Free Minds & Free Markets

Victor Frankenstein Is the Real Monster

Mary Shelley's misunderstood masterpiece turns 200.

Conceived and written 200 years ago by the 19-year-old Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley during a dreary summer sojourn to Lake Geneva, Frankenstein; or, the Modern Prometheus is the story of a scientist who, seduced by the lure of forbidden knowledge, creates new life that in the end destroys him.

When the novel debuted, it created a stir for its lurid gothic style and unusual conceit. Early reviewers scolded the then-unknown author, complaining that the slim volume had "neither principle, object, nor moral" and fretting that "it cannot mend, and will not even amuse its readers, unless their taste have been deplorably vitiated."

Yet almost from the moment of its publication, Shelley's narrative has been pressed into service as a modern morality play—a warning against freewheeling scientific experimentation. That reading is pervasive to this day in policy conversations and popular culture alike, cropping up everywhere from bioengineering conferences to an endless string of modern cinematic reboots. There's just one problem with the common reading of Frankenstein as a cautionary tale: It flows from a profound misunderstanding of the original text.

'I Saw and Heard of None Like Me'

In the anonymously published 1818 edition of the book, an adolescent Victor Frankenstein dreams of discovering the elixir of life, imagining "what glory would attend the discovery, if I could banish disease from the human frame, and render man invulnerable to any but a violent death!" Later, enraptured by the study of natural philosophy at the university in Ingolstadt, he devotes himself to the question of whence the principle of life proceeded. "Life and death appeared to me ideal bounds, which I should first break through, and pour a torrent of light into our dark world," he exults.

Frankenstein's arduous study of physiology and anatomy are eventually rewarded by a "brilliant and wondrous" insight: He has "succeeded in discovering the cause of generation and life" and is "capable of bestowing animation upon lifeless matter."

Working alone and in secret, Frankenstein sets about creating a human being using materials gathered from dissecting rooms and slaughterhouses. Because it is easier to work at a larger scale, he decides to make his creature 8 feet tall. (The average height of Englishmen was then about 5 and a half feet.)

After two years of work, Frankenstein on a late night in November ignites "a spark of being into the lifeless thing that lay at my feet." Although he "had selected his features as beautiful," in that moment he is overcome with revulsion and runs out into the city to escape the "monster" he has brought to life. When Frankenstein slinks back to his lodgings the creature is gone, having taken his coat. Frankenstein promptly succumbs to a "nervous fever" that confines him for several months.

Later we learn that the creature, whose mind was as unformed as a newborn baby's, fled to the woods where he learned to survive on nuts and berries and enjoy the warmth of the sun and birdsong. When the peaceful vegetarian encountered for the first time people living in a village, they drove him away with stones and other missiles.

He found refuge in a hovel attached to a cottage. There he learned to speak and read while observing from his hiding place the gentle, noble manners of the De Lacey family.

The lonely creature comes to realize that he is "not even of the same nature as man." He notes: "I was more agile than they, and could subsist upon coarser diet; I bore the extremes of heat and cold with less injury to my frame; my stature far exceeded their's. When I looked around, I saw and heard of none like me."

The fact that the creature learned to speak and read in a period of just over a year indicates that he is far more intelligent than human beings, too. In any case, he eventually unravels the mystery of his origins by reading notes he finds in the coat he took from Frankenstein.

After even the De Laceys reject him as monstrous, the creature despairs of ever finding love and sympathy. He vows to seek and enact revenge on his creator for his abandonment.

Nearing Geneva some months later, he by chance encounters Frankenstein's much younger brother, William, in the woods. Thinking a child will be "unprejudiced" with regard to his "deformity," the creature seeks to whisk him away as a companion. But the boy cries out, and in an effort to silence him, the creature chokes William to death. He subsequently frames the family servant for his crime, leading to her execution.

When Frankenstein and the creature meet again, the latter justifies his actions on the grounds that all of his overtures of friendship, sympathy, and love have been violently rejected. He then persuades his creator to agree to fashion for him a female companion. Seeking "the affections of a sensitive being" like himself, he vows that "virtues will necessarily arise when I live in communion with an equal." He pledges that he and his companion will lose themselves in the jungles of South America, never to trouble human beings again.

Only after Frankenstein betrays his promise does the creature retaliate by killing all the people closest to his creator. The two eventually perish chasing one another across the ice floes of the Arctic Ocean.

'It's Alive. It's Alive!'

"On the basis of its prevalence in culture, it may be presumed that Frankenstein is one of the strongest memes of modernity," argues the Polish literary critic Barbara Braid in a 2017 essay. "Mary Shelley's Frankenstein is one of the most adaptable and adapted novels of all time, spurring countless renditions in film, television, comic books, cartoons, and other products of popular culture." About 50,000 copies of the book are still sold each year in the United States. According to the Open Syllabus Project, it is the most commonly taught literary text in college courses.

Stephen Jones, in The Illustrated Frankenstein Movie Guide, counts over 400 film adaptations between the Edison Studio's Frankenstein in 1910 and Kenneth Branagh's Mary Shelley's Frankenstein in 1994. There have been at least 15 further Frankenstein-themed movies in the years since. "A complete list of films based directly or indirectly on Frankenstein would run into the thousands," notes University of Pennsylvania English professor Stuart Curran. A new movie, Mary Shelley, starring Elle Fanning, is set to join the cinematic canon this year.

Boris Karloff in the 1935 film Bride of Frankenstein, Universal Pictures. NYPL, Billy Rose Theatre Division.Boris Karloff in the 1935 film Bride of Frankenstein, Universal Pictures. NYPL, Billy Rose Theatre Division.Yet everywhere that Frankenstein's creature goes, he and his creator are misunderstood. Almost without exception, his cinematic doubles are embedded in narratives that depict science and scientists as dangerously bent on an unethical pursuit of forbidden knowledge. That trend was established in the first Frankenstein talkie, in which Colin Clive hysterically repeats "It's alive! It's alive!" at the moment of creation.

It is an idea that has quietly seeped into popular culture in the last 200 years, shaping even those movies and books not explicitly based on Shelley's work. In 1989, University of York sociologist Andrew Tudor published the results of a survey of 1,000 horror films shown in the United Kingdom between the 1930s and the 1980s. Mad scientists or their creations were the villains in 31 percent; scientific research constituted 39 percent of the threats. Scientists were heroes in only 11 percent of the movies.

In 2003, German sociologist Peter Weingart and his colleagues looked at 222 movies and found scientists frequently portrayed as "maniacs" and "unethical geniuses." Scientific discoveries or inventions are depicted as dangerous in more than 60 percent of the storylines. In nearly half, power-hungry scientists keep their inventions a secret. In more than a third, the breakthrough gets out of control; 6 in 10 depict the discovery or device causing harm to innocent people.

The popularity of stories that present uncontrollable, malevolent technology as a threat to humankind shows no sign of abating. Consider how cinematic Frankenstein clones run amok in more recent offerings. In the HBO series Westworld (2016), the android hosts at an amusement park break free of their programming and rebel against their creators. Blade Runner 2049 (2017) depicts a nascent insurrection by bioengineered human "replicants." And Ex Machina (2015) offers a beautiful android, Ava, who kills her designer before escaping into our world.

'Are Pesticides the Monster That Will Destroy Us?'

How did the Frankenstein meme become an avatar for skepticism of scientific experimentation and progress? Largely not because of what Mary Shelley actually wrote. A transmutation began shortly after her novel was published, when hack playwright Richard Brinsley Peake, freely borrowing from the book, wrote and produced his melodrama Presumption; or, The Fate of Frankenstein in 1823. Peake simplified the moral complexity of the story into a gothic parable of hubristic damnation. He also introduced the convention of portraying the creature as an inarticulate beast.

Ever since Peake's wildly popular play debuted, the creature, who eloquently and incisively reproaches the hapless Frankenstein in Shelley's novel, has been silenced. The culmination of this trend was, of course, the iconic 1931 James Whale film in which Boris Karloff played the creature as a neck-bolted, square-headed mute.

This version of the story has stuck around in part because it's so incredibly useful. The meme of Frankenstein as a mad scientist who unleashed a disastrously uncontrollable creation on the world has been hijacked by anti-modernity, anti-technology ideologues to push for all manner of bans and restrictions on the development and deployment of new technologies.

"The mad scientist stories of fiction and film are exercises in antirationalism," argued University of South Carolina anthropologist Christopher Toumey in a 1992 article. He points out that stories like Frankenstein "thrill their audiences by brewing together suspense, horror, violence, and heroism and by uniting those features under the premise that most scientists are dangerous. Untrue, perhaps; preposterous, perhaps; low-brow, perhaps. But nevertheless effective."

Technophobic zealots cannily wield Peake's reimagining of the novel as a rhetorical club with which to bash innovations not just in biotech but in artificial intelligence, robotics, nanotechnology, and more.

After the U.S. dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945, New York Times military analyst Hanson W. Baldwin warned in Life magazine that as soon as such weapons could be attached to German missiles, mankind would have "unleashed a Frankenstein monster." Reviewing Rachel Carson's 1962 anti-pesticide philippic Silent Spring, the Jamaica Press wondered, "Chemical Frankenstein: Are Pesticides the Monster that will destroy us?"

