There are many things going on in Oxford, as you can imagine. Last night I went to a meeting called Philosophy in Pubs. It was held in a pub of sorts: The Jam Factory.
It was raining so I could not cycle to the pub. I walked, arrived late, got wet. I bought a pint of beer for a staggering price of £4. Not an auspicious start.
The subject for debate was "Is it wrong for parents to genetically engineer their children?"
The organiser, a nice chap called Ben Clark, listed some things to think about:
· Was it acceptable for two deaf parents to engineer their child to be deaf so that he or she fits into the family?
· Was cosmetic genetic engineering OK?
· Would designed children be critical of the genetic choices made by their parents?
We split into groups, discussed. Had another drink. Mixed up the groups - had more discussion.
It is an interesting and topical topic. My groups came up with lots of ideas for genetic changes like: X-ray vision, growing wings, growing replacement limbs and organs, anti-aging, beauty, and increased empathy.
Anti-aging was interesting. It started with the idea of immortality, but this was quickly dismissed because people would become bored to death and there would be just too many of us. But if your children could arrest the development of their bodies at say twenty years, yet still die at say ninety wouldn't that be good?
As to beauty, it was feared that we might all get to look the same: quintessential beauty. But then everyone would get bored so beauty fashion would change.
I found it interesting that the young man who opted for increased empathy received, and actually answered, four calls on his mobile phone whilst we were talking.
The idea of enforced deafness in a deaf family revolted most people: "condemning your child never to hear Mozart" was one reaction.
Some thought that genetic engineering would only be for the rich. Undoubtedly, it would be to begin with. But technology prices always tend to fall dramatically (mobile phones, cars, dishwashers, computers) and the rich subsidise that fall to an extent.
I told my group of Ken Dodd's desire for a mouth on top of his head so that on train journeys he could put his sandwiches in his hat, put the hat on his head, and eat his lunch without embarrassment. The group was unimpressed and not at all amused. Perhaps they could not understand why Ken was shy about eating his sandwiches in a crowded train.
At the end a vote was taken, but by then it had become clear that none of the questions posed had a simple yes/no answer. It was an interesting discussion though, not the least to observe the interaction between self-styled philosophical people.
I will go to another of these philosophy in the pub sessions - providing that I can save up enough for a pint of beer. Maybe I could link philosophy into the pub I run in my bookshop (currently being considered for renovation).