Tuesday, July 26, 2011

On Moon Rocks, The Ethics of Ethics: What is the Emoticon for Love?

Have a nice day... On the motherfucking moon!
Since the beginning of time when our ancestors first looked up from the primordial ooze from whence they had emerged and stared out into the night sky at the the distant expanse of space in awe and wonder, one question has driven humankind forward and fueled the development of civilization: Is it possible to clone a human being? And of course the corollary: If you could be cloned and the clone was amiable and open to suggestion, would you take this opportunity to fuck yourself "just to see"?  And the corollaries to that: If you fuck your clone would it, in fact, be considered fucking yourself? And would it technically be considered homosexual? Or would it be an entire new subset of sexuality and sexual orientation?

Although the idea of cloning is not new, it was really brought to the forefront of our collective consciousness around February 22, 1997. This was the date that Scottish scientists Ian Wilmut and Keith Campbell and their posse announced to the world that they had successfully cloned a sheep using somatic cell nuclear transfer.  This, or course, led to an outpouring of (mostly unwanted and illogical) public opinion about the prospect of human cloning and to the movie THE 6TH DAY, which is still officially regarded by the UN as a crime against humanity.

In doing a lot of reading I have come to discover that for some reason there are a lot of people out there who are morally opposed to human cloning.  To which I would respond: What the fuck is your problem? I haven't yet come across a single, coherent, objective argument to ban human cloning.

Problem #1: Leggo my Fucking Bone Marrow, Mom

The first problem people have was addressed (sort of) in the movie THE ISLAND where clones were grown (bred?) in secret for people with enough money for the express purpose of being harvested for body parts and/or major organs should the need arise.  Well, I would like to say this scenario is bullshit, but unfortunately humanity's depravity knows no bounds, and I'm sure some people would consider this scenario.  Apparently, some people already do.  After doing some preliminary research on Wikipedia (the most reliable information network in the history of the universe) I discovered that some parents with critically ill children will actually conceive other children for the sole purpose of harvesting their bone marrow and other body parts/bodily fluids (I mean, before those hardcore Commies can get their hands on our precious bodily fluids) to try to save the first kid because they will (most likely) be a genetic match.

That's just really fucking sick.  I can't even fathom the idea.  You've already produced one faulty child who has to live the rest of his/her no doubt short life in terrible agony, and then you produce yet another kid and then force him/her to suffer through medical procedures against his/her will.  Great.  Now you've produced two offspring who you will continue to torture for as long as you see fit.  The first kid will have to deal with the pain of ongoing medical procedures and probably the guilt of having his/her sibling suffer because of him/her.  The second kid likewise will have to undergo painful, potentially health and/or life-threatening medical procedures and learn to resent his/her parents and/or older sibling for putting them through this shit. So is it conceivable that we would mistreat clones when we already mistreat our children who are essentially clones already?  Some of them will probably be exploited.  But will they be systematically and routinely abused?

I highly doubt it. Or at least, not any more so than any other subset of society. The reason this argument is bullshit isn't because it's entirely false, it's simply predicated upon false assumptions and absurd generalizations. The argument that we shouldn't clone people because these clones might not be treated well is spurious at best.  The same argument could reasonably be made about having children, but nobody's calling for that to be illegal (although it should be strictly monitored and legislated by the government).  What the fear mongers would have us believe is that if human cloning were to be allowed on a wide - potentially international - scale that our culture would isolate, imprison, experiment on, torture, and potentially kill these clones on a level not seen since the Holocaust.  However, if we are willing to concede that any currents in Modern Western Culture run parallel to Hitler and his regime, then we may already be fucked and questions about human cloning are the least of our worries.

#2 Shoot Him, I'm the Real Me!

Another argument against human cloning is that if a human being was cloned it would somehow detract from the "original's" individuality.  This would be THE 6TH DAY argument.  Apparently if there was another person running around with your DNA somehow you would be less you.  I guess all those identical twins out there are already fucked.  Because god knows that all identical twins suffer from identity crises and all manner of psychotic episodes because they share the same DNA with somebody. 

