Despite all the controversy (read that as “glaring evidence of a severe health risk” if you like) surrounding genetically modified food, huge corporations led by Monstanto continue to push away at GM research and development in their committed attempt to control as much of global agribusiness as possible, stating without a trace of irony that “if there were one word to explain what Monsanto is about, it would have to be farmers” even as farmer suicides reach unprecedented heights. And about those health risks? Well, let’s just say we won’t be seeing any Monstanto execs putting their poorly-tested, dangerous food where their mouth is – and why should they? As Phil Angell, Monsanto’s director of corporate communications, told New York Times Magazine in 1998, “Monsanto should not have to vouchsafe the safety of biotech food. Our interest is in selling as much of it as possible.”
Not happy with rendering the food we eat artificial and toxic, scientists have now significantly advanced the project of genetic modification of humans, announcing (according to the Daily Mail) that the world’s first GM babies have been born in the US. Professor Jacques Cohen, writing in the journal Human Reproduction, described this as “the first case of human germline genetic modification resulting in normal healthy children”. While the current stated objective of such techniques is to help couples have a child who are otherwise incapable of doing so themselves, the ethical concerns are obvious, not least the idea that humans might become commodities which come off the end of a production line. As far fetched as this may seem, it’s something Aldous Huxley pondered with unease in his 1932 novel Brave New World.
It all sounds very science fiction – and it certainly was in the 30s, when Huxley’s seminal dystopian novel was first published – but there’s more than a sense today that Brave New World, along with George Orwell’s 1984, stand as something more than works of fiction. They’ve been widely reappraised as works of prophecy or revelations from “insiders” who knew for sure what was being planned, or at the very least had a very good intimation as to where the world might be headed – Aldous Huxley’s brother Julian was a vocal eugenicist who extolled the potential benefits of a bio-modified humanity controlled by intellectual elites, while George Orwell almost certainly learned a thing or two anout propaganda working for the BBC.
Few could argue today that Orwell’s disturbing vision of a comprehensive surveillance state and schizophrenic propaganda machine hasn’t become an established fact, whether or not everyone sees it for what it is (the cameras may not be in our homes yet, but it isn’t for lack of trying). Orwell was right – and so was Aldous Huxley, when he discussed in Brave New World the drug Soma, used en masse to create “stable” citizens who conform to societal norms. One only has to look at the number of people in the world today prescribed psychotropic medication; a chemical quick fix easing the widespread discomfort of living in the modern world. Little matter that the drugs don’t “cure” mental illness and often lead to suicide and incidents of violence: the underlying malaise – the world itself – remains untreated. Few psychologists – perhaps only notably R. D. Laing – have had the foresight to recognise that insanity is perhaps the only sane reaction to an insane world.
Is production line cloning of humans the next dystopian nightmare to become a reality? As Huxley described in Brave New World, clones could be tailored to performing specific niches creating a new scientific caste era with workers and bureaucrats functioning in the service of their corporate creator, freed from family ties and troublesome notions of ancestral identity (provided you administer the Soma with regularity, of course). It sounds too outlandishly science fiction to even consider, and yet at the same time it’s not hard to envisage the elites of the world rubbing their hands with glee at the prospect of an army of slaves to do their bidding without question. And of course, let’s not forget the potential military application – after all, DARPA already have …