The Artificial Reproduction of the Human: the Road of Transhumanism
by 325 Collective
Transhumanism and techno-science
The transhumanist movement began in the USA, in Silicon Valley, in the late 1980s, but if we try to track down the origin of this ideology, we find ourselves in 1883, when the term eugenics was coined by Galton, or in 1957, when Huxley [Julian, brother of Aldous] gave a speech where he used the word transhumanism to describe his transcendent belief in the human, and we end up with the cybernetic paradigm which arose during Second World War in the military sector. The cybernetic paradigm, the study of control of systems, living or not living, is based on the concept of information: if everything, from the living to the inorganic world, can be reduced to an exchange of information, then every barrier and every difference between the living and the non living, between the human and the ma- chine. And the the subject will be reduced to a sum of information items, a programme which can be deciphered and thus modified like a machine. Finally, we get to the development of genetic engineering and synthetic biology. Craig Venter, founder of Celera Genomics, after having sequenced the human genome, launched the Minimal Genome Project. Why would a company spend time and money on such simple organisms, when others were already competing to sequence the genomes of frogs, rats and chimpanzees? Right from the outset of the Genome Project, Venter’s goal had not only been to read genes or edit their DNA, but to redesign them through synthetic biology.
The ultimate aim of these processes is always the human being, this was clearly expressed by the Singularity University in a recent conference on Exponential Medicine: “We can design embryos. We can edit genes in humans. We have synthetic biology. And so we really are looking at designing future humans”. Transhumanism is not a side effect, but the point of arrival of technological development, it is the ideology of the convergence between biotechnologies, nanotechnologies, information science and neurosciences. Transhumanist ideology seeks to empower and implement the human through technology to achieve its biotechnological transformation: the post-human. Biology and even bodies are seen as constraints and limits to be overcome, reinforced, modified or eliminated. Before the desired biotechnological transformation or hybridisation with machines, what is being transformed is the ontological concept of human: we have never been human, we have always been cyborgs and hybrids. What is emerging is an anthropotechnical cyborg concept, where the human being is undetermined, and co-builds himself with technology, an indetermi- nation which is technical hybridisation, where the very nature of human, his biological existence, is technological. A technical hybridisation which destroys the borders between subject and object, between nature and technique, between the living and the machine, so that everything, from nature around us to our very bodies, becomes an artefact.
Transhumanism is not a pipe dream of a few mad technology fans influenced by science fiction. It is the expression of ideas and the worldview of Silicon Valley, of philosophers, scientists and researchers. Natascha and Max Moore, Nick Bostrom, David Pearce, James J. Hughes, Hans Moravec, Ray Kurzweill, to mention only the best known names, are the founders of the world transhumanist association, now known as Humanity+, and they are founders, funders and managers of many foundations, institutes, start-ups, research projects and companies of worldwide importance, and are involved in the fields of research and development which are the techno-hubs on which the transhumanist project is based. They are consultants for fields like defence, security, biomedicine, all cutting-edge sectors of development and research, and they deeply influence the way researchers and governments develop converging sciences and make strategic decisions.
When the transhumanist world describes itself and its projects, it speaks of exponential sciences, designed to face the new and most serious challenges threatening the present, and calling for a new order. Without beating too much about the bush, it uses the best means that technology offers for its purposes, in order to concentrate a techno-power which can sweep away the past, abolishing everything it deems obsolete before such challenges. In this context, human beings, as they have been so far, become a useless frill.
We should not fall into the error of seeing transhumanism as the tendency of a few marginal researchers, of philosophers who confuse reality with their dreams. So let us avoid focusing on things that have not yet happened. If we speak of nanotechnologies, we should not concentrate on the risk of a Gray goo catastrophe, the unbridled replication of dwarf robots. In the same way, when we speak of transhumanism, it would be a mistake to focus on projects of cryopreservation of the brain or of uploading the brain to a computer: let us concentrate on what is actually going on now. The transhumanist ideology – overcoming limits, improving and empowering man, redesigning and artificialising the living – is no abstract speculation. It takes the shape of transgenic chimeras, military drones, new smart city devices, biomedical practise, medically assisted procreation (MAP) and genome editing. And it all takes shape in research centres, in giants like Google, IBM, Microsoft, in agribusiness, pharmaceutical and biotech corporations, and in the projects of techno-scientific and research labs.
