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Disjointed but Effective Transhumanit Arguments
on April 12, 2008
It seems that everyone agrees biotechnology will have a profound effect on our species' future; where they disagree is how much of a good thing this is. "Liberation Biology" is written by Ronald Bailey, who takes an essentially Transhumanist position on this; that the options given to us by biotechnology will give us longer, happier, healthier lives.
Bailey is a writer for Reason magazine and a libertarian, so it's choice and freedom that drives his moral arguments. I have a hard time disagreeing with him when it comes to the blatantly paternalistic arguments that he deals with from biotechnology critics like Fukuyama and McKibben. (McKibben's arguments that genetic selection will turn kids into products and not people are particularly awful, although this may be in how Bailey presents them I suppose). The critics can romanticize suffering, death, and ignorance all they want, but I'd rather improve my chances of choosing where and how I die.
Bailey has more trouble in other areas - although he very effectively deals with concerns over GM food safety, as a libertarian he's far too inclined to believe that corporations won't misbehave when they get a good deal of control (as in the case of biotech crops - they've obviously helped, but farmers being dependent on one or two companies for their food supply unsettles me).
The book's biggest issue is the format, however. This is adapted from web essays, and it shows - the topics are disjointed, and the chapters are an odd mess of a tour of current technology and batches of moral arguments. This makes it a slow read; one topic bounces to another, and while it's true that moral issues are often dependent on specific technology, taking a more planned approach would have read to a better and more readable book - a broad argument instead of a bunch of discussions of individual topics.
Still, it's often informative, and although due to the fast pace of technology a couple of sections (most notably the stem cell chapter) are somewhat out of date, this will give you a good grounding in a lot of the current science and moral arguments surrounding biotechnology.