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The Global Brain
"It is not guilty pride but the ceaselessly reawakened instinct of the game which calls forth new worlds." (Heraclitus Reloaded)
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    On the ethical approach towards human augmentation: Part 4
    Project: The great enhancement debate

    Biology and social order

    Social organization is considered to be the platform of culture. It is widely accepted that humanity is shaped mainly by two systems of influence. The first is genetic, the second is cultural. These two systems of influence are vastly different yet not independent from each other; in fact they are tightly coupled since many aspects of social organization depend on genetic factors and genetically derived relations.

    In socio-historical perspective, the genetically derived organization is considered more ancient and of higher authority. Many aspects of culture exist for the sole purpose of preserving this asymmetry of influences and by that to establish order and stability. One reason for this state of affairs is perhaps the fact that genetic influence was and still is an outcome of forces beyond human control, and as such they represent higher authority be it mother nature’s authority, god’s or else. Cultural influence, on the other hand, is shaped by man’s will and man’s deliberation and is largely believed to be secondary and the least stable (reliable?). It is worth noting that this preference of relying on so called supra mundane authority over responsible choice is threaded through most of humanity’s ethical attitudes. This preference is nothing short of admitting a profound incompetence in defining and upholding the human status in the universe and its entailed ethical principles.

    Just to have a grasp of how deep genetically determined factors are involved in the foundations of social order, let us note the following points:

    • Most legally accepted means of identification are genetically determined, beginning with facial recognition, finger prints, voice signature and lately DNA samples.

    • Blood connection is considered the strongest and most reliable contact between humans. Many fundamental aspects of social order and moral codes such as mutual responsibility, material possessions, inheritance, and many more are based on blood connection and blood relations which are genetically derived relations. The family cell is considered the atomic unit of social order. The family (and male female connection at its basis) is considered sacred by most religions and social organizations. Commitment to family values is one of the most widely accepted virtues and a sign of a healthy society. A parent is considered the highest benefactor of a child even in the face of heavy evidence to the contrary. Blood connection is believed to be an automatic proof and a motive to love, responsibility and mutual commitment.

    • Reproduction is considered to be one of the most fundamental rights of a human. Moreover in the opportunity to reproduce, it is believed that all humans are equal, since the (so called natural or godly) forces influencing the offspring’s genetic makeup do not discriminate, since they are beyond the control of human deliberation. It follows that in reproduction humanity finds a secure basis for equality of opportunities in life and equality of rights. Poor or rich, wise or dumb, beautiful or ugly, sick or healthy all stand equal in front of the roulette of procreation, all holding the same key of upturning destinies through continuation.

    • Many of the taboos observed by societies across cultural borders are of sexual nature and subsequently involve genetic determinants of social order. (see for example the taboo on incest that would apparently confuse the distinction and hierarchy of family relations)

    Observing these indications as to the criticality of genetically determined factors to social order, it becomes quite clear that biotechnology must be perceived by many as a profound threat to social order as we know it, thus a threat to the very foundations of culture. From another perspective however biotechnology marks a shift of a long-standing balance between two systems of influence by which the individual human is shaped. Whilst along history genetic influence prevailed over cultural influence in being the basis of social order, biotechnology may become an instrument of culture to take precedence by culturally directed redesign of the genetic makeup of individuals and eventually of whole populations.

    Understanding this point is critical to bioethics. The sense of impending instability invoked by our growing capacity to intervene in genetic processes is unavoidable and is the main source of bias in dealing with bioethical issues. Even the relatively simple case of reproductive cloning already creates problems of distinction; if I clone myself, what is my relation to this clone? Would it be as a parent to his child? Or perhaps as siblings? Is my wife’s clone my daughter or sister in law? How should inheritance of property laws apply? Such questions are nothing but an attempt to map a novel state of affairs into an inadequate genetically determined social order. As such, this attempt is bound to fail.

    Biotechnology marks a point where the core processes of biological life have become the subject of man’s conscious aware observations, much as the Copernican revolution marked a point where the motions of the planets have become the subject of man’s conscious aware observations. At such points, it is unavoidable that human’s perspective of the universe, of herself, and of the relation between her and the universe, will undergo transformation, and a new kind of maturity must arise as result. Indeed such transformation is a shock to the existing world view and its entailed social order. This kind of transformation cannot be stopped. It cannot be stopped not because technological progress cannot be stopped. It cannot be stopped because, to my belief, it is an essential aspect of the dynamics of the human phenomenon as an open ended intelligent phenomenon.

    In the light of this, the foundations of social order will need revision and adaptation. The vast transformative pressures exerted on the current foundations should not be met by fortifying the current images and value systems, nor by a reflexive counter attack on what seems to be the source of the pressure i.e. biotechnology. The real source of pressure is human nature and human consciousness. This can only be met by flexibility and a deeper insight into what we are.

    Back to Part 3.
    Continue to Part 5.

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