Too often people with differing moral beliefs talk past each other rather than to each other. This tendency leads all too easily to the demonization of advocates on the “other side” of societal debates as well as profound misunderstandings of differing perspectives and goals. Such polarization not only poisons the political atmosphere but also threatens to turn political adversaries into implacable enemies, and devolve civil discourse into diatribe and mutual demonization.
This polarizing paradigm threatens to interfere with reasoned discourse as society debates the intense and emotional controversies surrounding the emergence of human cloning and the development of other “Brave New World” technologies such as genetic engineering (altering the human body and/or progeny at the molecular level), nano-tech (research into molecule-size machines), cyber-tech (using robotics to treat illness or enhance human performance), and neuro-tech (using brain implants to permit human brain/computer direct interactions). Where some see these developing technologies as ushering in a new era of peace, prosperity, and human progress, others worry that the utopian drive to create a “post human” race would result in a new eugenics holocaust and the dehumanization of the most vulnerable among us.
Advocates on both sides of this debate hold principled, if sometimes diametrically opposing views. The question thus becomes, is there any common ground between “technophiles,” who support virtually unfettered technological experimentation, and “techno-skeptics,” who believe that it is crucial to regulate and limit the scope of research, particularly with regard to experiments conducted on human life.
To find out, the CBC, along with __________, sponsored the First Technosapien Conference in Oakland, California on September 19-20. Perhaps for the first time, leading progressive and radical supporters of “transhumanism,” whose adherents hope to enhance human physical and cognitive capabilities through biotechnology, and leading opponents of the post human agenda, including both liberal environmental activists and conservative Christian thinkers, met together “in dialogue” to politely exchange views and explain differing perspectives. Among the nationally known and stellar presenters were Dr. William Hurlbut of Stanford University, a member of the President’s Council on Bioethics, Richard Hayes, executive director of the Center for Genetics and Society, Dr. C. Christopher Hook, of the Mayo Clinic, Christine Peterson, cofounder and president of the Foresight Institute, and Wrye Sententia, co-director of the Center for Cognitive Liberty & Ethics. The CBC’s own Nigel Cameron, whose quick wit and verve helped keep tempers cool and the conversation flowing, moderated the conference.
More than one hundred attendees were treated to dramatically different perspectives about the propriety and morality of radically changing human bodies and brains. But these points of significant dispute were belied by an essential point of agreement among presenters, most significantly, their unanimous conclusion that however our technological future unfolds, society must remain committed to universal human equality. Indeed, preventing invidious discrimination based on the presence of absence of enhancements, all agreed, could become one of the most important challenges of the twenty-first century.
The conversation begun at the TechnoSapiens conference, presenters and attendees agreed, must continue. The CBC intends to take the lead in furthering the dialogue. “All of humanity has a huge stake in the great bio-debate,” explained Jennifer Lahl, the CBC’s executive director, “and so the Techno-Sapien Conference marks just the beginning of the CBC’s work in these areas. We will not compromise our principles but we plan on encouraging future dialogue as we strive to overcome the left-versus-right, and us-versus-them mindsets that threatens to tear civil society apart.”
This is an important and worthwhile endeavor. Look in this space for future announcements as the CBC continues to build its presence in the public square.
A DVD of the entire conference are available from the CBC. Click here for Resources for Sale: Audio and Video
Author Wesley J. Smith is a special consultant to the CBC. His next book will be A Consumer’s Guide to Brave New World.
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