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Genetic Engineering … Nah! ….. No Wait!

Posted by intellisg on March 13, 2007

You can recognize a bio-conservative ten miles away. Apart from being technophobes, they also hate anything to do with the sciences. The conversation starts well enough, till of course they register my space tie which I wear every Monday. You know the one with the small dainty prints of space shuttles floating helplessly in the turquoise blue dotted with stars. That’s the cue for them to suitably adopt that casual condescending timbre of sanctimony and rant on about some clap trap abstraction about listening to ones inner voice. Whatever that really means, let me just try………..one green bottle standing on the wall……two green bottles………..nope, no voice there………not even from my split personality. Besides, the last time I heard of anyone hearing voices, they were either serial killers or busy ploughing a plane into a building. Didn’t you realize it’s unhealthy to hear voices!

Remember that guy with the long beard and stick in the Bible that wandered around with a bunch of confused people for 40 years in the desert. Didn’t he listen to some voice emanating from a bush? Actually what this erudite lot, the bio-conservatives are trying to say is: we should all register the “puih” factor associated with runaway biotechnology and instead draw a line between what science can and cannot do. A large part of their argument lies in the notion of trusting the wisdom of nature – mother nature knows best – Yes, she does doesn’t she, that’s why we regularly have earthquakes, typhoons, tornados, mudslides and the odd tsunami. If mother nature was a human being she would certainly be a cross dressing Adolf Hitler or Joseph Stalin.

No I am sorry! I don’t believe everything should be left to mother nature. Neither do I buy into the idea she knows best either. Just in case you didn’t know, the experts are telling us a bird flu pandemic is heading our way and it will make the bubonic plague look like the common cold. Just wait till those bio-conservatives get the shakes and make a beeline to the ICU in Tan Tock Seng. Trust mother nature, my foot!: no Tamiflu for you! Instead we call we will gladly call an African foreign talent the brotherhood knows called Mamba Jambala Yaba Da Badu – a registered witch doctor who even has his own set of tribal drums to dab a dab away the bird flu. Or better still we will get dai Sensei Fuk-ya-mah! From the Singapore Reiki Center to put some colorful crystals on your tummy while you, the trust mother bio-conservative melt happily away.

No I jest. To be really honest with you I have quite a lot of sympathy for bio-conservatives. For starters lets be open minded (by the way, your brains are spilling out), they do have a point don’t they: especially when they regularly point out, the questionable morality of organ sales or how genetic engineering simply smacks of God playing Sim City. I am not against the bio-conservatives per se, Believe it or not, I nurse my own reservations concerning the issue of where genetic engineering should start and end. Usually it hits me whenever I find myself wandering into a hypermarket wondering whether those tomatoes the size of footballs were grown next to the nuclear reactor. It’s scary when you consider what modern science can do these days. I am told even battery chickens these days have smaller brains, kidneys and stomachs. Modern science makes it all possible, to breed chickens with long and supple legs (why cant they do the same for women?) In genetic science tinkerland, nothing is impossible. Everything can be grafted, transplanted and fused. Crossing a scorpion with a cabbage get means creating a veggie that is naturally resistant to bugs – it makes good horticultural and business sense, but who is really going to eat it? (Oh silly me, that’s just a minor detail). Crossing a parrot with a Gorilla? Gets you, eerh I don’t know, but when it starts talking you better start listening. You get my point. You get their point. Those bio-conservatives do have a case after all, but how cogent is it? Are their fears about run away train technology closer to fiction or reality? Is it premised on hard evidential facts or is much of it simply conjecture?

Well consider the bulk of criticism concerning genetic engineering actually comes from religious adherents, namely the Vatican. They argue that at the moment of conception, a supernatural figure (‘God’) implants an invisible attribute (‘a soul’) into a mitotic cluster of cells. From that moment onwards the cells are magically transformed into a person with inalienable rights. Homo Vaticanus is alive! According to Catholicism to even probe them is morally the equivalent of gagging you and spreading you out on a pelt rack performing bondage. Stem-cell research it appears is Mengelian. Disposing embryos is murder. And having compelling conversations with Petri dishes is the in thing. This position is given currency on an international platform and its one that many bio-conservatives cite whenever they argue the case for reining in science.

I am not suggesting for one moment embryonic cells are for one moment insentient spittle on a Petri dish. Not at all, but lets consider their (the Vatican’s) logic. If there was an earth shattering earthquake and you happened to be just loitering around the biopolis would you plumb to risk your life to save a petri dish or a cute girl in a mini skirt? Exactly, you get my point, only because what at the end of the day, it makes more sense to save an actual human being rather than some seminal abstraction of life decreed by a bunch of old men.

