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                        Technology and Human Responsibility
    Issue #102     A Publication of The Nature Institute     February 16, 2000
                Editor:  Stephen L. Talbott (stevet@netfuture.org)
                      On the Web: http://www.netfuture.org/
         You may redistribute this newsletter for noncommercial purposes.
    NetFuture is a reader-supported publication.
    Editor's Note
    Quotes and Provocations
       Tinkering with Ourselves
    The Many Voices of Destiny (Stephen L. Talbott)
       When the stones themselves threaten to cry out
    On the New Eugenics (Stephen L. Talbott)
       What is it that people do?
       Solutions as Problems (Alexander Carpenter)
       Technologists May Be Impervious to Rational Argument (Van Wishard)
       We Need More Than a Loving Discourse (Raul Huerta)
    Announcements and Resources
       Wild Duck Review
    About this newsletter
                                  EDITOR'S NOTE
    The next couple of issues I'll be giving you a little respite from the
    "ubiquitous technology" series.
    Whether or not you can read the review of Martha Beck's Expecting Adam in
    this issue, don't deny yourself the experience of the book itself.  It is
    a revelation I would put in the same class as Jacques Lusseyran's And
    There Was Light (NF #92), utterly different as the two books are.  They
    are both about unexpected grace arriving in the form of "disaster".
    Goto table of contents
                             QUOTES AND PROVOCATIONS
    Tinkering with Ourselves
    It's easy to wonder whether the more extreme visions of a genetically
    engineered society are mere shock tactics to encourage the sale of books,
    or instead the best indication we have of a deep cultural current whose
    drift is so far recognized only by a few.  But without doubt the holders
    of these visions claim to descry something deep and significant, reaching
    all the way to the roots of our own identity.  It seems foolish not to
    take at least occasional note of their words.
    With that in mind, I offer here a brief collection of extreme visions.
    They were gathered by Richard Hayes, an environmental activist and
    doctoral candidate in Energy and Resources at the University of
    California, Berkeley.  These quotations appeared along with an interview
    of Hayes in the Summer, 1999 issue of Wild Duck Review.  (If you
    are as benighted as I have been and do not know about Wild Duck
    Review, please see the notice about it in "Announcements and
    Resources" below.  It is a remarkable publication that will doubtless
    appeal to a high percentage of NetFuture readers.)
    Lee Silver, molecular biologist at Princeton University (from his book,
    Remaking Eden: How Cloning and Beyond will Change the Human Family):
       The GenRich -- who account for ten percent of the American population
       -- all carry synthetic genes.  All aspects of the economy, the media,
       the entertainment industry, and the knowledge industry are controlled
       by members of the GenRich class.  Naturals work as low-paid service
       providers or as laborers .... The GenRich class and the Natural class
       will become entirely separate species with no ability to cross-breed.
    And again:
       Anyone who accepts the right of affluent parents to provide their
       children with an expensive private school education cannot use
       "unfairness" as a reason for rejecting the use of reprogenetic
       technologies.  Indeed, in a society that values individual freedom
       above all else, it is hard to find any legitimate basis for restricting
       the use of reprogenetics.  I will argue [that] the use of reprogenetic
       technologies is inevitable.  It will not be controlled by governments
       or societies or even the scientists who create it.  There is no doubt
       about it, whether we like it or not, the global marketplace will reign
    Gregory Pence, Professor of Philosophy, University of Alabama (from his
    book, Who's Afraid of Human Cloning?):
       Many people love their retrievers and their sunny dispositions around
       children and adults.  Could people be chosen in the same way?  Would it
       be so terrible to allow parents to at least aim for a certain type, in
       the same way that great breeders try to match a breed of dog to the
       needs of a family?
    James Watson, Nobel Prize winner for discovering the structure of DNA, and
    Director of the National Center for Human Genome Research:
       I mean, sure, we have great respect for the human species .... But
       evolution can be just damn cruel, and to say that we've got a perfect
       genome and there's some sanctity to it, I'd just like to know where
       that idea comes from.  It's utter silliness.  And the other thing,
       because no one really has the guts to say it, I mean, if we could make
       better human beings by knowing how to add genes, why shouldn't we do
       it?  (Remark available at http://www.ess.ucla.edu:80/huge.report)
    Gregory Stock, Director of the Science, Technology, and Society Program at
    UCLA's Center for the Study of Evolution and the Origin of Life (from his
    book, Metaman: The Merging of Humans and Machines Into a Global
       By applying biological techniques to embryos and then to the
       reproductive process itself, Metaman will take control of human
       evolution .... Populations that adopt such techniques will generally
       outdistance those that do not .... Like all major developments, they
       will cause great stresses within society.  But asking whether such
       changes are "wise" or "desirable" misses the essential point that they
       are largely not a matter of choice; they are the unavoidable product of
       the technological advance intrinsic to Metaman.
