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over-priced musings

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Don Pflaster

Neat Ideas

Technology is really, really neat. I love to gaze upon thousands of photographs of nearby celestial objects magnified hundreds of thousands of times, and using our scientific findings to discover more about our origins. I love looking at the shape of viruses as captured by scanning electron microscopes, which give us invaluable insight into the afflictions that make our otherwise peachy-keen lives miserable. I love to watch from afar as countless scientists poke and prod into the ever-dark chasms of the undiscovered, bringing otherwise obscure, hidden clues into the light and making the mystery of us a little less frightening.

With every scientific discovery, however, dark agendas, which aren't always apparent even to the perpetrator, tend to mold and shape new discoveries to fit their purposes. The science of ballistics, for instance, has greatly shaped many of the games we enjoy (baseball, golf, football,) but has also spawned the catapult, the turrets of tanks, and the paths of intercontinental missiles. The science of physiology has allowed us to treat diseases and extend our lives, but has also led to the development of mustard gas and neutron bombs. The science of flight has made human beings into vaporous superbeings, screaming across the skies 120 times faster than we were ever able to move on two feet, but has also created a new deadly rain of death from the air a la bombers.

Deoxyribonucleic Acid (DNA) is among the most fascinating of discoveries, a solid reminder that life is far more complex than we will ever hope to fully understand, and that everything we are is coded in trillions of chemical switches. It is a truly compelling fact and one worth studying extensively -- a far cry from the unenlightened times where people believed that the body was composed only of four key fluids: blood, saliva, mucous, and bile.

"Ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you mad," Aldous Huxley once said. The human race has plodded on with its trials and great wars for thousands of years, visions and dreams of the few noble persons and many profiteers slowly propelling us upward and forward just fast enough to escape the downward pull of our scapegraces.

We are at a crossroads with our understanding of DNA, which is still, thankfully, in its infancy. This particular discovery scares the living bejesus out of me, partly because of our track record of using technology against ourselves, but mostly because there don't seem to be a great number of others whose bejesuses have been scared out of them. Perhaps the technologies are emerging too slowly, too quietly, and too insidiously to be noticed, or maybe the majority of people are too busy bitching about their cul-de-sac jobs or trying to get laid to care.

Maybe I'm a cynical prick, but the consumer product goods industry managed to slip the goddamned barcode underneath everyone's nose pretty effortlessly. It seems our culture is more concerned with being safe and saving time than actually bothering to stop to watch our humanity slip away in increments, replaced by numbers and codes. There's a more frightening prospect to which I've subscribed for a few years: that our overly ambitious businessmen and coercive politicians, the holders of power, are locked in an inescapable pattern of making decisions off the cuff to make life seemingly more efficient and safe. There isn't a damned thing we can do for ourselves when manipulative power grabbers and pocket-lined capitalists are doing the work that should be done by philosophers.

DNA recognition technology is a coming reality. There are already vast criminal DNA databases in operation by the federal government. Popular Science just ran a cover story about a new gadget that will help police to identify DNA out in the field without bringing samples back to a lab. Also according to Popular Science, and much to my shock, New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, when asked specifically about it, said he would support the collection of DNA from all Big Apple newborns.

It's understandable, I suppose ... after all, what do law-abiding citizens stand to lose if they have nothing to hide, right?

That argument infuriates me to no end. Nobody has that sort of blind, complete and total adherence to the law. I'm willing to bet that there isn't a single person in this country that agrees with every law in existence. Everybody would break a law under the right circumstances; there are no innocent victims. I don't want to live in a police state where there is no adventure, no danger, just a cowering populace watching fucking sports, afraid to even leave the house for fear of a DNA sensor clocking you at one mile over the speed limit.

I will admit that DNA testing has been useful in cases of rape, and many a rape victim who has found justice is highly in favor of collecting DNA from criminals. What is that old saying? The definition of a conservative is a liberal who's been mugged? Something like that applies here.

But come on, kids. Isn't it just downright creepy that someday you may be judged, tracked, identified with pinpoint accuracy based on your DNA signature? It sends shivers down my spine to see technology gone berserk, and new ways of doing things that we just didn't really ask for in the first place. Why can't this tide be reversed with a healthy dose of liberty? Why must we live in perpetual fear of the future?

Fear spawns fear, and more fear, but the only thing we really have to fear, contrary to what FDR might have said, is ourselves. In the words of Willy Wonka, "We are the music makers, and we are the dreamers of dreams." We are the ones who make things happen. Our collective finger is on the button, and our collective fingers are on the triggers. But our fingers are also on the strings of guitars, on the implements of farmers, on the tools of constructive exploits, and interlaced with the fingers of our brethren.

We have the choice, as we always have, and we've chosen to shit on things, so now the future is an unpaved path through murky meadowlands. Perhaps the Age of Aquarius will save us all, but the smart money is on human beings leaving DNA for the scientists to study, and leaving some of the mystery of the human race well enough alone for the rest of us.

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