Enough: Staying Human in an Engineered Age
by Bill McKibben
Times Books, 271 pp., $25.00
Enough, by Bill McKibben, is a passionate, succinct, chilling, closely argued, sometimes hilarious, touchingly well-intentioned, and essential summary of the future proposed by “science” for the human race. This is the same Bill McKibben who wrote The End of Nature, about how Homo sapiens has been rearranging the biosphere with the aid of genetically modified plants to suit what it believes is its own interests, and Long Distance, about running marathons, as well as essays for The New Yorker, The New York Times, The New York Review, The Atlantic, and others.
Bill McKibben appears to be a smart and thoughtful person, but also kindly and optimistic, as far as can be told from his prose. He likes going for walks in the woods, and he seems very fit, and his jacket photo looks like someone you wouldn’t want playing against you at bridge because he’d already know what you had in your hand. In other words, he could qualify for membership in a muscular branch of upper-level-IQ geekhood, and cannot be simply dismissed as a dull-normal Luddite too dumb to understand the nifty customized body-and-brain parts soon to be on offer to you and yours.
On offer for a price, of course. Ah yes, the price. The traditional fee for this kind of thing was your soul, but who pays any attention to that tattered theological rag anymore, since it can’t be located with a brain probe? And hey, the Special Deal is a super package! How could you refuse? It contains so much that human dreams are made of.
Faust wanted the same sort of stuff. Many have wanted it: eternal youth, godlike beauty, hyperintelligence, Charles Atlas strength. Those of us brought up on the back pages of comic books know the appeal. They’ll never laugh again when you sit down at the piano because now you’ll have X-Men fingers and Mozart’s genius; they won’t dare to kick sand in your face at the beach because you’ll be built like Hercules; you’ll never again be refused a date because of your ugly blackheads, which will have been banished, along with many another feature you could do without. Turning to more adult concerns such as death, you won’t have to invest in a cement coffin container, because not only will your loved one be safe tonight, he or she will still be alive, and forever! And so will you.
The line forms to the right, and it’ll be a long one. (Enough mentions a couple of California artists who set up a piece of conceptual art in the form of a boutique called Gene Genies Worldwide, with printed brochures illustrating what you could buy, and were deluged with serious inquiries.) Anyone who thinks there won’t be a demand for what’s putatively on sale is hallucinating. But along comes Bill McKibben with his sidewalk-preacher’s sandwich board, denouncing the whole enterprise and prophesying doom. There will be catcalls …