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Delving into Genesis Code: An Interview With Jamie Metzl

Beyond the Bris - July 16, 2015 - 7:29am


Imagine a world in the near future where sex is just for recreation. A world where hopeful parents-to-be (even those of relatively modest means) go to IVF clinics to pre-select embryos based on their genetic desirability—and where genetic enhancement through various techniques is possible. This is the world of Jamie Metzl’s newest book, Genesis Code: A Thriller of the Near Future (Arcade Publishing, 2014). The book imagines a “space race” of sorts between the United States and China, where the superpowers are racing to create a generation of Ubermensch, individuals who possess exceptionally high intelligence.
While the plot of Genesis Code may seem far-fetched, Metzl says the basic technology is already in place, and that as a society we should prepare for the genetic revolution at hand, one where human beings will control our evolution by rewriting our genetic code.
Jamie Metzl isn’t just a futurist on a flight of fancy—he has impressive credentials that indicate he just may know what he’s talking about. Metzl is a graduate of both Harvard Law School and Oxford (at the latter he earned a PhD in Asian history). He is presently a Nonresident Senior Fellow for Technology and National Security of the Atlantic Council. He's held positions in the Asia Society, the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee, the U.S. State Department and the National Security Council. He has also testified before Congress about national security as it relates to biotechnology and genomics, and he frequently appears in the national and international the media as an expert on Asian affairs and technology.  
Beyond the Bris is pleased to feature the following exclusive interview with American author and futurist Jamie Metzl.
Rebecca Wald: If you can distill it down to the essence, what is it about Asia that has drawn you to it, time and again, throughout your career?
Jamie Metzl: When I was a freshman at Brown, I met a classmate of mine who was a survivor of the Cambodian genocide. Hearing him tell his story, I felt ashamed that this genocide had happened during my lifetime and neither I nor anyone in my world knew anything about it. I quit my job as a camp counselor that summer and headed to Thailand, where I worked in a refugee camp with Cambodian and Hmong refugees. It was a life-changing event and the beginning of a lifetime engagement with Asia. Now I am deeply involved across the region on many levels and in many ways, and I find Asia one of the most dynamic and interesting parts of the world. Over recent decades it has also become clear that America’s destiny is more intertwined with Asia than ever before.
Rebecca Wald: You made that point well during your book discussion at The Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS). During the talk you said the Chinese believe they can raise IQ 20-30 points per generation using genetic engineering—and they’re working to do just that. In light of this, do you foresee the kind of genetic enhancement space race that is imagined in Genesis Code
Jamie Metzl: I am absolutely convinced that we will be able to use genetic selection and, at a later date, active engineering to enhance human intelligence. Some individual and societies may choose to do this and others may not, but either choice will have profound implications. Let’s say that at some point in the future the US bans genetic manipulation of early stage embryos and China or some other country does not. Would we try to stop them, would we make it illegal for our citizens to procreate with genetically altered partners? What would be the ramifications of our choice for national competitiveness? The societal and national security implications of this would be huge, and we will face them in the future. That is the premise upon which Genesis Code is based.
Rebecca Wald: You've also spoken about a future where massive data banks will be used to compare human experiences with digitized genetic code, enabling us to find all sorts of correlations. Traits such as height, and even IQ, are relatively easy to quantify, but many desirable human traits cannot be easily measured. I am thinking of traits such as sound judgment, kindness, and the capacity to raise sensible and warmhearted children. Do you wonder if the best human traits—our very humanity—might be overlooked as being desirable because this can’t be easily quantified?
Jamie Metzl: Some single gene mutations, like that for Huntington’s disease, are relatively straightforward, but others, like those for the genetic components of polygenic traits like intelligence, empathy, etc. are far more complicated. Humans are not entirely our genes. Nurture has a lot to do with who and what we become. But we are very much our genes and I believe we will find that more and more of our traits have a significant genetic component. Philosophers have always known that humans have various capacities, both positive and negative, and that we need to cultivate our best selves. The same will be true in the genetic age. It would be terrible if we overlooked our humanity and came to see ourselves as genetically predetermined, but it would be equally false to lie to ourselves and suggest that there is not an important genetic component of who we are. We will need to bring the best of our traditional values to this process to help us make the wisest personal and societal decisions in a radically new environment.
Rebecca Wald: Do you think we’ll run the risk of “improving” ourselves out of existence? After all, it was high IQ individuals that brought us nuclear weapons.
Jamie Metzl: Yes. But the homo sapien 1.0 model is pretty dangerous, too.
Rebecca Wald: No kidding! And along those lines, if a society is going to preselect for certain traits, I can think of at least one that authoritarian regimes might wish to cull: a willingness to question authority. Do you foresee—say in a communist society—the potential for using genetic engineering to create a docile population, one with a herd mentality? 
Jamie Metzl: Could be. Once we have this capacity, different societies may well begin thinking about what traits they wish to select for. Diversity is the greatest protection of our species, and it would be a terrible mistake, in my view, if we, over time, reduced significantly the genetic diversity of our species. 
Rebecca Wald: One theme in your book is that the core of humanity is to love and connect with each other—yet human intellect is often a barrier to such emotions. Do you see the human capacity for love being compromised as our collective intellect grows through genomics or simply natural progress?
Jamie Metzl: An unfair question to a person who has been accused of thinking too much! As humans, we always need to balance our various capacities. Even if we understand the chemical underpinning of the feeling of love, it doesn’t make our experience of that dopamine rush any less profound for us. As you see, one of the core themes of my book is that even in a genetic age, love stands at the core of what it means to be a human being.
Rebecca Wald: In your book the protagonist says: “Everyone has a right to choose their own religion, but when one group tries to force itself on others is when I start to have problems.” I think most Americans share this view, but when it comes to freedom of religion it’s easy for different groups to end up in a competition for rights. Are you skeptical of how organized religion does or might impede scientific progress?
Jamie Metzl: I’m a huge believer in scientific progress within a values framework. May progressive religions and religious communities support such an approach, and have important perspectives to add to the debate. Others are more hostile to this type of change. Religious organizations should be part of the global conversation on genetic and other issues, but they should be no means have veto powers.
Rebecca Wald: You’re Jewish and someone who thinks deeply about things—about where we’re going as a society—so I thought I’d ask. What’s your take on circumcision? Are you surprised that even some Israeli and Jewish American parents are now deciding not to have their boys undergo the procedure?
Jamie Metzl: Funny you should ask, Rebecca! For many years I have expressed my strong reservations about religious circumcision, male or female. I’ve read a lot of the science and am not at all convinced there is a medical rationale for any of it. I think it’s great that many parents, Jewish and otherwise, are making their own decisions, and that people like you are demonstrating how meaningful alternative approaches can be.
Categories: External Blogs

