Galadriel: The Quest stands upon the edge of a knife. Stray but a little, and it will fail, to the ruin of all. Yet hope remains… The Fellowship of the Ring, 2001. http://www.imdb.com/character/ch0000136/quotes
We are living in very interesting times. It’s an election year. We’re at war and standing at the brink of another. The economy is still suffering, but showing some signs of recovery. The stratification between upper class and lower class is increasing. Reproductive rights of women are being pushed back against in many states. In science, parts of the genome are being patented. We are growing hybrid human animal tissue. Genetic research is huge, an area that many hope to eventually cure diseases like Huntington’s. There are also more and more books being written envisioning the future of our nation. Many of them are bleak. Many of them we read for this class. Today, we are boldly going where no one has gone before to try to learn about ourselves, to prevent disease, and to create a better future for our children.
Cloud Atlas imagines a future where clones are born, used as workers, and destroyed. The world is taken over by corporations rather than countries in a hyper-consumerist future that eventually collapses. Never Let Me Go envisions a world where clones are born and raised as replacement parts for others. They are not considered human creatures themselves. Oryx and Crake and The Year of the Flood show a world where genetic research has exploded, creating genetically modified food, animals, and a new species of people. Crake takes the role of God into his own hands by unleashing a worldwide virus wiping out most of humanity. These are just the recent ones. A Brave New World and The Island of Dr. Moreau are much older examples of some of the ways that science can transform our society.
There are so many ways that we can go wrong in the choices that we make about genetics and what kinds of research are ok. Each choice may have unintended consequences, disastrous ones that could greatly alter the path of humanity.
But there is hope. There is hope in working together. Literature points out what can happen and strengthens our grasp on the consequences of our actions. These novels are cautionary tales, warnings about the results of poor choices and can be extremely useful in informing future choices. Science can and does offer relief to those who are currently suffering. But science without ethics, without caution, without input from others, can be extremely dangerous. There is hope that we can navigate these changes without horrible results, but we must work together, listen to each other, across disciplines, to help shape the future.