Sunday, June 26, 2016

On Faith, Brexit and Designer Babies

Last week was awful in terms of the news: conflict, conflict everywhere and not a drop of light at the end of the tunnel.  As if mass shootings, terror attacks and wars were not enough, politicians are clashing on every single issue and the general public picks up the cue. The Brits are still fighting over whether they should stay in the EU or not, the young now claiming their long life ahead was determined by geezers with one leg in the grave. Amid all the mayhem reports, a refreshing headline grabbed my attention the other day: "Baby-making could jump from the bedroom to the lab." Wow!

I've heard of genetic modification and tampering with embryos to create a baby with desired traits. But this is not about harvesting eggs and working on them, it is about creating a baby from any cell in the body; a skin cell for example. In the near future, according to the report, cells will be turned into eggs and sperm in a lab to produce hundreds of embryos. Those will be tested to see what genetic traits they carry, and parents will be able to choose which one they want hatched into a baby. People who otherwise could not have their own children will be able to have them made from non-reproductive cells. From the multitude of embryos they will also be able to pick the ones that do not carry a hereditary disease. And if they have a lot of money to spend they can have the embryo further engineered to produce a baby with the desired eye and hair color, the size of the nose, the height, etc.

These days, children who get stuck with silly names chosen by their parents, like North West or Apple and Pear, can change them when they grow up. Altering one's physical and character traits may be a little harder. Still, in the future, we may have more Caitlyn Jenners. Gone are the days when the family awaited the arrival of a baby with baited breath to see if it is a girl or a boy. There will be no surprises - pleasant or otherwise - any more.

Whoa!  I got carried away.  For a moment I forgot my own video packages on drought and famine in sub-Saharan Africa. More than 40 million people in the region face hunger and even a larger number in India. A family moving from the parched Somaliland into the scorched parts of Ethiopia in search of food and water will be happy if the child is delivered alive, forget the hair color.

Then there is faith. A person who believes that a reward for killing in the name of God secures a place in heaven, with charming maidens serving refreshments  (as allegedly the Orlando shooter believed), is hardly likely to believe in creative baby making. Such a person is killing and ready to be killed to return things to what he imagines they may have been in some other time and place.

I am reading a book about Dracula - the real one, not the Hollywood creation. A fascinating and repulsive character at the same time: overly fond of impaling even for his own era, he also seems to have engaged in cutting off noses, ears, heads, women's breasts and genitals. It was said that Vlad III, nicknamed the Impaler, sometimes had children boiled in hot oil and made parents eat them, and did other stuff too gruesome to mention. But as we know, similar things happened during the war in the Balkans just a couple of decades ago, and are still happening at the hands of Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria.

We live in a world in which technology and innovation are literally skyrocketing, but too many people still face  hunger.  There is poverty in the United States, "the richest country in the world." More than 45 million people worldwide live in "modern" slavery. Globalization was supposed to even out some of the differences and bring people closer together, but appears to have created an even wider abyss between fellow human beings - a chasm not different from the one separating the medieval Wallachian prince and his brother Radu the Handsome, a favorite of Sultan Mehmed II.  The brothers fought each other, one with atrocities, the other with Turkish support.

Those caught in the middle of the tensions are confused and angry.  Sometimes they feel helpless, like the young Brits who say that the elderly imposed an unwanted future on them. Other times they arm themselves with assaults weapons, like some Americans.  Readers' comments to media articles on any topic reek of racism, misogyny and hatred. Culture is no exception. Just check YouTube video clips from operas. If you happen to like a singer or performance someone else dislikes, you better keep your opinion to yourself unless you have high tolerance for insults.

So commentators, professional or amateurish, who hasten to praise the Brexit as a "momentous event" akin to the fall of the Berlin Wall, those who predict that other EU countries will follow suit, and those who hope that the U.S. under Donald Trump will close its borders, are missing the point. Britain was split almost in half on the remain-leave referendum and it seems that some members of the "winning" camp got cold feet the very morning after the victory.  More than a million are now demanding a second referendum. Whichever way the vote might have gone, it would not have reduced the tensions in Britain. Neither will the country fall to pieces because it stepped out of the bloc. "Nigdar ni bilo da ni nekak bilo" an old Croatian wisdom goes.

In the 1960s, the slogan "Make Love, Not War" began its tour around the world, and the Hippy era saw the Westerners enthralled with oriental culture and spirituality. The commercialization of yoga and meditation in the West is a lasting reminder of that time. The world "love" has disappeared from the intercultural discourse. Today, we are talking of "tolerance" and we are protesting "against hatred" at best. Some of the most religious of us believe that a faith can be "defended" by war and isolation, and that love has nothing to do with it. I am no proponent of a return to any "glorious" era of the past, but I do hope that a future generation of the "Brave New World," the one that will create babies in the lab, comes up with a new make-love movement, one less steeped in drugs and more in sharing.

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