As threatening as nuclear explosions and chemical poisons might be, the Frankenstein meme exerts its greatest rhetorical power when deployed against scientists who study living creatures. As such, science writer/scholar Jon Turney deemed Frankenstein "the governing myth of modern biology" in his 1998 book, Frankenstein's Footsteps: Science, Genetics, and Popular Culture. The Franken- prefix is often used to stigmatize new developments.

"Ever since Mary Shelley's baron rolled his improved human out of the lab," wrote Boston College English professor Paul Lewis in a 1992 letter to The New York Times, "scientists have been bringing just such good things to life. If they want to sell us Frankenfood, perhaps it's time to gather the villagers, light some torches and head to the castle."

In fact, the anti-biotech "Pure Food Campaign" used the premiere of 1993's Jurassic Park to protest the development of the first commercially available genetically engineered tomato. The activists didn't light torches, but they did picket 100 theaters showing the film while passing out fliers that depicted a dinosaur pushing a grocery basket labeled "Bio-tech Frankenfoods."

In that movie, biotechnologists use cloning to bring dinosaurs back to life. "Our scientists have done things which nobody's ever done before," venture capitalist John Hammond explains to mathematician Ian Malcolm. "Yeah, yeah, but your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could that they didn't stop to think if they should," retorts Malcolm. Unsurprisingly, the ingeniously created beasts proceed to escape their enclosures and wreak devastation across the land.

When Jurassic Park came out 25 years ago, few scientists thought it would be possible to use biotechnology to bring back extinct creatures. While it remains unlikely that dinosaurs will ever be resurrected, researchers such as Harvard's George Church are working to bring back species including wooly mammoths and passenger pigeons. Last year, Church said his group may be as little as two years away from engineering a mammoth embryo by modifying an Asian elephant genome. The California-based Revive & Restore project estimates that engineered passenger pigeon look-alikes could hatch in 2022.

Such "de-extinction" efforts have their detractors. Deploying the Franken-meme, University of California, Santa Barbara ecologist Douglas McCauley warns of "Franken-species and eco-zombies." In a 2014 essay, Stanford University biologist Paul Ehrlich suggests that would-be "resurrectionists have been fooled by a cultural misrepresentation of nature and science…traceable perhaps to Mary Shelley's Frankenstein." While Ehrlich's chief fear is that de-extinction efforts will divert resources from conserving still extant species, he also warns that resurrected organisms could become pests in new environments or vectors of nasty plagues.

Yet all these fears are mild compared to the vitriol that arises in response to experiments involving human life.

'A Matter of Morality and Spirituality'

"The Frankenstein myth is real," asserted Columbia University psychiatrist Willard Gaylin in a March 1972 issue of The New York Times Magazine. A successful frog cloning experiment had been recently completed in the U.K., and he believed human cloning was now imminent. As a co-founder of the Hastings Center, the world's first bioethics think tank, Gaylin and his musings caught the public's attention.

His alarm was not confined only to cloning, however; he also warned that researchers were about to perfect in vitro fertilization (IVF), which would enable prospective parents to select the sex and other genetic traits of their progeny. Artificial insemination, though still controversial, was by this time fairly common—the first successful birth from frozen sperm was achieved by American researchers in 1953—but this would take things a big step further.

Infertile women would soon be able to bear children, Gaylin said, using eggs donated from other women. Furthermore, he speculated darkly, a professional woman, out of "reasons of necessity, vanity, or anxiety, might prefer not to carry her child," and such a woman might soon be able to pay another to act as a surrogate. And if an artificial placenta were developed, it would entirely do "away with the need to carry the fetus in the womb."

The creature, who eloquently and incisively reproaches the hapless Frankenstein in Shelley's novel, has been portrayed as an inarticulate beast.

For Gaylin, such biotechnological advances would be fearful transgressions. "When Mary Shelley conceived of Dr. Frankenstein, science was all promise," he wrote in his New York Times Magazine piece. "Man was ascending and the only terror was that in his rise he would offend God by assuming too much and reaching too high, by coming too close." But after two centuries of heedlessly pursuing technological prowess, he said, the "total failure" of the human project could be nigh.

Gaylin expressed hope that researchers would resist the temptation to cross certain lines. "Some biological scientists, now wary and forewarned, are trying to consider the ethical, social and political implications of their research before its use makes any contemplation of its use merely an expiating exercise," he wrote. "They are even starting to ask if some research ought to be done at all."

In 1973, biologists Herbert Boyer of the University of California at San Francisco and Stanley Cohen of Stanford University announced that they had developed a technique enabling researchers to splice genes from one species into another. But instead of pushing forward with this breakthrough, scientists adopted a voluntary moratorium on recombinant DNA research.

In February 1975, 150 scholars and bioethicists gathered at the Asilomar conference center in Pacific Grove, California, to devise an elaborate set of safety protocols under which gene-splicing experimentation would be allowed to proceed. Even so, when Harvard University researchers announced in 1976 that they were about to initiate genetic engineering experiments, the mayor of Cambridge, Massachusetts, declared that the City Council would hold hearings on whether to ban them.

"They may come up with a disease that can't be cured—even a monster," Mayor Alfred Vellucci warned. "Is this the answer to Dr. Frankenstein's dream?" A worried Council imposed two successive three-month moratoria on recombinant DNA experiments within the city limits.

Fortunately, in February 1977, the body voted to allow the research to proceed, despite Mayor Vellucci's continued opposition. Today there are more than 450 biomedical companies headquartered in and around Cambridge; the city is at the center of the largest cluster of life sciences firms in the world.

But that was hardly the death of the controversy. Twenty-five years after Gaylin raised his alarm, fearmongering over human cloning revved into high gear once again.

On February 22, 1997, Scottish embryologist Ian Wilmut announced that his team had succeeded for the first time in cloning a mammal—a sheep named Dolly. Official reaction was swift. On March 4, President Bill Clinton held a televised press conference from the Oval Office to warn mankind that it might now be "possible to clone human beings from our own genetic material." Adding that "any discovery that touches on human creation is not simply a matter of scientific inquiry, but is a matter of morality and spirituality as well," Clinton ordered an immediate ban on federal funding for human cloning research.

The revulsion Victor Frankenstein felt upon sparking his creature into life caused him to reject the being, eventually driving it to a murderous existential crisis. With the news of Wilmut's success, the conservative bioethicist Leon Kass echoed and endorsed Frankenstein's disgust and fear. In a June 1997 New Republic essay, he acknowledges that "revulsion is not an argument" but immediately asserts that "in crucial cases, however, repugnance is the emotional expression of deep wisdom, beyond reason's power fully to articulate it." Like Gaylin, he warns that human cloning would "represent a giant step toward turning begetting into making, procreation into manufacture."

Here again, Mary Shelley's monster rears his head. Ultimately, writes Kass, such biomedical advances would be misbegotten endeavors epitomizing a "Frankensteinian hubris to create human life and increasingly to control its destiny."

'How Many Poor People Must Die?'

Since 1972, many of the supposedly Frankensteinian technologies predicted by Gaylin and others have been perfected. For the most part, they are are widely accepted.

In July 1978, the first "test tube baby," Louise Joy Brown, was born in the United Kingdom thanks to in vitro fertilization techniques developed by embryologists Robert Edwards and Patrick Steptoe. In April 2017, the Society for Assisted Reproductive Technology reported that more than 1 million children have been born in the United States alone via IVF. Across the world, the number is nearly 7 million.

Just as Gaylin feared, some women today do use egg donors, and paid surrogacy is no longer unheard of. Parents can use pre-implantation genetic diagnosis to select embryos for traits, such as sex, or the absence of genetic diseases, such as early onset Alzheimer's disease, Huntington's disease, and cystic fibrosis.

No human clones have yet been born, nor are artificial wombs currently available. But in April 2017, researchers at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia announced that they had managed to keep a premature baby lamb alive for several weeks inside a device they call a "Biobag." The ban on federal funding for human cloning still stands, but privately supported research has not been outlawed.

One of the conveners of the Asilomar conference was James Watson, a co-discoverer of the double-helix structure of DNA, for which he won the Nobel Prize along with Francis Crick and Maurice Wilkins in 1962. In a 1977 interview with the Detroit Free Press, he looked back on the rush to regulate nascent genetic engineering with some regret. "Scientifically, I was a nut," he said. "There is no evidence at all that recombinant DNA poses the slightest danger."

Today, the Super Science Fair Projects company will sell you a Microbiology Recombinant DNA Kit for just $77. It's labeled as appropriate for ages 10 and up.

Forty-five years after Boyer and Cohen's first gene-splicing experiments, bioengineers have gifted us with a cornucopia of effective new pharmaceuticals, biologics, vaccines, and other treatments for cardiovascular ailments, cancers, arthritis, diabetes, inherited disorders, and infectious diseases. It is impossible to tell for how many years the regulations stemming from the Asilomar conference delayed these developments, but there can be no question the delay was real.

Despite scientifically absurd and mendacious activist campaigns targeting "Frankenfoods," agricultural researchers have created hundreds of safe biotech crop varieties that yield more food and fiber by resisting disease and pests. The adoption of bioengineered herbicide-resistant crops has enabled farmers to control weeds without having to plow their fields, contributing to a 40 percent reduction in topsoil erosion since the 1980s, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Twenty-two years after commercial biotech crops were introduced, they are now grown on nearly 460 million acres in 26 countries. A 2014 review published in the journal PLOS One by a team of German researchers found that the global adoption of genetically modified (G.M.) crops has reduced chemical pesticide use by 37 percent, increased crop yields by 22 percent, and increased farmer profits by 68 percent. Every independent scientific organization that has evaluated these crops has found them safe to eat and safe for the environment.

