A Letter to Craig V

Dear Mr. Venter,

I read today that you and your team at the Human Genome Project had successfully implanted synthetically-created DNA into a living organism (a bacterium) and got it to replicate your man-made code. That’s marvelous! The possibilities for your discovery feel fantastical, like something culled from overly optimistic science fiction. Soon we really could be cutting-and-pasting cancer-fighting genes, eliminating genes that pass on hereditary diseases, custom-designing sea organisms that eat spilled petroleum and reduce global warming. We can use our collective intelligence, embodied in you and your team, to genuinely improve the world and maybe save the human race.

Plenty of folks with plenty of agendas will cry out for a halt to this kind of tinkering. While acknowledging the “dangers” of tampering with Nature, I say tamper away. Our species has waged a constant war with Nature, imposing our inexorable will and bending Nature to our wishes. We’ve always won this game; now Nature looks to be rallying herself, employing a kind of jiu-jitsu, using our avarice, our willingness to consume our home, as the ultimate weapon. Eventually — a few hundred years; more? — She’ll put us underwater and the game will be over until something crawls out of the sea again in a few hundred million years.

Speaking on behalf of our entire species, who I do not have the time to thank individually for making me the spokesperson for 7 billion, let me congratulate you once more. You genuinely deserve to be rich and famous. Especially if you can fulfill one request: Mr. Venter, since you’re able to do all these wonderful things with DNA, I think the very best thing you could do with your knowledge is to identify the Greed gene in our DNA, the one that that makes all of us believe we’re more entitled to everything we want than anyone else. The one that compels us to accept equally billionaires and starvation, limestone mansions and cardboard shanties, vast stores of gold and vast tracts of human misery.

You could also eliminate the Intolerance gene while you’re at it.

But the Greed one is a fine place to start. When naysayers scoff, telling you that all species are greedy, that the will to live, the will for self-preservation, is inextricably bound up in this spiraling thread, please remind them that ours is the only species that has the intelligence to prevent its own demise yet consciously chooses to hasten it thanks to a genetic imperative stronger than mind-power. Our madness, our insane stampede for greater quantities of More for Few and Less for More, our strange impulse to want ever-larger populations of our kind and fewer of everything else (especially if that fish or moth or whatever stands in the way of something we want, like more pavement), is a flaw. If it is indeed a genetic one — and it’s got to be — please fix it.

Thank you, Mr. Venter. Keep doing your thing.



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