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Citizen Cyborg: A Look at Our Enhanced Future

Page history last edited by Paul Elden 12 years, 7 months ago


Imagine a world in which all people are hyper intelligent. Everyone is incredibly fit and healthy all the time. Humans can live hundreds of years, and possibly forever. Disease has been eliminated; death by cancer and AIDS is now impossible. This is medical ethicist James Hughes’ vision for our future. In Citizen Cyborg, Hughes argues that genetic and technological implements to humans are going to be a large part of our future, and they are necessary in order to better ourselves and survive. He argues this through logos centered on many scientific studies by geneticists and biomechanical engineers, the pathos of freedom to control our own bodies and minds, and an ethos found in his own personal experience with “mind control medicine.”


Like all scientific fields, health is ever-changing. Every day, advancements are being made to combat various forms of disease, illness, and accidents. And yet, modern medicine is by no means perfect. People die every day due to uncured ailments, and new sickness springs up more often than people realize. In order to prevent these sicknesses from reaching and destroying people, Hughes believes we must not only combat the disease, but improve our defenses as well. He completely agrees with things like gene therapy, stem cell research, and cybernetics, because he believes that in the long run technologies such as these will have a profound impact on our lives, and help us in ways we cannot yet imagine. His ultimate vision would be for humans to improve ourselves so much that we become more than human; immune to all disease, the chance to live multiple lifetimes, and various other effects that would make us “transhuman.”


Hughes’ Utopian lifestyle sounds grand when put in the way that he envisions it. However, there are those that would disagree with his insight. In Citizen Cyborg, he has dubbed this group the “bioLuddites.” The bioLuddites argue that it is wrong to change our genes, to mesh life with technology, and alter ourselves in ways that biology alone cannot. These groups often provide good arguments to transhuman views. One technology they dispute is the developing process of anti-aging. Quite quickly in his book, Hughes presents one of their arguments. “…Francis Fukuyama, writes in his book Our Posthuman Future that life extension will lead to rigid, risk-averse societies, ruled by slowly decaying seniors ogling the shrinking number of young bodies. Other critics warn that life extension will exacerbate overpopulation and the growing dependence of the retired on the shrinking working-age population.” (Hughes, 31). Hughes quickly attacks this argument by saying that already this process has begun, with the twentieth century seeing the birth of Social Security and Medicare, and the fact that we have not yet denied medicine to the older people that need it, or developing countries that are already overpopulated. Another often-brought-up argument bioLuddites make is that with advancements in medicine and cybernetics, the division between rich and poor would increase drastically. The rich are improving themselves and their lives even more, while the poor are left behind in the transhuman movement. Hughes again counters this by saying that with improvements in technology come improvements in democracy. He frequently references the Industrial Revolution of the seventeen and eighteen hundreds as a prime example.


Yet another argument against transhumanism extrapolates on safety risks. In this counterargument, Hughes develops logos. Hughes quotes a study at the University of Pennsylvania where a man that underwent gene therapy died because his immune system rejected it and failed (15). In contrast, he goes on in Citizen Cyborg to explore many other medical research experiments that have proved successful. This gives the reader a sense that only a small portion of research is failing; he does not talk much about failed attempts. Naturally, one could realize his technique and decide he is presenting material in a biased way. However, I tend to believe his attitude, as I’m sure many others do, because of intense regulation by the FDA and other government agencies. In fact, on the very next page Hughes mentions several new laws and regulations that were developed due to the failure of the University of Pennsylvania’s experiment. As well, there can never be advancements in medicine without some sort of failure. It is the way of science. Hughes also cites technologies like cochlear implants and computer assisted vision as incredible technology that assists those with disabilities (17). He views some sacrifice as necessary in order to make the world a better place. All these examples he has provided form a well-thought out logos, telling the reader that, “This research is okay, because it is and will be helpful.”


Quite possibly Hughes’ main argument is created in his choice of pathos. He appeals to people's pathos of free will and the pursuit of happiness, and also the pathos of self-improvement, quite frequently. He states that people should have the basic choice to do what they want with their bodies when they want, as long as they don’t affect others in adverse ways. A valid point, for sure, but this is never the case. On this point, Hughes fails to realize the reality of his argument. There will always be someone who decides to drink and drive, or that hunter that mistakes someone for an animal. Citizen Cyborg fails to discuss this counterargument, or even explore how total body free will could function in modern society. Another shortcoming of Hughes' pathos is his lack of argument about dependent enhancement, such as enhancing one’s children. While providing a slight consideration for people that are reliant on others in the example using his son, he paints enhancement on a dependent in a good way, as the outcome of his personal experience was a success. Never does he mention an example or theoretical situation in which someone abuses their children through biotechnology. This is almost a certainty, because parents often try to live vicariously through their offspring, attempting to force their kids to be better so the parents themselves can look and feel better.


Hughes ties in ethos, through personal experience, while further developing the pathos for his argument when he uses himself and his son as examples early in Citizen Cyborg. In chapter four, he discusses how his son suffered from Attention Deficit Disorder. When Hughes’ son entered kindergarten, he was psychologically evaluated and diagnosed with ADD. His son was then prescribed Concerta. After starting the drug regimen, his son’s fights stopped, he no longer argued with his teachers, and now he is focused, and an excellent student. As well, he describes his own childhood in a similar fashion, saying that “it took a combination of Ritalin and special education for me to learn to read in the third grade.” (16, 17). After this personal insight, he presents the reader with the question “If this worked for me and my son, why shouldn’t all people be allowed to take it?” Obviously he wants the reader to know that drugs like Ritalin and Concerta are safe and effective. He would know, since he has used these drugs in his personal life (this is where his ethos comes in).  Even if someone doesn’t have ADD or a similar learning disability, Hughes believes that it would have a similar effect and that everyone should have the freedom to take it to become more focused and learn better (enter pathos). He also talks about other “mind-control” drugs such as anxiety or depression drugs. Hughes wants everyone to have access to medicines such as these in order to be a happier, calmer, more intelligent society.


Citizen Cyborg provides a decent argument. After all, who in their right mind wouldn’t want to be healthy all the time, or live an extra fifty years? Why shouldn’t we be happier and more focused? While these are great ideas in theory, Hughes does not quite make a perfect case for biotechnology, and the arguments of the bioLuddites still linger in my head. In addition, the technologies Citizen Cyborg discusses are years from being invented or perfected, and have yet to provide results like those that Hughes has foreseen. So, I am going to wait to form an opinion, and see how and where the future takes us.


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