Printed: 2020-07-08

Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies

IEET Link:

Who’s Afraid of the Brave New World?

Russell Blackford


May 14, 2003

THE BIOETHICIST Leon R. Kass, who has been one of the most persistent opponents of human cloning, argues that we must ban it totally as a tactical step to head off the emergence of a truly horrible society something like that depicted in Aldous Huxley’s dystopian novel Brave New World (1932). For Kass, it is not enough to ban reproductive cloning; to ensure that this cannot be done; we must also ban any creation of human embryos by somatic cell nuclear transfer, even for research or therapeutic purposes. In a lengthy article in the May 2001 issue of the New Republic, he argues that, should we take any other approach, we risk sliding into a Brave New World of eugenics and a “post-human” future. Kass is not alone in invoking the ghost of Huxley when discussing questions of public policy. Other thinkers commonly allude to the prospect of a “Brave New World” in relation to such biotechnological possibilities as human cloning and various kinds of genetic enhancement. To take only one of a multitude of examples, Bryan Appleyard’s main contribution to the debate is a book entitled Brave New Worlds: Staying Human in the Genetic Future (1999) (see my discussion of this in the September 1999 issue of Quadrant).

The idea that we must take action to avoid a Brave New World resonates powerfully within our culture. As Kass puts it, writing in the context of his own country’s
social and political environment, “the majority of Americans are not yet so degraded or so cynical as to fail to be revolted by the society depicted in Huxley’s novel”. Clearly, the same point could be made about Australians, or the citizens of any other country where Huxley’s novel is likely to be read widely. Kass does not suggest that a society anything like that depicted by Huxley will be imposed on us by force. His fear is that it will develop simply through the operation of the market, as individuals choose to use technologies in ways that are attractive and pleasant, but ultimately add up to create a dehumanised society. Yet, in modern liberal societies, such as Australia, none of this initially seems like much of an argument for banning human cloning—or, indeed, anything else that relates to deeply personal choices about such things as sexual relationships and family formation. On the contrary, individual choices about the use of reproductive technology appear to fall clearly within the area that liberal societies attempt to cordon off from intervention by the state, even if some kind of utilitarian argument could be made for state action. It is generally accepted within modern liberal societies that “experiments in living” should not be prohibited, but actually welcomed, unless there is a very good reason to do otherwise in a particular case. If our society’s moral beliefs and cultural practices change as a result of the cumulative effect of individuals’ choices about how they will live, including how they will use technology, that is usually acceptable. That is, indeed, one of the main ways in which social change comes about in the modern world.

With human cloning, the individual decisions that might ultimately influence the overall character of our society would be very understandable. Cloning would
be used mainly by couples who could not otherwise have a child to whom at least one member of the couple had a genetic relationship. As the legal scholar John
A. Robertson has pointed out in a Hofstra Law Review article published in 1999, the most likely candidates would be heterosexual couples where the man was severely infertile. However, cloning could also be used by lesbian couples who wished to have a child biologically related to both of them: to one by nuclear DNA,
to the other by mitochondrial DNA and gestation. In such cases, it is easy to be sympathetic to the couples concerned. The urge to have a child genetically related to oneself, or to a spouse or lover, seems to be a very strong one for many people. It is not something that individuals should have to justify, either to society as a whole or to the apparatus of the state. Unless we adopt the illiberal approach that the state should enforce a specifically religious, or semi-religious, moral theory, we are likely to see individuals and cou-ples as having a strong entitlement to make such choices for themselves. Subject to the safety problems that currently surround cloning technology, it might have been expected that liberal countries would tolerate, or even welcome, the availability of conception by somatic cell nuclear transfer as a response to various kinds of “reproductive failure”, where a genetic relationship to children cannot otherwise be established in the way the couple would wish.

