A Critical Inquiry into the Natural/Unnatural Tensions of Manipulative Technologies

(This is arguably too long for a blog post, but I wrote it in Word & it was honestly just easier due to time constraints to dump it in one, especially owing to the footnotes. I think the ideas in here, if a little dense, are worth bearing with & attempting to absorb. I have probably shot myself in the foot putting it all here. Hope it generates some good discussion).

   Life emerges from combinations of ingredients. Evolution is processual, perpetuated by natural agents in tension and cooperation. Humanity is complex, as far as problem solving animals go. If nature faces problems, we face problems. In this essay, I will explore the axiological judgements dividing what is natural, from the unnatural. Anything we create is synthesized with a raw element from nature. Yet we erroneously assume something synthetic or fake, despite being synthesized by a naturally emergent intelligence, with organic bodies, reliant upon natural agents to propagate food, shelter, meaning, and culture. Our relationship to nature continues to change. We are beginning to discover the plasticity of organisms, for example mosquitos, which become resistant to insecticides. If there is to be continuity to our progress, we must consider the ability to technologize our ecologies and bodies, both cogent factors in our evolution. The natural world has been deeply affected by human interference. Rapid advancement in technology has blurred the delineations between the corporeal & synthetic; nature, how we relate to it as something beyond us, is being challenged technologically in the sciences, and wrestled with theoretically in the post-humanities.

    The implementation of technologies is ethically mitigated publically and politically by ascribed values. These ethical evaluations are debated in the media, based upon preconceptions of what interference we should have over ecologies and our own bodies. Recently, in China, a scientist called He Jiankui, has been jailed for using CRISPR Cas9 to recode the DNA in the embryo of twin sisters.[1] My interest is not only in such ethical conundrums, but moreover, in whether there is any substance to separating ourselves from what nature is and does. Gregory Bateson tells us, ‘we are rapidly, of course, destroying all the natural systems in the world, the balanced natural systems. We simply make them unbalanced—but still natural.’[2] We are forgetting this, which I think is detrimental to our capacities to make earth and ourselves stable, ontologically and ecologically. Humanity and nature are never independent from each other.

    Two technological extremities tend to be stained with the criticism ‘unnatural’: CRISPR Cas9 gene editing and nanotechnology. These technologies manipulate subterranean levels of reality with precision instruments. Concealed manipulation, is potentially, the source of concern for critics: we fear what we cannot see and do not understand.

    How we assemble networks into ecologies, and implement technologies in these ecologies; moreover, how we improve ourselves, overhauls our perception of what nature is and our propinquity to it. Especially when we realize our structural systems, providing us with energy, food and shelter, cannot be replaced by a powerful, inviolable nature we have no influence over. We are our environment. Regardless of whether we are able to manipulate subterranean levels of reality, we remain undeniably natural beings, indistinct from nature. Everything is composed of the same foundational things: atoms, genes and DNA. Manipulating them is not necessarily unnatural, if anything, it is the opposite. What I am submitting is that when we manipulate something we are nature manipulating itself. Evolution is self-correction, this I understand is theoretically problematic as Sylvia Wynter outlines[3], but nonetheless may be cogent for realizing how entangled we are with nature.

    As the authors of the Nuffield Council of Bioethics analysis explain: ‘Ideas about nature can incorporate notions of wisdom, purity, sanctity, balance and harmony. The natural can also be perceived as involving power, danger, chaos and disorder.’[4] Nature gives and takes. We are comfortable manipulating ‘nature’ for the benefits of agricultural efficiency, environmental living spaces, and pleasure, but manipulation in the form of nanotechnology and CRISPR Cas9, which can replace what is lost, or fix what threatens, stirs an ethical maelstrom. Much of this stems from the prevailing episteme, which has not caught up to rapid alterations in, critical theory, race[5], technology, identity and gender, ecology, ontology and philosophy.

