Category: Postmodernity

by Steven Best


I. Introduction: The Great Transformation

We’re in the midst of a great transformation as momentous as that which produced capitalist modernity. Like (eighteenth through mid-twentieth century) modernity, three main engines of change drive postmodernity: science, technology, and capitalism. Once unleashed without restraints in the modern era, they produced perpetual changes and innovations, which in turn created profound resistances.

The same dynamics that drove the modern adventure propel the postmodern adventure, but the co-evolution of science, technology, and capitalism create a qualitatively new world and with it new paradigms of art, theory, science, and reality itself.

We are quickly morphing into a new biological and social existence that is ever-more mediated and shaped by phenomena such as computers, mass media, and biotechnology, all driven by the logic of capital and a powerful emergent technoscience. In this global context, science is no longer merely an interpretation of the natural and social worlds; rather it has become an active force in changing them.

Postmodernity is characterized by novel phenomena such as electronic media, computers, artificial intelligence, robotics, virtual reality, nanotechnology, genetic engineering, cloning, stem cell research, and synthetic biology, all developed in the context of the global reorganization of capitalism. Our world, moreover, is marked by increasingly rapid and radical change.

If as Max Weber and Jurgen Habermas have noted, modernity is a differentiating structure that separates different realms of thought and social life, then postmodernity is a dedifferentiating or implosive structure. Parallel to postmodern philosophy, postmodernity elides key dualisms and boundary lines that have been fundamental to Western thought and culture, but does this more radically by working at a level of practice that transforms not only ideas but the world and the Western reality principle itself most generally. Classical distinctions between subject and object, human and nonhuman, organic matter and inorganic matter, the natural and artificial, the born and the made, and biology and technology, have been erased.

The postmodern adventure is all about transgressing boundaries and limit conditions, but some are crossed at great peril. Our world, moreover, is marked by increasingly rapid and radical change, but these mutations bring both potential risks and benefits that need to be sort out as key traps and dangers need to be anticipated and avoided. Ultimately, the design we are speaking about here is the design – or re-design – of the entire natural world, from microorganisms and plants to animals and human beings – and some things like synthetic biology we are designing virtually from scratch.

In the last few decades, we have witnessed dramatic implosions between biology and technology, such that animals and human beings are being technologically redesigned and reworked through technology (e.g., genetic engineering, cloning, and cyborg developments in the human body), as technology increasingly takes on organic or human properties (e.g., DNA computer chips, artificial intelligence and self-organizing computer systems, increasingly lifelike and emotionally interactive robots). In a world of Petri dish babies, neural implants, virtual reality, nanotechnology, neural implants, wearable computers, bionic implants, modified genes, designer species, human-animal chimeras, and artificial intelligence and life, reality has morphed into surrreality and science fiction becomes science fact. Science and technology undermine the erection of any firm boundaries between reality/unreality, natural/artificial, inorganic/organic, biology/technology, human/machine, and the born and the made. Between the revolutionary developments of quantum mechanics and the practical transformations effected by technoscience, reality just ain’t what it used to be. For many the age of humanism is over as well, we are rapidly morphing into a new posthumanist/transhumanist condition.

Through both empirical mappings and the works of science fiction visionaries, I will chart a number of implosions that call into question human identity, traditional mappings and boundary lines of Western reality. The ambiguity of the present moment is that the science and technologies which could bring stunning benefits to the humanity race also engender new forms of domination and destruction. The outcome depends upon whether individuals and communities can democratically restructure society and culture to avoid the destructive consequences of uncontrolled growth and development.

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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.


[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, wttp://, and

[vii] Biomedexperts “Research Profile” of J. David Jentsch (experiments, theories, publications):

[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.

Anyone who thinks that things will move slowly is being very naive. – Lee Silver, Molecular Biologist

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 the restructuring of global capital. We are quickly morphing into a new biological and social existence that is ever-more mediated and shaped by computers, mass media, and biotechnology, all driven by the logic of capital and a powerful emergent techno-science. In this global 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 petridish, and genetic codes can be edited like a digital text, the distinction between ‘‘natural’’ and ‘‘artificial’’ has become greatly complexified. The new techniques of manipulation call into question existing definitions of life and death, demand a rethinking of fundamental notions of ethics and moral value, and pose unique challenges for democracy.

As techno-science develops by leaps and bounds, and as genetics rapidly advances, the science–industrial complex has come to a point where it is creating new transgenic species and is rushing toward a posthuman culture that unfolds in the increasingly intimate merging of technology and biology. The posthuman involves both new conceptions of the ‘‘human’’in an age of information and communication, and new modes of existence, as flesh merges with steel, circuitry, and genes from other species. Exploiting more animals than ever before, techno-science intensifies research and experimentation into human cloning.  This process is accelerated because genetic engineering and cloning are developed for commercial purposes, anticipating enormous profits on the horizon for the biotech industry. Consequently, all natural reality—from microorganisms and plants to animals and human beings—is subject to genetic reconstruction in a commodified ‘‘Second Genesis.’’

At present, the issues of cloning and biotechnology are being heatedly debated in the halls of science, in political circles, among religious communities, throughout academia, and more broadly in the media and public spheres. Not surprisingly, the discourses on biotechnology are polarized. Defenders of biotechnology extol its potential to increase food production and quality, and to cure diseases, endow us with ‘‘improved’’ human traits, and prolong human life.  Its critics claim that genetic engineering of food will produce Frankenfoods, which pollute the food supply with potentially harmful products that could devastate the environment, biodiversity, and human life itself; that animal and human cloning will breed monstrosities; that a dangerous new eugenics is on the horizon; and that the manipulation of embryonic stem cells violates the principle of respect for life and destroys a bona fide ‘‘human being.’’