Against all this, what I call “the Brave New World argument” is that human cloning, and some other biomedical advances, particularly in genetic engineering, will lead to a society that is intolerable to contemplate and must be prevented. The argument is usually run as part of the policy debate about human cloning that was initiated by the cloning of Dolly and its subsequent announcement, but it does not apply only to cloning. Versions of the argument can be used to oppose many new technologies or non-traditional ways of life. Still it is most familiar in the particular context of the cloning debate, where the suggestion is that we must ban human cloning now in order to prevent terrible consequences if we fail to do so. So how strong is the Brave New World argument? At first glance, we are dealing with a familiar kind of argument, the sort that is often pressed as a basis for public policy. The assumption is that even the most liberal society cannot allow conduct whose consequences would be socially disastrous. Although considerable latitude can be given to individuals to act in respect of personal matters in ways that are not utilitymaximising, a point is reached where adverse social consequences must become the overriding concern. So far, so good, but the usual kind of predicted disaster, if individual choice is unfettered in a certain area, includes social breakdown or some significant kind of human suffering. By contrast, if technologies such as cloning actually did lead gradually to a society very like that depicted in Brave New World, this would not involve suffering or social breakdown at all. In Huxley’s novel, almost everyone is happy and there is
universal peace and harmony. Exactly why do we find it repugnant?

For the argument to work, it must describe a truly horrible society as the outcome if we do not take some positive steps to prevent it (such as prohibiting human
cloning, or whatever other action is being advocated). The argument must specify just what is wrong with the future society that is predicted; more than that, it must
show a likelihood that such a society will actually emerge unless we take the appropriate steps. There must be detail as to the causal link between (1) failing
to act as prescribed and (2) the emergence of the predicted society. The claim of a causal link needs to be supported by a logical connection between (1) and (2),
or by relevant and adequate empirical evidence. What, then, is so bad about a Brave New World? And what is the link between its predicted emergence and a failure to prohibit such innovations as human cloning?

KASS SHEDS some light on the first question when he describes the inhabitants of the Huxleyan Brave New World as follows: The Brave New World has achieved prosperity, community, stability, and nigh-universal contentment, only to be peopled by creatures of human shape but stunted humanity. They consume, fornicate, take “soma,” enjoy “centrifugal bumblepuppy,” and operate the machinery that makes it all possible. They do not read, write, think, love, or govern themselves. Art and science, virtue and religion, family and friendship, are all passé. It takes little reflection to see how this description reveals Kass’s conservative turn of mind. For xample,
the use of the word fornicate itself contains a moral disapproval that is not argued for, but merely assumed. However, the trouble with the sexual relationships (if they can be called that) described in Brave New World is not that they happen outside of marriage, and constitute “fornication”; it is that they appear to be devoid of any deep or passionate feelings. They are based purely on sexual attraction and release, and any strong emotional involvement between those concerned is socially frowned upon. Probably no one approves of the prospect of a society in which these are the only kinds of sexual relationships available, but critics of traditional sexual morality might find Kass’s way of putting the point unhelpful and alienating.

Nonetheless, Kass’s description, taken as a whole, rightly brings into focus the flattening of the psychological lives of Huxley’s characters. All of their emotions are superficial, with the loss of important human goods such as anything remotely like real love or friendship. In addition, there is no scope in the Brave New World for unique individual achievements except of the most banal kind in the service of the state, nor for any serious artistic or intellectual pleasures. So much is lacking here that the society does seem truly horrible, even if its people are superficially happy. The characters of Brave New World include some misfits, such as Bernard Marx, who complains: “I’d rather be myself … Myself and nasty. Not somebody else, however jolly.” His girlfriend of the moment, Lenina Crowne, says that everyone is “Free to have the most wonderful time” in the Brave New World— “Everybody’s happy nowadays.” Bernard replies: “But wouldn’t you like to be free to be happy in some other way, Lenina? In your own way, for example; not in everybody else’s way?” Again, in the famous debate between Mustapha Mond, one of the ten World Controllers, and the Savage, the latter wishes to bring back everything that causes unhappiness in the world. Though the urbane World Controller easily deflects the Savage’s criticisms, we are clearly meant to identify with the Savage, as he grasps for the experiences required (so he believes) for deep emotion and the sense of tragedy. These exchanges highlight what has been lost in the Brave New World.