But activist campaigns are still cowing regulators into denying poor farmers in developing countries access to modern G.M. crops. Activism is also slowing the introduction of a panoply of new enhanced plants and animals. These include crop varieties bioengineered to resist drought and pigs bioengineered to grow faster using less feed.

Opposition to these developments has cost lives numbering in the millions. Vitamin A deficiency causes blindness in between 250,000 and 500,000 children living in poor countries each year, half of whom die within 12 months, according to the World Health Organization. To address this crisis, rice containing beta-carotene, a precursor of vitamin A, was developed. A study by German researchers in 2014 estimated that activist opposition to the deployment of this "golden rice" had resulted in the loss of 1.4 million life-years in India alone.

An open letter signed by 100 Nobel laureates in June 2016 called upon Greenpeace "to cease and desist in its campaign against Golden Rice specifically, and crops and foods improved through biotechnology in general." "How many poor people in the world must die," the laureates pointedly asked, "before we consider this a 'crime against humanity'?"

'I Was Benevolent and Good; Misery Made Me a Fiend'

For decades, the specter of Frankenstein's monster has been invoked whenever researchers report dramatic new developments, from the use of synthetic biology to build whole genomes from scratch to the invention of new plants and animals that can better feed the world. Experiments in repairing defective genes in human embryos, which have been conducted in China and the U.S., are routinely described as precursors to the creation of "Frankenbabies"—the long-dreaded but not yet seen "designer babies."

The transhumanist movement offers another way to think about Frankenstein's creature—as an enhanced post-human. After all, he is stronger, more agile, better inured to extremes of heat and cold, able to thrive on coarse foods and recover quickly from injury, and more intelligent than ordinary human beings.

There is nothing immoral in Frankenstein's aspiration to "banish disease from the human frame, and render man invulnerable to any but a violent death." The people who will choose to use safe enhancements to bestow upon themselves and their progeny stronger bodies, more robust immune systems, nimbler minds, and longer lives will not be monsters, nor will they create monsters. Instead, those who seek to hinder the rest of us from availing ourselves of these technological gifts will rightly be judged moral troglodytes.

Despite the din raised by anti-technology ideologues and the claque of conservative bioethicists, our world is not filled with out-of-control Frankensteinian technologies. While missteps have occurred, the openness and collaborative structure of the scientific enterprise encourages researchers to take responsibility for their findings. During the past 200 years, scientific research has indeed poured "a torrent of light into our dark world." At nearly every scale, technological progress has given us greater control over our fates and made our lives safer, freer, and wealthier.

Victor Frankenstein variously condemns his creature as a "demon," a "devil," and a "fiend." But that is not quite right. "My heart was fashioned to be susceptible of love and sympathy," the creature insists. "I was benevolent and good; misery made me a fiend." He was endowed with the capacity for hope, sharing the same moral faculties and free will exercised by human beings.

Frankenstein is not a tale about a mad scientist who looses an out-of-control creature upon the world. It's a parable about a researcher who fails to take due responsibility for nurturing the moral capacities of his creation. Victor Frankenstein is the real monster.

In 1972, Gaylin lamented that "the tragic irony is not that Mary Shelley's 'fantasy' once again has a relevance. The tragedy is that it is no longer a 'fantasy'—and that in its realization we no longer identify with Dr. Frankenstein but with his monster."

That is just as it should be.

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  • Scarecrow Repair & Chippering||

    It's part of the larger statist control freak mentality. They are scared to death of every change, whether it's fashion, society, or technological. It's also universal, I believe, in some small ways. I think almost everybody is saddened when some favorite actor dies, someone we loved as kids but who we lost track of after they dropped out of acting. The news says Roger Bannister died, the first sub-four minute miler.

    Change upsets our lives. Stasis is comfortable. But we'd be all right, as a society, if it weren't for coercive corruptible government. It's all too easy for people in power to act on their desire for stasis. It's always against current advances. Very few want to go back to the stone age. Even the few that seem to say that aren't serious about undoing modern medicine. They want all the helpful advances since they were kids, but they can't differentiate technology as a whole from the tech they want.

    They want the stuff they can buy from Amazon. They want it delivered as fast as possible. They just don't want the industry and innovation which makes it possible, and, just as they imagine rich people with Scrooge McDuck pools full of cash and gold and jewels, they think they can ban the tech they don't like while keeping the tech they do like.

  • Longtobefree||

    They are scared to death of every change, whether it's fashion, society, or technological.

    Actually, they are only afraid of the changes that benefit individuals. The changes that empower mass surveillance, video monitoring of all public spaces, and control of internet content are all just fine, thank you.

  • mtrueman||

    You know them very well. The latest thing they want? Instant slow food.

  • SQRLSY One||

    I want military intelligence and small, humble Government Almighty!

  • DajjaI||

    our world is not filled with out-of-control Frankensteinian technologies

    Yes but only because of cautionary tales like Frankenstein that taught us to carefully consider the effects of destructive technologies. We'd be dead from nuclear war and pesticides if not for this story (which by the way is an amazing read, though hardly a 'slim volume'). The story is actually a reprise of the story of the Flood, in which G_d's creations are evil and get out of control and had to be destroyed. Of course, they thought they're the cat's pajamas and can't understand that they did anything wrong. Probably they just needed a (((hug))), right?

  • Longtobefree||

    God, the word is God.

  • DajjaI||

    Say my name, say my name....

  • Paloma||

    Actually, it's the reprise of the myth of Prometheus, who stole fire from the gods and had his liver eaten by an eagle only to grow back every night. It's even in the title. The theme seems to be "there are things Man was never meant to know/try". I can't see any connection with the Flood at all.

  • Paloma||

    It's also a common Stephen King theme.

  • sparkstable||

    The creator feels the creation has run-a-muk and needs to be destroyed. Pretty clear similarity to the Flood narrative.

    Although you are correct in that it was conceived as a take on Prometheus.

    Just pointing out the Flood narrative isn't off the mark is all.

  • C. S. P. Schofield||

    And somehow the anti-Frankensteinists are never moved to examine their own passions. It's fine to work to create the New Socialist Man with social science voodoo, just don't put vitamin A into rice so that third world children don't go blind.

    I have felt little but contempt for the Political Left ever since, at a young age, I realized that they admired ant and bee colonies and wanted people to imitate them. Nothing they have done, no cause they have embraced, since has changed that opinion.

  • mtrueman||

    "just don't put vitamin A into rice so that third world children don't go blind."

    Children can avoid going blind by eating the same healthy foods that children have been eating for millions of years. Surely a conservative doesn't need to be lectured on this point.

  • Vernon Depner||

    Perhaps you haven't been on Earth for the last 12,000 years, but things have changed a little. Most children no longer live in the forests and savannas where roots, berries, and bison meat were freely available. They now depend on the products of agriculture to survive.

  • mtrueman||

    Children can avoid going blind by eating healthy foods that agriculturalists have been providing for the last 12000 years.

  • C. S. P. Schofield||

    People eat what they can grow and what they are used to. And die in consequence all too often.

  • Vernon Depner||

    Well, make up your mind.

  • mtrueman||

    Nobody, not even children, need yellow rice to avoid blindness.

  • Vernon Depner||

    Are you playing dumb? They need it if they don't have enough other foods available to supply vitamin A.

  • mtrueman||

    "They need it if they don't have enough other foods available to supply vitamin A."

    Why not just supply them with these other foods? Why is it necessary to get this 'vitamin A' from yellow rice they have no desire to buy or eat? Whatever happened to the free market?

  • Vernon Depner||

    OK, you are playing dumb. I can be slow to pick up on that.

  • mtrueman||

    I'd really appreciate an answer. Why is it so important to you that these children get it from this rice that nobody wants, and not these other foods?

  • C. S. P. Schofield||

    These "other foods" of which you so confidently speak do not grow well in the areas affected, or some organization like Project Hope would have made them available decades ago. The local people live on rice. Their life pattern revolves around rice. If their have a nutritional deficiency (and they do) addressing it through rice simply makes sense. Your assertion that 'nobody wants' the golden rice is unfounded. YOU, and other comfortable westerners who are in no danger of going blind from vitamin deficiency, do not want it. Fine; don't buy it. But bringing political pressure to bear to make the governments of third world countries play along with your fashionable obsessions is despicable.

    But that is all too typical of the establishment Left. YOU do not like industry, so poor countries that need it must remain picturesque nature parks to appease you. YOU do not like genetically modified foods, so countries where they would relieve serious suffering must eschew the,m to please you.

    The establishment Left claims to love the poor. In brutal fact, they simply want to make pets of them.

    Rather like the Democrats of 1860.

  • SQRLSY One||

    ^ +1 !!!!

  • mtrueman||

    "These "other foods" of which you so confidently speak do not grow well in the areas affected"

    You don't know what you are talking about. What foods do not grow well in what areas?

    "Your assertion that 'nobody wants' the golden rice is unfounded. YOU, and other comfortable westerners who are in no danger of going blind from vitamin deficiency, do not want it. Fine; don't buy it."

