[Commentary] | [Spoilers]
“New Earth,” the first episode of the second series of the relaunched Doctor Who, was the last place I expected to see a rant against cloning, life extension, and transhumanism. In the new episode, written by Russell T. Davies, [spoiler alert] a race of feline nurses in the distant future has secretly grown and experimented on human clones to learn how to cure all diseases. By the end of the episode, the Doctor has expressed his outrage, freed all of the imprisoned clones, and convinced a grotesque transhuman enemy that she must give up her pursuit of beauty and life extension and instead die like she is suppose to [end spoiler].
Clearly, popular fiction is the last place I should expect a thoughtful exploration of issues. Why popular fiction continues to depict scientists and transhumanists as villains and progress as “yucky” is unclear, but it is unfortunate that these fallacies also continue to play such a huge role in the ongoing debates over stem cell research, nanotechnology, life extension, cryonics, etc. Like Davies, critics create from their incorrect notions frightening futures of science gone awry to scare people into resisting new technologies.
It can easily be shown that these futures are simply not possible. For example, progress in stem cell research, organ tissue engineering, and artificial organ replacements have already rendered obsolete the human clone slaughterhouses envisioned by Davies and other critics. Why feed, store, clean, and otherwise maintain human clones when you can just grow or replace the required organs more cheaply and in much less time? Human clone farms, clone armies, clone basketball teams and all the other nonsense proposed as reasons for banning human cloning are neither economically feasible nor worthwhile to even the most despicable villain.
Science fiction has always been important for exploring the events and issues of the times. What we need are new archetypes that live within future worlds extrapolated from our own reality. Prose continues to offer just such fiction. I wonder if and television and movies will catch up.