Life in the Technocosmopolis: genetic engineering as an embodiment of modernity

Resource type
Thesis type
(Dissertation) Ph.D.
Date created
2006
Authors/Contributors
Abstract
An argument is made for the claim that genetic engineering is an embodiment of modernity. Genetic engineering is both a research method and a manufacturing process. It requires social processs that intersect academia, government and industry. Embodiment is the process by which a concrete material form is given to an idea or concept. The intent behind genetic engineering is to alter physical characteristics of organisms to meet specific ends. What is culturally determine d to be useful, efficient, healthy, and profitable is manifested in the bodies of manipulated organisms. Instrumental rationality and reductionism, dominant characteristics of modern science and capitalist economies, are now colonizing tissue cultures after centuries of colonizing human cultures. The modernist assumptions embodied by genetic engineering are described as betrayals, fears and tragedies. The first betrayal is not teaching science historically. Without a historical approach, alternative theories are forgotten, and historically contingent assumptions are conflated with objective reality. The second betrayal is not teaching science from a rhetorical perspective. The belief that scientists use a “literal” and value-free language to describe reality obscures the ubiquitous use of metaphors, personifications and anthropomorphic imagery in scientific discourse. The first fear is of uncertainty. Science and technology, it is assumed, will bring greater control and predictive power over our lives but high risk modern technologies such as genetic engineering have intensified uncertainty and unpredictability and are inherently hazardous. The second fear is of “mob rule.” This fear is based on an assumption that lay people cannot intelligently and rationally engage in decisions regarding the directions that science and society should take. The first tragedy is hubris, the idea that humanity has the capacity and obligation to exercise dominion over nature. This assumption justifies the manipulation, exploitation and destruction of organisms, ecosystems and non-modern ways of life. The second tragedy is the desire to change the human condition and eliminate suffering through genetic and social engineering experiments. These experiments perpetuate, rather than eliminate, suffering. Genetic engineering, like modernity, poses paradoxes and exhibits destructive tendencies. They perpetuate the conditions that they are meant to eliminate and erode the theoretical foundations that justify them.
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Language
English
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