By David A. Andelman
Jamie Metzl, Genesis Code: A Thriller of the Near Future, Arcade Publishing
For ages, long before it became quite in vogue to be troubled about genetic engineering or Chinese scientific aggression, Jamie Metzl has been worrying about both. Just the other day, he ran up another warning flag to those of us who follow his remarkably prescient thinking—this time in the form of a blog post about a Chinese researcher who’s been using “cutting edge precision gene editing techniques on non-vialbe human embryos.” En route, perhaps, to creating the perfect, genetically engineered human soldier? Well, that leap was unstated but no doubt hanging out there. Because as Jamie goes on to point out, seven years ago he testified before Congress arguing that a “dangerous genetic arms race was likely” unless we of good faith and good intentions all band together to keep that from happening.
Effectively, such a race would make our fixation on a nuclear-armed Iran pale into insignificance. This could prove the next challenge to the very survival of the human race. Which is precisely the riveting theme that Metzl has taken in his latest book—Genesis Code: A Thriller of the Near Future.
The plot, a real page-turner, (or since I read it on my Kindle-for-iPhone, a page-swiper) revolves around a designer drug called Blue Magic, an evangelical pastor and power broker, rat-terrier of a journalist, and, simmering below the surface, circling Chinese agents and darkly conspiratorial operatives of the U.S. Department of National Competitiveness, endowed with all but unlimited powers. This is, after all, the Age of the Future, so in the interest of not giving away the farm here, suffice it to say there are no end of directions any of these forces could lead us—and do so.
We have here every conceivable theme for the 2016 elections, from the 2015 arms talks to even the Trans Pacific Partnership trade negotiations. In short, as Metzl puts it, a moment “when revolutionary technologies, national competitiveness, and big-power politics intersect.”
Since Metzl has put in his time at the Asia Society, Bill Clinton’s White House on his National Security Council, now with a global investment bank, and eventually perhaps in the next Clinton White House, he speaks with some considerable authority when hypothesizing on the future as well as the present.
Metzl and I share any number of common views—particularly with respect to the value of engineering the human genome to diagnose or treat diseases, or even to eliminate entire swaths of genetically based diseases entirely. But while horrified by the idea of creating genetically-engineered soldiers of the future, I am less persuaded about the malevolence of the people of China, even its leaders, to use or abuse technologies to gain some real or imagined military advantage. There seems to be little question that the Chinese military has succeeded in penetrating western, particularly American, corporate, media, and government computer networks. But we are hardly without blame ourselves in that respect.
It’s sad that the Chinese have been slipped so effortlessly into the role of the international villain so long occupied by Soviet strong-men and KGB operatives. Without question there is a villainy demonstrated by many governments that may be hardly representative of the deepest will of the people they rule. No doubt, for instance, the vast mass of the Iranian people would far prefer to take their place as members of the international community that desires peace and prosperity rather than as pariahs armed to the nuclear hilt. Equally, most Chinese would prefer to build a prosperous, healthy, and peaceful future for their families than to take their place as the villains of the latest western novella.
None of which should detract from the attributes of Genesis Code as a vivid, exciting and well-paced thriller. With a message, of course. But that message should resonate more broadly than China as our enemy of choice. Rather, that we must all learn to use wisely the scientific advances that our greatest geniuses uncover.
In the Summer issue of World Policy Journal, with the cover theme “Climate’s Cliff,” we have a Conversation with Hiroshi Amano, who shared in the 2014 Nobel Prize for Physics for "for the invention of efficient blue light-emitting diodes, which has enabled bright and energy-saving white light sources.” Professor Amano told us that the he was particularly compelled by the idea of Japanese genius developing advances that could then improve the lives of vast numbers of people via the genius of Chinese mass production. This is an interesting corollary to the more widely held Western view of the malevolent intent of the Chinese industrial establishment—and a bright future indeed.
While the arc of Genesis Code holds some promise for a less than malevolent future, Metzl himself believes deeply that “human evolution can not be a question [only] for scientists.” And he continues, “If it is true, as I believe it is, that the genetic revolution has already begun, we must begin a meaningful national and global dialogue on its implications.” He suggests engaging Congress and the United Nations—a tribute to his belief in the ability of such institutions to grapple with the most difficult and politically volatile issues. But perhaps the first step must be taken by one or several of us. Perhaps the winner of the next Nobel Prize—the Nobel Peace Prize.
David A. Andelman is the editor and publisher of World Policy Journal and the author of A Shattered Peace: Versailles 1919 and the Price We Pay Today.[Photo courtesy of Amazon]