Interestingly, the same dichotomies that have polarized information-technology discourses into one-sided technophobic and technophillic positions are reproduced in debates over biotechnology. Just as I believe that critical theories of technology are needed to produce more dialectical perspectives that distinguish between positive and negative aspects and effects of information technology (Best and Kellner 2001), so too I would claim that similar approaches are required to articulate the potentially beneficial and perhaps destructive aspects of biotechnology. Indeed, current debates over cloning and stem cell research suggest powerful contradictions and ambiguities in these phenomena that render one-sided positions superficial and dangerous. Parallels and similar complexities in communication and biotechnology are not surprising given that information technology provides the infrastructure to biotechnology that has been constituted by computer-mediated technologies involved in the Human Genome Project, and, conversely, genetic science is being used to push the power and speed of computers through phenomena such as ‘‘gene chips.’’

As the debates over cloning and stem cell research indicate, issues raised by biotechnology combine research into the genetic sciences, perspectives and contexts articulated by the social sciences, and the ethical and anthropological concerns of philosophy. Consequently, I argue that intervening in the debates over biotechnology require supra disciplinary critical philosophy and social theory to illuminate the problems and their stakes. In addition, debates over cloning and stem cell research raise exceptionally important challenges to bioethics and a democratic politics of communication. Biotechnology is thus a critical flashpoint for ethics and democratic theory and practice. Contemporary biotechnology underscores the need for more widespread knowledge of important scientific issues; participatory debate over science, technology, values, and our very concept of human life; and regulation concerning new developments in the biosciences, which have such high economic, political, and social consequences.

New genetic technologies like stem cell research contain positive potential for medical advances that should not be blocked by problematic conservative positions. Nonetheless, I believe that the entire realm of biotechnology is fraught with dangers and problems that require careful study and democratic debate.  The emerging genomic sciences should thus be undertaken by scientists with a keen sense of responsibility and accountability, and be subject to intense public scrutiny and open discussion. Finally, in the light of the dangers and potentially deadly consequences of biotechnology, I maintain that the positive potential of biotechnology can be realized only in a new context of cultivating new sensibilities toward nature, engaging in ethical and political debate, and participating in political struggles over biotechnology and its effects.


1 Brave new barnyard: the advent of animal cloning

The idea is to arrive at the ideal animal and repeatedly copy it exactly as it is.– Dr. Mark  Hardy

From its entrenched standpoint of unqualified human superiority, science, typically first targets objects of nature and animals with its analytic gaze and instruments. The current momentous turn toward cloning is largely undertaken by way of animals, although some scientists have already directly focused on cloning human beings. While genetic engineering creates new ‘‘transgenic’’ species by inserting the gene from one species into another, cloning replicates cells to produce identical copies of a host organism by inserting its DNA into an enucleated egg. In a potent combination, genetic engineering and cloning technologies are used together in order, first, to custom design a transgenic animal to suit the needs of science and industry (the distinction is irrevocably blurred) and, second, to mass reproduce the hybrid creation endlessly for profitable peddling in medical and agricultural markets.

Cloning is a return to asexual reproduction and bypasses the caprice of the genetic lottery and random shuffling of genes. It dispenses with the need to inject a gene into thousands of newly fertilized eggs to get a successful result. Rather, much as the printing press replaced the scribe, cloning allows mass reproduction of a devised type, and thus opens genetic engineering to vast commercial possibilities.  Life science companies are poised to make billions of dollars in profits, as numerous organizations, universities, and corporations move toward cloning animals and human stem cells, and patenting the methods and results of their research.

To date, science has engineered a myriad of transgenic animals and has cloned animals such as sheep, calves, goats, bulls, pigs, mice, and cats. Although still far from precise, cloning nevertheless has become routine. What is radically new and startling is not cloning itself, since from 1952 scientists have replicated organisms from embryonic cells. Rather, the new techniques of cloning, or ‘‘nuclear somatic transfer,’’ from adult mammal body cells constitute a new form of animal reproduction. These methods accomplish what scientists long considered impossible—reverting adult (specialized) cells to their original (nonspecialized) embryonic state where they can be reprogrammed to form a new organism. In effect, this startling process creates the identical twin of the adult that provided the original donor cell. This technique was used first to create Dolly, the first mammal cloned from a cell from an adult animal, and subsequently all of her varied offspring.


 2 Dolly and her progeny

Traditionally, scientists considered cloning beyond the reach of human ingenuity.  But when Ian Wilmut and his associates from the Roslin Institute near Edinburgh, Scotland, announced their earth-shattering discovery in March 1997, the ‘‘impossible’’ appeared in the form of a sheep named Dolly, and a ‘‘natural law’’ had been broken. Dolly’s donor cells came from a 6-year-old Finn Dorset Ewe. Wilmut starved mammary cells in a low-nutrient tissue culture where they became quiescent and subject to reprogramming. He then removed the nucleus containing genetic material from an unfertilized egg cell of a second sheep, a Scottish Blackface, and, in a nice Frankenstein touch, fused the two cells with a spark of electricity. After 277 failed attempts, the resulting embryo was then implanted into a third sheep, a surrogate mother who gave birth to Dolly in July 1996.

