Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

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Brave New World

This story about creating sperm from stem cells (which can be either male or female stem cells) and this story about a Japanese gadget that can record and replicate smells, present a host of interesting and complicated questions about what, exactly, we think we’re doing with science and technology today.

I remember a Dominican priest, who taught us ethics and apologetics during my Jr. year of high school, who warned our class that before we were well into adulthood men would not be necessary to produce off-spring. We all laughed at the notion--though some of the more snarky among the girls announced that they relished the thought. I very much doubt that those snarky girls thought much about what they were saying. I doubt it about as much as I doubt that those who devise these kinds of experiments in technology think about the consequences of what they have wrought.

Discussions - 17 Comments

Bio-science is more creepy than dangerous - people hear stories about medical research like this and jump to the worst-case scenario almost immediately. Yes, humankind could become an all-female species, yes we could breed clones for their organ-bank value, and I suppose we can keep a brain alive in a photo-developing tray if we really want to. But just as there wasn’t a wave of human/animal hybrids after THE ISLAND OF DR. MOREAU was published, we wont see a race of genetic supermen now. Most likely (hopefull) we’ll just get less cripples.

And apparently we will begin seeing less impotent men . . . hip, hip, hooray!

Well said Dan. Perhaps Julie or Dr. Lawler could flesh out the consequences...

Scary stuff.

the mice showed abnormal patterns of growth, and other problems, such as difficulty breathing.

This is always the case with the products of genetic experimentation.Dolly the sheep, 1996-2003 which is maybe not altogether serious, but discusses the issue. How about this: from Time Mag.

Maybe, maybe, these are just technical glitches that will be worked out, or maybe these are just things that will never really work to complete satisfaction. I suspect the latter will turn out to be true.

But I do not see the big deal about the scent machine. It still uses chemical elements to produce a scent, just like any perfumer would do. It is intricate in the detection of the essential chemicals in the smell, but then must use the same types of chemicals in the reproduction of the scent. Does the digital detection bother you?

Most disturbing is the tyranny lurking just beneath the surface of our designer, biotech premises:
1. If physical and mood and memory enchancers are available, you’ll at a competitive disadvantage if you don’t use them. In our "ownership society," it more hellish than ever not to be smart and pretty.; 2. If genetically enhanced babies are possible, you’ll have to enhance. The current pro-life Catholics, Mormons etc. may well soon be pro-choice: Everyone else can abort and enhance, but not us. But in our health and safety consious world, such conscientious objection won’t be allowed. It’ll be too risky and a burden to us all to have all those unncessarily dumb and disease-ridden Mormon kids running around. 3. If you can know early on that your unborn baby has Down Syndrome or some other genetic defect, the pressure is on to abort. How dare you be the cause of bringing a burden to society into the world etc? I could go on, but my general view is that our libertarian premises plus biotechnological progress will generate unprecedented forms of tyranny. Again, read my STUCK WITH VIRTUE!

I too don’t see the big deal in the scent machine.

Peter Lawler hits it right on the head that the danger is a kind of tyranny that lurks beneath the surface.

I have a sister who has a child who was born with a severe cleft lip and palate and this was detected in her ultrasound. She elected to have an amnio because sometimes kids with these problems have other syndromes that are very, very serious. She was never going to consider abortion--but she was very glad to have the time to prepare herself for what needed to be done in the interests of her child. But she told me that she was repeatedly asked if she wanted to abort. When I think of my darling niece who is perfect in every way, I cringe at that memory. Some people would have thought nothing of killing her because she had a problem. But in this instance, I think the societal problem has more to do with our reactions to information like news of a cleft than it does with our ability to get it. My sister and her husband would have just as soon killed themselves as aborted that child. But others see no problem in it. That’s the real issue, of course.

I, too, don’t think the danger (if there really is one) of the scent machine is cut from the same cloth. It is, obviously, much less serious. But my thinking was that it may just be yet another step in the direction of the impersonalization/vitualization of our society. You don’t even have to have a real thing in your hands to smell it?! Part of me says "Cool!" But isn’t it still better to have a flower than a digitized scent of one? Soon you won’t (or it may be the case already--I know a woman who performs surgery this way!) have to have a real thing in your hands to touch it. And how about feeling what you touch? And so on . . . you can see the direction to which some minds might aim this stuff. There could, of course, be good applications. But it is crazy to discount the sinister ones of this or anything else. If we head down these paths--and I’m not saying we shouldn’t--then we have to have our eyes open to the possibilities and not just focus on the good they will bring to us. Most often, the bad things are just time wasting and brain wasting things--like most video games and television. But they can be awful and considering what they might is quite important. Blindness to the problems of technology is just as stupid as hysteria about them. But now I’ve opened another can of worms. I’ll shut up now. Prof. Lawler has better things to say about this than I do anyway.

