What’s Coming (A Prediction)

A century from now, were you and I to see it, I think we would exclaim, like Miranda in Shakespeare’s The Tempest, “O brave new world that has such men in it!”

And I worry that those men will not be religious universalists embracing the fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of man, or humanists embracing the brotherhood of man absent God, or Matt Ridley-like democratic and cooperative globalists with ethical moorings, but cyborgs with rather narrow loyalties, enhanced by both the manipulation of their genomes and by robotics, with little stake in the survival or thriving of the mass of naturals (that is, humans like you and me), and rapidly displacing us.

A century from now, natural humans may be the new Neanderthals, our habitat relentlessly being eaten by a new, more lithe and clever species born of the crown jewel of Enlightenment humanism: science.

At that point, Enlightenment humanism will be no more able to save us from this Frankenstein–either philosophically or pragmatically–than, say, intellectual Neanderthals could have saved their species by an assertion of Neanderthalism (the universal brotherhood and rationality of Neanderthals).

Instead, my guess is that a survival-of-the-fittest Darwinian logic will trump atheist humanism.

In this sense, Tea Party suburbanites, urban progressives, evangelicals, conservative Muslims, environmentalists, and secular humanists are all in the same boat: they’re fighting, from different vantages and for different reasons, the blind Moloch that is, in ever more accelerating fashion, eating the human world and usurping the direction of history.

We’ve been in serious intellectual trouble from the day that Darwin’s On the Origin of Species was published in 1859. Fundamentalist religionists don’t articulate it well, but their unsettled intuition about evolution is correct. In discovering that species possess no fixity, Darwin necessarily arrived at the fact that the human species has no fixity, that it can be changed. And over the next century, scientists with different tribal loyalties will race to change it. And religion and humanism will be impotent to stop this new race to make new human beings.

For a sense of the dilemmas heading our way (and in some instances already here), below is Michael Sandel, author of a book on the ethics of human genetic selection, in discussion with two other academics.

About Santi Tafarella

I teach writing and literature at Antelope Valley College in California.
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7 Responses to What’s Coming (A Prediction)

  1. Why would we believe that our great grandchildren will want what we do?

  2. dust850 says:

    Have u seen the movie Gattaca? Its an exploration of this topic. How do you personally feel about modern eugenics? Is it wrong, right or neither?

    • Santi Tafarella says:

      I have not. I purchased the DVD at your prompting. Thanks for the movie tip. And I love Uma Thurman. I’ll watch it this month.

      As for my own take on eugenics, I’m conflicted. I think it would be great if humans were all on average 40 points smarter IQ-wise than they are today and lived 30% longer with fewer diseases, but I also suspect that the bifurcation of humanity into naturals and cyborgs will lead to divergent interests that may conflict, leading to a new form of tribalization and the dehumanization of the Other.

      Then again, if it’s not a zero sum game–if the energy problems of the globe are solved by century’s end–then maybe there will be room enough for both species to thrive on Earth. But I do think we’re on the verge of a human-induced species branching that will upend religion and ethics over the next two centuries in ways that we are barely even thinking about yet. Even our i-Phones will be smarter than us in a decade or two, mimicking human speech, consciousness, and decision making ever more impressively. We’re not thinking much about the implications of that either (perhaps because it’s hard to even imagine, let alone anticipate, the dynamics of such a state of affairs). Who needs, for example, doctor consultations at a doctor’s office when your iPhone can monitor and diagnose your health with a similar level of accuracy?

      Barring a global plague or nuclear exchange that stalls or retards the progress of human civilization for a couple of centuries, the pace of our genetic, robotic, and cultural evolution is going to be insanely rapid over the next 150 years. Gay marriage and pot smoking are small potatoes in comparison with what’s coming. And I assume every step of change will come with a reactionary backlash as well. I wish I could live long enough to see this extraordinary show actually play out. I think my children will (they are seven and nine).

  3. Tongue Sandwich™ says:

    Am I glad I won’t be around to see whether you were right.

  4. Harry's Grandson says:

    Fun fact: Many scenes from Gattaca were filmed at Cal Poly Pomona! The building under which they were filmed, Classroom, Laboratory & Administration Building (AKA the CLA building), was deemed unsafe in 2010, since it is situated directly over the San Jose Hills Fault. The building has since been condemned for severe remodeling, so if you are interested I suggest you visit it soon!

    In response to your thorough, albeit rather pedestrian prediction on what is to come, may I remind you of the words of Manfred Mann “Never ask questions, when God is on your side.”

    Have a wonderful day!
    Congratulations on the absolutely fantastic last name!

  5. descarneDes says:

    I’ll go with the hardier naturals, those that are fit enough to adapt to the first fruits of the ensuing millennium of climate change. Humans, so-called, (Bishop Spong has something intelligent to say on this – we are not there yet), cannot survive 35 C web bulb temp in a gale (Hansen) so genetic fiddlers better get to work on a far smaller lithe primate capable of birthing the head size required for an imagination superior to that of our our stolid and obesity-prone species. I also go with Morris Berman on the demise of the current empire later this century, but those who adapt rather to the turnkey totalitarian surveillance state now under construction, run by the terminator cyborgs hardwired with the religion of national security, won’t make good stock for the kind of lithe, adaptive and cooperative societies of the future you envision. Sure, other empires will rise and fall, if they aren’t choked on their effluent of deep fried or washed away along with much of the rest of our diverse species.

  6. Staffan says:

    Gattaca is so theoretical; the real world is always messy. But the film is worth watching because it’s very beautiful, not just Uma Thurman.

    As for transhumanism, I think it will happen but probably on a small scale. The thing that is more likely to happen is that mass immigration to the West will make this whole region and in extension the entire world unstable. A lot of these immigrants live in clans and have no loyalties to other groups or to the authorities. Genetically they are the opposite of cyborgs – inbred and with low IQs. (And I mean literally inbred.)

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