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Liberation Biology: The Scientific and Moral Case for the Biotech Revolution Hardcover – January 1, 2005
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"...Bailey's mastery of the arguments, and his roster of the best people to talk to, are second to none." -- Matt Ridley, author of Genome, Nature Via Nurture: Genes, Experience, and What Makes Us Human and The Red Queen: Sex and Evolution of Human Nature.
"...neither minces words nor shrinks from a good rumble,...that is what makes Liberation Biology so engaging and powerful." -- Greg Stock, author of Redesigning Humans: Our Inevitable Genetic Future.
"...provides the closely reasoned analysis that,...ought to guide public policy with respect to biotechnology an bioengineering." -- Arthur Caplan, The Emanuel and Robert Hart Professor of Bioethics, Chair of the Department of Medical Ethics and Director, Center for Bioethics University of Pennsylvania
About the Author
Ronald Bailey (Charlottesville, VA) is the science correspondent for Reason magazine, a former television producer, and the author of Global Warming and Other Eco-Myths and Eco-Scam: The False Prophets of the Apocalypse. His articles and reviews have appeared in the New York Times Book Review, the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, Smithsonian, National Review, Forbes, and many other publications.
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Bailey insists that the technological manipulation of nature to satisfy human desires has been part of human life at least since the development of civilization based on agriculture. Using biotechnology to enhance human nature--to promote our physical and mental health and to extend our life span--is a continuation of this ancient human effort to conquer nature by articial means.
Although he recognizes the need for some legal regulation to secure the safety and efficacy of biotech products and to protect against force and fraud, Bailey prefers to leave adults free to decide for themselves (and their children) whether to employ biotechnology to enhance life. People will make mistakes. But they will learn by trial and error what uses of biotech are desirable and what not. Some people will decide to avoid such biotech advancements--following in the tradition of the Amish and other groups that choose to restrict their reliance on technology.
In arguing for this libertarian position, Bailey attacks both the bioconservatives (such as Francis Fukuyama and Leon Kass) and the Leftist bioluddites (such as Jeremy Rifkin and Bill McKibben).
I find Bailey's reasoning generally persuasive, although I think that at some points he exaggerates the power of biotech for changing human nature. He appeals to the natural human desires as the moral motivation for biotech--for example, the natural desire of parents to care for the health and happiness of their children. It's hard for me to see how biotech is going to alter, or even abolish, those desires. (I have elaborated this point in my book DARWINIAN CONSERVATISM.)
Bailey has a clear argument that is forcefully presented. He has made a great contribution to the continuing debate over biotechnology and the future of human nature.
I suspect the Prometheus curse accounts for Bailey's relative failure. Prometheus Books often publishes some very good stuff, especially its critiques of religious and paranormal beliefs. But I notice that its titles usually don't do that well commercially, much less appear in paperback editions a year or two later. Sam Harris, author of two surprisingly best selling attacks on religious belief, apparently noticed this problem, so he avoided Prometheus when he went shopping for mainstream publishers of his books that unexpectedly made him a pile of money and turned him into the public face of atheism in the U.S.
LB also seems a bit like a cut-and-paste job from Bailey's writings on Reason magazine's Website and other online venues. I get the impression that Reynolds put together his book in a similar fashion. I don't have a problem with writing a book that way, as such. But if you've read Bailey's works online for a few years, the contents of his book will look recycled to you.
The title, "Liberation Biology," also feels "wrong" coming from a small-l libertarian like Bailey. In the Preface on page 12, Bailey rationalizes his choice of title by writing:
"In the twentieth century, liberation theology was a spiritual movement aimed at helping humanity to overcome political and economic oppression. In the twenty-first century, liberation biology is the earthly quest to overcome the physical and mental limitations imposed on us by nature, enabling us to flourish as never before."
Even though liberation theology has a strong MARXIST component and Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI have held it in suspicion for that very reason? I would expect a leftist transhumanist like James Hughes to draw an analogy to a Catholic-Marxist syncretism for rhetorical purposes; but not a free-market advocate like Bailey. (In fairness, however, Hughes's effort at transhumanist outreach, "Citizen Cyborg," has hardly taken the publishing world by storm, either.)
Beside, we already have a name other than "liberation biology" for "the earthly quest to overcome the physical and mental limitations imposed on us by nature, enabling us to flourish as never before." We call this "earthly quest" transhumanism, which Bailey mentions in three places early on in LB, but he seems strangely reluctant to use it to describe his fundamentally similar world view.
Bailey does a workmanlike job of arguing for the currently socially acceptable goals of transhumanist thinking, but only that. His writing lacks the energy and moral fervor I'd like to see in making the case for these exceedingly powerful ideas. LB should have sold at least as well as comparable books about the scientific transformation of the human condition, but Prometheus Books' kiss of death probably doomed it from the start.
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For more than 5,000 years human civilization has done far too well nutritionally, with conventional agriculture thank...Read more