Many critics said Dolly was either not a real clone or was just a fluke. Yet, less than 2 years after Dolly’s emergence, scientists had cloned numerous species, including mice, pigs, cows, and goats, and had even made clones of clones of clones, producing genetic simulacra in mass batches as in 1931 Huxley (1989a) envisioned happening to human beings in Brave New World. The commercial possibilities of cloning animals were dramatic and obvious for all to behold. The race was on to patent novel cloning technologies and the transgenic offspring they would engender.

Animals are being designed and bred as living drug and organ factories, as their bodies are disrupted, refashioned, and mutilated to benefit meat and dairy industries. Genetic engineering is employed in biomedical research by infecting animals with diseases that become a part of their genetic make up and are transmitted to their offspring, as in the case of researchers trying to replicate the effects of cystic fibrosis in sheep. Most infamously, Harvard University, with funding from Du Pont, has patented a mouse—OncoMouse —that has human cancer genes built into its genetic make up and are expressed in its offspring (Haraway 1997).

In the booming industry of ‘‘pharming’’ (pharmaceutical farming), animals are genetically modified to secrete therapeutic proteins and medicines in their milk. The first major breakthrough came in January 1998, when Genzyme Transgenics created transgenic cattle named George and Charlie. The result of splicing human genes and bovine cells, they were cloned to make milk that contains human proteins such as the blood-clotting factor needed by hemophiliacs.  Co-creator James Robl said, ‘‘I look at this as being a major step toward the commercialization of this [cloning] technology.’’1 In early January 2002, the biotech company PPL announced that they had just cloned a litter of pigs, which could aid in human organ transplants. On the eve of the publication of an article by another company, Immerge Bio Therapeutics claimed that they had achieved a similar breakthrough.2 The new process involved creation of the first ‘‘knockout’’ pigs, in which a single gene in pig DNA is deleted to eliminate a protein that is present in pigs, which is usually violently rejected by the human immune system. This meant that a big step could be made in the merging of humans and animals, and creating animals as harvest-machines for human organs.

Strolling through the Brave New Barnyard, one can find incredible beings that appear normal, but in fact are genetic satyrs and chimera. Cows generate lactoferrin, a human protein useful for treating infections. Goats manufacture antithrombin III, a human protein that can prevent blood clotting, and serum albumin, which regulates the transfer of fluids in the body. Sheep produce alpha antitrypsin, a drug used to treat cystic fibrosis. Pigs secrete phytase, a bacterial protein that enables them to emit less of the pollutant phosphorous in their manure, and chickens make lysozyme, an antibiotic, in their eggs to keep their own infections down.

‘‘BioSteel’’ presents an example of the bizarre wonders of genetic technology that points to the erasure of boundaries between animate and inanimate matter, as well as among different species. In producing this substance, scientists have implanted a spider gene into goats, so that their milk produces a super-strong material—BioSteel—that can be used for bulletproof vests, medical supplies, and aerospace and engineering projects. In order to produce vast quantities of BioSteel, Nexia Biotechnologies intend to house thousands of goats in 15 weapons-storage buildings, confining them in small holding pens.3

As we see, animals are genetically engineered and cloned to produce a stock of organs for human transplants. Given the severe shortage of human organs, thousands of patients every year languish and die before they can receive a healthy kidney, liver, or heart. Rather than encouraging preventative medicine and finding ways to encourage more organ donations, medical science has turned to xeno-transplantation, and has begun breeding herds of animals (with pigs as a favored medium) to be used as organ sources for human transplantation.

Clearly, this is a very hazardous enterprise due to the possibility of animal viruses causing new plagues and diseases in the human population (a danger which exists also in pharmaceutical milk). For many scientists, however, the main concern is that the human body rejects animal organs as foreign and destroys them within minutes. Researchers seek to overcome this problem by genetically modifying the donor organ so that they knock out markers in pig cells and add genes that make their protein surfaces identical to those in humans.

Geneticists envision cloning entire herds of altered pigs and other transgenic animals so that an inexhaustible warehouse of organs and tissues would be available for human use. In the process of conducting experiments such as transplanting pig hearts modified with a human gene into the bodies of monkeys, companies such as Imutran have caused horrific suffering, with no evident value to be gained given the crucial differences among species and introducing the danger of new diseases into human populations.4

As if billions of animals were not already exploited enough in laboratories, factory farms, and slaughterhouses, genetic engineering and cloning exacerbate the killing and pain with new institutions of confinement and bodily invasion that demand billions of more captive bodies. Whereas genetic and cloning technologies in the cases described at least have the potential to benefit human beings, they have also been appropriated by the meat and dairy industries for purposes of increased profit through the exploitation of animals and biotechnology.  It’s the nightmarish materialization of the H.G. Wells scenario where, in his prophetic 1904 novel The Food of the Gods, scientists invent a substance that prompts every living being that consumes it to grow to gargantuan proportions (Best and Kellner 2001). Having located the genes responsible for regulating growth and metabolism, university and corporate researchers immediately exploited this knowledge for profit. Thus, for the glories of carcinogenic carnivorous consumption, corporations such as MetaMorphix and Cape Aquaculture Technologies have created giant pigs, sheep, cattle, lobsters, and fish that grow faster and larger than the limits set by evolution.