    Opinions on whether something is natural or unnatural, in public and political polemics, are assigned axiological values.[6] Something is good or bad, real or fake. The reality is more complex than value judged discrepancies, can satisfactorily assess. They are informed by precursory knowledge still catching up to current ontological and ecological dilemmas. Axiological considerations, applied critically to the dangers of technologies like gene editing are cogent and need to be addressed to avert monocultures and a monohumanist[7] teleology. The ramifications are demarcated by Jurgen Habermas in The Future of Human Nature (2003). Habermas begins with identity, isolating the individual-I, explaining:

    What ought I, or what ought we, to do? But the “ought” has a different sense once we are no   longer asking about rights and duties that everyone ascribes to one another from an inclusive we-perspective, but instead are concerned with our own life from the first person perspective and ask what is best “for me” or “for us” in the long run…Such ethical questions regarding our own weal and woe arise in the context of a particular life history or a unique form of life. They are wedded to questions of identity: how we should understand ourselves, who we are and want to be. Obviously there is no answer to such questions that would be independent of the given context and thus would bind all persons in the same way.[8]

     The individual curates an identity in tension with prevailing and precursory effects, which shape different cultures in different ways. Our individual ethics cannot be assumed to be that of all people. The ‘what is best for me’ is easier to reconcile than ‘what is best for us.’ Who decides for us? At what point does technology, attempting to perfect us, for profit, to (use Wynter’s term) dysselect demographics or entire cultures, turning our differences against us? Habermas cautions:

    The depoliticization of the mass of the population and the decline of the public realm as a  political institution are components of a system of domination that tends to exclude practical questions from public discussion. The bureaucratized exercise of power has its counterpart in a public realm confined to spectacles and acclamation. This takes care of the approval of the mediatized population.[9]

    Domination is emotionally informed, as in jingoism. Yet, ironically, depoliticized (jingoistic) media consumers do not critically engage complex topics, they only passively encounter them. If people are to be informed about the beneficences (and ethical dangers) of manipulative technologies, then more than the occurrence of their happening must be communicated. Systemic alterations to the schooling system to inform people acutely are required.

    Habermas, discussing eugenics and gene editing, explains, the ‘extension of control of our “inner” nature is distinguished from similar expansions of our scope of options by the fact that it “changes the overall structure of our moral experience.”’[10] This ‘extension of control’ is ‘what is so unsettling’ because of ‘the fact that the dividing line between the nature we are and the organic equipment we give ourselves is being blurred.’[11] Suggestive here is manipulation of our ‘organic equipment’ which would be to use a technology to improve a minority, selected by privilege and economic advantage.

    The word cyborg is made up of cybernetics[12] and organism. Donna J. Haraway uses the cyborg as a liminal being, to exemplify a genderless hybrid of machine and organism. For Haraway the cyborg is utopian, ‘we are cyborgs. The cyborg is our ontology; it gives us our politics.’[13] Haraway realizes,

The cyborg is a creature in a post-gender world; it has no truck with bisexuality, pre-oedipal symbiosis, unalienated labour, or other seductions to organic wholeness through a final appropriation of all the powers of the parts into a higher reality. In a sense, the cyborg has no origin story in the Western sense – a ‘final’ irony since the cyborg is also the awful apocalyptic telos of the ‘West’s’ escalating dominations of abstract individuation, an ultimate self untied at last from all dependency, a man in space.[14]

     Haraway’s cyborg solves Wynter’s problem of Man’s overrepresentation (see footnote 15), it is also an opportunity for a fresh narrative. I acknowledge becoming a cyborg differs from eugenics, however, it remains a technological enhancement (Haraway implements theoretically), which Haraway suggests as a means to a better future, whereas Habermas warns us pragmatically when he explains:

    Eugenics interventions aiming at enhancement reduce ethical freedom insofar as they tie down the person concerned to rejected, but irreversible intentions of third parties, barring him from the spontaneous self-perception of being the undivided author of his own life. [15]

    Habermas and Wynter share the same concerns: that the ‘over-representation of Man’[16] informs ‘what is best for us’. Wynter advocates human as narrator, a homo narrans[17], which is not dissimilar to Habermas’s ‘undivided author.’  The ramifications of Wynter and Habermas’s ideas, reorient humanity away from what is tacit in Darwin’s natural selection: we compete rather than cooperate. Evolution (The First and Second Event) are not to be conflated with humanity as it exists in the Third Event, because of our unique properties to tell stories. In this Third Event, we become homo narrans; in tandem with this term, we are also, as Keekok Lee (using a Marxian term) refers to us, homo faber:

    In other words, the concept of homo faber in defining “species being” or human essence  embodies two interrelated themes which give in turn the key notion of the humanization of nature, these are: (a) that humans realize themselves through fabrication, that is, through imposing their ends and values on nature via their labor and their tools/technology; (b) that nature itself is bereft of being, of value, until humans work upon such a blank canvas to endow it with being and with value.[18]

    This is to repeat Heidegger: ‘Technology is a human activity.’[19] Lee formulates tacitly, a cogent argument for the replacement of nature using nanotechnology. Homo sapiens are justifiably homo faber[20], as they are the technology using animal. Values cause dichotomies, which are a hurdle to ameliorating ecological and economic imbalances, damaged by extant technologies. There is an argument tacit in Lee, for technological optimism being an option for achieving stable ecologies. What is, is already here, keeping society running. Technological pessimism and rescinding to ‘natural’ systems, is an impossibility: our society is too complexly populated for nature alone to maintain.

    Lee devises a meticulous taxonomy of ‘The Natural: Different Senses of ‘Nature’[21] in order to outline discrepancies between our perceptions of the natural, and the particularities of natural processes. Lee outlines that, ‘extant technology has been perceived to have had an adverse impact on the environment’ which ‘nature has evolved no known solvents for.’[22] The ecological impact of things already in existence are a factor we must confront.  Lee summarizes our predicament and a solution, as follows:

    The threat amounts to its [nature’s] elimination, both ontologically and empirically, via the science and technology of our modern civilization, especially when its most recent technologies—bio-technology and computer technology—will combine with certain others promised in the near future, such as molecular nanotechnology, to produce powerful synergistic effects in profound transformation of the natural to become the artefactual.[23]

    Extant technologies are ‘iatrogenic’[24], but ‘from a historical perspective, the present predicament is a mere hiccup in the long march forward to progress.’[25] Lee’s concern is that if technology becomes the answer to our ecological quandaries, it becomes artefactual. As an artefact, it is a designed, immutable thing; it cannot improvise, working only for our sake. But this isn’t so dissimilar from natural things anyway, except, as technologies belonging to us, we could maintain them effectively. For example, if we created swarms of nano-bees[26] which pollinated our crops, they can be fixed, ethically improved up in their production. The results from concerns for ourselves, no longer proves problematic. It is a discomfiting thought, it would obviously be better if we changed our habits, but what if swarms of nano-bees becomes easier to produce than overhauling our entire media, political and educational institutions in order to persuade people not to eat as much meat, spray pesticides, drive their cars to work or take budget flights?

    Nanotechnology, the manipulation of atoms, is a green technology. Atoms are the compositional building blocks of all things, manipulation of them is the manipulation of what nature uses to construct itself. If we are in trouble, nature is in trouble. It is then conceivable that as manipulators of these essential, ubiquitous building blocks, we are not outside of nature, being unnatural, doing something erroneous. We are nature in control of itself. Nature controls itself through our intelligence. There is no ontological priority to any one thing, but rather to potentiality. When we no longer split our actions into natural and unnatural, through value determined dichotomies: good/bad, right/wrong, ethical/unethical, what we endeavor to alter is our perception that there is any way of stepping outside of what is. What is, is what exists and what can be discovered through the potentials of human-beings to exercise consciousness. There is no denying realities. This is of course problematic. We maybe have to revise who gets to decide to, why do we get to decide? If humanity is faced with a conundrum, and there is a solution to that conundrum, it is not reasonable to assume that because we created the problem, we must therefore revert to what we assume is natural? We have no conception of nature without us, to access any such conception is to tinge it with the palette of our consciousness, becoming an anthropocentric value judgment. There is an impasse in making decisive judgements about technological progress and its natural/unnaturalness.

