"Whenever I go into a restaurant, I order both a chicken and an egg to see which comes first"

Tuesday, May 10, 2022

Brave New World, The Folly Of Perfection, And The Handstands Still Done To Achieve It

Long before recombinant DNA, gene splicing, and selective reconfiguration of the human genome, Aldous Huxley in his 1931 novel Brave New World predicted a world of bio-engineered perfection.  Malfeasance and anti-social behavior would be eliminated, and human society would finally be uniformly good and compassionate.

Standard men and women; in uniform batches. The whole of a small 
factory staffed with the products of a single bokanovskified egg. 

"Ninety-six identical twins working ninety-six identical machines!" The 
voice was almost tremulous with enthusiasm. "You really know where 
you are. For the first time in history." He quoted the planetary motto. 
"Community, Identity, Stability." Grand words. "If we could bo- 
kanovskify indefinitely the whole problem would be solved." 

Solved by standard Gammas, unvarying Deltas, uniform Epsilons. Mil- 
lions of identical twins. The principle of mass production at last applied 
to biology. 
Image result for images book brave new world

Little did we know how prescient Huxley was or how immediate and complete the radical transformation of the human genome would be. 

Parents in the not-so-distant future will be able to design their children, selecting specific traits and characteristics from gene catalogues just like they would color schemes and furniture.  For sale will be the DNA of Hollywood actresses, talented and gifted athletes, brilliant musicians, dancers, and mathematicians, and the most innovative and creative artists.  

The market demand will be such that bone scrapings of geniuses and beauties of the past will be common-place.  The law will quickly catch up to consumer interest in Marilyn Monroe, Einstein, or Victor Hugo and permit exhumations in the interest of science and commerce.   The science of genetic engineering will become so sophisticated that anyone selecting the intelligence of Nietzsche will not ‘inherit’ his madness; nor Oscar Wilde’s prognathous jaw.

Image result for designer babies images

Many scientists are even more startling in their predictions, suggesting the eventuality of a post human generation. Once the human genome is completely sequenced; once efforts to recombine DNA has become a reality; and once a mind-computer interface has been realized, there will never been any doubt that a post-human era is coming. 

A new human being, created at will from trillions of bits of genetic code and engineered with a perfect electronic symbiosis with the cybernetic world of infinite information will resemble today’s human beings as much as we do the apes. 

‘Post-human’ is the term scientists have chosen to describe the life form that will result thanks to scientific modification.  The term, however, is not quite accurate.   Although as genetically-modified beings, part-organic and part-non-organic, we will certainly not resemble the creatures we now are, we will have simply evolved, albeit it through a more deliberate, focused an efficient means than Darwin ever imagined, into a more modern, capable, resilient, and powerful life form.  

What currently defines human beings – cognitive, intelligent, sentient, imaginative, spiritual, and creative – will still be appropriate and meaningful.  We simply will have become more intelligent, imaginative, and creative than ever before.

The idea of a post-human, genetically modified generation is startling to some, anathema to others.  For many it is devilish and evil, against the will and intentions of God.  To others it signals yet a further descent into amoral commercialism.  Pessimists see no happy outcome.  

Since human nature – venal, aggressive, self-interested, and territorial at best – has never changed, human beings will find some way to appropriate everything for geopolitical ends.  Super-human, robotic, artificially-intelligent killing machines - alloys of the best human genes and the most powerful electronic and mechanical devices.

Huxley was of this latter opinion.  No matter how euphoric the predictions about a more perfect human society, human beings will get in the way.  Unless human nature itself is changed, any new world will be just as destructive, murderous, and territorial as any other.

Today’s futurists think this is no problem.  The most complex affective reaches of the human genome are not beyond deciphering, and markers for aggressiveness, territorialism, self-interest, and all the rest of the well-known characteristics of the human animal will soon be identified.  Once the identification is complete, all anti-social bits will be removed.

Of course Huxley knew very well that behind every attempt to remove these bits is political avarice.  Those who decide what should stay in and what should go will have their own agendas, and generations of ‘new’ human beings, each created by designers with their own political interests will follow one another, and a population of chaos will occur.

Huxley was critical of the mass society that suffocates human nature, and of any form of totalitarianism that, thanks to scientific and technological development, endeavors to modify it in order to impose upon it a happiness that does not belong to it. His thinking, however, focused on the search for a political idea that might favor improved individual and social conditions.  

He wandered into New Age idealism and the strange philosophy of Pareto who saw the ideal society as one run by an intellectual elite.  Huxley’s peripatetic search for meaning led him to magic mushrooms and communitarianism, but he never shied away from what seemed to him to be a perennial dichotomy between utopia and dystopia.

Today’s social reformers are surprisingly ignorant of Huxley’s warnings and are partisan only to his belief in Utopia – i.e. that there can be a social principle, a uniting, universal factor that engenders peace and harmony and a communal, happy world. Of course it was the Twentieth Century’s universal dysfunction that disabused him of his idealistic notions no matter how tenaciously he held to them.  He witnessed the murderous regimes of Hitler and Stalin, the rise of nuclear confrontation, and the growing instability of international relations against which Utopian ideals were little solace.

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These reformers are less concerned with totalitarianism per se than Huxley, for they believe that only with such government authority can a devious, philosophically illiterate society be reformed; and they believe that they have found the single, unique, principle of communal peace and harmony that Huxley was looking for – progressivism, a political philosophy which not only incorporates old socialist principles of economic and social leveling, but new ones of racial and gender identity.  

Progressivism is a political big top – a tent large enough to accommodate all comers, with such  inclusion of all stripes and types that the acts and events within in it can only grow in meaning and importance.

Progressives are like Huxley’s characters in Brave New World – absolutely, positively, and resolutely sure of the rightness of their claims and a rock-ribbed, cemented belief in progress and a better world.  Of course both stand on shifting sands, and their hopes and anticipation of a better world are little more than febrile dreams.   In a Hobbesian world, there is nothing but hope to hang your hat on, so progressives come by their idealism naturally. Conservatives have always known that there is no such thing as Utopia, although God knows there have been repeated attempts to create it.

In the last passage of the book Huxley writes of the ultimate and inevitable disillusionment which follows idealistic folly:

Drawn by the fascination of the horror of pain and, from within, im- 
pelled by that habit of cooperation, that desire for unanimity and 
atonement, which their conditioning had so ineradicably implanted in 
them, they began to mime the frenzy of his gestures, striking at one 
another as the Savage struck at his own rebellious flesh, or at that 
plump incarnation of turpitude writhing in the heather at his feet. 
Image result for images the savage huxley brave new world

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