The authorial thinking implicit here is consistent with that of such philosophers as John Stuart Mill, who insisted that some pleasures are “higher”, or qualitatively more desirable, than others. For Mill, the ultimate end was not merely the maximum pleasure and least pain, but an existence with as little pain as possible, and “as rich as
possible in enjoyments, both in point of quantity and quality”. The Brave New World is almost painless and provides its citizens with an endless quantity of “enjoyments”, but much that Mill would have included among the higher pleasures has been lost. A more recent philosopher, the late Robert Nozick, formulated the famous “experience machine” thought experiment, which reveals that there are things that we want apart from subjectively pleasant experiences. In Anarchy, State and
Utopia (1974), Nozick persuasively suggests that we would not plug into a machine that provides us with the simulacrum of experience in a pleasant reality, because
we want to do certain things, be certain ways, have contact with the real world, and so on. It seems clear that we want more than superficial pleasures, and that
there is more by which we judge a society than the availability of such pleasures.

Such issues also arise out of Francis Fukuyama’s most recent book, Our Posthuman Future (2002), which attempts to identify what it is that might give all human beings, but only human beings, a moral status higher than that of other living things. Fukuyama suggests that it is dangerous to deny that human beings have such a unique status, and argues that it is possible to defend the idea (or that of “human dignity”) in a way “that is fully compatible with modern natural science”. Ultimately, he arrives at a list of qualities that apply to human individuals and cultures, and which arguably give an indication of what it is to be human. For Fukuyama, what is unique to human beings is a complex of factors relating to our consciousness, including the combination of “human reason, human language, human moral choice, and human emotions in ways that are capable of producing human politics, human art, or human religion”. He suggests that the various qualities of human reason, moral choice, consciousness, and our political and social natures are all interdependent. From this, he infers that the technological innovations that we should be protected from are those which would harm “the full range of our complex, evolved natures”, even if they were actually contrived to remove pain and anguish.

I believe that there are serious flaws in Fukuyama’s attempt to investigate what is so special about human beings and then apply his conclusions to particular moral questions. However, his approach does bring out the importance of a wide range of experience, including some extremes of normal emotion. To that extent his discussion is useful, and a review of his ideas, placed alongside those of Huxley, Mill and Nozick,reveals that we are right to fear the emergence of any society where people lived emotionally flattened, psychologically impoverished lives. The people in such a society would not feel unhappy, but they would be missing much of great value. Thus I am prepared to accept that we should take any action that is genuinely necessary to avoid a Brave New World, if by this we mean a society which denies deep emotions and other higher-level experiences to its members. It is not necessary to adopt Mill’s theory of higher pleasures in any exact way to see what is wrong with the society in Brave New World, that it excludes much that we value very greatly. If this is conceded, it seems that, at least in principle, the enactment of legislation might sometimes be required prevent such an outcome. That goal appears to be legitimate, as much so as the more straightforward one of attempting to prevent suffering or social breakdown.That conclusion gives those who rely on the Brave New World argument a great deal of what they want. However, how far can it take them in debates about public policy? In my view, not very far.

IT IS EASY to assume that people who live in accordance with seemingly unusual objectives or ideals are missing out on important experiences. If they are, the conclusions reached to this point might legitimise a vast range of state action designed to create an optimum society of deeply satisfied but conformist individuals. Some lives may, indeed, be psychologically impoverished by the pursuit of objectives or ideals that preclude valuable forms of experience. Yet we should be reluctant to conclude that valuable experiences can be enjoyed only if we live in accordance with some traditional or currently popular ideal, such as an ethic of romantic love, or by adopting a particular plan of life that is widely admired in our own society. Human beings may be able to have many kinds of rich, satisfying experiences in many kinds of societies, and in pursuit of many objectives, ideals and life plans. We are not all the same, and conformity to a single template for the good life is not the way to seek happiness.