    Asians like white rice. it's true, even if you don't approve. They don't want yellow rice, and it's got nothing to do with me. As much as Asians enjoy white rice, there are plenty of other foods they eat. I don't understand why it's so important for you that they eat this yellow rice. They don't want it. They are not clamouring for it, demonstrating for it, firing off angry emails, or setting up yellow rice black markets as you would expect. The market has spoken. There is no demand. The scientists need to return to their black boards as their attempts to guilt trip uninterested customers into buying an unwanted product will continue to fail.

  • C. S. P. Schofield||

    You just go on telling yourself that. Keep your comfortable confidence that you know best. And hope that there is no afterlife, so that you will never have to confront the people whose lives you impose your obsessions on.

  • mtrueman||

    "You just go on telling yourself that. Keep your comfortable confidence that you know best. "

    For god's sake man, I keep telling you it's got nothing to do with me. Some government subsidized scientists came up with a product that's a flop in the market place. Nothing to get hysterical about. It happens all the time.

  • Palatki||

    It IS all about you, and the pigs you associate with. If the world gratifies your disgusting, perverted aesthetic, millions of non-white people shrivel and die. How the fuck can you live with yourself?

  • C. S. P. Schofield||

    Children in the parts of the world the golden rice is aimed at have been suffering vitamin A deficiency (and often attendant blindness) for millions of years. Your comment is roughly equivalent to saying "Those people have been drinking string out of the same river their shit fertilized finds drain into for millions of years," and acting as if that were a justification for not building them a water treatment plant.

    I don't think you mean to be that callous. I HOPE you don't mean to be that callous. I'm not willing to bet, however, that Greenpeace doesn't mean to be that callous.

  • mtrueman||

    "Children in the parts of the world the golden rice is aimed at have been suffering vitamin A deficiency (and often attendant blindness) for millions of years. "

    No. Go back and see if you can verify this claim. I doubt you can.

  • SQRLSY One||

    "Children can avoid going blind by eating the same healthy foods that children have been eating for millions of years. Surely a conservative doesn't need to be lectured on this point."

    "Let them eat healthy foods" = = "Let them eat cake".

  • mtrueman||

    Yes, carrot cake. Got a problem with that?

  • Weigel's Cock Ring||

    A story that Reason will never cover: Mexican assumes American's identity for 37 years, steals $361,000 in government benefits.

    I'll bet this kind of identity theft fraud from south of the Rio Grande runs into the billions every year.

  • Hugh Akston||

    How much are you willing to bet?

  • Vernon Depner||

    The last time I had to apply for unemployment benefits, they discovered that a Mexican illegal alien working for a landscaping company had been using my Social Security number. If I had never needed unemployment benefits, that could have continued for decades without my noticing.

  • Paloma||

    So in other words, the Mexican illegal alien worker paid into your Social Security account. Thanks, illegal alien workers!

  • Vernon Depner||

    Yes, but that doesn't mean that I get the money. My account record was corrected when the fraud was discovered.

  • Agammamon||

    I bet that this kind of identity theft fraud - no, just welfare fraud in general from *north* of the Rio Grande runs into the hundreds of billions a year.

    And don't tell me 'well, they paid taxes' as if that's justification.

  • Chipper Morning Baculum||

    I bet it doesn't.

  • Louis XVI||

    Emotion makes us human but it'll destroy you if you indulge in it too deeply. Like a cold bath in and out.

  • ||

    "'s pronounced I-gor.

  • dave in PRAA||

    The word "meme" is used several times in this article. For some reason that word really annoys me. "Theme" seems perfectly good. Am I alone in my dislike?

  • Don't look at me.||

    As a fellow old fart, I too resent the use of new words.

  • Chipper Morning Baculum||

    [Shakes a cane at Bailey]

    If it wasn't in Shakespeare, it's not a proper word!

  • Maddow's Fleshlight||

    ... a theme is really not the same as a meme at all. The idea behind a meme is that it is sort of infectious, like a mind virus.

    Not really a theme at all.

  • Vernon Depner||

    How 'bout "trope"?

  • Chipper Morning Baculum||

    Each meme has a theme,
    But does it also seem,
    That each meme is a trope?

  • Francisco d'Anconia||


  • SchillMcGuffin||

    "Theme" implies that it's drawn from something, while "meme" emphasizes that an idea can have an independent life, and "mutate" over time.

  • dave in PRAA||

    Thanks, that makes sense.

  • Longtobefree||

    An open letter signed by 100 Nobel laureates in June 2016 called upon Greenpeace "to cease and desist in its campaign against Golden Rice specifically, and crops and foods improved through biotechnology in general." "How many poor people in the world must die," the laureates pointedly asked, "before we consider this a 'crime against humanity'?"

    About as many as have died from malaria since DDT was banned, plus a few thousand or so - - - - - - - -

  • mtrueman||

    DDT is still being manufactured and used. Even Ron, if pressed, will admit that.

  • Hugh Akston||

    Turns out you don't have to press very hard at all.

  • Francisco d'Anconia||

    SFed the link

  • Chipper Morning Baculum||

    GTFO with that retarded claim that banning DDT caused many to die from malaria. That shit has been debunked over and over.

  • Ken Shultz||

    "Almost without exception, his cinematic doubles are embedded in narratives that depict science and scientists as dangerously bent on an unethical pursuit of forbidden knowledge."

    Whatever people thought of these films when they were first made, I suspect the Cold War and the threat of nuclear annihilation had a big influence on how even those films and their symbols were seen by later audiences.

    The idea that scientists had created something beyond anyone's control that might destroy humanity wasn't just fiction anymore.

  • soldiermedic76||

    So nuclear war is common? Or had even happened once? No! Then it's not exactly beyond anyone's control is it? The very fact that we have never had a nuclear war would show the exact opposite, that the technology is fairly well controlled.

  • Francisco d'Anconia||


    But...IMHO, too many base decisions about restricting science on science fiction.

    Has science EVER gotten away from us to the detriment of humanity anywhere but in books or on the screen? The notion is a fallacy.

  • IceTrey||

    Do you mean humanity as a whole because events like Chernobyl and Bhopal definitely were detrimental to the local humans.

  • Francisco d'Anconia||

    Yes, as a whole.

    These were accidents due to negligence and not really attributable to "out of control" technology. Still very localized.

    Sure, there will be accidents, but the technology benefits more than harms, by orders of magnitude. I suspect it will be similar with robots, nanites, AI, cloning...and to regulate them, based on fear of misuse or overthrow, is to stand in the way of improving the human condition.

  • soldiermedic76||

    Those were mostly engineering faults. Human error, not out of control technology.

  • Vernon Depner||

    Fukushima. It is a disaster of global and permanent impact.

  • Francisco d'Anconia||

    Good one.

  • Agammamon||

    Well, except that it wasn't a global disaster - it was pretty localized - and 'permanent' only in so much as the first atom bomb test was permanent. Because we have the capability to detect minute shifts in isotope ratios doesn't mean that its of any import.

  • Vernon Depner||

    You are uninformed. It is not localized, and a worst-case scenario in which all of the remaining nuclear material is released into the environment is still the most likely outcome. The contamination will not be "minute".

  • Agammamon||

    Just because we could detect radiation leaked from it doesn't mean there was any danger on the other side of the Pacific. It certainly wasn't a disaster in the United States.

  • Vernon Depner||

    "It certainly wasn't a disaster in the United States."

    You speak in the past tense as if the disaster were over. The Daichi reactors are still leaking out of control and no way has been devised to stop them. As I said above, the release of ALL the remaining radioactive fuel and waste into the environment is the most likely outcome at this point. That will affect the future of all life on Earth.

  • colorblindkid||

    You can go swimming at the beaches of Fukushima and you will get exposed to lower levels of radiation than a lot of places on Earth have naturally.

  • Hank Phillips||

    Then the antinuclear screeching began I read the Washington and Oregon papers. The radioactivity where civilians could go was lower than the exposure dose sustained by jackal journalists crossing the pacific by passenger jet to fan anti-energy hysteria.

  • Vernon Depner||

    Not a good analogy. The health risk from radiation exposure during air travel is not insignificant.

  • Francisco d'Anconia||

    Perhaps some supporting documentation?

  • Chipper Morning Baculum||

    Just google "incidence of cancer among pilots" or something similar. Pilots have higher cancer rates than the general public.

  • Francisco d'Anconia||

    Top 3 hits:

    CONCLUSIONS The study shows a high occurrence of malignant melanoma among pilots. It is open to discussion what role exposure of cosmic radiation, numbers of block-hours flown, or lifestyle factors—such as possible excessive sunbathing—play in the aetiology of cancer among pilots.
    This large study, based on reliable cancer incidence data, showed an increased incidence of skin cancer. It did not indicate a marked increase in cancer risk attributable to cosmic radiation although some influence of cosmic radiation on skin cancer cannot be entirely excluded.
    British Medical Journal, results from a clinical study indicate that the incidence of skin cancers and prostate cancer may be increased in airline pilots. However, the researchers could not directly attribute the development of these cancers to cosmic radiation.

    So if you've got any actual data...serve it up

  • Chipper Morning Baculum||

    You just proved my point, so what else do you want? I said pilots have higher cancer risks than the general public, and your links confirm it.

