Human nature, as I define it, is the set of cognitive and behavioral patterns that are innate in human beings, regardless of culture and specific upbringing. These are patterns passed down to us by evolution. With humans, though, we seem to be unique in our ability for metacognition – thinking about our thinking and our behaviors. Does that give us the ability to change our innate human nature?
Since at least World War 1 the idea of war as being all about glory and heroism has seen massive disillusionment. Most people, I think, would agree that war is not a good thing, even if some think it a necessary thing. But technological arms races, both during war and in peacetime, generate a plethora of technological advances. That raises the question: should futurists and transhumanists welcome war in order to usher in greater and faster technological advances?
Mesh networks figure extensively in my Incarnate series. They’re used by the forty-eights – and others – as a way to run parallel ‘internets’ so as not to be tracked on the original internet. But mesh networks are not all science fiction – they’re actually being used in the real world.
Liberalism, defined here in the classical sense of the enlightenment values of civil liberty and economic freedom, not a narrow left-leaning ideology, holds individual freedom above all else. In the U.S. both the left and right, except on the extremes of both, fall into the classical liberalism philosophy. Ideas that could be considered pre-cursors to liberalism began developing in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth century. But it was the American Revolution and French Revolution that put liberalism into practice. That means the experiment has been running for a little over two hundred years. Can we draw any conclusions from the results?
Automation of low-skill jobs could spell disaster in our future. Right now, the U.S. and western culture in general is faced with a growing racial divide. What if I told you that one problem could be used to fix the other?
I enjoy writing (or, at least, the idea of writing) about a veritable plethora of topics: philosophy, religion, politics, economics, society. However, my education is actually in the sciences – I am a published biochemist. This has made me strive for scientific accuracy, or at least scientific plausibility, in my fiction writing. For science fiction, the CRISPR/Cas9 system of gene editing leads to all sorts of possibilities, some of which I explore in my Incarnate novel series (shameless plug – book 2 coming soon!). In my novel, people use CRISPR/Cas9 to modify their somatic cells in order to give themselves practical biochemical upgrades (ie having one’s fingerprint pattern shift slowly over time so that the person cannot be tracked) to more aesthetic ones (ie giving oneself a series of subdermal bioluminescent vessels that can be lit up at will).
But if one wants to know how to better understand the possibilities and limitations to CRISPR/Cas9 (at least in its current state in August of 2018 – my novel series takes place in the future where some of the practical limitations will hopefully be overcome), it is necessary to understand how it actually works. Here, I am going to lay out in hopefully simple terms (although this may be somewhat technical at times) what CRISPR/Cas9 is, how it works, and what people are currently using it for (or debating whether they ought to use it for these things, anyway). This will not be an exhaustive review of everything CRISPR/Cas9 related, but it will hopefully make it understandable enough for the interested laity to know what it is and for fellow sci-fi writers to use it more effectively in their writing.
Two instances in which so-called cultural appropriation occurring in the film industry have been pointed out recently. The first is the case of Ruby Rose, who was slated to play Kate Kane aka Batwoman in a new series. The character (since her 2006 incarnation) is both Jewish and lesbian; Ruby Rose is not Jewish and identifies as genderfluid. This discrepancy between the actor and the character led to social media backlash that resulted in Ruby Rose quitting Twitter. The second case, which hasn’t received as much attention (at least not in as far as it could be construed as cultural appropriation) is the possibility of Idris Elba being cast as the next James Bond. Richard Spencer posted a Twitter thread saying:
“Let there be no mistake, a Black James Bond would be an act of dispossession far greater than a flotilla of a million refugees. Refugees are, after all, refugees. James Bond is a symbol of British identity—indeed, the British empire—and of European masculinity writ large.”
Both of these cases aren’t exactly the same. They’re different in that the first one is outrage toward the actor not meeting strict intersectional criteria imposed by the audience while the second one is outrage toward the creators for making a creative decision about the character itself (the particular actor Idris Elba is incidental in this case).
However, the logic in both cases is similar: the fictional character and the non-fictional person portraying the character must have exactly the same background and identity.
Let’s say that someone you knew bought a 1968 Shelby Mustang GT500KR back when they first rolled off the assembly line. They loved this car and took very good care of it. Whenever a part began to go bad, it was immediately replaced before anything could damage the car. They kept this car for the past 50 years. Over that time, 90% of the parts in that car were replaced with new parts. They now want to sell the car to you, and they say that it is an original 1968 – are they telling you the truth? Or is it now a completely different car than the one they bought 50 years ago?
This, of course, is a modern re-telling of the Ship of Theseus. The reason I ask is because this applies to more than just objects, but also ideas. Ideas mutate and evolve over time. Some aspects become obsolete, emphases are changed, new thinking is added, and sometimes ideas are rejected completely. Like switching out the different parts in our muscle car, these changes are due to the emergence of new information and technology, along with the growing and shifting social, political, and philosophical milieu.
And when I say “fighting for” something, I don’t necessarily mean physically fighting for it, but also advocating and arguing in favor of, and being willing to align oneself and take a position for, a particular set of beliefs, ideals, and principles.
Christianity, for example, as it is understood nowadays, is very different from its original conception – so, is it still the same thing that the early followers had in mind when they were persecuted for their beliefs? Is Christianity still the same thing that the Medieval people had in mind when they persecuted others in its name?
What about the United States of America? Certainly the country is very different from the one the founders understood – now slavery is abolished, women have equal rights, our government involves itself in the affairs of every other country. So, when someone says they are fighting for America, what does that really mean?
