Paul D. Miller on Fri, 5 Apr 2002 05:37:01 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> Francis Fukuyama vs Reality

Well... in a case that makes most of the bickering between the "Old 
Left" and "New Left" look like the absurd meaningless conflict that 
it is... thumbs vs cell phones vs "public funding" c'mon - Fukuyama 
who rose to prominence in Right wing circles with his "The End of 
History..." is back at it - this time maybe he's on the side of the 
"thumb tribe" - after all, he's President Bush's advisor on science 
and bio-ethics... what a world... between knuckleheads on the Left 
being uncertain about how to make money, versus knuckleheads on the 
Right who pretty much have no problem with destroying the planet... 
what's a young kid to do in this day and age... Join the army? Write 
meaningless reviews for the Village Voice (ha!) or go to a party? You 
just some thoughts...

A Dim View of a 'Posthuman Future'

April 2, 2002


If the human mind and body are shaped by a bunch of genes,
as the decoding of the human genome seems to underscore,
then biotechnologists will one day be able to change both
and perhaps, in seeking to refine the imperfect human clay,
will alter human nature.

That prospect should be worrying a lot more people, in the
view of the political theorist Francis Fukuyama, because
history's central question - that of what kind of society
best suits human needs - has been settled only if human
nature remains as it is, warts and all.

Dr. Fukuyama, now at the Washington campus of Johns Hopkins
University, is known for his widely discussed book "The End
of History and the Last Man," published in 1992, a few
years after the fall of the Berlin Wall. In it he argued
that with the demise of communism, liberal democracy had
emerged without rival as a political system with universal
appeal. The challengers of this tempting thesis included
Samuel P. Huntington of Harvard, who argued that struggles
between the world's major cultural groups would predominate
in a post-Communist world.

Even in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks, Dr. Fukuyama has
yielded little ground to his critics. The only objection he
acknowledges as serious is the argument that history cannot
end without an end to science, or at least to science that
alters human nature. In a new book, "Our Posthuman Future,"
he explores the ways in which biotechnology may change the
human essence. Despite his title, Dr. Fukuyama has no taste
for a rerun of history and believes a posthuman future is
one to avoid.

The danger is the greater because those closest to the
action - scientists and bioethicists - cannot in his view
be trusted to raise the alarm. Scientists are interested in
conquering nature while many bioethicists, Dr. Fukuyama
contends, "have become nothing more than sophisticated and
sophistic justifiers of whatever it is the scientific
community wants to do." His views are not academic; he has
an official voice on such matters as a member of the White
House's Council on Bioethics.

Genetic engineering of the human germline - making
permanent changes to the genes in the egg or sperm - would
pose the most direct threat to human nature but other
techniques bear watching, in his view. Mood changing drugs
could change society if taken widely enough, and Dr.
Fukuyama says he wonders whether Caesar or Napoleon would
have felt the need to conquer Europe if either had been
able to pop a Prozac tablet occasionally.

Major increases in human longevity could also be
disruptive, he fears, because "life extension will wreak
havoc with most existing age-graded hierarchies,"
postponing social change in countries with aging dictators
and thwarting innovation in others.

But the most serious threat to the stability of human
societies is genetic engineering that may alter, by design
or inadvertence, the special balance of contrarieties of
human nature.

Human nature, Dr. Fukuyama argues, "is fundamental to our
notions of justice, morality and the good life."

By messing with the human genome in order to enhance
intelligence or physique or other desirable qualities,
biotechnology may cause us "to lose our humanity - that is,
some essential quality that has always underpinned our
sense of who we are and where we are going," he writes.
Science has had many critics, but Dr. Fukuyama's warnings
come from an unusual direction. h His father, Yoshio, a
sociologist of religion, was an American of Japanese
descent who escaped internment in World War II, unlike
several other members of his family. Francis grew up in New
York, not much exposed to Japanese culture, studying
classics at Cornell and political science at Harvard.

He spent the first part of his career as a Sovietologist at
RAND Corporation, the research group, and in between stints
at RAND, he worked at the State Department.

It was in listening to a speech by Soviet President Mikhail
Gorbachev that Dr. Fukuyama had the idea for his first
book. Hegel, the 19th-century German philosopher, believed
history would culminate in a constitutional state or, in
modern terms, a liberal democracy, whereas Marx saw a
communist state as the likely end point. Hearing Mr.
Gorbachev declare surprisingly in a speech one day that the
essence of socialism was competition, Dr. Fukuyama recalled
in an interview, "I called up a friend and said if
Gorbachev was saying that, this is the end of history,"
meaning that Hegel's prediction had triumphed over Marx's.

Dr. Fukuyama's only expectation of the book he then wrote
was that "my political theorist friends would be vaguely
amused." But "The End of History" was too powerful and
hopeful a guide to the post-Communist world to be ignored.

He argued that history was not a meaningless cycle but had
a direction imposed on it by the logic of modern science, a
direction that "would seem to dictate a universal evolution
in the direction of capitalism." Though the advanced
industrialization made possible by science and technology
does not necessarily lead to political liberty, Dr.
Fukuyama wrote, the human desire for recognition, cited by
Hegel as the driving force of history, is best satisfied in
a liberal democracy.

As to his critics, he agrees that culture is important but
does not consider the fault lines between the seven
civilizations identified by Dr. Huntington as likely to be
permanent. Dr. Fukuyama believes that liberal democracy,
because of its affinity with human wants and desires, holds
universal appeal. It evolved in Western Europe but is no
more a necessarily European possession than is modern

"The Western modernizing package gives access to a standard
of living everyone wants," he said in an interview. "Many
don't want the whole package. They want a job, not
necessarily Hollywood. But there is a certain logic to
modernization - to have the TV you have to have certain
institutions, including the rule of law."

Though religion and culture can impede modernization, Dr.
Fukuyama sees no reason to suppose that the Islamic and
other civilizations will not in time adopt their own
versions of liberal democracy. "The basic structure of
world politics continues to be the juggernaut of
modernization as pioneered by the West," he says.

The optimism about science that imbues "The End of History"
is strikingly absent from "Our Posthuman Future." Dr.
Fukuyama notes scientists' responsible record of
self-regulation, but he says he believes too many now have
commercial ties to biotechnology companies for the same
disinterested behavior to be counted on. And though he
credited science and technology for giving history its
forward direction for the last 500 years, he says he is
much less certain that biotechnology will be handled with
the same wisdom as previous innovations.

Dr. Fukuyama says he believes some things should be banned
outright, like cloning people, which he regards as immoral
in itself and as the opener for worse things, like
enhancing human qualities by germline genetic engineering.
Despite his membership in the Council on Bioethics, he
doubts the ability of national commissions to address the
problems raised by biotechnology, calling instead for
legislation and `institutions with real enforcement

Dr. Fukuyama plans to devote the next few years to studying
how biotechnology should be regulated. He regards as
inadequate the present system of oversight by the Food and
Drug Administration and the National Institutes of Health
but does not yet have a specific remedy: "All I know is
that the current American setup is not adequate for the
goals I would like to see them achieve."

History may have ended, but it seems that special measures
are needed to keep it in a state of finality. 

"None are more hopelessly enslaved than those who falsely believe 
they are free...."
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

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Paul D. Miller a.k.a. Dj Spooky that Subliminal Kid

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