I promise to read Stuck with Virtue as soon as I get a copy. I foolishly destroyed my credit cards before I was deployed...So as far as books go I am limited to the most popular stuff like Freakonomics and 1776... In any case a while back I feel upon a group of people calling themselves transhumanists. They are a rather interesting group and seem to be rather bullish on technological progress to say the least. So I joined the Extropy email list, and actually became somewhat involved in an idea futures exchange that predated the gambling mechanism used by U. of Iowa and others for gageing public opinion/likelyhood. Very interesting and strange stuff...I wonder how the movement has changed since 99’-2000(a very bullish time) when I directed my attention elsewhere(not to include my university studies). I always kept it in the back of my head...because due to a lot of demographics that I was seeing I believed that the transhumanist movement once it took off would alter the face of the Republican party and trully bring about the libertarian social conservative divide. So I think this is the issue of the future. If anything can test the limits of the idea that men should be free to order his property as he sees would be the idea that men are free to evolve to the point that they are no longer be men at all. The idea put foward by David Zindell is that man is but an acorn, who must not fear destruction in becoming an oak tree.

So the question is do you take Transhumanists or Extropians seriously? But then should we really worry as long as people can identify the hero in movies like Gattacca?

Are you familiar with the transhumanists or the extropians? I believe that they include in their number faculty from Yale...

As Julie notes the fact that we can replicate smells is a step towards the Extropian/Transhumanist vision.

Actually I guess Dr. Max More is at Oxford now. Check out:

Send me your address at [email protected] and I’ll get you a copy of the book. (I’m too libertarian to make that offer to all of you out there in blog land.) Julie, That’s a great example. Maybe the smell thing is more important than I originally thought in terms of alienating us from our natures, especially if we can manipulate smell to reliably arouse sexual desire, hunger, etc. People might end up eating anything!

I would like to point out that technology has not created any "new" problems in this area. Parents have been killing their children (I’m considering abortion a killing of a child because that child did not live up to some social ideal for thousands of years.

We all know Spartans threw their babies off a cliff if they failed the "wine test," and that Roman fathers could kill their children at any time they wished, Indeed, Tacitus makes fun of the Jews for not allowing fathers to kill their children, stating with disapproval (and disbelief) "They count it as a crime even to kill any of their later-born children" (Book 5 of The Histories).

What is most surprising is apparently the practice was quite common in 17th cnetury England. I remember little of Locke’s An Essay Concerning Human Understanding other than the portion where he speaks in passing of infanticide. I do not have the citation for this, sorry. Anyways, Locke is speaking about some moral precept and states that "monsters" (people with birth defects I guess) are not people, because if they were, it would be wrong to kill them shortly after birth. Apparently the practice was common and well accepted enough to be used as support for a moral argument. If anyone could give me the cite to the Locke discussion of monsters I would be most appreciative.

In conclusion, I have no doubt that some parents will kill their children when they learn of birth defects, etc. I also have no doubt that many people will not, and this new technology is certaintly nothing to worry about.

I guess I just can’t see science as having all of the answers, or even a grasp of all the questions. If the material world is God-made, then there will be distinct limits to what man can do with it. That cloning has serious and inherent flaws comes as no surprise to me and I think that type of genetic engineering will prove an unsatisfying dead-end. It will be just another realm of scientific experimentation like alchemy or the use of galvanism in bringing the dead to life.

As to the scent machine, it surely is similar to the production of vitamin tablets, that attempt to contain the nutrients of food in a smaller, more portable form. Digitized flowers wil never replace the real thing, but as a pleasant diversion? "What’s in a scent? That which we call a rose By any other chemical process would smell as sweet."

Steve, You’re right about Locke, who says that only with revelation do we know that the infanticide of the highly civilized Greeks was wrong, and then, of course, he goes on to be ironic about revelation. I’m too lazy to find the exact passage, but I can recommend what Carey McWilliams says about Locke in this regard in his essay in Engeman, ed, PROTESTANTISM AND THE AMERICAN FOUNDING. Pro-lifers shouldn’t make the mistake of think that the "natural rights" position is on their side, but I don’t think Lockean natural rights express the truth or the whole truth about what human beings are.

Peter, I know that department stores and real estate agents already try to transfuse the air with smells that they believe (based on market research) will encourage people to buy. Can you imagine other applications for this? Maybe we could create artificial burning smells in Osama bin Laden’s rathole? I’m sure there are many others both good and bad.

A future NYT article:

Michael Jackson has filed suit against the world’s leading Genetic Engineering Research and Development Firm (WLGER and F). According to a statement made in a statement by an individual who spoke on condition of anonymity, Mr. Jackson hired the company to engineer a baby for him. The baby was to have a nose which complied with certain, very strict, specifications of Mr. Jackson. According to a statement made in a statement by our source, the anonymous mother of the baby just gave birth to a perfectly engineered nose. Mr. Jackson gave no comment other than eeeheee uh uh, in falsetto. The statement was rumored to have been made in a statement. Another anonymous source, rumored to have connections to someone who has a cousin in the CIA said in a statement that WLGER and F is counter-suing Mr. Jackson for non-payment of their exorbitant fee, rumored to be in the billions of dollars. In an exclusive interview, Rodney King said in a statement, "why can’t we all just be a little less snotty?" he said in a statement.

What’s in a nose? That which we call a nose, by any other fame would smell..... Or would it, in that genetically engineered state?

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