Reporting the "Yuck Factor" on Human Enhancement

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I reported on the Human Enhancement and Human Rights conference last week. While I did note that some of the presenters' ideas were, shall we say, a bit eccentric, I spent my time mostly at the sessions devoted chiefly to ethics and policy. Most of the conference was spent discussing issues such as whether or not it is ethical to enhancement the health and intelligence of one's children.

Will Saletan, over at slate.com, evidently got to some sessions that I missed and covered more of the far out and just plain odd goings-on at the conference. For example, Saletan cited one presenter who discussed current body modification techniques including a particularly strange guy who has resorted to surgery and tatoos to look like a cat. This aficionado of extreme body modification calls himself Stalkingcat. Clearly "enhancement" is in the eye of the beholder. Of course, most people use cosmetic surgery to enhance themselves to look younger or more conventionally beautiful.

Anyway, as odd as it is (and it is odd), is there anything morally wrong with wanting to look like a cat? After all other cultures have engaged in very similar body modifications. There have always been oddballs, but my bet is that most people will be happy to use biomedical techniques to live longer healthier lives, not transform themselves into cat people. Look, freaks are only news because they are freaks, not because they actually represent the future of human enhancement. Still, it's an amusing article.

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  1. “Cat People (Putting Out Fire)”

    See these eyes so green
    I can stare for a thousand years
    Colder than the moon
    It’s been so long
    And I’ve been putting out fire
    With gasoline

    Feel my blood enraged
    It’s just the fear of losing you
    Don’t you know my name
    Well, you been so long

    See these eyes so red
    Red like jungle burning bright
    Those who feel me near
    Pull the blinds and change their minds
    It’s been so long

    Still this pulsing night
    A plague I call a heartbeat
    Just be still with me
    Ya wouldn’t believe what I’ve been thru
    You’ve been so long
    Well it’s been so long
    And I’ve been putting out fire
    with gasoline
    putting out fire
    with gasoline

    See these tears so blue
    An ageless heart
    that can never mend
    These tears can never dry
    A judgement made
    can never bend
    See these eyes so green
    I can stare for a thousand years
    Just be still with me
    You wouldn’t believe what I’ve been through

    You’ve been so long
    Well, it’s been so long
    And I’ve been putting out fire
    with gasoline
    putting out fire with gasoline

    Sorry…somebody had to do it, so it may as well be me…

  2. I find it odd that people are just now getting to talking about this.

    Sub-dermal implants, piercings, scarrings, brandings, etc. are undertaken by tons of people every year.

    It’s not for me, but I’m not going to say it shouldn’t be done.

    Outlandish body modification through genetic engineering, nanotech, or other means will happen.

    People will cluck their tongues, roll their eyes, or shrug their shoulders at those who will choose to split, cat-eye, or be-wing theirs.

  3. mediageek,

    There is “enigma,” the guy who eats anything and has skin that looks like a jigsaw puzzle. I saw him the mid-1990s for the first time on an X-Files episode.

  4. PL – no, this is the freak that everyone should take a look at if you find body modification interesting at all.

    (And when I say freak, that’s not a demeaning term in my eyes – I call myself a freak all the time, although this Fakir guy is way more eccentric than I could ever even imagine.) 🙂

  5. I can see why this crowd asserts their right to ‘free lifelong therapy’. Not to be judgmental of anything.

  6. Actually I think this is going to become more common. What is now “odd” will become common on the fringes, and eventually retro chic. There isn’t anything new about people going to extremes to look odd. Remember the first time you laid eyes on a punk with a blue spiked mohawk and safety pin face.

    Plastic surgery is becoming more reliable and affordable. If everybody looks young and beautiful then no one does. It takes something special to be the center of attention. Today, this couple is at the extremes, but I predict that in twenty years kids will be coming to class like that.

  7. Today, this couple is at the extremes, but I predict that in twenty years kids will be coming to class like that.

    I highly doubt that, given the popularity of mainstream religion and conservative values in ‘Mur’ka. If anything, in 20 years people like this will be sent to moral-realignment, community service emprisonment camps.

  8. Think of the make-up costs that could be saved in productions of “Cats”.

  9. Piercings are just a prelude to the real deal: Wetware Is Here!

  10. smacky, Somedays I feel exactly the same way. In my case, I went to high school in the eighties but never got around to college and law school until 1999. What a shock to my free-partying memories of high school and my brief stint in college circa 1988:
    The brats today are programmed to judge others critically, they are exceptionally fearful of non-conformity and they are generally very boring. Adding to their lack of charisma is a cult-like abhorence of experimentation, individuality or even fun.
    And to top it off, a fairly large percentage of them are embracing fundamental christianity, a perversity of Christ’s basic tenet to treat people with respect that instead seems to provide a justification for their sanctimonious smugness and utter lack of originality.

    All that being said, have faith…there still remains some of us who will never allow our children to become so regimented and droll!

    If you really want to be depressed by this issue, see this pathetic story:
    http://www.nytimes.com/2006/06/04/fashion/04TEENS.html?ex=1149652800&en=51731972a7956249&ei=5070

  11. Not droll, DULL.

  12. There is “enigma,” the guy who eats anything and has skin that looks like a jigsaw puzzle. I saw him the mid-1990s for the first time on an X-Files episode.

    I used to see that guy around Seattle in the early/mid ’90s. He may have called himself Enigma, but everyone I knew called him Jigsaw Man.

  13. One of the things I’ve noticed about tattoos, piercings, and other body jewelry is that many people use these props in hopes that it might make up for the fact that they need to comb their hair, take a shower, go on a diet, or what e

  14. From article linked by cecil:

    “While some students may rely on parents to pay for their volunteerism ? for example, Putney Student Travel, a private company, offers a five-week summer program of seminars at Yale and a trip to Cambodia to address poverty issues for $6,990…”

    LOL! Addressing poverty issues, indeed. What a bunch of horseshit.

  15. Jesse Walker,

    He was on a B.S. episode (the episode concerning plastic surgery) with his “significant other” (I can’t recall whether she is his GF, wife, etc.) who has changed her appearance to look like a cat I believe.

    Anyway, the X-Files episode is titled “Humbug” (as I recall he isn’t named “Enigma” in the episode, but is called “The Conundrum” instead).

  16. Eh, I think there probably will be a fair amount of this kind of thing. There are a fair number of biotech critics on both left and right who seem convinced that it will lead to some kind of creepily homogeneous future of blonde, blue eyed Nazi recruiting posters. And while I buy we may become more “homogeneous” in that almost everyone will opt for “healthier” and “smarter” to the extent we can tweak those things (heaven forfend), I think this is one data point suggesting that lots of people will be interested in using such tech to distinguish themselves or explore new aesthetics. More power to ’em.

  17. I’m looking forward to getting bat sonar

  18. Or vision in the near-IR spectrum.

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