Amidst the surreality of Wellsian gigantism, cattle and dairy industries are engineering and cloning designer animals that are larger, leaner, and fastergrowing value producers. With synthetic chemicals and DNA alteration, pharmers can produce pigs that mature twice as fast and provide at least twice the normal amount of sows per litter as they eat 25% less feed, and cows that produce at least 40% more milk. Since 1997, at least one country, Japan, has sold cloned beef to its citizens.5 But there is strong reason to believe that U.S.  consumers—already a nation of guinea pigs in their consumption of genetically modified foods—have eaten cloned meat and dairy products. For years, corporations have cloned farmed animals with the express purpose of someday introducing them to the market, and insiders claim many already have been consumed.6 The National Institute of Science and Technology has provided two companies, Origen Therapeutics of California, and Embrex of North Carolina,with almost $5 million to fund research into factory farming billions of cloned chickens for consumption.7 With the Food and Drug Administration pondering whether to regulate cloned meat and dairy products, it’s a good bet they are many steps behind an industry determined to increase their profits through biotechnology. The future to come seems to be one of cloned humans eating cloned animals.

While anomalies such as self-shearing sheep and broiler chickens with fewer feathers have already been assembled, some macabre visionaries foresee engineering pigs and chickens with flesh that is tender or can be easily microwaved, and chickens that are wingless so they won’t need bigger cages. The next step would be to just create and replicate animal’s torsos—sheer 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.

Clearly, there is nothing genetic engineers will not do to alter or clone an animal. Transgenic ‘‘artist’’  duardo Kac, for instance, commissioned scientists at the National Institute of Agronomic Research in France to create Alba, a rabbit that carries a fluorescent protein from a jellyfish and thus glows in the dark. This experiment enabled Mr. Kac to demonstrate his supremely erudite postmodern thesis that ‘”genetic engineering [is] in a social context in which the relationship between the private and public spheres are negotiated.’’8

Although millions of healthy animals are euthanized every year in U.S. animal ‘‘shelters,’’ corporations are working to clone domestic animals, either to bring them back from the dead, or to prevent them from ‘‘dying’’ (such as in the Missyplicity Project, initiated by the wealthy ‘‘owners’’ of a dog who want to keep her alive indefinitely).9 Despite alternatives to coping with allergies problems and the dangers with cloning animals, Transgenic Pets LLC is working to create transgenic cats that are allergen-free.10 In 2002, the biotechnology company Genetic Savings and Clone showcased the world’s first cloned cat, named CC, for Carbon Copy. Pandering to animal guardians’ misconceived desires to immortalize their cat, for a price of $50,000 each, Genetic Savings since has cloned additional cats, and hopes to cash in on what could be a booming market in feline simulacra at great risk for health problems and premature aging.

3 Transgenic travesties

The agricultural use of genetics and cloning has produced horrible monstrosities.  Transgenic animals often are born deformed and suffer from fatal bleeding disorders, arthritis, tumors, stomach ailments, kidney disease, diabetes, inability to nurse and reproduce, behavioral and metabolic disturbances, high mortality rates, and large offspring syndrome. In order to genetically engineer animals for maximal weight and profit, a Maryland team of scientists created the infamous ‘‘Beltway pig’’ afflicted with arthritis, deformities, and respiratory disease. Cows engineered with bovine growth hormone (rBGH) have mastitis, hoof and leg maladies, reproductive problems, numerous abnormalities, and die prematurely.  Giant supermice endure tumors, damage to internal organs, and shorter life spans. Numerous animals born from cloning are missing internal organs such as hearts and kidneys. A Maine lab specialized in breeding sick and abnormal mice that go by names such as Fathead, Fidget, Hairless, Dumpy, and Greasy.

Similarly, experiments in the genetic engineering of salmon have led to rapid growth and various rations and deformities, with some growing up to ten times their normal body weight (see Fox 1999). Cloned cows are ten times more likely to be unhealthy as their natural counterparts. After 3 years of efforts to clone monkeys, Dr. Tanja Dominko fled in horror from her well-funded Oregon laboratory. Telling  cautionary tales of the ‘‘gallery of horrors’’ she experienced, Dominko said that 300 attempts at cloning monkeys produced nothing but freakishly abnormal embryos that contained cells either without chromosomes or with up to nine nuclei.11

For Dominko, a ‘‘successful’’ clone like Dolly is the exception, not the rule.  But even Dolly became inexplicably overweight and arthritic, and may have been prematurely aging. In February 2003, suffering from progressive lung disease, poor Dolly was euthanized by her ‘‘creators,’’ bringing to a premature end the first experiment with adult animal cloning and raising questions concerning its ethics.

A report from argues that genes are disrupted when cultured in a lab, and this explains why so many cloned animals die or are grossly abnormal. On this account, it is not the cloning or IVF process that is at cause, but the culturing of the stem cells in the lab, creating major difficulties in cloning since so far there is no way around cloning through cultured cells in laboratory conditions.

