Anyone who’s kept up with some of my book reviews knows that I’ve been reading about biological enhancement and what the future holds for the human race. When I first saw the title of James Hughes’ book, I immediately thought I would read about further proof that we are on the brink of a biological uplifting of our society—a social change so vast that the world as we know it will be redefined.
But, Hughes brings us sci-fi optimists back down to planet earth. It’s all right there in the subtitle, “Why Democratic Societies Must Respond to the Redesigned Human of the Future.” So, what does he mean by “respond”?
He means we, as a society, need to have a conversation about what the next 100 years will bring, and what exactly we’re going to do about it. The next 50 years. The next 10 years.
He recognizes that there is a need for a serious discussion of bioethics. He recognizes that Francis Fukuyama, appointed to the President’s Council on Bioethics, was the wrong man for the job.
Most importantly, he notes that the term “citizen” will have to be redefined.
I think he may go a little off-chart by putting the great apes in the same classification as human children and demented and mentally disabled adults. But, I won’t argue too much there because numerous studies have shown that those great apes might have something that we attribute to consciousness, self-awareness.
He notes that he attended a conference where a transgendered person spoke of being the first of the transhumans. So, is this the first step? Thus far, the U.S. hasn’t been extremely tolerant of the transgendered, but I can see that changing in the future. We’re never tolerant of difference at first. Eventually, people start seeing things differently as time passes on. We’ve seen that with women’s suffrage and the civil rights movement, and are now beginning to see a gay rights movement.
The next movements may involve the transhuman movement—rights for the biologically enhanced. This is where the trouble may start. In the other movements, humans were equal in intelligence and physical attributes, for the most part. However, without a serious discussion of the dos and don’ts of biological enhancement, we may create a species of man that is vastly more intelligent and physically superior.
Without the proper steps taken to ensure their rights, we could put ourselves on the brink of another civil war. Or, a world in which humans version 1.0 are enslaved.
With writers such as Philip K. Dick and other greats, whose words tell how humans must fight against future technology, we’ve become accustomed to think of danger when we think of technological advancement. Hughes believes that “If there is to be a future for progressive politics it has to come from a rebirth of a sexy, high-tech vision of a radically democratic future, a rediscovery of the utopian imagination.”
Maybe that’s what we’ve lost, the ability to imagine a future where things might just actually work. A future where disease is erradicated. Where war is rare. Life is fullfilling.
Hughes is an optimist. However, he also has a realistic view of our world. With so much argument over moral permissibility in today’s society, how are we going to face tomorrow’s? We must respond.