Identity and Cultural Uniformity

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This topic contains 8 replies, has 8 voices, and was last updated by  Aferrone 7 months ago.

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  • #5743


    If epigenetics were to become affordable and available to the mass market, would we, as a society, be risking our individuality and diversity and all begin to act, look, think, and feel the same? The idea of cultural uniformity brings into question humanity’s ideals of perfection. Does social media create a stereotype of what we deem to be the perfect traits? If given the option, would anyone opt for brown eyes instead of green or blue? Would anyone elect to have less literary flair, less athletic prowess, or less musical talent? Why would any parent choose not to grant their children with these desired traits?

  • #5749

    Michael Bess

    An excellent point. Although it’s true that many people are resistant to following fads and fashions, the fact remains that tastes and predilections do follow mass trends that shift over time, influencing people’s decisions in subtle and sometimes not-so-subtle ways. So this concern about “genetic fads” or “epigenetic fads” strikes me as a plausible one. The underlying diversity of human beings could be profoundly reduced over time by the operation of such collective psychological and societal shaping forces.

  • #5835


    Engagement with the mass market can be seen as conformity, even nowadays with fashion or pop culture trends. However, in the case of epigenetics I foresee the market being far less accessible initially since technology goes through a somewhat lengthy adoption process especially given its price. Addressing your question from an economic standpoint, the initial high price point will give wealthier individuals the chance to alter their traits, followed by a second wave of adoption by the middle class as the price declines. The real dilemma may be trying to grant access to basic trait augmentation (such as higher IQ, disease resistance) to those in the lower socioeconomic echelon. If those people do not receive access, their achievement and inherent capability gap will be unfortunately multiplied even further.

  • #5862


    I think you make a great point regarding the potential of epigenetic trends/fads eliminating some of our individuality. I too agree with this argument, but I wanted to mention the addendum to this argument that professor Bess presents in Our Grandchildren Redesigned. In chapter 8 titled, “A Fragmenting Species” Bess argues just this that bioenhancements may render our species more homogenous, as individuals may all adopt the same bioenhancements. However, he then makes the argument that our species may also become more “fragmented” as individuals may form groups or “clusters” with individuals that have the same bioenhancements. This argument about fragmentation, however, leaves me slightly unsettled. Firstly, I believe that certain bioenhancements will have clear advantages over others, which will result in all individuals adopting these more advantageous enhancements. This market driven selection process certainly will likely lead to the homogeneity that professor Bess details in his chapter but not necessarily lead to the fragmentation of the human species, as all individuals would presumably want this enhancements. Moreover, if these enhancements are epigenetic in nature, meaning that they can be changed or modified somewhat quickly (i.e. in a lifetime), then individuals could transfer from “cluster” to “cluster”. I don’t think that these arguments are strong enough to dispute Bess’s thesis that bioenhancements may lead to clusters, but they do make you wonder about how different the clusters will be from one another. I suppose this discussion bring up the all-important questions of access: who will get access to these enhancements? If access is not equal to everyone, which it almost certainly will not be, then what will this mean for fragmentation?

  • #5864


    Depending on how these genetic and epigenetic alterations develop, people in the future may not be able to simultaneously choose all advantageous enhancements. Say we have two enhancements, one that increases your endurance and one that increases your speed. Perhaps we will be able to increase both qualities simultaneously and independently of each other. But maybe we won’t — even now, athletes must choose between training for endurance (marathon runners) and speed (sprinters). You’ll never see an Olympic marathon runner also compete in the track events, and vice versa. I think it’s fair to say that we would consider both increasing endurance and increasing speed to be advantageous enhancements, but if individuals are forced to choose between different enhancements, inevitably some will favor endurance while others will favor speed, potentially leading to fragmentation. Obviously endurance vs. speed is not a very controversial difference, but this same situation could be extended to other, potentially more divisive enhancements, such as increasing long-term memory vs. increasing mental problem-solving speed in the here and now. However, there’s always the possibility that society will deem one of these sides of the binary more advantageous, prompting people to choose one enhancement over another and thus resulting in a more homogeneous population. But until we actually develop these genetic and epigenetic enhancements, we probably won’t know what tradeoffs and compromises (if any) will be involved.