A team of U.S. scientists at the MIT Whitehead Institute examined 38 cloned mice and learned that even clones which look healthy suffer genetic maladies, as mice cloned from embryonic stem cells had abnormalities in the placenta, kidneys, heart, and liver. Scientists feared that the defective gene functioning in clones could, wreak havoc with organs and trigger foul-ups in the brain later in life and that embryonic stem cells are highly unstable.13‘‘There are almost no normal clones,’’ study author and MIT biology professor Rudolf Jaenisch, explained. Jaenisch claims that only 1%–5% of all cloned animals survive, and even those that survive to birth often have severe abnormalities and die prematurely.14

As I argue below, these risks make human cloning a deeply problematic undertaking. Pro-cloning researchers claim that the ‘‘glitches’’ in animal cloning eventually can be worked out. In January 2001, for example, researchers at Texas A&M University and the Roslin Institute claimed to have discovered a gene that causes abnormally large cloned fetuses, a discovery they believe will allow them to predict and prevent this type of mutation. It is conceivable science someday will work out the kinks, but for many critics this assumes that science can master what arguably are inherent uncertainties and unpredictable variables in the expression of genes in a developing organism. A recent study showed that some mouse clones seem to develop normally until an age the equivalent of 30 years for a human being; then there is a spurt of growth and they suddenly become obese.15 Mark Westhusin, a cloning expert at Texas A&M, points out that the problem is not that of genetic mutation, but of ‘‘genetic expression,’’ such that genes are inherently unstable and unpredictable in their functioning.  Another report indicates that a few misplaced carbon atoms can lead to cloning failures.16 Thus, as suggested by chaos theory, small errors in the cloning process could lead to huge disasters, and the prevention of all such ‘‘small errors’’ seems to presume something close to omniscience.

Yet, while most scientists are opposed to cloning human beings (rather than stem cells), and decry it as ‘‘unacceptable,’’ few condemn the suffering caused to animals or position animal cloning research itself as morally problematic, and many scientists aggressively defend animal cloning. Quite callously and arbitrarily, for example, Jaenisch proclaims, ‘‘You can dispose of these animals, but tell me—what do you do with abnormal humans?’’17The attitude that animals are disposable resources or commodities rather than subjects of a life with inherent value and rights is a good indication of the problems inherent in the mechanistic science that still prevails and a symptom of callousness toward human life that worries conservatives.

Despite the claims of its champions, the genetic engineering of animals is a radical departure from natural evolution and traditional forms of animal breeding. Genetic engineering involves manipulation of genes rather than whole organisms.Moreover, scientists engineer change at unprecedented rates, and can create novel beings across species boundaries that previously were unbridgeable.  Ours is a world where cloned calves and sheep carry human genes, human embryo cells are merged with enucleated cows’ eggs, monkeys, and rabbits are bred with jellyfish DNA, a surrogate horse gives birth to a zebra, a dairy cow spawns an endangered gaur, and tiger cubs emerge from the womb of an ordinary housecat.

The ability to clone a desired genetic type brings the animal kingdom into entirely new avenues of exploitation and commercialization. From the new scientific perspective, animals are framed as genetic information that can be edited, transposed, and copied endlessly. Pharming and xenotransplantation build on the system of factory farming that dates from the postwar period and is based on the confinement and intensive management of animals within enclosed buildings that are prison-houses of suffering.

The proclivity of the science-industrial complex to instrumentalize animals as nothing but resources for human use and profit intensifies in an era in which genetic engineering and cloning are perceived as a source of immense profit and power. Still confined for maximal control, animals are no longer seen as whole species, but rather as fragments of genetic information to be manipulated for any purpose. Weighty ethical and ecological concerns in the new modes of animal appropriation are largely ignored, as animals are still framed in the 17th century Cartesian worldview that sees them as non-sentient machines. As Rifkin (1998,35) puts it, ‘‘Reducing the animal kingdom to customized, mass-produced replications of specific genotypes is the final articulation of the mechanistic, industrial frame of mind. A world where all life is transformed into engineering  standards and made to conform to market values is a dystopian nightmare, and needs to be opposed by every caring and compassionate human being who believes in the intrinsic value of life.’’18

Patenting of genetically modified animals has become a huge industry for multinational corporations and chemical companies. The PPL Therapeutics, Genzyme Transgenics, Advanced Cell Technology, and other enterprises are issuing broad patent claims on methods of cloning non-human animals. The PPL Therapeutics, the company that ‘‘invented’’ Dolly, has applied for the patents and agricultural rights to the production of all genetically altered mammals that could secrete therapeutic proteins in their milk. Nexia Biotechnologies obtained exclusive rights to all results from spider silk research. Patent number 4,736,866 was granted to Du Pont for Oncomouse, which the Patent Office described as a new ‘‘composition of matter.’’ Infigen holds a U.S. patent for activating human egg division through any means (mechanical, chemical, or otherwise) in the cloning process.

Certainly, genetics does not augur solely negative developments for animals. Given the reality of dramatic species extinction and loss of biodiversity, scientists are collecting the sperm and eggs of endangered species like the giant panda in order to preserve them in a ‘‘frozen zoo,’’ such as exists as San Diego Zoo. It is indeed exciting to ponder the possibilities of a Jurassic Park scenario of reconstructing extinct species (as, for example, scientists recently have uncovered the well-preserved remains of a Tasmanian tiger and a woolly mammoth). In October 2001, European scientists cloned a seemingly healthy mouflon lamb, a  member of an endangered species of sheep. In April 2003, ACT produced the  first successful interspecies clone when a dairy cow gave birth to a pair of bantengs, a species of wild cattle, cloned from an animal that died over 20 years ago. One of the pair, however, was thereafter euthanized because it was born twice the normal size and was suffering. Currently, working with preserved  tissue samples, ACT is working to bring back from extinction the last bucardo mountain goat, which was killed by a falling tree in January 2000.19

But critics dismiss these efforts as a misguided search for a technofix that distracts focus from the real problem of preserving habitat and biodiversity.  Even if animals could be cloned, there is no way to replicate habitats lost forever to chainsaws, bulldozers and invading human armies. Moreover, the behaviors of cloned animals would unavoidably be altered and they would end up in zoos or exploitative entertainment settings, where they exist as spectacle and simulacra.  Animals raised through interspecies cloning such as the gaur produced by ACT will not have the same disposition as if raised by their own species and so, for other reasons will not be less than ‘‘real.’’ Additionally, there is the likelihood that genetic engineering and cloning would aggravate biodiversity loss to the extent it creates monolithic super breeds that could crowd out other species or be easily wiped out by disease. There is also great potential for ecological disaster when new beings enter an environment, and genetically modified organisms are especially unpredictable in their behavior and effects.

