Peering into the abyss of biotechnology, I have often mused that the problem with much of what goes on in fertility clinics and laboratories of the world is a denial of human nature. The denial that living human organisms, regardless of how they are created, are indeed human beings. They are small and immature, but human beings none-the-less.
This denial of the nature of humanity can be seen in nearly all the moral problems in our society: from the denial of the humanity of the unborn, the sick and the disabled; to the denial of our need of an intact family unit with both a mother and a father; to the denial that sex is a procreative event; to the denial that the safest most loving place to begin our lives is in our mother’s womb, not in a laboratory; to the denial that the sex of your next child should be decided by God and not by you.
I was heartened that the Holy Father spoke about human nature in his Christmas address to the Roman Curia. It is the denial our God-given nature that threatens to destroy our families and our civilization. From Catholic News Service:
Pope Benedict XVI said the family in Western society is undergoing a “crisis that threatens it to its foundations,” owing to false ideas of human nature that equate freedom with selfishness and present God-given sexual identities as a matter of individual choice to the profound detriment of humanity dignity.
But the pope said that the Catholic Church, in its dialogue with states, secular society and other religions, can help restore a proper understanding of human nature as a basis for justice and peace….
“The question of the family is not just about a particular social construct, but about man himself — about what he is and what it takes to be authentically human,” Pope Benedict said.
“Only in self-giving does man find himself,” the pope said, “only by letting himself be changed through suffering does he discover the breadth of his humanity.”
As a consequence of an “increasingly widespread” refusal to make lifelong commitments to the family, the pope said, “man remains closed in on himself” and “essential elements of the experience of being human are lost.”
The Pope’s comments focus on the family but I think they have far-reaching relevance. For me, this is the money quote:
“The manipulation of nature, which we deplore today where our environment is concerned, now becomes man’s fundamental choice where he himself is concerned.”
We have decided that we are not subject to our nature. We think rejecting our nature makes us free. In fact, rejecting our nature enslaves us.
The rejection of our biological nature is what is driving us toward transhumanism. Transhumanism, I believe, will be the ultimate in enslavement. We will integrate technology to upgrade our otherwise healthy bodies because we have to to keep up with everyone else that is enhanced. When the coercive aspect of human augmentation kicks in and we are faced with the choice between being the underclass in our natural bodies or the overclass in enhanced bodies, then we will have become slaves to the technology that we thought gave us more freedom.
The use of sophisticated tools is what marks our species, of that there is no doubt. But we can put down those tools and still be considered a person. We don’t need to have a cell phone or TV or computer to participate in society as an equal. But with the advent of neural nanobots, artificial intelligence implants, genetic enhancements, and bionic limbs and eyes will that still be the case? I doubt it.
In case you aren’t convinced read “When Will We Be Transhuman? Seven Conditions for Attaining Transhumanism” by Kyle Munkittrick where he argues for personhood based on everything but biology:
Using a scaled system based on traits like sentience, empathy, self-awareness, tool use, problem solving, social behaviors, language use, and abstract reasoning, animals (including humans) will be granted rights based on varying degrees of personhood. Personhood based rights will protect against Gattaca scenarios while ensuring the rights of new forms of intelligence, be they alien, artificial, or animal, are protected. When African grey parrots, gorillas, and dolphins have the same rights as a human toddler, a transhuman friendly rights system will be in place.
I watched the 2012 version of Total Recall over the Christmas Holiday. The movie was OK. What struck me was that the main character had a phone inside his hand. Humans obviously aren’t born with telecommunications devices in our hands. (Imagine trying to upgrade that phone. It would be a trip to the doctor instead of Verizon. Maybe Verizon will have a surgeon on staff. I digress.) Of course when the authorities want to hunt you down and kill you, a phone in your hand is a liability. To get rid of it, Douglas Quaid had to cut open his hand!!! Of course, Hollywood glosses over this self-inflicted injury and for the rest of the movie, his hand is just fine.
But think about this in the real world, once we make non-therapeutic technology part of our bodies, we become slaves unable to detach ourselves without interfering with our bodily integrity.
And don’t get me started on the whole quest for immortality because guess what? Humans are not immortal. I shudder to think of the folly we will get up to trying to deny that part of our nature.
My hope for 2013 and beyond is that society makes a shift in the way we think about our bodies like the shift that we have made with our environment and our food. Natural is good.