The transhumanist ideology is penetrating and expanding a context where there is already a strong cult of “perfect” health and of top performance. It is working its way into a context where each life phase has been medicalised, from birth to death, from prenatal diagnosis to regenerative medicine.
Transhumanist man is a totalitarian one-dimensional biomedicalised human being. The human being is seen as the error, and everything has to fit in with the criteria of ongoing perfectibility for constant adaptation to a machine world. Where limits are constantly overcome, and the human body is seen as one of these limits. A techno-scientific adaptability which will become the only possibility. We can now see how the cybernetic paradigm, according to which “the environment we live in has always been so radically modified that today we are forced to modify ourselves”, takes a material and dramatic shape. If we think of exoskeletons for tetraplegics which can be also be used to increase the performance of soldiers, we can see how thin the line is separating healing from changing the human. Nobody will cut off healthy legs to put on prostheses to increase their performance, but the ideas of implementation, of continuous increase in power, of changing the body, are penetrating into people’s imagination to the point where they condition their desires.
Development of techno-sciences transforms the paradigms of thought through which one sees and interprets reality, hence transforming our relationship with our body, with the reality around us and our own actions. These transformations imply profound and irreversible consequences on everything living. They mean thinking of the body as a series of modules which can be taken apart, makes it available and modifiable. Only a world imagined on a nanotech scale can make tools able to move atoms: a tunnel-effect microscope is not a simple tool, it builds a world where matter is thought of, measured and then modified on a nanotech scale. In the same way as biotechnology delves into the deepest level of living beings, nanotechnology delves into the deepest levels of the structure of the world, bringing about a substantial change in meaning too. Whereas artefacts were formerly made starting from natural elements with all their limits, when one modifies matter on an atomic level, the same natural elements rebuild themselves and overcome these limits, taking on new features. The natural world thus becomes an artificial category, and molecular fabrication leads to a completely different idea of what is as a material limit, and nanotechnology allows one to enter into the very nature of matter.
Clearly, techno-sciences and the transhumanist ideology are not neutral. Not merely in their aims – whether they achieve them or not – but at the source, in their idea of redesigning and artificialising the living. In life sciences, a disaster takes place not only when the experiment achieves its goal; the disaster is implicit in the direction taken by the research. The experiment is not only within the walls of laboratories, the laboratory is the whole world, and bodies themselves become living laboratories.
Galton suggested a mild form of eugenics, a positive eugenics to “acknowledge the features of superior descent or races, and to favour them so that their offspring become more numerous”. By this principle, which would guide zootechnics, Galton was referring to the human, considering that the human, like other animals, could be tamed and selected.
Long before Nazi Germany, the USA, between 1905 and 1972, carried out an immense programme of forced sterilisation for the disabled, psychiatric patients, the blind, deaf, the prison population, the homeless, those suffering from leprosy, syphilis, tuberculosis. Hitler drew his inspiration from a famous American biologist, the promoter of such sterilisations, for his racial extermination programme.
A Nazi physiologist was the first to come up with the idea of enucleating an ovum to insert the nucleus of another ovum into it, inventing the concept of “carrier mother”.
From programmes of racial sterilisation on people deemed inferior and impure – defined as negative eugenics -, from the intention to improve the Aryan race – defined as positive eugenics -, we have today moved on to new “positive” eugenics: it is not the “improvement” of a race thought to be superior, but the “improvement” of the human being. And to improve human beings, one needs to eliminate their defects.
This will involve a large part of the world, but not all of course: those who live in the margins of the world in forgotten slums, or simply those who are excluded from economic and social status will become subhumans, hence bodies at the mercy of the markets or of geopolitical processes of which they ignore the nature. These bodies may serve as pools for spare parts, or as masses to be pushed about from one country to another for purposes of blackmail. Also those who refuse to bow to the logic of continuous increase in power with biomedical programmes and those who do not use artificial reproduction will add to this reserve pool of subhumans.
