Steve Best

I. Mutation on the Mind

“Strange as it may seem to the unscientific reader, there can be no denying that … the manufacture of monsters — and perhaps even of quasi-human monsters — is well within the possibilities of vivisection.” H.G. Wells

Everywhere in popular culture, one finds deep-rooted anxieties about science, technology, and the fate of the human. Thus, in films such as Blade Runner, The Fly, Jurassic Park, Species, Godzilla, Deep Blue Sea, Gattaca, Mimic, Terminator, Johnny Mnemonic, and X-Men as well as in TV shows like Prey, Millennium, and The X-Files, the focus is on biological mutations, experiments gone awry, the creation of monstrosities, and technoscience run amuck.

Such media texts are responding to a chemically saturated, increasingly synthetic, global warming world that has produced mutant frogs, encephalitic babies, lower sperm counts in men, and diseased and diminished human beings affected by environmental chemicals that mimic their hormones and disrupt biological processes, and skyrocketing cancer rates. They also articulate fears of a powerful technoscience developed without restraint in the service of profit, capital, and global corporate hegemony.

Already, science has genetically engineered cows, pigs, and chickens to grow as large and fast as possible for maximal profits for agribusiness; it has “pharmed” (pharmaceutical farming) nonhuman animals (modified with human genes) to exploit them as therapeutic drug factories; bred pigs with human genes to warehouse stocks of transplantable organs; and genetically altered most food crops.

And as the genetic revolution brings about new possibilities for transcending vivisection altogether, it also has fueled greater demand for “experimental animals,” thus ensuring that an antiquated 17th century mechanistic model (dualistic, control-oriented, and atomistic) continues to thrive in the 21st century despite holistic paradigm shifts, preventative health care, scientific support for veganism, and a plethora of viable “alternatives” to the costly, ineffective, and appallingly violent and cruel methods of research and testing through vivisection.[i]

II. Science Fiction and the Literary “Breakthroughs” of H.G. Wells

“Once intelligent beings achieve technology and the capacity for self-destruction of their species, the selective advantage of intelligences becomes more uncertain.” Carl Sagan

One great writer caught these changes in his perceptual traps well before they happened, and that was H.G. Wells (1866-1946). A prolific writer of novels, short stories, and works of non-fiction, Wells praised the wonders of science and technology, mostly in his non-fiction, but also sketched out potential horrors in his science-fiction writings. While he frequently championed science and technology as great vehicles of progress, he also provided prescient warnings of their dangers and potential misuse. Wells delivered what Isaac Asimov called the “science-fiction breakthrough” by portraying the extreme ruptures with past modes of life driven by science and technology. Pursuing the “what if” logic of modern science fiction to new dimensions, Wells envisioned how science and technology could transgress the “laws” of nature and create biological mutations and entirely new species from disparate materials, resulting in terrible and unforeseeable consequences.

The changes soon to be effected in nature and humanity were anticipated in classics such as The Time Machine (1895), in which Wells portrayed humans mutating into new species and transcending the boundaries of space and time. In a ruthlessly negative vision, Wells depicts a terrifying future for humanity, involving not only the entropic collapse of civilization, but the demise of the earth itself, devoured in the red hot fireball of an exploding sun. In Well’s dystopia, the Time Traveler discovers that humanity is sharply divided between species/classes in the year AD 802,701. In his division of humanity into two warring species, the Eloi and the Morlocks, both descendants of contemporary humanity, Wells warns that an irrational organization of society can produce monstrous results. The Eloi are hyper-refined and decadent and live aboveground, while the Morlocks are crude and degenerate, and inhabit the underworld. The brutalization of the Morlochs allegorizes the outcome of a life of alienated labor, while the Eloi represent the results of excessively passive consumption and leisure.

There is thus a Marxist subtext to the story: unless exploitation stops and the division of a class society is overcome, the human species faces disastrous dichotomization, discord, and decline. But Wells goes on to imagine how sharp differences in class could create different species and forms of (post)human being. Indeed, the new eugenics seeking enhancements of the human mind and body is a luxury affordable only by the elite, and, as dramatized in the film Gattaca, social disparities can lead to biological disparities if genetic enhancement is a luxury affordable only by the rich, and new forms of genetic discrimination operate alongside the ugly prejudices of the past.