  • #5922


    The idea of getting to adjust your own as well as your children’s traits seems like a fun and beneficial ability. If we focus just on the genetic alterations that parents might be able to have control over for their children, I do not understand the serious interest in taking part. Yes, this seems like an exciting way to help your child achieve various things and have certain desirable skills. However, this puts an extreme amount of pressure on the parents because if something goes wrong, it is on them. Also, by choosing some skills and not others for your children, you are projecting what you want them to be interested in and enjoy rather than them having a chance to figure it out on their own.

    Additionally, if these germ-line alterations just increase the predisposition an individual has to these traits, but still leaves room for wildly unpredictable consequences for how they are actually expressed, then all the decisions and hard work put into fashioning a child that has all your desired traits will not be as cut and dry as one might hope. Parents already try to exert too much control over their children sometimes and this will just give them another avenue to do so. Lastly, as KaraS described, making the choices between various traits will be extremely complicated. Some traits will not be able to be present simultaneously and will result in even more difficult decisions for the parent.

  • #5929


    Addressing the original post in this thread, I believe that a significant adoption of epigenetic modification would in fact lead to a certain level of uniformity in society. However, it would be interesting to view the potential diversity between different societies as well. For example, the ideal body, hair color, eye color, and height for a desirable person in the United States may be totally opposite in Japan. While we may begin to look more like those surrounding us in our own society, different societies around the world would continue to differentiate themselves in increasingly noticeable ways. Would this serve to extend our tendency to “other” those who are different than us? I believe so. As we looked around at everyone who looked extremely similar to us in our society we would increasingly build a divide between our uniform society and other uniform societies. One society may prize athletic prowess over mental ability, leading to two completely different populations after a certain amount of genetic modification had been applied. Certain countries may dominate the Olympic games, while others would produce the majority of the worlds engineers and mathematicians. These differing tastes among society may in fact lead to increasing specialization among nations as each country chooses its own desired genetic modifications.

  • #5931


    In contrast to my post above, one could also argue that the adoption of genetic modifications would actually serve to diversify society rather than leading to a level of cultural uniformity. Certainly society portrays a certain perfect image that everyone strives to meet, and this image would only become more attainable with genetic enhancements. Yet while we looked more alike, we may actually possess increasingly different and specialized skill sets within the same society. One person may wish to be a world class gymnast and pursue athletic prowess throughout genetic enhancements while another person my shy away from athletics and instead strive for superior mental ability. These people may adopt the same hair and eye color as favored by society, but behind their appearance they would be two completely different people.

    Another example involves a certain level of counter culture within each society. As one portion of society aims to achieve a certain look as portrayed by the media, another subset strives for the exact opposite. Though our own society has made the optimal appearance very clear in magazines, television, and social media, there are many individuals who aim to achieve the opposite look. Individuals who currently strive to avoid blending in with the rest of society would not begin to do so just because genetic enhancements make cultural uniformity easier to achieve. Setting yourself apart from the crowd would now be easier than ever simply by avoiding epigenetic modification.

  • #5968


    I agree with the above position that genetic modifications have the potential to further diversify society. Although this opposes the fear that genetic enhancements would lead to a new level of cultural uniformity, I think that as more and more modifications become feasible, it could lead to new cultures being developed based on which modifications one elects to undergo. Even today, when little separates the genetic make-up of humans, vastly different cultures and societal structures have developed. However, if one were to introduce greater genetic differentiation, resulting in much more noticeable physical and mental traits, the inclination to identify with others who are like you will increase. Therefore, it could further diversify society and the world.

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