Generally, as a society, we should be attempting to maximise the range of individual choice rather than imposing particular values in a paternalistic way, naively believing that we know what is best for everyone. If we believe that some form of society is so psychologically impoverished that we must take action to prevent it coming into being, we should first be able to show just why it is beyond the pale of tolerance, just how it would positively prevent people from living emotionally deep and rich lives. That is a difficult task. The absence of “higher pleasures”, personal challenges and individual achievements in Huxley’s Brave New World is deliberate. The society’s creators have set out to maximise social stability; in doing so, they have attempted to banish suffering and frustration, but have ruthlessly removed much else.However, it is misguided to assume that any superficial resemblances between this fictional society and our own must be sinister, or that any attempts to reduce suffering and frustration must be undesirable. If that were so, why seek social change at all, or try in any way to improve the human condition?

Kass makes a number of comparisons between social and technological innovations that have already been experienced or envisaged in modern societies and features
of the Huxleyan Brave New World. The suggestion is that we are already on the path to such a world and that the availability of more powerful technologies will only confirm and hasten this. However, the relevant passage exposes the limitations of Kass’s own thinking: Huxley’s novel, of course, is science fiction. Prozac is not yet Huxley’s “soma”; cloning by nuclear transfer or splitting embryos is not exactly “Bokanovskification”; MTV and virtual-reality parlors are not quite the “feelies”; and our current safe and consequenceless sexual practices are not as universally loveless or as empty as those in the novel. But the kinships are disquieting, all the
more so since our technologies of bio-psychoengineering are still in their infancy, and in ways that make all too clear what they might look like in their full maturity.
Well, perhaps so, but the question ought not to be whether resemblances such as these can be found between the Brave New World and our own society, or
some society extrapolated from current trends. Since the Brave New World has been designed to be the most trouble-free and superficially pleasant society possible,
it would not be surprising if some quite positive developments in our own society actually created points of resemblance to it. Once we overcome any shock arising
from the strangeness of its practices (not that these have much shock value any more), specific aspects of the Huxleyan Brave New World may well have their
attractive side. All other things being equal, who does not wish life to be as pleasant and easy as possible? Some contemporary attitudes to loving and sexual relationships, some developments in biotechnology, and some aspects of modern mass entertainment do bear at least a faint resemblance to their equivalents in the Brave New World. However, that proves very little.

Once we have analysed what is really so bad about the Brave New World, we are in a position to ask more salient questions. Are the developments noted by Kass
in sexual mores, entertainment and biomedical technology really converging in a way that will create an emotionally flattened society? Are we really losing our access to the important pleasures associated with such human goods as friendship, love, intellectual inquiry, and individual achievement? These are not merely rhetorical
questions. The concept of emotional flattening does potentially give us a new tool with which to analyse and criticise social developments. Perhaps there have been some tendencies that give us reason for concern, such as the great emphasis in our society on the passive consumption of expensively- produced mass entertainment, together with what appears to be a general dumbing-down of popular culture.

However, that possibility needs to be kept in perspective. A great deal of our consumption of entertainment has replaced the mindless drudgery that once occupied many hours of most people’s days. Again, the apparent dumbing phenomenon may, in part, merely reflect the democratisation of art and entertainment, which must now appeal to a far wider demographic base. For better or worse, the most popular movies, television programs and CDs are aimed largely at a teenage audience. That is not necessarily so bad. Worse, though, they are designed to pander to the values of that audience, rather than stretching their minds. Still, a great deal of worthwhile art and literature is currently being produced, far more than any one person can keep up with. Some popular recording artists show flashes of genius. Some Hollywood movies are intrinsically important and challenging. The traditions of high art continue, though much of it is deliberately inaccessible to people who lack a special education of some kind; a phenomenon of the twentieth century was the retreat from engagement with a popular audience by many serious artists, musicians and writers. All of this is culturally interesting, but none of it is very con-clusive if we wish to argue that our society is slipping into a Brave New World.

