A Forced Hand

“There is no fixed human characteristics, except for a general capability to choose what we want to be, to modify ourselves in accordance to fit our desires.”
–Francis Fukuyama , Our Posthuman Future

For being the complex creatures we are, it’s almost unsettling to be described in this way. Despite having a concrete set of characteristics – 30,000 genes, a spectrum of complicated emotions, and high level intellectual functioning – Fukuyama essentially defines “human” by a lack of definition. The one constant present in this definition is our “capability to choose,” naming the sole qualifier for humanism as agency. It’s no surprise then that our agency is something we desperately cling to. With the human population sharing 99% of the same genetic structure and 50% of that genetic structure with a fruit fly, agency gives us an (implied) sense of uniqueness when science tells us otherwise.

Another idea humans cling to is that of efficiency. A constant drive exists to do things faster, better, and smarter in every dimension of our existence. Communication is made more efficient by smart phones and Google Glass, data processing made more efficient by computers, and medicine made more efficient by sequencing the human genome. The Human Genome Project is one such example of this drive. Not only does sequencing the human genome allow for an economical means of accessing the code encrypted in it, but the arms race between the government and Celera pushed for the most efficient technology and strategies to accomplish such a daunting task.

The problem that exists with these two desires, that for agency and that for efficiency, is that they ultimately cannot coexist. Even in our most efficient, futuristic state, ultimate efficiency would be impossible as long as humans have the capacity to choose, leaving room for doubt, debate, and consideration – none of which are necessarily harmful, but all of which are time-consuming compared to willingly following a set of pre-established directions.

As society barrels towards an existence based on perfect efficiency, our hand will eventually be forced to decide between that and agency, and when that time comes, what will we choose?

Paige Lambert

~ by lambertpaige on January 12, 2014.

3 Responses to “A Forced Hand”

  1. While I certainly would perceive an antagonistic relationship between efficiency and agency upon first glance, I personally believe that it is precisely our agency which allows us to be more efficient as humans. It is what allows us to modify tactics based on a changing environment or situation. If efficiency is achieving maximum productivity with minimum wasted effort or expense, the human ability to adapt to a chaotic environment makes us much more productive than a species without agency.

  2. It is interesting that you bring up the concept of agency in relation to the Human Genome Project. As humans, we do try to cling to the idea that we have agency and can affect and determine our own futures. However, the problem that sequencing the human genome also seems to present is that we can’t help what is written into our DNA. Hypothetically then, if the world of Gattaca was realized in our society, we could potentially lose practically all agency in our lives, since we would know our destinies from moments after birth. This also ties into the uniformity of Gattaca employees who all dress and look very similar, as though much of their agency has been stripped away – because it has.

  3. I think it’s interesting that you brought up the point that 99% of our genes as human beings are the same. I think that is a somewhat misleading statistic from the documentary–there is considerable interplay between our environments and the regulation of the expression of our gene (which contributes greatly to diversity), and even that seemingly small difference of 1% of our genes can have monumental effects on differences in human beings. In short, I think science is actually telling us that a fundamental property of human beings is our uniqueness, both from other animals and from each other, but I don’t think the documentary showed that quite so clearly.

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