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Wednesday’s Words

Wednesday, 23 April, 2008

I’m unsure as to whether these words are wise or not. They are not words of worry in that they were not written in fear or anxiety, but they have certainly caused enough worry by others. These are pretty much guaranteed to be quoted in some form in a book critical of human enhancement (and published after 1997). Some of these words are those of molecular geneticist Lee M. Silver, in his book Remaking Eden (first published in 1997, but I only have the 2007 reprint):

  • [A]ll people [belong] to one of two classes. The people of one class are referred to as Naturals, while those in the second class are called the Gene-enriched, or simply GenRich.
  • The GenRich – who account for ten percent of the American population – all carry synthetic genes.
  • The GenRich are a modern-day hereditary class of genetic aristocrats.
  • The GenRich class are anything but homogeneous. There are many types of GenRich families, and many subtypes within each type.
  • All aspects of the economy, the media, the entertainment industry, and the knowledge industry are controlled by members of the GenRich class
  • Naturals work as low-paid service providers or as laborers.
  • [B]y the end of the third millennium, the GenRich class and the Natural class will become the GenRich humans and the Natural humans – entirely separate species with no ability to crossbreed, and with as much romantic interest in each other as a current human would have for a chimpanzee.

I don’t really know why Silver wrote about a seperate human species. I don’t think it is likely to ever happen. Silver refers to the evolutionary process of speciation occurring as the two classes become less genetically compatible due to reduced breeding. But I suspect that enough GenRich will fall in love with the “lower” tiers of society (who will probably have some genetic enhancements, as they become cheap enough to afford) to keep the gene flow going, and thus prevent sympatric speciation.

And besides, Silver is talking about the third millennium here! Did he not think that by that stage, geneticists would have worked out how to overcome any genetic incompatibilities between two closely related species? Even if this reproductive incompatibly is caused by differing chromosome numbers (the objection often raised to human artificial chromosomes), at the current rate of advancement in the science of ‘reprogenetics’, there will be a way to make them compatible.

As I said at the start of this entry, Silver appears to have worried more people than he comforted with the Prologue of Remaking Eden. And without good reason, in my opinion.

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