Brave New Tools; but There Are Reasons Not to.(BOOKS)
Byline: Martin Sieff, SPECIAL TO THE WASHINGTON TIMES
Francis Fukuyama will likely never escape the vague but increasing sense of ridicule that has accompanied him ever since he proclaimed "The End of History" and the eschatological Hegelian triumph of the liberal democratic nation state in his 1989 book "The End of History and the Last Man." The definitive put down of that long fashionable and still deeply influential, but astonishingly naive and dangerously over-optimistic thesis, was provided by wry former National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski when he dryly opined, "After the End of History comes . . . more history."
It was therefore, with both anticipation and foreboding that one opened the pages of "Our Posthuman Future: Consequences of the Biotechnology Revolution," Mr. Fukuyama's latest opus. Would one be saddled with more of the same ponderous Great Thoughts - the most pretentious collection of truisms and cliches wrapped around the wackiest wild predictions since Alvin Toffler last put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard?
Mercifully no. Mr. Fukuyama's forays into the ethics, opportunities and deadly dangers of biotechnology are a revelation and a relief. They are a relief because, although the implications of the technology are vast, Mr. Fukuyama wisely restrains himself from the kind of sweeping conclusions that finally made the intellectual roller-coaster ride of "The End of History" so hard to swallow. Here he is asking intelligent questions instead of proclaiming ludicrous answers. And they are a revelation because Mr. Fukuyama documents how so much of what is still widely assumed to be bizarre, impossible fantasy is now on the brink of becoming achievable fact.
This is an excellently written, muscularly argued and very useful overview of much of the research and most of the ethical arguments about What We Should Do and Not Do in dealing with the immensely powerful biotechnological and genetic engineering tools that are now inexorably falling into our hands. Unlike in "The End of History" and some of his earlier works, Mr. Fukuyama here does not attempt to produce any vast sweeping and original conceptual overview within which to view his subject. The concerns he expresses and quotes from the mouths of others have been a staple of scientific and philosophical debate since Aldous Huxley wrote his presciently brilliant "Brave New World" more than seven decades ago.
Instead the author wears the hats of reporter and philosophical tour guide, or debate moderator, and they sit well on him. Usually it is a scathing put down to say the author of a major new study lacks originality. Here it is meant as high praise. Mr. Fukuyama brings together much scientific and sociological research with a concise and valuable discussion of how human species behavior has been assessed and evaluated.
The decent, liberal democratic Mr. Fukuyama also shows both mischief and shrewdness in using quotes from Friedrich Nietzsche to introduce many of his chapters. The brilliant but loathsome Nietzsche carries more than a hint of menace and daring disquiet whenever he is rolled out, despite all the attempts of generations of ludicrous mainstream American admirers - whom Irish scholar Conor Cruise O'Brien memorably characterized as "The Gentle Nietzschians" - to prettify him and purge him of brutality and disrepute.
By allowing Nietzsche's tone to impregnate his pages, Mr. Fukuyama maintains a sense of danger and of the potential of Promethean power straining at the leash to explode and run rampant that the quiet, measured tone of his own prose alone would not. …