  • Francisco d'Anconia||

    And if you bothered to pay attention to the conversation, it was about the risk of radiation exposure during air travel being significant.

    It is open to discussion what role exposure of cosmic

    did not indicate a marked increase in cancer risk attributable to cosmic radiation

    cancer may be increased in airline pilots. However, the researchers could not directly attribute the development of these cancers to cosmic radiation.

    so what else do you want?

    I asked for a study/data showing cosmic radiation is significant in air travel.

  • SQRLSY One||

    On radioactive wastes (ionizing radiation), Google "radiation hormesis", and see USA government study of the Taiwan thing (accidental experiment on humans) at … Low-dose radioactivity is actually GOOD for you! Seriously!!!

  • Francisco d'Anconia||

    Very interesting. Thank you.

  • soldiermedic76||

    Not out of control technology, again it was human caused. Bad engineering, and corruption created the problem.

  • ||

    Pompus interviewer: "With the advent of new technology threatening our existence but also providing us with exiting it your contention morality and science are to be forever in Mordred-King Arthur frictional you think reviving a man is a symbol of man's limitless capacity for both good and evil? Indeed, what would Nietzsche have thought about all this? You may find yourself living in a shotgun shack wondering how did we get here? Your thoughts..."

    Cloned Shelley: I-I just wanted to write a scary novel to piss my husband off.

  • IceTrey||

    Many human clones have been born. We call them identical twins. BTW, best Frankenstein movie ever, "Young Frankenstein" of course. ;)

  • Ken Shultz||

    I see two kinds of technophobia.

    1) Threats to the established order.

    You could throw Luddites in this category, with its modern counterparts, who are victims of creative destruction--and we should be clear that there are victims. Creative destruction may make society better for the overwhelming majority of people, but some unskilled people are better off for being overpaid to do unproductive work.

    Meanwhile, as perhaps the primary means of creative destruction, the threat technology presents to our own livelihoods in the future always remains a constant unknown--the stuff of which fear is made. Technology could make me overpaid, unskilled, and unproductive at any time.

  • Agammamon||

    who are victims of creative destruction--and we should be clear that there are victims.

    No there are not.

    Those who are harmed by a change in the status quo are those who were disproportionately served by it. The harm you suffer from a paradigm change is directly proportional to the advantage you gained from the previous paradigm.

    With very few exception you can say that a disruptive technology changes the landscape merely negates an advantage these people had prior while benefiting the rest of humanity immensely (or else it wouldn't have been adopted). Buggy whip manufacturers benefited from the existence of horses - once the automobile came about, these people were not 'victims' of any sort. They simple lost the advantage over other people they had before.

  • Scarecrow Repair & Chippering||

    Nice point. One of those insights which it is all too easy to lose track of, like all trade being voluntary and thus there are no winners or losers. One may be a bad trader, but that is how one learns to be a good trader, and all traders, bad or good, aspire to get as good a deal as possible and earn no sympathy when they misplay their hand.

  • Francisco d'Anconia||

    Thank you!

  • Ken Shultz||

    There's a big difference between saying that buggy whip manufacturers deserve to be harmed and saying that they aren't harmed.

    Creative destruction destroys what came before it.

    Buggy whip manufacturers were just trying to make the best darn buggy whips they could for the lowest price possible.

    The automobile came along and ruined everything for them.

    Because creative destruction should be left to do its work doesn't mean that no one loses because of the destruction.

    Again, this is like pretending that guns aren't used in crime--because we think people should be free to own them to defend themselves.

    I don't have to pretend that gun are never used in crimes in order to support the Second Amendment, and I don't have to pretend that creative destruction doesn't have any victims--just because I like capitalism and free markets--either.

    Yeah, in capitalism, there are both winners and losers. Why pretend otherwise?

  • Ken Shultz||

    P.S. Some people lose money in the stock market.

    Whether they deserve to lose money in the stock market and whether they lose money in the stock market are two separate questions.

    Because I like the stock market as an engine of capitalism doesn't mean I have to pretend that no one ever loses money in the stock market.

  • Agammamon||

    Stock market is not a disruptive technology. Well, it was at one point but it's not now.

    Anyone who loses money on stocks has inflicted self-harm

  • Ken Shultz||

    "Anyone who loses money on stocks has inflicted self-harm"

    No more so than they do when they invest their and energy time working in one industry or for one company rather than another.

    Regardless, the markets do make both winners and losers, and--like I said--whether people "deserve" or [should] lose their money when the market price of their stock goes down is a separate question from whether they do, in fact, lose money when the market price of their stock goes down.

    Likewise, some people really are hurt by technology, and that's all I've been trying to get across. Whether they should be hurt by technology is another question. I'm not sure "deserves" is the right word. It's just that technology makes them obsolete--regardless of whether they were doing something wrong.

    We just don't need buggy whips like we used to--regardless of whether the buggy whip manufacturers were doing anything wrong.

  • sparkstable||

    The issue may be the use of the word "victim." It often (but not always) implies someone was sought out to be harmed and/or that a harm was unjust.

    Creative destruction does cause some people to be less well positioned afterwards than they were before and they may experience catastrophic loses of wealth. But that does not make them a "victim" of some targeted scheme or that what befell them was somehow unjust.

    The issue may also be one of time. In total, there is no net harm as Ag said (benefit minus said benefit is neutral change). But in the immediate the person losing the benefit is experiencing a setback from their current perspective. And since we always live in the now, it is a setback (even if still justified).

  • Ken Shultz||

    I didn't mean to use "victim" that way, but it's not like the people I'm talking about were doing anything wrong either.

    There's nothing wrong with doing factory work, being a truck driver, or driving a cab, and if technology comes along and replaces factory workers with robots, truck drivers with driverless cars, or cabs with Uber, those people are victims of technological change.

  • Agammamon||

    They are not victimes of tech change unless you are also going to say the were, previously, instigators of harm to other people by exploiting the previous paradigm to their advantage.

  • Ken Shultz||

    Offering factories their labor was not harming them.

    The fact that they're not competitive anymore because of technology really does mean that they've been harmed by technology.

    I don't understand the reluctance to accept this fact.

    I feel like I'm talking to the neocons who used to show up here and claim that the Iraqi people wanted to be bombed, invaded, and occupied by a foreign army. They're glad to be bombed!

    Some people are hurt by technological advances.

    Capitalism is the system that minimizes that damage from that and presents individuals who've been hurt by technology with the most opportunities to bounce back--but that doesn't mean technology never hurts anyone.

    And to your latter point, if my job were made obsolete by AI technology or something else tomorrow, that wouldn't mean that I've been harming customers in the past. I'm doing the best I can given the technology I have today. It would just mean that I'm no longer competitive in the future doing things the same way I was doing them before.

    As someone with a lot of experience and skills, I could probably change careers and bounce back--but that isn't so with commodity labor. They can only compete on cost and productivity. When they're replaced by robots, it may be that the highest use of their labor is gone forever--especially if they're older.

  • vek||

    I agree with the way you're putting it 110%. I don't know why people have to fight the clear real world outcome so vehemently. It's obviously true some people "lose" with new technology. It's not that it can or should be stopped, but it happens. As you said above about guns, I don't have to pretend guns never hurt innocent people to be in favor of people being able to own guns. You can accept that good and bad come from things, but that in the long haul the good out weighs the bad.

  • Ken Shultz||

    "But in the immediate the person losing the benefit is experiencing a setback from their current perspective."

    The people who benefit aren't necessarily the people who lose. The people who are displaced by technology aren't necessarily the same people who make a fortune repairing robots. They may enjoy the benefits of cheaper robot made merchandise in the future, but that may never make up for the fact that they're 40 something now, and technology and time has passed them by. They may never recover.

    . . . which isn't to say that free market capitalism and creative destruction aren't the way to go. The poor in our society live better than the middle class in others--because of free market capitalism. That doesn't mean an unskilled factory worker will be better off than he was before because he was replaced by a robot and now he has to go sell his lack of relevant skills. We can be honest about this and still advocate free market capitalism as the best solution to those problems.

    Nothing creates more and better opportunities for workers displaced by technology than free market capitalism, and trying to hold back the winds of change just makes things worse.

  • Agammamon||

    Ecxcept they do benefit - through cheaper goods.

    Otherwise the robots (or new tech) would not be adopted on the first place.

  • Ken Shultz||

    The question is whether they benefit more from lower prices than they do from losing their livelihood.

    There's this thing called structural unemployment. Structural_unemployment

    There are people out there who lost their jobs as line workers in a factory, don't know how to use a computer, may not have much education, and aren't about to be hired as mechanical engineers to maintain or program the robots that replaced them--which may be manufactured in South Korea.

    Those people often drop out of the job market entirely. They go on disability if they can, they collect rent subsidies and food stamps if they can, they move in with family if they can, and they bide their time until they can qualify for social security. They're in the rust belt competing with all the other idle unskilled factory workers. They're 47 years old, and they're probably not getting another job that paid as well as their factory work did.

    They are not better off because they lost their job.

    The things they can't afford to buy anymore may be cheaper than they would have been otherwise, but what difference does that make if they can't afford to buy them?

    The rest of society is better off because they're unemployed, but that doesn't mean they are.