    And again:
       Even if half the world's species were lost, enormous diversity would
       still remain.  When those in the distant future look back on this
       period of history, they will likely see it not as the era when the
       natural environment was impoverished, but as the age when a plethora of
       new forms -- some biological, some technological, some a combination of
       the two -- burst onto the scene.
    James Hughes, bioethics consultant (from his book, Embracing Change
    with All Four Arms):
       The right to a custom made child is merely the natural extension of our
       current discourse of reproductive rights.  I see no virtue in the role
       of chance in conception, and great virtue in expanding choice.  If
       women are to be allowed the "reproductive right" or "choice" to choose
       the father of their child, with his attendant characteristics, then
       they should be allowed the right to choose the characteristics from a
       catalog.  It will be considered obsessive and dumb to give your kids
       only parental genes.
    Joseph Fletcher, professor emeritus, Harvard University (from his book,
    The Ethics of Genetic Control: Ending Reproductive Roulette):
       Chimeras or parahumans might legitimately be fashioned to do dangerous
       or demeaning jobs.  As it is now, low grade work is shoved off on
       moronic and retarded individuals, the victims of uncontrolled
       reproduction.  Should we not "program" such workers thoughtfully
       instead of accidentally, by means of hybridization?  Hybrids could also
       be designed by sexual reproduction, as between apes and humans.  If
       interspecific coitus is too distasteful, then laboratory fertilization
       and implant could do it.  If women are unwilling to gestate hybrids,
       animal females could.
    Goto table of contents
                            THE MANY VOICES OF DESTINY
                                Stephen L. Talbott
    Notes concerning Expecting Adam, by Martha Beck (New York: Random
    House, 1999).  Hardcover, 328 pages, $23.95.
    Science has steadily pulled back from the fullness of our experience,
    contracting into a subtle and pinched search for reliable mechanisms,
    abstract and remote.  In the face of this science, it is difficult to hold
    onto any conviction that we bring a resolve, or task, or destiny with us
    to earth and that we converse with this destiny through all the
    circumstances of our lives.  Such intimations of destiny as we may
    encounter almost inevitably fade toward the indistinct margins of our
    existence.  Or else they erupt into flaky theories all the more
    understandable given that the prevailing science, with its necessary
    discipline, has abandoned the field.
    It's not much use arguing for or against such a notion of destiny in
    general terms.  All we can do is to look at our lives as fully and
    dispassionately as possible, ignoring nothing because of our
    presuppositions.  Then we can try to hear what, if anything, speaks
    through the whole.
    Or else look at someone else's life.  The author of Expecting Adam offers
    us such a life -- or, rather, a group of lives -- and what speaks through them
    is powerful beyond words.
    Martha Beck had always felt revulsion in the presence of retarded people.
    This was still true when, in the aftermath of a nearly disastrous
    automobile accident, an obviously retarded passer-by looked her in the eye
    and said, "He's a good baby, ma'am.  You take care of that baby."
    It was only then that Beck -- who a moment before had found herself
    unreasonably peaceful beside her shell-shocked husband as their car spun
    wildly through onrushing traffic -- realized she was experiencing the
    first, faint symptoms of another "accident".  She was pregnant.  A few
    months later she would discover that the developing child had Down
    Beck and her husband, John, already parents of an eighteen-month-old
    daughter, Katie, were hard-driven, rational, stiff-upper-lip Ph.D.
    candidates at Harvard.  Earlier, John had been roundly castigated as "a
    disgrace to this institution" in front of eighty-nine other students by a
    world-famous economics professor when he missed two days of class while
    Lamaze-coaching Martha through their daughter's birth -- a tongue-lashing
    "that made him wake up in a cold sweat for months afterward".  They knew
    another couple who aborted a planned pregnancy after a professor scheduled
    a crucial, three-day test near the expected delivery date.  Martha herself
    was studying the sociology of gender in company with many fellow staunch
    feminists:  "I could hear them in my mind, comparing me to a rabbit, a
    brood sow, a member of some primitive tribe that hadn't figured out the
    connection between sex and reproduction".
    Falling Apart, Coming Together
    But there was also an entirely different set of motifs playing out in
    Beck's life.  She had vaguely sensed it first as a kind of orchestration,
    an elegant, behind-the-scenes string-pulling the night she conceived --
    when, somehow, beneath it all, she knew she was conceiving despite
    having taken all the usual precautions.  The same sense returned a few
    days after the automobile mishap.
