Would you want a humanzee living next door to you? Perhaps even dating your daughter no less!
It was pure coincidence. The same day I looked through the recently published Millennium Ecosystem Assessment ( www.millenniumassessment.org ), I also happened to read an article by Jeremy Rifkin, the president of Foundation on Economic Trends. The M.E.A. study reported that Earth's environment is seriously deteriorating in a number of areas. Rifkin's article was about the new field known as chimeric experimentation.
That many of earth's ecosystems are in trouble is hardly a surprise to a great number of people. Several of the key recommendations have also been offered in other studies. But what was of particular interest, I thought, is the growing consensus among those who study these issues.
The question remains, however, just what are we humans--on a global scale--willing to do to reverse the trends. Clearly there is a point where it will likely be too late.
I thought Rifkin's article was especially pertinent in light of the findings in the M.E.A. report. Chimeric experimentation is about "crafting" hybrids out of different species. The first experiment of this type, a number of years ago, was the creation of the geep. The geep was born with the head of a goat and the body of a sheep.
But where the researchers want to ultimately take this is the crossing of humans and animals, to create some new kind of hybrid form. The reasons offered are many, some of which have been heard before; they include advancing medical research, testing new drugs, being better able to "model" the progression of human diseases, and harvesting tissues and organs for "transplantation" into human bodies.
As the article points out, this is not science fiction. In fact, some people are talking about the very real possibility of creating a human-chimpanzee species ... a "humanzee." Would a creature like this be protected by the U.S. Bill of Rights? Might Amnesty International, for example, publicize any genocide directed against humanzees? These are not unreasonable questions to consider. The fiction of film and literature is becoming the non-fiction in the laboratory and quite possibly the cities of the world.
What I felt though as I read this article was growing revulsion. Was I turning into some--perish the thought--simple-minded religious fundamentalist? Had I suddenly become a Luddite, afraid of progress? Was I now ready to join the mob and burn Galileo at the stake? And what was it about all of this that elicited--in me--so much disgust?
The next day, while standing in front of the mirror shaving, the word "narcissism" wrote itself across the glass. Rifkin remarked in his article about a common justification used by us; chimeric experimentation with these "almost" human creatures will benefit the human race....
And what exactly do we humans offer this planet? Whom do we Homo-sapiens benefit? Do we as a species think it's nothing more than "because we can."
Have you ever been fortunate enough to watch a group of female African elephants greet the matriarch of the herd? Trunks are raised and loud exclamations of joy are heard. An elephant herd is a large extended family, and all the cows assist in the care and the protection of the children. Like humans, knowledge is passed down from one generation to the other. The matriarch knows from experience where food is found, where the best watering holes are located, and how to watch out for danger.
Ivory poachers will generally kill the older cows because they have the longest tusks and can therefore bring the most money. This is disastrous to an elephant herd that depends on the wisdom of the older cows for its survival. But elephants have learned about human behavior. They've been observed in the wild to hide the tusks of their dead companions. Scientists believe the elephants know their tusks are a source of danger to them. The danger is from us.
There are 6.5 billion humans on this planet. Even under the most optimistic demographic assessment,we'll likely add another two billion people before world population begins to level off. There is no shortage of "us," now or in the foreseeable future.
Jeremy Rifkin does not support further research in human-animal fantasies. He's right; we are simply too childishly narcissistic, and far too primitive. We haven't demonstrated we can protect and preserve this planet. Considerable doubt exists whether or not we can preserve ourselves.