Despite being generally in favour of all things progressive and scientific, even I have been uncomfortable at times with the idea of genetically engineering humankind. But not only is this apprehension unfounded; it’s also putting off the unavoidable.
The argument against genetic engineering of humans seems obvious at first. Our genetics hugely affects who we are; being able to pick traits as we please could completely and irrevocably change human civilisation. Would ‘designer babies’ not lead to a money-driven society, where the social standing and wealth of one’s parents determines the starting chances and quality of life (to an even greater degree than is already the case)? Nevertheless, this wouldn’t be the first time a massive technological leap changed the face of humanity. Cars revolutionised how we move around; computers how we work and play. Change is life. But that alone isn’t enough to warrant such a dangerous concept. There is a much more important reason: natural selection.
Thanks to the wonders of medical science, natural selection no longer plays a significant role in the development of the human race. Disease that would kill off primitive man can be cured rather than adapted to; inherent ones that would otherwise be fatal can even be passed on to future generations to continue to spread. Nature’s harsh mechanism to keep a species healthy no longer works on advanced humankind.
I think it goes without saying that we can’t expect to try and re-instate survival of the fittest; civilisation needs its own alternative to accomplish the same effect. Just like you can’t solve traffic congestion by returning to horse-drawn wagons and walking, you can’t apply the natural solution to the civilised problem. ‘Nature‘ and what is ‘natural‘ are moden buzzwords for all things good and wholemeal, but in truth Nature is a force of balance and chaos that is typically directly opposed to the polarising and ordering of Civilisation.
The usual artificial solution (and that is what the civilised method always is), involves doing directly with scientific precision what nature does with trial & error and millions of years. Altering and fixing genes would allow us to retain genetic adaptability and strength without forsaking the individual’s desire to exist (which is an issue for Civilisation, not for Nature). It seems that if we want to retain biological health, some form of gene control is necessary. The real question is how far do we go? How do we regulate this? Who gets to decide? All much bigger questions, requiring greater depth than I have set aside for this article.
I think one thing is certain, however. It is inevitable.