       By the time the five minutes had elapsed and the pregnancy test results
       were undeniably positive, I knew that I would not be scheduling an
       abortion.  That was all I knew.  I wasn't sure why I had made the
       decision to continue the pregnancy.  I could feel the puppeteers around
       me, sounding their invisible bells in some inexplicable but
       irresistible celebration, and I strongly suspected that this meant I
       was losing my mind.  I checked to see if I was still pro-choice.  I
       was.  I examined my internalized schedule for the upcoming year:  my
       teaching, caring for Katie, intense classwork, John's travel.  This was
       simply not the time for a baby, I thought.  But at the word
       baby, the joyous carol swelled again, and the magic filled my
       eyes with tears.  I stood up, teetered a little, and went to tell John
       that he was going to become a father for the second time.
    Because of what was then an undiagnosed immune system deficiency, this
    pregnancy, like her earlier one, was in many respects a nightmare.
    Weakness to the point of immobility, many faintings (sometimes in public
    places), inability to keep food or drink down, repeated hospitalizations
    -- these marked the weeks and months of her expectancy.
    Once, on the occasion of her first hospitalization for dehydration, Beck
    fell asleep and dreamed one of those vivid, visionary sorts of dream.  An
    ageless youth handed her a piece of paper.  "Here", he said in a voice so
    resonant and gentle that it brought tears to her eyes.  "The intensity of
    my fear was matched only by the intensity of my desire to see what was
    written there."
    The words on the paper were written in a language she did not know.  But
    they carried a force and significance much greater than any words in
    English -- a force and significance she immediately grasped.
       Reading it felt like coming home to my native country after many years
       in alien territory.  The words of this unknown tongue had been laid
       down in a firm, graceful hand, and they shone.  Literally.  A brilliant
       golden light, like the reflection of the setting sun over water,
       flashed and sparkled from every mark and line.  It was as though the
       pen had not put down pigment but scraped away material reality to
       reveal something inexpressibly beautiful shining beneath it.  As I read
       the letter, I felt a deep comfort trickling into my heart the way the
       glucose solution was trickling into my veins.
    The extremity of her physical condition was certainly conducive to
    "visionary" experiences -- a fact of the sort she continually recalled to
    her conscious mind.  But there are other, less manageable levels of
    understanding.  After the dream, she says,
       I was irrationally certain of three things:  that the ageless young man
       across the table from me was the fetus I carried in my womb; that this
       being loved and respected me as his equal; and that there was
       "something wrong" with the baby.
    Later, when Adam was three years old, and before he had learned to speak
    at all, there was a time when Beck reached an unusually low point of
    frustration.  She had just spent fruitless hours trying to teach the boy
    to speak his first coherent syllables.  (She compares his speech at that
    time to the sound of "car wash" repeated backward.)  Afterward, as they
    passed through the supermarket check-out counter, he gestured to her that
    she should buy him a rose.  She didn't understand why he preferred the
    rose to her offer of a candy bar.
    The next morning, he padded down the hallway to her bedroom, appearing at
    the door with the rose in a bud vase.  Beck acknowledges, "I didn't
    realize that he knew what vases were for, let alone how to get one down
    from the cupboard, fill it with water, and put a flower in it".  He walked
    over to the bed and handed her the rose, saying in a clear, calm voice,
       It had been years since I had thought about my dream at University
       Health Services, years since I had heard the incredible gentleness in
       the voice of the young man who had sat across the table from me -- the
       same voice I had just heard coming from my mute son's mouth.  I stared
       at Adam, almost frightened, as the dream flashed into my mind.  He
       looked back at me with steady eyes, and I knew what I had known -- what
       I should have remembered -- all that time:  that his flesh of my flesh
       had a soul I could barely comprehend, that he was sorry for the pain I
       felt as I tried to turn him into a "normal" child, and that he loved me
       despite my many disabilities.
       Then he turned around, his little blue pajamas dragging a bit on the
       floor, and padded out of the room.
    Throughout her pregnancy, Beck had "the eerie impression that my life was
    completely under control -- but not my control".  Strange,
    sometimes disturbing experiences kept happening -- things she did not even
    confide to John, lest he "think I was an idiot".  But the underlying
    effect was always to increase her "irrational" certainty that she was
    finding the place where she belonged.
    Beck's memoir is filled with a seemingly endless stream of inexplicable
    episodes.  Thankfully, she is not unduly concerned either to explain the
    strange events or to explain them away.  She simply offers us the facts of
    her experience, although she confesses that
       It worries me to think that I will be lumped together with the right-
       to-lifers, not to mention every New Age crystal kisser who ever claimed
       to see an angel in the clouds over Sedona.  I am reluctant to wave
       good-bye to my rationalist credibility.  Nevertheless, the story will
       not stop unfolding, and it will not stop asking me to tell it.
    But the "wondrous signs" are not the real point of the story.  The real
    point was the healing influence Adam brought into her and her husband's
    lives almost from the moment of conception, even if the means of healing
    often felt at the time like a crushing blow of fate.  That, as it happens,
    is often the only way we can be saved from ourselves, or else, perhaps, it
    is the only way our selves can save us.
