Is This the End of Life as We Know It?; Books

By Hackworth, Nick | The Evening Standard (London, England), May 13, 2002 | Go to article overview

Is This the End of Life as We Know It?; Books


Hackworth, Nick, The Evening Standard (London, England)


Byline: NICK HACKWORTH

THE POSTHUMAN FUTURE: Consequences of the Biotechnology Revolution by Francis Fukuyama (Profile Books, ?17.99)

WHY not seize the power?" asks geneticist Lee Silver of biotechnology, a power that promises to put us in control of our evolutionary destiny and propel us into a "posthuman" future. Developments in biotechnology are indeed likely to amount to the most radical technological revolution ever seen, changing the very physical and mental makeup of mankind: changes that will have far-reaching social and political consequences.

Here Francis Fukuyama, famous for his often-misunderstood neo-Hegelian work, The End of History and the Last Man, sets out his stall with admirable clarity, emphasising the radical nature of biotechnology; the threat it poses to human nature; the threat it poses to global social and political stability, and arguing persuasively the necessity of regulating biotechnology on a global basis. The range of issues raised in such a short book is indicative of how important this debate is and the relatively little public and media attention afforded to the topic stands as a condemnation of the poverty of contemporary political discourse.

The book is divided into three parts.

The first focuses on specific biotechnologies and the effects they are likely to have, biologically, socially and politically. It does so in language aimed at the general reader, thus serving as a brief primer in biotechnology. The second part is pure political philosophy. Here, Fukuyama articulates his controversial belief that there is such a thing as human nature, which he defines as "the sum of the behaviour and characteristics that are typical of the human species, arising from genetic rather than environmental factors", and that it is from this nature that human rights derive, some of which are threatened by the potential consequences of biotechnology. Fukuyama finishes with practical advice on regulation; what should be regulated and how.

As Fukuyama acknowledges, the issue of regulation and control of biotechnology is particularly fraught because its potential consequences run the full gamut of possibilities from the utopian to the nightmarish. …

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