    Habermas in his essay The Scientization of Politics and Public Opinion, sets out to rationalize how we might regulate technological progress. Habermas’s cautions reinforce Lee’s own. Habermas cautions our assumptions about, ‘the imminent necessity of technical progress, which owes its appearance of being an independent, self-regulating process only to the way social interests operate in it.’[27] According to Lee, we know extant technologies need replacing and that the problem is beyond the reclamation of ‘nature’ as we have extolled it traditionally. Thus the ‘social interests’ are becoming motivated by our own technological capacities as they improve. The political and the practical are inseparable for Habermas: the practical informs the political and politics implements the practical where necessary, or popular. I agree with Habermas when he states:

    In the pragmatistic model the strict separation between the function of the expert and the politician is replaced by a critical interaction. This interaction not only strips the ideologically supported exercise of power of an unreliable basis of legitimation but makes it accessible as a whole to scientifically informed discussion, thereby substantially changing it.[28]

    A salubrious relationship between the two is essential. However, there is a power play more often than not. And though the public is cogent in any debate which affects it, the means to disseminate information to large numbers of people, is problematized by biased agents. In addition, ‘critical interaction’ through educational institutions, is not adequately rendered during peoples’ formative years.

    Mother-nature cannot be cruel to us. Potentially, when we face existential threats from nature, we can manifest an, us versus it position. This is unhelpful. Tacit in Lee, is that we are part of a network in and of nature. Nature in its various manifestations (see footnote 16), looks taxonomic, with identifiable properties. A literary example could be pastoralism[29]. Pastoral literature extols an idealized nature. An artefactual nature, could in theory bring equilibrium, not dissimilar in emotional buoyancy from the pastoral writer’s: man as working through nature. It is only nature itself (i.e. traditional and inviolable) if it is nature as I am attempting to identify it: as anything in existence created by us as it. Nature is a series of parts forming a whole.[30] Otherwise it is only a synthetic interpretation of limited, subjective ideas and interpretations about what nature is to culture; this is pastoralism’s error. My definition of nature encompasses everything, ontologically and existentially. Nothing is omitted and so everything is given meaning in the proper existential sense. When we are nature manipulating its selves we cannot disentangle ourselves from the environment, nor from that which we create—we take responsibility for them as if in self-preservation of our own bodies. An evaluation of the meaning of life is to value it regardless of the measure of its importance.  

    Lee’s ideas are speculative, as nanotechnology is still an emerging technology. But they anticipates a world technologized, a world where all processes are discoverable and manipulated. To inform the debate further, a theoretical justification, further encourages reconsideration of the natural and the unnatural. Levi. R Bryant uses the concept of the machine to reconceive how we fix ourselves as the subject in relation to objects, or we might say, nature. This is imperative if I am to properly inform my argument that we are nature manipulating itself.

    For Bryant the, ‘being of a machine is defined not by its qualities or properties, but rather by the operations of which it is capable.’[31] Rather than being defined by its material, or its position in space or time, beings as (abstractly conceived) machines are regarded by their processual capacities. Anything whatsoever, can be determined by how it operates, regardless of the capacities to which it can operate. What this first of all establishes in regards my argument, is that we operate, as do all the parts that assemble together to form the environment. While these operations maintain their own individual outputs, they nonetheless at some point intersect, something not too dissimilar from a seven degrees of separation.

    In a machinic ontology, there is a split between a thing’s power and what it produces. This is what Bryant calls a machine’s ‘virtual proper being’ and its ‘local manifestations.’[32] Bryant explains:

    The virtual proper being of a machine is the operations of which it is capable. These constitute the “proper being” of the machine in that machines are what they are capable of doing. They are “virtual” in the sense that a machine can possess these operations without exercising them.[33]

    Humanity is able through technology to manipulate its environment and itself; there is no law designated to disable this ability, in fact it is essential to each thing within the machinic ontology to manifest outputs. We may not have done it, but the very fact that we can realize it theoretically insists on it being a potentiality, thus it is virtually potential. The theoretical and the virtual are not dissimilar. An analogy to machines, enables a theoretical reorientation of emerging, ethically questionable technologies. The ethical dilemma is no longer whether nature is other than us, and therefore inviolable to certain interference. When we conceive of ourselves as enmeshed in a machinic ontology (an assembled network), understood as processing outputs, manipulable at an atomistic level, then I think we have a justification for no longer [m]aligning our actions outside of nature. Nature becomes the network because reality as an ontology of processual beings, usurps the conception of nature as something inviolable and other. The ethical dilemma, is that nature stands outside of us as an ordering agent. The attack on this order, is the breaking of precursory, natural laws, such as interference in the code that life, without interference makes what is, like it is. But what is and what is possible, can be conceived anew if only because new potentialities emerge. These should not be considered indelibly unethical, simply because they do not satisfy ethical precursors.