The Time Machine also articulates a critique of the Enlightenment notion of progress. Wells’ Time Traveler “thought but cheerlessly of the Advancement of Mankind and saw the growing pile of civilization only a foolish heaping that must inevitably fall back upon and destroy its maker in the end.” Time travel in Wells’ allegory is itself a metaphor for vision into the future of evolution and a warning that human species could fall prey to catastrophe rather than build ever new and better engines of progress. Here Wells demonstrates how science fiction can serve as the critical conscious of science and provide powerful challenges to the delusions and propaganda of science, by calling into question the idea that change means progress and science is always progressive.

In Food of the Gods (1904), Wells vividly portrays the possibility of destructive consequences of genetically modified food and, more generally, a culture based on unrestrained growth imperatives. The novel tells the tale of two scientists who with good intentions create “boomer” food that promotes growth processes in nature. To their horror, the technology runs amuck as everything from vegetation and insects to rats and human babies consume the food and grow to monstrous proportions.

Wells not only offers a warning about tampering with food and metabolic processes for allegedly benign purposes — such as genetically engineered “golden rice” touted today as the miracle panacea for human hunger — he also ridicules the myopia of scientists who live in “monastic seclusion” from their social world and therefore easily conjure up misguided and dangerous schemes – themes he pursued first in The Island of Dr. Moreau. The novel dramatizes a severe process of “genetic pollution” whereby the altered crops had migrated beyond the “Experimental Farm” and entered the food chain in less than a year before its first trials. Wells thereby anticipates a key problem with genetic engineering today, such as the lack of adequate testing procedures and the rushing of genetically altered substances onto the market, or the horrible and unnecessary abuse of nonhuman animals.[ii]

As if scripted by Wells’ dystopian vision, today geneticists working for corporations such as “Metamorphix” have found a way to manipulate the genes that regulate the metabolism and growth of nonhuman animals, and consequently have exploited this knowledge not for profound and noble aims, but to advance corporate hegemony and profits by producing giant chickens, sheep, pigs, and other species consumed by a fast growing world population of carnivores. In a way faithful to current implementation of such revolutionary changes, which proceed with virtually no government oversight, Wells underscores “the general laxity of method that prevailed at the Experimental Farm.”  Moreover, he prefigures “a public so glutted with novelty” that it largely ignores the momentous consequences of scientific and technological developments, a depressing phenomenon that became increasingly obvious over the 20th century with the advancement of mass media, advertising, shopping malls, gadgetry, and spectacles of all kinds.

While he observes the beauty and improved features of the giant children, Wells largely portrays the new food technology as “distorting the whole order of natural life … it swept over boundaries and turned the world of trade into a world of catastrophes.”Allegorizing emerging global economic conditions, the novel concludes on a pessimistic note of a globe given over to the imperatives of endless growth and the ceaseless conflicts capitalism generates, as humans attempt to adapt to the rapidly changing conditions of technologies that control them, rather than they being masters of their own creations.

On this dystopian scenario, insects will rise up against us, the plant world will strangle us, and fish in the sea will destroy our ships. Soon, Wells imagines, only gigantism will reign, and all things of small scale will perish -­ including humans! Much as some today see genetic engineering as creating a new line of evolution within the human species, Wells’ scenario forecasts a world where the food creates a “new race” such that a cleavage opens up between the little and gigantic groups. Allegorizing emerging global economic conditions, the novel concludes on a pessimistic note of a world given over to the imperatives of endless growth and ceaseless conflict as humans attempt to adapt to the rapidly changing conditions o technologies that control them — rather than humans becoming masters of their technologies.