But, just for fun, let's break this scenario down.  In order for one's identity to be in crisis due to being cloned the following presuppositions would have to be true:

A) Your clone would have to have accelerated aging so that it ended up at exactly your age (or, if you're Johnny Depp, anywhere between the age of 25 and 45)

B) Your clone would somehow have to be given all of your memories about every second of your life somehow transferred from your brain to his.

C) Your clone would then have to undergo any surgery/trauma/roller-coaster ride gone wrong to duplicate any scars and/or missing limbs (Lieutenant Dan!).  Then your clone would have to have various amounts of chemicals injected into it to approximate a lifetime of eating fast food, energy drinks, and Spam.  If you're obese, the clone would have to be force fed a lifetime supply of Krispy Kreme doughnuts, Doritos, and pizza to account for your girth.

D) You clone would then have to follow you around for the rest of your life doing exactly the same things as you: eating the same meals, working at the same job, watching the same movies, using the same urinals, fucking your wife. (Which brings us to another philosophical question: if your spouse fucked your clone -or your fucked your spouse's - would that technically and legally be defined as cheating?)  At parties the clone would have to sit in your lap in order to maintain the same perspective.

I really don't like bees.
Your genetic structure is a very small part of your identity, if indeed it is a part at all.  Your identity is more based on the decisions you make and actions you take and their relation to the society in which you exist.  It's a sum total of your experiences; or rather, your perception and interpretation of those experiences.  And over time your perception and interpretation of those experiences will probably change based on other experiences and changes in your relationship with society.  Even if you were genetically predisposed towards certain actions - for example if your father was an alcoholic - you're not genetically predisposed to make a certain set of decisions for the rest of your life.  My family personally has a lot of anger management issues (and no, not problems with the movie ANGER MANAGEMENT, although I do have a lot of issues with that movie as well), but that doesn't mean that every time I get angry I fly off the fucking handle like Nicholas Cage overacting in any movie he's ever been in.  I take a deep breath, fantasize about strangling the object of my anger until his fucking body goes limp and then I laugh in his stupid, dead face, and then I try to approach the situation as rationally and calmly as I can.  It's called self-control, motherfucker.

Not only are your decisions not genetically preordained, neither are they metaphysically preordained.  There is no fate but what we make.  (He, he, TERMINATOR 2.)  The decisions we make are not set in stone.  I can totally recall dozens of decisions that I was completely on the fence about and, being in the same situation again, could easily have gone another way.  And that's not even counting the decisions I would consciously change given the chance.

And of course there is the fact that your decisions and memories are not genetic imprints.  They are stored in the genetic computer that is your brain and not inherited from your parents.  As of yet, scientists are no closer to understanding how the electrical pulses firing through your synapses are somehow translated into human consciousness than they were when our ancestors were still hanging out in trees, eating bananas, and trying to figure out how to wipe their asses without getting their hands full of shit.  Even if our most handsome scientists could find a way to somehow encode and transfer those electrical impulses there's no guarantee that just dumping them into another organic being would transfer actual memories or not.  I suppose the point is actually moot at the moment seeing as nobody can actually transfer your memories, so there's absolutely no threat to your individuality if you did get cloned.  Unless, of course, your entire identity somehow pivoted on your physical appearance.

#3 Religion, Religion, Why Fore Art Thou Devoid of Reason?

Another reason people argue against human cloning is because of some kind of religious or spiritual objection.  Apparently some crackpots out there believe that cloning is a slight against god.  I can only really speak for the Judeo-Christian ethical standpoint here as I have absolutely no background in any other religion.  The main reason I can determine why Christians are against human cloning is because they seem to think their god has some kind of inferiority complex.  The concern is that science is encroaching on "god's territory," uncovering secrets that were "not meant to be discovered."  So, basically, the argument is you shouldn't do it "because we say so" or "because we say the bible says so" (some hardcore Christians might quote you some shit like Psalm 139 or Isaiah 44 as "proof" that cloning is "bad"), which is the default argument for the fundamentalist Christian.  Somehow, they believe that a text written thousands of years ago has anything insightful or relevant to add to a discussion about something like cloning, which is completely beyond me. 

What's really at stake - and some of the brighter religious nuts must, at least in some small way, realize this - is far more fundamental.  If they are willing to concede that cloning humans is, in fact, a power previously reserved for the gods - or their god in particular - then if humanity harnessed that power we would, in essence, have harnessed the power of g(G)od.  If we take all of our triumphs as well as our tragedies and attribute them to that monolith known as Humanity, then if scientists unlock the secret to human cloning, that triumph belongs to Humanity, which would mean we all share the power of god, which by definition means we are all gods, and if everyone is a god that is the same as saying no one is a god.  Sometimes it's a slippery slope on the road to reason.

Another concern is that if we did make human clones, that they would be soulless automatons.  Again, this argument is predicated on whether or not you can prove the existence of a "soul."  This, in turn, is reliant on the objective definition of a soul and the ability to quantitatively document its existence.  The religious community would be the first to point out that while we can't currently conclusively prove the existence of a soul neither can we disprove it, therefore the metaphysical book is still open and the debate is not over.  On the Scale of Logic that argument ranks up there right behind "I know you are, but what am I," "He who smelled it, dealt it" and Dan White's "Twinkie defence."

The ultimate argument against cloning...
I don't know if we'll ever be able to define let alone prove the existence of a soul, little more than one can prove his own self-consciousness.  I'm pretty sure that unless George Lucas has his way, there will not be an army of evil clones trying to destroy our republic.  We're simply taking genetic material from one human being and making a new human being.  There's nothing more sinister about cloning than sex, which as we all know from the Internet is pure and wholesome and doesn't involve double fisting some BBW grandma while a transvestite hooker pierces her nipples and a one-eyed midget named "Gadget" surgically amputates her left foot and dry humps the bloody stump.  Nothing wrong with that.

 #4 This Is Progress?!?!

The fourth objection to human cloning is that inevitably we get shitty movies based on their lives.  A few notable ones are, of course, THE ISLAND, THE 6TH DAY, and STAR WARS EPISODE II: ATTACK OF THE CLONES.  Of course, Lucas' moral ambivalence towards the philosophical ramifications of human cloning was perhaps the best part of the ATTACK OF THE CLONES.  In that film, it was simply a matter of social scientific integration just like swords made of light or faster than light travel.

However, this argument has finally been answered, and answered hard with Duncan Jones's MOON.  This movie is the first movie I have ever seen that took a rational, balanced approach to dealing with the concept of human cloning and actually treated the clone character(s?) as human beings and not soulless zombies.  The real genius of MOON was that it didn't really talk about cloning a lot, but rather what it meant to be human through the eyes of a clone caught on the moon (I kinda feel like there are some song lyrics in there somewhere).  In dealing more with the main character's reactions rather than the specifics of cloning, Duncan really put together a cohesive thesis about the nature of identity in a universe where cloning is a scientific reality.

MOON follows Sam Bell (played by the amazing Sam Rockwell) who is an industrial worker on the moon on a three year contract to oversee a lunar mining facility for a big, faceless corporation.  During his downtime he spends a lot of time working on anger management techniques, talking to his robot friend GERTY, whittling a massive miniature village, waiting to go home and bang his wife, and (presumably) masturbating gratuitously all over the space station.  Sam is nearing the end of a three year contract when he has a bad accident in a lunar rover, wakes up in the sickbay back inside the mining facility, then goes out to survey the accident only to find (mindfuck!) himself still trapped in the rover.

I guess in the universe of MOON cloning is a well-known fact, because the two Sams immediately jump to the conclusion that one of them is a clone.  See the first thing I would think is that maybe I was going crazy because of my total isolation on the fucking moon for three years.  Or, if I was on The Young and the Restless, this guy was a long lost twin.  Or maybe the other me could be an android or even an alien replicant from beyond the moon.

Immediately, the two Sams try to figure out exactly what the fuck is going on, and, in the course of their arguing, they begin to reveal a sociological construction of identity; they try to figure out which one of them is the "real" Sam Bell.  This is interesting for two reasons.  The first is that it seems like the natural thing to do and many of us in the same position would probably try to sort out that very same question.  The second is that it makes absolutely no difference whatsoever.  There seems to be this notion in the popular consciousness that something that comes first has to be inherently "better."  I've noticed this same reoccurring sentiment in discussions with other people about things like literature and movies.  Like saying the original OCEAN'S 13 was better then the remake simply because the one with Frank Sinatra "came first"  (though, obviously, the George Clooney vehicle was much, much better).  As a culture we seem to lend more legitimacy to things that occurred further back in the past.  To me, this seems to run contrary to logic and to the modern concept of progress.

In focusing on who was the "original" Sam Bell what both of them failed to realize was how individual they both were despite (potentially) sharing identical DNA.  One of the examples was how it was established that one of Sam Bell's demons was his rage ("I'm a rage-aholic! I just can't live without rage-ohol!").  The "older" Sam was nearing the end of his contract and had had time to contemplate and channel his rage into something semi-constructive like building a miniature village.  The "younger" Sam was still dealing with his anger management and easily flew off the handle.  To an outsider watching it was easy to see that each Sam was different: not because of their DNA, but because of their individual reactions to and perceptions of external stimuli.  In this universe, it is presupposed that the cloning process also transfers all of the memories of the "donor."  These two men - who both turned out to be clones and so had identical DNA - despite sharing about 90% of the same life experiences were already extremely different. 

The first rule about the moon is you do not talk about the moon...
I suppose the whole point of this movie was to examine the concept of human dignity and respect when faced with the most inhuman of situations.  A clone, which in the eyes of the people creating them at least were nothing more than biological assets, bred for a single purpose and, either by design or insufficient knowledge, were doomed to an incredibly short life span of three years after which time they would break down on the cellular level and die in what seemed to be an incredibly painful and horrible way.  Once the two Sam Bells discovered their terrible fate (with the help of the robot GERTY) they planned to escape the moon via a shuttle designed to send back shipments of valuable minerals.  They try to escape their fate.  They try to outrun death, or at least prolong the inevitable.  They hold out the (vain) hope that somebody back on Earth can help them.  This is the most human of sentiments.  The fear of death.  The drive to act in the face of certain defeat.

But what really got me wasn't the Sam Bell clones.  What really interested me was GERTY.  To me he (it?) represented perhaps the most fascinating aspect of cloning: creating an entirely new race.  Essentially, GERTY started to "feel" bad for the Sam Bell clones and actually helped them out.  This was a relatively minor plot point, but I was fucking blown away.  What was cloned wasn't human DNA, but human emotion.  GERTY displayed both empathy and sympathy and then self-sacrifice when he volunteered to have his memory wiped after helping the Sams thereby possibly destroying the "person" he had become.  GERTY's actions were obviously in complete conflict with his programming demonstrating an evolution in self-consciousness and self-awareness.  (Of course here is where some computer geek would make some joke about "cloning GERTY's hard drive")

And the idea of self-consciousness is really at the centre of the mindfuckery in MOON.  I mean, if you found out tomorrow that you were a clone, that you had not been born but cloned in a laboratory somewhere, it would change virtually nothing about your existence or your identity.  Your life would still be the same.  However, if you woke up tomorrow in a laboratory with thirty years worth of memories and then told that you were a clone and there was already somebody else living the life you had memories of, you would be totally traumatized.  But there, again, your identity would immediately start to diverge into something unique.  Or at the very least slightly divergent.

The other thing this movie did was finally give some validity for the existence of the moon.  At least in the movie MOON the moon contained some kind of valuable mineral.  In real life the moon is fucking useless.  It's boring to look at.  It's all grey and pockmarked.  Whoopee.  It doesn't even produce its own light.  It has to rely on the sun's light, which it reflects.  But even then the moon does a half-assed job.  Most of the time it only partly reflects light so all we see is a little sliver.  And then it has the audacity to fuck up our tides and shit.  Leave our water alone you boring, grey rock!  I bet in hell all you get to look at all day is the fucking moon.     

All right, I'm done.  So in summary say "Yes" to human cloning, "No" to the moon, and "Yes" to MOON.  MOON is a great flick that showcases the amazing talents of Sam Rockwell, who is on screen for almost 100% of the film and there are very few actors working today that would actually be worth paying for that much screen time in a movie.  I give MOON an 8/10 = One Cloned Head Slowly Disintegrating And Bleeding Through Its Eye Sockets          


Post a Comment