While not immediately obvious, genetic engineering as a fashion tool does have its implications for the future of human evolution. What happens when a particular characteristic becomes unfashionable? Or more alarmingly, what if certain looks or traits become ubiquitous? Studies have shown that looks and intelligence alike (both genetically determined) are directly related to societal success in terms of position, power, and pay. As the ability to choose these ‘successful’ looks becomes readily available and affordable, will we become a homogeneous Orwellian society not only looking alike, but also thinking alike? Would this be bad? How would it affect human evolution in its broadest sense? What influence would this trend (or the potential counter trend) have on the species?
The momentum of genetic engineering has long since achieved critical mass. With the mapping of the human genome a decade in the past, the race is now on to associate specific sequences of DNA (nucleotides) that make up genes, to traits that manifest in physical form. Several hundred genetic diseases can be identified via genetic markers and eliminated in future humans (through non-engineering means). Technically, the process of creating recombinant DNA continually improves through experience on plants, animals, and even with human genomes in the context of medical research. A substantial amount of current research funding comes from governmental departments, particularly in the USA, as well as research grants. Institutions are also receiving support from organizations such as the Cancer Research Society. Billions of dollars are being invested in genetic engineering research by the biotechnological industry, and to a lesser extent the pharmaceutical industry who see the potential for huge profits as agreed upon by market analysts and investors.
At present, the highly profitable beauty and health industries have the market cornered: plastic surgery for enhancement is common practice. Creams to stop wrinkles abound on pharmacists shelves, anti-aging pills, memory pills, pills to make you more potent. Implants for breasts, butts, calves, and cheeks abound. But some companies within the biotechnology field are gearing up to challenge that position. Increasingly we desire to alter ourselves and are willing to spend the money doing it, it is not unheard of for people to save for years to pay for surgery to, for example change the much hated nose. The technology for engineering our offspring is getting closer every day and it won’t be long before we can give our children a head start by deciding which characteristics, features and traits we want for them.
The time is also rapidly approaching when we will be able to use the benefits of genetic engineering to alter ourselves.
To be able to achieve changes to our current appearance scientist are looking at growing, manipulating and altering adult stem cells. These are the undifferentiated cells that are present in the body and get called upon when a repair or renewal job is needed. The recent advent of 3-D printing and its combination with biological material create unprecedented opportunities to grow, replace, and/or enhance one’s own body with bioidentical cells: zero chance of rejection. There is also a significant field of study into the use of stem cells and gene therapy within dentistry. Recently (2013) researchers in China were able to generate mice teeth from stem cells as a proof of concept.
The first paragraph of this article posed a number of questions:
- What if certain looks or traits become unfashionable or conversely, ubiquitous?
- Will we become a homogeneous Orwellian society not only looking alike, but thinking alike?
There are a number of influences to be considered in trying to anticipate the use of genetic engineering for fashion. There are innate forces that drive many people to highly value and exhibit individualism, there are cultural norms and the influence of our parents and the world we see around us from birth, and there is the ever-increasing influence of visual mass media shaping our perceptions and values.
Our sense of ourselves and the need for individuality which we all possess to one degree or another may override the desire to conform to the requirements of the latest fashion. Certainly the small but important segment of the population who are born and remain rugged individualists their entire lives will resist assimilation. And there will always be non-conformists, those who deliberately kick against the trends, occasionally creating countertrends. And let us not forget the often maligned rebellious youth: young enough to procreate and wild and free enough express their desire for a new world genetically.
Cultural and Parental Influences
If we look at the world today, it seems that we find that the old adage ‘beauty is in the eye of the beholder’ to still be true. Across the world definitions of beauty vary extensively according to locally established norms and ideals. As newborns, the mother’s breast we suckle and whose face becomes recognizable according to some studies as early two days old, the firm hands of our father or other adults that hold and caress us as we look into their eyes. As we grow, the other children and people in our neighborhood, peers in school, and exposure to extended families all help shape our ideals of normal, beautiful, and desirable.
The Power of Visual Mass Media
A major influence on that which we wish to emulate is visual mass media. At the time of the original writing of this article, we mentioned that the public has certain perceptions about the type of person that should be performing what type of role in society, and people may choose to alter themselves accordingly. We used “pretty” young females as a mismatch for news anchor roles. At the time it was true. A lesson we’ve grown to understand is this: public perceptions are extremely malleable. The power of visual media, now coming at us from the time we’re infants and following us everywhere we go thanks to the mobile internet, can and has altered public perception, societal values, and our ideals of beauty, fashion, and desire. It is possible that the greatest influence on the future of human evolution is already wielded by the owners of movies studios, television networks, and production houses. It would be a sad commentary on society, though perhaps true nonetheless, if the majority of parents selecting a genetic upgrade for their children were highly influenced by whom the media portray as glamorous and successful.
Will these harbingers of the future human promote sameness and a narrow range of heroes, heroines, and idols, or will they promote a future that values and celebrates diversity in genotype, phenotype, culture, talents, and accomplishment? Will human nature and individualism triumph over hypersocialization and conformity? Will cultural and parental influences prove stronger than commercial and the special interests of the few?
In the end, we believe that the human race is comprised of enough individuals who value their individuality and who will standup for their own and their children’s rights for genetic freedom and diversity to prevent an unnecessary narrowing of the gene pool and to keep a strong, robust variety essential for happier, healthier lives. It is up to each of us, according to his or her daily actions, to create a positive future. The Future of Human Evolution.
What future will you help create?
Courtesy Qupic via Deviant Art