Genetic Engineering (I)

(Originally written in 2003)

Dachau Crematorium: Genocide is Genetic Engineering

Though much attention gets focused on the work of genetic scientists and their potential impact on the human gene pool, in fact modern geneticists are not the inventors of “genetic engineering.” Ever since humans began making choices regarding mates and mating, the value of various human lives, and warfare, policy makers have been engaged in a process of genetic engineering not based in modern science but in ideologies, nationalism, and economic self interest. The question is not only should policy makers oversee genetic science and technologies, but how can all humans use the knowledge of the genetic sciences to understand, be aware of and influence the decisions of humanity’s leadership. Humans as a species have conscious self awareness, only now are we becoming consciously aware of the power of this knowledge.

Becoming Aware of the Impact of Human Consciousness

Scientists involved in various forms of genetic research and technology have become the focus of attention in the debates regarding their potential effect on the human gene pool. The reality of life however is that current geneticists are not the originators of efforts to manipulate the human gene pool. These scientists have merely helped focus our attention on the effects of human conscious choice on the gene pool. Policy makers worried that such genetic scientists need to controlled have in fact dangerously narrowed the perspective required to understand the issues involved. It is not science alone that has, is, or can change genetics, nature and humanity. Politicians, ideologues, industrialists, doctors, and military leaders have been shaping these same issues for all of human history. Geneticists by helping us understand how genetics work and by mapping the human genome have helped reveal how the genome is also a written history of the effects humans have made through time.

Humans emerged as beings with conscious self awareness. Individuals and decision makers throughout history used this consciousness to make a wide variety of policy choices. These decisions have impacted and been recorded in the human gene pool. That is the story of humanity. Intentionally influencing genetics is not the invention of science. What is new to us recently is our becoming aware of the meaning, implications and the power of this consciousness. This is what genetic science is helping us to understand. The mapping of the genome helps reveal to us how human choices enter into our hereditary nature and are recorded within each person’s genome. The policies we adopt and employ thus do have an impact on all of human history.

Humanity now becomes cognizant of how human policy decisions in so many realms of life effect humankind and our human hereditary future. The mapping of the human genome is making it possible for us to trace the history of human choices as recorded in our genes. What needs to become clear to policy makers is that these issues are not merely scientific. To understand what is at stake for the human species requires a much broader perspective than focusing on the scientific community. Human activity in the realms of politics, government, the social sciences, ideologies, economics, are all shaping human genetics, natural selection and thus nature itself.

For example issues of genetic control of the human race, predate the modern world. For at the very moment that humans began making conscious choices based in self awareness (rather than purely instinctual behavior), humans began affecting and changing the genetic makeup of humankind. This certainly predates any awareness of what was being accomplished. Humans began choosing mates for particular reasons (strength, looks, wisdom, family blood lines), rather than instinctively copulating. Tribes, villages, or nations adopted rules about who could marry whom, again forming the basis of “genetic engineering.” The same is true when tribes and hordes and nations went to war. Modern genocide is in fact a form of genetic engineering not being engaged by scientists (though as in Nazi death camps science intentionally aided the process), but in fact an engineering condoned by politicians, ideologues, armies.

As another example of how the human gene pool is altered by human decisions we can consider medical science with its many advancements in prolonging human life, in helping diseased and genetically mal-adapted people to live not only productive lives, but reproductive ones. The human desire to relieve suffering from poverty, famine, disease, and to lengthen life has in fact been another form of “genetic engineering” undoing natural selection’s tendency toward the survival of the fittest, perpetuating gene problems into future generations.

In addition, reproductive technologies of all kinds in as much as they help infertile couples have children, or help children (including premature) come to term, are in fact changing the gene pool. No longer is human reproduction guided merely by the creative chance of natural selection, for now humans are introducing into nature a conscious creative element for procreation. This can keep in the gene pool genetic forms of infertility as well as perpetuating previously inviable genes or gene combinations. We have thus by human intelligent design already altered the human gene pool and contributed an intelligent, conscious and intentional factor into human evolution and genetic makeup. Chance alone is not the sole factor now shaping human evolution.

