Should Education Be A Part Of Human Engineering?
Supporters Of Human Engineering Argue It Has Always Been Case Where Some Humans Are Born With Better Performance Than Others
With genetic engineering, we’ll be able to increase the complexity of our DNA and improve the human race. But it’ll be a slow process, because one will have to wait about 18 years to see the effect of changes to the genetic code. – Stephen Hawking Modern eugenics, better known in the present world as ‘human genetic engineering’ has become one of the most important research areas, since genetic engineering can prevent and/or cure diseases or improve the human body in significant ways. Even though potential health benefits of human gene therapy are enormous one should not overlook the equally staggering potential dangers it also brings. Genetic testing already allows parents to identify some diseases in their child in utero which will give them the choice to decide whether they want to terminate the pregnancy.
This can be extended to detect ‘negative traits’ implicated by a particular gene and try to eliminate it or modify it. This becomes controversial since what exactly constitutes ‘negative traits’ is open to interpretation. Many people think the laws of nature should not be tampered with, even if the intentions of doing so are backed by the purest of motives. Advancements in genetic engineering and modern research in the area of eugenics these days do not get as much publicity as the new findings and applications in the area of ICT and Artificial Intelligence (AI).
As in any other area of science and technology, genetic engineering also has its good and bad coming with it leaving the choice of using it for selfish reasons or for the betterment of the world in general, in the hands of human beings. This is where the question: Should education be a part of human engineering? comes to the surface since it is obvious that the advancement of technology comes through science and technology education.
But, if the system of education in which science and technology education of the kind is facilitated does not emphasise the importance and provide opportunities to develop one’s ethical and moral standards then the development of such technologies can, in the long run, do more harm than good. The practice or the concept of improving the human species by selectively mating people with specific desirable hereditary traits is known as ‘Eugenics’. It supposedly aims to reduce human suffering by breeding out diseases, disabilities and so-called undesirable characteristics from the human population. The word ‘eugenics’ is supposed to have been coined by Sir Francis Galton in the late 1800s to mean ‘well-born’ or ‘good creation’ using the Greek words ‘eu’ meaning ‘good’ and ‘genos’ meaning ‘birth’.
Even though Galton gets the credit for introducing the concept and the word ‘eugenics’ in modern history, Plato’s ‘The Republic’ mentions about creating a superior society by procreating high-class people together and discouraging reproduction among the lower classes and/or cross breeding. Historically, eugenics encouraged people of so called ‘superior class’ to reproduce more and discouraged reproduction of the mentally challenged or anyone who fell outside the social norm. Even though eugenics got all its negative publicity due to Adolf Hitler’s obsessive attempts to create a superior Aryan race during the years leading to World War II, he has mentioned in his books that he has followed American eugenics very closely in the 1930s.
In 1896, the state of Connecticut, in the USA, made it illegal for people with epilepsy or who were ‘feeble-minded’ to marry. As the concept of eugenics was becoming popular, in the early 1900s, scientists and administrators in the USA established a eugenics record office to track families and their genetic traits. There have been over 20,000 forced sterilisations in state mental institutions in the state of California under the guise of protecting the society from the offspring of people with mental illness.
Thirty-three states eventually allowed involuntary sterilisation of anyone who deemed unworthy to procreate according to the definitions of the lawmakers at the time. Records show that close to 50 percent of Native Americans were sterilised between 1970 and 1976. Some of the women have been sterilised during other surgical procedures without their knowledge. Such occurrences were taking place in the USA long after Hitler’s trials of creating the Aryan race.
Even if we do not use the word eugenics, as long as we do the same thing with the expectation of similar results, the consequences would be the same. There may be genetically enhanced athletes performing in Olympics and in professional sports in the future. It may seem unfair just as the usage of steroids or other enhancement drugs is considered to be.
But, the supporters of human engineering might argue that it has always been the case where some humans are born with better performance abilities than others and the ability to manipulate the genes is also a part of the natural progress of human knowledge. In fairness, enhanced genetic differences would be no worse than natural ones, assuming that they were safe and made available to anyone interested in doing so. In a world dominated by competition from kindergarten to universities and beyond, parents would be lined up to receive the services of genetic engineers to give their children every possible advantage.
The advancement of science and technology, though it can bring much good, it is dangerous since it is used by humans themselves who have not shown any development in their ethical and moral behaviour. If the word ‘spiritual’ can be used to denote any or all activities which can drive the human being forward towards a higher state of consciousness, then an essential part of an education system would be a support system for the participants to improve their spirituality. This type of spirituality has nothing to do with religion but will be capable of guiding the thought process of the human being away from using his knowledge against the common good.
This news was originally published at Sunday Observer