Checkmate: Nature Wins
With the exception of various Indian tribes and other such native cultures that share similar belief systems regarding the sacredness of natural forces, humans have generally tended to view survival as a brutal battle with the malicious enemy force of Nature. Despite its deceiving beauty and magnificence, Nature has often been the cause of famine, disease, and numerous other catastrophic events in which mankind has experienced profound suffering, and because of this, Nature has become a personification of contempt that humans feel they must conquer. Indeed, this ‘relationship’ between Nature and Man seems to bear much resemblance to a heated game of chess. For instance, scientist develops 3TC drug, which interferes with reverse transcriptase in the HIV virus, while a deadly 3TC drug-resistant strain evolves soon thereafter causing yet more damage and resulting in an incentive to develop a more advanced medication. Oryx and Crake addresses this issue of Nature vs. Man in a manner I had not previously considered by posing the following question: can humans, in time, actually beat Nature and win the game of evolution?
Crake’s ‘hypothetical’ scenario of HelthWyzer intentionally creating new diseases in order to maximize profit since they had already found methods of eliminating all known disease-causing pathogens makes a statement about true human potential. Aside from the fact that such potential may produce negative consequences and as in the novel, create an undesirable Dystopian society, the mere suggestion that humans possess the mental capability to essentially advance to the point of completely overcoming the evolutionary process is astounding. Although one could argue that this notion remains far-fetched for many people, common habits indicate otherwise. How many of us, for example, will lay out on the beach or on the green at Vanderbilt without sunblock because we are certain that there will be a cure for skin cancer by the time our generation reaches 50 years of age? In fact, many risks posing a threat to our health seem to be justified by the mentality that any resulting harms will be adequately dealt with in the future by scientific breakthroughs. When that mentality is considered, it seems we rely much more on human potential than we realize, which causes our chances in the game of evolution to appear significantly more promising. However, answering the question of whether or not Man possesses the ability to win against Nature requires a deeper exploration of the term win.
Winning could merely imply that we completely eradicate all illness, that we achieve immortality, or simply, that we leave behind a surviving image of ourselves (like the Children of Crake) that continues to exist in the face of Nature. Due to the numerous chess references in the novel, Atwood seems to view winning as correct anticipation of the opponent’s next move in order to achieve a certain outcome. Despite the fact that the motives behind his elaborate plan were never directly revealed to the reader, Crake’s ability to anticipate Nature’s next move allowed an image of himself to survive in his and essentially, in humanity’s absence. Assuming the Children of Crake continue existing in the face of Nature due to their genetic enhancements, Crake technically won the game. When a similar notion is generally applied, humans’ ability to anticipate catastrophic events on both a large and small scale could ultimately allow us to conquer Nature.
Although that might sound comforting, I think even remotely relying on science and human potential to advance our race to the point of defying the evolutionary process remains a purely romantic notion that is highly unrealistic. The universal ‘magic bullet’ we seek does not and never will exist for the simple reason that while we continually seek short-term solutions to long-term problems, Nature is not attempting to achieve goals, especially goals specifically oriented to our ultimate progression. The game we are attempting to play is, in a sense, one-sided. This unpredictable force of evolution will continue despite our efforts to outsmart, outdo it, or to sway it in our favor. In the end, we will always be one step behind, for we will not be able to anticipate Nature’s next move. Checkmate.