"Folks, it's time to evolve. That's why we're troubled. You know, why our institutions are failing us, the church, the state, everything's failing? It's because, um - they're no longer relevant. We're supposed to keep evolving. Evolution did not end with us growing opposable thumbs. You do know that, right? There's another 90 percent of our brains we have to illuminate."
Change is an immutable truth, death doubly so. Despite all this we tend to rally against both as though our cries of contempt would actually slow them to a point in which they would make sense. I tend to enjoy this moment very much, watching my fellow humans rally against progress of which they have no control. Such exercises in futility tend to bring us closer to our true selves if we can realize the futility of concepts like control. It is this idea that led me to the concept of human enhancement and all that it implies.
The first question that must be asked, when talking about human enhancement, is very simply: "What is it?"
The answer to that question, as is so frequently the case, is not simple. In fact, it is rather nebulous and complex. In order to define what human enhancement is, we must first define what it is not.
Human enhancement is not about achieving normalcy. That is, a person who uses a prosthetic limb can not be considered enhanced unless that prosthetic gives him/her a distinct gain in function over a generic human being.
Take the "Blade Runner" for example (go ahead, open up a tab and find the Olympic runner who uses prosthetic limbs to compete). The argument was made that this man's prosthetic limbs gave him a distinct advantage over his competitors, though his times never reflected that. What they do reflect is a man driven to accept his difference and make the most of it, which he has done in spades. Do yourself a favor and watch that man run, it truly is a beautiful harmony of human ingenuity and courage.
Therapy vs. Enhancement
The "Blade Runner" offers one very clear example of a therapy as opposed to an enhancement. If he were to have been given prosthetic limbs that actually propelled him at speeds once untouched by unaided humans, then enhancement would be the name.
Where we really begin to run into a blockade, as far as terms are concerned, is when we begin to talk about preventative therapies. The flu vaccine, has become popular in the last couple of years and the argument has been made that it is a human enhancement in that it provides antibodies that combat a yet to be encountered infection.
I would argue that vaccines, like the flu vaccine, are actually the opposite of human enhancement and have stalled our progress as a species greatly. Our body naturally produces the antibodies needed to fight off disease and we have removed that privilege by introducing synthetic diseases which pale in comparison to the beauty of the real thing. Vaccines, much like our aversion to change, are a direct response to our fear of death, a wholly illogical and irrational fear.
So, we have therapy and enhancement. Let's say, for the sake of continued discussion, that there is a clear distinction between them (therapy being a treatment/addition that brings the body back to a "normal" state and enhancement being a treatment/addition that takes the body beyond "normal"). Even with a clear distinction about what human enhancement is, there are still miles to go before we rest.
While still controversial to some, most have accepted the fact that humans have evolved over the millennia into what we are today. That being said, what we are today is not that much different from what we were a few thousand years ago...in evolutionary terms. This fact begs the question: Is the hunter-gatherer state of evolution that we currently live in suitable for the environment that we inhabit?
No longer is every human being incorporating every facet of their well-being into their daily routine (says the writer who sits in a cubicle for far too long every day). We no longer chase after wild beasts just to eat, we no longer migrate due to weather, and we most certainly do not bath only when the circumstance requires (the advent of the wheel being the first in many moons, I'm sure).
Our constant state of technological advancement has removed the need for many of our evolutionary enhancements but it also presents a need for many more...and this is where the discussion gets interesting.
We are talking about actually attempting to progress the beautiful machine that is the human body. This process is not without risk, for many reasons.
The first being a very basic question: If we feel as though a human trait needs to change, why hasn't evolution made the change already? This question brings up a prior point. Perhaps, because of the time we live in, in our attempt (vaccines, medications, chemical "enhancements" to nutrition, etc) to best those forces outside our control we have thwarted evolution's attempts to progress us along our way. Or, evolution takes an extraordinary amount of time and we are just an impatient bunch of semi-intelligent apes. Either way, the fact that the greatest engineer of all time (evolution) has yet to make a change, is a thought to keep under consideration.
Secondly, perhaps the evolutionary template we currently occupy just isn't enough for us anymore. In all of our ramblings and wonderings on the purpose of life, while we delve deeply into the pit of technological advancement, perhaps we want wings in which to soar out of our daily tedium. Is this wrong? Is it wrong to dream of something more than the skin we occupy?
Third, and not even close to finally, but enough for this discussion, since our technological revolution has stripped away the need for many of our evolutionary traits and created synthetic environments for us to live in, isn't it only natural that we take it upon ourselves to adapt to survive?
Take for example, our ancestors need to bulk up for the winter months with salts and fats. They never had much of an issue with obesity because of their daily lifestyle. We, on the other hand, have taken this evolutionary trait and monetized it right to our waist. With no blood-curling screaming and running for our lives from predators that would make a great white beach himself, we have sadly lost the everyday ability to burn off our evolutionary intake. For this very reason, enhancing our own evolution may be necessary for the survival of our species.
That's all for part one. Next week we shall delve into the inevitable debate...The Enhanced vs. The "Normal"