Still, cloning may prove a valuable tool in preserving what can be salvaged from the current extinction crisis. Moreover, advances in genetics also may bypass and obviate pharming and xenotransplantation through use of stem cell technologies that clone human cells, tissues, or perhaps even entire organs and limbs from human embryos or an individual’s own cells. Successful stem cell technologies could eliminate at once the problem of immune rejection and the need for animals. There is also the intriguing possibility of developing medicines and vaccines in plants, rather than animals, thus producing a safer source of pharmaceuticals and neutraceuticals and sparing animals’ tremendous suffering.  None of these promises, however, brighten the dark cloud cloning casts over the animal kingdom, or dispel the dangers of the dramatic alteration of agriculture and human life.

4 Deferring the brave new world: challenges for ethics and democracy

Human history becomes more and more a race between education and catastrophe. – H.G. Wells

By summer of 2001, a technical and esoteric debate over stem cells, confined within the scientific community during the past years, had moved to the headlines to become the forefront of the ongoing science wars—battles over the cultural, ethical, and political implications of science. The scientific debate over stem cell research in large part is a disguised culture war, and conservatives, liberals, and radicals have all jumped into the fray. Coming from a perspective of critical theory and radical democratic politics, I reject conservative theologies and argue against conflations of religion and the state. Likewise, I question neoliberal acceptance of corporate capitalism and underscore the implications of the privatization of research and the monopolization of knowledge and patents by huge biotech corporations. In addition, I urge a deeper level of public participation in science debates than do conservatives or liberals and believe that the public can be adequately educated to have meaningful and intelligent input into technical issues such as cloning and stem cell research that have tremendous human and ethical implications.

As I have shown, numerous issues are at stake in the debate over cloning, having to do not only with science, but also with religion, politics, economics, democracy, ethics, and the meaning and nature of human beings, and all life forms as they undergo a process of genetic reconstruction. Thus, my goal throughout this paper has been to question the validity of the cloning project, particularly within the context of a global capitalist economy and its profit imperative, a modernist paradigm of reductionism, and a Western sensibility organized around the concept of the domination of nature. Until science is recontextualized within a new holistic paradigm informed by a respect for living processes, by democratic decision making, and by a new ethic toward nature, the genetic sciences on the whole are in the hands of those governed by the imperatives of profit. Moreover, politicians beholden to corporate interests have no grasp of the momentous issues involved, requiring that those interested in democratic politics and progressive social change must educate and involve themselves in the science and politics of biotechnology.

We have already entered a new stage of the postmodern adventure in which animal cloning is highly advanced and human cloning is on the horizon, if not now underway. Perhaps little human clones are already emerging, with failures being discarded, as were the reportedly hundreds of botched attempts to create Louise Brown, the first test-tube baby, in 1978. At this stage, human cloning is indefensible in the light of the possibility of monstrosities, dangers to the mother, burdens to society, failure to reach a consensus on the viability and desirability of cloning humans, and the lack of compelling reasons to warrant this fateful move. The case is much different, however, for therapeutic cloning, which is incredibly promising and offers new hope for curing numerous debilitating diseases. But even stem cell research, and the cloning of human embryos is problematic, in part because it is the logical first step toward reproductive cloning and mass production of desired types, which unavoidably brings about new (genetic) hierarchies and modes of discrimination.

We thus need to discuss the numerous issues involved in the shift to a posthuman, postbiological mode of existence where the boundaries between our bodies and technologies begin to erode as we morph toward a cyborg state. Our technologies are no longer extensions of our bodies, as Marshall McLuhan stated, but rather are intimately merging with our bodies, as we implode with other species through the genetic crossings of transgenic species. In an era of rapid flux, our genotypes, phenotypes, and identities are all mutating. Under the pressure of new philosophies and technological change, the humanist mode of understanding the self as a centered, rational subject has transformed into new paradigms of communication and intersubjectivity (Hayles 1999) and information and cybernetics (Habermas 1979, 1984, 1987).

Despite these shifts, it is imperative that elements of the modern enlightenment tradition be retained, as it is simultaneously radicalized. Now more than ever, as science embarks on the incredible project of manipulating atoms and genes through nanotechnology, genetic engineering, and cloning, its awesome powers must be measured and tempered through ethical, ecological, and democratic norms in a process of public debate and participation. The walls between ‘‘experts’’ and ‘‘lay people’’ must be broken down along with the elitist norms that form their foundation. Scientists need to enter into dialogical relations with the public to discuss the complexities of cloning and stem cell research to make their positions clear and accessible, as well as accountable and responsible, while public intellectuals and activists need to become educated in biotechnology in order to debate biotechnology issues in the media or public.

Scientists should recognize that their endeavors embody specific biases and value choices, subject them to critical scrutiny, and seek more humane, life enhancing, and democratic values to guide their work. Respect for nature and life, preserving the natural environment, and serving human needs over corporate profits should be primary values embedded in science.

