Review of "Our Posthuman Future"

      "Our Posthuman Future"

      by Francis Fukuyama

      Farrar, Strauss & Giroux

      218 pp. $25.00



Review by Li Pushkin




Transposing the Darwinian figurations of evolution into the dynamic simplicity of an ideogram we find a man hanging from a tree: his eyes dark as the abyss he battled and then became. Dead branches arc downward diverging from ones plunging upward while fruit gleams over Man's head in altitudes inhabitable only by the Phoenix, and a gnarled trunk split by lightning diverges into roots that strangle each other between the dance of worms.


We would not find this ideogram in documents laying out the fundamentals of civilizations, such as ancient China's Analects, or the U.S Constitution. Yet this dry, rigid Darwinian tree of power and death remains the configuration where Francis Fukuyama tries to weave the shining but fragile threads of human reason and dignity, as the tightly closed bud of what he calls our posthuman future stirs in the winds made by the voices debating the threats and benevolent potentials of biotechnology.


If only Mr. Fukuyama, whose observations, informed by Aldous Huxley's foresight and Friedrich Nietzche's incediary penetrations into oblivion and beatitude, went a few steps further, his concern that biotechnology might cause us to loose our humanity would stand on more than just sand, and his proscriptions for order and sanity, in his lexicon, regulation, would be less breakable.


Charles Darwin's bones are dust, and his evolutionary tree was smashed by bombs falling from the stratosphere in WW1 and then obliterated by the atomic bomb in the following war. It is in the branches of a new but ancient evolutionary tree, planted from the very beginning of Man, and hidden until paleontologists Julian Huxley (brother of Aldous), and Teilhard de Chardin uncovered its thriving roots amidst bones in Africa and skulls in China, that we ascend from our atomization, fragmentation, and brokenness to find the point of convergence not only in humankind, but also in the diaphaneities of life and the cosmos. This evolution, in contrast to Darwin's understandably destroying and destructible one, is not a divergent process based on chance, competition, and selection: power and death, but is a ceaselessly creative convergence of life on every layer, from the cell to the lotus to the lion, finding its apex in the complexities of human beings and their societies where ultra-differentiation and ultra-union happen at the same time. Teilhard had a word for that: love, and the human presence on account of that extends into the most cosmic contours.


Fukuyama is not blind to the limitless creativity behind the currents of convergence, he sees "a broader convergence toward liberal democracy around the globe," and that the "important reason for worldwide convergence...had to do with the tenacity of human nature." His perception however, is too myopic to develop the valuable insight we need because he is peering through the one dimensional lens of the state, which makes his idea of human nature: "the sum of the behavior and characteristics that are typical of the human species" inadequate in that it is limited to what is quantifiable, and incomplete because the state is only one of the three dimensions of civilization.


History, or in Fukuyama's terms, progress, cannot be seen as a linear process of competition inciting innovation under the eyes and in the guiding hands of the state. We know in our globalizing world that history is nonlinear and reflexive. There are no such things as straight lines on this earth simply because it is a sphere and with the presence of human consciousness the earth is a planet that watches itself. This is not to say that he is oblivious to the other two dimensions of civilization, whose intercommunication and interaction with the state integral to the balances of chance and choice, and to the undeniable triumph of freedom over slavery. Fukuyama appears to be aware that "human reason, language, moral choice, and emotions are capable of producing human politics, art, and religion," that these "key qualities:" the state, culture, and religion, "that contribute to human dignity," cannot exist in imbalance or with the absence of the others. He says, "it is only theology, philosophy and politics that can establish the ends of science and technology" and determine whether those ends are good or bad, but the spirit, reason, and what they touch (religion, culture, and the state) need to be in constant dialogue with each other. "The traditional tools of diplomacy: rhetoric, persuasion, economic and political leverage" alone are dangerously inadequate and have been and will be counterproductive if it is the dominant means to handle the delicate innovations that could amplify or degrade out humanity, which is something we can define at times but at times is beautifully unutterable.


Everyone on every echelon of the world community would agree that "we need institutions with real enforcement powers" amid the tectonic shifts in our human experience in the advent of biotechnology's potentialities, but the only way those institutions can withstand those shifts without collapsing is through transparency and communication. The "hierarchical pyramid" becomes a trapezoid, changing again into a rectangle, but slowly taking the shape of what we've always known the human path and tribe to be: a circle.


Our circular legacy on earth as human beings, exhilarating to us with its hints of infinitude, can easily be eclipsed by the original darkness from which it emerged. Nietzsche's superman, who can be seen in the distance now swinging on the ghost of Darwin's evolutionary tree, could very well be an awesome ape more powerful in mind and body than any of his human engineers, but he has ceased to be human. We have not yet ceased to be human, which leaves open the possibility, perhaps even the path of our destiny, to be completely human, but this cannot be done within the perishable and perilous grounds of competition, profit, or power. We are fortunate to have seen Man's heights and depths, and for-see even greater ones. But with our capabilities to see infinity within and infinity without, there must by humility, even love.


Francis Fukuyama mentions the word love only twice, maybe three times in his book. Perhaps in his next book he will address love.