    Bryant’s ontology would posit the alteration of an ethical norm as a change in manifestation, of which Bryant outlines three: qualitative, agentive and material.[34] Qualitative manifestations are physically transformative: shape, texture, colour. Agentive manifestations are behavioural transformations. Material manifestations are products of operations which are outputted and leave the machine which produced them. All of these are processual and are not exclusive to our manipulation of things, but also to the processes of nature as commonly conceived. I see this system of manifestations as useful for determining the outcome of our interference.

    An example from the work of evolutionary and ecological engineer Kevin M. Esvelt provides context. Esvelt developed, using CRISPR Cas9, what he calls gene drives[35], which can be used to engineer ecologies. There is a plasticity in life forms that allows them to evade that which tries to kill them. Mosquitos have evolved to resist our insecticides. New technologies are needed to combat this, as we know the production of more powerful insecticides only leads to mosquitos developing resistance. Nature is not necessarily efficient according to Esvelt, therefore interference can be justified a necessity. Esvelt uses the examples of trees and solar panels[36]. A tree doesn’t grow tall because it is efficient, but because it must compete, which is why solar panels are flat: competition is not cooperation, or efficacy.

    One of Esvelt’s interventions involves the removal of the malarial code from mosquitoes, which can potentially rejuvenate communities such as those in Burkina Faso[37], where malaria is a constant threat. Despite the potentially regenerative, life-saving potential, and the efficacy of the technological, social factors have proved more troublesome than the actual science.[38] It is cogent to note that Esvelt does not advocate the removal of the species, but the modifying of it. His work involves removing the infectious capacities of a mosquito, mating it with a wild mosquito, until the replication through breeding removes the infectious potential. It is manipulating a characteristic of a thing in nature with technology to improve people’s lives, whilst enabling that thing to continue to exist.

    Using Bryant’s paradigm of machinic manifestations, the qualitative manifestation of manipulating mosquitoes so they no longer infect people with malaria, is not clear. This is why Esvelt communicates transparently with communities, simplifying the science and admitting the unknowns. His methods are potentially problematic, as the effects are ecological and irreversible: the malarial mosquito cannot be recoded. The agentive manifestations are clearer: mosquitos no longer transmit malaria, meaning communities no longer live in fear. The emotional and economic effects are ameliorative. The material manifestations are the ability to move into a clearer, more certain future. People are healthier, they do not suffer at some stage in their life, either themselves or for loved ones.

    To return to Lee, she outlines for us the intrinsic value of abiotic agents. The non-human, bacteria for example, have intrinsic value, as they regulate systems in our body, without them there is no life. Man too, like bacteria can regulate an ecology. Bacteria have their necessary procedures in order to maintain their own life, which is doing what they do. Humanity processes at a higher level of functioning, which must be considered selectively. There is no convincing argument for letting humanity off the hook because of its higher functioning privileges. Nevertheless, humanity does function at a higher level, it is then, more likely than not to exercise this anomalous privilege. Non-humans may not have what Lee calls ‘recognized-articulated values’, but do have, ‘mutely-enacted values’[39], meaning they may not generate awareness to their actions, but do produce actions that have consequences, which affect contexts. It is reasonable to suggest humanity cannot be suppressed but must be provided with reason, through education, to sensibly regulate its actions. Therefore, is the trade-off of a deadly insect’s capability to infect us, not worth considering? We think nothing of eliminating cancer[40], which in a machinic ontology, is another processual, nonhuman being. The difference is that the elimination of cancer is not the elimination of a species’ characteristics. Nevertheless, there is a case that bacteria, and infections, are nonhuman agents. The axiological valuation interferes because we endow some things with agency and others without. When in fact, in a ubiquitous ontology like Bryant’s, everything is processual.   