  • Ken Shultz||

    In China, when the government came in and cleared the peasants off their land and built factories on it, the peasants were better off with the factory work. Everything is an upgrade when you're a peasant. American factory workers aren't peasants. They owned their own homes. Being displaced is a big blow, and it's a long way to the bottom of the heap.

    I love capitalism anyway because, for one reason, it makes more and better opportunities for such people than any other system.

    Otherwise the robots (or new tech) would not be adopted on the first place.

    Because the new technology benefits consumers does not mean that the people it displaces as producers will be better off than they were before. There are losers. They need a system that creates as many and varied opportunities as possible, and nothing does that better than capitalism. But someone who goes from making $20 an hour screwing in bolts on a factory line making commercial kitchen equipment is not better off because he lost his jobs--and the burgers he flips for minimum wage now cost less than might would otherwise because they're made by robots.

    People really do lose.

  • Agammamon||

    Yes there is a big difference. And it's irrelevant here.

    They weren't harmed. Period.

    You have no 'right of economic expectation' where people must compensate you for changed circumstances.

    Buggy whip manufacturers disproportionately benefitted in the pre-car era, the arrival of cars did not harm them, simply changed the market landscape.

    Or would you say that those who are doing well should compensate those who are not because those who are doing well are benefitting from the current landscape and so will be 'taken care of' when things change again?

  • Ken Shultz||

    Yeah, when I open a pizza restaurant right next to a competitor and drive him out of business with lower prices, better pizza, and better service, I am harming my competitor.

    I'm hurting his bottom line. I'm hurting his profits. Hell, he may lose his house, and I may be destroying his marriage.

    I should be perfectly entitled to harm competitors in this way.

    Because harming him by offering his customers better choices should be perfectly legal doesn't mean I'm not harming him.

    The admonition that we should be free to do anything so long as we don't harm other people is dangerous because it comes so close to getting things right. The correct formulation is that we should be free to harm people so long as we don't violate their rights.

    Oh, and once I drive him out of business with my superior, less expensive product, he will not be better off than he was before--just because he has the benefit of my less expensive pizza. And he'd have to make a profit less than $52 a year and order a pizza more than once a week in order to be better off because I drove him out of business.

    Whether the rest of his customers are better off because I drove him out of business is another question entirely.

  • Ken Shultz||

    "He'd have to make a profit less than $52 a year and order a pizza more than once a week in order to be better off because I drove him out of business."

    That's assuming my pizzas cost $1 less than his did.

  • Azathoth!!||

    The automobile came along and ruined everything for them.

    Only it didn't.

    The automobile spread slowly through society--the writing on the wall had almost faded to invisibility by the time buggy whip manufacture had dwindled to the niche market it is today.

    Most paradigm shifts that look quick to us occurred much more slowly to the people living through them. They had time.

    It's kind of like the singularity that everyone says 'is coming'.

    It's not.

    It's already started. We're in it. When it's over, it will appear to have been instantaneous.

    We're the generation who will first look back at our own childhoods in the last millennium and have no clue how we lived like that. It's already started.

  • Ken Shultz||

    2) Legitimate threats to ethics and our rights.

    Technology is neither good nor evil; it's all about the way it's used, but some technologies lend themselves to the abuse of our rights more than others--and why shouldn't that scare people?

    I suppose guns are a perfect example. They can be used to defend yourself from intruders, or they can be used to perpetrate home invasions. Because they can be used to perpetrate home invasions doesn't mean people shouldn't be free to own them to defend themselves, but who (even among the Second Amendment's defenders) won't admit that guns are sometimes used to rob, rape, and murder? Techno-optimists are often like a gun rights enthusiast who wouldn't admit that guns can and will be used to commit crime.

    Isn't it amazing the way technology has let us communicate like never before? People who don't care about their privacy and share the details of their lives on Facebook seem to think so. The same communication technology has made it possible for the government to track our communications, purchases, and activities online like never before.

    If my personal qualitative preferences are for privacy rather than communication, then who is anyone else to tell me that this technology is a good thing? Isn't it the technology that's led to this massive surveillance apparatus and the degradation of our rights? But where are the techno-optimists who think my rights should stand in the way of progress?

  • mtrueman||

    "Technology is neither good nor evil"

    Maybe so. But technology is not neutral. There are certain tendencies that technology follows. A new technology will be more complex, more energy intensive and centralizing than the technology it replaces. The ever-experimental thorium reactor, a perennial fave in these pages, supplanted the wood fueled fire. It is a centralizing force that adds complexity and societal brittleness. There are probably examples where technology doesn't do this, but it overwhelmingly works one way, ie not neutral.

  • Don't look at me.||

    The reactor also provides a lot of electric power that elevated the population from dirt floor wood cabins to warm and well lit homes.

  • mtrueman||

    My experience with the newly electrified (in the Chinese countryside) is that amplified music can be more significant than lighting. An oil or gas lamp or even candles will continue to be perfectly adequate while only electricity will let you pump up the volume enough for your karaoke sessions.

  • Vin_Decks!!!||

    Christ, you're an asshole.

  • mtrueman||

    Yes, but an asshole who has experienced the excitements offered by a newly electrified village (in the Chinese countryside.)

  • Ken Shultz||

    My ethics are grounded in respecting other people's right to make choices for themselves. If it violates someone's right to make choices for themselves, then I might even say it's unethical for that reason alone.

    The rest of it is about personal preferences--which have some overlap with our right to make choices for ourselves but isn't entirely the same thing. I think that people should be free to share details of their own lives on Facebook.

    I shudder to think that I might have to rely on such people to defend my right to privacy. When they don't even care about their own privacy anymore, why assume they'll care about mine?

    Again, though, it's not the technology itself that's evil. It's whether the technology is used to violate the right of people to make choices for themselves. Ethicists refer to this as moral agency, and my libertarian outlook makes me think of it as the arbiter of right and wrong.

  • Ken Shultz||

    Technology proliferates our ability to make choices--makes us able to make choices we couldn't before. That lets people make moral choices they coudn't before, but it allows them to make immoral choices (to violate other people's rights), too. I'm not going to blame the technology for violating our rights--not when I can blame the people who are making the immoral choices to use that technology to violate our rights.

    And I can't help but notice that the techno-optimists out there seem to have made a fetish out of ignoring people's right to make choices for themselves. In fact, many of them seem to treat people making choices for themselves as the cause of our problems--which gets the morality exactly backwards.

  • mtrueman||

    "Technology proliferates our ability to make choices-"

    To make some choices, sure. With other aspects, there are no choices. Technology leads to increased centralization, complexity and energy intensity. It's a one way street.

  • Ken Shultz||

    That's both factually incorrect and beside the point.

    Technology often leads to decentralization--how can something invariably lead to both centralization and increased complexity?

    It's beside the point because the options we were talking about technology proliferating lead to the moral choices of how to use those technologies--and that's a cause and effect statement.

    How can something that makes new options available that weren't available before not lead to fewer choices?

    Nothing you're saying seems to add up.

  • mtrueman||

    "Technology often leads to decentralization--how can something invariably lead to both centralization and increased complexity?"

    Think about nuclear power plants and the grid that connects them to consumers of electricity. There's centralization. Once upon a time, every home was responsible for producing its energy needs. That was decentralization. A nuclear power plant requires a lot more safety features and cooling apparatus compared to what went before. That's increased complexity, there.

    "How can something that makes new options available that weren't available before not lead to fewer choices?"

    It's the options that are not on offer that I am interested in discussing. I've mentioned them several times already.

  • Ken Shultz||

    So, you're not saying that the distribution is more complicated. You're saying that the technology itself is more complicated.

  • mtrueman||

    "You're saying that the technology itself is more complicated."

    It typically is. Compare the experimental thorium reactor to a wood fueled fire. The reactor requires an army of highly educated operators and staff. The wood fueled fire doesn't. That's complexity. Count the number of parts to an experimental thorium reactor. It vastly outnumbers the number of parts of even a top-of-the-line wood stove. That's complexity.

  • Agammamon||

    A new technology will be more complex, more energy intensive and centralizing than the technology it replaces.

    That's not true at all. In fact, there are multiple examples of the opposite.

    1. 'more energy intensive' - is not inherent in technological change. Its simply that we *want* to harness energy for our use and as energy becomes cheaper we then latch on to technologies that previously were too expensive to use. If energy prices were to increase there would be a trend towards more efficient ways of doing the same thing.

    That's not taking in to consideration that there has been - for generations - an increase in efficiency. Look at cars. You can get a car that is both more powerful and more efficient today and as powerful as anything available 30 years ago. Manufacturing has spent *billions* of mind-hours on ways to cut energy and resource usage over time.

    2. More centralizing - Cell phones? Cars? 3d Printing? Internet? AI? Most technology is decentralizing.

  • mtrueman||

    "Look at cars. "

    OK. Cars are significantly more energy intensive than the horse drawn carts and buggies they replaced. They are also more centralizing, being manufactured in large industrial plants by 1000s of workers. They also require roads, which are overwhelmingly built government and that's required a government levying taxes. Cell phones and this sort of technology has led to unprecedented ability to spy on citizens.