    At Harvard
    Fate lay heaviest on her after a mid-pregnancy test revealed her child's
    Down syndrome.  At the Harvard bookstore she picked up a 1950s-vintage
    text about the mentally retarded.  It had a section about Down syndrome
    children and "gave absolutely false information about the inability of
    such children to control their bodily functions, and their antisocial
    inclinations".  Further, it listed their IQ as about 35, which it
    proceeded to compare with a chimpanzee (50) and an oak tree (3)!  "It was
    impossible for me to keep from calculating that this meant my son's IQ
    would be about 130 points below the average of my oft-tested siblings, and
    only 32 points higher than the plants in Harvard Yard."
    At the time, Beck could only believe all this.  She didn't know, for
    example, that Adam's skills at socialization, like those of other Down
    syndrome children raised lovingly, would prove superior to most normal
    persons'.  Amid her confusion and torment, she sat through a Sociology of
    Gender seminar where one class session was about "New Obstetrical
    Technologies".  A young man leaned across the table and declared, "It is
    the duty of every woman to screen her pregnancies and eliminate fetuses
    that would be a detriment to society!"
    There is no space here to chronicle all Beck's struggles at Harvard,
    except to say that her emotionally jolting portrayal of pretentious
    professors and students must have a lot of people squirming in anonymous
    discomfort.  One all-too-typical example will have to suffice.  John Beck
    was once called into the intimidating presence of "Goatstroke", an
    economics professor who spent much of his time with Nobel Prize winners
    and heads of state.
       "Mr. Beck," he said, lapsing into the formal address he used on
       undergraduates and other lesser beings, "let me tell you something
       about myself.  When I was an assistant professor, working on my first
       book and trying to get tenure, my wife -- my first wife, that is --
       discovered she was pregnant."
       "Oh," said John.
       "I was quite moved, at the time -- I mean, it really is quite something
       to think that a child with your genes has been conceived.  But you see,
       the timing was all wrong.  If that baby had been born, it would have
       interfered with my writing, my research.  I decided that she needed an
       abortion, and I've never regretted it."
       "You decided," John croaked.
       "What?" said Goatstroke.
       John was having one of those epiphanies men sometimes get, where for a
       brief moment they can see what the world must look like through a
       woman's eyes.  He was thinking about the way I pored over my pregnancy
       books and felt for the baby's hands against my sides and cried at the
       picture on the ultrasound screen.  He wondered how many other decisions
       Goatstroke had made for his wives.
       "You have got to understand," Goatstroke went on, "that this is not
       some game we're playing.  This is your career, John.  You must
       have your priorities in order."
    Slowly and with much struggle the Becks did get their priorities in order.
    It required, among other things, some peculiar, visionary experiences
    before they could see through to the hollowness of some of their most
    revered professors.  The eventual result was an exhilarating openness to
    whatever life might bring, even if it meant the sacrifice of their
    cherished, Harvard-bred goals.
    As Martha put it later, when Adam was three years old (actually, the words
    were given to her uninvited by a weird woman who, out of the blue,
    accosted her as if with a message from Adam): "He says that you shouldn't
    be so worried.  He says you'll never be hurt as much by being open as you
    have been hurt by remaining closed".
    Enjoying Life
    Becoming open was a long process.  She tells, for example, about learning
    from the way others cared:
       The people who spend their lives working with disabled children are the
       most accepting, loving, optimistic-but-realistic human beings you could
       ever meet.  To them, no child, no matter how disfigured or inept,
       deserves anything less than unconditional acceptance.  Adam's
       therapists probably don't know that I, with my three Harvard degrees
       and my relatively sound body, got more from their sessions with Adam
       than did Adam himself.  As I sat watching them, feeling the kindness in
       the air around them, all the parts of me that I had sent to the
       Deepfreeze years before thawed, and stretched and began to consider the
       idea that the world might not be altogether hostile.
    While at Harvard Beck had perfected a fierce and instinctive resistance to
    any betrayal of inadequacy or personal feeling or need for others.  And
    yet, throughout her pregnancy this resistance was countered by the
    irresistible force of unsolicited kindness from others.  "I had the
    constant sensation that I was a kind of radio tower, within which Adam sat
    broadcasting some kind of signal to the world around me -- not a verbal
    message but an unnamed energy, a sort of goodness, that drew out
    people's best and helped them connect with each other."
    Adam doesn't seem to have lost that ability since birth:
       When he begins each academic year, I am always surprised that school
       personnel who aren't used to dealing with "different" children seem
       concerned, and sometimes even a little angry, at the thought of having
       Adam around.  Even the wonderful teachers and principals who are used
       to children with disabilities don't act inordinately thrilled by Adam
       at first meeting.  I have to remind myself that the mysterious force
       field around him takes a while to affect people.  By the second or
       third parent-teacher conference, I introduce myself as Adam's mother
       and wait for their faces to light up.  They always do.
