Bailey and the Bioconservatives

General Bioethics, Stem Cell Research — By on March 28, 2008 at 12:33 am

The American Spectator has published an article I wrote on transhumanism, biotechnology, and Reason science correspondent Ronald Bailey. An excerpt:

Bailey makes a similar sneaky acknowledgement using carefully selected language. “It is true that the proposed human animal cybrids would contain mostly human genes, but researchers have no intention of creating cow/human or rabbit/human babies,” he writes.

By combining the obscure technical term “cybrid” (an egg cell from an animal that contains the nucleus from a human cell) with the common, emotionally charged term “baby,” Bailey deftly obfuscates what is occurring. While the researchers are not creating cow/human babies (beings that have reached the infancy stage of development) they are creating cow/human embryos (beings that have reached the embryonic stage of development).

Denying the humanity of embryos is nothing new, of course, but the broad-based acceptance of certain biotechnologies has made such semantic evasion tactics essential.

Read the rest at The American Spectator.


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  • http://www.codemonkeyramblings.com MikeT

    The Nietzschean offshoot in the series Andromeda is closer to the reality of what could happen than Bailey wants to admit. It is unlikely that a group of post-humans who are genetically enhanced to the point of being meaningfully more advanced than regular humans would actually view normal humans and their rights with respect. In fact, it is more likely that they would view them as something a bit closer to how we view chimpanzees, than as being worth equal consideration.

  • http://www.sufficientscruples.com Kevin T. Keith

    Your charge of disingenuity is unfair.
    There is no obvious attempt at evasion, here. He is making a perfectly reasonble, perfectly clear, moral distinction – one that most people would accept as relevant.
    They are creating genetically human embryos with animal egg-cell structures in the lab, but not gestating them to birth. The moral distinction is between an unimplanted, barely differentiated embryo and a baby – the same distinction made by the majority of the public in questions regarding IVF embryos, stem cell research, and most cases of abortion. He is implicitly defending the creation of these embryos by noting that it does not involve the creation of babies from them – invoking an unstated but widespread moral perception that the moral implications of the two acts are different. That distinction would be obvious to the majority of the public who agree with it and accept it in the case of the other technologies, mentioned above, that are also predicated upon it. It is only a minority of religius extremists who insist otherwise (and, one hopes, only a minority of those who could not at least recognize the point of an argument they disagree with rather than assuming it to be fraudulent). Note also that, given the fact that – as you note – these technologies do enjoy broad-based acceptance, it would hardly be necessary for their supporters to employ evasive language in discussing them. Your accusation is not only false, but makes no sense.
    The fact that you regard the use of technically-correct terminology some sort of “evasion” may shed more light on your view of moral argumentation than on his, or perhaps it merely reflects the level of comprehension of your target audience. At any rate it can hardly be a truthful accusation – the very word “cybrid” in the quote you cite is hyperlinked to a definitional page that uses the words “embryo” or “embryos” 13 times, including in the title. I should think that would be clear enough for anyone.
    Bailey’s article is perfectly straightforward, and in fact much fairer to his opponents than you are to him.

  • http://TheEverwiseBoonton.blogspot.com Boonton

    Mike T
    It is unlikely that a group of post-humans who are genetically enhanced to the point of being meaningfully more advanced than regular humans would actually view normal humans and their rights with respect. In fact, it is more likely that they would view them as something a bit closer to how we view chimpanzees, than as being worth equal consideration
    Exactly what would be “more advanced” about such a group of post-humans? Better ability to fight disease? Dramatically slower aging? No need to sleep (get twice as much done in each day!)? Please confine yourself to changes that could reasonably be made through genetic engineering. Superman’s powers, for example, defy known physics and could not be generated through genetic engineering.
    You’re kind of touching on “Ethics for Superheros” which, to my knowledge, isn’t really addressed anywhere except comic books. But since we have them it should be noted that while superheros may not view humans as their equals they are still ethically obligated to treat them correctly.
    Kevin
    The fact that you regard the use of technically-correct terminology some sort of “evasion” may shed more light on your view of moral argumentation than on his, or perhaps it merely reflects the level of comprehension of your target audience.
    I think Joe should try to be a bit more clear. In his article he says some types of genetic stuff is ok because “DNA is not a human” but he then seems to switch gears and allege that DNA is a human if there’s enough of it in a certain location.
    To use one of his hypotheticals, what about changing mice so they produce human sperm and egg cells. It is agreed that sperms and eggs are not human beigns. If they unite, though, this creates the strange case of a human whose parents are mice. Since Joe seems to take the view that fertilization is the start of human life it would seem that DNA does in fact equate to a human person.
    The question then is how much DNA? An animal that grows human insulin is not a human person. I would assume likewise for an animal that grows, say, a human kidney for transplantation. What about an animal that grows some human brain tissue? A full human brain? Since Joe is not a materialist none of these things should bother him, no? After all a human brain is not a human person unless you believe personhood reduces to the wet material brain. But then if personhood does reduce to a brain how can a fertilized egg be a person?

  • http://www.codemonkeyramblings.com MikeT

    Exactly what would be “more advanced” about such a group of post-humans? Better ability to fight disease? Dramatically slower aging? No need to sleep (get twice as much done in each day!)? Please confine yourself to changes that could reasonably be made through genetic engineering. Superman’s powers, for example, defy known physics and could not be generated through genetic engineering.

    Nice strawman. The very reason I brought up Andromeda was because of the fact that Nietszcheans are not like Superman, but are much closer to what a race of genetically engineered post-humans could look like. There is nothing unrealistic about suggesting that genetic engineering could allow posthumans to build muscle much more efficiently than regular humans, allowing them to be significantly stronger on average than unmodified humans.

