Magazine | August 15, 2011, Issue

How Weird How Soon?

From London’s Daily Mail: “Scientists have created more than 150 human-animal hybrid embryos in British laboratories.”    

You don’t say. Now why would they do that? Don’t worry, it’s all perfectly legit, the fruits of the 2008 Human Fertilisation Embryology Act. So some scientists have successfully fertilized animal eggs with human sperm, and others have created “cybrids,” using a human nucleus implanted into an animal cell, or “chimeras,” in which human cells are mixed with animal embryos.

Writing my new book about the post-American world, I had to resist the temptation to go too far down this path. If you start off analyzing unsustainable debt-to-GDP ratios and possible downgrades of U.S. Treasury debt and suddenly lurch into disquisitions on a part-Welsh–part-meerkat chimera, the fiscal types tend to think you’ve flown the coop. Yet as I contemplate the prospects of the developed world I confess I do find myself wondering: How weird how soon?

Transformative innovation requires a socio-economic context: A few years back, a European cabinet minister explained to me at great length that governments had enthusiastically supported both the contraceptive pill and abortion because there was an urgent need for massive numbers of women to enter the workforce. A few years hence, developed nations will have a need for anyone to enter the workforce. Japan is the oldest society on earth. China, as I always say, is getting old before it gets rich. Europe is richer but lazier: Fewer than two-fifths of eurozone citizens work, and over 60 percent receive state benefits. If you track, as prudent investors should, GDP vs. median age in the world’s major economies, this story is going nowhere good.

When President Sarkozy’s government mooted raising the retirement age from 60 to (stand well back) 62, the French rioted. “Retirement” is a very recent invention, but it’s caught on in nothing flat to the point that most Western citizens now believe they’re entitled to enjoy the last third of their adult lives as a 20-year holiday weekend at government expense. And that two-decade weekend is only getting longer: Developed societies now face the prospect of millions of citizens’ living into their nineties and beyond and spending the last 20 years in increasing stages of dementia — at state expense. That sounds pricey, whether you rely on immigrants to tend them (as in Europe) or “humanoid” “welfare robots” (as the Japanese are developing).

So the disease the West would most like to cure is Alzheimer’s. How would you do that? The obvious way to experiment would be one of these human/animal hybrids the British are hot for: You’d inject human material (brain cells) into animals that are closest to man (primates). As it happens, that’s the plot of this summer’s new movie, Rise of the Planet of the Apes, which title suggests the experiment went somewhat awry. “If you start putting very large numbers of human brain cells into the brains of primates,” worries Prof. Thomas Baldwin, co-author of a new report for Britain’s Academy of Medical Sciences, “suddenly you might transform the primate into something that has some of the capacities that we regard as distinctively human — speech, or other ways of being able to manipulate or relate to us.” “The closer an animal brain is to a human brain, the harder it is to predict what might happen,” warns Martin Bobrow, professor of genetics at Cambridge University.

#page#So the Brits retain a bit of squeamishness in this area: They’re aware of the pitfalls of injecting Ozzy Osbourne’s brain into an orangutan. Who might be less concerned about this fine ethical line? It was recently disclosed that China has a herd of 39 goats with human-style blood and internal organs created by injecting stem cells into their embryos, the work of Prof. Huang Shuzheng of Jiao Tong University.

I wonder what else the Chinese are sticking human stem cells into. I’m sure they’ll tell us when they’re ready.

The Coming of Age changes everything. The developed world will have insufficient numbers of young people to sell new stuff to: That’s an economic issue. But a distorted societal age profile doesn’t stop there: Switzerland, once famous for expensive sanatoria where one went to prolong life, is now doing gangbusters business with its “dignified death” resorts. With the increase in demand for “assisted” suicide at their general hospitals, the Dutch are talking about purpose-built facilities: You have an Ear, Nose, and Throat Hospital, so why not a Death Hospital? After all, it’s more “humane” than the alternatives — for example, the mini-epidemic of missing centenarians in Japan: Tokyo’s oldest man was supposedly Sogen Kato, 111 years old. Last year, police broke into his daughter’s home and discovered his mummified corpse, still in his bedclothes. His relatives were arrested for bilking the government of millions of yen in fraudulent welfare payments. Tokyo’s oldest woman was supposedly Fusa Furuya, 113 years old. When welfare officials called at her home, her daughter said she was now living at another address just outside the city. This second building turned out to have been razed to put a highway through. “Human bonds are weakening,” a glum prime minister, Naoto Kan, told parliament. “Society as a whole tends to sever human relationships.”

