Science and Utopia


Jim Pinkerton responds (in a sort of annoying color-coded fisking format) to Yuval Levin's attack on libertarian techno-"utopianism." (Levin even calls out our own Ron Bailey.) Pinkerton makes the necessary points; I should just add that the term "utopian" loses its critical sting when the envisioned scenario is actually realizable. You can point to plenty of horrors perpetrated by people who thought they could remake human nature. But it's worth noting that the prospect of surgery without pain (via anaesthesia) was originally dismissed as "utopian." What's missing from Levin's critique is any argument to the effect that the claims advanced on behalf of biotechnology and nanotech—that they could extend our lives, eradicate diseases, combat pollution and scarcity, etc.—are false. Sure, these things may not happen tomorrow, but is there any reason more sound than conservative suspicion of big promises to think that our growing knowledge of genetics and ability to manipulate matter at the atomic level won't eventually bring us closer to these worthy goals? Our own standard of living is probably "utopian" to a medieval serf: Using the term as a mallet with which to whack any enthusiasm for new technologies seems too indiscriminate.