Huxley’s novel foregrounds the absence of romantic love from a society that encourages cheerfully promiscuous sex. For the World Controllers, this removes an obvious cause of frustration and unhappiness, and (above all) potential instability caused by dissatisfied citizens. The Savage, who has grown up in a reservation outside the Brave New World society, and whose thoughts have been shaped mainly by repeated reading of Shakespeare, is revolted by this. He reacts to the brave new sexual mores in a manner based upon Othello’s response to the imagined unfaithfulness of his wife, Desdemona. Of course, the obsessed, jealous, gullible Othello, however noble he may be in other ways, is not a good role model for anyone, and the Savage is not entirely an attractive or serious figure in his own rantings and railings.

Be that as it may, the relationships depicted in Brave New World are without real love of any kind. Yet an acknowledgment of that does not mean that romantic
love, as it has been understood in the past, is an ultimate ideal for all societies, or for all people in a pluralistic society. Our various ideas of love, and of appropriate kinds of sexual relationships, are historically conditioned. As David A.J. Richards puts it in his magisterial study, Sex, Drugs, Death and the Law: An Essay on Human Rights and Overcriminalization (1982), the various ideals of romantic love that have dominated Western society since the Middle Ages involve sexual release in the context of “processes of courting, testing, frustration, and personal idealization of the beloved”. The absence of such rituals and trappings is what the Savage immediately despises about the Brave New World.

But must we condemn a society where sexual relationships are freer and more diverse than required by a universal ideal of romantic love with all its trappings?
Unlike the Huxleyan Brave New World, such a society might not necessarily contain less depth of experience and emotion for those involved. Quite the contrary—
friendship, love, and sexual passion can all take many forms, and they are likely to be expressed in strong ways in any imaginable society. To a rather limited extent, our own society has retreated from the full-blown ideal of romantic love— for example, it is generally accepted that sexual relationships are not necessarily lifelong or confined to marriage. We place less emphasis on elaborate and arbitrary forms of courtship, and we tolerate—sometimes even celebrate—the passions of homosexuals
and bisexuals. There is some acceptance of even “kinkier” or less conventional sexual practices. However, there is no good reason to see these social developments as taking us in the direction of universal, loveless, passionless sex. People still fall in love and have other psychologically deep experiences associated with their sexual lives.

For many, the social change has actually been liberating, opening up a richness of experience that would otherwise have been denied them. Only a narrowminded
commitment to particular traditions and ideals, to the exclusion of other possibilities, could support the view that a somewhat limited revolution in sexuality, such as we have seen in the past few decades, is taking us in the direction of a Brave New World. Once we understand what is really wrong with the Brave New World, we can see that this kind of social change may even be taking us in the opposite direction, giving many people new opportunities for deep emotional experiences with others.
Our current society is doubtless very strange by the standards of one hundred years ago, or even by those of 1932, when Huxley’s book was published. But that does not mean it has lost emotional depth. It might mean that some of the emotions people experience today—or the circumstances in which they are experienced —would be difficult for people from those earlier time to sympathise with. Doubtless this applies in reverse, making some classic works of literature less accessible to a modern audience. However, a truly horrible Brave New World would not merely be strange, or resemble the society of Huxley’s novel in some superficial ways. It would be one where any such resemblances were associated with a flattening of emotions and inner experience. I can see no evidence that any such thing is happening.

IF THERE IS no real evidence that we are currently sliding into a Brave New World, is there any convincing causal mechanism by which this might happen in the future if we allow innovations such as human cloning? Again, I can find no convincing mechanism. If human cloning were permitted it would be nonetheless an expensive ption, and unattractive to most people. It is difficult to see how it could become more than a marginal social practice at any foreseeable time. Kass considers this possibility, but argues that human cloning could not be tolerated, even at the margins of normal conduct: Even if cloning is rarely undertaken, a society in which it is tolerated is no longer the same society—any more than is a society that permits (even small-scale) incest or cannibalism or slavery. A society that allows cloning, whether it knows it
or not, has tacitly assented to the conversion of procreation into manufacture and to the treatment of children purely as the products of our will. Willy-nilly, it has acquiesced in the eugenic re-design of future generations. The humanitarian superhighway to a Brave New World lies open before this society. However, nothing about this reasoning suggests that allowing human cloning would lead us to a Brave New World, at least not in the sense that I have discussed. Kass writes here, as he often does, as if the issue is eugenics and attempts at excessive parental control of children. However, he is far more astute in those passages where he identifies the real danger as the creation of a society without deep emotions. If human cloning existed as a marginal practice within our society, it would simply allow a relatively small number of people to bring children related to themselves into the world, and to rear them within loving families.

