We can, but should we?

Monster >noun 1 a large, ugly, and frightening imaginary creature. 2 an inhumanly cruel or wicked person. 3 [before another noun] informal extraordinarily large.
-ORIGIN Latin monstrum ‘divine portent or warning, monster’, from monere ‘warn’ (from the Oxford Dictionary)

In 1973, there was a television show called “The Six Million Dollar Man” and that was followed by a spin-off “The Bionic Woman” (Lindsay Wagner playing Jaime Sommers”. In 1987, there was “Robocop”. In “The Six Million Dollar Man”, the hero, Steve Austin, played by Lee Majors, a test pilot who is severely injured in a horrendous crash of a plane. Some mysterious government agency says “we can rebuild him – we have the technology.” This same agency was responsible for creating Jaime Sommers. In “Robocop”, which is set some time in the future, a cop, Alex Murphy (Peter Weller) is injured and again he is rebuilt by not a government agency, but a private corporation. What these three, Steve Austin, Jaime Sommers and Alex Murphy, have in common is that they are cyborgs – cybernetic organisms – in other words a hybrid of electronic, mechanical and human parts.

All this is preamble to this piece. I was watching a show called “Man Made Monsters”, which dealt with attempts by various government agencies to develop some form of hybrid creature for espionage or warfare. The early part of the show dealt with attempts to turn animals into spies. One early failed attempt in the 1960’s was with a cat. The programme showed a page from the proposal which contained three words that told me it wasn’t going to work. The three words were “train a cat”. If you’ve ever had a cat as houseguest (cats are never pets – they’re too independent for that) you know the impossibility of training them. The CIA surgically implanted a microphone and transmitter in the cat. The plan was to release it near the Soviet Embassy in Washington to eavesdrop on conversations taking place. That plan fell apart within ten minutes when the cat bolted, ran into traffic and was killed by a car. In the years since the acoustic cat, “Six Million Dollar Man” and “Robocop”, technology has improved to the point where the required components have gotten much, much smaller and it would now be possible to actually create these two cyborgs.

As part of the programme, doctors from many different disciplines were interviewed and they all said words that were a variation on a theme: We can do it, but should we? This is not an easy question to answer for there are ethical, moral and political considerations to be examined. Morally, what gives any person, or agency, or government the right to take a human being and turn them into what is in essence a monster? Who are we to play God by creating these new lifeforms?

Ethically, the same questions arise, especially among the medical community. How can any medical person take part in such a procedure – using electronic and/or mechanical devices to enhance a human body – and still adhere to the promise contained in the Hippocratic Oath “first, do no harm”? I don’t know about you, but I would think implanting such devices in a human body, other than to repair or replace a damaged limb, is harmful.

Politically such procedures would be extremely sensitive. On the international level, presuming any government is able to avoid the ethical and moral questions, doing so would cause another, much more horrifying and monstrous arms race. Using the argument “the other guy is doing it, so we have to” to quash any internal dissent each side would, or could, develop ever more grotesque and frightening entities, each less human than the one that preceded it.

Another school of thought is that we should just because we can. Right. What could possibly go wrong? We can shout “fire” in a crowded theatre, to use a common illustration, but we shouldn’t because the resultant panic would cause injury and possible fatalities. We can drive through a school zone at twice the posted limit, but we shouldn’t because of the possibility of hitting a child. We can drink too much, then get behind the wheel of a car, but we shouldn’t because we’d be a hazard not only to ourselves, but to everybody else on or near the street. We can do these things, after all, what could possibly go wrong, but common sense dictates that we shouldn’t. What makes creating cyborgs any different?

We’ve all seen movies where robots/cyborgs rebel against their human masters and take over the world, but they’re fiction, right? Uh huh, In 1979, “The China Syndrome” was released. You may have seen this movie with Jane Fonda and Jack Lemmon. A reactor core melts down. The name “China syndrome” comes from the theory that a reactor core that melts down would be so hot it would melt its way through the earth to China. The movie was fiction. But just after it was released, well, perhaps the name Three Mile Island means something to you. A nuclear power plant in Pennsylvania had a meltdown and suddenly what was fiction in a theatre was fact in the headlines of newspapers everywhere. Again I ask, what could possibly go wrong?

“The Six Million Dollar Man”, “The Bionic Woman”, “Robocop” and the Terminator are all fictional characters from television or film. To use the line from “The Six Million Dollar Man”, we can rebuild him, we have the technology.” But, as the scientists have said “yes, we can do it, but should we?”

Gene manipulation is one other area where we need to ask “should we?”. Foods have been genetically modified for various reasons – resistants to pesticides, or to produce more food from a single creature. Opponents of such practices refer to these goods as “frankenfoods”. My question this: what are the long term effects on the human body of ingesting these modified organisms? Does anyone really know? We know what the companies engaging in this research tell us, but they have a vested interest in getting us to accept them. Another area of gene manipulation is referred to as “designer babies”, where you can specify such things as eye and hair colour, body type and even projected IQ? Once again, I ask we can, but should we?

