Sources and Resources for "Our Biopolitical Future"

The Center for Genetics and Society has prepared a webpage with extensive background information on the issues discussed in the March-April 2007 World Watch cover story Our Biopolitical Future.

The July/August 2002 issue of World Watch was a special issue on the risks of human genetic modifications, with essays by Brian Halweil, Bill McKibben, Vandana Shiva, Richard Hayes, and others.

The best single introduction to the challenges raised by the new human biotechnologies is Human Genetic Engineering, by Pete Shanks (Nation Books).

Organizations with active programs addressing the human biopolitical future, the new biotechnologies, GMO foods and crops, “synthetic biology,” and related topics include:

  • The Center for Food Safety has taken the lead in calling the FDA to task for pre-emptively approving the marketing of meat from cloned animals.

  • The ETC Group has released several important reports, addressing the environmental and social risks of:

* Nanotechnology
* Nanomedicine
* Synthetic Biology

  • The Sunshine Project is the lead activist group challenging the use of genetic technologies for military purposes.

  • The Our Bodies, Ourselves collective has been producing and updating the eponymous world’s best selling womens’ health book since 1969. It offers a strongly critical assessment of the likely impact of new genetic technologies on women’s health and wellbeing.

Enough: Staying Human in An Engineered Agenoted authorBill McKibben addresses some of the deepest issues raised by the new human genetic technologies.

Our Posthuman FuturePolitical theorist Francis Fukuyama argues that genetic technologies should be use to address legitimate medical needs, but should not be used in ways that would undermine our common humanity.

Sequence This first novel by noted bioethics and law expert Lori Andrews is a fast-paced “geno-thriller.”

Living with the Genie - Fifteen thoughtful essays on science, technology and society selected by Alan Lightman, Daniel Sarewitz, and Chris Desser from experts who presented at the four-day conference of the same name, held at Columbia University in 2003.

Better than WellBioethicist Carl Elliott argues that the obsession with “enhancing” ourselves by artificial means will likely have problematic social consequences.

For perspectives from environmentalists and other civil society leaders in Europe, Asia, Africa, Latin America and other regions of the world, see the webpage of Within and Beyond the Limits of Human Nature, a conference held in Berlin, Germany in 2003.

For the perspective of feminists, women of color, women’s health leaders, and others, see the website of the conference Gender & Justice in the Gene Age, held in New York in 2004.

It’s highly instructive to take a look at scenario exercises prepared by the biotechnology industry and those sympathetic to them and the scientists involved. Most of these scenarios portray critics of genetic modification as either irrational, uniformed, or naïve:

  • Joel Garreau’s 2005 book Radical Evolution presents three scenarios, named “Heaven,” “Hell” and “Prevail.” All three present a world in which massive human genetic modification is more or less inevitable.
  • In their 2000 report Biotechnology Scenarios 2000-2050, the World Business Council for Sustainable Development also presents three scenarios: “Domino Effect,” “Hare and the Tortise,” and “Biotrust.”

  • In their 2006 report BioVisions 2015, the Siemens Corporation presents three scenarios: “Stuck to the Basics,” “Perpetual Motion,” and “Full Steam Ahead.”

It’s also important to appreciate the vision of the “Transhumanists,” who advocate the use of biotechnology, nanotechnology, cognitive technology, and synthetic biology to reconfigure the human species and the rest of the natural world. Two leading organizations are: