You shall not make for yourself a sculptured image, or any likeness of what is in the heavens above, or on the earth below, or in the waters under the earth. Exodus 20:4 (The Israel Bible™)
The Nazis justified their many atrocities with the idea that all they did was in service to the creation of a new, human super-race. It took a World War and the horror of the Holocaust to defeat that idea.
Now the US and China are potentially heading into a genetic arms race with possibilities beyond what the Nazis could ever have imagined. The outcome could change the very nature of the human race. That is the alarm being sounded by Dr. Jamie Metzl – a genetics expert who advises both the US Senate and the United Nations on the exponentially advancing field of genetic engineering.
Jamie Metzl is traveling to Virginia for a special appearance at the Jewish Book Festival at the Simon Family JCC at 7:30 pm on Tuesday, November 12th to discuss his new book, Hacking Darwin: Genetic Engineering and the Future of Humanity. The event is free and open to the public. RSVP required to jewishva.org/bookfestival.
To Metzl, a Jew whose father was born in Austria and escaped the Holocaust, the world is currently focusing on the wrong things. “A trade war with China could be economically disruptive, but no one is going to look back a hundred years from now and say that was the Age of Trump. They are going to look back and say that was the Age of Genetic Engineering when human beings – after 4 billion years of natural development – took control of their own evolution.”
As a Human Rights Officer for the United Nations and a special UN Advisor traveling into North Korea to guide the regime in setting up reforms, Metzl has spent a lot of time in Asia and believes America is fundamentally misunderstanding China. “America is a country run by lawyers. China is a country run by engineers. For China, all problems are engineering problems. The population is too large; the solution is the One Child policy. Want to win the Olympics? Find children with a genetic predisposition to athletics, then take them away from their parents and put them into full-time, training sports village.”
“China is hell-bent on becoming the premiere technological power of the world. And they don’t have to worry about the consent of their people, they can just go in the direction they feel is going to get there faster than everyone else. And the usual ethical safeguards are absent. China once had a great ancient civilization, but they destroyed it and tore it all down in the communist Great Leap Forward. Now China is essentially an adolescent civilization without the usual safeguards of long-standing moral traditions.”
Metzl says that it is too late for the US to stop the coming tsunami of genetic engineering. “We must remain competitive. At the same time, we don’t want an arms race on the genetic future of the human race.”
“Whether we like it or not,” says Metzl, “these technologies are here and will continue to advance in ways that will blow peoples’ minds. What is in play is can we weave in our values. Everyone needs to have a seat at the table whether you are a conservative Christian or a bio-hacking trans-humanist. In the book [Hacking Darwin] I call for a planet-wide conversation on the future of our species. I even set up a website so everyone can participate.”
One of the first changes that Metzl predicts will be the end of sex for reproduction. “We will stop conceiving our babies through sex and start using IVF to create huge numbers of embryos, analyze their DNA, and the parents will choose the embryo that has the very best combination of their genetic traits.”
Very quickly this will not seem alien but the only responsible way to have a child. “Think about it,” says Metzl, “Right now we have people born with terrible genetic diseases that demand huge amounts of money to treat over their lifetime. In the future parents who have children through sex will be looked at the way parents who refuse to vaccinate their children are looked at now. How could you take that risk with your child? And if you have a child that way that ends up with a disease, insurance will not cover the care. That leaves you with a lifetime bill that could reach $10 million dollars for some conditions.”
Jamie Metzl will be at the Simon Family JCC in Virginia Beach on Tuesday, November 12th at 7:30 pm to discuss both the benefits and perils of the Genetic Revolution we are now already in. Like the exponential proven in Moore’s Law for computers, Metzl says the changes cannot be stopped and will come ever more rapidly in the coming years.
While there is danger from China and other rogue actors misapplying genetic engineering, Jamie Metzl believes that if we act now, we can weave our values in to create safeguards. “In Judaism, we have a concept called Tikkun Olam, that the world is made broken and we have a responsibility to repair it. That justifies science,” says Metzl. “Here is a vote for optimism. We have never been this literate as a species. We have never been this educated as a species. And we have never been this connected.”
Helping in the divine repair of the world is not the only story of the Hebrew Bible, however. There is also the tale of the Tower of Babel in which humanity overreached and brought upon ourselves the divisions of languages separating us to this day. What division could happen when we start tampering with the very blueprints of our humanity?