Are You Intact or Circumcised?

One out of three young American men are mistaken or unsure of their penile status, and women are just as confused. Here is a simple way to learn if you or your partner is has a whole or partial penis.
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Celebrating Brit Shalom: The Debrief

Beyond the Bris - May 15, 2015 - 1:53pm

Marilyn Milos, RN, references "Celebrating Brit Shalom" at
the 2015 Birth Keeper Summit in Berkeley, CA.By REBECCA WALD

Well, it's official. Drumroll please! As of today the Oakland-based indie publishing company, Notim Press, has officially released Celebrating Brit Shalom, a book I've co-authored with my wonderful colleague and friend Lisa Braver Moss.
Celebrating Brit Shalom is the first book written specifically for Jewish families who want to hold an alternative bris that doesn't include circumcision. The book is now widely available online, and also in some brick and mortar bookstores, especially those that offer a wider selection of faith- and Jewish-themed books.

Lisa and I share the latest happenings about our book on our website, our Facebook page, and—sometimes—Twitter, and we've posted a few updates to Kickstarter since our campaign. However, I haven't written much about Celebrating Brit Shalom here on Beyond the Bris, so I'm taking this occasion of our book launch to offer a (brief) debrief, now that the mission is complete.

Although it is a slim volume, Celebrating Brit Shalom has been a very involved project, many years in the making. Lisa and I had our hands full with a Kickstarter campaign, a manuscript that was the product of collaboration with each other and members of the Jewish community, original musical compositions with engraved sheet music included in the book, and Hebrew language prayers with transliterations. Whew! It feels so good to say the book is available to the public at long last.

As is always the case with collaborative endeavors, Lisa and I each brought different things to the table in terms of our perspectives and ideas. I'm convinced that neither of us could have written this book without the other, and I'm so grateful we found each other, and had faith in each other. Lisa has such an upbeat, organized, supportive and enthusiastic personality. It was easy to have a good working relationship with her.

