Interview: Genealogy and the 21st Century With Prof. S. Tuomioja
Genealogy and the 21st Century With Prof. S. Tuomioja
This article takes a look at the history of the public discourse of the 21st century, before The Second Enlightenment, which paved the way for the formation of many major global companies like FinnChoice Inc. Thanks to many visionary scientists, researchers and philosophers of the past, FinnChoice was able to fulfill its potential as the citizens of the Western countries were able to overcome their prejudices and conservativeness which still was a deeply ingrained cultural imperative in the Western countries before The Second Enlightenment. The best available technology is not of much use unless people’s superstitious and religious suspicions are completely obliterated. For us today, it has become difficult to imagine the extent of opposition to germinal choice technology, even decades ago when the technology was just at its infant state.
It's hard to imagine a better person than Prof. Jorma S. Tuomioja to enlighten us about these matters. Prof. Tuomioja is a distinguished professor and chairman in the Department of Philosophy, History and Culture at the University of Helsinki. He also is chairman in the Department of Philosophy at Northeastern University in Boston, U.S.A, and director for Utilitarian Bioethics, a think tank project initiated by International Society for Utilitarian Studies. In his personal life, Prof. Tuomioja likes to play sports, travel and spend time with his family.
Please tell us a little bit about your work regarding the history of genetics. What kind of research were you involved in and how did you approach the research questions?
As an undergraduate student at the University of Helsinki, I was part of a rather small group of students who was interested in genealogy, which is a historical technique in which one questions the commonly understood emergence of various social beliefs by attempting to account for the scope of ideology within the time period in question. At the time it was somewhat rebellious way to work with, because genealogy was usually associated with debunked, old-fashioned ideas of the human dignity. At the time some still believed that human dignity is a value that cannot be compromised, not even when it is in direct conflict with the freedom of choice. This of course was already changing at the time, but it was still a sort of hot potato. That is why the professors of the university were also suspicious about the group I was part with. They definitely wouldn't give unreserved support if they knew what we were doing, but we managed to avoid too much attention. This was due to the fact our group wasn't like most of the students who had interest in genealogy. As strange as it may sound today, back then 'the social critics', students with old-fashioned humanist ideals were quite numbered and in fact, my group was much smaller than their anti-progressive reading groups of 'the critics', like we used to call them. Later at the end of the 2030’s, they faced a sort of academic humiliation as they were relocated to the Art and Literature department. Or at least few were, many of them didn't agree with the relocation and left the university. It was a time of unrest, all the same happening at universities across the Western countries.
Eventually this led to the examination of our group as well: the professors wanted to know why we also 'wasted time with such nonsense'. At some point we called ourselves jokingly as 'erklärens', derived from a German phrase 'Bitte erklären Sie das', referring to our goal to explain the moral evolution of the West. At some point the joke reached the professors and it actually helped us to explain them our motive thoroughly. Unlike us, 'the critics' used Foucault’s work to question the progress itself, performing some kind of ideological autopsy. As we know, that isn’t scientifically justified, and there is no room for any kind of neo-luddism in the world of science. We, 'erklärens', were the only ones who were able defend the use of genealogy and explain its scientific value. I’ll save you from the boring details, but the main difference between us and "'the critics' was our focus on Nietzsche’s work on genealogy instead of Foucault’s, as we explained why we have reached The Second Enlightenment now when we did, and why the people in the West weren’t able to embrace it before. We didn’t speculate how things ”should be” and what’s supposedly wrong with the system, and we acknowledged that The Second Enlightenment was absolutely necessary for the mankind.
In a recent interview Professor Maria Dugunya harshly criticized the people of the time. She used a word ”bone-headedness”, meaning that the people were plagued by irrational biases and blinded by sheer ignorance of critical facts. What do you think about this? To say the least it’s not called as The Age of Hypocrisy for nothing, right?
I can’t say that I agree with all the current scientists on this and have more moderate opinion than Dugunya and some other darwinists. In my opinion it’s wrong to judge the people of The Age of Hypocrisy, because they didn’t know much anything else as the society was just in the process to step to the new era. In some extent we all are affected by the Zeitgest of our time. It’s now easy to think many social and technological achievements as obvious, take them granted, even though many of us would not be so open to them if they were born in the earlier decades. In other words, people weren’t opposing the progress because they’re some way evil or stupid, but because they didn’t know anything better and even the media encouraged them to be suspicious about all the new advancements in technology. In my opinion some scients like Dugunya don’t take into account enough this and also blame too much the propaganda of the individual rights groups. It’s true they were a favorite of media at some point, making media present the issue in their favor, but it was complicated. It’s problematic to concentrate on them because they had limited power and resources even back then, and by giving them the main blame paradoxically gives them much more bigger role in the history than they really deserve. Of course they got some decent amount of coverage in the Western media, gaining some sympathy from a common man, but their message was already getting weaker for reasons they had nothing to do with. And there was also numerous media coverages playing against their message, slowly but steadily changing the public opinion.
