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“Without question, this is one of the most important books of the year. McKibben deserves to be read, to be discussed, to be heard.” —San Diego Union-Tribune
“[A] brave and luminous book . . . Bill McKibben understands genetics—but he knows poetry, too.” —David Gelernter, Wired
“Bill McKibben has done a top-notch job of researching and writing about one of the most important topics of the current age. Enough is an important book and needs to be read by everyone with an interest in keeping the human future human.” —The Weekly Standard
“Fiercely important . . . the most thought-provoking piece of non-fiction I’ve read in a long time.” —The Globe and Mail (Toronto)
“In this wise, well-researched, and important book, Bill McKibben addresses the burning philosophical question of the new century, and the one that counts for the long haul: how to control the technoscientific juggernaut before it dehumanizes our species.” —E. O. Wilson, author of The Future of Life
“In Enough, McKibben shines his powerful light on another momentous change that is upon us: the ability to re-engineer ourselves and therefore the very meaning of human identity. If he is right, then humankind stands on a moral and existential threshold—or cliff. We would do well as a society to weigh his bracing argument before taking another step.” —Michael Pollan, author of The Botany of Desire
What will you have done to your newborn when you have installed into the nucleus of every one of her billions of cells a purchased code that will pump out proteins designed to change her? You will have robbed her of the last possible chance for creating context—meaning—for her life. Say she finds herself, at the age of sixteen, unaccountably happy. Is it her being happy—finding, perhaps, the boy she will first love—or is it the corporate product inserted within her when she was a small nest of cells, an artificial chromosome now causing her body to produce more serotonin? Don't think she won't wonder: at sixteen a sensitive soul questions everything. But perhaps you've "increased her intelligence"—and perhaps that's why she is questioning so hard. She won't be sure if even the questions are hers.
|Chapter 1||Too Much||1|
|Chapter 2||Even More||66|
|Chapter 4||Is Enough Possible?||162|
For the first few miles of the marathon, I was still fresh enough to look around, to pay attention. I remember mostly the muffled thump of several thousand pairs of expensive sneakers padding the Ottawa pavement -- an elemental sound, like surf, or wind. But as the race wore on, the herd stretched into a dozen flocks and then into a long string of solitary runners. Pretty soon each of us was off in a singular race, pitting one body against one will. By the halfway point, when all the adrenaline had worn off, the only sound left was my breath rattling in my chest. I was deep in my own private universe, completely absorbed in my own drama.
Now, this run was entirely inconsequential. For months I'd trained with the arbitrary goal of 3 hours and 20 minutes in my mind. Which is not a fast time; it's an hour and a quarter off the world record. But it would let a forty-one-year-old into the Boston Marathon. And given how fast I'd gone in training, I knew it lay at the outer edge of the possible. So it was a worthwhile target, a number to live with through one early-morning run after another, a number to multiply and divide against the readouts on the treadmill display when downpours kept me in the gym. It's rare enough in my life to have a goal so concrete and unambiguous.
By about, say, mile 23, two things were becoming clear. One, my training had worked: I'd reeled off one 7:30 mile after another. Two, my training wouldn't get me to the finish by itself. My legs were starting to slow and wobble, my knees and calves were hard pressed to lift and push at the same pace as an hour earlier. I could feel my goal slipping away, my pace dropping. With every hundred yards the race became less a physical test and more a mental one, game spirit trying to rally sagging flesh before sagging flesh could sap game spirit and convince it the time had come to walk. Someone stronger passed me, and I slipped onto her heels for a few hundred crucial yards, picking up the pace. The finish line swam into my squinted view, and I stagger-sprinted across. With 14 seconds to spare.
A photographer clicked a picture, as he would of everyone who finished. I was a cipher to him -- a grimacing cipher, the 324th person to cross, an unimportant finisher in an unimportant time in an unimportant race. In the picture you can see the crowd at the finish, holding right past me toward the middle distance, waiting for their mom or dad, son or daughter to move into sight. It mattered not at all what I had done.
But it mattered to me. When it was done, I had a clearer sense of myself, of my power and my frailty. For a period of hours, and especially those last gritty miles, I had been absolutely, utterly present, the moments desperately, magnificently clarified. As meaningless as it was to the world, that's how meaningful it was to me. I met parts of myself I'd never been introduced to before, glimpsed more clearly strengths and flaws I'd half suspected. A marathon peels you down toward your core for a little while, gets past the defenses we erect even against ourselves. That's the high that draws you back for the next race, a centering elation shared by people who finished an hour ahead and two hours behind me. And it must echo in some small way what runners must always have felt -- the Tarahumara Indians on their impossible week-long runs through the canyons of Mexico, the Masai on their game trails. Few things are more basic than running.