    After a couple of years of unexplained dreams about dolphins, Beck read
    the story of another Down syndrome boy whose mother, afflicted by similar
    dreams, took her son to a dolphin research center in Florida.  The boy
    seemed to connect with the dolphins in a profound way, and woke up one
    night in his room several miles inland, grieving for a dolphin friend who,
    it turned out, had just died.
    Beck herself was slightly resistant.  Referring to dolphins as "those
    brainy sea mammals with the endearing expressions and the highly social
    personalities", she goes on to say:  "I was a little chagrined to have
    developed such a trendy passion, but there was nothing to be done about
    it.  The dream kept coming back."
    So Adam, too, visited the center, and there Beck sensed "the same strange
    electric energy between Adam and the dolphins that I'd sensed around me
    before he was born".  It may sound silly, she grants, "but I've been
    through too much to dismiss these things.  I've also learned that I will
    probably never fully understand it.  That's okay.  Just being nearby is a
    Adam disliked the water, and he clung tightly to his mother as she took
    him into the Florida lagoon.  But when the dolphin, Alita, its powerful
    muscles "flexed like steel springs", suddenly burst through the surface
    next to them and gently brushed its head against Adam's hand, the boy let
    go "without a second glance" and abandoned himself to the animal.
       That day with the dolphins, Adam wasn't scared of anything.  Alita
       rounded the curve at the edge of the lagoon and headed back toward me,
       pulling him like a towrope from her fin.  Adam was still laughing, the
       face below his golden hair radiating happiness.  It is impossible to
       look into Adam's face when he smiles this way and not smile back.  For
       some reason, that incredibly contagious grin reminded me of something
       Albert Einstein said:  that the single most important decision any of
       us will ever have to make is whether or not to believe that the
       universe is friendly.  Adam appears to have made that decision.
    Reflecting on the various "paranormal" graces bestowed upon her through
    her son, Beck wonders about the justice of it all.  After all, "people are
    tortured and killed and raped and pillaged on a daily basis, and if there
    are angels in the vicinity, they apparently just sit around watching --
    wringing their ectoplasmic little hands, perhaps, but letting nature take
    its course".
    Disdaining simple religious formulas about how the righteous will prosper,
    she tries to figure out "why some people get help from angels, and some
    get lobotomized by flying debris from freak wheat-threshing accidents".
    There hardly seem to be any satisfying answers.  If there are angels out
    there, "they are working from a priority list that is very different from
    And yet, Beck's own story seems to offer at least a partial answer to her
    conundrum.  The fact is that, for many of us, the news that our child had
    Down syndrome would hit us with roughly the same force and import as the
    news that he had been lobotomized in a freak accident.  And if, unlike
    Beck, we held to that stance -- if we were not open to such graces as
    illumined her life -- our sense of unqualified disaster would surely find
    its own justification.
    One needn't hold any of the established views on abortion to realize that,
    in a society where aborting "defective" fetuses is the norm, the Adamic
    graces are not the ones we are particularly looking for or opening
    ourselves up to.  But what if we listened to the speech of all the
    circumstances of our lives, and then entered into conversation with
    whatever it was that came to meet us?  Who can say in advance, or with
    stopped ears, what might emerge from such a conversation -- up to and
    including that most intimate of all conversations, the one with death?
    I do not mean to suggest that we should all look for the peculiar signs
    and wonders that have been Martha Beck's lot.  I for one have had a life-
    long, rock-solid conviction that, whatever the potentials for
    transcendently strange experiences in today's world, I myself would never
    have to worry about such things.  And I've been right.  I've always felt a
    strong identification with the conventional center and core of my own
    culture, even while finding myself compelled to seek an intellectual
    escape from its unexamined assumptions.
    But I can nevertheless easily imagine that others live closer than I to
    those cultural boundaries defining reasonable and respectable experience.
    Beck seems to be one of them.  In a way, though, the twilight-zone aspects
    of her story only get in the way of the deeper message.  Many parents of
    Down syndrome children have experienced the full joy of a life-changing
    companionship without any intrusion of the "paranormal".  That
    companionship and joy and change add up to the real miracle.
    A miracle, in one worthy sense of the word, is whatever expresses those
    meaningful potentials of the world we have not yet fathomed.  Wherever
    there is genuine meaning, someone is speaking.  With our culture's several
    hundred years' inattention to the ways in which people and events speak --
    ways that have little to do with the mere transmission of information --
    much of the meaningful content of our lives has vanished from
    comprehension into the miraculous.
