on 11 May 2008
This book is based on a series of three lectures given by the author in Oxford in March 2006 at the James Martin Institute for Science and Civilisation. I had the privilege to attend these lectures and I was spellbound by them at the time. So I was looking forward to reading this book.
However, somewhere in the process between the lectures and the book, the material has become, well, too dry. It sparkles on occasion, but the author allows himself to become bogged down too often in academic analysis, intellectual tennis, and other hair-splitting.
He's a great proponent of the merit, the morality, and even the necessity, of human enhancement. So far, so good. Some of his arguments strike home well. But in my view he gives too much time to listing various nooks and crannies of the views of various opponents of his writing. That's where the book becomes tedious. The author needs to become pithier.
The views of opponents of human enhancement (eg the people who say "Enough is enough" and that "Enhancement would destroy our core essential humanity, and must be opposed, despite all its manifest good results") do deserve attention. But I believe that a better book is waiting to be written, that will make a better job of highlighting the perversity and self-delusional destructive nature of these views.
on 13 June 2009
I bought this book because I wanted to get all sides on the debate surrounding evolution. Unfortunately, it was a very poor choice. Harris' writing style is better suited to an internet blog than a book that attempts to address issues raised by serious academics.
But let's say that you manage to get past the continuous references to himself and his previous book(s), the silly examples that are supposed to illustrate his arguments and the illiterate usage of words such as 'this' and 'it' in the beginning of sentences (something I knew not to do after my first course in College). You are still left with superficial arguments better suited to religious hard-liners than to academics.
It is fortunate that I already agreed with many of the points made by Harris, otherwise I would not have made it through the first half of this poor excuse for a book that is supposed to make the 'ethical case for making better people'. If the word 'eugenics' caused in me the same 'yuck response' it does in most people, I would have thrown it away much earlier than that. Harris managed to put me off even though I was essentialy on his side from the get-go.
But you can never unconditionally endorse any position as Harris does. You need to qualify it, recognize its limitations, issue warnings on the possible pitfalls that our imperfect nature may lead us to and ultimately, accept that there is no black and white. Ever!
All in all, the only thing I got from this book was that there are people who urge for every conceivable genetic intervetion to be permissible and a hell of a lot of interventions to be mandatory.
The guy actually argues that it is ethical to perform experiments on humans, even if they will not be the recipients of the benefits of the experiment. He uses a twisted expansion of the notion of altruism and cooperativeness to substantiate his outrageous claim.
Harris is for the most part ignored by other writers on the subject and for a good reason. He presents poor, unsubstantiated arguments that can be - and are - supported in a myriad of different ways. You're better off reading 'From Chance to Choice, Genetics & Justice' for a much more objective and well thought out view on the subject.