The Forum for Partners in Iran's Marketplace

June 2018, No. 87


Mission Impossible!

I am totally opposed to these things, because they are a kind of “narcissism of mankind”; a kind of bond that, according to Goethe, “man” strikes with “devil”.

Seyed Hossein Nasr, a professor of Islamic studies at the University of George Washington

Søren Kierkegaard was one of the first modern philosophers to discuss nihilism. He posited a philosophy of nihilism known as leveling, -- a process of suppressing and removing individuality to such a point where an individual lacks the traits that make him unique.

Without being an individual, life and one’s very existence becomes void of any meaning. This philosophy is not the fully developed nihilism that was to come because Kierkegaard believed leveling created a life without meaning or value, but that life itself has inherent meaning and value.

If cultural, scientific, political and economic criteria lose their significance while still being important, you cannot regard “sustainable development” for that society. In the meantime, the community requires creative, capable, and efficient individuals who are called “elites”.

Elitism in Iran is one of the most controversial contemporary issues, and its political aspect has always overshadowed its “social” aspect. Today, there are serious critiques and challenges about “how to identify, educate and direct superior talents” from institutions such as the National Organization for Educational Testing that was founded in 1968, or the National Organization for Development of Exceptional Talents. It seems that the issue of “preservation and circulation of the elite” in contemporary political, social and economic culture of Iran remains to be neglected. Hence, there are different interpretations and versions of “what is elitism” and “who is an elite” -- interpretations that have shifted our society towards absurd social competitions and the thirst for “fame” and becoming celebrities instead of elites!

On this occasion, we interviewed Seyed Hossein Nasr, a professor of Islamic studies at the University of George Washington, recognized as an elite in Iran and the United States. He is the first Iranian graduate from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Harvard University in the United States. Despite his scientific talent in physics, Nasr also has rendered significant services to expanding Islamic culture and civilization in his own valuable record. He also managed to remove ambiguities in traditionalist outlooks in studies in comparative religions particularly in the Muslim world. This provided him the credit to be included in the 100-volume collection of “Library of Living Philosophers” as a traditionalist Muslim philosopher.

Nasr is the author of over fifty books and five hundred articles (a number of which can be found in the journal, Studies in Comparative Religion) on topics such as traditionalist metaphysics, Islamic science, religion and the environment, Sufism, and Islamic philosophy. He has written works in Persian, English, French, and Arabic.

Although he was not feeling well, the author of the book “The Need for a Sacred Science” sincerely accepted our invitation for an interview. Having contributed to the education and direction of the elite generation in contemporary Iran, Nasr made remarkable and interesting points about the differences between elitism in Iran and the West.

On the subject of “genetic engineering” and the pursuit of a “perfect human” project through genetic designs, in your opinion, as a traditionalist philosopher, how far human beings can ethically proceed in this domain? Are these projects in line with the ideas of elitism or are pursuing other issues?

This is a kind of “interference in human nature,” which I think is forbidden in terms of both “Islamic philosophy” and “Islamic law”. We have no guarantees that if the genetic reconstruction and new technologies can create children who are genius in the field of technology or any other field, the society would not be unrestrained. It looks like the famous story of “Frankenstein”. [Frankenstein’s Story is a famous work by the English author Mary Shelley in 1818. And a young scientist named Victor Frankenstein made a decision to build a man in order to fulfill his scientific dream. By collecting organs of the people from the cemetery in his lab, he revives a human being made of dreaded transplants by electrical shock. But he is in complete disbelief with the evil person who is not able to control it and ultimately falls victim to it.]

Therefore, it is a false practice and should not be done. Such things are very dangerous, and people who talk about this do not think about the consequences, such as those who created the new technology but did not think about the environment and now the world is being choked!

Genetic Engineering to Make a “Perfect Man” Is Dangerous and Originates from Narcissism

 I am totally opposed to these things, because they are a kind of “narcissism of mankind”; a kind of bond that, according to Goethe, “man” strikes with “devil”. Fortunately, our literature, contrary to some of the works of European literature, does not endorse this kind of treaty. Of course, if genetic knowledge is used for an embryo that would be paralyzed and can be cured by this method, then there is no objection, and I am not opposed to these kinds of acts. But basically, when it comes to the debate on reinforcing, laboratory changes, and supply of genetic engineering sperms for those who are geniuses, it means that we are going to do evil things that will have unpredictable and very dangerous consequences for humankind. 

Is it ethical to build a customized human?

An infertile American couple looking for egg donors, placed an advertisement in one of the newspapers announcing they wanted an egg donor 190 cm high, athletic with no major family problems whose score for a university entrance exam would be 1,400 or more. This ad sparked numerous reactions and prompted advocates of philosophy of ethics to raise the argument as to whether it was ethical to build a customized human!

Genetics seems to have had great improvements in recent years that have cured many illnesses and, of course, created hopes for treating many incurable illnesses. In the meantime, the advancements in genetic science have given humans the opportunity to interact in areas that have so far not been accessible; vast areas of production ranging from producing laboratory grown babies, treatment of infertility, genetic manipulation to improve the memory and strengthen the muscles, to the selection of gender and physical and mental characteristics of infants, and transformation of animals and even humans. Now ethical questions arise answering which is necessary in parallel with the advances in genetics:

Ethically speaking, how far can humans go in this range? Isn’t planning to produce babies ethically problematic before and even after birth? Can such interferences determine their future course of life and decide on their behalf? Should gene therapy be limited to diseases, or can it be used to improve physical and mental characteristics in healthy people? And…

Michael Sandel, an American political philosopher and a political philosophy professor at Harvard University in his book “The Perfect Man: Ethics in the Age of Genetic Engineering” tries to find a basis for answering such questions and explain why genetic engineering and its amazing advances have led to appearance of such concerns.

He considers the advances in genetics to be both promising and dangerous; he is proud to know that perhaps one day he can cure many illnesses that are dangerous, because he may allow us to manipulate our nature.

The book “The Perfect Man: Ethics in the Age of Genetic Engineering” by Michael Sandel, translated into Persian by Afshin Khakbaz, has recently been published by Nashrenow Publishing.

Source: Iran Newspaper / Alireza Shirazi-Nejad


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  June 2018
No. 87