    So there are far more miracles in our lives today than in the past; it's
    just that we've trained ourselves not to notice them.  But they are there
    to be noticed.  And many of us will find it easier to begin the noticing
    with the extraordinary help of a little Down syndrome boy named Adam.
    Proffering this help may well have been the task Adam brought to earth.
    Can any of the rest of us claim a more noble task?
    Related articles:
    ** "Can Technology Make the Handicapped Whole?" in NF #92.
    Goto table of contents
                               ON THE NEW EUGENICS
                                Stephen L. Talbott
    You will by now have realized why I juxtaposed the preceding articles in
    this issue of NetFuture.  Few, I suspect, will find it possible to read
    Martha Beck's Expecting Adam and then to contemplate the pronouncements
    about genetic engineering by leading intellectuals without yielding to
    disgust or fury.
    That, of course, is not a particularly healthy response, and it may be
    part of what Beck had in mind when she said she was "very much afraid of
    being caught in the firestorms of controversy over abortion, genetic
    engineering, and medical ethics".  But I'm sure she would grant that her
    experience is indeed relevant to much of this controversy.  Personally, I
    would say that her experience is what is most crucially missing from a
    great deal of it.
    Here, then are a few brief observations of my own about those quotations:
    ** The first thing that strikes me is how easy it is for intellectuals
    to toss off grandiose statements-in-the-abstract, and how gut-wrenchingly
    hard it is for a Martha Beck -- or any of us -- to compose our lives into
    worthy statements that are true, beautiful, and good.  When the former
    statements are not the distilled wisdom of the latter, something has gone
    badly wrong.  Technologies give us the means to talk in a hollow way about
    all kinds of sweeping change, but the change that really matters is always
    and only the change we produce out of an inner, transformative work.
    The pursuit of any other change as if it could substitute for this work
    leads us along the broad and easy path to trouble.
    ** The genetic engineers and cheerleaders quoted above seem remarkably
    confident that they have mastered what the rest of us have not:  namely,
    what it means to be human.  This is odd considering that most or all of
    them would profess discomfort with the language of meaning as opposed to
    the instrumental language of science.  Without hesitation they talk about
    making human beings better, as if this gave us an obvious roadmap for the
    re-engineering task.  Rarely do they make their own roadmaps explicit, but
    you can be sure that, on their maps, they themselves count as better than
    Adam Beck.
    When the Becks first faced the remote possibility that their child would
    have down syndrome, John took it for granted that Martha would abort the
    fetus.  "It's like shooting a horse that's broken its leg", he explained.
       A lame horse dies slowly, you know?" said John.  "It dies in terrible
       pain.  And it can't run anymore, so it can't enjoy life even if it
       doesn't die.  Horses live to run; that's what they do.  If a
       baby is born not being able to do what other people do, I think it's
       better not to prolong its suffering."
    A highly distraught Martha responded, "And what is it that people
    do?  What do we live to do, the way a horse lives to run?"
    At this point John had nothing further to say.  At an impasse, they wisely
    let the conversation die.  John could only embrace Martha, who felt his
    heart beating beneath his coat.
       For a moment, I let the anxiety in my chest relax, let myself forget
       everything I had to do that day, let myself feel utterly safe.  And
       then I understood that John was answering my question, even though he
       didn't know he was.  This is it, I thought.  This is the part of us
       that makes our brief, improbable little lives worth living:  the
       ability to reach through our own isolation and find strength, and
       comfort, and warmth for and in each other.  This is what human beings
       do.  This is what we live for, the way horses live to run.
    On his part, Adam was capable of extracting endless joy from life -- much
    more, perhaps, than most of us.
       The immediacy and joy with which he lives his life make rapacious
       achievement, Harvard-style, look a lot like quiet desperation.
       [Despite requiring less attention than other children] Adam has slowed
       me down to the point where I notice what is in front of me, its mystery
       and beauty, instead of thrashing my way through a maze of difficult
       requirements toward labels and achievements that contain no joy in
       themselves.  Adam takes his joy straight up, in purer form than most of
       us can handle.
    Who is so all-knowing as to tell us that the satisfaction and achievements
    of Harvard professors are more valuable for the race, more worthy of being
    granted existence, than those of Adam?
    ** As to the sufferings of Down syndrome children, aren't most of these
    inflicted by the rest of us -- that is, by our inability or unwillingness
    to overcome our own insecurities and discomfort in the presence of people
    who seem deformed?  This does not put us in a great position to talk
    magnanimously about putting them out of their pain.  Maybe we should just
    stop inflicting the pain.
    To say that there is inevitable pain in great limitation may be a half-
    truth.  But this is to ignore the age-old wisdom that overcoming our
    limitations comes close to being the essence of human life.  Certainly it
    is the source of many of our deepest satisfactions.  Probably the most
    truly handicapped people on earth are those who imagine themselves most
    free of limitation -- mentors for a new race of supermen.  Lacking
    acknowledged limitations, they have ceased even the common struggles that
    might have made them into men.
