Doctor Who Tackles Transgenic Menace
As culture passes through various stages of technological development, the science fiction of a particular point in history often reflects the concerns regarding the horrors discerning intellects at the time feared could possibly be inflicted upon the earth should what is then considered new knowledge get out of hand. For example, throughout the 50’s and 60’s, speculative literature often focused on the impact of radiation as embodied by the origins of Spider-Man, the Incredible Hulk, and the Fantastic Four.Though these characters still remain at the forefront of popular culture, in some instances their origins have been slightly reinterpreted to reflect the concerns of the new generation of authors putting their own creative spins on them and to capture the imaginations of a contemporary fan base. For example, in the Spider-Man films, the arachnid conveying its abilities to an unsuspecting Peter Parker is no longer just an average one accidentally bombarded with radiation but rather one deliberately tinkered with at the genetic level that somehow escapes lab captivity.
Though tastes in entertainment may differ on both sides of the Atlantic, it is pretty safe to say that Doctor Who is a venerable sci-fi icon among fans irrespective of their country of origin. Even though I myself am a relatively new fan as classic episodes use to air well past midnight on the local PBS affiliate when I was a youth, much of the appeal of the crumble-coated space-fairing time traveler has been because of the unique manner in which the show’s creators project ethical concerns against unique cosmic backdrops and circumstances.
For example, one episode of season three of the revived series dealt with the frustration those of us dwelling in urban areas have to contend with in the form of what seems to be unending traffic congestion. In this story, commuters on what was a second earth set millennia in the future literally spent much of their lives in contraptions that looked like a cross between a flying minivan and a cramped apartment where it could literally take years to travel just a few miles.
Tucked away between that amusing tidbit and a complete singing of “The Old Rugged Cross” that was rendered with such seriousness that one could see tears in the eyes of the characters was another narrative detail that just jumped out at the viewer in tune with where science and philosophy might be headed if concerned people of common sense don’t soon put a stop to it. Though the geriatric lesbian couple was shocking enough, their risqué union seemed outdated and quaint in comparison to that between two of the other commuters the Doctor came across.
For in one of the vehicles was a regular looking human woman who was married to an individual half human and half feline in his physiology. As unsettling as that was, viewers were in for an even bigger surprise when the husband beams with pride to the wife and asks her to let the Doctor see the babies. The doting mother returns with kittens that sound like they are meowing “momma”.
The scene alone served as a startling warning of the future we might have to confront if a growing number in the Transhumanist movement have their way. For those whose news diet consists primarily of what gutter Lindsay Lohan puked in the night before, Transhumanism is the movement hypothesizing that human beings must move beyond the limitations inherent to our physiology if we are to proceed to the next stage in our development as a species. Transgenics would be a subset of this movement believing this goal is best accomplished by incorporating characteristics of other organisms into the human genome by essentially engineering an amalgamation on the molecular level of two distinct species.
Proponents of this ontological melding will respond that the family in this episode of Doctor Who was depicted in such a positive light that Transhumanism could easily be seen as a benefit or as at least ethically neutral. However, despite dancing gingerly around the topic in one episode, producers were more blatant in their concerns in the next.
In the episode “Daleks In Manhattan”, the Doctor and rebound companion Martha Jones travel back to the Big Apple of the Depression Era. Here they encounter a bit of a mystery intertwining missing transients from a Central Park Hooverville and the construction of the Empire State building. From that point forward, the story begins to parallel events and developments here in our own time more than most of us would be willing to admit.
The Cult of Skaro (think the Dalek version of the Free Masons or Illuminati in that it has been alluded to that this group exists above and beyond the normal authorities of this species in order to facilitate long term reflection regarding galactic domination) co-opts the construction of the Empire State building to use as a genetics research facility. As part of their experiments, the Daleks kidnap the nearby homeless and meld the dimwitted among the captives with porcine DNA to create a hybrid slave race similar in appearance to Jabba the Hutt’s Gomorrean guards in “Return Of The Jedi” or the things that ran Bespin’s carbonite freezing chamber in “The Empire Strikes Back.”
Eventually, the Doctor stumbles upon these pigmen. Interestingly, the pigmen are told by their Dalek overseers to take the Doctor and the captives of higher intelligence to the TRANSGENIC laboratory.
While one may come across science fiction stories where some lunatic tries to create some kind of abomination by fusing together disparate species, seldom has one heard the word “transgentic” bantered about that freely. Viewers then learn that the pigmen are not an end in themselves but rather tests to work the kinks out so that the Daleks might merge with human victims since it has been concluded that such a step is necessary to bring about the next stage in Dalek evolution. From the process emerges a cycloptic monstrosity that even the other Daleks turn against as the result was anathema even anathema to their worldview of destruction and conquest summarized by their Naziesque catchphrase of “EXTERMINATE. EXTERMINATE.”
All well and good for a Friday night’s entertainment, but what does this have to do with real life, the unsuspecting might ask. Quite a bit, actually.
For starters, along the fringes, one hears accounts of individuals abducted by nonhuman entities (the origins of which is not relevant to this line of argumentation as one band of researchers sympathetic to this reality claims such beings are biological hailing from elsewhere in the universe while another claims these beings are actually non-corporeal or the offspring of the biological and non-corporeal) for the purposes of amalgamating distinct orders of life.
And even if one does not buy into speculation regarding intelligent life beyond our own, one has to bury one’s head deep in the sand to avoid talk these days about proposals to join man and animal on a genetic level. Not long ago, one could easily dismiss such conjecturing as the hyperactive imagination of those who have spent too many hours watching the Sci-Fi Channel. Now though, one sees an increasing number of credentialed scientists with the financial backing of industry, academia, and government that can actually ruin innocent human lives openly discussing these kinds of experiments that will potentially result in hybrid entities such as mice with physiologically human brains and human beings with the wings of birds.
