Post-Human Body Augmentation: How Some Will Leave Our Species Behind


woman in surgery room lieing on surgical table for bueauty surgeryWe tend to forget that plastic surgery began as a genuine wartime necessity. It was during our Civil War that crafty field medics tending to mangled Yankee soldiers pioneered the seeming miracle-techniques that gave men back their faces (a lesser mentioned kind of reconstruction from that era). To the prevailing Victorian mindset, it seemed like the nightmare stuff of a Mary Shelley novel—a reaction that today might strike us cute. After all, today’s plastic surgeries are almost wholly elective, not the least bit necessary, and grossly expensive. These Union vets wanted to look less like monsters, not more—a far cry from contemporary chimeras like Stalking Cat or Lizardman.
If you’ve perused the photos in the last two links above, you’ve almost certainly just thrown up in your mouth a bit. Now steel yourselves: with recent advances in gene editing, grand new vistas of bodily augmentation are now on the table. Stalking Cat was still a biologically ordinary human being weighted with silicone and scars; tomorrow’s equivalent might be, in the most literal sense, a person who chose to become inhuman.

We’ll begin with CRISPR, which Scientific American explains for lay readers as such:

First discovered in bacteria, Crispr (clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats) is a genome-editing tool that can target specific genes in any organism based on RNA–DNA base pairing and then precisely cut the gene through the activities of the enzyme known as Crispr-associated protein 9 or Cas9.

Don’t be put off by the daunting prose, and instead pay heed to its implication. While no streamlined explanation can do this complex subject justice, the short version might go as such: genes are now a thing that can be cut and pasted any way we like, just about as easily as hitting Ctrl+C/Ctrl+V in a Word document. And you won’t have to hand over your embryos for doctoring so your children might have the bat wings you never could. CRISPR is performed on living organisms—so long as you’re alive, then yes, this means you.

Hang on—why are the scientists doing this?

Just as those battlefield surgeons of old had no intention of laying the groundwork for Michael Jackson’s microscopic nose, CRISPR, too, was born of true Hippocratic ideals. A disease like cystic fibrosis does just as bad a number on the lungs as would smoking pine needles laced with kerosene; sickle cell anemia can rot your organs, rob you of your sight, and leave male sufferers with aching, undying erections. Both are attributed to a lone errant gene (out of three billion human DNA base pairs) gone off the rails. This is the case in roughly 6,000 conditions, of which only 5% are so much as treatable. CRISPR’s promise is to send those havoc-inducing mutations to the recycle bin, effectively easing physical pain and saving human lives.

Or just as conceivably, it can terminate the human portion of one’s life and grant them post-humanity. Juan Enriquez, CEO of the creepily-titled Biotechonomy outfit, has coined the term Homo Evolutis to describe the nebulous thing we’ll be once evolution is in our own hands (or lobster claws, if that’s what you’d prefer). Similar talk was boisterous at a recent international gene-editing summit held in Washington, DC. Those voicing caution were passionate, as were those advocating something a bit more reckless. Of course we’ve got to render our HIV-receptors inactive, but why stop there? Why merely cure when we can enhance? Indeed, a common refrain at the conference involved “improving” human beings—and Lord knows who’ll decide what these improvements will be. One proposal involved splicing the DEC2 gene—a rare mutation that makes sleeping largely unnecessary—into those whose jobs require constant wakefulness. Well, if nothing else, we’ll at least have to give it to the soldiers. And my football-playing son could use some gorilla muscles. Thanks in advance.

It gets nuttier from there. CRISPR’s big-name status has won it the attention of Big Pharma’s Bayer AG, who’ve thrown $300 million at the chance to get in on the ground floor. In a climate where Cher can reconstruct herself three times over while others can’t afford vital medications, it’s not hard to imagine some d-bag Martin Shkreli-type granting life, health, and superpowers only those who bid highest. Think of that: the Kardashians won’t have to settle for mere humanity any more (heck, Caitlyn Jenner can grow herself as many new vaginas as she pleases, each from a different breed of tropical bird). The other 99% of us won’t know such luxuries—we’ll just have to get sick and die and be satisfied with the genitals we were born with.

Group of cheerful young people toasting with drinks night out

The sweetest plum for lovers of dystopian scenarios would be this: CRISPR and methodologies like it (no, it’s not the only one, or even the best one) bring with them the possibility of germline editing. Simply put, editing the germline means introducing DNA changes not just to a given individual, but to all of that person’s children, grandchildren, and beyond. It’s permanent. So imagine ten generations of billionaire transhumans intermarrying and breeding in their aristocratic fashion. Kimye’s bloodline won’t be contained in palatial estates—they’ll be living on a cloud over Mount Olympus.

To call them gods would be a literal hyperbole, but as metaphors go, it’s spot on. These-post people will be something fantastically more powerful than us. And they’ll know that we remaining Homo sapiens sapiens are radically unlike them—inferior, they might conclude, the way we regard chickens or roaches. So never mind that you despise them: tweet anniversary well-wishes to Kanye and Kim regardless. They’ll be demanding greater tithes before long.

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