In her book Our Posthuman Future: Consequences of the Biotechnology Revolution
(2002), Francis Fukuyama argues that our biomedical advances mean we are possibly facing a future in which humanity itself is altered beyond the point of recognition. The author argues that the power to alter the DNA of a person’s descendants will have profound consequences, some of which are potentially terrible. After tracing the philosophical history of humankind’s understanding of human nature, Fukuyama explains the possible effects of genetic manipulation within the context of the foundation of liberal democracy: the notion that all humans are equal.
Fukuyama begins by citing two books that have been instrumental in helping form the worldview he presents in Our Posthuman Future
. The first is George Orwell’s 1984
, the dystopia of which, he says, never came to pass in part because the Internet that developed is the opposite of the system of centralized control presented in the novel. The second, Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World
, also provides some insight in the midst of the biotechnology revolution, says the author. Just as the drugs in the novel work to ensure that every person’s desire is met—basically eliminating human nature—contemporary biotechnology’s greatest threat is the potential that it will significantly alter human nature and cause us to transition into a “posthuman stage in history.”
Fukuyama then presents a classic philosophical issue that arises within this context—that of human rights and human nature. The author defines “human nature” as the behaviors and characteristics typical of the human species that arise from genetic instead of environmental factors. While he contends that “normal” is difficult to define, he insists that the distinction is possible and is continually achieved legislatively.
He goes on to assert that humans’ capacity for moral choice, reason, language, emotions, sociability, consciousness, and sentience constitute distinctive characteristics that demarcate humans from animals. Fukuyama refers to the totality of these features as “Factor X,” or “the complex whole” that forms the basis of human dignity. The building blocks of human dignity thus being in human genetics, as the author asserts, Fukuyama provides his argument against unregulated genetic modification.
He proceeds to the issue of human rights, arguing that an informed discussion of it necessitates an understanding of human purposes, which rest upon the concepts of human nature and human dignity. To defend his human nature-based theory of rights, Fukuyama refers to various sources and arguments. He asserts that a fallacy exists surrounding the so-called “naturalistic fallacy,” which would hold that obligations of morality cannot result from observations of the natural world. Fukuyama demonstrates that humans regularly use their emotions to prioritize values. For instance, the fear of death produces the basic human right to life.
United States Supreme Court decisions, such as Casey vs. Planned Parenthood
, have also upheld such notions by defending moral autonomy as the most significant human right. Furthermore, he says, values facilitate collective action, allowing us to work together toward common ends. Finally, our political history has illustrated the failure of those political regimes that ignored the limits of human nature. Fukuyama, for instance, concludes that the ultimate breakdown of communism was due to its failure to respect people’s natural inclination toward favoring their kin and private property.
The author goes on to discuss his concerns that the biotech revolution will have political ramifications. One such consequence is class wars, as the wealthy can access drugs and other methods that make themselves and their children stronger, smarter, and live longer. Laying aside the main moral argument of human modification that is fundamental to biotech, Fukuyama instead raises the issue of what will happen in a world—one in which classes are already so severely polarized—when the wealthier enjoy not only better food, living conditions, and goods but also life itself through their access to, for example, methods of life extension, new organs, and the ability to “design” their children prior to their births.
The range of issues Fukuyama presents include cognitive neuroscience and the potential for controlling behavior; neuropharmacology and the development of drugs that augment certain emotions while repressing others; genetic engineering, whereby new animals and plants could be created, and humans can be modified; and the use of chemicals, transplants, or as yet undiscovered techniques to prolong life.
As human biotechnology can potentially interfere with human nature, Fukuyama argues, regulation is essential. However, most biotech is done in the United States, and outside of federal laboratories, it is mostly unregulated. The author looks to stricter regulatory structures present in Europe as a hope that biotechnology does not have to bring about a competitive and hierarchical world that is full of social conflict.
He also advocates for the establishment of institutions that distinguish between technological advances that work to promote human flourishing and those that are a threat to human wellbeing and dignity. Morality is key, he says, in deciding whether the ends produced by science and technology are good or bad. Fukuyama sees a democratic community with scientifically informed representatives as the decision makers regarding the legitimate uses of science.