Use to be one would imagine the likes of Dr. Frankenstein prowling around in some dank laboratory or at some ultrasecret government facility. However, now such advocates of deliberate biological deviancy proudly herald their position and hold conferences at prestigious universities where they act like you are the sicko if you don’t have a smile plastered across your face about the plans for a generation of intentionally disfigured children.
Now one doesn’t even have to turn to obtuse scientific journals printed in exceedingly miniscule typeface read only by a handful of eggheads that have not seen a hairbrush in years. One only needs access to a mainstream newspaper.
According to the Washington Post in a June 24, 2007 piece titled “Making Manimals” by Slate.com correspondent William Saletan, at the moment most efforts at joining human and animal DNA are reasonably modest such as transplanting baboon hearts and pig valves into human subjects in order to keep them alive. However, it would not take too much effort beyond what is possible now to dramatically expand the scope of these endeavors.
Saletan writes, “To make humanized animals really creepy, you’d have to do several things. You increase the ratio of human to animal DNA. You’d transplant human cells that spread throughout the body. You’d do it early in embryonic development so the human cells would shape the animals architecture, not just blend in. You’d grow the embryo to maturity. And you’d start messing with the brain. We’re doing all of these things.”
Though the author will admit to the general public what is going on, instead of condemning the things such practices might lead to, he turns around and condemns those condemning this technology by casting suspicions on them as those Evangelicals the Washington Post likes to categorize as “poor, uneducated, and easy to command.”
Saletan concludes his remarks by saying, “If you want permanent restrictions, your best bet is the senator who tried to impose them two years ago. He’s the same presidential candidate now leading the charge against evolution; Sam Brownback, a Kansas Republican. He thinks we’re separate from other animals, ‘unique in the created order’. Too bad this wasn’t true in the past — and it won’t be true in the future.”
If that is how the elites of the scientific establishment are coming to feel, that should give all of us hayseeds that happen to think there is something special about the human race cause for concern. For although Saletan and others like him try to make a laughing stock of those opposed to the hobo stew of species amalgamation by insinuating that, as with evolution, only buffoons oppose the process, they are approaching a truth that defenders of this technology may not want to touch. That truth is of course being that without evolution as an operational paradigm (as it is not an established fact at the macro level) transgencis would not be morally permissible.
For if human beings are not “unique in the created order” as the transgenic evolutionists who now hold sway in the halls of corporate, academic and government research now argue, then why should human beings be granted any special rights at all? And in some circles, we probably have even fewer rights as some of the shrill harpies in the animal rights movement who go into apoplexy over a smashed eagle’s egg are often the loudest banshees for the right to hack human babies to pieces.
Initially, these technologies and procedures will be marketed under the banner of medical progress and those opposed will be castigated for their lack of sympathy for the suffering just as those opposed to embryonic stem cell research were cast as being opposed to Superman ever walking again as in the case of Christopher Reeve. Saletan writes, “We’re not doing these things because they are creepy. We’re doing them because they are logical. The more you humanize animals, the better they serve their purposes as lab models of humanity. That’s what’s scary about species mixing. It’s not some crazy Frankenstein project. It’s the future of medicine.”
However, it is not like this is where researchers will stop their work out of some reverence for the well being of human beings made in the image of God as this ideal has already been held up for condemnation and ridicule. As even someone as sympathetic to this research as Saletan writes, “When Stanford first head of the proposal for humanized mice brains, they were grossed out. But after thinking it over, they tentatively endorsed the idea and decided that it may not be had to endow mice with some aspects of human consciousness or some human cognitive abilities.” The British Academy and the U.S. National Academy of Sciences have likewise refused to permanently restrict the humanization of animals.
Thus, once the urge to use this technology for legitimate medical applications has reached its limit, there will be little there to prevent its use just a little more and then just a little more. After it is used to bring a handicapped or diseased person back to normal, what is to prevent it from being used to make a perfectly healthy person better beyond what a rational person steeped in Judeo-Christian morality would conclude were God’s initial intentions and specifications?
For example, successfully transferred neurons from an animal to help the paralyzed? All well and good, but if someone does not put a foot down somewhere, what is to prevent the Pentagon from calling up soldiers given the charge of an electric eel?
Ghouls in lab coats want to create such creatures no doubt so the can carry out Dr. Mengle-like experiments. Saletan writes, “Imagine that: a hominid brain network you can treat like a lab animal because it is a lab animal.” The same thing use to no doubt be said about Jews and Black folks in decades past with atrocious consequences.
It is claimed in a New York Times article by Nicholas Wade titled “Chimeras On The Horizon” that, given the 20-day gestation period of a mouse compared to the nearly nine months a human being is baking in the oven, it is doubtful human cognitive abilities would have time to develop. But how can anyone be absolutely certain? To this day, despite the number of books on the subject containing five inch words no average person could possibly pronounce, scientists and philosophers are still not sure of the exact link between the brain and mind, this conundrum so perplexing that it is called the mind/body problem.
In the Wade article, Richard Doerflinger of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops provides probably the soundest advice: “If something were half human and half animal, what would our moral responsibilities be? It might be immoral to kill such a creature. It’s wrong to create creatures whose moral stature we are perplexed about.”
Many times, the unaware viewer sits back and thinks many of the things seen in science fiction could never become a reality. However, if things continue on their current pace, it won’t be long until such tales join the historical chronicle of what has already transpired rather than as a depiction of where things might be headed.
by Frederick Meekins