III. Wells’ Critique of Vivisection and Mechanistic Science

“Atrocities are not less atrocities when they occur in laboratories and are called medical research.” George Bernard Shaw

“The science of life is a superb and dazzlingly lighted hall which may be reached only by passing through a long and ghastly kitchen.” Claude Bernard

Without doubt, one of Wells’ most important anticipations of coming ruptures in life processes is The Island of Dr. Moreau (1896).This prescient novel is a powerful protest against the self-proclaimed right of science to experiment on nonhuman animals, subjugating and exploiting them for human purposes, as it recklessly speeds down the path of engineering new life forms. This novel, as well, critiques dangerous utopian visions of “human perfection,” such as Marxist revolutionaries and proponents of eugenics – from early formulations in the late 19th and 20th century up to the “new eugenics” of the present – have championed. Further, it is a profound meditation on the psychic conflicts tearing apart humanity in the struggle to adapt to rapidly changing conditions with a mindset still tethered to its ancient primate past however “modern” or “advanced” its technological conditions.

Hardly a sanguine vision of modern science, The Island of Dr. Moreau dramatizes what may happen when science recklessly tampers with genetics and evolution, thereby disturbing intricate natural processes and relations that have evolved over billions of years, of which science understands little or nothing. Wells calls attention to technical methods and abstract knowledge that produces monsters not medicine; he reveals the will to power that informs “objective,” and “value-free” knowing, and the malignant mindset that drives vivisectors toward ever more killing, unconscionable cruelties, and habitual ignorance and arrogance.

Forced to relocate his barbaric experiments to a remote Pacific island when exposed by a journalist, as Huntington Life Sciences today have scurried from the UK to the US and Asia and attempted to hide from the damning revelations of seven separate exposes, Moreau obsessively and tenaciously advances his project to create new life forms, to become a Grand Manipulator, an omniscient and omnipotent God, whatever the cost in terms of suffering and death he inflicts on the nonhuman animals locked in cages. Moreau describes his island chambers as a “kind of Bluebeard’s chamber,” an apt phrase for vivisection laboratories everywhere whose hallways echo with the shrieks of brutalized beings victimized by the only animal capable of sadistic torture and rationalizing evil.

Moreau’s words also eerily invoke the macabre statement of 19th century vivisector champion, Claude Bernard, who wrote, “The science of life is a superb and dazzlingly lighted hall which may be reached only by passing through a long and ghastly kitchen,” by traversing, that is, the torment, bloodshed, and death that is vivisection. While Bernard articulates here in florid form what contemporary scientists more prosaically refer to as a “necessary evil,” it is interesting to note that he implies vivisection is only a transitional stage in the development of science. Yet considering the campaigns of pro-vivisection groups such as Pro-Test, Speaking of Research, and Americans for Medical Progress, we see the vivisection industry tenaciously clinging to old models and adamantly resisting change, and this is largely because the money is locked in the models of the past, and the industry favors its financial interests over advances in science, medicine, and human well-being.

Upon arriving at the island, hapless traveler Edward Prendrick hears cries from the “House of Pain.” Wells reminds us of the agony endured by the victims of vivisection, and what an abominable, detestable, and barbaric practice modern experimental research has been and remains. The prevailing image of an obscure and distant island symbolizes the isolation of science from the public and the practice of vivisection in the unmarked and secured buildings that hide the horrors of nonhuman animal torture from critical scrutiny and help shield pseudo-science from effective regulation, meaningful oversight, and conditions of openness and “transparency.”

But once behind the walls of secrecy, Prendrick sees and hears all that is closed to the public; only through undercover investigations is the true world of the vivisector revealed to the public, rather than the lies and professional propaganda disseminated to a gullible populace. And every time an activist penetrates the thick walls that shield and protect vivisectors from scrutiny or accountability, the same habitual practices of neglect and cruelty are revealed, refuting the lies and obfuscating rhetoric of “welfare” and the obfuscation that government, oversight committees, and (in the US) the Animal Welfare Act ensure that scientists provide “care” for their coerced captives. The entire smoke and mirror act of welfarism, regardless, only reinforces the myth that any level of captivity, confinement, isolation, body invasion, terrorism, torture, and cutting, burning, maiming, and sickening other sentient beings is somehow “humane,” “responsible,” or acceptable by any society that has climbed out of the morass of barbarism and does not confuse the dressings and trappings of technology with moral evolution and genuine civilization.