    Inviolable nature, stems from natural history, fed to us as a countervailing narrative to progress. The narrative of progress is currently at risk of being dramatically deemed eschatological. But this risks rescinding what we truly are and compensating for it with something we have never really known: a pristine, inviolable nature, without us. Nature as a dawning, Arcadian paradise, probably never existed, thus the reason pastoralism was written. Nature has been us since we started using it and it interfered to provide for us. It is often assumed we interfere with nature, but if we are to separate ourselves from it, it is just as likely it interfered with us. Things find ways to attract agents to care for them. Wheat was a simple grass, which we took a liking to, as we recognized its usefulness. Is it not as likely wheat in fact has an agency to affect other things? If we begin to realize the ontological effect of things toward/on things, rather than relying on the special status of consciousness, we begin to reexamine the status of agency. Agency is not something special to us, it is a natural product of the parts in an assemblage, which make up an ecology. Humanity interferes in itself as an ecology of things. The reincarnation of a lost or losing species with a nanotechnology is not dissimilar. Before it is too late, we might realize that playing God in a godless world is a viable option toward salvaging nature.

Bibliography:

Books:

Ben Rogers, Jesse Adams & Sumita Pennathur, Nanotechnology: Understanding Small Systems, 3rd edn. (Boca Raton, London & New York: CRC Press, 2015)

Donna J. Haraway, Simians, Cyborgs, and Women: The Reinvention of Nature, (London: Free Association Books, 1991)

Donna J. Haraway, Staying with the Trouble: Making Kin in the Chthulucene, (Durham & London: Duke University Press, 2016)

Gregory Bateson, Steps to an Ecology of Mind, (Chicago & London: The University of Chicago Press, 2000)

Jurgen Habermas, The Future of Humanity, (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2003)

Jurgen Habermas, The Habermas Reader, ed. by William Outhwaite, (UK: Polity Press, 1996)

Keekok Lee, The Natural and the Artefactual: The Implications of Deep Science and Deep Technology for Environmental Philosophy, (United States of America: Lexington Books, 1999)

Levi R. Bryant, Onto-Cartography, (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2014)

Manuel DeLanda, Assemblage Theory, (UK: Edinburgh University Press, 2016)

Martin Heidegger: The Question Concerning Technology and Other Essays, trans. by William Lovitt, (New York: Harper Perennial, 1977)

Michel Serres, The Natural Contract, trans. by Elizabeth MacArthur & William Paulson, (United States of America: The University of Michigan Press, 1990)

Stephen Jay Gould, The Richness of Life, (London: Vintage Books, 2007)

Sylvia Wynter: On Being Human as Praxis, ed. by Katherine McKittrick, (Durham & London: Duke University Press, 2015)

Terry Gifford, Pastoral, (New York & London: Routledge, 1999)

Thomas S. Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, 2nd edn. (Chicago & London: The University of Chicago Press, 1970)

Timothy Morton, Humankind: Solidarity with Nonhuman People, (London & New York: Verso, 2017)

Journal, newspaper articles & documentaries:

See, Casás-Selves, Matias, and James Degregori. ‘How cancer shapes evolution, and how evolution shapes cancer.’ Evolution, vol. 4,4 (2011), 624-634. doi:10.1007/s12052-011-0373-y

Ian Sample, ‘Chinese scientist who edited babies’ genes jailed for three years’, The Guardian,  31 December 2019, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/dec/30/gene-editing-chinese-scientist-he-jiankui-jailed-three-years

Jason R. Ambroise, ‘On Sylvia Wynters Darwinian Heresy of the “Third Event”’, American Quarterly, 70.4 (December 2018), pp. 847-856

Kevin M. Esvelt, Andrea L. Smidler, Flaminia Catteruccia, & George M. Church, ‘Emerging Technology: Concerning RNA-guided gene drives for the alteration of wild population’, eLife, (2014), 3.e03.401, DOI: 10.7554/eLife.03401

 Max Hantel, ‘What is it like to Be a Human?: Sylvia Wynter on Autopoiesis’, philoSOPHIA, 8.1 (Winter 2018), pp. 61-79
Megan Scudellari, ‘Self-destructing mosquitoes and sterilized rodents: the promise of gene drives’, Nature, 09 July 2019, https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-019-02087-5

Nuffield Council on Bioethics, ‘Ideas about naturalness in public and political debates about science, technology and medicine’, pp. 5-109 http://nuffieldbioethics.org/wp-content/uploads/Naturalness-analysis-paper.pdf, (accessed 0ctober 2019)

Sylvia Wynter, ‘Unsettling the Coloniality of Being/Power/Truth/Freedom: Towards the Human, After Man, Its Overrepresentation–An Argument’, The New Centennial Review, 3.3 (2003), pp. 257-337