Furthermore, by analogy with Kass’s reasoning, it might be suggested that a society which permits homosexuality, or interracial marriage, is a “different” society from one that forbids it: “no longer the same society”. That, however, is a quite unrealistic claim. It would be more reasonable to say that the relative tolerance of these practices in our own society is the result of social change, rather than the destruction of one society and the creation of a new one. Asociety that makes a place
for such practices is all the richer for it. On the face of it, the same would be true if human cloning were tolerated as an experiment in living that offered opportunities for some people to have children genetically related to them.

Kass asserts—and it is no more than a bare assertion in the quoted passage—that a society which tolerates cloning is on the “superhighway to a Brave New
World”. To the extent that he provides an argument for this elsewhere in his New Republic article, it is no more than that human cloning is a precedent for other practices, such as genetic enhancement, or that the defence of human cloning requires a principle of reproductive freedom so strong that it would justify other, even
more radical, practices. However, whatever moral relevance this may have, it makes little contribution to the Brave New World argument as I have reconstructed it.
It is not clear why a society that incorporated such practices would be one with flattened emotions, such as that depicted by Huxley. Even if that were clearer, Kass’s reasoning cannot withstand intellectual scrutiny.

First, a principle of absolute reproductive freedom is not required to defend a policy of permitting human cloning (provided that the safety concerns about it can be resolved). All that is required is an acknowledgment of the ordinary liberal principle that governments should not use legislation—backed up by police and punishments—to interfere with individuals’ highly personal decisions, at least not without a compelling reason. If we had permitted human cloning for reproductive
purposes, that would merely have been because no compelling reason was available to ban this particular use of biotechnology. This does not entail that no compelling reason could be found to prohibit, or at least regulate, some more radical technologies, such as certain kinds of genetic enhancement. For example, there might be strong reasons, based on social justice, to attempt to limit the availability of any enhancement technology, or to regulate the way it could be used. I return to that point at
the end of this essay.

Second, even if a principle of reproductive freedom were relied upon to defend the legality of cloning, it might be a principle of relatively limited application. It might not even support the availability of cloning in all cases where some couples or individuals might desire to use it. For example, in his Hofstra Law Review article, Robertson offers two models for human reproductive cloning, and argues that there is a strong case for “Model 1” cloning, or cloning relating to “reproductive failure”. He distinguishes these models according to whether the parties involved are capable of reproducing sexually (either by coitus or by assisted reproduction, such as IVF):
Model 1 uses of cloning would cover cases in which an infertile couple resorts to reproductive cloning because it is the only way for it to have a child genetically or biologically related to the rearing partners. Model 2 uses would cover cases where an individual or couple could reproduce sexually but prefer to forgo sexual reproduction in order to have a child with the nuclear DNA of one of them or a third person.

The second of these models would place our society far more on the slope towards a world in which reproductive technology is used to attempt to control the DNA of children. Perhaps a society like that would be in danger of becoming a Brave New World, though this is not clear to me; in any event such excessive attempts
at parental control do seem repugnant, and a compelling case could probably be put against them, independent of the Brave New World argument. However, the rationale for permitting Model 1 is essentially a right to use technology to the extent required to have genetically-related children, without interference by the state. Acceptance of such a right would not entail an acceptance of Model 2 cloning. Thus Robertson suggests that there is a strong case to allow Model 1 cloning, which would include its availability to lesbian couples, as well as in cases of severe male infertility. Because the same rationale is not available with Model 2 cloning, it “would have to be defended on the basis of a more general right to use positive means to select the genome of offspring whom one rears”. While there may be a genuine question as to whether even Model 2 cloning should be prohibited, the distinction made by Robertson is a plausible one, and it tends to show that there can be various stopping points before we are committed to allowing completely unbridled use of reproductive technology. Other stopping points can also be imagined. Most importantly, decisions might be taken, through social and political processes, that allocations of resources will be used to discourage technologies enabling the enhancement or detailed genetic “design” of children, while encouraging technologies to identify and possibly remedy debilitating genetic diseases that are likely to damage children’s life prospects.