The idea of racial purity today has been replaced by that of “perfect” health and the fabrication of the “perfect” child. Eugenics thus puts on a new face, freely accepted, and refers to a new soft kind of power, no longer based on coercion, far from the violence of Nazi eugenics. In this context, it is normalised and rendered banal, while the new technologies of genetic engineering and their recombination in converging sciences make it more efficient and generalised. No longer part of a project of extermination, at least at present, but its ultimate aim of selecting the human species remains unchanged.
Eugenics is not a dark deviation: it is the very motor and direction of genetic research. It is no coincidence that the first project for decoding the human genome was called Read, but the second Write.
Eugenics has always been around, since the origin of artificial reproduction technologies, in their zootechnical development and in transfer to man. Already in the 1980s, R. Edward, who brought about the birth of Louise Brown, claimed that genetically improving the human species is possible and therefore legitimate. In 2018, the British bioethics committee1 declared that it was permissible to modify the DNA of an embryo genetically (hereditary genetic modifications) in order to influence the features of a future person.
In MAP, eugenics starts with in vitro fertilisation (IVF) and preimplantation genetic diagnosis (PGD), selection is needed during each phase of the process of artificial rep, and takes place on several levels: selection of the suppliers of gametes, selection of sperm, of ova and finally of the embryo. In the globalised supermarket of human reproduction, there flourishes a multi-billion dollar market of ova, sperm and embryo selection. The price of the ovum varies, depending on the features of the “donor” , who is actually a seller paid by the MAP clinics. Clinics which have huge egg banks which can be consulted on line, offering a carefully selected range of donors. An ovum of a white university student of course is worth more than any other, and everything is on sale in the reproduction market, with a wide range for every taste. The questions put to ovum donors on their personal questionnaires range from how sensitive they are to animals, what their religion is, whether they sleep with a stuffed animal and whether they like the police. Features which have nothing to do with the development of the embryo, but everything is on sale in the reproduction market, even illusions, expectations, hopes and lies. Before implanting the embryo into the womb of the future mother who is recurring to MAP (or in that of the mother who has rented her womb), a preimplantation genetic diagnosis is carried out on a dozen embryos to choose the “best” one.
PGD follows the logic of eugenics perfectly: if we look at the progressive opening up of national laws in different European countries, we can see how they started with exceptions in order to avoid transmitting serious genetic diseases, with pathologies which were likely to arise, and finally moved on to such aesthetic matters as being cross-eyed.
We are seeing progressive extension of PGD: in France, the previous law on bioethics (2004) extended its application from detection of an incurable illness in a parent, to detection of a serious illness, with a late outcome, in a direct ascendant, and this was a major step. Now, legalisation of “MAP for all”, laid down by the recent French bioethics law, will not only involve single women or couples of women, but will open up the right to MAP techniques, including IVF, to anyone asking for them. This step will start with the plastic tube for insemination, and will end up with genetic selection of embryos, after having extended the artificial reproduction of the human to all. One must bear in mind that we are in a medicalised context where the waiting time for defining a woman with problems of infertility has been cut down from two years to six months, a context where maternity is increasingly postponed, with 35-37 year old women anxious not to be able to get pregnant any more, who after the six months set down by the law start out seeking artificial reproduction. After only three unsuccessful cycles of artificial insemination, the medicalising trend leads to in vitro fertilisation with intracytoplasmic injection of the spermatozoon.
In the United States, couples who do not suffer from fertility problems or the transmission of genetic pathologies can go to an assisted reproduction clinic with the sole purpose of carrying out an IVF, with selection of the embryos: they can also choose some features, such as the sex and the colour of the eyes.
The important change in French legislation and a look at other countries show us the global trend towards generalising artificial reproduction of the human.
Eugenics does not have the face of a dictator, it is not imposed, it wears the guise of free choice. The democratic and progressive Left is already pushing it ahead with the rhetoric of prevention, health, access for everybody to technologies, freedom, self-determination and non-discrimination. Democratic and consensus-based eugenics.
