Zizek and the genome
lnp3 at panix.com
Fri May 16 08:12:12 MDT 2003
(Is it a big surprise that Zizek offers critical support to biogenetics?
Perhaps not in light of his life-long commitment to Freudian
psychoanalysis, another reductionist discipline albeit one with
less--none, actually--claim to science.)
London Review of Books, May 22, 2003
Bring me my Philips Mental Jacket
Slavoj Zizek welcomes the prospect of biogenetic intervention
Do we today have an available bioethics? Yes, we do, a bad one: what the
Germans call Bindenstrich-Ethik, or 'hyphen-ethics', where what gets
lost in the hyphenation is ethics as such. The problem is not that a
universal ethics is being dissolved into a multitude of specialised ones
(bioethics, business ethics, medical ethics and so on) but that
particular scientific breakthroughs are immediately set against humanist
'values', leading to complaints that biogenetics, for example, threatens
our sense of dignity and autonomy.
The main consequence of the current breakthroughs in biogenetics is that
natural organisms have become objects open to manipulation. Nature,
human and inhuman, is 'desubstantialised', deprived of its impenetrable
density, of what Heidegger called 'earth'. If biogenetics is able to
reduce the human psyche to an object of manipulation, it is evidence of
what Heidegger perceived as the 'danger' inherent in modern technology.
By reducing a human being to a natural object whose properties can be
altered, what we lose is not (only) humanity but nature itself. In this
sense, Francis Fukuyama is right in Our Posthuman Future: the notion of
humanity relies on the belief that we possess an inherited 'human
nature', that we are born with an unfathomable dimension of ourselves.*
Hegel would not have shrunk from the idea of the human genome and
biogenetic intervention, preferring ignorance to risk. Instead, he would
have rejoiced at the shattering of the old idea that 'Thou art that,' as
though our notions of human identity had been definitively fixed.
Contrary to Habermas, we should take the objectivisation of the genome
fully on board. Reducing my being to the genome forces me to traverse
the phantasmal stuff of which my ego is made, and only in this way can
my subjectivity properly emerge.
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