    ** Read those quotations about genetic engineering a few more times, and
    pay attention to the inner gesture that seems to animate the words.  I
    suspect you will notice a certain brittleness and superficiality, a play
    of logic without any profound wrestling with the meaning of the terms
    employed.  And along with this goes the arrogance that always seems to
    follow when the force of logic is mistaken for depth of understanding.  It
    is texts like these that convince me most fearfully of the possibilities
    for reducing ourselves to computational machines.
    So it is that James Watson can sneer at those who believe the human genome
    has "some sanctity in it" -- apparently without recognizing his implicit
    claim that his own genome (and that of his fellow racial engineers) does
    indeed have some sort of sanctity to it, giving them the right to
    pronounce what forms of life are worth keeping around.  He would be nearer
    the truth if he realized that the real sanctity and dignity accrue, not to
    a set of molecules, but to his innermost and truest self, which cannot
    easily be judged in terms of the material "accidents" of his existence.
    Then, however, he would also have to grant that, at the level of this
    inalienable self, there is no comparing the "value" of persons.  At least
    a vague sensing of this truth lies behind the fundamental political
    doctrine of equality before the law.  It doesn't require any very
    elaborate reasoning to see that Watson and company have, in their own
    minds, already scuttled this doctrine.  They are measuring the worth and
    potential of human beings by reducing them to the terms of mechanisms --
    and there is no doubt that mechanisms, when they prove defective, can
    require discarding.  The destructive implications this thinking holds for
    democracy need more attention than they have yet received.
    ** Take it with a grain of salt if you like, but my own surmise about the
    new, materialistic mysticism that speaks glibly of Metaman and spiritual
    machines and digital immortality is that it arises from fear.  I mean
    the fear that we may not be just our molecules, or just the patterns of
    organization imposed on our molecules.  Why is this a fearful prospect?
    Because it would mean we bear within ourselves the real burden of
    the future of the human race, not merely the pleasurable "burden" of
    philosophizing about it and tinkering with its objectified exterior.
    We bear this real burden, first of all, in our choices about what we
    ourselves will become, and then through our share in what those around
    us become.
    I believe we will be in serious trouble until we realize that the future
    human being can be shaped only from the inside -- is now being shaped from
    the inside, even as we are distracted by our high-tech toys, busily
    envisioning how to program the DNA of a better human being.   The best
    hope for the misshapen human being resulting from our distraction may well
    prove to be the Adams of the world.
    ** Finally, I am not saying we lack all justification for calling the Down
    syndrome child "abnormal" or even "defective".  Surely these words point
    to a truth of the matter -- or, at least, they can if spoken with love and
    an awareness of our own extreme defects.  Further, an awareness of what is
    defective naturally leads us to consider remedies -- must do so.  If, as I
    said above, human life is about overcoming limitation, one should not say
    in advance what methods we might fruitfully bring to bear on the task --
    up to and including genetic engineering.
    The range of our moral responsibility, however, is determined not
    only by the range of our power to act, but also by the extent of our
    understanding.  Our first responsibility is to recognize the limits of
    our understanding and the true springs of our actions.  The foregoing
    remarks are intended, not to close off future possibilities, but only to
    suggest how deformed much of the engineering-oriented, futurist thought
    about these matters currently is.  It is deformed because it ignores
    both its own limitations and its motivations.
    If you want a guideline for dealing with the defects of others, your best
    bet is to consider how you respond to the defects of those you love most
    deeply.  This won't immediately answer all the hard questions.  But it's a
    good place to begin asking them.  As Martha Beck writes, "Whoever said
    that love is blind was dead wrong.  Love is the only thing on earth that
    lets us see each other with the remotest accuracy."
    Related articles:
    ** See the "Genetic engineering" heading in the NetFuture topical index.
    Goto table of contents
    Solutions as Problems
    Response to:  "Ubiquitous Technology Pushers (Part 2)" (NF-101)
    From:  Alexander Carpenter (alexander@nmci.com)
    Thanks for NF 101.
    One of my heros said:
       If you don't understand how things are connected, the cause of problems
       is solutions.  (Amory B. Lovins, Rocky Mountain Institute)
    Highest Regards,
    New Millennium Communications, Inc.
    Technologists May Be Impervious to Rational Argument
    Response to:  "Criticize Out of Love, Not Resentment" (NF-101)
    From:  Van Wishard (vwishard@worldnet.att.net)
    In my view, Kelly's challenge to you perfectly illustrates how he does not
    comprehend the underlying issue we face.  He wants you to present "a
    critical view of technology that is convincing to the technologists
    themselves."  That is probably impossible, as Kelly is talking about a
    rational ego process whereas the technologists are most likely operating
    out of an unconscious archetypal complex which is simply impervious to
    rational, reductive arguments.
