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Bad society from human genetic manipulation

  1. Aug 7, 2017 #1
    In the thread
    the film Gattaca was discussed as an example of a very bad society brought about by the use of human genetic manipulation. In my opinion the Gattaca society is a very poor example of this in that is is not nearly as bad as the society in we currently live. The potentially bad result from the manipulation in Gattaca is the reduction in genetic diversity which reduces the adaptability of the species to environmental changes.

    Wikipedia has a good article close to this topic.

    My own personal SF favorites of really bad consequences of human genetic manipulation are the following.
    Beggars in Spain by Nancy Kress
    Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood
    Brave New World
    by Aldus Huxley​

    What do you all think about this?
    Last edited: Aug 7, 2017
  2. jcsd
  3. Aug 7, 2017 #2
    Genetic design and editing may reduce genetic diversity, but it also reduces the advantage of genetic diversity - so long as the design and editing technology remains available.
  4. Aug 7, 2017 #3
    In what sense do you believe the Gattaca society is preferable to our current one?
  5. Aug 7, 2017 #4
    Hi Lord:
    The downside of Gattaca is that a small minority or the population was not genetically as well fit for many tasks as the majority. However, the option to have a child with this disadvantage was a choice made by the parents. The positive side of Gattaca is that in general among the vast majority the wealth and income was much closer to equality than in our society.

    The growing gross inequality of wealth and income in our society (in the US) is in my opinion the cause of what are the many social and justice inequities suffered by at least one third of our population.

  6. Aug 7, 2017 #5
    Hi Scott:

    There is no suggestion in Gattaca that genetic design and editing technology was used. What was known in Gattaca is the nature of all the genes in the population genome, and the parents would chose from their two individual genomes what they considered to be the best available genes for their child. With this technology, is it certain t hat gradually m any genes that had been in the population genome would be eliminated, and there would not be any technological way to get them back. This would result in a weakening of population adaptability to random environmental changes.

  7. Aug 8, 2017 #6
    Ah, I live in Norway so maybe that's why Gattaca didn't seem as nice to me as to you.

    One part that I strongly dislike about the Gattaca society is that natural-born were treated as second-rate citizen. One thing that they might not be able to "win" compared to the genetically modified ones, but they weren't even given a chance.
  8. Aug 8, 2017 #7
    That's an odd construction for the story. It's hard to imagine a technology that would allow precise splicing of the parents DNA without also allowing other sources of DNA to be spliced in. Since all of those unpopular alleles had been cataloged and their corresponding affects on the phenotype are known, they could be readily printed on Earth (http://sgidna.com/bxp3200.html) and I would think the same could be done on the more advanced Gattaca. If, for some reason, the Gattaca gene selection method could not be applied to three sources instead of just the two from the parents, then the new allele could be first spliced into one of the parent donor tissues using Crispr technology - also presumably available on the more advanced Gattaca.
  9. Aug 8, 2017 #8

    Vanadium 50

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    I find the notion that reduced income inequality is so desirable that it is worth having a permanent, genetically-determined underclass to accomplish this morally repulsive.
  10. Aug 8, 2017 #9
    I would guess that that is the intended reaction. The Left would have you believe that everyone is already born with equal economic potential - so no genetic manipulation should be needed. The Right would readily buy into the notion that some are born with varying potentials to contribute to the economy, but would see no use in artificially equalizing incomes.

    Of course, even in a world where there was only a single gene line, we should not expect universal income parity. Not all positions in the economy have the same leverage for productivity - and so some will come with higher pay or profits that others. I started out at the same time, in the same region, and under similar circumstances as Bill Gates. But look how much longer it took him before he finally had enough money.
  11. Aug 8, 2017 #10
    For all such stories the thesis is that: first, there is something seriously wrong with the way things are (i.e. nature selection and all the problems created by uncontrolled reproduction -- both good and bad), and, second, a centralized top-down design and control system is better able to see the "optimum" direction for society. This thesis is as old as written history: feudal lords, divine right of Kings, communism, strongman oligarchies, corporate overlords uncontrollable by stock owners.

    Scott hits it on the head with Gates example; Gattaca, as do the others of this ilk, give a group the power to anoint themselves as the chosen (all it takes is money and/or technology). The results are almost always the same. This thread easily identifies the fixes needed to get the system working better (morally); but, that would miss the point. The authors of this thesis are less about the proper use of a possible future technology and more about the corruption of existing technology as a demonstration of humanity's inability to moderate its behavior -- the more pervasive the technology, the more quickly and completely the social collapse takes place.

    On the other hand, there is a class of writer whose aim is to celebrate the possible direction of the science rather than the self-destructive tendencies of humanity. Azimov (Foundation Series), Baxter (Flood Series), Clarke (2001 Series), and Robinson (Mars Series) were/are inclined to imbue the hero ( or hero-group) with altruism and uncanny intuition to "save the day".

