Arnold Kling's latest article, Biotech Ends and Means, thoughtfully criticizes the President's Council on Bioethics report, Beyond Therapy: Biotechnology and the Pursuit of Happiness, for skirting the real issue:
"Do concerns over biotechnology scenarios warrant a worldwide totalitarian dictatorship?" If so he asks, "Will we curb freedom at the level of research, the level of development and marketing, at the level of consumption, or at all three?"
Kling's opinion is clear. "As concerned as I am about where biotech is taking us, I would rather take my chances on muddling through those issues than endure the heavy-handed centralized control that I believe would be needed to slow the biotech revolution....Such a dictatorship would be more dystopian than any of the scenarios that technology might create." I completely agree, but for me this begs the question....
Would it even be possible to control the actions of 6.5 billion people?
Widely diverging opinions and policies already exist with respect to biotechnology. While Germany and France categorically banned human genetic engineering in 1997, labeling it an attack on human dignity and a violation of our right to an unaltered gene pool, this research continues elsewhere. And even though the U.N. has debated banning reproductive cloning, how would their decision be enforced?
A recent C.I.A. report, The Darker Side of Bioweapons, highlights the perils of the biotech revolution, "The evolving bioscience knowledge base, coupled with its dual-use nature and the fact that most is publicly available via electronic means making it very hard to track" (and control). Biotechnology represents the most asymmetric toolset ever devised. As Kling himself has written, it will only take a single, well organized group of terrorists to unleash a bioweapon of catastrophic proportions.
Today's industrial-style geopolitical control structure is still grappling with the changes brought forth by the information technology revolution. This does not bode well for any efforts that might be put forward to reprimand countries or groups that pursue "banned" biotech research.
Our extensive global connectedness has created new problems for modern humans. While many people question the uneven distribution of power that exists in todays world, others are disillusioned by the happiness that wealth was supposed to bring. In every culture, feelings of uncertainty, depression, anger, and resentment have surfaced on a vast scale.
Having spent thousands of years improving our control over the physical environment, we now need new tools to address the mental stress that arises from living in a highly connected urbanized world. It is for this reason that I am so interested in neurotechnology's potential.
While Kling describes commentators like myself (Reason's Ron Bailey and Aubrey de Grey included) as optimists who look at advancing technologies as opportunities rather than threats, I suggest (at least for myself), that new tools represent our best hope in a world seemingly out of control. Only by understanding the emotional basis of our actions will we have a reasonable chance of not destroying ourselves.
What humanity needs is an emotional revolution. New tools should be developed that allow each of us to actually feel, not just hear, the breadth of emotions that we all experience throughout our daily lives. For example, a relative emotional sharing solution that would allow people to share and experience the pain and happiness of another's existence might give rise to a more empathetic global society. If we could feel, share and understand each other at that level, we might just successfully enter the 22nd century as a human family.
--Thank you for continued interest in Brain Waves. I'll be taking a short blogging holiday as I spend the next two weeks with family and friends celebrating our fortunate lives. Until next year....