear by a stupid diet to make themselves the right wweight, when really what they're doing is starving the body of a lot of what it needs whilst generally being lazy and undeeractive. People who are too clenly don't build a healthy immune system, and then geet ill all the time.

Sometimes it seems to me that the further we pull away from the narural order of our world, the more strongly we're pulled back to it. Desk jobs mean we don't use our bodies enough, so we go to the gym. After mass-production so we no longer value uniformity, but prefer hand-crafted or designer items. Free-range organic eggs are nicer and last longer than battery farmed chicken eggs.

I'm not a technohobe. We can only make decisions based on the information we have available to us. But it would have to be one to consider long and hard.
jorune From: jorune Date: October 15th, 2007 12:59 pm (UTC) (Link)
Absolutely, I'm all for better living through Technology. This is a wonderful extension of the choices an individual can make. We are trapped by our genetics, limited by nature. I think if we had the option to change everything about ourselves through medically sound procedures then there would be less unhappiness and waste of resources in our economy and society. We would develop a much richer and far more diverse culture.

We would beging to break down the barriers between peoples and races, don't just imagine what it would be to live like someone else, physically change into them and walk a mile in their shoes. Don't just experience their life, experience their neuro-chemistry.

Genetic Engineering and the changes it will bring are the next steps in our scientific journey and will prove to be as important as the Industrial Revolution.

Fast forward to the Future!

Morphological Freedom, why we want it and need it
mrbear From: mrbear Date: October 15th, 2007 02:46 pm (UTC) (Link)
Don't want kids, but I voted 'yes'.

Who wouldn't want their kids to have every opportunity to succeed. If that involves genetic manipulation to make them smarter/stronger/healthier/longer-lived, then so be it.

Hell, if given the opportunity to alter *my* genes to make *me* smarter/stronger/healthier/longer-lived, then I'd take it.

Better living through science is the way forward.
zaitan From: zaitan Date: October 15th, 2007 04:29 pm (UTC) (Link)
I voted no because we already have a problem feeding all the people on this planet. What happens when nobody dies from whooping cough or any other childhood disease.

Would these enhancements also include an extension to working life and stop all other degradation of the human form.

IMHO it all started going wrong with the invention of antibiotics and vaccines. What we need is for H5N1 to get properly nasty and infectious so that the human population can be trimmed a little.
ool272 From: ool272 Date: October 15th, 2007 05:28 pm (UTC) (Link)
I voted no, but then I thought about it.

Should I be able to do this? Absolutely not, no more than I (and my hypothetical partner) should be able to selectively abort a foetus upon discovering its gender. The decisions of self-interested parents can create seriously problems for society, and consequences in terms of the gap between rich and poor of this being done on the open market are just sickening. For anyone who doesn't care because they think they'd be one of the "haves"; get real, you wouldn't be. The real benefits will go to the super-rich. The last thing the world needs is an upper class of immortal, supergenius Paris Hiltons. Make this available on the NHS at the same level to everyone, and there are plenty of benefits - but I can't see that happening with the political climate the way it is and that will still create inequality on an international scale.

But were it commonplace, would I do something I consider immoral in the full knowledge that not doing it will cause serious problems for my children? I don't know. I'm quite glad that the time-frame in which I am likely to have children will likely occur before this becomes an issue (if it ever does).
xarrion From: xarrion Date: October 15th, 2007 06:55 pm (UTC) (Link)

Longer life spans will naturally lead to longer-term planning - people will have to start thinking about the not-so-near future as it becomes more and more likely they might live to see it. It's the old immortals being the most fearful of death thing.

Fitter, healthier and smarter increases the likelihood that Stuff will get done. If the genes that created Einstein, Mozart, Hawking, etc, could be artificially induced, then space colonisation could not be far behind. Even now we have the 'future' of sci-fi lore only slightly beyond our grasp. And from classic sci-fi to modern-day reality has taken us less then 60 years.
From: dj_rws Date: October 15th, 2007 08:51 pm (UTC) (Link)
I answered yes because, as has been said before, who wouldn't want to give their children the best possible chance in life. Even if genetic engineering becomes an accurate, reproducible science rather than an art, it doesn't stop the smartest or fittest people in the world succumbing to the perils of oncoming traffic, wars and other such unpredictable disasters and catastrophes. There are afterall quite a number of ways in which life can be lost (cruel nature ya de yadda) why not even the odds from the start?

Will it work and be beneficial for the human race as a whole? Well like the hardest questions it has no easy answer for there are many pros and cons ranging from great scientist Einstein clones to genetic diseases which could risk the reproduction of the human race itself (Film: Children of Men or Jovians from EVE spring to mind). Without the luxury of being able to see into the future no one will really know what will happen if... Scientists will play with nature, because they can, and mistakes will be made and lessons will be learned but I guess I have faith that it'll all turn out just peachy.
(Deleted comment)
sobrique From: sobrique Date: October 16th, 2007 10:22 am (UTC) (Link)
We already have this happening to an extent. Check out the relative birth rate of the 'middle class', university educated professionals, vs. the 'lower class', secondary school, manual labour/unemployed.

Children = benefits.

Actually, I have not statistics to back this up, merely observations that the former case tend to have 1-2 children, at age 25-30, where the latter have 1-4 children starting at age 16.
24 comments or Leave a comment