Unnatural Selection, dir. by Leeor Kaufman and Joe Egender, documentary series, Netflix (Radley Studio, Reel Peak, FilmTwist and Turn Films, 2019), https://www.netflix.com/search?q=unnatur&jbv=80208910&jbp=0&jbr=0 [accessed November and December 2019]


Footnotes

[1] Ian Sample, ‘Chinese scientist who edited babies’ genes jailed for three years’, The Guardian, 31 December 2019, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/dec/30/gene-editing-chinese-scientist-he-jiankui-jailed-three-years

[2] Gregory Bateson, Steps to an Ecology of Mind, (Chicago & London: The University of Chicago Press, 2000) p. 436

[3] ‘If humans are conceptualized as hybrid beings, you can no longer classify individuals, as well as human groups as naturally selected (i.e. eugenic) and naturally dysselected (i.e. dysgenic) beings.’ From, Sylvia Wynter and Katherine McKittrick, ‘Unparalleled Catastrophe for our Species? Or, to Give Humanness a Different Future: Conversations, in Sylvia Wynter: On Being Human as Praxis, ed. by Katherine McKittrick, (Durham & London: Duke University Press, 2015), p. 17. Wynter’s concern is that cultures can be left out of the selection, similar in kind to Habermas’s concern in eugenics.

[4] Nuffield Council on Bioethics, ‘Ideas about naturalness in public and political debates about science, technology and medicine’, pp. 5-109 http://nuffieldbioethics.org/wp-content/uploads/Naturalness-analysis-paper.pdf, (accessed 0ctober 2019).

[5] See, Sylvia Wynter, ‘Unsettling the Coloniality of Being/Power/Truth/Freedom: Towards the Human, After Man, Its Overrepresentation–An Argument’, The New Centennial Review, Volume 3, Number 3, Fall (2003), pp. 257-337

[6] See, Nuffield Council on Bioethics, ‘Ideas about naturalness in public and political debates about science, technology and medicine’, pp. 15-17, for an in–depth discussion of this. 

[7] Wynter and McKittrick, Sylvia Wynter: On Being Human as Praxis,  p. 23

[8] Jurgen Habermas, The Future of Humanity, (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2003), p. 3

[9] Jurgen Habermas, ‘The Scientization of Politics and Public Opinion’, in The Habermas Reader, ed. by William Outhwaite, (UK: Polity Press, 1996), p. 51

[10] Habermas, The Future of Humanity, p. 28

[11] Ibid., p. 22

[12] See also, Bateson, Steps to an Ecology of Mind, pp. 405-416

[13] Donna J. Haraway, Simians, Cyborgs, and Women: The Reinvention of Nature, (London: Free Association Books, 1991), p. 150

[14] Haraway, Simians, Cyborgs, and Women, pp. 150-151

[15] Ibid., p. 63

[16] For a full discussion see, Sylvia Wynter, ‘Unsettling the Coloniality of Being/Power/Truth/Freedom’, pp. 283-303

[17] ‘In my own terms, the human is homo narrans. This means that as a species, our hybrid origins only emerged in the wake of what I have come to define over the last decade as the Third Event. The First and Second Events are the origin of the universe and the explosion of biological life, respectively. I identify the Third Event in Fanonian terms as the origin of the human as a hybrid-auto-instituting-languaging-storytelling-species: bios/mythoi. The Third Event is defined by the singularity of the co-evolution of the human brain with—and, unlike those of all the other primates, with it alone—the emergent faculties of language, storytelling.’ Sylvia Wynter: On Being Human as Praxis, p. 25

[18] Keekok Lee, The Natural and the Artefactual: The Implications of Deep Science and Deep Technology for Environmental Philosophy, (United States of America: Lexington Books, 1999), p. 128

[19]Martin Heidegger: The Question Concerning Technology and Other Essays, trans. by William Lovitt, (New York: Harper Perennial, 1977), p. 4

[20] Lee cautions expose homo faber’s narcissism, which ‘may be considered to be a pathology or, at the very least, a form of immaturity.’ Lee recognizes that ‘a healthy, mature civilization, like a healthy, mature person, recognizes different others and respects them’ (p. 201). Such a recognition of the value of the non-human would not wish to eliminate them, which is Wynter’s concern. See, Lee, The Natural and the Artefactual, pp. 201-203.

