It’s Not Just About Us

Spoiler alert:  In a scene from Fourth World, Dr. Neelin, after pointing out the presence of Martian DNA interspersed with Benn’s own genome (due to micro-chimerism, he wrongly assumes) quickly reassures him, “Don’t worry, Benn, you are undoubtedly human… but after… living and evolving on Mars, you have taken on, shall we say, some of the local flavor.”

Also from Fourth World:  In a medical school lecture, Dr. Vincent discusses the centuries-old practice of society-based eugenics, then the advent of gene editing, which “failed to resolve many ethical issues:  the criteria used in selecting ‘desirable’ traits, the potential to create a superhuman ruling class…”  The maximum number of “actionable” genes can be legislated, of course, but it’s a slippery slope.  Laws can be broken, and legislatures can be be persuaded to increase the allowed maximum.  “But you do have to draw the line somewhere on the spectrum of eugenics,” Dr. Vincent concludes, “to preserve the conventional definition of what it is to be human.”

I’d recommend a column called The Stone, on the Opinion Page of the New York Times this morning.  The title:  “Is Humanism Really Humane?”  Cary Wolfe, interviewed by Natasha Lennard, defines post-humanism by contrasting it with the Enlightenment concept of self, the centering of the human in relation to the rest of the world, the hierarchy placing humans above animals, and even “what the humanist philosophical tradition considered ontologically separate and discrete domains like ‘human’ and ‘animal,’ or ‘biological’ and ‘mechanical.'”  There are huge moral and ethical implications to challenging the standard, liberal humanism we’ve grown used to (in animal rights, for instance).

In a post-humanist view, the human is no longer at the top, or the center, or even in a separate domain.  Now that we can edit our genes (and, in future Fourth World, throw non-human genes into the mix), how would Dr. Vincent define what it is to be fundamentally human?  We have stepped onto the continuum between “human” as we currently understand it, and a product genetically modified beyond recognition.  Post-humanism has already become more than a dry philosophical concept.

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