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Our Posthuman Future: Consequences of the Biotechnology Revolution by Francis Fukuyama


Rating: (Recommended)


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When We Say “Human,” Who Do We Mean?

A great place to start thinking more deeply about the consequences of what’s happening because of developments in biotechnology is Francis Fukuyama’s new book, Our Posthuman Future. After giving an overview of key developments in science, including neuropharmacology and genetic engineering, Fukuyama explores what it means to be human, in terms of human rights, human nature and human dignity. Then, he wraps up the book by proposing what should be done to control biotechnology. I found his exploration of social control through Prozac and Ritalin to be fascinating. Here’s an excerpt from the section on human dignity that helps explain part of Fukuyama’s passion on this topic:

“This protracted discussion of human dignity is intended to answer the following question: What is it that we want to protect from any future advances in biotechnology? The answer is, we want to protect the full range of our complex, evolved natures against attempts at self-modification. We do not want to disrupt either the unity or the continuity of human nature, and thereby the human rights that are based on it.
If factor X is related to our very complexity and the complex interactions of uniquely human characteristics like moral choice, reason, and a broad emotional gamut, it is reasonable to ask how and why biotechnology would seek to make us less complex. The answer lies in the constant pressure that exists to reduce the ends of biomedicine to utilitarian ones – that is, the attempt to reduce a complex diversity of natural ends and purposes to just a few simple categories like pain and pleasure, or autonomy. There is in particular a constant predisposition to allow the relief of pain and suffering to automatically trump all other human purposes and objectives. For this will be the constant trade-off that biotechnology will pose: we can cure this disease, or prolong this person’s life, or make this child more tractable, at the expense of some ineffable human quality like genius, or ambition, or sheer diversity.
That aspect of our complex natures most under threat has to do with our emotional gamut. We will be constantly tempted to think that we understand what ‘good’ and ‘bad’ emotions are, and that we can do nature one better by suppressing the latter, by trying to make people less aggressive, more sociable, more compliant, less depressed. The utilitarian goal of minimizing suffering is itself very problematic. No one can make a brief in favor of pain and suffering, but the fact of the matter is that what we consider to be the highest and most admirable human qualities, both in ourselves and in others, are often related to the way that we react to, confront, overcome, and frequently succumb to pain, suffering, and death. In the absence of these human evils there would be no sympathy, compassion, courage, heroism, solidarity, or strength of character. A person who has not confronted suffering or death has no depth. Our ability to experience these emotions is what connects us potentially to all other human beings, both living and dead.”

After reading Our Posthuman Future, most readers are likely to agree with Fukuyama that biotechnology can and should be controlled and regulated better that it is today. What’s at stake involves who we are as humans.

Steve Hopkins, July 10, 2002


ã 2002 Hopkins and Company, LLC


The recommendation rating for this book appeared in the August 2002 issue of Executive Times


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