Our Posthuman Future: Consequences of the Biotechnology Revolution
. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2002. 256 pages.*
Those familiar with the work of this member of the President’s Council on Bioethics,have come to expect rigorous philosophical analysis combined with the latest socialscience data. This book – which revisits and revises the author’s “end of history” thesisfirst articulated in a 1989 book and then again in a 1999 article – does not disappoint onthat score. By the “end of history,” Fukuyama had meant that all of the alternatives toliberal democracy had failed. But there was one irrefutable argument against his originalthesis: “there could be no end of history unless there was an end of science” (p. xii).However, we are far from an end to science.
Our Posthuman Future
was written torethink advances in the life sciences and their effects on political life.The book is composed of a preface, three parts containing twelve chapters, notes, and a bibliography. I will give an overview of the book’s contents and then focus on thematerial in Part II.Part I articulates “some plausible pathways to the future” (p. 16), along with their possible consequences, in the areas of brain research, neuropharmacology, the prolongation of life, and genetic engineering. Chapter 1 articulates the basic thesis of the book. Against Orwell’s
, Fukuyama argues that Huxley’s vision in
was the more prescient: “the most significant threat posed by contemporary biotechnology is the possibility that it will alter human nature and thereby move us into a‘posthuman’ stage of history” (p. 7).
human nature is important – and Fukuyama isone of the few intellectuals today confronting this question – we will see later.Ch. 2 shows us how modern biotechnology “has
produced effects that will haveconsequences for world politics in the coming generation, even if genetic engineeringfails to produce a single designer baby before then” (p. 19). This chapter focuses on our (growing) knowledge about genes and the related ancient question of “nature” versus“nurture” in human behavior. Fukuyama gives us the latest research on the heritability of intelligence, the relationship between genes and crime, and the role of genes in sexuality,especially in homosexuality.Ch. 3 could have been titled “From Freud to Prozac.” Here, Fukuyama singles outProzac and Ritilin, among other psychotropic drugs, as two that, coinciding with the“neurotransmitter revolution” (p. 42), have contributed to overthrowing the Freudianaccount of mental illness. These drugs are “harbingers of things to come” (p. 53), e.g.,“cosmetic pharmacology, that is, the taking of a drug not for its therapeutic value butsimply because it makes one feel ‘better than good.’” This happiness in a pill looksuncomfortably like the soma of Huxley’s
Brave New World
(p. 46).Ch. 4 explores the developing social and political crisis – within and between societies – brought about by biotechnology’s extension of the life span, coupled with the
explosion in the developed countries.Ch. 5 treats the “fourth pathway to the future” – human genetic engineering. HereFukuyama reviews both the possibilities and the constraints on this technology, as well asthe reasons for being cautious in thinking that significant alteration of human nature isyears away.Ch. 6 tells us, in the words of its title, “Why We Should Worry.” Fukuyama notes that“the specter of eugenics” (p. 85) has hung over the field of genetics from the beginning.