And, more interestingly, will people in the future think what you believe is worth fighting for now had been worth fighting for at all?
What comes immediately to mind is the Confederacy during the American Civil War. They believed they were fighting for something noble and just, and now most people think their cause anywhere between misguided all the way to despicable. But what if the Confederacy had won the American Civil War – would their cause be seen as righteous and just, the way the Union is often portrayed? Which raises the question – will the way the future judges us be based solely on which ideas win out over the others, or will the future be able to judge what we fight for objectively and see an idea, even if it “loses” the fight, as better than one that may have “won” the fight?
It also brings to mind the people fighting during the 30 Years War – many atrocities were committed, thousands killed through warfare, disease, and starvation, ruinous destruction wrought on the people of Europe, and yet nowadays most people don’t even know that this war happened, much less what it was even about. But the people fighting it (or, at least, funding it) thought it worth the catastrophic consequences. Which raises the question – are your ideas worth fighting for is they will simply fall by the wayside in history, forgotten by posterity? What if they only remember what you did for your cause, but not why you did it? How will you be judged?
What about humanities greatest experiment with implementing an idea – Communism in places like China and the Soviet Union? Untold millions suffered and died for this grand experiment, the world being brought to the precipice of thermonuclear annihilation, only to have it all fail. Now that we are in their future, with the Soviet Union in our past, would we deem Stalinist or Maoist Communism to have been worth fighting for? At the time, many people certainly believed in those ideals enough to kill and die for them. Now, it seems, all of that suffering was for nothing.
So how does one know what to fight for now, given that it may be forgotten by posterity, or deemed misguided or even evil? Is it worth killing for a cause that will be judged so harshly by our descendants? Worth dying for? What if the ideas you believe will make the world a better place get put to the test, and it turns out that they make things worse for everyone? And if these questions are paralyzing, what if not fighting for anything is even worse than fighting for the wrong thing?
Is there something worth fighting for?
[Featured image is from Kharkov in the Soviet Union, 1933, during the Holodomor, where estimates of 2 million to 10 million people starved to death due to Communist collectivization policy.]
I think if you ask most people, regardless of their race, religion, sex, gender, orientation, socioeconomic status, nationality, etc. that if they could wave a magic wand and make the world such that everyone had food, clothes, medicine, a loving family, and a sense of well-being at the expense of nobody else, they would do so without a second thought. Why wouldn’t you? Who wouldn’t want to end suffering and create happiness? One of the biggest reasons some people have for doubting their religion is the problem of evil – if there is a benevolent god, then why does suffering exist? Why do bad things happen to otherwise good (or at least, innocent) people?
Well, I’m here to make the case that maybe human suffering makes humanity as a whole better. This isn’t a political or religious statement, nor do I even endorse the idea that suffering is good, but I’d like to propose sort of a thought experiment. So humor me, if you will.
People who suffer offer an artistic perspective we would never have without suffering.
It’s somewhat of a truism that artists are often people who have endured hardship. The experience of hardship is often what gives them material for their art. People who are able to focus their pain into something productive create some of the greatest works of art. Kurt Godel may have suffered from delusions. Michelangelo may have been autistic. Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo produced art based on the struggle of Mexicans (and themselves). The people who created blues and jazz struggled with slavery and racism. Jimi Hendrix, Kurt Cobain, Tupac Shakur, Robin Williams, Mitch Hedberg and the list goes on. The idea being, if these people didn’t suffer, would they have created the diversity, novelty, and quality of art that they had? If everyone in the world grew up with all of their needs fulfilled, a loving family, and an accepting society, would they have made the impact that they had? Is it necessary for people to suffer in order to gain some insight or ability to create amazing art? Or could someone have done this without having the experiences they did?
Helping those who suffer makes people with the means to help better humans.
One of the tenets of many religions is helping the poor. The bible says “But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you.” One of the Five Pillars of Islam is “Giving Zakat” which is giving to the poor. Many other religious have ideas like this. These are considered not only moral acts, but virtuous acts. Doing this makes you a good person and can earn you a place in God’s grace. But what happens if there is no poor to help? What happens if nobody is wanting and everybody is equal? Is there any theology that tackles the idea of the end of suffering? What happens when there is something akin to heaven on earth? How will the meek inherit the earth if there is no more meek? Is it good to have the less fortunate around so that the more fortunate can become moral by helping them?
“The poor don’t know that their function in life is to exercise our generosity.” -Jean-Paul Sartre
Combating suffering brings us great technological advances.
The mother of invention is necessity. Many of our modern technologies have come about because someone realized there was a problem, and then invented a solution. Scientific advances are often made in attempts to solve a problem – an enormous majority of biochemistry and cell biology research is funded by grants awarded to cancer research. How many advances might we have made if cancer wasn’t a problem that needed fixing? How much would we understand about bacteria if we didn’t have the problem of antibiotic resistance and vaccinations? How much would we know about the brain if there weren’t such thing as mental illness? And maybe mental illness even creates scientific, mathematical, and engineering insights we wouldn’t have otherwise? How much technology has been produced by places like DARPA in order to keep a wartime advantage? Would NASA have come about if it wasn’t for the Cold War?
These questions can be strange to ask, but it’s difficult to deny that much of the art, science, technology, and even morality that we enjoy and take pride in has been a result of suffering of one kind or another. Would it be worth it to eradicate all suffering if it were to reduce artistic output, slow progress, and take away something meaningful from many people?