During the Cold War, the greatest fear was that an atomic bomb would fall on our heads. The balance of terror was maintained between the major nuclear powers. Everyone was holding each other by the goatee and everything was finally going very well. A new cold war is looming on our near horizon. This is not an atomic bomb, but a genetic bomb. The technological advances that we are seeing every day - with the SSRPC-Case 9 in particular - will, according to some observers, split the world into two opposing camps. Those who will reject any manipulation of humans in the name of ethical principles; and those who will see this as an opportunity to create from scratch an increased, improved, invincible humanity. The theatre of operations would be forming before our very eyes at this very moment.
Ne often talk about CRISPR in our columns. We follow its evolutions, its experiments, we alert on its stakes and its risks. But as a picture is worth more than a thousand words, we recommend you to watch this video relayed by the site Science-post. It is educational, relatively complete but no doubt that after viewing it, a bitter taste will settle in your mouth. A strange anxiety.
Yes, the tools of genetic manipulation available to us today, and even more so those that are looming in the laboratories for tomorrow morning, will indeed be able to modify the human species. Faced with this outcome, we have two possibilities: either to regulate or to recover. Regulating means leaving it to States, to international bodies, to decide what is right and wrong in this research, what must be curbed or stopped immediately in the name of the bonum humanum as Hans Jonas said. Principle of responsibility obliges. But this position raises, as soon as one mentions it, questions about the right to interrupt science, to curb progress. This question is all the more justified since CRISPR is a dual technology that is capable of solving most of the diseases that haunt humanity and perhaps even old age.
The other possibility is to reclaim these technologies in order to establish its power or might. We have recently discussed the risk of disseminating these tools in the world of terrorism. But at the level of States too, there may be great temptations to physically improve its population, its army, to gain decisive advantages over the rest of the world.
The transhumanist futurologist, Zoltan Istvan, played the game of scenarios in an article published in Motherboard. He immediately declares " Genetic editing technology has no immediate dangerous effects. Yet it promises to create as much dissension among humankind as 70 years of nuclear proliferation. ». According to him, two camps will oppose each other. On the one hand, China and its armies of scientists who have borrowed, bridle down, the battle horse of the genetic revolution and ignore the ethical sensibilities of Westerners. They were the first to experiment CRISPR on human embryos. On the other side, the United States, led as of January 20 by Christian conservatives who claim that Man must remain as God created him.
For Zoltan Istvan, there is no doubt that it is in this opposition that will germinate " the seeds of a great future conflict, which is sure to result in mass demonstrations, riots, and even civil war ». If, on the one hand, China decided to increase the strength and intelligence of its children through genetic manipulation (which will be possible in less than ten years) and if, on the other hand, the Americans decided to remain natural and to ban all genetic intervention aimed at modifying the human being, in accordance with the supposed will of God, then "... we will be able to live in a world where the human being is not the same as the human being, and where the human being is not the same as the human being. a major conflict on the scale of the human species will soon erupt ".
The world will be divided into two populations: those who will be "increased" and those who will not. Will borders be closed to these new humans? Will they be locked up in camps? Will we exterminate them? And vice versa, will the new humans accept the presence of remnants of an ancient species at their side? This scenario gives free rein to all the paranoia...
Nevertheless, whether or not to regulate, to put in place moratoria on genetic research or to try to control what happens in laboratories seems to be futile. CRISPR-Cas 9 can be purchased today in kit form for less than 100 $ on the Internet. Everywhere in laboratories around the world, sorcerer's apprentices are practicing these manipulations. The movement is launched. The danger will not necessarily come from the States, but from the dark areas of society.
So should we advocate, as Istvan proposes, another path, that of liberalising research everywhere, in the United States, in China and elsewhere? A "new good old-fashioned science competition "he said and" let's see which country is able to offer the best improvements to these citizens, and then let's share the best we have created to ensure that the people are as equal as possible ». Is this pious wish to reconcile peace and scientific progress viable? Or is it only possible? Are we doomed to enter a new Cold War with the human race itself as the decisive issue at stake? The question remains unanswered and deserves all the more to be asked in our societies, which are afflicted by doubt, anxiety and the narrowing of their predictive horizon.