I don’t know the answer to this question, but I do know we should look at all the implications before we do answer it.

Cat.

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Various and sundry

1 – Still not old: Arthur C. Clarke is reported to have said “When my past becomes more fascinating than my future, I’m officially old.” Well, I’m in my seventies, but not yet ready to dwell in the past or sit and watch Jerry and Maury all day. I still want to know what’s beyond that next hill and what’s around that next bend. If that changes, I’ll let you know.

2 – Trump 1: Many people are upset that the apprentice president spends so much time golfing. Considering what happened in Hawaii over the weekend, we should all be glad he chose to do so this weekend. Can you imagine the carnage that might have resulted if he’d been aware of the false missile alert at the time it happened? He’d have issued the launch codes immediately and since it took 38 minutes to rescind the alert, missiles would have landed on Pyongyang before that happened. We wouldn’t be here to read this.

3 – Trump 2: His description of some other nations has rightfully caused indignation among those nations. Again this spotlights his general ignorance of the world and its history. Many of his so-called “shithole” nations have given the world brilliant scientists; brilliant writers and artists in all genres, as well as successful politicians and diplomats. According to historians, many of these nations, especially in Africa, were leading the world in science, mathematics and literature while Europeans were still living in caves. Can someone please prepare a picture book for the apprentice president so he may understand just how far off-base his comments really were.

While on the topic of things he said this past week, in an interview, he stated “I’m the best athlete, people don’t know that”.  Uh huh.  The man who evaded the draft because he had “bone spurs” is a great athlete.  Sorry, but was he lying about the “bone spurs”, the “best athelete”, or both.  My Money is on both.

4 – Rogers Communications: If you live in southern Ontario, you have probably had Rogers Communications inflicted upon you for your cable, phone and internet service. Personally, I switched my internet to someone else and have no problem with my landline (remember those?), but have serious doubts about their cable. Specifically the descriptions they use on some of the listings on their channel guide. Here are some recent examples of just how fanciful some programmes have been described.
Sanctuary, starring Amanda Tapping, has been described as “dealing with spiritual matters”. Excuse me? If you’re unfamiliar with the programme, it deals with a lady who offers safety to what many would consider monsters and freaks. Hardly spiritual.

The Magicians is another example, if you’ve watched the show, you know it deals with special people, teenagers, who have special abilities and is pure fantasy. This was described as a reality show.

Finally, the movie “Mr. and Mrs. Smith”. I think we are all aware of this movie and its plot of a husband and wife team who are assassins hired to take each other out (no, not on a date). According to Rogers, this is about two forensic accountants investigating a company but neither is aware of the other’s existence or purpose in the company,

I have to ask myself if the people responsible for these descriptions live in hermetically sealed caves, for they seem to have never seen or heard of the programmes they’re describing. They also seem not to know whether a show is a new episode or a repeat. I’ve skipped shows not marked as “new” thinking they were reruns only to discover later they were the latest episode.

Okay, enough grumbling and venting. I hope your 2018 is off to a good start and stays that way. Remember to hug an artist, we need love too, no matter where we or our parents came from.

Cat.

Are they at it again?

Some of you may remember the films produced during WWII and how they all seemed to portray the Americans (often led by John Wayne) taking on and defeating the evil Axis powers. They were meant to instill a sense of patriotism in the viewers.

Again, you may remember the (usually not very good) invaders from space movies that were popular during the ‘50’s and ‘60’s. In these the aliens were meant to be seen as analogous to the “Red menace” and, as with the movies of the ‘40’s, once again the Americans were always victorious.

These movies, in addition to entertainment, were intended to instill a sense of patriotism and a belief in the invincibility of the American armed forces. Hollywood has often been used as a propaganda tool, as it was during the Second World War and the cold war.

Perhaps it’s just me, but I think the studios and other independent producers of television programming are at it again. By “it” I mean pumping up the patriotism and faith in the invincibility of American forces,. Times have changed greatly and too much has happened for people to believe in the infallibility of US forces but they are still a formidable opponent. Three new shows this year, “Seal Team”’ “The Brave” and “Valor”, appear to be designed to put a positive face on the military. I find it more than coincidental that we have three new shows glorifying the armed forces.

Given the Apprentice President’s words and actions, especially regarding North Korea and Kim Jong Un, and Kim’s responses, it appears war grows closer every day ( or hour – I have seen any new tweets today.) Shows such as these could have the effect of, as I said, increasing feelings of patriotism in viewers as well as prepare them mentally for the possibility of war. I sincerely hope I’m wrong and it really is just coincidental these shows all appeared in the same season, for I know that living north of the US/Canada border won’t protect me if everything does fall apart.

All we can do in the meantime is let ourselves be entertained and pray that calmer heads in both Pyongyang and Washington prevail.

Cat.