Corporate and university laboratories are unmarked, hidden, and guarded for good reason. Just as if slaughterhouses had glass walls, the population of vegetarians would swell, so if laboratories were translucent and revealed the truth of their “care” and the fraud called “science,” a formidable mass of people would rise in outrage to demand an end to this charade, the immediate cessation of wasting taxpayer money on this travesty, a full scale investigation into corporate greed and government collusion, and a radically new vision for health and medicine. The dark, hidden, secret, and virtually unregulated world of vivisection cannot survive the light of truth, and so, like cockroaches, researchers and functionaries slither and scurry into their dark clandestine compounds and gloomy guarded fortresses. The image of an island is thus a perfect metaphor for vivisection, for whether in the basements of universities or behind the barbed wired walls of corporate research centers, vivisectors seek as much secrecy and distance from the public as possible.

Wells not only gave voice to growing protests against vivisection during the nineteenth century and after in England, the US, and other Western states, he anticipated the logical extension of the atrocities of vivisection in the 20th century, as the fictional crimes of Dr. Moreau progressed into the real horrors of Dr. Mengele and Nazi genocide. Speaking through the voice of a critically awaked Prendrick, Wells raises the terrible question: “could the vivisection of men be possible?” Wells clearly understands that experimentation on nonhuman animals – contemptible in itself and evil on its own – is but a step toward experimentation on human animals; it is the inevitable progression of Western pathologies and the unchecked modernist will to power that subjects all living beings to the dictates of the needle, scalpel, and microscope.

We know now — through Auschwitz; the Tuskegee, Alabama experiments that withheld penicillin treatment from 399 black men infected with syphilis; the intentional infection of mentally retarded children with hepatitis-B by doctors at Willowbrook State Hospital in Staten Island; government-directed radiation experiments on unwitting Americans to assess the effect of radioactivity on the human body; and countless cases of “volunteers” for medical “research” who were not informed of the serious risks they were taking — that the answer to Prendrick’s agonizing question is affirmative. Well’s position seems not to be the speciesist axiom that the “superior” status of humans justifies unlimited suffering and killing of other animals, but rather that a culture which dispenses violence and death to other animals will inevitably turn its weapons against itself.

With his sympathies and conscience still intact, unlike the human automatons re-engineered through years of “scientific training,” Prendrick recoils in horror upon seeing the sundry “Beast Folk” engineered by Moreau. He beholds a grotesque menagerie of transgenic freaks that include mixtures of hyena and swine, ape and goat, bear and bull, and horse and rhinoceros. Wells’ portrait of a veritable surrealist zoo of creatures remarkably anticipates our own era of genetic reconstruction, in which scientists have created potatoes with chicken and sheep genes; tomatoes with antifreeze genes from fish; glow-in-the-dark tobacco plants spliced with firefly genes; and pigs bred with human genes.

As if nonhuman animals do not already suffer enough, with billions confined, tortured, and butchered in the laboratories, factory farms, and slaughterhouses of the world, the Western corporate-science complex is now “pharming” an array of animal-human composites for their blood, milk, and organs. The obscene violence of intensive confinement of chickens, pigs, and cattle in the factory farming system grow even worse with genetic modification techniques used to maximize and accelerate growth processes and thus to expand profit margins. Not surprisingly, this unprecedented level of interference in the natural growth processes of nonhuman animals produced monstrosities, such as cows with massive udders, turkeys too top-heavy to mate, and chickens afflicted with a painful “rapid muscling” condition that impedes their ability to walk.[iii]

From Frankenfields to brave new barnyards, scientists have spawned a cornucopia of transgenic species. Experiments with human-animal hybrids grown in Petri dishes suggests the possibility of creating humanimals in the manner of Dr. Moreau. As scientists have already created anomalies such as self-shearing sheep and broiler chickens with fewer feathers, some macabre visionaries foresee engineering pigs and chickens with flesh that is tender or easy to microwave, and wingless chickens that won’t require bigger cages. The next step would be to just create and replicate animals’ torsos – minimalistic organ sacks — and dispense with superfluous heads and limbs. In fact, scientists have already created headless embryos of mice and frogs in grotesque manifestations of the kinds of life they can now construct at will.