And there’s an even bigger contradiction in terms. Human embryos are regularly flushed out in women’s menstrual flows. So why aren’t the erudite wonder girls in SPH, “the sisters of the perpetual hesitation” hauled up before the international court of justice in the Hague? Shouldn’t they stand trial for genocide or ethnic cleansing?

One clue accounting for why the bio-technology and genetic engineering continues to be a lightning rod is because so many misconceptions surround it. Most people find the concept of cloning repugnant, because they typically conjure up the imagery clones will be “robots” and “automatons”. Or worse still some uber man to even replace the likes of you and me. Neither is there are no shortage of scaremongers like Francis Fukuyama who have even conjured demented visions of “armies of the automata” based on cellular manipulation. But really is cloning that bad? I for one wouldn’t mind having two of me, just to pat me from time to time on the back just to tell me what a good job, I am doing. If the truth be known, there are already thousands, if not millions of clones in the world. They are called identical twins and triplets, and we have no difficulty understanding that although they share the same genetic profile, they are nonetheless individuals in every sense of the word. Does anybody really believe they are automatons? Or robots? That’s only true, if you subscribe to the belief genes exclusively maketh the man, but nothing can be further from the truth. As it discounts the value of how upbringing and inculcating the right values is usually a decider.

I don’t for one moment doubt given the proliferation of dystopian films like Ewan McGregor’s movie ‘The Island’ or Andrew Nicoll’s “Gattaca,” we may all harbor reservations about clones. But they are based on a flawed premise – that we would treat clones as lesser beings, not deserving of the basic rights as the rest of us. Why should that happen? We don’t treat IVF babies as we do slaves or even remotely close to anything resembling sub humans do we? That incidentally was what bio-conservatives once predicted.

The only argument that really lingers in the mind is where do we really draw the line? Do we say no to organ sales? Is it morally repugnant and wrong? Or does the sale of human organs fulfill a real humanitarian need? One which bio-conservatives are content to deny at all cost, even if it means extending or improving the quality of life of ordinary people like you and me. They warn that the encroaching reach of biotechnology may create a world divided between the exploiter and the exploited, the haves and the have not’s. Its a cogent argument none the less one that even has a respectable lineage qualifying as rational.

At the end of the day, do these bio-conservatives deserve even to be heard? Do they have a valid case premised on logic or diatribe? Really I don’t know just yet. In the meantime, perhaps we should follow the advice of C.S.Lewis in “The Lion, the witch and the Wardrobe.” If you meet anything that’s going to be human and isn’t yet, or used to be human once and isn’t now, or ought to be human and isn’t, keep your eyes on it and feel for the hatchet.

(By Astroboy, Keith Ho & Agnes P / Socio / Politics / Science – EP 9902393 -2007 – The Brotherhood Press 2007)

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13 Responses to “Genetic Engineering … Nah! ….. No Wait!”

  1. cowboy said

    Funny and very clever. I like the way the serious points are mixed in with a dose of the humorous. This is definitely a very pleasurable read early in the morning. Thats one of the reasons why one of the first things I do when I reach the office is check out the IS site.However I think all of you should spell check first bfr posting, its quite irritating to wade through the bad spelling. Btw is it done on purpose to come across as more authentic and real? Kudos and definitely one, if not the best sites for mature readers in Singapore blogosphere.Nothing even comes close to it.

  2. anongal said

    (I am sorry, it was supposed to be posted here instead)

    Hi

    Still extolling the benefits of virulent conflicts, between conservatives and progressives? I must say the same theme seems to be played out only in different strokes. In the last few articles as well, such as “how many lights bulbs does it take to make a Paris.”

    I believe the bhood typically takes the progressive view towards politics – that of course leads us to question, what would first order principles be in the context of discussion? I dont believe astroboy ever highlighted this. Neither did he bother model how first order principles would be key – since it will shape much of the final outcome of sociol/moral policies such as abortion, religion and gay rights.

    If the progressive view is mooted, it is not necessary for astroboy to pass disparaging remarks abt the role of the vatican, journalist or even put down bio-conservatives.

    He doesnt really need to do that, because the liberal strand of progressive thought, shaped by such thinkers such as John Rawls already holds out the way to pursue a sensible argument between eugenics vs religion.