Next:  Genetic Engineering (II)

(see also my blog series DNA: The Secret of Life)

Freedom as Fatelessness

FatelessnessI previously commented on Nobel Prizewinner Imre Kertesz’s novel FATELESSNESS in my blog The Holocaust: Not Hell but Human and in my blog Descent into Hell.  The story’s hero is the 14 year old Hungarian Jew Georg Koves and consigned to the Nazi concentration camps where he does survive, minute by minute, never trying to understand the totality of what was happening to himself or others, but always forcing each event into something which still resembled humanity and sanity.    He could not explain it as it was so totally irrational, but he did want to continue living even in the concentration camp.  His embrace of life over death made him see the concentration camp as beautiful, neither hell nor non-existence, but very human, and though horrible still a place to be alive. 

When his elder uncles persist in telling Georg to accept what had occurred as some accident of fate, to forget the horrors as if they had never occurred in order to move on in life,  Georg defies their advice and says his and anyone’s effort to survive was worth remembering and exactly that which not only denies but triumphs over fate.   The freedom to live is far too valuable to disregard or forget.   One  uncle (they were not put into a concentration camp) continues to protest  that in the face of Nazis one could not resist fate:

“But what could we do?” he asked, his face part irate, part affronted.  “Nothing, naturally,” I said, “or rather, anything,” I added, “which would have been just as senseless as doing nothing, yet again and just as naturally.”

For Georg, it was the willingness to take the next step, and then the next – the willingness to carry on which was essential.  It didn’t matter what you did, nothing could change the senselessness of what was occurring.  But it mattered that you bothered to take the next step and continue despite the apparent meaninglessness of what others or you did.  Doing the next thing was in fact choosing freedom over fate, choosing freedom as fatelessness.

On the very day when liberation was announced in the concentration camp, Georg continued to deal with things in the same way which allowed him to survive the horrors – one moment and one event at a time.   As the loud speaker was proclaiming freedom  in all the different languages of the camp George knows it is the same hour when the camp rationed soup was usually doled out.   Georg’s caution continued as he heard the announcement in his native Hungarian:  “However hard I listened, though, all I heard of from him, as from everyone before, was about freedom, but not a single word about or in reference to the missing soup.”  Survival has its own instinctive priorities.

Though Georg is told to forget what happened as soon as he can, he challenges and questions this.  Why should he forget – unless it was all just fate and so meaningless, but if it is meaningless then the suffering is unbearable.  But if freedom exists and things aren’t governed by a mindless fate, then it means everything happens with a meaning and an importance and one can mine the meaning and importance out of the most horrible of conditions.  One is not forced to work-freesee only the “atrocities”  but one can see how people willed to survive against all odds.  This was beautiful.  This zeal for life was chosen – it was not fate, but the freedom of humans to will to survive and to triumph over fate.

“Everyone asks only about the hardships and the ‘atrocities,’ whereas for me perhaps it is that experience which will remain most memorable.  Yes, the next time I am asked, I ought to speak about that, the happiness in the concentration camps.”

So he will not accept the advice to forget, to act as it never happened, to deny what happened.  But neither is he forced to accept it as meaningless and fateful evil, he has the freedom to remember the horrors and discover the meaning and he has the freedom to remember the good in it too – nothing needs be forgotten as if it had never happened, no lie needs to be told to make it more palatable or comprehensible.

“…I now needed to start doing something with that fate, needed to connect it to somewhere or something; after all, I could no longer be satisfied with the notion that it had all been a mistake, blind fortune, some kind of blunder, let alone that had not even happened.    ….   if there is such a thing as freedom, then there is no fate… that is to say, then we ourselves are fate.” 