Prendrick sees the hybrid creations as humans devolved into animals, but Moreau informs him that in fact they are animals he is trying to elevate into humans. Within each hybrid there is a constant battle between instinct and morality, desire and reason; their struggle mirrors that of humanity which, despite varying social-institutional forms and its self-scribed essence as “wise” or “rational,” cannot evolve beyond the primitive urges of hatred, violence, killing, war, genocide, and social hierarchy.

In an uncanny anticipation of xenotransplantation and genetic engineering, Wells, speaking through Moreau, imagines that “it is a possible thing to transplant tissue from one part of an animal to another or from one animal to another, to alter its chemical reactions and methods of growth, to modify the articulation of its limbs, and indeed to change it in its most intimate structure.” Yet, every time Moreau’s chimeras seem to verge toward “triumphs of vivisection,” they revert to brute violence and chaos. Despite the intense social conditioning that Moreau believes nullify any possibility of disobedience, the Beast Folk regularly break his rules, rebel ever more boldly, and ultimately kill their despised creator.

The intractable and autonomous Beast Folk are vivid reminders of the limits of modernist schemes of prediction and control. Wells exposes the fallacies of mechanistic science and the Cartesian-Baconian paradigm, which stem from control fantasies, alienation and arrogance, and atomistic thinking. Consequently, vivisection is a massive error, fallacy, and obstacle to genuine knowledge, sustained by careerism, cowardice, inertia, dearth of imagination, hollow rationalizations about “necessary evil,” and the profits of the vivisection and pharmaceutical industries, including breeders, suppliers, and a huge supporting network of businesses from insurance to cleaning. The vast and variegated global vivisection complex serves the master of profit, not the principle of truth, and knows quite well that the money is in treating the symptoms of disease, not curing it once and for all.

In our own social context, Moreau is embodied in the global vivisection complex (and the complicit FDA) and citizens are the Beast Folk, the experimental “animals” of elite corporations and bureaucracies of specialized knowledge. Given significant differences in physiology, metabolism, and reaction to drugs, and the appallingly high failure rate (often causing serious injury or death) of drugs “tested safe on animals,” it is  clear that everyone who takes prescription medicines and who eats non-organic food is a subject of a vast experiment corporations, scientists, and government impose on citizens without public debate and informed consent, such as may easily have unknown, long-term, and unforeseeable negative effects on health. In this sense, there is no island on which science is practiced apart from society, for the mindset, influence, and consequences of technoscience, vivisection, and corporate research spreads throughout the pores and interstices of society, into our homes and bodies.[iv]

IV. The Campus of Dr. Jentsch

“They apply to humans the same formulas and findings that, without restraint, they force from defenseless animals in their nauseating physiological laboratories… Reason, mercilessly advancing, belongs to man. The animal, from which he draws his bloody conclusion, knows only irrational terror and the urge to make an escape from which he is cut off.” Max Horkheimer and Theodor Adorno

Upon encountering the shock of “the strangest beings” he has ever seen, Prendrick realizes that the island “is full of inimical phenomena” and he condemns Moreau as a “lunatic” and “ugly devil.” He concludes that Dr. Moreau – like Mary Shelly’s character, Dr. Frankenstein — “was so irresponsible, so utterly careless. His curiosity, his mad, aimless investigations, drove him on.”

Moreau, of course, has a different image of himself, as indeed do all white coat mercenaries and tenured sadists reaping the lucrative rewards of corporate caches and taxpayer booty. Like capitalists, scientists view the world as exploitable resources, and thus view nonhuman animals as nothing but commodities, things, data generators for publication, and mere means to human ends. Although Moreau has perfected the art of scientific detachment, and is exquisitely indifferent to the pain he inflicts on his victims, he imagines himself — in the bad faith of all vivisectors — as a benefactor to the world, as one who is trying to realize his vision of a perfect humanity to be achieved through rapid biological manipulation rather than the social and educational practices that span generations.