Along the way, we received wonderful support from not only the Jewish community, but also from our non-Jewish friends who believe that circumcision is a choice best made in adulthood. I find it remarkable, and very touching, that individuals with no connection to Judaism have been so passionate in their support the concept of ritual choice for Jewish parents desiring bris without circumcision.

Many reading this have been following our book project for some time, but if you're just discovering Celebrating Brit Shalom and want to learn more—do check out our website. We recently updated the look, by the way. There is a lot of good information about our book there, including upcoming events, links to reviews and press and comments from rabbis and Jewish authors. 

And, if you really like what we're doing, please consider purchasing a copy of the book directly from us or making an outright contribution, so we can make the most of our book launch year.

To all behind the scenes who have helped and supported this book into being (you know who you are), I extend my sincerest gratitude.

And so I say "shalom" to Celebrating Brit Shalom. In Hebrew, it means "hello" and "goodbye."
Categories: External Blogs

THE ECONOMIST: Against the Cut, The intactivist movement takes on the oldest surgery known to man

Male Circumcision and HIV - July 14, 2013 - 3:18pm
Perhaps it shouldn’t be surprising that a magazine with its origins in Britain, a largely intact country, would take a sober and objective look at the San Francisco circumcision ballot measure. The Economist correctly concludes, “Whatever the fate of his proposed … Continue reading →
Categories: External Blogs

ZIMBABWE: A familiar fear – one intervention at a time, likely the norm in HIV prevention

Male Circumcision and HIV - July 14, 2013 - 3:06pm
Many critics of the African circumcision trials drew the obvious conclusion that a push for male circumcision in Africa and elsewhere would result in a corresponding drop in condom use. In a partially useful risk reduction intervention, such a result … Continue reading →
Categories: External Blogs

“Circumcise @Oprah” protest … Thank you, @GlenCallender

Male Circumcision and HIV - July 11, 2013 - 5:34pm
Glen Callender loves his foreskin. I love the size of his balls. Wow! Thanks, Glen, for sticking it to The Woman!
Categories: External Blogs

OPINION: Intactivism, Anti-Semitism, and Foreskin Man

Male Circumcision and HIV - July 11, 2013 - 4:41pm
Growing up in Texas, the only Jews I knew lived in the Bible. As far as I could understand, circumcised boys were all my fundamentalist and not so fundamentalist Christian friends. Intact boys were foreigners or the kids who spoke … Continue reading →
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SWAZILAND: Mass HIV infection, shortage of medical personnel, and now false hope

Male Circumcision and HIV - July 11, 2013 - 4:06pm
In a nation where the HIV infection rate is said to be nearing 50%, people are desperate. Getting sick with wholly curable diseases can be life-threatening. Getting HIV is a short-order yet slowly unfolding death sentence. It may take 10 … Continue reading →
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GENITAL CUTTING: Geese get equal treatment in Africa at Dr. Piot’s urging

Male Circumcision and HIV - July 11, 2013 - 3:46pm
When the Kenyan and Ugandan studies were announced linking lower HIV infection risk with male circumcision, many sober voices immediately called for safe and consensual procedures by trained clinicians instead of those provided in the wild by folk doctors, if … Continue reading →
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Change

Male Circumcision and HIV - July 10, 2013 - 2:49pm
This blog, Male Circumcision and HIV, is going on hiatus indefinitely. The way the world interacts on issues of public health and culture is changing. This blog was started before twitter and facebook and the social revolution that characterizes online … Continue reading →
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DENMARK: Circumcision associated with sexual dysfunction in men and women

Male Circumcision and HIV - July 10, 2013 - 2:23pm
UPDATE: Download paper here. Int J Epidemiol. 2011 Jun 14. [Epub ahead of print] Male circumcision and sexual function in men and women: a survey-based, cross-sectional study in Denmark. Frisch M, Lindholm M, Grønbæk M. Source Department of Epidemiology Research, Statens … Continue reading →
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Change Again

Male Circumcision and HIV - July 10, 2013 - 1:57pm
I’m starting a “best of” effort to import old posts from typepad.com. Scroll down for posts in the order they were originally published.
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CNN’s “The Debate” asks, Should teens make circumcision decision?

Male Circumcision and HIV - July 10, 2013 - 12:14pm
Given a choice between the occasional teen obsessing over getting circumcised and a majority of parents obsessing over doing the circumcising for said teens before they are of an age to raise a ruckus, the former seems far preferable. This … Continue reading →
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