Health issues are used as a lever to promote IVF and PGD and make them socially acceptable, This is actually a form of blackmail, bringing up possible genetic pathologies of the future child or a fertility rate which is constantly declining also due to pesticides, plastic derivatives, electromagnetic waves. PGD is presented as necessary to prevent serious illnesses, while it is actually opening the gates to large- scale eugenics. From one genetic selection to the next, towards a made- to-order child, all of this masked with the best intentions. From couples with problems of infertility to fertile couples with problems related to transmissible genetic pathologies, step by step, MAP is being extended to all without any limit, using the rhetoric of non- discrimination, and of course allowing everybody to access it: the techno- scientific system presents itself as the spokesperson for equality.
“The ‘right to have a child’ for people with organic sterility or due to chemical and industrial poisoning of the environment, for single women or same-sex couples is used today as a pretext for generalising artificial reproduction, and is put to the service of plans and processes of eugenicist and transhumanist scientists, becoming the new norm”.
There is a mother who rents the uterus, a genetic mother who sells eggs and a client mother: the boundaries of the concept of mother are being expanded to make it indefinable and therefore completely meaningless. If all can be mothers, none is anymore.
With the “intentional mother”, the “intentional parents”, the “parental plan” and the “declaration of intent” the human being does not have a provenance, they are reduced to the eugenic assembly of egg and sperm for a narcissistic and selfish desire for a child at all costs of a consumer who in some countries can already manufacture it on demand according to his tastes, program it by choosing certain characteristics.
The Left, and a large part of the LGBT*QIAAP movement, have adopted the values of the bio-market where everything, including the body, is a commodity, and they support rent-a-womb and MAP with the rhetoric of freedom and self- determination. However, artificial reproduction of the human is not really equality for minorities. What it actually is, is the submission of everybody to the techno-scientific system, and “MAP for all” is not a slogan of emancipation, it is the future to which we may be condemned. Reproductive freedom cannot come to us through laboratory rooms. Like every living being which comes out of those rooms engineered and redesigned, what would come out would be something else. We are born, not fabricated, and we are born from women.
MAP: the road of transhumanism
Artificial reproduction is based on breaking down and fragmenting the reproductive process. This fragmentation implies taking an ovum from one woman and implanting it into another, as if it were something interchangeable, and putting into the hands of technicians a part of the reproductive process, which no longer happens inside the body of the woman, but in a microscope slide and a test tube. The moment of fertilisation becomes a technical operations in a laboratory, and “reproduction becomes production of the living, with all the instrumentalisation that this implies” In the logic of artificial reproduction, man and woman are reduced to mere suppliers of gametes, which can be selected, manipulated, replaced. Just as the man and woman can be replaced, and hence eliminated, if we think of the quest for artificial wombs. The embryo becomes a “product”, and a “product” can be submitted to every kind of experimentation, and must be free of any defect, the best possible. MAP represents the Trojan horse of transhumanism, because it opens up the path to the possibility of artificial reproduction, for everybody, and the logical consequence of this will be the constant improvement of the “product”.
Transhumanist projects start out from research centres on animal cloning, with the aim of replacing natural evolution with artificial evolution. In the age of technical reproducibility of the human being, humans become a commodity right from birth, a product of the corporation of life and of genetic engineering, just a eugenic assembly and genetic code, to be modified and redesigned. We do not yet have genetically modified children, but in China, the threshold of babies being edited has been passed, and there is no turning back from such a threshold.
In the meantime, the idea is being spread that it is preferable to hand procreation over to technicians and technology, that the future daughter should have a genetic legacy better than the one her own gametes can provide her with.
As far back as 2016, when a group of Swedish researchers of the Karolinska Institute of Stockholm had modified the genome of healthy human embryos, sectors of the research announced that the purpose of editing will be “preventing a specific genetic illness from being hereditary. At a later time, one may also go further. […] There is no reason of principle to reject this. The technique of genome editing is not immoral in itself, actually it has the potential for becoming an alternative strategy available to parents to achieve a wider range of objectives”. A fundamental step in this direction was the declaration, in 2018, by the British Bioethics Committee, where it stated that “The use of heritable genome editing interventions would only be ethically acceptable”.