SOME MORAL conservatives, such as Kass, appear alarmist in their fears that allowing people greater freedoms, including freedoms relating to their use of biomedical technology, will push us down a slippery slope into an intolerable, psychologically impoverished society. That is an unjustifiably negative attitude to new technology and to social change in general when it increases individual autonomy. As new practices become possible and acceptable in our society, they add to its diversity and richness, without necessarily pervading it. As an example, fashionable late-1960s and 1970s ideas about sexual liberation and the positive effects of
certain illicit drugs have never become the norm in our society, even though they had strong advocates at the time, and at least some of the practices that they recommended are and were legally permitted. Perhaps the advocates of some of these ideas underestimated the strength of sexual jealousy as a force in human societies, and perhaps our society’s evolution was strongly affected by the appearance of AIDS. However, as Gregory Pence points out in Who’s Afraid of Human Cloning? (1998), by 1981, when AIDS became a major social threat, a conservative reaction had already begun and it continued thereafter, with couples tending to revert to traditional sex roles, renewed idealisation of the nuclear family and hostility to illegal drugs, and criticism of divorce and teenage promiscuity. It remains the case, of course, that the sexual revolution of the 1960s and 1970s was partly accommodated, but there has also been a considerable withdrawal from its values, which do not pervade our society to anything like the extent that might have been expected twenty to thirty years ago. This suggests that merely permitting marginal activities, values and ways of life is not sufficient for them to drive out more mainstream alternatives.

Rather, a new equilibrium is reached, at least temporarily, and society as whole is richer. In the case of reproductive technology, opponents of human cloning
and other postulated technologies have every opportunity to oppose them—and seek to minimise the degree to which they are actually used—by exhortation, personal
practice and example, and by their choice of associates. In a modern liberal society, the opponents of particular practices and technologies should normally rely upon these methods, rather than invoking the coercive power of the state. That is not say that the new genetic technologies can be introduced into our society with no problems that demand a public policy response. A greater concern than the scenario of a Brave New World, with its flattened emotions and superficial lives, is the possibility of a normal-gene/gene-rich divide that Lee M. Silver has discussed in his contributions to the subject. In this kind of scenario, the development of more powerful technologies will enable a degree of genetic enhancement that is available only to children of the rich, exacerbating existing social divisions. However, the answer to this problem does not seem to be a step such as prohibiting human cloning, since genetic engineering technologies are likely to become available in any event. It may be more important to encourage these along certain lines of development, such as therapy for genetic diseases, as opposed to enhancement for the children of the rich. The concern is essentially a matter of social justice, a problem that modern societies must, and do, wrestle with continually, within economic and political constraints.

Responses to the problem might vary from redistribution of the wealth that enables differential access in the first place, prohibition or limitation of enhancement technologies in the interests of fairness, or steps to make at least some genetic technologies— those relating to health and longevity—as widely available as possible. These issues have little to do with the Brave New World described by Aldous Huxley—or, indeed, with many of the other issues that have been at the centre of the debate about human cloning, such as its supposed violation of human dignity. Issues of longterm social justice should now become the focus of social and political debate about developments in biomedical technology.

Russell Blackford wrote on surrogate motherhood
and the fertility decline in separate articles
in the March issue.

Russell Blackford Ph.D. is a fellow of the IEET, an attorney, science fiction author and critic, philosopher, and public intellectual. Dr. Blackford serves as editor-in-chief of the IEET's Journal of Evolution and Technology. He lives in Newcastle, Australia, where he is a Conjoint Lecturer in the School of Humanities and Social Science at the University of Newcastle.


Contact: Executive Director, Dr. James J. Hughes,
IEET, 35 Harbor Point Blvd, #404, Boston, MA 02125-3242 USA
phone: 860-428-1837