Our Complex World
With all the buzz about genetic modification creating all sorts of horrible ethical dilemmas, it seems we are on the brink of technological breakthroughs that will inevitably be our doom. But hasn’t it always seemed like this, at the brink of every scientific breakthrough? As Kress’s speculative stories deal with dramatic material, they imagine ethical dilemmas, specifically bias against genetically engineered humans in a dramatic way. Not to say that the future of human engineering won’t be dramatic, however it might be useful to imagine these biases in more familiar terms.
There are plenty of factors that create biases against certain people based off of inheritance that I can think of today: race/ethnicity, wealth or the lack thereof, and sexual orientation… just to name a few. Keeping in mind the exceptions (monetary status can be controlled to an extent if a person is lucky enough to live in a country where social mobility is possible and some say that environment is a factor in determining sexual orientation) these 3 factors are things one largely inherits from birth. As these are some of the most common, recognizable forms of inheritance, consider the way people have responded to these factors that continually manifest themselves in the human race.
As far as race and ethnicity are concerned, I think that (unfortunately) there will always be some people who don’t like other people who are from a different place, or have a different skin color, or lead a different spiritual life, or operate under a different form of government etc. Whether this bias causes something minor like tension in public schools or something major like genocide in Darfur, I don’t think it will go away as long as there are unhappy people, because unhappy people will try many things to make themselves happy, including the psychological and physical subjugation of other people (which I believe is the bases of racism).
This is bleak, so lets move on to inheritance # 2 (wealth) which I pretty much boil down to this: we all think we want it, but we all can’t have it. Because wealth is something that may be entirely determined by inheritance, those of us that don’t have it may resent those of us who do, but because wealth is also something that we may work honestly and diligently for (if we are even given that opportunity), those of us who have it may feel entitled to it and only willing to share to an extent. Though unsavory and though our world would surely be a better place without them, both of these views are natural and it takes a special perspective and maturity to not fall prey to these biases. Even for us privileged readers with computers, who hasn’t felt that he or she has drawn the short straw at some point? As long as there are precious resources or to be more blunt, as long as there is something to live for at all, there will be have and have-nots who both have biases against each other.
I would predict that the biases surrounding inheritance factor #3 (sexual orientation) will soon operate much more like race in the near future. What I mean by this is that sexual orientation is increasingly becoming something that is recognized as real. Though highly embarrassing for the human race, many people still do not “believe” in alternative sexual orientation. This reminds me of the 3/5 compromise which once upon a time considered African Americans 3/5 of a person or in other words, people didn’t “believe” that they were human. In the future then, once it is universally accepted that alternative sexual orientation does exist, the only bias that will be left is the kind that does “believe” in the humanity of a person, yet still chooses to discriminate. Though I’m a big believer that discrimination comes from ignorance, sometimes it seems like there are some people who just want to hurt (probably because they are unhappy).
This post is turning into a sort of rant, but it does have a point. I think that with developments in human genetic engineering, the biases that will be created will operate in much the same way the inherited biases we live with now do. There may be a phase of “non-belief” in which people deny the humanity of genetically modified humans to justify discrimination. And like race and sexual orientation, we will eventually reach a point where we realize that a genetically modified human is still a human. Biases will still exist (like they do today), less out of ignorance and more out of malice. I don’t think that the world is getting any worse, just more complex.
All this being said, I realize that in a more distant future, genetic engineering has the possibility (as we realize in Beggars in Spain) to eventually create a human so different, that we classify it as a different species. At this point, I’m not sure what I’d have to say about biases.