The message is clear: there is no valid ethical reason to rule out, in a not too distant future, the hypothesis that the genetic code of the human being may be modified. The way to this too is obvious: free rein to research, the green light form the various bioethics and safety commit- tees and bodies, legislation on this and application to man. The step to the human being was clear from the outside, right from when they were torturing Dolly [DNA cloned Sheep].
Experimental zootechnical laboratory With the new CRISPR/CAS 9 genetic engineering technology, genome correction – genome editing – has become possible. This technology was developed to modify vegetables, domestic and laboratory animals, for gene therapies, with special attention to the potential use in modifying the human germ line.
It is no coincidence that the researcher who in France brought about the birth of the first test-tube baby had worked before in zootechics, to increase milk production by cows. The history of zootechnics should teach us something. Techniques of artificial insemination, hormone manipulation of the ovulation cycle, embryo technique, cryopreservation of embryos and spermatozoa were developed to make animals functional in terms of raising and experimentation, ensuring they had certain features. Eugenics technologies then continued the process of turning animals into tools of production, into products, into test models: the animal body became an interchangeable model of species. Zootechnics, “a true applied science, aimed at adapting ‘income-producing’ animals to the modern mass production system”, has become an immense experimental laboratory, and the most important acquisitions in transgenesis and cloning come from there.
Propaganda for genome editing has already begun
Since one can already select an embryo thanks to better screening, and choose other features such as sex or eye colour, if it were possible to engineer it and add genes to “improve” it, why not do so? And why not allow everybody access to this?
It would be discriminatory if only carriers of genetic pathologies were allowed to choose or even genetically modify the embryo! From MAP for everybody, the cry would come for editing for everybody! For equality between the health and the ill, between homosexuals and hetero-sexuals, between men and women! And with the blackmail of discrimination, anyone criticising – along with rent-a-womb and MAP – the genetic modification of embryos would be accused of being a reactionary. What criteria will be used to establish which illness, or alleged illness, falls within the cases laid down for genetic editing? How wide would the medicalising spectrum become, which sees moods or mere disorders as if they were illnesses to be subjected to pharmaceutical and genetic attention?
The starting point will be serious pathologies, but if these technologies permit something more, will they really remain limited to these? The propaganda with its rhetoric of discrimination and equality will open the gates to engineering for everybody. Touching the topic of genetics with intrusion into the germ line, where will the line between therapeutic genetics and “improvement” be drawn? At first, the line will be the financial condition: “improvements” will go to those who can afford them, but this will not lead to biological class struggle – these technologies will quickly become available. The question will no longer be the difference between therapy and improvement of the human genome, because improvement will be a given.
If an increasing number of people recur to MAP, and then later to genome editing, it will be hard, if not impossible, to refuse it: social pressure will be too powerful.
Social consensus and acceptance are essential for all the developments of techno-sciences to move forward. Consensus is always built around promises, desires, fears, risks for health and safety. This propaganda has already begun: the transhumanist researcher Giuseppe Testa, in a lecture on genome editing, describes the greatest study on the architecture of human intelligence, where 78,000 individuals were compared to each other and where, according to researchers, some thirty to forty genes, according to their variety, might contribute to intelligence:
“Are they saying that those who have them will be cleverer? No, but they might add an extra touch. We do so many things, and we have our children do so many things without being certain of what we are doing, it is a chance, they are options on the playing table, shall we play this card too? Maybe you can change all forty of those variants spending five thousand more euros, does that ensure you the child will be more intelligent? No, but even sending the kid to an elite school will not do so, and if you are rich, maybe you can do both”.
A change is taking place, so profound that it has the features of a meta- morphosis. Metamorphosis is something profoundly different from change. During a change, some things change but others can stay the same, whereas metamorphosis is a total and radical transformation which affects everything that makes up the human being and everything living. This metamorphosis, once complete,will be irreversible.
What is happening is an anthropological metamorphosis of the human being. In the machine world which is being built, the individual will be increasingly adapted – a machine- human for a machine-world. The techno-scientific system needs a man who is as adaptable and malleable as possible: this is why its aim is to destroy identity, values, points of reference, memories of the past, solid ties among communities and families ties. A neutral individual for a new anthropological model, an individual without identity, memory, values, solidarity bonds between communities and family solidarity bonds, is an empty, fragile individual, with no outlook, no past and no future, only an eternal present, who can easily be filled with desires and needs perfectly aligned with the bio- market and transhumanism.