    That for example, to defend a womans right to terminate her pregnancy it is not necessary to prove that the Catholic position that the fetus is a person from the moment of conception. Such an onus only applies if the first order principles of catholism is tenable with libetarian views in the first place, but how can it be so, since astroboy makes the assumption, the discussion takes place in experimental sphere of “limited govt”? ( Or did I dream it bc that was what it read like)Given that to be the case, all one really needs to do, to rebut the whole religious argument is by pointing out the obvious; the catholic doctrine cannot legitimately be used to constrain private choice. This is universally accepted as a political principle of “limited govt” even by those who hold that abortion is morally impermissible. The same would arise to reconcile the role of the state and individual in the context of gay rights.

    It is regrettable that astroboy did not go deeper into the subject and instead cont his irrational tirade on journalist who he seems to like to hold out as a convenient court jester. Such an approach really does more damage to the brotherhood than I can ever care to elaborate. I do hope someone will speak to him and even show him how to think properly. It really doesnt take much effort for a personality like darkness to just spend a few min talking to him about how to think! Its seems sad such talent should be wasted instead of directed towards a noble purpose. Very sad indeed.

    I am sure it is time for some of the other mature writers such as harpoon, nacramanga, atomic monkey and even darkness to show the boys what it really takes to do a mans job (hint!)

  3. montburan said

    Hi all,

    Rib tickling had me and the rest of my girl frens in the office rolling over each other.

    I am not trying to take sides only I notice astroboy seems to be regularly taking vindictive digs at the ladies in Tao Payoh. I really wonder why? Perhaps he feels, their feed back about either his writing or content is skewered? If that really is the case shouldnt he just address the issue directly by confining himself to the problem. I dont think it is wrong for readers to point out some of you write with super long sentences or there are regular spelling mistakes which is a real let down.

    I do hope in future, astroboy will stop his digs at those ladies. I happen to know some of them personally and they are really quite a friendly and approachable lot.

  4. montburan said

    Astroboy should consider apologizing as some of his references are simply downright, rude, crude and hurtful.

  5. astroboy said

    I humbly apologize to the order of the sisters of perpetual hesitation who currently live in a cave somewhere in Southern Italy.

    I astroboy undertake to make full restitution to the sisters by checking their collection boxes regularly along with their inbox, confession box, collection box and other boxes hereby unmentionable.

    (any resemblance to the straits times is purely coincidental)

    Yours truly unreliably

    AB

  6. Sara Paxton said

    Hi my name is sara, i like leaving people comments, so im leaving you one right now. yumyumyum. i loveeee comments. i dont like tags

  7. Sara Paxton said

    ohh, and i LOVEE humble people.

  8. Sara Paxton said

    wait, and my friends boyfriend is SOOOO humble he wears a “humble, but still the best” shirt oncee a week to college, what a humble boy.
    LOVEE.

  9. Sara Paxton said

    lots of love chickass.

  10. astroboy said

    Dear valiant ladies in SPH,

    I astroboy hereby apologize to all the journalist in SPH for my unwarranted and disparaging remarks.

    I have undertaken to deny myself food and water for 48 hours to repent for my sins.

    Yours humbly

    astro boy

    PS: I was forced to do this by darkness, so pls stop sending him any more hate mail. Please!

  11. shoestring said

    (cont’d from my comment in HAL)

    When does life begin?
    What is organ transplant? Is it limited to only human beings (alive and dead)?
    When does organ transplant become immoral?
    What is the value of a life? How do we measure it?
    Is “saving lives” an indisputable decisive factor that is applicable in all cases/circumstances?
    When does “saving lives” become evil? Does it?

  12. habby yabby said

    Incredibly funny and hilarious essay! Aiyoh!!!! Had everyone rolling around the office in stitches 🙂 That’s what I really call creative writing!!!! I dont even know why ST bothers with Stomp and all that make belief crapo. They dont even come anywhere close, its like comparing a turbo charged viper with a Korean compact. No fight! Not even a teenie weenie bitty bite! That’s how far they really are. No wonder TOC is boycotting the BHP? By the way what did the BHP ever do to them? Anyone care to share? There has to be so history rite? Blood just turn bad for nada????? 🙂

    Yabba dabba da du!

  13. habby yabby said

    http://dotseng.wordpress.com/2008/07/22/the-immorality-of-the-uncommons-stem-cells-kidneys-and-organ-transplants/

    Is the chick in JUST STUFF da mans gf? Anyone know? Anyone care to filler me in here?

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