For twenty years, Moreau devoted himself “to the study of the plasticity of living forms.” Rejecting any belief that nature and species boundaries are fixed, he seeks to “conquer” nature, to bend it to his will, to become God-like in his power to design species, while admitting that he has “never troubled himself about the ethics of the matter.” Nothing today could better summarize the mentality of the scientific establishment trained to detach facts from values, research from ethics, feelings from reason, science from public scrutiny and concerns.

Wells’ Dr. Moreau, like Shelly’s Dr. Frankenstein, is sketched not so much as an individual as a general type or syndrome that is rampant in science, and far more so today than the last two centuries when Wells and Shelly wrote their novels.[v] One contemporary individual that these authors would have no trouble identifying as a manifestation of the Frankenstein or Moreauvian syndrome is Dr. J. David Jentsch, a UCLA vivisector and gung-ho  leader of the US Pro-Test” movement. Originating in the UK in 2006, the Pro-Test movement mobilized to counter animal rights arguments “disinformation” with the “true facts” regarding the indispensible role of vivisection in the past, present, and future of medical progress.[vi]

For scientists to create monsters, they first have to turn themselves into monsters. Jentsch’s bizarre, sinister, alien, metrosexual, gothy, insect-like, mutant posthuman look — his stretched Gladwrap face and altered eyebrows appropriate for an OC housewife, circus master, Addams Family cast, Star Trek set, bit player (perhaps star!) in The Rocky Horror Picture Show, but somewhat odd for an aging vivisector — is a remarkable symbolization of the monstrous nature of vivisection. Modified, amplified, distorted, enhanced, unnaturally twisted, bent, and shaped, Dr. Jentsch is the face of vivisection, the perfect spokesmen and poster boy for a vast, shadowy, sinewy, sinister multibillion dollar industry that inflicts pain, terror, and torture on millions of innocent nonhuman animals equal to human animals in their capacity to suffer psychologically and physically. Jentsch emphatically embodies an industry that breeds, boxes, and buys sentient beings from Charles River Laboratory (the so-called “General Motors of the laboratory animal industry”) catalogues as if they were blocks of wood. Whether captured from the wild, bought under false pretence from homes or shelters, or bred as slaves, monkeys, dogs, cats, mice, rats, and rabbits are cast into a living nightmare and terrifying hell where menacing figures in white coats bring pain without compassion and death without remorse.

For scientists to create monsters, they first have to turn themselves into monsters.

Jentsch is the real deal; he doesn’t just play a vivisector on TV, he is a card-carrying, bona fide, board certified purveyor of pain; he doesn’t only theorize about vivisection, he practices it and sickens and kills with his own hands. Jentsch’s profound contributions to medicine and humanity stem from his efforts to “model certain aspects of schizophrenia” in monkeys, addict them to cocaine “to produce both selective deficits in cognitive functions,” and, for variety, he exposes rats to THC and amphetamines to manipulate “attentional impairments.” And still more nonhuman animals are subjected to Jentsch’s Moreauvian whims as he champions “the usefulness of PCP (also known as “ketamine” or “angel dust”) administration” to produce “symptoms of schizophrenia,” and continues his quest to addict primates to drugs that elicit psychotic reactions, ”particularly schizophrenia.” Like many or even most scientific publications, these studies take common sense ideas or deductions that could be stated a priori, dress them up with inscrutable scientific jargon, and convert them into publishable profundities that allegedly warrant more taxpayer money for more senseless suffering and depressing death.