A never-ending quest for self- perfection, for new performance of any kind, which can never run out or end: new needs will be ceaselessly created and products or processes to respond to them will always be made available. When the body itself becomes a commodity, everything changes, because the fetish of chosen freedom turns into being chosen, everything starts with the individual who can bask his new cage of exploitation and self-exploitation. The logic of performance is not based on duty and imposition, but on self-constraint, which works better than constraint from the outside, and on the power of the individual who becomes his own entrepreneur.
The body itself, in its material reality, becomes fluid, undifferentiated, protean, porous, limitless, malleable and infinitely manipulatable. Freeing oneself from one’s body is the apotheosis of transhumanism.
Let us, instead, clearly preserve the line separating the organic from the inorganic, electronic circuits from nervous systems, life from death, nature from artifice. Life cannot be fabricated, Craig Venter’s synthetic bacteria were not fabricated out of nothing. The living is born, escapes, throbs, slips, moves, and will never be entirely controllable. The living, and hence bodies, the body, represents the obstacle to the absolute dominion by technique. Let us start from the unavailability of bodies and of the living.
The time to fight is now
When the irreversible disasters of the children of editing will manifest themselves, will we be able to recognise them for what they represent? There will not only be tragedies tied to the health of individuals, but true disasters which will strike society as a whole, because they will transform the world around us.
When people will grant the techno-scientific system not only the management of their health, but total management of every area of their lives, of their body and of procreation, it will be hard to make a critique which will not be considered mad, because we will be finding ourselves fighting what is perceived and lived as the normal. From the moment when techno-scientific development becomes possible, a practice becomes acceptable simply because it is feasible: what was unthinkable and unacceptable before gradually becomes normal.
The techno-scientific paradigm calls for the possibility of replacing or artificially rebuilding the raw material which the system takes from our bodies, from the bodies of other animals and from whole natural ecosystems which it needs all the time. An artificialisation to deal with the limitedness and destruction of the living.
However, the synthetic era does not only imply radical redesigning of the world around us, it also means a dramatic redesigning of ourselves. The human being is the ultimate aim of the cybernetic and transhumanist project. The commodified human becomes the human commodity. The human being in the age of its technical reproducibility is born as a commodity already produced by the life and genetic engineering industry. No longer commodifiable, because a commodity itself right from birth. To develop an opposition, we need first of all to recognise a commodity; but how to do so, how to recognise a technical invasion of bodies, a genetic manipula- tion, when these already inform life from its very first moments? A new norm which will make normal what is farthest from life, from its indeterminations, limits, unexpected. If we are to be born in a machine world, if nature will become artificialised and engineered, the necessary bases even to under- stand the possibility of another world will be lost.
The transhumanist Bostrom says: “Among the most important potential developments are ones that would enable us to alter our biology directly through technological means. Such interventions could affect us more profoundly than modification of beliefs, habits, culture, and education”.
If we want our actions to affect the present, we need to identify priorities, feeling deep inside the urgency to act. But in order to act, we need to have a careful and clear understanding of reality around us. We need to understand the transformations taking place around us, to get a glimpse of the directions where power is heading even before they are totally fulfilled. We need to ask where these directions are concentrating and what they are aiming at. An analysis of the present with an eye on a future which is coming closer and closer are essential if we want to understand the path we need to take. If we do not face the system now, on its own terrain, we will soon be suddenly awoken, as we face the harsh reality of a future, which we thought far away, but has actually turned into being the present. Now is the time we must start fighting these processes.
Resistenze al nanomondo March 2020
1. Nuffield Council on Bioethics, in the document Genome editing and human reproduction: social and ethical issues, http://nuffieldbioethics.org/wp- content/uploads/Genome-editing-and- human-reproduction-short-guide- website.pdf
2. In 2007, the British authority for ART authorised recourse to PGD to avoid the birth of a cross-eyed child.
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