This article is the fourth part in a series on how technology disrupts politics. The topic of part four is biotech.
In the first three parts of this series, we covered various technologies that have the capacity to disrupt politics. In part one we saw how the internet has allowed individuals and small groups to challenge the mainstream media and establishment politics. Part two showed how cryptography has enabled Bitcoin to challenge the banking and monetary system. Part three covered how 3D printers can undermine gun laws and drug laws. In this fourth part, we will look at perhaps the most controversial and exciting technology of them all: biotech.
Ever since Watson and Crick discovered the chemical structure of DNA in 1953, genetic engineering has held the promise of powerful tools to alter the code of life itself. For a long time, progress was agonizingly slow, producing few results. In the last decade, however, the research has finally started to approach the territory of practical applications.
In 2015, the company BioVivo announced that their CEO Elizabeth Parrish had received a gene therapy to lengthen the telomeres, which are the end caps of chromosomes that protect them from unraveling. Last year they reported that the therapy had successfully lengthened her telomeres by 10%, corresponding to a twenty-year reversal of cell aging. If the current theories of aging are correct, she may have significantly extended her healthy lifespan.
This is only one of many promising anti-aging therapies. Their most significant promise is not merely to extend life, but to maintain youthful health and energy for a longer time. In the not too distant future, people may never need to retire. They can stay healthy and productive until almost the day they die, thereby eliminating the majority of healthcare costs, which today mostly occurs in old age.
One would think that such improvements to human health would be universally greeted with joy and excitement, but there are omens that this may not be the case.
In Europe, the abortion debate has recently made a strange turn. Traditionally there are two fronts in the abortion debate: pro-choice and pro-life. However, a new front has been forming, which is pro-choice when the fetus is healthy, but pro-life when the fetus has Down syndrome or some other horrible illness. This strange position grows out of identity politics. Down or blindness is not an illness, they argue, but just diversity, which should not be eliminated.
So far, the debate has centered on abortion, but in the near future, it will probably be possible to perform gene therapy on fetuses to cure Down syndrome and a host of other genetic disorders, thereby eliminating the motivation for many abortions, and saving many unborn lives who would otherwise be aborted. What turn will the political debate then take? This must necessarily be speculation, but there is a real chance that the “progressive” left will want to ban genetic cures, on the basis that they are discriminating and bigoted against “diversity.” A bizarre position for sure.
The ideological left will also likely explode in outrage over parents that want to use gene therapy to improve the abilities of their future children, or simply want to choose their eye color. Such changes will be deemed “racist,” “ablest” or “social Darwinism.” At the same time, you will probably see “progressive” parents who will want to perform gene therapy on their unborn children to render them hermaphrodites, effectively performing a prenatal transgender sex operation, to prevent supposed sexism from birth.
These are some of the explosive political issues that may come in the wake of the emerging biotechnologies. They have the potential to render the welfare state obsolete by making everyone abler and healthier and thereby obliterate the traditional leftist arguments for a big government. It is highly unlikely that the ideological left will just allow this to happen without a fight, and it is, therefore, important to be ready for that debate.
Onar is a Norwegian author who has written extensively on politics, technology, and science. He has a mathematics and physics background and has been a technological entrepreneur for twenty years, working in areas ranging from biomass gasification and AI to 3D cameras and 3D TV. He is currently also the Editor of the alternative news site Ekte Nyheter (Authentic News) in Norway.