Jeremy Rifkin: Fears of a Brave New World

By Otchet, Amy | UNESCO Courier, September 1998 | Go to article overview

Jeremy Rifkin: Fears of a Brave New World


Otchet, Amy, UNESCO Courier


Will wars be fought for the control of genes in the 21st century? Jeremy Rifkin fears the worst and explains why

* What is the Biotech Century?

Our futurists have too narrowly defined the twenty-first century as the information age. In fact, a far more profound shift is taking place in the global economy. Computers and genes are beginning to fuse into a single powerful technological and economic force that is laying the foundation for the biotech century. Computers are increasingly being used to decipher, manage and organize the vast genetic information that is the raw resource of the new global economy. Already multinational corporations are creating giant life-science complexes from which to fashion a bio-industrial world.

There are tremendous short-term benefits - new plants and animals, new pharmaceuticals and energy sources. But it is naive to believe that these benefits come with no costs. The environmental, social and ethical implications of this science are chilling. Will the creation of cloned, chimeric and transgenic species mean the end of nature? Will the mass release of genetically engineered organisms into our biosphere mean genetic pollution and irreversible damage to the biosphere in the twenty-first century? What are the risks of making a "perfect" baby?

* But how does this differ from our longstanding struggle to redesign nature?

It is true that we have been engineering nature since the dawn of the Neolithic revolution in agriculture, but the new genesplicing technologies are qualitatively different. In classical breeding, it is only possible to cross close relatives in the biological kingdom. Today, however, we are no longer constrained by these biological boundaries. For example, scientists have taken the gene that emits light in a firefly and injected it into the genetic code of a tobacco plant, which when fully grown, glows twenty-four hours a day. We have not seen that in evolution. Genetically engineered plants, micro-organisms and animals bring greater risks.

* In discussions surrounding the use of gene therapy to cure or prevent human disease, you raise the question as to who should decide what is a "good" or "bad" gene. Are we heading into a new age of eugenics?

Yes, but it doesn't bear any resemblance to what we saw in Nazi Germany. The new eugenics is not social eugenics. It is banal and friendly. It is commercial and market-driven. Soon, prospective parents will be able to programme the biological future of their unborn children. They will feel pressure to rid their children of "undesirable traits". If you knew you were going to pass on a gene for leukemia, wouldn't you like to eliminate that from the sperm or the egg? And what about obesity or near-sightedness? Once we begin this journey, there is really no place to stop. Chilling eugenics issues will arise as we begin to see our children as the ultimate shopping experience.

We already see this happening. In the 1980s, the Genetech and Eli Lilly companies were awarded patents to market a new genetically engineered growth hormone to the few thousand children suffering from dwarfism in the United States. By 1991, the hormone had become one of the best selling pharmaceutical drugs in the country. Clearly, doctors were prescribing the drug to children who were just shorter than their peers. The companies are now pushing doctors to redefine normal shortness as an "illness".

* Some critics have branded you as an alarmist - they consider your views to be anti-science. These critics go too far, but at some level, do you feel that we should restrain this new genetic science?

I believe that genetic science is invaluable; the question is not the science but the technological application of that science. We must choose between a hard path and a soft path to the twenty-first century. In the case of agriculture, for example, the hard path would lead to genetically engineered plants, environmental risks and health problems. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Note: primary sources have slightly different requirements for citation. Please see these guidelines for more information.

Cited article

Jeremy Rifkin: Fears of a Brave New World
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen
Items saved from this article
  • Highlights & Notes
  • Citations
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Search by... Author
    Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.