And yet it is entirely possible that we will be among the last generations to feel that power and that frailty. Genetic science may soon offer human beings, among many other things, the power to bless their offspring with a vastly improved engine. For instance, scientists may find ways to dramatically increase the amount of oxygen that blood can carry. When that happens, we will, though not quite as Isaiah envisioned, be able to run and not grow weary.
This is one small item on the long list of "improvements" that the proponents of human genetic engineering envision, and one of the least significant corners of human life they propose to alter. But it serves as a decent template for starting to think about all the changes they have in mind, and indeed the changes that may result from a suite of other new engineering marvels like advanced robotics and nanotechnology. We will soon double back and describe the particulars of these technologies. But first consider sports.
Attempts to alter the human body are nothing new in sports, of course. It's been more than a century since Charles-Edouard Brown-Sequard, the French physiologist called "the father of steroids," injected himself with an extract derived from the testicles of a guinea pig and a dog. Athletes have been irradiated and surgically implanted with monkey glands; they have weight-trained with special regimens designed to increase mitochondria in muscle cells and have lived in special trailers pressurized to simulate high altitudes. For endurance athletes, the drug of choice has for the last decade been erythropoietin, or EPO, a man-made version of a hormone released by the kidneys that stimulates the production of red blood cells, so that the blood can carry extra oxygen. With EPO, the red blood cells can get so thick that the blood curdles, turns into a syrupy ooze -- in the early days of the drug, elite cyclists started dropping dead across their handlebars, their hearts unable to pump the sludge running through their veins.
In 1995, researchers asked two hundred Olympic hopefuls if they'd take a drug that would guarantee them a five-year winning streak and then kill them. Almost half said yes. The Tour de France has been interrupted by police raids time and again; in 2001, Italian officials found what they described as a "mobile hospital" trailing the Giro d'Italia bike race, well stocked with testosterone, human growth hormone, urofillitophin, salbutamol, and a synthetic blood product called HemAssist. The British sports commentator Simon Eassom said recently that the only people likely to be caught for steroid abuse were from Third World countries: everyone else could afford new-generation drugs that didn't yet show up on tests. Some sports, like power lifting, have had to give in and set up "drug- free" or "natural" divisions.
In other words, you could almost say that it makes no difference whether athletes of the future are genetically engineered -- that the damage is already done with conventional drugs, the line already crossed. You could almost say that, but not quite. Because in fact, in the last couple of years the testing has gotten better. The new World Anti-Doping Agency has caught enough offenders to throw a scare into dirty athletes, and some heart into clean ones. Some distance athletes who had decided to retire because they felt they couldn't compete have gone back into training; a new group of poststeroids shotputters and discus hurlers have proved their point by winning meets with shorter throws than the records of a decade ago. And both athlete and fan remain able to draw the line in their minds: no one thought Ben Johnson's 1988 dash record meant anything once the Olympic lab found steroids in his system. It was erased from the record books, and he was banned from competition. Against the odds, sports just manages to stay "real."
But what if, instead of crudely cheating with hypodermics, we began to literally program children before they were born to become great athletes? "Picture this," writes one British journalist. "It is 2016. A young couple are sitting in a doctor's waiting room. They know that what they are about to do is illegal, but they are determined. They have come to make their child a world-beating athlete," by injecting their embryo with the patented genes of a champion. Muscle size, oxygen uptake, respiration -- much of an athlete's inherent capacity derives from her genes. What she makes of it depends on her heart and mind, of course, as well as on the accidents of where she's born, and what kind of diet she gets, and whether the local rulers believe that girls should be out running. And her genes aren't entirely random: perhaps her parents were attracted to each other in the first place because both were athletes, or because they were not. But all those variables fit within our idea of fate. Flipping through the clinic catalogue for athletic genes does not; it's a door into another world.
If it happens -- and when that girl grows up to compete -- it won't be as if she is "cheating." "What if you're born with something having been done to you?" asks the Olympic dash champion Maurice Greene. "You didn't have anything to do with it."' But if that happens, what will be the point of running? "Just what human excellences are we supposed to be celebrating?" asks the medical ethicist Eric Juengst. "Who's got the better biotech sponsor?"
Copyright 2003 Bill McKibben
Posted January 2, 2012
I liked this book a lot. McKibben does a great job of showing you both his and other people views on things like germline engineering, nanotechnology, and other technologies. McKibben helped me realize that humans have already engineered a good enough world to live in. Trying to make it better could end up ruining all it means to be a human. He helped create my stance on some important social and political topics. Many of these topics I never even knew existed. I think everyone should read this book and learn an important theory on how our future could develop.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.