[21] Lee, The Natural and the Artefactual, pp. 82-86

[22] Ibid., p. 107

[23] Ibid., p. 81

[24] Keekok Lee’s definition of iatrogenic is, ‘they may cure a particular environmental ill but they in turn bring forth another.’ Ibid., p. 108

[25] Ibid., 108

[26] What I am suggesting are artificial bees produced using nanotechnology.

[27] Habermas, ‘The Scientization of Politics and Public Opinion’, p. 45

[28] Ibid., p. 46

[29] My general idea is taken from, Terry Gifford, Pastoral, (New York & London: Routledge, 1999)

[30] I am advocating a nature of autonomous ecologies each with a function. I subscribe to Timothy Morton’s dislike of the maxim the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, rather agreeing that ‘the whole is always smaller than the sum of its parts.’ See Timothy Morton, Humankind: Solidarity with Nonhuman People, (London & New York: Verso, 2017), pp. 101-121

[31] Levi R. Bryant, Onto-Cartography, (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2014), p. 40

[32] Bryant, Onto-Cartography, p. 40

[33] Ibid., p. 40

[34] Ibid., pp.42-45

[35] See, Kevin M. Esvelt, Andrea L. Smidler, Flaminia Catteruccia, & George M. Church, ‘Emerging Technology: Concerning RNA-guided gene drives for the alteration of wild population’, eLife, (2014), 3.e03.401, DOI: 10.7554/eLife.03401

[36] Unnatural Selection, dir. by Leeor Kaufman and Joe Egender, documentary series, Netflix (Radley Studio, Reel Peak, FilmTwist and Turn Films, 2019), https://www.netflix.com/search?q=unnatur&jbv=80208910&jbp=0&jbr=0 [accessed November and December 2019]

[37] Unnatural Selection, dir. by Leeor Kaufman and Joe Egender

[38] See, Megan Scudellari, ‘Self-destructing mosquitoes and sterilized rodents: the promise of gene drives’, Nature, 09 July 2019, https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-019-02087-5

[39] Lee, The Natural and the Artefactual, p. 165

[40] See, Casás-Selves, Matias, and James Degregori. ‘How cancer shapes evolution, and how evolution shapes cancer.’ Evolution, vol. 4,4 (2011), 624-634. doi:10.1007/s12052-011-0373-y. Note that we developed no capacity to eradicate cancer naturally, because we never lived long enough generally, in the past, to develop combative agents in our bodies.

7 Comments

  1. All this improvement and reduction of suffering comes at a cost: the completely limitless expansion of humanity, which equals the ecological end of our planet. We are not known for moral evolution keeping pace with scientific evolution.

    1. It’s not an idea that sits comfortably with me, however, I think it necessitous to consider the ramifications of denaturing or reorienting how we conceive nature’s expressive functions through our own actions, rather than on principle separating those actions from nature, as if they were merely an anomaly. Mono-cultures exist in nature, we are one, how can we remark on this to illustrates the necessity of difference? It’s a difficult bind.

      1. The divide seems to be that we think we are separate from nature, that “we” are interfering with “it” as if there is a biological dialectic. Considering we are both in it and of it, any/all interference is no more than any other behaviour. Wolves interfere with the deer population all the time, from a deer’s perspective…

      2. That’s precisely it. But I honestly think many people have managed to disentangle themselves from an umbrella nature which enmeshes everything from process to object & wildlife to urban sprawl of city.
        If so, what action is the better to take to evade mass extinction, a manipulation of environment for the continuation of some life, or letting “nature” carry out temporary genocide to restart, as such? Of course from the perspective of this essay, seeing as there already is something that is doing nature, it seems an odd position to conceive of a restart.

      3. There is just only so much that can be done as the world’s population of humans grows out of balance with all around it. Economics are a good barometer of the blind drive forward, i.e. the almost insane notion that corporations can create eternal growth/profit for their shareholders. Can we have a McDonald’s literally every ten feet (including the ocean floor) all across the world, in every direction, and not expect to have to navigate mountains of garbage to get to any one of them? “Try our new cadmium burger, now with extra pulmonary edema!”…

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