    You’re kind of touching on “Ethics for Superheros” which, to my knowledge, isn’t really addressed anywhere except comic books. But since we have them it should be noted that while superheros may not view humans as their equals they are still ethically obligated to treat them correctly.

    Says you, an unmodified human. Tell that to a fully realized post-human when these technologies have matured, and see if they agree with you.
    The problem here is obvious. A genetically modified race of post-humans that is profoundly qualitatively superior to ordinary humans is going to have a relationship with us that is not entirely unlike the relationship between homo sapien and other primates.

  • http://TheEverwiseBoonton.blogspot.com Boonton

    Nice strawman. The very reason I brought up Andromeda was because of the fact that Nietszcheans are not like Superman, but are much closer to what a race of genetically engineered post-humans could look like. There is nothing unrealistic about suggesting that genetic engineering could allow posthumans to build muscle much more efficiently than regular humans, allowing them to be significantly stronger on average than unmodified humans.
    Sorry, I never could get past maybe one episode of Andromeda so you’ll have to bear with me. I’m not sure why your charge would follow if the only thing that makes these “post-humans” more advanced is that they build muscle more efficiently. How does that make the difference between them and us any larger than the difference between the average well nourished and well educated citizen of a developed country and a member of a third world country?
    The problem here is obvious. A genetically modified race of post-humans that is profoundly qualitatively superior to ordinary humans is going to have a relationship with us that is not entirely unlike the relationship between homo sapien and other primates.
    In what qualities will they be superior? I’m not following why it is obvious that a modified human who has more muscle or who can learn faster automatically becomes an invincible monster. Again this is why I insisted on talking about genetic changes that are within the realm of reason and not superman type changes.
    Says you, an unmodified human. Tell that to a fully realized post-human when these technologies have matured, and see if they agree with you.
    Let’s say we are all living 3,000 years ago and it becomes clear growing up in a harsh environment with poor nutrition leaves one forever stunted. Should we then fear the advance of better diet, medicine etc because that will spawn a race of ‘super humans’ who will what? Wouldn’t the ethical concern be more concentrated on how can we make sure everyone gets access to these advances rather than trying to hold them back?

  • http://www.codemonkeyramblings.com MikeT

    Sorry, I never could get past maybe one episode of Andromeda so you’ll have to bear with me. I’m not sure why your charge would follow if the only thing that makes these “post-humans” more advanced is that they build muscle more efficiently. How does that make the difference between them and us any larger than the difference between the average well nourished and well educated citizen of a developed country and a member of a third world country?

    It was a combination of things. They were on average a few times stronger than regular humans, had very upgraded intelligence, and very powerful immune systems that could protect them naturally from most infections without breaking a sweat.
    The Nietzscheans were not even radically different from regular humans, just upgraded enough that they could physically and intellectually dominate them the way that we might dominate an older branch of humanity. That was all it took for the Nietzscheans to largely regard regular, unmodified humans with open contempt.
    It’s a pretty realistic portrayal of how different branches of humanity would tend to view one another. Probably the only thing that came from one of Gene Roddenbury’s works that was true to human nature.

  • Nick

    Mike T:
    There is nothing unrealistic about suggesting that genetic engineering could allow posthumans to build muscle much more efficiently than regular humans, allowing them to be significantly stronger on average than unmodified humans.
    Heck, there are already families with naturally occurring mutations that do exactly that. I for one, scrawny ectomorph that I am, welcome our new muscle-bound overlords.
    It’s a pretty realistic portrayal of how different branches of humanity would tend to view one another.
    I think that “would” should be a “might.” My wife’s uncle has Downs syndrome, but I haven’t noticed that people with normal intellects treat him as unworthy of respect. Why should genetically engineered people revert to crude might-makes-right morality?

  • http://www.codemonkeyramblings.com MikeT

    I think that “would” should be a “might.” My wife’s uncle has Downs syndrome, but I haven’t noticed that people with normal intellects treat him as unworthy of respect. Why should genetically engineered people revert to crude might-makes-right morality?

    Primarily because he has a condition which he suffers from. What I am suggesting is that a sort of racism between humans and post-humans is eminently possible, and based on past experiences, highly likely to happen, and unlike traditional racism, it would have a scientific basis for arguing that humans are racially inferior to post-humans.

  • http://TheEverwiseBoonton.blogspot.com Boonton

    Primarily because he has a condition which he suffers from. What I am suggesting is that a sort of racism between humans and post-humans is eminently possible, and based on past experiences, highly likely to happen, and unlike traditional racism, it would have a scientific basis for arguing that humans are racially inferior to post-humans.
    I don’t disagree that ‘post-humans’ might feel tempted to treat old fashioned humans with contempt. That’s not an argument against improvement, though. If we can obtain a better immune system, we should and seek to help those who, for whatever reason, can’t or won’t use what we discover.

  • JohnW

    Congratulations of being published.
    Interesting stuff in this magazine-especially this from a commentary about Reverend Jeremiah Wright:
    Most Americans believe that “the stuff” we’ve been doing overseas for decades — liberating countless millions of people of all faiths and colors from brutal regimes and dictators in every corner of the world — is a major reason why thugs like Osama bin Laden despise us and our way of life.
    Ah, yes, the old, “they hate us because of our freedoms” idea….followed by the elitist limosine liberal routine….

  • smmtheory

    Most Americans believe that “the stuff” we’ve been doing overseas for decades — liberating countless millions of people of all faiths and colors from brutal regimes and dictators in every corner of the world — is a major reason why thugs like Osama bin Laden despise us and our way of life.

    What a canard!

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