Like I said: How weird how soon? Dutch drive-through death clinics on Main Street. Japanese welfare robots doing the jobs humans won’t do. British scientists breeding a Brit-animal hybrid class purely for the purposes of experimenting on them. And at a research facility somewhere deep in the Chinese hinterlands, an ape injected with human brain cells waits for the midnight shift change to bust through the security fence . . . 

– Mr. Steyn blogs at SteynOnline (www.steynonline.com).

Mark Steyn — Mark Steyn is an international bestselling author, a Top 41 recording artist, and a leading Canadian human-rights activist. That’s to say, his latest book, After America (2011), is a top-five bestseller in ...

In This Issue

Articles

Features

Politics & Policy

Obama’s Nemesis

Washington, D.C. — Across the rotunda, Sen. Harry Reid, a 71-year-old Democrat, is grumbling about Rep. Eric Cantor, the House majority leader. The previous evening, Cantor, a boyish Virginia Republican, ...

Books, Arts & Manners

Politics & Policy

Faraway, So Close

Whether or not the late Mexican military ruler Porfirio Díaz (1830–1915) ever actually said, “Poor Mexico! So far from God and so close to the United States,” his alleged quip ...
Politics & Policy

Songs and Tanks

Last month, a singer named Ibrahim Kashush was leading crowds in Syria. They were demonstrating against the dictatorship and for democracy and freedom. Kashush entertained, inspired, and delighted them with ...

Sections

Politics & Policy

Letters

Hazardous to Your Freedom Regarding Daniel Foster’s “Smoke Alarm” (July 18): If the nanny state’s real objective is to scare a significant number of smokers into stopping puffing, let me suggest ...
Politics & Policy

The Week

‐ Mr. Strauss-Kahn seems quite well qualified to be prime minister — of Italy.  ‐ Rep. Michele Bachmann and former governor Tim Pawlenty, both Minnesotans, have been trading jabs as they ...
The Long View

TO: Studio Personnel

TO: Studio Personnel FROM: Production RE: Captain America This weekend’s excellent box-office grosses for Captain America have been incredibly gratifying. The movie is performing very well nationally, and we’re on track for another ...
Athwart

Statism Down Our Throats

People who see everything as a problem to be solved by the application of exquisitely calibrated governmental force remind you of the maxim: When all you have is a hammer, ...
Politics & Policy

Poetry

  ON A THEME OF D’ALIBRAY Such a fine day rides on the soft air, Laura, please pay heed to the new season, That laughs at the clear sky and sings of love: Spring is ...
Happy Warrior

How Weird How Soon?

From London’s Daily Mail: “Scientists have created more than 150 human-animal hybrid embryos in British laboratories.”     You don’t say. Now why would they do that? Don’t worry, it’s all perfectly legit, ...

Most Popular

Politics & Policy

Students’ Anti-Gun Views

Are children innocents or are they leaders? Are teenagers fully autonomous decision-makers, or are they lumps of mental clay, still being molded by unfolding brain development? The Left seems to have a particularly hard time deciding these days. Take, for example, the high-school students from Parkland, ... Read More
Elections

Romney Is a Misfit for America

Mitt’s back. The former governor of Massachusetts and occasional native son of Michigan has a new persona: Mr. Utah. He’s going to bring Utah conservatism to the whole Republican party and to the country at large. Wholesome, efficient, industrious, faithful. “Utah has a lot to teach the politicians in ... Read More
Law & the Courts

What the Second Amendment Means Today

The horrifying school massacre in Parkland, Fla., has prompted another national debate about guns. Unfortunately, it seems that these conversations are never terribly constructive — they are too often dominated by screeching extremists on both sides of the aisle and armchair pundits who offer sweeping opinions ... Read More
U.S.

Fire the FBI Chief

American government is supposed to look and sound like George Washington. What it actually looks and sounds like is Henry Hill from Goodfellas: bad suit, hand out, intoning the eternal mantra: “F*** you, pay me.” American government mostly works by interposition, standing between us, the free people at ... Read More
Film & TV

Black Panther’s Circle of Hype

The Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) first infantilizes its audience, then banalizes it, and, finally, controls it through marketing. This commercial strategy, geared toward adolescents of all ages, resembles the Democratic party’s political manipulation of black Americans, targeting that audience through its ... Read More