Descent into Hell

FatelessnessI began reading Imre Kertesz’s   FATELESSNESS – it is a story told from the viewpoint of a 14 year old Hungarian Jewish boy, Georg Koves, who is sent to Auschwitz about 1944.   I found the book after visiting the Washington, D.C. Holocaust Museum a couple of years ago.  I have myself visited only one of the Nazi Death Camps – the one at Dachau (see my blog  Jesus Christ the Conqueror of Death).   I found the Holocaust Museum every bit as emotionally gut wrenching as I found Dachau.  What humans are willing to inflict on other humans is unconscionable and yet it is consciously and deliberately done. 

I am neither a great TV or movie watcher – one reason you rarely see me comment on TV on this blog.  I find human torture and suffering to be repugnant and yet our society has an insatiable desire to be entertained by it – the more violence and torture in a movie the more people flock to them voyeurishly  hoping to see some form of excruciating cruelty they previously could not imagine.   For my part I just don’t put the TV on all that often, and I am much happier for it.   I will also admit that I found our country’s willingness to use torture on our enemies to be barbaric and immoral.  Whatever “intelligence” we may have gained by torture, we proved we had already lost our intelligence through our willingness to torture.   Allowing ourselves to become inhuman (no matter how justified we think it is to do so) ever lowers the bar of our own humanity.  We lose as a society and we become increasingly accepting of lower forms of barbarism and indecency as shown by the media entertainment we purchase.

Kertesz was himself imprisoned in Buchenwald as a youth.  He writes his novel in a fascinating style of looking through the eyes of a young man who believes the world is to make sense, and he tries to find the sense and sensibility of whatever horrors he encounters. 

He arrives at Auschwitz in the same frame of mind – thinking he has now arrived at the work camp where he does expect to be given a job.  He is frightened by the “convicts” in their prison garments who unload them from the cattle car – the prisoners who work as guards.  He assumes the barbed wire and armed soldiers are there to guard the “convicts” and keep people like himself safe.  He wonders what crimes these convicts must have committed but has no sense that they are guilty of the same thing for which he has been sent to Auschwitz – being Jewish. 

Kertesz has Georg seeing the unimaginable but saying to himself, “which was understandable, of course, if I thought about it.”  Always trying not just to make sense of what he sees, but even to impose a moral goodness on it because it DachauIcon2was after all such an ordered world – this world of no God, no boundaries, no morality, no humanity.

“Everything was in motion, everything functioning, everyone in their place and doing what they had to do, precisely, cheerfully, in a well-oiled fashion.  I saw smiles on many of the faces, timid or more self confident, some with no doubts and some already with an inkling of the outcome in advance, yet still essentially all uniform, roughly the same as the one I has sensed in myself just before. … It was all very clean, tidy, and pretty—truly…”

In the world of a Nazi death camp – a world gone insane, a world in which the expulsion of God made everything permissible – there was total Teutonic order, precision, perfection.     All is tidy, orderly, clean.   Order masking the chaos of the abyss into which Georg and his companions were being forced to descend as their humanity was stripped from they; and into which their tormentors willfully abandoned their own humanity to enter.

Next blog:  The Holocaust: Not Hell, but Human

Will the meek inherit the earth? Do they want it?

Peter Weiss wrote a play entitled,  THE INVESTIGATION,  which is described on the book cover as “a dramatic re-construction of the Frankfurt War Crimes trials, based on the actual evidence given.”    Weiss took the evidence given at the trials for those running the Auschwtiz Nazi death camp and formed it into a play where the characters  – judges, witnesses and defendants- are reciting verbatim things he extracted from the documents.  

I could not help but be struck by the stunning contrast between what Christ said in the Sermon on the Mount  (Matthew 5:3-5):

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven  

Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted  

Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth

And what Female Witness Number 5 said about who did not survive the horrors of Auschwitz:

The unfit

The dull spirited

The gentle

The bewildered and the impractical

The grief stricken and the self-pitiful

Were crushed underfoot