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Rhodri Powell (Britain)

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Our Posthuman Future: Consequences of the Biotechnology Revolution
Our Posthuman Future: Consequences of the Biotechnology Revolution
by Francis Fukuyama
Edition: Paperback

12 of 15 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An unspeakable future, or business as usual?, 9 Jun. 2003
If you are a balanced individual of the Western consensus, and you want a book that crystallises your ideas and provides intellectual justification for your prejudices, if you believe with a sinking heart that much of modern philosophy and social science is no more than the raucous parroting of evident untruths, then this is the book for you.
If, however, you look for prediction, new insights or full explanations, then you will finish this book with a sense of disappointment. But you will finish it, because it is very well written, with a profound understanding of, and love of humanity and all its foibles. And it does put a new spin on old insights.
Fukuyama’s thesis is that brain science, neuropharmacology, research on ageing, and genetic engineering threaten the very nature of our humanity. He begins by discussing current and expected developments in these fields, and goes on to explore the issues of human rights, human nature and human dignity. The chapter on human dignity is particularly thought-provoking. He concludes by discussing and exploring current controls on applications of knowledge in these fields.
I find two basic problems with the book. I guess it began with horror inspired by the hype of the more extremely optimistic proponents of the sciences mentioned above. But the author’s examination of what these sciences can actually achieve shows that really, there isn’t much to worry about. Prozac and Ritalin are quoted as agents for modifying consciousness by suppressing undesirable but ‘normal’ behaviour. But as the author himself says, consciousness remains as much a mystery as it ever was. And while he abhors germ-line therapy, he shows that it is unlikely ever to be used except for correcting discreet and demonstrable genetic defects like haemophilia. After all, the broad principles of selective breeding have been known for millennia, but apart from the practice of arranged marriages, and a strange experiment by one of the da Vincis, selective breeding of humans has not, to my knowledge, been practised.
The other problem is the moral basis for the author’s view of humanity. He seeks to establish a viewpoint that is modern, but essentially Christian, without accepting the Christian thesis. In his rationale for this, he agrees with Locke that the faithful disagree so much and often so violently, that they cannot form a consensus on morality. But Locke, unlike Fukuyama, never knew the horrors that can be spawned by humanist, atheist moral reasoning. I suppose it is all much simpler if you believe that Man is the high point of creation, and made in the image of a law-giving God. But if you believe that we are but trivial sparks of awareness in a dark, disinterested universe, where do you start? I don’t know, but Francis Fukuyama has made a brave and engaging attempt.
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