    Two classes of sifi writers emerge: those wanting to engage in the plausibility of speculative science and man's response to harness it for humanity's good, and those who use sifi more as a device for exposing latent human dark places inadvertently enabled by advances. -Ron
  12. Aug 8, 2017 #11
    Hi Vanadium:

    I started this thread to invite opinions about whether Gattaca is a good example of the how bad genetic manipulation technology can make a society, and to suggest other SF stories that might be better examples. Certainly Aldus Huxley's 1932 novel Brave New World depicts a more extreme morally repulsive society than Gattaca, and in my opinion more morally repulsive than our (US) current society.

    I am not particularly interested in exploring philosophical ethics to investigate various alternative criteria that might be plausible to use to decide the degree of moral repulsiveness of various societal attributes. However I am curious to understand the criteria you used to arrive at the opinion I quoted above. Why do you blame the Gattaca society as a whole for the existence of the genetically-determined underclass rather than the parents who chose to create the members of this underclass? As I remember the story, the underclass protagonist was conceived accidentally, and the parents chose not to abort the fetus. Do you think it would be more or less morally repulsive to abort an accidental conception?

    BTW, your use of the word "permanent" seems inappropriate. In the film, I get the impression that the fraction of the population in the genetically-determined underclass is very small, and likely to continue to shrink.

    Last edited: Aug 8, 2017
  13. Aug 8, 2017 #12
    Hi Scott:

    I disagree that the point of the film was a political statement about Left and Right messages. I think the main message was that individual tenacity can overcome extreme inequity. A second moral message was about the motivation of the accidentally crippled non-underclass person who aided the protagonist to beat the system, including the arranging of his own death.

  14. Aug 8, 2017 #13

    stefan r

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    Loss of adaptability is only one factor. Lower diversity can lower fitness for a current environment. A population with less genetic diversity in the genes that control immunity will be more likely to suffer from catastrophic plagues. The individual genes are not inferior. An individual with those genes might be healthier than the population (s)he lives in. But if the entire population has the "better" genes then they are highly vulnerable.

    You can also question what genes are "best". Genes for better writers are not the same as genes for better dancers. Variation within a culture can make the entire culture thrive in a way that it would not if it lacked a diverse population.
  15. Aug 8, 2017 #14
    Hi stefan:

    I agree with you. Our difference is one of vocabulary usage. I had in mind that a plague would be something new in the environment.

    In the context of Gattaca, the parents decide on what are the "best" characteristics they want in their child, choosing among such alternatives as writer or dancer. Since different parents would make different choices, that would result in some diversity.

  16. Aug 8, 2017 #15
    Here in lies the evolution of choice. As technology becomes available all possible uses are investigated and judgements are made regarding both personal and societal benefit or potential harm. Just as important, however, are the choices seeming to have been taken away by the technology. Before modern medicine really improved the survivability of "abnormal" births, a deformed child was simply allowed to die or even quietly killed. Such actions are totally consistent with mammalian instinct; like the mother lioness killing the smallest of the litter in a poor food year. With the technology, we can now sustain life, and there by shame parents into wasting their lives tending a marginal contributor. (Don't get moral hackles up yet.) So, the forces acting population pressure, probably well over the planet's carrying capacity; social unrest do to unsatisfactory mitigation of woes; deterioration of true citizenship preparation and participation; emerging technology with a seemingly good solution if the social inhibitions can be overcome, covered up, or changed through thought management; an emerging autocratic class willing to "make the tough choices" and direct the society toward the end state of happiness after passing through a period of preparation (the dictatorship of the proletariat, for example). Historical evidence is everywhere, group think in a time of crisis will alway yield control to a strongman-government, promising benevolent but firm progress. The results are the unavoidable loss of any sense of self-determination, participation in major life choices, opportunities to over-achieve -- the inability to use the two gifts that sets us apart, self-awareness and systematic non-abductive learning. In the end, the arrogance of the leadership fails to recognize an innate flaw, and total collapse begins (usually just as our story begins. "Hopelessness Sucks" but it sells copy!!

    The problem with these novels is that real history almost always out does them with far more hideous, unthinkable acts against humanity in which moral or ethical debate is beyond relevancy. Why? Because the novels must make sense and seem plausible. History needs no such boundaries.

    Of course, as Lib. Arts student I devoured 1984, Brave New World, Das Kapital, Fountain Head, Atlas Shrugs, The Mailman, Blade Runner, Fahrenheit 451, Quiet Spring, A Clockwork Orange, A Good Year to Die, anything Dickens. But, somewhere along the path, I decided I needed a little hope and switched to sifi and period novels in which mankind triumphs over inhumanity, thereby delaying once again our extinction event.
  17. Aug 9, 2017 #16

    Vanadium 50

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    Great. Just great. "Don't worry about our underclass - they'll be extinct before you know it."
  18. Aug 10, 2017 #17
    Hi Vanadium:

    I confess that your thought processes are a complete mystery to me. I have tried to ask questions about your posts to help me gain some understanding, but since you seem to intend to avoid responding, I will have to give up on any hope that the mystery will ever be solved.

  19. Aug 11, 2017 #18


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    I tend to agree with you. Gattaca was specifically written and filmed to show the negatives with the society, but the positives were never emphasized and rarely shown. It's nearly impossible to compare the society as a whole with our current society, as we only see a snapshot of Gattaca's society and its fictional anyways.
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