    Van Wishard
    WorldTrends Research
    We Need More Than a Loving Discourse
    Response to:  "Criticize Out of Love, Not Resentment" (NF-101)
    From:  Raul Huerta (huertara@morrisville.edu)
    I found Kevin Kelly's comment about the need for "love" to be interjected
    into this discourse to be a tad off base.  Technology, as Giedion
    demonstrated in Mechanization Takes Command, irretrievably alters anything
    that it touches.  As a society we are mechanizing numerous functions
    driven by a Cartesian desire to escape the materiality of our experience
    and world.  As Toulmin pointed out in Cosmopolis, the philosophical roots
    or basis of the technological imperative is a desire to escape emotion.
    Frankly, we need to look at how we can fully express our "dasein" as
    members of the world community.  I am explicitly using "world community"
    to encompass all sentient and non-sentient beings.  I am at a loss to see
    how ubiquitous computing technology makes me a better neighbor.  I can be
    a better neighbor by humanely interacting with those around me.  I can be
    a better neighbor by living my life in a manner that doesn't require the
    exploitation of the planet in a non-renewable way.  I can be a better
    neighbor by not supporting or creating semi-feudal working conditions for
    the many so that a few can live like gazillionaire potentates!  Those are
    the real questions that this area of discourse encompasses.  We only need
    to look at the rising gap between the rich and the poor in this country
    and throughout the world to realize that this is not a question of simply
    interjecting "love" into this discourse.
    What we do as a society has real consequences for individuals and this
    planet.  We need to look at the results of our actions in order to come to
    an honest understanding of those acts.  It is time for techies to
    recognize and meditate on the consequences of their actions.  In other
    words, techies need to realize that they live and belong to an
    interconnected world community.  Frankly, it is time for them to grow up
    and quit acting like a pack of spoiled, adolescent and selfish brats.  I
    realize that it is difficult to live for others, but, that is the meaning
    of love (agape), community and neighbor.
    Raul Huerta
    Raul --
    I don't believe Kelly was saying that conversation about technology should
    substitute for other forms of action.  He was suggesting that, so far as
    we do seek conversation, we will find it profitable only to the degree we
    can love those we are speaking to along with their creative achievements.
    (I Think this applies to Van Wishard's letter above, also.)  But, of
    course, I'm with you in much that you say about the practical terms of our
    Goto table of contents
                           ANNOUNCEMENTS AND RESOURCES
    Wild Duck Review
    The Wild Duck Review, capably produced and edited by Casey Walker, is a
    tabloid-format publication, produced quarterly.  I have before me now a
    special issue (Summer, 1999) on biotechnology, with a lead article by
    Wendell Berry.  (I wanted to argue with him a little, but, like every
    Berry essay, it makes wonderful reading.)  All the rest of the articles
    and interviews in the densely packed, 44-page magazine could hardly
    provide a better survey of issues in biotechnology, from ethics to
    technical foundations to world trade in genetically altered organisms.
    This is one of those publications where you might just feel compelled to
    read every article.
    WDR is subtitled "Literature, Necessary Mischief, & News", and it can
    range as widely as this rubric suggests.  For one brief taste of the
    Summer, 1999 issue, here's a paragraph from Berry's article:
       The language we use to speak of the world and its creatures, including
       ourselves, has gained a certain analytical power (along with a lot
       of expertish pomp) but has lost the power to designate what is being
       analyzed or to convey any respect or care or affection or devotion
       toward it.  As a result we have a lot of genuinely concerned people
       calling upon us to "save" a world which their language simultaneously
       reduces to an assemblage of perfectly featureless and dispirited
       "ecosystems," "organisms," "environments," "mechanisms," and the like.
       It is impossible to prefigure the salvation of the world in the same
       language by which the world has been reduced and defaced.
    A one-year subscription is $24.00 ($32 outside the U.S.).  You can obtain
    a sample issue for $4.  The subscription address is:  Wild Duck Review,
    P.O. Box 388, Nevada City CA 95959.
    Goto table of contents
                              ABOUT THIS NEWSLETTER
    Copyright 2000 by The Nature Institute.  You may redistribute this
    newsletter for noncommercial purposes.  You may also redistribute
    individual articles in their entirety, provided the NetFuture url and this
    paragraph are attached.
    NetFuture is supported by freely given reader contributions, and could not
    survive without them.  For details and special offers, see
    http://netfuture.org/support.html .
    Current and past issues of NetFuture are available on the Web:
    To subscribe or unsubscribe to NetFuture:
    Steve Talbott :: NetFuture #102 :: February 16, 2000
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