A Korean woman was on the verge of divorce because her husband no longer found her attractive and was having an affair. Nothing worked in her efforts to save the marriage and as a last resort she underwent cosmetic surgery. The result was so dramatic and her son didn’t recognize her when she returned home.
Even more dramatic was her husband’s attitude towards his new “goddess”: no more mention of divorce, and he was now willing staying at home all the time! This seems to be a true story as the woman appeared on a TV show. Unfortunately the show is in Korean, but you can see many amazing “before-and-after” faces on this short video.
The Korean plastic surgery industry has been a huge success in tapping into this fundamental human desire. And who does not love beauty? But of course the “beauty cure” is transitory. A popular joke is: How can a Korean groom know the real face of his bride? Answer: wait till the baby is born. On the other hand, the joke won’t work anymore if such “beauty” modifications begin to occur at the genetic level.
Then it will be truly a long-term investment, avoiding the cost and possible surgical pain if future generations get the same idea as the Korean woman, and then turn to fundamental genetic alteration that will effect their progeny too!
People who object to this may argue that we should learn to love what we have, or what we are born with. Indeed we should. But the natural attraction to beauty is universal and undeniable. How we look not only matters for marriage, but also for one’s job and social life. Academic studies have found that we are more likely to earn more and make more friends with good looks, especially for females.
So the market for good looks, or willingness to pay, has huge potential. As I argue in Chapter 9 of my book, the posthuman future should and will be driven, at least initially, by our most basic animal-like desires, simply because they are the strongest driver for most people. Since the divergence of skin color and facial features is a very recent phenomenon, we may look different but will be essentially the same person; thus, this step should be relatively easy and low risk, i.e., relatively free of unintended consequences.
But once we learn how to democratize movie-star looks through genetic engineering, will we be satisfied? Most likely not. As looks become less of a differentiator, we will appreciate other personal characteristics more, such as kindness and intelligence.
Now interventions to achieve those attributes is serious genetic engineering. And furthermore, at what I call the second stage of conscious evolution, we should even be able to modify our innate desires and preferences themselves, including aesthetic values. At that point, another concern about cosmetic genetic engineering will be addressed: we will no longer be satisfied with the same movie star looks. Humanity will diversify and flourish, sometimes beyond our recognition.
Ted Chu is a professor of Economics at New York University in Abu Dhabi, and former chief economist for General Motors and the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority. He is the author of Human Purpose and Transhuman Potential: A Cosmic Vision for Our Future Evolution (2014).
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