  • sparkstable||

    All technology is more energy intensive than the era of no technology. That's essentially your argument by going back to horses. But the fact is that there is a lot going on between horses and the cars of right now... you can't simply pick an arbitrary benchmark that proves your point. Like I said... you may as well choose the first moments of life and say ""See! Energy costs are up!" Yet effeciency is a hallmark of technology. We can either use less energy and get the same output OR use the same energy and get more output. Both cases are more efficient. It's just that the latter is what allows advancement. It opens up more uses of more energy so we may, on net, use more energy. But we get ever increasing yields from doing so. Usage in nominal terms alone does not indicate a level of efficiency or inefficiency. It's the ratio of energy and yield.

  • mtrueman||

    "All technology is more energy intensive than the era of no technology. "

    I don't believe homo sapiens have ever existed in an era of no technology. I'm not choosing arbitrary benchmarks. The car supplanted the horse and carriage, and not all that long ago, considering the millions of years we may have been around. And it was another commenter who brought up cars, so it's his fault anyway.

    As for efficiency, how do you measure it? It seems like such a subjective thing.

  • Agammamon||

    You aren't paying attention to what I wrote.

  • mtrueman||

    Sorry. Could you repeat your response more succinctly?

  • Zeb||

    Cars are significantly more energy intensive than the horse drawn carts and buggies they replaced.

    They also do significantly more useful work.

  • mtrueman||

    Useful is a subjective quality. But a car certainly does more work. Shouldn't be too surprising as they consume more energy. Energy and work are directly related, according to our most intelligent scientists. (Not those nasty climate ones.)

  • Azathoth!!||

    You misspelled 'less'.

    It's L-E-S-S.

    If cars were less efficient that horse drawn buggies we'd all be using buggies.

    Buggies were also built in plants. In fact, quite a few switched over to building automobiles.

    And buggies require roads as well.

    Life requires roads--that's why all forms of life make some sort of roads. Governments come afterwards.

  • mtrueman||

    "If cars were less efficient that horse drawn buggies we'd all be using buggies."

    I haven't been discussing efficiency, which is a subjective quality. My point is that superseding technologies are more energy intensive, centralizing, and more complex than what they replace. Take roads for example, with the advent of cars, roads became more expensive, more complicated and requiring more work and maintenance that what came before. Not only did cars bring about this with respect to roads, but cars also engendered a whole forest of bureaucracy, motor vehicle licensing, traffic police, courts, tax collectors, inspectors etc. Sorry if any spelling errors I make confuse you. I try to spell correctly, but sometimes errors slip through.

  • Azathoth!!||

    Efficiency is not subjective.

    It's getting the most useable and used energy from every calorie you burn. It's math.

    And again, buggies require roads as well--and they work best on the same kinds of roads that cars use--only we didn't have the excess energy required to easily build those types of roads before the advent of cars so, prior to cars, getting those roads was a slow, labor intensive, time and resource consuming process. After---wheee!

    Your 'forest of bureaucracy' begins and ends with motor vehicle licensing. All the rest--including traffic police--already existed.

  • mtrueman||

    "It's getting the most useable and used energy from every calorie you burn. It's math."

    Cars or buggies are also about moving people in comfort, quietly, with minimal pollution etc. Building and designing these vehicles is more than squeezing dry every last dry every drop of fuel, it's about accommodating the needs and desires of a very large number of people involved. That's why subjectivity comes into the picture.

    "My point is that superseding technologies are more energy intensive, centralizing, and more complex than what they replace. "

    I seem to have made my point clearly. Thanks for your attention.

    "All the rest--including traffic police--already existed."

    Whether or not they existed before is not the point. My point is that after the newly introduced technology, centralization, energy consumption and complexity became more intense. If we ever had a Department of Transportation while horses ruled the road, it must have been very small. Now it's much bigger.

  • Weigel's Cock Ring||

    The new episode of "The X-Files" that aired a few days ago was an instant masterpiece of dystopian, anti-technology dark comedy.

  • Eidde||

    1) Michael Crichton was a bit more "realistic" than other artists about the dangers of "mad science." The "madman" isn't the scientist, but the government or the rich eccentric who pays scientists to create something dubious. The scientists themselves aren't mad, just ambitious and willing to work for someone who pays them to do science, even if the objective is questionable (eg, a theme park with velociraptors, or perhaps weapons that can destroy an inhabited planet several times over, or germ warfare agents).

    2) A key problem with IVF is that they kill off the "excess" human embryos. And it's not even a question of "don't regulate women's wombs," since these "excess" human beings aren't in a womb.

    3) In defense of Hollywood's mad-scientist movies, the mad scientist is shown in contrast to the non-mad scientists who opposed his work. "They laughed at me - they called me mad!"

    Obligatory link

  • Don't look at me.||

    Interesting question comes to mind. Does the creation of life due to IVF outweigh the moral qualms of excess embryo destruction?

  • Chipper Morning Baculum||

    Yes, it does.

  • Scarecrow Repair & Chippering||

    How many eggs and embryos does nature kill as cold-bloodedly as possible? How many sperm are wasted once the first one contacts the egg?

    Your argument reminds more than anything of animal rights activists who insist on dropping food to starving deer in the winter, or protest when hunters are hired to kill the excess as humanely as possible, instead leaving them to starve to death or be eaten alive by predators.

  • Mickey Rat||

    "How many eggs and embryos does nature kill as cold-bloodedly as possible?"

    Nature would eventually kill every human, that does not justify premeditated killing, or even negligent killing. Why should it in this this case?

  • Chipper Morning Baculum||

    I have been saying for years that the animal rights movement and the pro-life movement are cut from the same cloth. The robe of a fool.

  • Eidde||

    That's interesting, because one of the most prominent "animal rights"
    , Peter Singer, is also a fan of infanticide.

    ""Newborn human babies have no sense of their own existence over time. So killing a newborn baby is never equivalent to killing a person, that is, a being who wants to go on living. That doesn't mean that it is not almost always a terrible thing to do. It is, but that is because most infants are loved and cherished by their parents, and to kill an infant is usually to do a great wrong to its parents.

    ""Sometimes, perhaps because the baby has a serious disability, parents think it better that their newborn infant should die. Many doctors will accept their wishes, to the extent of not giving the baby life-supporting medical treatment. That will often ensure that the baby dies," Mr. Singer continued. "My view is different from this, only to the extent that if a decision is taken, by the parents and doctors, that it is better that a baby should die, I believe it should be possible to carry out that decision, not only by withholding or withdrawing life support — which can lead to the baby dying slowly from dehydration or from an infection — but also by taking active steps to end the baby's life swiftly and humanely.""

  • Chipper Morning Baculum||

    Obviously, Eddie, I did not mean to say that pro-lifers and animal rights activists believe in each other's causes. Clearly they are on opposite sides of the political spectrum. What I meant is that, ironically, they use similar tactics and arguments and don't even realize it.

  • Eidde||

    So far you've offered assertions, but not evidence, and the actual evidence (Peter Singer's case) is against you.

  • Jerryskids||

    While it's been many years since I've read the book, as I recall the monster was considered a monster because he had no soul. There's a theme to be developed in noting how the monster acted more humanely than humans, but given the times I suspect Shelley wasn't pursuing the psychological or philosophical questions of what it means to be human, religion had already answered the question to her satisfaction.

  • Vernon Depner||

    I interpreted the story as saying that Dr. Frankenstein and the monster shared a soul.

  • Stormy Dragon||

    Extra Credits did a really good series on Frankenstein.

  • Hank Phillips||

    Work on the 1931 version of Frankenstein began during Prohibition's Great Depression soon after the Smoot-Hawley tariff of June 1930 was signed. All tariff bills were scary patchworks, but that particular one hugely enhanced search, seizure and libel (asset forfeiture) powers in altruism's Noble Experiment. Boris Karloff had already played in several bootlegger movies. Frankenstein's closing scenes were a preview of how the Republican party's prohibitionist platform and candidates would fare in the 1932 through 1948 elections.

  • Telcontar the Wanderer||

    Ah, I do love the weekends here at Reason, when the Weigelfags and Obamapapas are out doing yoga or something and we real libertarians have the place to ourselves.

    Isn't that right, Mikey?


    Are you there?

    Why, you didn't get banned or something, did you?

  • Weigel's Cock Ring||

    So it was you who whined to the sys admins and got them to ban DD? What a fucking pussy you are.

  • Telcontar the Wanderer||

    Nope. Didn't do anything to him. Just mocking him.

    Whereas getting your panties in a bunch because a conspiracy-theorist internet-tough-guy got banned? Now, that's fuckin' pathetic.

  • Weigel's Cock Ring||

    Not only are you a whiny-ass bitch, you're a liar to boot.

  • Telcontar the Wanderer||

    Spend a lot of time talking to the Reason admins, Mikey? Up on their gossip? Or are you just adding another unsupported assertion to the garbage dump's worth of them you've generated over a lifetime.

  • Robert||

    Don't you have to say at least some of the theme that was said to be subsequently grafted on was in the original? After all, the Arctic explorer was persuaded to turn back.

  • vek||

    The truth is we've had wins and losses as technology has advanced, but on the aggregate we've always come out ahead.

    I mean think rivers catching on fire when we were a little less concerned about pollution. Or leaded gasoline, which may have been one of the reasons the murder rates were so much higher in decades past (it's a theory with some evidence).

    Thing is we usually catch our fuck ups before too long, and then fix them, thus ending up with the benefits on the new tech without most (or any) of the downsides. So long as nobody makes a truly colossal mistake, like creating the endlessly reproducing nanite grey goo of science fiction, we'll probably be fine. I DO think scientists are occasionally slightly hap hazard, but not too bad most of the time.

