The Human Race Will Become Extinct, Unless We Become Less Human

Monday, 30 June 2014 - 10:13AM
Genetic Engineering
Monday, 30 June 2014 - 10:13AM

According to Peter Paik, a professor from the University of Milwaukee, the only way to save the human race is to erase everything that makes us human.


Paik presented his paper, "Science Fiction and the End of Utopia: On Michel Houellebecq and Extinction Theory," at a recent science fiction conference in Daejeon, Korea. In the paper, he asserts that in order to prevent the extinction of the human race, scientists would need to genetically eliminate the traits of humanity that have indirectly resulted in the destruction of the environment. These include many traits that tend to be identified the the essence of humanity, such as the desire to procreate, jealousy, lust for power over others, and the prioritization of short-term goals and pleasures over long-term interests (such as the preservation of the environment).


Most importantly, these genetically "cleansed" humans would need to be "colder" and less anthropocentric; they would need to have the ability to objectively pass judgment on the actions of the human race as a whole. In order to effectively consider the prospect of human extinction, one would need to view humans' time on Earth as a relatively short period of time in the Earth's lifespan, and imagine a world without the human race, or at least without the human race as we know it. We need to (callously, from a human-centric perspective) view humans as entirely dispensable.


As a professor of comparative literature, Paik compares our current predicament to the plot of the dystopian novel The Possibility of an Island by Michel Houellebecq, in which a race of genetically altered neo-humans are created through the process of human cloning. The privileged and wealthy are cloned, and in the process are genetically modified to be capable of sustaining existence in the face of the near-destruction of the environment. They do not possess any of the aforementioned traits of human beings that cause them to destroy the environment, but as a result they also lack any benevolence or empathy. Most significantly, they view the few normal humans, who live in barbaric conditions outside of the pristine neo-human compouds, with a distasteful indifference. Paik claims that this "cold and inhuman gaze" is analogous to the perspective of extinction theory, and that these fictional "neo-humans" are potentially an accurate representation of the type of human-like species that could successfully avoid extinction. 



Although this view is reminiscent of many novels that are considered dystopic, such as Brave New World and The Giver, many philosophers are taking a similar misanthropic stance. Philosophy professor Ray Brassier claimed that the field of philosophy needs to discontinue being a "medium of affirmation" of human existence, but instead must be an "organon of extinction." In other words, philosophers need to cease their attempts to discover the meaning of human life, and instead accept human endeavors as "negligible" in the context of cosmic time.


Similarly, cultural theorist Claire Holbrook stated, "Man is an animal who has detached himself from putative ecological animality and lived in such a way that his life is destructive of his milieu." She also claimed that the most distinctive trait of humanity is its "perverse" inclination to "destroy itself and its milieu … for the sake of its own myopic, short-circuited, and self-regarding future." As a result, extinction theorists such as Holbrook and Brassier believe that Houellebecq's neo-humans have the "correct" stance on human nature.

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