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Goodbye 'human; Hi there, fellow 'bio human'

'You are trespassing into a sacrosanct area, our body, our soul, our essence.'

But this protest has always been the case, from  blood transfusion to the first heart transplant.

The question is what is that so called essence, or soul, or spirit that is supposedly being sullied or trampled on?  To answer that question we must look to the very nature of ethic, values, morality
all of which are steeped in history.

The current and future problem is not that a universal ethics is being dissolved into a multitude of specialised ones (bioethics, business ethics, medical ethics and so on) but that particular scientific breakthroughs are immediately set against humanist ‘values’, leading to complaints that biogenetics, for example, threatens our sense of dignity and autonomy.

The main consequence of the current breakthroughs in biogenetics is that natural organisms have become objects open to manipulation.

 Nature, human and inhuman, is ‘desubstantialised’, deprived of its impenetrable density,

If biogenetics is able to reduce the human psyche to an object of manipulation, it is evidence of what Heidegger perceived as the ‘danger’ inherent in modern technology.

By reducing a human being to a natural object whose properties can be altered, what we lose is not (only) humanity but nature itself.

In this sense, Francis Fukuyama is right in Our Posthuman Future: the notion of humanity relies on the belief that we possess an inherited ‘human nature’, that we are born with an unfathomable dimension of ourselve.

The prospect of biogenetic intervention opened up by increasing access to the human genome effectively emancipates humankind from the constraints of a finite species, from enslavement to the ‘selfish gene’. 

Emancipation comes at a price, however. In a talk he gave in Marburg in 2001, Habermas repeated his warning against biogenetic manipulation. There are, as he sees it, two main threats. First, that such interventions will blur the borderline between the made and the spontaneous and thus affect the way we understand ourselves. For an adolescent to learn that his ‘spontaneous’ (say, aggressive or peaceful) disposition is the result of a deliberate external intervention into his genetic code will undermine the heart of his identity, putting paid to the notion that we develop our moral being through Bildung, the painful struggle to educate our natural dispositions. 

Ultimately, biogenetic intervention could render the idea of education meaningless. Second, such interventions will give rise to asymmetrical relations between those who are ‘spontaneously’ human and those whose characters have been manipulated: some individuals will be the privileged ‘creators’ of other
Soon, it might be 'you will get your first symptoms at 49 and you will die at 52 probably on thereabouts on the Tuesday......' people will naturally not wish to know of this cutting edge advance.
 no wonder the majority of people (including the scientist who identified the gene) choose not to know,

At the most elementary level, this will affect our sexual identity. The ability of parents to choose the sex of their offspring is one issue. Another is the status of sex-change operations. Up until now, it has been possible to justify these by evoking a gap between biological and psychic identity: when a biological man experiences himself as a woman trapped in a man’s body, it is reasonable that (s)he be allowed to change her biological sex in order to introduce a balance between her sexual and her emotional life. 

Biogenetic manipulation opens up much more radical perspectives. It may retroactively change our understanding of ourselves as ‘natural’ beings, in the sense that we will experience our ‘natural’ dispositions as mediated, not as given – as things which can in principle be manipulated and therefore as merely contingent. 

There can be no return to a naive immediacy once we know that our natural dispositions depend on genetic contingency; to stick to them through thick and thin will be as false as sticking to the old ‘organic’ mores. According to 

 The paradox is that this autonomy can be preserved only by prohibiting access to the contingency which determines us – that is, by limiting the possibilities of scientific intervention. This is a new version of the old argument that, if we are to retain our moral dignity, it’s better not to know certain things
According to a possible Roman Catholic counter-argument, the true danger is that, in engaging in biogenetics, we forget that we have immortal souls. This argument only displaces the problem, however. If this were the case, Catholic believers would be the ideal people to engage in biogenetic manipulation, since they would be aware that they were dealing only with the material aspect of human existence, not with the spiritual kernel. Their faith would protect them from reductionism. If we have an autonomous spiritual dimension, there is no need to fear biogenetic manipulation.
From the psychoanalytic standpoint, the core of the problem resides in the autonomy of the symbolic order. Suppose I am impotent because of some unresolved blockage in my symbolic universe and, instead of ‘educating’ myself by trying to resolve the blockage, I take Viagra.

The solution works, I am able to perform again sexually, but the problem remains. How will the symbolic blockage be affected by this chemical solution? How will the solution be ‘subjectivised’? The situation is undecidable: the solution might unblock the symbolic obstacle, compelling me to accept its meaninglessness; or it might cause the obstacle to return at some more fundamental level (in a paranoiac attitude, perhaps, so that I experience myself as exposed to the caprice of a ‘master’ whose interventions can decide my destiny). 

There is always a symbolic price to be paid for such ‘unearned’ solutions. And, mutatis mutandis, the same goes for attempts to fight crime through biochemical or biogenetic intervention; compelling criminals to take medication to curb excessive aggression, for example, leaves intact the social mechanisms that triggered the aggression in the first place.
Another lesson of psychoanalysis is that, contrary to the notion that curiosity is innate, that there is deep inside each one of us a Wissenstrieb, a ‘drive to know’, there is, in fact, the opposite. 

Every advance in knowledge has to be earned by a painful struggle against our spontaneous propensity for ignorance. 
It’s not so much that we are losing our dignity and freedom with the advance of biogenetics but that we realise we never had them in the first place.


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