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Biotechnology and the Spirit of Capitalism

Eric Cohen

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The spirit of modern capitalism is as varied as the souls of modern men. Virtually every type of morality is "for sale," and virtually every human type finds his place in the modern economy. The cosmetic surgeon specializing in breast implants. The observant Jew rushing to finish work before sundown. Sex stories on MTV and salvation stories at the movies. Oil-drilling corporations and embryo-destroying start-ups. Queer Eye for the Straight Guy and NASCAR racing.

Watching commercials on television, trolling the Internet, going to work, it is clear that commerce captures the many possibilities of human life, both for better and for worse. It mostly involves decent men and women working hard to better themselves and provide for their families. But commerce sometimes goes deep into the human gutter--the multi-billion-dollar child-pornography industry is perhaps the grossest example--dragging many ordinary people down with it. The modern economy relies largely on average people doing average work, competently if not brilliantly. But it also nourishes and depends upon more-than-average individuals--including those who remake the world with their talents and visions, often with technologies that aim to satisfy every human desire.

Perhaps the most striking dimension of the modern economy is the commerce of the body, including an impressive array of new biotechnologies and biological procedures that promise to improve, control, or manipulate our native biology. In myriad ways, the better body is for sale--from anti-impotence drugs to anti-depressants, from cosmetic surgery to low-carb diets, from baby-making clinics promising you a healthy child to the current push to legalize the buying and selling of human organs. And if one looks ahead to the biotechnologies of the future--improved mood- and memory-altering drugs, stem-cell-based medicine, genetic muscle enhancements, new techniques for controlling the genomes of one's offspring--it is clear that the commerce of the body will only become more ambitious, selling bodily perfection to anyone with enough disposable income.

Read the entire article on The New Atlantis website (new window will open).

Posted: 04-Jun-06



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