Saturday, March 12, 2011

Bioethics: Science as Critique of Society

Specter of Armaggedon - smog at sunset

Can man lead a life that allows him to see and appreciate the true beauty of living?

Dr Abe V Rotor
School on Blog

First, I wish to point out three keywords from the title and theme of this article - society, critique, and science – in this order.

Human society today is a global village. We expect the boundaries – scientific, cultural, language, political, and the like - to continue to dissolve towards a homogenous pool even at a faster rate with the rapid development of transportation, communication, trade and technology. This is the society that is the focus in this article.

The other keyword is critique. To critique is to relate things with standards. Here the question is, “How prepared are we in facing the consequences of development? What and how much shall we give up in becoming a “citizen of the world?” What can we do, other than what we think and believe? Let us consider these parameters.

o Family solidarity
o Values and Tradition
o Peace and Unity
o Environmental Preservation
o Integrity of the Human Species

The third keyword is science. We talk of a kind of science today that was futuristic yesterday. We progressed through leaps and bounds with science and technology, but “Quo vadis?” This is the essence of science critiquing society.

Here are scenarios no one is spared to see and think about seriously in a fast changing world we live in.

o Genetic diversity is shrinking. This is not only true to plants and animals; it is also true to humans.

o West-meets-East, now on its third episode or “marriage” is creating a homogenous human genetic pool. What is the consequence of this biologically and socially? Having more genes shared could mean better understanding and cooperation among the members of the species, according to sociobiology (E.O Wilson). Sharing of genes could be the key to world peace. Is communication carried out at the gene level? What helped in the dissolution of colonial rule as in the merging of warring tribes, was apparently in part, if this is the case, a natural blood compact.

o Biologically, with the human genome project (mapping of the 46 chromosomes and their component genes), and through genetic engineering, we have broken the code of heredity (the DNA). This means we can now look into what kind of stuff is the human being made of. Pretty soon we will be carrying a diskette in our pocket that tells us of our intelligence (for job placement), of our well-being (for the doctor and insurance), even of our potentials and dispositions, including addiction, fidelity, and the like. Virtual loss of privacy is coming of age.

West-meets-East intensifies and the scenarios of our society, apparently simple as they seem, are actually complex and the consequences are many and far-reaching.

o Mixed blood, a result of multi-lateral and accelerating intermarriages (human hybridization), is dissolving the racial lines, so with political, cultural and apartheid boundaries. To illustrate this many entertainment idols of Asia are mixed bloods, and the movies the play are East-West hybrids. Does this strike us in the malls, advertisement boards, hotels?

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The most effective factor of homogenization of races eversince prehistoric times is human migration. - Dr. AS Cabigan
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Human Society and Mankind: An Auto-Evolution


Given this premise, as a teacher and father, I seek for answers to many questions raised about the future of our society, and that of mankind. The essence of critiquing through introspection other than historical and empirical basis is to be challenged, particularly in the academe. Will the trend of homogenization necessarily follow in the field of politics and government, religion, education, humanities, science and technology, culture, trade and industry?

Progress and developments are indeed useful in enriching scenarios of this topic. They provide the rationale and background of very serious issues. To critique however, is not only difficult; it carries a responsibility, particularly because we critique at something which directly involves us in one way or the other as respectable members of society. To what extent are we knowledgeable about these global issues?

o Gains – Progress through science
o Science and Technology for Poverty Alleviation
o Millennium Development Goals
o Need of Partnership

But these do not tell us of the looming modern Frankenstein of science and technology - Frankenstein disguised in progress and fraternity. The presentation of facts and events may not necessarily enlighten us on many issues. Let us look at science-and-technology-at-large.

o Frankenfood, genetically engineered plants and animals we call GMO (Genetically Modified Organisms) has reached our table. All may be quiet on the Western Front, so to speak, but even among the progenitors of this technology are cautioning us of its revolutionary nature and the unknown consequences of tinkering with the genes. Yet GMOs continue to invade the market and homes of both rich and poor nations. We have allowed local production of Bt Corn and the development of Golden Rice, while more and more countries are closing their doors to genetic engineering.

o Through Genetic Engineering man is creating new forms of life, and soon new species of organisms, God forbids. Today there are 80 man-made amino acids. There are only 20 natural amino acids that are the building blocks of protein, and that of life. These 20 units have been more than enough in making highly complex and diversified life forms in the geologic and evolutionary past and today. (We have identified so far a measly 10 percent of all living organisms to date.) Imagine how chaotic could be the result of 80 amino acids in virtually endless combinations! And all these are done on the Seventh Day.

o Now we have Human Cloning, following the success with Dolly, the sheep. (Dolly, the first cloned animal, died of pre-mature aging.) It seems that a cloned human will live only biologically. And like Dolly, there will be only three stages of his life – birth-growth-senility – all packed in so short a chronological period. I am sure no human being would like to be cloned because his clone or clones will never have the joys of childhood, discovery in adolescence, adventure in youth, responsibility in maturity, and fulfillment in age? He will have only a body – and in spite how perfectly it may be made – it will not possess a soul. He will be a monster, never a human.

o Loss of natural relationships like the monster in Frankenstein novel. He wanted a wife, a family, friends. He wanted acceptance. He wanted to belong to society. But the doctor-creator failed him. In short he failed in creating Love. And without love the monster turned his back on him and ultimately man. In a cloned society who is father, mother, sister, cousin, etc? And where is that love Frankenstein failed to give?

Environment – Today’s Revolution

I think environmental awareness should be emphasized at home, school, and community, with government and private sector, with young and old alike. Population, agriculture, economics, industry – science and technology, for that matter, are interlinked with environment. Population-food-environment is one controversial issue today. The frontiers of these three areas are looked upon differently, depending on who is talking. But the issue must be taken holistically.

o To illustrate, I mentioned tragedy of the commons, citing overfishing the oceans, an activity man still retains his nomadic-hunter culture. Another example is communal pasture. A herdsman added “one more head” to his herd for economic advantage (return on investment). Another herdsman did the same, and another. Now whole herds are added! The land suffers of overgrazing, soil erosion and nutrient depletion, and ultimately the community plunges into poverty.

o Here science and technology comes to the fore revitalizing the carrying capacity of the pasture. But increased production triggers increase in human population. There is, and must be, a limit to growth, because it is nature that ultimately subsidizes man’s growing needs. And contrary to what many people believe, the resources of the earth in general are finite, mostly non-renewable and are therefore, subject to depletion.

o The rate of doubling of the world's population, now nearly seven billion, is alarming. Every year we need a space as large as the whole of Great Britain to accommodate this yearly addition.

What I am presenting as a question is, for what purpose should man live on the racetrack? Do we have to and why? What is this race we seem to be locked up at always racing? Can man return to a life that allows him to see and appreciate the true beauty of living?

Where is the soul of science? If we cannot find it, can we give it one? Then we must look deep into the good nature of man – as sapiens, faber and jugens, above all, spiritus or God-fearing.

If we can do this, I believe it is man and his society that should be the critique of science. ~

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“The ultimate test of any civilization is not in its inventions and deed, but the endurance of Mother Nature in keeping up with man’s number and his ever increasing needs.” –AVR, Light from the Old Arch
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ad Veritatem
, UST journal of Graduate Research

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