    We are beginning to play with some seriously crazy stuff though, and I just hope all the people working on these things REALLY appreciate the possible repercussions if they fuck up big time. Because the kind of shit that happens in sci-fi movies ARE theoretically possible. They haven't happened yet, but some of them could. I mean we COULD have destroyed ourselves with nuclear weapons. That was 100% possible. It still is. Same could be true of genetically engineered bio weapons etc. If the world gets ended because of a SNAFU in a DARPA lab oh well, but it's still not a reason to totally put the brakes on everything progressing.

  • Kivlor||

    Sometimes the costs of the mistakes are truly astronomical. Look at EPA Superfund sites as an example. Businesses allowed to do whatever they want on "their property" without any regard for the damages to the properties around them. For example, I grew up near such a disastrous area, where it is just too late to fix it. The rivers are full of cadmium and lead to the point that they recommend you don't wade in them for fear of heavy metal poisoning. The land for miles around the mines have been so poisoned that you shouldn't let your children play in / eat the dirt. And the businesses and businessmen who did this got their money and left. There is no way to make them pay, because the corporations are gone, and they are not personally culpable.

    That's not justice. And it is a failing on the part of libertarianism to pretend that these things do not and have not happened.

  • Kivlor||

    "they are not personally culpable"

    I meant the shareholders, the officers, the men responsible for the damage who reaped the rewards of their work but cannot be made to account for the harm.

  • soldiermedic76||

    If your talking about Bunker Hill, I was a kid in Smelterville while the mine was still operating. My Dad and his father both worked at the smelter. I have eaten fish out of the Coeur d'Alene river and lake all my life. My, my siblings, my parents all have below national average lead levels. My Grandparents all had gardens, we ate carrots and potatoes fresh from the garden, often without even washing them. The EPA has blown the risk way out of proportion. And greedy lawyers hoping to make a buck off of class action suits also helped blow it out of proportion.

  • vek||

    Yup, environazis over sell lots of stuff... But there are other instances where it really is that fucked. Chernobyl for instance.

  • Kivlor||

    No. I'm not. I'm in the middle of the country, not the West. And kids where I live have gotten lead poisoning from ingesting the water when swimming and from eating the fish in some of the creeks. (some of the creeks / rivers are far enough away from the mines, or otherwise don't catch the runoff / seepage when it rains and are safe.

    There are at least 6 superfund sites within 30 miles of each other here. When construction is done, we have to test the dirt for lead and almost always have to lay down barriers with fresh soil over it. Women closer to the mines have been documented to have double the miscarriage rates compared to the national average.

    The feds and state actually came in and bought peoples properties and then closed them up to get them out of the most contaminated areas. Up this winter when a new cleanup effort started we still had mountains of ground-up lead waste open to the air that blew all over the place whenever the winds picked up.

    I'm not an eco-nazi. I scoff at them. Yes, the federal guidelines are typically overkill--for a reason too. However, I do think that if you take actions that have consequences--intended or not--you should be responsible for the consequences.

  • vek||

    Yeah, there are exceptions to any rule. In a sane world I wouldn't be against having a few very basic environmental laws. The problem is that something straight forward and common sense always gets hijacked by lunatics. Essentially the strict libertarian position is that people will pollute, get sued, lose and then there will be case law, which will hopefully disuade future people from doing the exact same thing... Which is a pretty hap hazard way of dealing with externalities.

    I don't have a perfect solution, but a few basic and sane laws, coupled with strong rights of people to sue for other eventualities not covered by overzealous laws like we have now seems tolerable. Also scale should matter. If a guy wants to do something to his private property that isn't going to have any large effects, he should be do WTF ever he wants. There's a difference between that and a mine with 5,000 employees or something.

    Pollution is one of those areas where think strict libertarianism has some issues though. I don't have solutions, but I can point out problems.

  • mtrueman||

    "I don't have a perfect solution, but a few basic and sane laws, coupled with strong rights of people to sue for other eventualities not covered by overzealous laws like we have now seems tolerable."

    You're putting a lot of trust in the hands of an elite cadre of state employees, not just normal folk, but, on pain of being locked in a cage, insist on being addressed as 'your honour.'

  • vek||

    But we already have that, but on steroids, and with a huge excess of pre-emptive rules that make no sense. Plenty of stuff is litigated as is.

    The main libertarian idea is to have no actual laws, but allow case law to build up, which scares people into not doing the same things as people lost cases over in the past... I'm essentially proposing that, but with a few VERY light handed laws for a few painfully obvious things.

    No dumping radioactive waste in the stream, etc. But if somebody wants to bitch and moan about sawdust floating into the air at a facility that existed 50 years before they bought their adjacent property, they better be able to make a damn good argument for why it is a big deal.

    It will be fucked... But will it be less fucked than everything being over regulated now? I dunno. Maybe. I know 100% for sure that proactively regulating every little thing to death has been a huge problem in this country. I'd be down for slashing 90% of the current rules, keeping only the obvious and important ones, and seeing where things land. If it sucks we can start piling on stupid new rules from scratch, and hopefully we'll end up with fewer pointless ones than we have now!

  • mtrueman||

    "but with a few VERY light handed laws for a few painfully obvious things."

    But you want technology too. Gotta choose one or the other, because if you choose technology, a whole raft of laws, regulations, taxes and bureaucracy come along for the ride. If you haven't seen this happening since the industrial revolution, you haven't been paying attention.

  • mtrueman||

    "The truth is we've had wins and losses as technology has advanced, but on the aggregate we've always come out ahead."

    Depends on what's important to you. If you value your autonomy and independence, then technology is enemy number one, enabling big government and encouraging dependency everywhere you find it. Just think of the army of technocrats, tax collectors, regulators and bureaucrats that spring up whenever an experimental thorium reactor is built. They've all got their hands in your pockets taking your money. A big thing, I would have thought, even for self-styled Reason libertarians.

  • vek||

    Totally. Which is one reason I've become less of a futurist geek than I used to be. The future is a lot less awesome, and a lot more scary, than we all thought it was going to be. I actively avoid lots of tech stuff because of privacy issues etc. But there is no stopping progress, at best we can pass a few decent laws to explicitly forbid extra bad behavior perhaps. But we're not going back to the horse and buggy days, so we should just try to maximize the benefits and minimize the downsides of all the fancy new junk being invented.

  • mtrueman||

    "But we're not going back to the horse and buggy days, "

    I wouldn't buy a car without reverse, it would be too inconvenient. Think of parking etc. A reverse on technology, engendering more independence and autonomy may be desirable.

  • Intelligent Mr Toad||

    1. The genius of Boris Karloff was that without speaking a word (until the sequels began) he made the monster sympathetic to the audience.

    2. There never would have been a problem if Dr. Frankenstein had granted the monster's request for a female mate.

    3. The really interesting parts of the novel are when the monster curses his creator, which Job did not do but which Milton's Satan did. Other interesting characters who regret their own existence include Zog in L. Frank Baum's non-Oz fantasy THE SEA FAIRIES, who has the following exchange:

    "You are a monster and a wicked magician," said the Mermaid Queen.

    "I am," agreed Zog; "but I cannot help it. I was created part man, part bird, part fish, part beast and part reptile, and such a monstrosity could not be otherwise than wicked. Everybody hates me, and I hate everybody."

    This echos what the half-human/half-goblin Hagen says to his father in GÖTTERDÄMMERUNG (L. Frank Baum was a Wagner-freak):

    "Gab mir die Mutter Mut,
    nicht mag ich ihr doch danken,
    dass deiner List sie erlag:
    frühalt, fahl und bleich,
    hass' ich die Frohen,
    freue mich nie!
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  • Cyril Morong||

    Bailey writes: "Frankenstein is not a tale about a mad scientist who looses an out-of-control creature upon the world. It's a parable about a researcher who fails to take due responsibility for nurturing the moral capacities of his creation. Victor Frankenstein is the real monster."

    Here are some passages from the book Dinosaur in a Haystack: Reflections in Natural History by Stephen Jay Gould that sound similar.

    "Victor Frankenstein ran away from his foremost duty, and abandoned his creation at first sight."

    "Victor failed because he followed a predisposition of human nature-visceral disgust at the monster's appearance-and did not undertake the duty of any creator or parent: to teach his own charge and to educate others in acceptability."

    "Mary Shelley wrote a moral tale, not about hubris or technology, but about responsibility to all creatures of feeling and to the products of one's own hand. The monster's misery arose from the moral failure of other humans, not from his own inherent and unchangeable constitution."

  • Priscilla King||

    Sorry, Ronald Bailey, but (despite some philosophical truth) this article goes FAR astray. Bioengineered food products are making people sick. I'm one--I'd been a healthy, best-case example of successfully managing genetic celiac disease for about 20 years before GMO/glyphosate grains, nuts, and beans flooded the market, and suddenly everything that was supposed to be safe for me to eat became toxic.

    Bioengineered crops aren't working for farmers, either. Like the pesticides themselves, they're breeding more aggressive and hardier pests.

    The real solution to the weed problem is to remove weeds *without* poisoning the soil. Chemistry offers no solutions to that problem. Robotics, on the other hand, just might.