Meet your Meat

April 26, 2008

Had a great time this past weekend at the FOR conference, even though we didn’t do the workshop we ended up getting to discuss most of the issues in another workshop. For anyone visiting from that workshop the links to the programs we talked about are over to the right under #6.

But that’s not why I’m here today. I want to discuss the announcement from PETA about the fake meat challenge. Admittedly I’m not huge fan of PETA, they often have confusing and damaging media campaigns and a bit too much of the wild eyed fanatic in most of their rank and file. But still this is a big step in the right direction.

Even though they are using the logic of capitalism to foster innovation I think in some ways it short-circuits the larger flows of global capital. This isn’t going to be a prize that is chased after by big ag companies, but by smaller inventors and innovators, and it also boosts interest in biosciences among the lay public. So in that sense it’s a multiple good. I’d love to see more of these small Ansari X prizes for more scientific fields to spur innovation among garage inventors and basement chemists.

I call shenanigans!

November 2, 2007

So it appears that Case Western has created ‘super mice’ by way of a genetweak. Full article here.

The article itself makes for some interesting reading. The mouse is stronger, faster, more durable, lives longer, eats more but is less fat and, as the talking bobbleheads on CNN pointed out, it is sexually active longer into its lifespan. And best of all, the gene that was tweaked is one that is also present in humans.

But not to worry, say the researchers, this would never be done on humans! Bullshit. It’s fucking intellectually dishonest to present this as something that these scientists did “just for funsies and only for mice.” What kind of fucking moron actually buys that? You don’t do biomedical research on mice because you’re interested in making mice live longer, eat better, and have great sex in their old age. You just don’t. You do it because you want to improve humans. Improve them in the way you improved the mice.

By avoiding the question of whether these techniques can be developed for humans, or worse still claiming that they would never do that is utter bullshit. It’s dishonest and tries to preempt a legitimate discussion on this technique. Claiming that something is unethical and shouldn’t be used to enhance people merely ensures that discussions about the technique don’t take place in the public. And this is a discussion that should very much take place in public. Are you honestly telling me that everyone in the world is bound by the same morals as the CWRU scientists? That China, or Russia, or even DARPA isn’t creaming themselves over the idea of soldiers or workers who can work longer, live longer, are more durable? Considering all the crazy shit that DARPA has done in the past (for example check out Sharon Weinberger’s stuff or the Danger Room blog) this is basically a slam dunk homerun touchdown.

Not talking about techniques like this openly and publicly only feeds the conspiracy theory trolls of the bioconservative movement. Pretending we would never-ever seek to do something like this to humans just reinforces the paranoia that scientists are lying to us and are making a seekrit army of clones in underground bunkers somewhere. Sure, a public debate is gonna bring out the crazy, but last I checked crazy still got to participate in public debate (see: Presidential Election). Crazy is gonna sound off anyway, we may as well have a more open and honest discourse.

And sometimes it’s both. Rather than bore you with the whole ‘where have you been, why don’t you write me anymore’ I’m just gonna jump in with the word-ifying.

There’s a new article in the American Journal of Bioethics by Moreno and Berger on the roots of the neocon opposition to biotech (tip of the hat to Kelly over at IMAARS for bringing the article to my attention). Basically the article is about what intellectual frauds most neocons are in their inability to own up the inherent problems in capitalism and the fact that they basically act like frightened children at the prospect of scientific progress, particularly in the area of biotechnology.

The article itself is excellent and does a good job calling out neocon bioconservatives for both ignoring their own intellectual roots in Marxism and for playing fast and loose with philosophy. All that is fine and good but what struck me was something else entirely.

What really jumped out to me was that the philosophical argument being presented by both the bioconservative right and the bioconservative left is that there is something inherently human in being human and that any sort of modification is a discarding or at the very least a modification of this humanity into something else, something less than human in the minds of the bioconservatives. This is truly frightening since it opens up all sorts of possible nastiness. If I get a genetweak and I’m no longer human in the way that the scared masses whipped into a fervor by the bioconservative crowd define ‘human,’ then I automatically become a target for persecution. This can be ‘mild’ in nature — I don’t get full legal rights, I have to register myself with local gov’t agencies, I have special sections reserved for where I can sit/eat/excrete/etc (because it could be contagious you know) — or it could be more repressive. Pogroms, deportations, killings, etc. The first step to creating a despised minority has always been to make them less than human. It seems to me that’s exactly what the bioconservatives are attempting to do, preemptively, to those that seek positive self-enhancement or to use genetic means to address human frailties.

Please note that this entry originally appeared about two weeks ago but due to technical errors got deleted and it took me a bit to get back around to it.

Gaining control

May 29, 2007

From the better-late-than-never file, I’m finally writing the post I’ve been wanting to on the FDA approving the new birth control pill Lybrel.

As Amanda Marcotte over at Pandagon points out, this has all kinds of people up in arms — though “all kinds of people” in this case is the predictable list of pro-lifers, religious nuts, and women who’s idea of feminism is being properly submissive to men.

Why does this matter to us? Well part of the transhuman agenda is gaining greater control over our bodies. Anything that helps us do this is good. Looking at the types of resistance to new drugs like Lybrel can also give us an idea about how other therapies are likely to be viewed in the future.

As we move forward and start to see new gene therapies, procedures derived from stem cells, and increasing use of pharma for control of our bodies and biological futures, expect to see a corresponding ratcheting up of the shrill protests. These will probably come from both the religious nuts out there who see these techniques and technologies as interfering with “god’s plan” and primitivists who see this as tampering with our “natural selves”–which is like “god’s plan” but for the faithless.

This has the potential to turn into an uphill struggle and poses a danger of slowing progress. While I’m skeptical of unrestrained progress, this is not a good reason for it to slow down. Slowing progress for safety concerns is one thing. Slowing it because your magical imaginary sky god told you to or because you believe in some fairy-tale magical world where we live in harmony with nature is fucking stupid and should be resisted.

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