A future of custom chimeras

In a newspaper editorial titled “Humans don't stand outside nature”, Professor David P. Barash (author of The Myth of Monogamy and Madame Bovary's Ovaries: a Darwinian look at literature, among others) asks: 
Is there a chimera, a hybrid or some other mixed human-animal genetic composite in our future? I certainly hope so. This may seem perverse: Even the most liberal theologians tend to shy away from advocating the production of half-person/half-animals. Why, then, am I rooting for them?
He's rooting for them because:
When -- and I mean when, not if -- geneticists and developmental biologists succeed in joining human and non-human animals in a viable organism, it will be difficult (perhaps impossible)…to maintain the fallacy that Homo sapiens is uniquely disconnected from the rest of life.

It is one thing to ignore the fact that human beings share roughly 99 percent of their genotype with chimpanzees; such ignore-ance [sic] will require even more intellectual sleight-of-hand when human and non-human cells literally are conjoined…the benefits of such a physical demonstration of human/non-human non-separation will go beyond simply discomfiting the nay-sayers...I am thinking of the powerful payoff that will come from puncturing the most hurtful myth of all times, that of discontinuity between human beings and the rest of life.1

Four decades ago, Lynn White wrote a now-classic article in the journal Science, "The Historical Roots of Our Ecological Crisis," which forcefully made the point that much of the painful and destructive disconnect between human beings and their environment derives from the Judeo-Christian proclamation of radical discontinuity between people and the rest of "creation."2

...So let's hear it for our barrier-busting, hybridizing, chimera-creating future, anything that promises to wake up Homo sapiens to its glorious connection to the rest of life, whatever rubs our species-wide nose in the simple, yet sublime universal password proclaimed in Rudyard Kipling's "The Jungle Book": "We be of one blood, thee and I."
While no one can predict with any certainty what effect genetic engineering will have (I agree with Professor Barash that it is inevitable), isn’t it more likely that the ability to manipulate the genome will result in a severing of human beings sense of connection to nature? Genetic manipulation is a freeing from the constraints of nature, a genetically altered creature is not a product of nature or the working of a natural process over time, but merely the product of a lab.

Barash states there is a "line that exists only in the minds of those who proclaim that the human species, unlike all others, possesses a spark of the divine and must have been specially created by god". But the erasure of this line erases another line as well, one that acts as a barrier to human beings conceiving of themselves as god-like.

1Why is this "myth" hurtful? The professor doesn’t say. I'm guessing it has something to do with whales and spotted owls. But if human beings are only a contiguous part of nature, it isn’t obvious to me why it does not follow that any harm human beings do to the environment isn't natural as well. As Love and Rockets once observed:
You cannot go against nature
Because when you do
Go against nature
It's part of nature too
2I find odd the professors contention that the disconnect that humans feel with their environment is entirely the result of a "Judeo-Christian proclamation". Why would human beings be so amenable, and for such a long period of time, to such an idea if it were not at least partially natural for humans to believe so?


  1. Yeah, and also: the Judeo-Christian cultures are not the only ones to see human beings as special, or not just another type of animal. It seems to me that most cultures all over the world have been amenable to the idea.

  2. It's not only humans. Cats give the impression they think they are special.


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