With Dario Ringach and other UCLA Pro-Test colleagues, Jentsch slices and dices throughout the day, ensconced within his campus compound, safe from animal rights “thugs” and “terrorists.”.[vii] Like most scientists who wield life and death power over helpless innocents and brandish a license to kill, Jentsch’s arrogance blocks awareness of his own hypocrisy. Unlike Jentsch who tortures and kills for a living, the Animal Liberation Front (ALF) strictly abides by a code of nonviolence and attacks property, never people, using sabotage as a tactic to weaken or shut down exploiters and oppressors who profit from the misery of others. Like the Underground Railroad of the 19th century, the ALF frees captive slaves, secures them food and medical treatment, and transports them +to new homes.[viii] In the topsy-turvy outlook of speciesism, ethical property destruction is terrorism but torture and murder of innocents – their just deserts for the crime of being nonhuman and inferior – is laudable and the service to humanity merits accolades of the highest order. History is likely to make a different judgment.

For scientists to create monsters, they first have to turn themselves into monsters, a process that begins with training in “objective” methods and the schizophrenic detachment of reason from emotion, facts from values. Curiosity pursued “for its own sake” is severed from ethical ideals as the drive for knowledge is its own justification and legitimation, no matter what unconscionable horrors are inflicted on innocent victims.

But the romantic individualism implied here is long obsolete, a causality of the commodification of knowledge and corporatization of academia. In the reign of advanced capitalism, science is pursued for the sake of grant money, profits, bureaucratic requirements, career ambitions, and the profits of the global vivisection complex. Whereas science driven by curiosity is foreboding enough, science powered by capital, contracts, and corporations is terrifying as “facts” become commodities, “truth” can be shaped to any agenda or purpose, and scientists are often bound to confidential agreements that prohibit them from divulging information that contradicts the desired corporate narrative they were hired to shape. The pressure of grants, tenure, and promotion ensure no one wanting a long term career step out of line to question corporate influence or policies of the state, and the indentured servitude of professors and sometimes entire departments to oil, agriculture, timber, and pharmaceutical corporations turns knowledge into a bar-coded commodity, prostitutes the ideals of the academy and the integrity of knowledge, and relegates universities to utilitarian functions within the academic-military-industrial complex.

V. The Time Machine of Visionary Fiction Critique

“Human history has become more and more a race between education and catastrophe.” H.G. Wells

As we move into a new millennium fraught with terror and danger, a global postmodern condition is unfolding in the midst of rapid evolutionary and social changes co-constructed by science, technology, and global capital. We are quickly morphing into a new biological and social existence that is ever-more shaped by computers, mass media, and biotechnology, all driven by the logic of capital and a powerful technoscience. In this context, science is no longer merely an interpretation of the natural and social worlds, rather it has become an active force in changing them and the very nature of life. In an era where life can be created and redesigned in a Petri dish, where species boundaries are transgressed at will, and genetic codes can be edited like a digital text, the boundaries between reality/unreality, natural/artificial, inorganic/organic, biology/technology, human/machine, and the born and the made are disappearing as all life ­- from bacteria and plants to nonhuman animals and human animals ­- is being reconstructed, commodified, and patented in a “second Genesis.”

Ultimately, the titans of technoscience intend to seize the reins of evolution and redesign – to “improve” – the human genome. They want to maximize the transformations, optimize the pace of change, and minimize public involvement and government regulation. To justify their island-like distance from society, they insist that only elites and experts can be in the driver’s seat, that the public must trust them completely, that their goals are purely altruistic, that they will bring progress and happiness to all, and that everything is safe and under control.

Amidst the vertigo of increasingly rapid and profound mutation, the lines between the future and present blur, as technological visions quickly become reality, unleashing waves of change that engulf existing forms of life, washing them away toward new, unknown destinations with unpredictable effects that could be liberating or destructive, depending on the extent to which human beings can envisage their double potential and shape them through democratic practices toward progressive ends. This very much is a public, democratic, and participatory matter. It demands our full attention, awareness, and engagement, and requires replacing the isolation of science from citizenry with a mutual critical dialogue designed to achieve goals of democracy, justice, and ecology.

But the injustice of human exploiting human and the grotesquely uneven effects of development within US society and between so-called developed and undeveloped worlds cannot be renounced only to replicate far worse injustices and forms of oppression in our relations to other sentient species. From a consistent ethical standpoint not vitiated by arbitrary bias in favor of our own species, we cannot enslave, butcher, and murder countless millions of lives to advance our own purposes, especially when these interests are best advanced by overcoming speciesism and carnivorism, advancing aggressive education campaigns about preventative heath and benefits of veganism, and healing our alienation from the surrounding world.

