Second Nature: Rethinking the Natural through Politics

By Crina Archer; Laura Ephraim et al. | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 4
The “Unnatural Growth of the Natural”:
Reconsidering Nature and Artifice
in the Context of Biotechnology

Ashley Biser

What is so unsettling is the fact that the dividing
line between the nature we are and the organic
equipment we give ourselves is being blurred.

—JÜRGEN HABERMAS, The Future of Human Nature


The “Unnatural Growth of the Natural”

There is a deep-seated anxiety that attends the blurring of this distinction between nature and artifice. For Jürgen Habermas, in his The Future of Human Nature, it is merely “unsettling.” Leon Kass argues that this ambiguity should “offend,” “repel,” and “repulse” us “because we intuit and feel, immediately and without argument, the violation of things that we rightfully hold dear.”1 In Our Posthuman Future, Francis Fukuyama suggests that the loss of this distinction between the natural and the humanmade “threatens” our humanity and pushes us toward “a ‘posthuman’ stage of history.”2

For each of these thinkers, biotechnology, in the form of genetic engineering, challenges the distinction between nature and artifice.3 The fact that human beings have the capacity to create life and pattern it according to our own design confounds our ability to distinguish between the “grown” and the “made.” But the sense of anxiety these texts exude cannot be traced to a simple fear of the “unnatural.” Although each begins with the question of how genetic technologies affect the nature of humanity,

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