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Re: <nettime> On Biotechnology (comments on Jeremy Rifkin & Eugene Thack
Ana Viseu on Sun, 26 Jan 2003 22:09:35 +0100 (CET)

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Re: <nettime> On Biotechnology (comments on Jeremy Rifkin & Eugene Thacker)


I read with great interest Rifkin's text on biotech art and the subsequent 
replies to it, in particular that of Eugene Thacker.

I thought that Rifkin's move from biotech to the notion of the self as 
project that is open to, and in fact is in dire need of improvement, was a 
good correlation and one that, in itself, deserves further thought.

I agree with Thacker when he says that Rifkin's position on biotechnology 
leaves hardly any space for critical engament with it, it is an 'all or 
nothing' position. I also agree that Rifkin's basis for discussion, that 
interfering with Nature (human or not) is inherently 'bad' is the wrong way 
to approach the issue. Still, I would have like to see Thacker present more 
'palpabale' alternatives, even if only in terms of biotech discourse.

The problem with the biotech debate seems to be similar to the current 
discussions of U.S foreign policy, "you're either with us or against us". 
It has a deep undertone of fundamentalism that leaves most of us unable to 
make up our minds, or at least very cautious to do so. It leaves no space 
for the reflection that Thacker is arguing for.

Now, personally I feel rather uncomfortable about the prospect of genetic 
engineering. However, I feel equally uncomfortable and dissapointed with 
arguments of "humanness" or "Factor X" (as Fukuyama calls it in "Our 
Posthuman Future").

But the issue is too important to be left for others to decide, and there 
must be a way to approach it with critical reflection without extremism.

One way, as pointed out by Thacker is to discuss the issue of patenting 
genetic sequences and lifeforms. On this subject John Sulston (Nobel Prize 
winner for his work on genetics), wrote recently in the Monde Diplomatique 
that he "realised long ago that trying to reach an equitable solution using 
moral or even legal arguments was doomed to failure. The best way to 
prevent the sequence being carved up by private interests was to place it 
within the public domain so that, in patent office jargon, as much as 
possible became "prior art" and thus unpatentable by others. " [1]

I propose that another way to think about the issue of biotechnology, 
without leaving aside its ethical components, is to focus on the means 
through which it will be applied. Is it possible to ensure the creation of 
a system so that everyone (poor, rich, developed or developing) has equal 
access to the findings of biotech? Can such a sytems even be implemented? 
(I don't think so, and the struggle of developing countries with 
pharmaceutical companies seems to support this.) Can we *ethically* propose 
and support a system that will further discrimination? What will be the 
consequences of this?

These are two ways two think about biotech that are more fruitful than the 
arguments we see in mainstream media.

best. ana viseu

[1] John Sulston (December 2002). Heritage of Humanity. Monde Diplomatique. 

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