This approach is quite unlike how science so far has conducted itself in many areas. Most blatantly, perhaps, scientists, hand in hand with corporations, have prematurely rushed the genetic manipulation of agriculture, animals, and the world’s food supply while ignoring important environmental, health, and ethical concerns. Immense power brings enormous responsibility, and it is time for scientists to be awake to this fact and make public accountability integral to their ethos and research. A schizoid modern science that rigidly splits facts from values must give way to a postmodern metascience that grounds the production of knowledge in a social context of dialogue and communication with citizens.  The shift from a cold and detached ‘‘neutrality’’ to a participatory understanding of life that deconstructs the modern subject/object dichotomy derails realist claims to unmediated access to the world and opens the door to an empathetic and ecological understanding of nature (Keller 1983; Birke and Hubbard 1995).

In addition, scientists need to take up the issue of democratic accountability and ethical responsibility in their work. As Bill Joy argued in a much-discussed Wired article in July 2000, uncontrolled genetic technology, artificial intelligence, and nanotechnology could create catastrophic disasters, as well as utopian benefits. Joy’s article set off a firestorm of controversy, especially his call for government regulation of new technology and ‘‘relinquishment’’ of development of potentially dangerous new technologies, as he claimed biologists called for in the early days of genetic engineering, when the consequences of the technology were not yet clear.20 Arguing that scientists must assume responsibility for their productions, Joy warned that humans should be very careful about the technologies they develop, as they may have unforeseen consequences. Joy noted that robotics was producing increasingly intelligent machines that might generate creative robots that could be superior to humans, produce copies of themselves, and assume control of the design and future of humans. Likewise, genetic engineering could create new species, some perhaps dangerous to humans and nature, while nanotechnology might build horrific ‘‘engines of destruction’’ as well as of the ‘‘engines of creation’’ envisioned by Eric Drexler (1987).

Science and technology, however, not only require responsibility and accountability on the part of scientists, but also regulation by government and democratic debate and participation by the public. Public need to agree on rules and regulations for cloning and stem cell research, and there should be laws, guidelines, and regulatory agencies open to public input and scrutiny. To be rational and informed, citizens must be educated about the complexities of genetic engineering and cloning, a process that can unfold through vehicles such as public forums, teach-ins, and creative use of the broadcast media and Internet.  The Internet is a treasure-trove of information, ranging from informative sites such as the Council for Responsible Genetics ( and The Institute of Science in Society (, to lists serves such as hosted by the Sierra Club and various weblogs.

But to publicize and politicize biotechnology issues, social movements will have to take up issues like the cloning and stem cell debate into their public pedagogies and struggles. Movements like the anti-nuclear coalitions and organized struggles against genetically modified foods have had major successes in educating the public, promoting debate, and influencing legislation and public opinion. It will not do, however, to simply let the market decide what technologies will or will not be allowed, nor should bans be accepted on technologies that can benefit human life. Instead, citizens and those involved in social movements should engage issues of biotechnology and aid in public education and debate.

An intellectual revolution is needed to remedy the deficiencies in the education of both scientists and citizens, as such that each can have, in Habermas’ framework, ‘‘communicative competency’’ informed by sound value thinking, skills in reasoning, and democratic sensibilities. A Deweyean reconstruction of education would have scientists take more humanities and philosophy courses and engage ethical and political issues involved in the development and implementation of science and technology, and would have students in other fields take more science and technology courses to become literate in some of the major material and social forces of the epoch. C.P. Snow’s analysis of the ‘‘two cultures’’ problem provides a challenge for a democratic reconstruction of education to overcome in an increasing scientific and technological age that requires more and better knowledge of science and humanities.

Critical and self-reflexive scrutiny of scientific means, ends, and procedures should be a crucial part of the enterprise. ‘‘Critical,’’ in Haraway’s analysis, signifies ‘‘evaluative, public, multiactor, multiagenda, oriented to equality and heterogeneous well-being (Haraway 1997, 95).’’ Indeed, there should be debates concerning precisely what values are incorporated into specific scientific projects and whether these serve legitimate ends and goals. In the case of mapping the human genome, for instance, enormous amounts of money and energy are being spent, but almost no resources are going to educating the public about the ethical implications of having a genome map. The Human Genome Project spent only 3%–5% of its $3 billion budget on legal, ethical, and social issues, and Celera spent even less.21

A democratic biopolitics and reconstruction of education would involve the emergence of new perspectives, understandings, sensibilities, values, and paradigms that put in question the assumptions, methods, values, and interpretations of modern sciences, calling for a reconstruction of science.22 At the same time, as science and technology co-construct each other, and both coevolve in conjunction with capitalist growth, profit, and power imperatives, science is reconstructing—not always for the better—the natural and social worlds, as well as our very identities and bodies. There is considerable ambiguity and tension in how science will play out given the different trajectories it can take. Unlike the salvationist promises of the techo scientific ideology and the apocalyptic dystopias of some of its critics, I see the future of science and technology to be entirely ambiguous, contested, and open. For now, the only certainty is that the juggernaut of the genetic revolution is rapidly advancing and that in the name of medical progress, animals are being victimized and exploited in new ways, while the replication and re-design of human beings is looming.

