If you're into partisan politics, it's easy to lose sight of the big picture–the truly seismic shifts in culture and technology that, in the long run, underwrite human progress (or lack thereof). It's deceptively easy to mistake the petty skirmishes of the moment for nothing less than such end-of-world scenarios as Armageddon, Ragnarok, and the White Sox winning the World Series. It's a little like following the stock market. If you focus on the day-to-day, or even minute-by-minute, movement of a single stock, your world will be full of tragedy (if my investments are any indication), but you won't have any idea of how the overall market is doing over time.
Especially in these hyper-partisan times, politics is filled with penny-stock distractions that keep us zeroed in on what is, in the end, trivia. Mark my words: In a year's time, no one –probably not even the principals themselves–will care that Harriet Miers' nomination to the Supreme Court got shot down faster than the Astros in this year's Fall Classic or that the vice president's chief of staff, Lewis "Scooter" Libby, was indicted by a grand jury. Indeed, the odds are strong that no one will remember who the hell Scooter Libby was–didn't he play shortstop for the Yankees back in the 1940s and '50s? Wasn't he the guy in that Meatloaf song?
This month's cover story is about the really big picture. "Who's Afraid of Human Enhancement?" presents a heated debate about "the promise, perils, and ethics of human biotechnology" (page 22). As one of the participants, Radical Evolution author Joel Garreau, puts it, "We are at a turning point in history, and there's nothing that is going to hold that back." Our technologies, Garreau underscores, "are increasingly turned inward at modifying our minds, our memories, our metabolisms, our personalities, our progeny, and possibly our souls….It's on our watch, and we have to decide what we're going to do about it in terms of the future of human nature." Garreau, Reason Science Correspondent Ronald Bailey, and the Ethics and Public Policy Center's Eric Cohen duke it out over stem cell research, cloning, and much, much better living through chemistry. They may not come to any definitive conclusions or final points of agreement, but there's no question they are discussing the most fundamental question facing us today. And tomorrow. And the day after tomorrow.
Politics will, of course, influence how and when–not if, but how and when–enhancement technologies are developed and implemented. The rest of this issue is packed full of analysis of what happens when politicians and governments try to usurp individuals' rights to have families ("The Books That Rock the Cradle," page 52), trade freely with one another ("I, T-Shirt," page 57), simply live as they wish ("Totalitarian Busybodies," page 61), and much more. The results of such interference are rarely pretty. Which might be the real reason politicians are always trying to distract us from the really big picture.