Long-termism

The thud of the Byline Times on the doormat marks the passing of another month. Can it really be over four weeks since the last one arrived? It is one of the few newspapers that I read as I get most of my journalism online yet it is still comforting to be able to sit down and read a proper paper.

The reason for me mentioning it is an article that caught my attention on long-termism, a movement that purports to ensure the future of humanity through a process of planned genetic manipulation. The thinking is that through some form of selection, humanity can be developed into a super race of hyper-intelligent beings that can master the whole of the universe. You’ll not be surprised to hear that many of today’s super rich are behind the idea. After all, they believe themselves to be super-intelligent and saviours of mankind.

Have we not heard this before nearly a century ago? Do we never learn and is humanity destined to repeat the mistakes of history? This is eugenics by any other name and we should be very concerned, primarily because those with so much money can do what they like with it and this brings them huge influence. 

The genetic manipulation of humans is very dangerous as it assumes that there are characteristics that give people value and those that make them a burden. If we could only breed out people’s defects then the world would be such a better place. Who is to say what human characteristics are of value and which are not? 

It is not like breeding horses for racing or cattle for food. Here it is easy to identify what the selection process is aiming for, speed and meat. Selective breeding allows for the selection of such traits while those less successful are discarded and removed from the reproductive cycle. Who will decide which humans are to be discarded and which are to be prevented from reproduction? How will they ensure this will happen? Are they planning some sort of enforced castration? 

The biggest issue however is the complexity of the human genome. It has evolved over millions of years to survive multiple threats to our existence. It contains information about events that have happened way in our past which we are totally unaware of and yet may happen again. Nobody can define the future threats to us as a species – just look at COVID.

The human genome contains enormous diversity to enable us to cope with the enormous diversity in our lives. There is no such thing as bad genes and good, like all things in life they depend upon circumstances. Even those genetic traits that we consider bad, such as some incurable diseases, have survived the test of evolution for some reason which we are not aware of.

This is the stuff of nightmares. Rather than being the saving of mankind it may well lead to our ultimate demise. Playing God and being God are not the same thing.

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