RHETOR 115 Study Guide - Quiz Guide: Joshua Lederberg, Designer Baby, Organism

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1. H.G. Wells, “Locomotion in the Twentieth Century”
Writing at the beginning of the 20th century, Wells starts the first chapter of his book,
aptly titled “Anticipations,” with the disclaimer that he is putting forth speculations about
developments in the new century. He stresses the uncertainty of his conjectures by drawing a
comparison to fiction, disavowing the use of narrative structure for his purpose, since it requires
closure and exactitude. He starts his discussion of land locomotion and its consequences by
identifying the void that was filled by the steam locomotive. Prior to the 19th century, while
steam was widely known and utilized, there was no necessity for its application to transportation.
When the demand for a pumping device arose, the introduction of coal, led to the placement of
pumping-engines onto wheels. The steam locomotive then came to be associated with railways
by accident: the locomotive was too heavy for the high-road, and this was solved by putting it on
rails. Wells recounts this detailed history in part to emphasize how railway traveling was a result
of much problem-solving and compromises. He laments that people of his day take railways for
granted, unaware of the underlying complex socio-technological system. This reminds of Nye’s
warning about the hazardous nature of “technology,” a danger not unique to our current era.
Wells also critiques them for being short-sighted, unable to see the unlikelihood of railways
remaining the “predominant method of land locomotion” (14). With this, he discusses three
alternate forms of motor vehicles: motor trucks, private motor carriages, and motor omnibuses,
and their respective advantages and implications. For example, private vehicles would enable
comfort and personalized speed and breaks, but would be luxuries for the upper classes; motor
omnibuses would find it difficult to compete with railways when they are slowed by horse
traffic, but would adapt by arranging for travel on private, special roads. Wells goes on further to
speculate what these roads would look like and how they would be used. Wells makes a note on
speed, however. He claims we would not mind a slower journey if it means increased comfort,
from being able to read and write to getting services such as a haircut on board. Nevertheless,
railways would still be demanded by heavy goods traffic and cheap excursions. Wells ends the
chapter by discussing the effects of land locomotion on city planning, a mechanism of state
simplification. Since regulation of traffic would be an effective means to relieve traffic
congestion, he anticipates developments such as increased frequency and stoppages of omnibus
services and the diversion of land traffic into the air or underground. Overall, Wells desires for
his readers to pay more attention to the future developments of something seemingly as simple as
land transportation, as well as implications for not only their daily lives, but for class hierarchies,
infrastructure organization, etc.
2. Joshua Lederberg, “Biological Future of Man”
A Noble-prize winning geneticist, Joshua Lederberg, writing to an audience of scientists,
introduces a new concept of “euphenics” in order to challenge the preoccupation with
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“eugenics.” He explains that the study of molecular biology has been able to unravel features of
terrestrial life, such as the basic DNA structure, and has defined man genotypically. However,
there is a huge gap between the known general principles and specific details of biology. For
instance, we do not know the exact nucleotide sequence of any gene. As a result, the ability to
carry out the goals of eugenics is not yet possible. Lederberg argues that in the course of
focusing on genetic improvement, we have overlooked the fertile ground for engineering human
developing, or what he names as “euphenics.” Instead of being reactive, he claims that we should
proactively work on engineering artificial organs, devising methods of protein synthesis,
developing spare parts using animal species, etc. With these, men can truly control his
development through influencing phenotype, instead of the so-far enigmatic genotype. Only after
euphenics has been adequately explored, can there be “a catalogue of biochemically well-defined
parameters for responses now describable only in vague function terms” (269), or the possibility
of using genetic programming to override evolutionary pressures. Thus, for eugenics to be
possible, euphenics must come first. For Lederberg, the image of man’s biological future is his
future as scientist. The limits of humanity is seen as we struggle with nature to understand the
world and how it relates to our survival. Hannah Arendt, while likely skeptical that science
enhances rather than diminishes our humanity, would agree that scientific work reveals our
inadequacies and limits. As Lederberg comments, “the complication of science has made [the
struggle with nature] inexorably more human” (273). In order to secure this biological future,
men cannot afford to neglect the importance of communication. They should endeavor to
modernize existing techniques to ensure free and efficient expression. His argument is one of
high-stakes, especially in our age of designer babies and modern medicine. He provokes us to
ponder where the line is drawn between our own projects of euphenics and eugenics, and what
their ethical implications are. Are we taking sensible responsibility for our future? Or are we
ignoring our humanity when we disregard or dismiss objections about the effects of human
engineering on minority and disadvantaged members of society, such as people with darker skin
color or people who are differently abled? Lederberg would, unequivocally, answer “yes” to the
first question.
3. Marshall McLuhan, Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man
, Introduction & Chapter 1
Opening his introduction, McLuhan discusses a heightened sense of human responsibility
with the extension of the human through technological simulations of consciousness. In this
electric age, he argues, we cannot be ignorant of the consequences of our behaviour and choices,
as we necessarily participate, regardless of our unique circumstances, in our every action.
Because of this, he also calls this time the “Age of Anxiety.” Before looking at individual
extensions of man, McLuhan writes, it is important to examine the general aspects of the media,
which he does in Chapter 1, the lesson of which is neatly encapsulated in the title “The Medium
is the Message.” By this, McLuhan means that the medium, or any extension of ourselves,
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Document Summary

Writing at the beginning of the 20th century, wells starts the first chapter of his book, aptly titled anticipations, with the disclaimer that he is putting forth speculations about developments in the new century. He stresses the uncertainty of his conjectures by drawing a comparison to fiction, disavowing the use of narrative structure for his purpose, since it requires closure and exactitude. He starts his discussion of land locomotion and its consequences by identifying the void that was filled by the steam locomotive. Prior to the 19th century, while steam was widely known and utilized, there was no necessity for its application to transportation. When the demand for a pumping device arose, the introduction of coal, led to the placement of pumping-engines onto wheels. The steam locomotive then came to be associated with railways by accident: the locomotive was too heavy for the high-road, and this was solved by putting it on rails.

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