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Genetic Perfection in Gattaca Essays
Science plays a large role in the film, as Gattaca builds upon the ideas of science and technology prevalent in the late 20th century to create an imagined futuristic society based on genetic engineering. Religion is another crucial theme, indicated by the biblical allusion to Ecclesiastes 7:13 in the title card. The film presents a tenuous relationship between science and religion, as the society's over-reliance on scientific ideals has undermined religion and spirituality. This is emphasized in the quote "I'll never understand what possessed my mother to put her faith in God's hands, rather than her local geneticist." Thus, causes the viewer to question and challenge whether an obsession with scientifically achieved perfection threatens to jeopardize "God's handiwork."
For Barnes and Dupré (), the sense that we are mastering the master molecule has given rise to both the excitement and the profound anxiety about what genetic engineering means for society and life on earth. They suggest that we de-hype the molecule. This seems like sage semiotic advice. But it does not seem like the hype is easy to overcome, considering it is entwined in multiple processes, identities, and economies. It is likely that the paradoxical tension is here to stay unless we explicitly engage with it. It is a pedagogical question how to frame genetic engineering. If educators conclude that mental ecologies require buffering of hubristic thinking, and that this can come about through acknowledging that we live in systems more complex than we conceive, then explicitly highlighting side effects of genetic engineering should be an educational priority (Affifi ). Such unintended consequences need to be brought to attention regardless of whether they are malignant or benign. Research that uncovers unintended consequences can come from omic studies, behavioural or physiological studies, and ecological studies, all which will reveal the novel products and interactions of genetic intervention on different biological and ecological scales. For example, a proteomic study of Monsanto’s MON 810 maize revealed that dozens of protein changes result from up or down regulation of other genes as a result of the inserted genes (Zolla et al. ). These changes are not likely dangerous, but they were not predicted or desired. The problem is that it currently does not serve industry to communicate the extent of benign side effects so such studies are often claimed to be unnecessary or misleading (Lay and Liyanage ).
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Wills () notes that the spatiotemporal context of genes and of organisms is crucial in Maori culture. He argues that the genes are located in organisms within a particular ecology and at a particular historical moment in a genealogy, and that there is an intrinsic value in this situatedness insofar as it manifests the co-evolving relatedness of biological processes and their co-dependence for survival. When we indiscriminately “invade natural genealogies we have started reducing the ordered tree of life to a twisted heap of broken twigs.” Wills therefore believes that genetically engineered organisms should be confined to laboratory conditions.
The extent and scope of side effects is difficult to assess in our current research context. Innovation is coupled with the particular socioeconomic conditions that bring it forth. In our case, these technologies are brought about in and stimulated by intellectual patenting laws and protections that celebrate and incentivize invention. This aggravates not only the pride and further motivation of the inventor but also fractionates the knowledge generation process so that the side effects of genetic engineering become less widely shared and theoretically synthesized. As each researcher or business develops its own confidential approaches, the results of their discoveries (and mistakes) are hidden from others through mechanisms erected to protect competitive advantage. The result is that partial and distorted understandings emerge, scattered across the globe, with very little scientific integration that cross-talk between the researchers would surely facilitate in a different economic context.
Genetic Perfection in Gattaca Essays.
An alternative approach would be to expose where and how the engineering metaphor (and the concepts it seems to depend on) does not work. The transgenic or gene edited organism has not been deterministically reorganized, complex uncertainties are still there, and “nature” (as in that which is not imposed teleologically by humans) is still present even throughout these modifications. As noted, industry has reasons for limiting public awareness of such uncertainties even when they are not likely harmful for the environment of human health. However, pedagogically, it is likely necessary to bite the bullet and risk increasing the public’s apprehension of such technologies in order to eventually arrive at a place where the decisions if or when to genetically engineer are made with care and foresight.
Our educational challenge is then to help people understand more specifically how ideas about genetic engineering interact in mental ecologies, and this paper has attempted a preliminary tracing of how such ideas may interact. Simply knowing such interactions is, however, in itself of little value. The point is to understand the actual and potential consequences of these interactions, to redflag those we do not desire, and to make interventions into these mental ecologies to sidestep side effects. This is inherently a pedagogical activity as it involves consciously taking responsibility for how such ideas interact. On the one hand, the educator is then tasked with assisting students in developing skills by which to take responsibility for and transform their mental ecologies such that they may be more sustainable. On the other hand, the educator, as one with a greater awareness of such effects and the tools by which to avert them, is also responsible for curating experiences that can assist students in avoiding detrimental effects while students are in the process of developing the skills to avoid them on their own. It is in this latter context that educators have to deal with different cases depending on the extent to which genetic engineering ideas have incorporated themselves into the mental ecologies of their students.
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Gattaca Study Guide | GradeSaver
Habituation is self-validating. Or, as essayist George Monbiot puts it in the context of the ecological crisis in general, “with each subtle intensification, the baseline of normality shifts” (). Once some GMOs are accepted in our environment, their precedence facilitates the introduction of others. This happens on a microscale (for example, most new agricultural GMOs that have been approved since the public’s initial swell of concern in the late 1990s have been new varieties of species already genetically engineered (such as corn, soy, and cotton products)). But it also happens on a broader scale, as each new GMO paves the way for the likelihood of further GMOs, with the upcoming approval of GMO salmon in the United States expediting the approval of other genetically engineered animals, and so on.
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Currently, most GMOs involve the introduction of relatively little transgenic or edited DNA, a point continuously identified by proponents (for example, see Folta ). However, what needs to be critically evaluated is the cumulative effect microscale interventions have on the normalization of the technology, and in particular on shifting public acceptance with respect to living in a genetically engineered world. Once accepted, there is only an incremental difference between the insertion or editing of 1–3 genes and the modification of 5–10 genes, or between engineering a few domesticated food crops and engineering wild species writ large. Meanwhile, genetic interventions continue to become increasingly powerful. For instance, CRISPR-Cas9 technology now enables scientists to remove, insert, and modify genetic material much more easily than in the past, when trial-and-error insertions through firing genes into DNA, or inducing infections using viral or bacterial components as vectors, was common (Pennisi ). Chinese scientists recently used CRISPR editing technology to modify nonviable human embryos (Liang et al. ), and the National Academy of Sciences () has recently recommended human gene editing for certain medical treatments. Further, with “gene drives” scientists can now seed populations of organisms with small quantities of genetically altered organisms produced to ensure the spread of the novel DNA material regardless of whether it confers a benefit or a liability on the organisms (Oye et al. ). That these ideas do not bat an eye now indicate that Batesonian shifting baseline effects are well underway.
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The purpose of this essay is twofold: 1) to uncover how the engineering metaphor applied to living systems leads to several positive feedback loops, and 2) to examine how educators can assist in balancing these runaways. As we shall see, particular positive feedback loops emerge that reinforce problematic ways of understanding and acting towards other species. Insofar as these feedback loops lose flexibility and insulate against correction, they are pathological for humans and other species involved. I examine four such interlocking loops in this paper but also identify some limitations to my analysis. We ought to develop a society that can scrutinize genetic engineering carefully so I discuss pedagogical issues involved with meeting this end in the final section of the paper.
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