Do you refer to the Hodenberg Scandal?
Yes and no. The scandal was unfortunate when we think of how it made The Lancet look unreliable, which of course affected on the public opinion of the modern medicine. Nothing so bad, as not to be good for something: the scandal was tremendous help for people to be more outspoken for their wish for a normal child. Before the scandal it was politically incorrect to admit that you wish for a straight child, want a normal child who will have normal heterosexual family and you will be normal grandparents for their children. It was important change because it cleared air, made possible to talk openly of your wishes and dreams. Technology for screening sexual anomalies was already quite developed at the time, but the society wasn't yet ready to accept use of it. The scandal was in a key role in the Western countries to increase the freedom of choice. Technology cannot help us if we have conservative preoccupations for using it. We were dancing too much to the tune of the individual rights groups and that is something I can agree with Dugunya and others with similar notions.
That was my 'yes', now I'll explain my 'no'. Without any undervaluation of the Hodenberg Scandal, I think that alone wouldn't be enough to put us on the path of progress. The scandal happened at the right time. If it had been even 10 years before it wouldn't change much of anything. Tide had already turned when happened because not all the people were stupid or ignorant as Dugunya thinks. Many citizens of the West were waiting for the right moment to speak up and to them the scandal was a great summon, sign yelling out loud 'now'. The change was already bubbling under for many reasons, one of the greatest definitely being the downfall of the religious institutions. The Western man was going through his unfortunate but yet necessary growing pains, just getting to realize the fact Santa Claus does not exist. Which naturally means we have to take his place. Just like the famous Finnish geneticist Melvin Strömberg said in the 2030's, 'The new man no longer yield, nor conform to the violence of the nature. With the help of technology the new man gets what he wants whenever he wants.' The mankind was in the process of accepting the true nature of the world, determinism and eliminative materialism, the objective science of reason. Which indeed – as Strömberg noted – is the progress we must embrace. Very few philosophers of the Age of Hypocrisy were able understand the progress before the Second Enlightenment finally occurred. One of them was Julian Savulescu, and I am sure Dugunya mentioned him, didn't she?
Yes she did. She praised him as the most important scientst of the 2020s and highlighted how he was among the first who said it is a moral obligation to enhance ourselves. Do you agree with this?
Absolutely. For some years there have been an inside-joke circulating among the Western philosophers regarding the moral obligation. The joke is that if there wouldn't have been the Great Consensus in the 2030s, the governments of the West should have ignored the freedom of choice and make citizens of the West accept the germinal choice technology via direct biopower, indoctrinating people with the state-of-the-art genetics, with compulsory genetic alteration. This sort of humor may be a bit too grim for some, but for us, the Western philosophers, it sums up pretty well one of the main paradoxes of the issue, and particularly the Zeitgeist before the Second Enlightenment. When I was still young student, people wouldn’t understand this joke, at least they wouldn't laugh for it. Humor and how it changes over time is a good indicator of cultural change. The fact we laugh at this tells how the world has changed, from those uneasy times for much much better.
There's a grain of truth in every joke and this joke is no exception. The freedom of choice comes with a price: if people aren't responsible enough they aren't worth of the freedom. I understand the freedom of choice is the most important single value in the Western world and from that perspective, such compulsory genetic overwrite to accept the progress is problematic. However, the history of mankind provides many examples of reasonable, easily justified limitations to individual rights and especially more subtle influences by the government. People can choose, but the authorities use their power to limit available options for the greater good. Long ago safety-belts in cars were optional and very few used them on their own volition. Because the belts protect the people, which is very important particularly for children, such negligence was outlawed, as the use of safety-belts was made punishable. People weren't responsible enough to use the belts without the law, which made the law in the first place necessary, as unfortunate as it may be. The germinal choice technology works just like the safety-belts, it protects our children from disabilities, deformities and abnormalities. But I am glad that the mankind matured and reached The Great Concensus, something we didn't couldn't reach previously with the case of safety-belts. And this is why scenario of the joke never happened.
According to Prof. Dugunya it is immoral not to enhance ourselves, abstain from using the services of FinnChoice, for instance. Isn’t that a little dubious if we praise the right to choose when there is clearly one right choice available?
Dugunya is more fundamental on this. I wouldn't say it is immoral not to enhance ourselves, although it could be immoral to promote that kind of conservativeness, creating social pressure to such abstinence. It is highly unwise not to use all the available technology to make our children the best versions of ourselves, enhanced and the best in every possible way. Still, there may be ability to choose 'wrong' only because very few actually do it. Our society and the mankind can take it only if a small percentage of the population choose 'wrong', as long as the majority understand clearly what is the right thing to do. This is what the Great Consensus was all about. It was time of unrest and cultural change, leading to the decisive point where we, as the citizens of the West, had to make this critical choice. This was happening in the 2030’s, in the beginning my academic career.
If I remember right, this cultural evolution has been one of the most important subjects of your research?
Yes, indeed. My research is based on both history and social science; the development of the Western culture is seen as a sociocultural evolution where society is evolving to toward the final form of human government. Much of this method is coming from Francis Fukuyama, an American political scientist, who’s influential book was published over 60 years ago in the 90’s. Like many philosophers of the time, their methods were great and they can be put in a good use even nowadays, but unfortunately the same cannot be said for their ability to foresee the future. The use of germinal choice technology (or ”neo-eugenics”, as it was called at the time) was often depicted as a cautionary tale, instead of a positive, promising progress, the blessing it has ultimately been for us. Fukuyama was also very conservative in this and even promoted complete banning of human cloning in the 2000’s. He also made a mistake by claiming the liberal democracy (along with free market capitalism) of the West of the early 2000’s to be the final form of humanity’s sociocultural evolution. As we all now know, our current society with the absolute freedom of choice and the harm principle is the final stage of the evolution. That being said, I still appreciate the way Fukuyama worked, his tools and methods, even though his conclusions were mostly erroneous. The same applies to many others as well. I am a great admirer of Georg Henrik von Wright’s work on deontic logic, although I cannot say the same on his pessimistic views on technological progress.
Georg Henrik von Wright was also a Finnish, am I right?
Yes he was. His name wasn’t typical for a Finn though, unlike mine which is very typical for a Finnish man. Wright was quite known philosopher about 50 years ago, but his negative stance on the progress got him associated with 'the critics', putting him to the 'persona non grata'-list in the academic world. I’m quite surprised you knew him to be Finnish, because especially the Finns tend to avoid revealing his true nationality for the previous reasons. And in the academic circles in general its unwritten rule to avoid talking too much of these black list people who were opposed the progress we all have learn to appreciate. Less we give them exposure, less they inspire people in the wrong way.
I asked you about von Wright because of exceptional journey I had six months ago. I travelled to Tunis for The NewSpeak magazine; they wanted me to interview the poster boy of the 'Tunis school', the leader of the bio-luddite J.J. Wyznok. On the interview he talked a lot about von Wright and noted how ironic it is that he was Finnish, from the same country that later becomes the world leader in the germinal choice technology.
I can imagine why von Wright inspires him. The whole school of Tunis has anchored itself to the past. They can’t comprehend the blessing the progress. Just like all men and women of logic and reason, I understand why his band of old-skool indeterminists were driven away from Europe in 2040s. Apart from the harm principle and freedom of choice, relativistic view of the world is now scientifically proved fact. It’s impossible to go around it any more you can question the theory of relativity. If you try to build a career in philosophy, you cannot build it on such sand in the West. You are either part of the progress or against it – there is no middle ground on this. Of course you are free to exercise your 'philosophy' anywhere else, like in Tunis if you wish. Just don't expect any scientific credibility in the West. This is why I am not very interested in what Wyzkov says. He is not a real scientist. Generally NewSpeak has a good and honorable reputation, but interviewing Wyzkov may have been a minor mistake, unless the magazine intends to revise its style by moving towards tabloid and gossip journalism.
Yes, he is a controversial person. I still wonder if you can find a slight bit you agree with him. You have found something to agree with from almost everyone, so is Wyznok an exception from that?
No he isn't. You probably can't find a person I would disagree with 100%. Just like Fukuyama, many have right observations even though they are drawing the wrong conclusions. Wyznok is right when he refers to Maxwell J. Mehlman who argued that it is serious ethical problem if there is unequal access to germinal choice technology. This was problem decades ago when the technology was still very expensive and the governments of the Western countries weren't able to provide the service free for all. This genobility problem is practically solved in the Western countries, so he is a digging a compost when he tries to use previous, already solved problems to make the current situation look worse than it really is.The technology is developed by high-tech companies like FinnChoice for sure, but the governments are the clients. Rest of the world is cathing up: new countries are providing the services for their citizens in Latin America, Africa and Asia. You can't fight the progress any better Don Quixote were able to tilt the windmills.
It was pleasure to meet you Prof. Tuomioja. Thank you for your time!
My pleasure. Be seeing you!
The artice is part of the anniversary articles published within the celebration of the successful 30 years of Finnchoice Inc. At the moment article is only available in English. Translations in other languages will follow soon.