Wednesday, January 23, 2013

EE and rDNA Research

LeBron argues against proposals to recreate Neanderthals on (mostly) utilitarian grounds. I expect most of the opposition from the hoi polloi to be from a sanctity/degradation position (on the right) or a care/harm position (on the left—Neanderthal children created for the whimsical curiosity of scientists are likely to be exploited). Either way, I expect some moral table-pounding and I think at least some of it can be bound in the conditions of euvoluntary exchange.

Whatever your feelings on a Rousseauian social contract, there certainly is an implicit contract between parents and their children. I don’t think it’s too much of a stretch to say that the decision to reproduce is bound in the first two conditions of EE: conventional ownership and conventional capacity to exchange. I also don’t think it’s too much of a stretch to say that there are few conventions over human genetic engineering.

Friend of EE and a good personal friend Eli Dourado assuages my fears that Neanderthal whelping will produce a nasty backlash against rDNA research by reminding me that the West isn’t the only place that gene splicing can get done. What torch-n-pitchfork mobs might nix in Europe and the US, Chinese officials might give the nod to. This prompted me to wonder what the long-run consequences could be. Might mega-elites emerge from Chinese laboratories, poised to tip the balance of geopolitical power to the other side of the Pacific Rim? I know of at least one serious thinker I deeply respect who is firmly convinced that the next huge global imbroglio will be the reheating of conflict between Japan and China. Imagine World War III waged by an army of genetically modified super soldiers led by genetically modified super generals and directed by genetically modified political elites.

Yes, this is speculative science fiction. But so is an asteroid strike. It’s at least worth thinking about a little bit. Are the world’s institutions robust enough to absorb the shock of widespread, asymmetric genetic engineering? Is it wise to react to the non-euvoluntarity of human gene modification by laying fiat bans on the practice? Is a global ban practical? What even is the game? PD? H-D? Coordination? I urge caution when crossing out game nodes for trivially important strategic interactions, so I’m naturally extremely skeptical about the wisdom of rDNA research bans. Yet, given the food purity laws in the EU, I see human genome experimentation asymmetry as pretty darn likely. I just hope Luddites are willing to swallow the unintended consequences of their interventions.

Tyler’s right though. Cloning Neanderthals is asinine scientific preening. It’s a vanity project that probably won’t end well for the subjects.

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Do you have suggestions on where we could find more examples of this phenomenon?

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