The human species is thus at a terribly difficult and complex crossroads.  Whatever steps we take, it is imperative that we do not leave the decisions to the scientists, anymore than we would to the theologians (or corporate-hired bioethicists for that matter), for their judgment and objectivity is less than perfect, especially for the majority who are employed by biotechnology corporations and have a vested interest in the hastening and patenting of the brave new world of biotechnology.23 The issues involving genetics are so important that scientific, political, and moral debate must take place squarely within the public sphere.  The fate of human beings, animals, and nature hangs in the balance, thus it is imperative that the public become informed on the latest developments and biotechnology and that lively and substantive democratic debate take place concerning the crucial issues raised by the new technosciences.



1 Cited in Carey Goldberg, and Gina Kolata, ‘‘Scientists Announce Births of Cows Cloned in New Way.’’ The New York Times. January 21, 1998: A 14. Companies are now preparing to sell milk from cloned cows; see Jennifer Mitol, ‘‘Got cloned milk?’’ July 16, 2001. For the story of Dolly and animal cloning, see Kolata (1998).

2 See Sheryl Gay Stolberg, ‘‘Breakthrough in Pig Cloning Could Aide Organ Transplants’’ (New York Times, January 4, 2001). In July 2002, the Australian government announced draft

guidelines that would regulate transplanting animal organs into humans and anticipated research with pig organs translated into humans within two years; see Benjamin Haslem, ‘‘Animal-to-human transplants get nod,’’ The Australian, July 8, 2002: A1

3 See

4 See Heather Moore, ‘‘The Modern-Day Island of Dr, Moreau,’’, October 12, 2001. For a vivid description of the horrors of animal experimentation, see Singer (1975); for an acute diagnosis of the unscientific nature of vivisection, see Greek and Greek (2000).

5 See ‘‘In Test, Japanese Have No Beef With Cloned Beef,’ According to one report, it is more accurate to refer to this beef as being produced by ‘‘embryo twinning,’’ and not the kind of cloning process that produced Dolly; see ‘‘‘Cloned’ Beef Scare Lacks Meat,’’,1282,19146,00.html. As just one indicator of the corporate will to clone animals for mass consumption, the National Institute of Science and Technology has donated $4.7 million to two industries to fund research into cloning chickens for food. See ‘‘Cloned chickens on the menu,’’ New, August 15, 2001.

6 See Heather Moore, ‘‘The Modern-Day Island of Dr, Moreau,’’ op. cit., and Sharon

Schmickle, ‘‘It’s what’s for dinner: milk and meat from clones,’’, December 2, 2001.

7 ‘‘Clonefarm: Billions of identical chickens could soon be rolling off production lines,’’, August 18, 2001.

8 Cited in Heather Moore, ‘‘The Modern Day Island of Dr. Moreau,’’ op. cit.

9 The Missyplicity Project boasts a strong code of bioethics; see

10 See

11 ‘‘In Cloning, Failure Far Exceeds Success,’’ Gina Kolata,

12 See ‘‘Clones contain hidden DNA damage,’’

jsp?id=ns9999982; see also the study published in Science (July 6, 2001), which discusses why so many clone pregnancies fail and why some cloned animals suffer strange maladies in their hearts, joints, and immune system.

13 ‘‘Clone Study Casts Doubt in Stem Cells: Variations in Mice Raise Human Research Issues,’’ printer, July 6, 2001.

14 See ‘‘Scientists Warn of Dangers of Human Cloning,’’ See also the commentaries in Gareth Cook, ‘‘Scientists say cloning may lead to long-term ills,’’ The Boston Globe, July 6, 2001; Steve Connor, ‘‘Human cloning will never be safe,’’ Independent, July 6, 2001; Carolyn Abraham, ‘‘Clone creatures carry genetic glitches,’’ July 6, 2001; Connor cites Dolly-cloner Ian Wilmut who noted: ‘‘It surely adds yet more evidence that there should be a moratorium against copying people. How can anybody take the risk of cloning a baby when its outcome is so unpredictable?’’

15 See ‘‘Report Says Scientists See Cloning Problems‘‘,

16 The Westhusin quote is at; the ‘‘misplaced carbons’’ quote is in Philip Cohen, ‘‘Clone Killer,’’

17 ‘‘Human Clone Moves Sparks Global Outrage,’’, March 11, 2001.

18 Given this attitude, it is no surprise that in September, 2001, Texas AM University, the same institution working on cloning cats and dogs, showed off newly cloned pigs, who joined the bulls and goat already cloned by the school, as part of the ‘‘world’s first cloned animal fair.’’

19 See ‘‘Back from the Brink: Cloning Endangered Species,’’ Pamela Weintraub, http:// feature2, August 31, 2001. ‘‘Gene Find No Small


20 See the collection of responses to Joy’s article in Wired 8.07 (July 2000). Agreeing with Joy that there need to be firm guidelines regulating nanotechnology, the Foresight Institute has written a set of guidelines for its development that take into account problems such as commercialization, unjust distribution of benefits, and potential dangers to the environment. See I encourage such critical dialog on both the benefits and dangers of new technologies and hope to contribute to these debates with our studies.

21 See,1294,36886,00.html.

22 On ‘‘new science’’ and ‘‘new sensibilities,’’ see Herbert Marcuse, One-Dimensional Man (Beacon Press, Boston, 1964) and An Essay on Liberation (Beacon Press, Boston 1969).

23 For a sharp critique of how bioethicists are bought off and co-opted by corporations in their bid for legitimacy, see ‘‘Bioethicists Fall Under Familiar Scrutiny,’’



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