Once Upon A Wolvog

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Crake’s Eugenics: An informative story or a frightening truth?

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When I first read Margaret Atwood’s Oryx and Crake I did not quite grasp every concept and detail Atwood so carefully included. It was only once we started analyzing it in class that everything sort of fell into place. I finally understood how the Crakers were made and became aware of all the reasons as to why they were created in such a manner. It made me think of a concept I had learned in high school, but I could not remember the word for it. I couldn’t recall the concept and it took a few days before it finally came back to me: eugenics. Atwood’s post-apocalyptic novel reflects the basic goal of eugenics as well as its modern-day implications.

The term “eugenics” is of Greek origin, meaning “well-born”, and was established by Francis Galton, Charles Darwin’s half-cousin. Created in the late nineteenth century, eugenics had the goal of improving the human race by making it smarter, healthier and more resilient. This improvement was hoped to be accomplished through positive eugenics, which promoted procreation amongst fit people, and negative eugenics, which prevented those who had either physical or mental restrictions from reproducing (Norrgard).

eugenics

Yes, basic eugenics were first developed two centuries ago, but scientists are still actively working on this concept. Technology has allowed this field of science to evolve and has even led to the idea of “designer babies”, which can be described as the eugenics of today. In 2001, Wired Magazine stated that “researchers ha[d] genetically-altered humans for the first time” and that “experts question[ed] the moral implications of tinkering with the unborn” (Taylor). The short video below quickly explains the process of modifying genes and mentions the controversy in its regards.

As I further analyzed Atwood’s novel and I read through its pages a second time, I realized the Crakers stem from the concept of eugenics. Crake wanted to get rid of all the disadvantages of human genetics and alter the genes so that only the efficient, necessary, and useful characteristics remain. He tells Jimmy he “had to alter ordinary human embryos” and that once the research goes public and becomes a market, “they’d be able to create totally chosen babies that would incorporate any feature, physical or mental or spiritual, that the buyer might wish to select” (303-4). This definitely resembles the concept of designer babies.

And even more interesting is the fact that Atwood’s novel was published only two years after the first modification of human genes was reported. Perhaps Atwood recognized and acknowledged how alarming modern-day eugenics are and chose to include it in her writing to illustrate its serious implications? Could it be that Crake’s innovative idea of eliminating genetic traits was a simple and clever medium to demonstrate the impressive yet disturbing things we are becoming capable of doing in our world? Is the issue coming from the evolution of technology or from the way we use this technology?  After reading the first novel of her MaddAddam Trilogy, I am finding myself wondering whether Atwood’s goal is to inform of to frighten…

2014 Harvard Arts Medal Ceremony

CAMBRIDGE, MA – MAY 01: Canadian Author Margaret Atwood receives the 2014 Harvard Arts Medal at Harvard University on May 1, 2014 in Cambridge, Massachusetts. (Photo by Paul Marotta/Getty Images)

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2 thoughts on “Crake’s Eugenics: An informative story or a frightening truth?

  1. I love that you included a video from The School of Life in your post! I totally love them. Maybe it’s because I’m an art student and I’m totally worried about the future and how the heck I’m going to find a good job in my field, but you caught my eye!
    The topic of Eugenics is super interesting to me, but more on paper. Maybe I’m just a scaredy-cat when it comes to new technology, but when humans start to go against Nature – and that can go hand in hand with taking-the-easy-way-out, that always sort of makes me uneasy. We’ve already done a lot of messing around with Nature, and starting to create ‘designer babies’, is another step in that direction.
    First of all, I don’t even think people know how to raise regular babies most of the time. Of course, there is no one right way. So making your babies genetically modified, exactly the way you want, could create major problems in respect to the difficulties that should be expected when it comes to raising a generation. If you pay for “natural intelligence”, it is my belief that as a parent it’s your job to help your child’s intelligence blossom by exposing it to educational material. That’s just an example.
    I think people should expect to love their children for exactly who they are, instead of paying for something they ‘want’. And instead of blaming the scientists who provided them a service, judge the way their child turns out by their ability to be a parent.

    (hopefully this is how Louise wanted us to post comments… I have no idea what I’m doing)

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  2. I can definitely see a strong correlation between the science of Eugenics and the Paradice project in the book. Personally, I do find it interesting how society is constantly searching for “perfection” in all aspects of life. Nevertheless, every human being is made to be unique. Science shows that there are no two people who are 100% identical. Further, GMOs are generally morally questioned. By adding the variable of Humans into the GMO world, the problem of ethics will grow exponentially. I do believe that Atwood is using her platform to inform her readers of current affairs that would not typically interest us.

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