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Francis Fukuyama, Our Posthuman Future; Consequences of the Biotechnology Revolution (New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2002)

         About fifteen years ago Francis Fukuyama, professor of Political Economy at Johns Hopkins University, published a controversial book in which he argued that humanity had made no significant political progress since the French Revolution and that the collapse of communism in 1989 signaled the “end” of history.  By “end” Fukuyama meant that western, liberal democracy had triumphed over all political options.

         Now he has revised his thesis, not because he thinks it was wrong, but because he failed to factor in the role of science as perhaps the chief engine that drives human history.  Science drives any number of interests---technological, economic, ethical, social, and so on, but Fukuyama’s concern is that it is increasingly driving our political life.  If biotechnology alters human nature, then it will alter our political discourse and options.

         How so?  Consider the political ramifications of scientific conclusions about the heritability of intelligence, crime, sexuality, and aging.  Are some races born more or less intelligent simply due to their genetics?  If scientists discover a genetic marker for aggression, should society do anything about it (recall the movie Minority Report)?  Already we have experienced the political fallout of the debate whether sexual orientation is the result of genetics or choice.  Finally, if science continues to extend the average lifespan of people, what are the implications for increasingly scarce resources?  To be sure, when science identifies what it thinks is a causative factor in any of these four examples, it will try to manipulate those same factors for what it thinks is the good.

         Fukuyama most fears that when biotechnology alters human nature it alters our commonly accepted notions of human rights, justice and morality.  Both human rights and human dignity are at stake.  He rejects alarmist views that would over regulate or passively ignore biotechnology.  He encourages political institutions to keep a wary eye on ostensible threats and benefits, and cautions about the commercial interests inherent for business and science.  Finally, Fukuyama argues with a sense of urgency, saying we need to move now from talking to acting, from recommending to legislating.

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