Biotechnology could be a tool of evolutionary improvementby Geoff Mulgan / June 20, 2002 / Leave a comment
With the publication of his article “The End of History” in 1989, Francis Fukuyama, then a little- known official in the US state department, suddenly became one of the world’s most influential writers. His account, in what later became a book, of the end of the cold war as the triumph of liberal capitalism was perfectly timed and artfully constructed. Since then successive books on trust and social order have maintained Fukuyama’s reputation for combining cogent argument with a sound use of social science and a sharp sense of how to make ideas newsworthy.
The End of History attracted an avalanche of criticism. The argument which hit home most powerfully with Fukuyama himself was the claim that history could not end if science was continuing to make dramatic new discoveries. His new book, The Posthuman Future, is an attempt to make amends. It is about how science, particularly biotechnology, is not only making history but also remaking humanity, and why we should be afraid of what is coming.
What most concerns Fukuyama is the prospect that biotechnology will transform what it means to be human. Three sets of changes stand out, each of which will cast profound doubt on some of our most cherished political beliefs: the effects on our personalities of various new kinds of drug; the radical extension of the life span; and the ability of genetic medicine to change and improve human beings.
The first set of changes is almost upon us. Before long, biotechnology will be able to change not only our moods but also the very structure of our personalities. Something of its potential power can be gauged from the influence of drugs like Prozac, Zoloft and Paxil, which have together been taken by some 10 per cent of Americans. Prozac works by increasing the levels of serotonin in the brain and has proven a remarkable cultural as well as medical phenomenon-albeit one on which the evidence is still contested-turning nervous and depressed people into confident, happy and assertive extroverts. Ritalin is another character transformer: the wonder-drug solution to attention deficit disorder. So successful is it that it is now used, usually illegally, by millions of students to increase concentration and energy levels and to fuel feelings of euphoria.
The advocates of both drugs argue that there is a biological cause and a chemical solution to personality problems, and it is true that pharmaceutical…