Moreover, by closing off particular paths we risk depriving ourselves of the very knowledge that we need if the fixed points are really to be safeguarded. The earth can be saved only if we find alternatives to fossil fuels–and find them soon. Biotechnology may look like a threat to one of our fixed points (human nature), but it may be the final anchor of the other (the earth). For it promises one of the most plausible avenues to sources of clean and renewable energy–for example, fuel generated from biomass by carefully engineered microörganisms (see “Why Termite Guts Could Bring Better Biofuels” on technologyreview.com). And if the fixity of human nature seems to be at risk from biotechnology, we should remember that it is part of our nature to take risks with our nature–to adapt it to our uses in order to enhance our beauty, our knowledge, and our power. Why should it be acceptable to achieve these results through clothes, books, and exercise, and not by transferring a gene or two? If it is a violation of our nature to manipulate our genes, why is it not also a violation of our nature to forbid this? We are free, after all, and attempts to curtail our freedom, when not justified by some urgent need, diminish us.
The Future of Freedom
But what happens to freedom in the posthuman future? Leon Kass’s anxiety, that genetic manipulation might permit a new kind of despotism of one generation over the next, is widely shared. If Jack can implant genes into Jill, developing her in vitro according to goals of his own, what remains of Jill’s freedom, and how will she react to her creator? Jill will not be a slave, exactly, but many people think that her designed nature will put in question her ability to be truly herself in the world. But what, exactly, is the worry?
When Mary Shelley imagined the creation of Frankenstein’s lonely monster, she was astute enough to see that if the monster was to be a human replica, it would have to be like us in ways other than its physical appearance and its animal life. It would have to be capable of hope and despair, admiration and contempt, love and hate. And in her story the monster became evil, as you or I might become evil, not because he was made that way, but because he searched the world for love and never found it. As we might put it, programmed into the monster were those moral capacities and emotional needs that are the core of human freedom. It is not that Frankenstein had to implant into the monster some peculiar spark of transcendence so as to endow it with freedom. With speech comes reason, with reason accountability, and with accountability all those emotions and states of mind that are the felt reality of freedom.