June 7, 2015

POSSIBLY IRRITATING ESSAYS: Will Genetic Engineering Lead To A New Caste System?

Using the panel discussions of the most recent World Science Fiction Convention in London this past August, I will jump off, jump on, rail against, and shamelessly agree with the BRIEF DESCRIPTION given in the pdf copy of the Program Guide. The link is provided below…

“Speculative Biology is concerned with future evolution, alternative evolution, and the SF biology of other worlds. At the boundary of art and science, these speculations are grounded firmly in biomechanics, photosynthesis and evolution. This panel introduces our Speculative Biology track which continues with presentations through the weekend.” With: Dr Lewis Dartnell (M), Dougal Dixon, C. M. Kosemen, Mr. Gert van Dijk, Darren Naish

Tough to come up with a subject this AM…but when I reached this session description, I knew I’d “come home”. Then I realized that I’d been struggling with a theme these last few years. The Transhumanist movement appears to insist that human improvement via technology and bioengineering will end all strife, conflict, and division. Somehow, we’re supposed to move beyond our petty differences (ESPECIALLY religion) and transcend ourselves right into something so closely akin to godhood that I personally see no practical difference.

One series of stories I’ve been writing deals with a dearth of “alien life” in local space. There are no “intelligences” to form a Federation with thus far, and no Formics against whom we go to war, so with worlds only marginally habitable, Humans started adapting themselves.

Initially, the modifications were minor – getting rid of genetic diseases like Cystic Fibrosis, Scleroderma, and Congenital Heart Failure. Logical, helpful, tough to argue against.

Once the Marginal Earths were discovered – thousands of planets with too much CO2, too much oxygen, too much methane, too much radiation, not enough radiation, too much volcanism, not enough volcanism – Humans set to work adapting themselves to such environments. Eventually water worlds came to the fore and Humans were adapted to be aquatic, others were adapted to live in the atmosphere of Jupiter, Saturn, and some adapted to live in space.

In the Solar system, one group declared that it was too much. They took themselves into deep space and were never heard from again. Until they showed up as technologically advanced, genetic purists. No one who was less than 65% original Human DNA could be considered Human. The Empire of Man challenged the original worlds of Humanity who allied themselves into the Confluence. After a brief war fought to a stalemate, the two sides pulled back, their territories overlapping on the Brink, worlds where Confluans and Imperials staked claims but were so harsh or so immense, conflict was minimal.

My stories take place on the Brink, worlds like River, Sirmiq, and Ahi’ai’honua; this is where most of the conflict happens but it’s also where the cultures mix.

The Confluence acknowleges absolutely no boundaries. They feel free to slice and dice the Human genome, using whatever they want to from animals, plants, and experiment with suppressing certain Human genes – but the line between Human and alien is blurry and even some in the Confluence wonder what it is that makes us Human.

The Empire holds a line at minor modifications and using technology to cross over into harsh environments – but a rigid caste system has developed and some there wonder if that was what the founders had in mind. Humans who are obviously Human in every way but have modifications that allow for breathing in attenuated atmospheres, surviving vacuum accidents and high pressure environments, or who no longer have vestigial organs or strengthened bones, seem logical. But it is endoheretical (“Isaac Asimov...in Forward: The Role of the Heretic...mentioning religious, political, socioeconomic and scientific heresies...divided scientific heretics into endoheretics (those from within the scientific community) and exoheretics (those from without).”  [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Heresy#Non-religious_usage]) and living on the Brink Worlds has created movement toward reuniting Humanity…

At any rate,  I first ran across Dougal Dixon’s book, AFTER MAN: A ZOOLOGY OF THE FUTURE, years ago when I was teaching a credit recovery science class. It inspired me to try something “different” and eventually led to my Alien Worlds classes – which I’ve been teaching for the past 18 years. Since then, I’ve speculated on the biology of both aliens and Humans extensively. I have a universe where only us and the plantimal WheetAh exists. Another has Humans as “Vietnamese” or “Korean” civilian bystanders in an ideological war between the llamoid Yown’Hoo and the canine Kiiote who find Earth the only local planet on which they can breed and raise their young.

The fact is that I love biology. I wish I had been there to listen to the discussion! But will such a program end up creating new "undesireables" and a new underclass?

No comments: