ON NOVEMBER 29, the Japanese government's council for science and technology policy announced that Japan would allow human cells to be implanted into fertilized animal eggs for research purposes. Our old nightmares had it wrong. This is really how the apocalypse begins: with a minor announcement at a sparsely attended press conference.
Think now: The mixture of humans and animals lies within our reach. Within a reasonable amount of time we will be able to reach down the evolutionary tree and grab some features we missed along the way: wings and gills, webbed feet and tusks, a gorilla's strength and an elephant's longevity. Meanwhile, we can nudge a few species up the tree a step or two, creating humanized pigs and monkeys.
And what we will do with our pig-boys and monkey-girls once we have them? There has been some suggestion from researchers that the purpose in designing human-animal hybrids is to build a new race of subhuman creatures for scientific and medical use. Since the creatures will be partially inhuman, laws against the use of people as research subjects would not apply. But since they will also be partially human, they can be living meat-lockers for transplantable organs and tissue.
Then, too, there has been some suggestion that the researchers' purpose is to elevate humanity. If we can overcome the genetic barriers that once prevented cross-breeding, we can design much better beings--a new race with perfections that mere humans lack: increased strength, enhanced beauty, extended range of life, immunity from disease.
I can't see, however, that it makes much difference whether biotechnicians--in Japan and elsewhere--want to create subhumans or superhumans. Either they want to make a race of slaves, or they want to make a race of masters. Either way, it means the end of our humanity.
Words sufficient to describe this nightmare hardly exist outside the Book of Revelation. The people who desire to warp human beings in this way are mad with their newfound power over the stuff of life. They want to be machines or gods, stones or trees, angels or beasts--anything except human beings. They have rebelled against the messiness and sloppiness of life. They demand a world that is clean and neat and painless. They would shave the globe like a billiard ball, if they thought its sterility would render them immortal. They have seized upon the plasticity of life to remodel the universe, imagining that they will get right this time what God got wrong the time before.
It's worth remembering that in "Paradise Lost" Milton tells the story of the rebel angels who in their all-consuming pride similarly believed that they could build a better world. What they ended up with was instead "a universe of death," filled with "Perverse, all monstrous, all prodigious things, / Abominable, inutterable, and worse / Than fables yet have feign'd, or fear conceiv'd, / Gorgons and hydras, and chimeras dire."
But one doubts that biotechnicians think they have anything to learn from Milton these days. Pity the poor pig-boys and monkey-girls. Pity us, as well.
J. Bottum is Books & Arts editor of The Weekly Standard and author of the new collection "The Fall and Other Poems" (St. Augustine's).