Saturday, February 18, 2017

H+


newatlas | The looming specter of eugenics hovers over a great deal of transhumanist thought. In the first half of the 20th century the term became disturbingly, but not unreasonably, associated with Nazi Germany. Sterilizing or euthanizing those who displayed characteristics that were deemed to be imperfect was ultimately outlawed as a form of genocide. But as the genome revolution struck later in the century a resurgence in the philosophical ideals of eugenics began to arise.

Transhumanist thought often parallels the ideals of eugenics, although most self-identifying transhumanists separate themselves from that stigmatized field, preferring terms like reprogenetics and germinal choice. The difference between the negative outcomes of eugenics and the more positive, transhumanist notion of reprogenetics seems to be one of consent. In a 21st century world of selective genetic modification, all is good as long as all parents equally have the choice to genetically modify their child, and are not forced by governments who are trying to forcefully manage the genetic pool.

Some of the more valid concerns about the dawning transhumanist future are the socioeconomic repercussions of such a speedy technological evolution. As the chasm between rich and poor grows in our current culture, one can't help but be concerned that future advancements could become disproportionately limited to those with the financial resources to afford them. If life extension technologies start to become feasible, and they are only available to the billionaire class, then we enter a scenario where the rich get richer and live longer, while the poor get poorer and die sooner.

Without exceptionally strong political reform maintaining democratic access to human enhancement technologies, it's easy to foresee the rise of a disturbing genetic class divide. As environmentalist and activist Bill McKibben writes: "If we can't afford the fifty cents a person it would take to buy bed nets to protect most of Africa from malaria, it is unlikely we will extend to anyone but the top tax bracket these latest forms of genetic technology."