J. Craig Venter and his intelligent design of new life forms
It may have gone over the radar of most people in this exciting election season but last week the really big news was that the first intelligently designed new life form has been announced--and lest you think that I may have this from some biased organization, let me provide you with the following link:
Let's explore for a moment what the implications of this may be for the future:
1. It does not mean that life on earth as we have known it until now was in fact the product of intelligent design, but it does mean that it might have been.
2. It does not mean that whoever designed or designs or will design intelligent life is 'God' or some kind of deity. Last time I saw Dr. Venter interviewed by Charlie Rose he looked perfectly human to me.
3. It does mean that it is possible that life as we have come to know it here on this tiny planet, out of the many potentially lifebearing planets we are on the verge of discovering within the next few decades, might well have been designed by some intelligent life forms that have a slight edge over us of, let's say a few hundred, maybe a few thousand, or a few million of years.
Remember that the earliest human species, like homo rudolfensis and homo habilis came around only some 2.5 million years ago--a mere eyeblink on the cosmic scale of time: the Earth is 4.5 billion years old.
Our own semi-intelligent species of homo sapiens sapiens has only been around for a few hundred thousand years. Human Ancestors Hall: Tree
Only a few dozen thousand years ago we emerged from the shadows to leave our cultural marks on the surface of this planet. The earliest cave paintings were found in Europe, in the south of what is now France: Cave Painting
Before that our hominid ancestors only left some bones and footprints: Hominid Species . The oldest skull has been dated to a mere 6-7 million years ago, still a lot older than the famous Laetoli footprints of about 3.6 million years ago: Evolution: Library: Laetoli Footprints
4. Given our recent history, and the prognostications of both Henry Adams No. 131: Adam's Education and Ray Kurzweil KurzweilAI.net regarding the accelerating rate of new inventions that provide our species with greater power and control over our destiny, we are closing in on the point Kurzweil called The Singularity.
Hennry Adams could not predict beyound the middle of the last century (around 1960) but having gone past that point, with our greatly increased technological capacity and vision, Kurzweil has projected the date of the coming 'singularity' around 2045.
5. With these perspectives in mind, let's turn to what happened in my own life time, after the end of the Second World War, which came with two big (man-made) bangs while I was still in the Japanese camps on Java.
What happened in the fifties and sixties was of course not only the harnessing of nuclear power for civilian as well as military purposes, but also the beginning of a total transformation of our human mind. It came as a shock for our species to realize that even if we had not created ourself, we certainly had acquired the divine power to destroy ourselves: we had "become Shiva, destroyer of worlds."
That was the realization which made our generation stop and think. It may have been the impertus for what followed.
Having been a child of that post war, post colonial, post nuclear period, I remember the sixties as the time when I was in law school in Ann Arbor ('63-'66), when the Beatles came to America and both of the Kennedy brothers as well as Martin Luther King were assassinated, and when Timothy Leary told us to tune in, turn on and drop out.
The great Summer of Love in San Francisco's Haight Ashbury and New Yorks Lower East side, the Stonewall riots and the raising of Gay Consciousness, the Woodstock event and the Viet Nam War protests, the Civil Rights Movement--all gave rise of a whole new generation that was no longer predisposed to accept authority, but to question it.
Those days were perhaps the true beginnings of The New Enlightenment.
Tom Friedman facetiously asked a panelist once if he had ever seen or been involved in a revolution where there were no victims, where no one got his hands dirty, where no one suffered. He was talking about the Green Revolution. He said that so far, most people are not involved in a Green Revolution, only in a Green party, a Green fun fest.
My generation got the message, we did tune in, we did turn on and we did drop out. There were victims, it was messy, and people did suffer--and continue to suffer. But our spirit is unbroken and our joie de vivre continues, for we are beginning to see the results of what we did and the choices we made. Sometimes it takes time, sometimes it takes a generation, but the results are coming in.
I heard it this morning in the speech of Barack Obama when he said that this presidential campaign of 2008 is not about being man or woman, rich or poor, gay or straight, nor about being black or white, but that it is about the past and the future. That's the kind of change brought about by the revolionary decade of the sixties. We are finally seeing and hearing it in a presidential candidate who speaks his mind exactly the way my generation and those who came after us felt in our heart. That change was necessary, it was not going to be easy, but that the end results would be worth it. And we finally seem to have a candidate that embodies our aspirations, understands our ordeal, and wants to do what is required.
As a 66 year old gay male I found myself practically jumping up and down on my sofa, shouting with the crowd Obama addressed and close to tears when I heard him say these words, including that G-word.
I felt for the first time that I would soon no longer be an American Expatriate living in America--exiled in his own country to the back of society. Hated and despised by some, at best tolerated by others, truly accepted only by a few and appreciated by barely anyone for who I am--a human being with human rights and human aspirations.
But Barack cannot do it alone. I had been staying on the fence, because I felt that Hillary was a decent alternative, and she would be the first woman, and a good woman, to be President. But in the end, she represents the past, not the future--not because she is a woman, but because she is a Clinton--it can't be helped--there is too much baggage they carry, and too much equivocation and compromise in their suitcases. Barack represents change not because he is Black, or biracial, but because of the content of his character--and because he gets it.
The doubts they voiced about Obama, his 'lack of experience' simply are outshined by his aura, his voice, his presence--they bespeak someone that can deliver on the promises made, someone who will make the effort to deliver on his convictions, someone who transcends the gutter politics of swift boating and race baiting and gay-bashing, someone who has the intelligence and charisma and sound judgment that has been so desparately lacking in Washington. Experience ex-smearience. Barack's experience is more universal than the mere nuts and bolts of practical politics--his experience is the experience of the human heart--coupled with an unusually high level of intelligence, unhindered by ideological blinders.
The other night I was listening to Cornell West, who, like Ted, Caroline and Patrick Kennedy, John Kerry and Bill Bradley has endorsed Barack. He was not uncritical of him, which I can appreciate. But I did dissgree with Cornell on one point he made: he said that blacks unlike most whites will vote for the underdog, for those not in power, those ignored by society and by Washington.
He is wrong. The reason so many Latinos seem to have moved toward Hillary is because the Black community has been even more vociferous and nasty about the issue of undocumented aliens than most whites.
But like Leno said: you cannot accuse Hispanics in the same breath of being lazy and of stealing your jobs. Lazy people don't steal your job. Industrious people do. And they do so because their countries of origin have failed to open up opportunities for them.
They are either political or economic refugees we as Americans should not vilify, but seek to engage--in such a manner as to assist them to make appropriate amends here in this country for their illegal entry--not cast out as if they were ignoble refuse, rapaille, that word used by Sarkozy--and he had more reason to use such language during the problems in the banlieus . Sarkozy en de Banlieus [Archief] - Kif Kif Forum
It is not amnesty when they have to pay a price, or some fine, and to make some serious effort like learning how to speak English, and wait whatever time necessary to get in line behind those who did come here legally. That would be in their interest as well as ours. Plus our government ought to put a lot more pressure on Mexico to do something about that unseemly gap between the rich and the poor--although we seem to be in an increasingly difficult position to point an accusing finger, for here too that gap is growing alarmingly. Certainly the Bush administration has no standing in that regard either.
The second category of people Cornell did not think about when he said that Blacks vote for the underdog are the gay people. In this regard again, the Blacks and in particular the Black Christian community, have a record worse than the Whites--their homophobia is not only astounishingly unfair toward a group who have largely supported black civil rights, but absolutely self destructive in its myopic denial of homosexuality among the black community. They reprecent a very high percentage of the AIDS population, for instance, due directly to that betrayal of their own brothers and sisters.
At least Cornell West did endorse Barack--another member of the Black intelligentsia, from the opposite side of the country and political spectrum does not: I mean Shelby Steele of the Hoover Institution at Stanford, whom I saw interviewed by Charlie Rose a week or so ago, and then at a book discussion at Cody's in Berkeley, Shelby Steele: A Bound Man at Cody's Bookstore (Friday, January 18 ... --for Shelby, of course is a staunch conservative. Hoover Institution - Fellows - Shelby Steele
Like Barack, Shelby is a bi-racial intellectual, but unlike Barack, he is an intellectual with very little charisma--his latest book is called: A Bound Man --with the not so subtle subtitle: Excited about Obama and why he can't win.
I think Obama will make him eat that book, with gravy, for even Steele stands to gain from an Obama win.
Like OBAMA, I am fired up and ready to go!