Our contemporary era, with all its strange novelties, demands new visions and new maps to survey the bizarre terrain. These must be not only empirical and sociological mappings, but also fictional and literary representations to startle the imagination into adequately grasping nova such as artificial intelligence, genetic engineering, cloning, and xenotransplantation. Perhaps no one demonstrates more clearly than H.G. Wells the fallacy of separating science fiction from earthly and social affairs. Science fiction works can anticipate new modes of being and illuminate the present through presenting ways of seeing that provide concrete embodiment to the abstractions of science and theory. They can also present the practical and human consequences of inventions, technologies, and scientific breakthroughs.

The Island of Dr. Moreau deserves to be re-read in the current context of an ongoing biotech revolution in which many developments he anticipated have become real, while the mentality of science is much the same. The novel is a powerful critique of technology out-of-control, of unethical usages of “objective” science, of scientists without perspective or humanity, and of frightening mutations to come. Wells demonstrates how science fiction can serve as the critical conscience of science and provide powerful challenges to the delusions and propaganda of technoscience. Wells severs the equation of growth and change with progress, and calls into question rationalizations for cruelty, violence, killing, and domination as “necessary” for medical advance. Like the Cartesian view of animals scientists generally hold, vivisection is an obsolete research and testing model that ultimately impedes scientific progress, just as surely as it prevents the substantive moral and social progress necessary for an advanced technological society to be viable and sustainable.

Notes


[1]  For detailed analysis of the modern and postmodern paradigm shifts in science, see Steven Best and Douglas Kellner, The Postmodern Turn (Guilford Press, 1997) and The Postmodern Adventure: Science, Technology, and Cultural Studies at the Third Millennium (Guilford Press, 2001).

 [ii] According to recent USDA estimates, 55% of soybeans, 35% of corn crops, 80% of processed foods, and 60-75% of nonorganic food in US supermarkets are genetically modified. With the firm support of US “regulatory” agencies, genetically modified corn, soybeans, tomatoes, potatoes, squash, cotton, and dozens of other crops have been planted across one fourth of US cropland, brought to supermarkets unlabelled, and imported to other countries. Four dozen genetically modified foods cultivated over 90 million acres of land turn up in a wide array of items, from tofu to tortillas, from canola oil to corn chips, from potatoes to protein powder, from breads to beer, and from syrups to salad dressings. And none are labeled as genetically altered for, according to FDA, this would be “alarmist,” “impractical,” and “confusing” to the consumer since they declared GMFs safe. This violates their own policy which requires that substances added to foods be identified and which prohibits “false or misleading” labeling.

 [iii] On the genetic modification and cloning of nonhuman animals, see Steven Best, “Genetic Engineering, Animal Exploitation, and the Challenge for Democracy,” in Leonardo’s Choice: Genetic Technologies and Animals (ed. Carol Gigliotti), Springer Press, 2009.

[iv] See Fran Hawthorne, Inside the FDA: The Business and Politics Behind the Drugs We Take and the Food We Eat. Wiley Publishers, 2005.

[v] On Shelly’s ever-timely novel and the specific type of scientific mindset she was criticizing, see Best, and Kellner “The Frankenstein Syndrome,” in The Postmodern Adventure.

[vi] On the origins of the Pro-Test movement in the UK and US, see www.pro-test.org.uk, wttp://www.speakingofresearch.org/, and http://www.pro-test-for-science.org/.

[vii] Biomedexperts “Research Profile” of J. David Jentsch (experiments, theories, publications): http://www.biomedexperts.com/Profile.bme/638932/J_David_Jentsch.

[viii] On the history, ethics, politics, and tactics of the Animal Liberation Front, see Steven Best and Anthony J. Nocella II (eds.), Terrorists or Freedom Fighters? Reflections on the Liberation of Animals. Lantern Books, 2006.