A column about history, culture, policy, and things in between.
In 1945 George Orwell published his classic novel Animal Farm, an allegorical and scathing look into the philosophical heart of socialism. The smartest animals on the farm were the pigs, and by the end of his book they were walking upright on their hind legs, in order to imitate the humans.
I was reminded of this vivid imagery when I read an article about the work of a genetic research scientist. Read carefully the words of Craig Venter:
“We are going from reading our genetic code to the ability to write it. I am creating artificial life. This is a very important philosophical step in the history of our species”.
I don’t understand the science of what they are undertaking, but in lay terms as I best as I can fathom the article, Venter and his team are transplanting the DNA of a cell into the bacterial cell of a different organism. That new cell then assumes the life-form of the gene code that has been transplanted into it. In essence, a new specie is created.
Mr. Venter further says that he is “100% confident that the same technique would work for the artificially created chromosome. We are dealing in big ideas. We are trying to create a new value system for life”.
“WE ARE TRYING TO CREATE A NEW VALUE SYSTEM FOR LIFE”.
As Dorothy might have said, “Toto – we are not in Kansas anymore”.
It wasn’t so long ago we learned that science could create existing species in a test tube. Now it could be close to the creation of entire species that don’t currently exist. We cannot possibly foresee the long term implications of this, and in taking such steps without thinking them through to their conclusion, we let some very large genies out of the bottle. And there will be no putting them back.
We are living very fast here in the 21st Century. Our technological capabilities are moving faster than our willingness to grapple with their implications. I am no Luddite, and I am not opposed to progress or exploration. Science has and can continue to help us tremendously. But I believe it is appropriate for our political and social institutions to debate these matters before such capabilities are merely unleashed upon an entire world by a small handful of people.
Such unprecedented discoveries will rewrite our “social DNA”. They call for vigorous consideration in many areas, not the least of which are social, anthropological, moral, and yes, spiritual dimensions.
This is much bigger than just the science of it all.