Monday, August 05, 2013

So, they grew meat...

Scientists grew meat from the stem cells of a cow.  Pasty white meat from an animal that was never really an animal, just something scraped into a Petri dish. It even has its own Wikipedia page. In Vitro Meat.  Seriously. This is the Internet. Of course, it has its own Wiki page, probably within minutes of it emerging in strands from the dish, just like our ancestors did eons ago on the banks of Lake Ooze.

Then, of course,  the scientists shaped it into a burger, because if its anything geeks know well, it's the shape of fast food. Sadly, even after mixing the pasty stem cell "meat" with bread crumbs, seasoning, and frying it in an heart-choking amount of butter, it tasted meaty in texture, but the flavor was nothing to get overly excited about.

But it is exciting to speculate on meat grown from stem cells. Bland meat that has no flavor. Pasty white meat that you'd never know was "beef." Many possibilities have been put forth since the meat hit the frying pan. People excitedly surmised this Frankenmeat had the potential to end world hunger. Space techies suddenly saw a solution to feeding the passengers and crew on unlimited space travel voyages. Animal lovers saw a way to save the cows at last.

That started me thinking. The meat is bland and therefore interchangeable. Why stop at beef? Why not chickens? Why not fish? It would all taste the same and the only differences would be in flavorings and added fat content.

Think about it. We could send people to explore the galaxy forever. They could continually generate their own meat from a tiny laboratory space. The only problem would be disposing of waste, clothing themselves as fabric wears out after awhile, water, and, because such voyages would be decades long, eventually each other.

Then I started thinking some more. All that bland meat that looked and tasted the same. Horrifying as it is for some to admit, the truth is if our stem cells were grown the same way, we could not be picked out from the crowd of other animals on the plate. We'd be just as bland, just as pasty, just as white, although I suspect our fat content might be a tad higher.

When we bury a body, we take up valuable real estate on a planet that is running out of resources. If we can reduce a cow to a mess of stem cells served up seasoned and fried on our plate, we've already set aside the ethics and moral arguments. It's not a cow anymore. It was never a cow even though it came from a cow. The same argument would apply to us in that situation. It wouldn't be us in that dish even though it came from us.

What it comes down to is we are not any different than that fried stem cell burger on a plate. That meat is us.  We ARE meat when you really do think about it. We are not vegetable. We are not gold. We are not holy. We are meat.

So basically this is the reality we are faced with: humans are greedy, consuming omnivores and I don't see us changing anytime soon. We're going to want our "meat" to taste different from other "meat." It's why we have multiple flavors of ice cream, multiple arrangements of topping on pizzas, multiple everything.

 But the resources are not endless and stem cell meat is just the beginning of new moral arguments over food and survival. Eventually the argument will not be what is meat and what is not meat, but what is Messy Meat and what is practical meat. And because it will all taste the same, some types of meat will have premium labels. And I'm guessing it won't be the cow with the expensive label stuck to its Petri-grown ass.

You can argue all you want, but Soylent Green is here. The minute the contents of that Petri dish ended up in the stomach of someone else, we officially became meat. Now it's a just a matter of adjusting to that reality.

From Ursine Logic's Child-Free By Choice shop.


Saturday, August 03, 2013

Life Outside the Kingdom of Singularity

I've always lived in a diverse world, beginning with my family who were culturally blended into a whole that would never be homogeneous. We barely fit into society most of the time, much less within the confines of the same family. In retrospect I understand it was because we were so different from each other. We had so many diverse skills, talents, ideas, and dreams that we were bound to part ways in order to achieve at least a semblance of success. We had to find our way through a maze of visions in order to claim one as our own.

But the visions were an excuse for a very basic truth that ran through all of us: we had to find our OWN way. It was the only chance we had to develop our ideas, our  personalities, our  paths separate from the herd. And it wasn't until recently that I began to understand how rare that was, how unusual to set upon a path unique only to you, and to seek independence in self and action from the familiar comfort of singularity. I suspect that it's not a world many live in  lately.

One place I notice it most is in the type of education most people currently receive. They are well-trained in their skill set. They are the best in what they do. They can discuss their field endlessly and flawlessly. Until they run into a very large wall.

That is the wall of singularity. They know what they know, and maybe the more creative ones can imagine and implement ways to incorporate what they know into something similar to create a third thing that resembles them both, but differs only slightly.

It is the same feeling trying to have a discussion with a member of the singularity. They know their subject. They can apply anything to that subject: the religion of computers, the politics of engineering, the literature of design. But then the wall gets them. Then the noose of singularity cuts off their thinking. Then the conversation becomes forced and not as entertaining. It is at some point, like discussing the weather. Yes, it rained in the past. It is raining in the present. It will rain in the future.

But there is no poetry to the rain. There is no search for meaning in  the sound of the rain or the feel of it upon the skin. There are no long songs written to the rain. It is all sterile and precise and oh so tedious and boring. 

And worse, such singularity crosses swiftly over into dogmatism. No new input means no new ideas. No new ideas means the existing ones are elevated to the point where they are beyond criticism. They take on a holiness, a religiosity that eventually won't allow criticism because the other sides cease to exist.

People then begin the process of becoming as rigid as their ideas.Change becomes fearful. Different people become scary. Different ideas become tyranny. The more the world around them changes, the more the singularity cling to the only things they know, whether it is religion, science, art, politics, music, literature, murder, mayhem, war, hate, bigotry, intolerance.

More than anything this spells the doom of cultures and society. It wasn't their differences that destroyed them. It was their sameness. Inbreeding of ideas is just as destructive as inbreeding of people. Over time you are left with monumental stupidity and nothing left to repair the damage done to communities, towns, states, countries, and eventually the planet. There's no one left smart enough or educated enough to fix the problems so the culture dies.

We are moving in that direction and we will reach the crossroads fairly soon. Ignorance has a way of taking over because it feeds on itself. But there are a few things to throw in its path that while it may not stop it, might at least slow it down some.

One of the biggest is education. I was one of the lucky ones as were many of my generation. We had a true liberal arts education, which meant we had to also study math, science, history, literature, and art. More than anything, we were taught to think and analyze, something that is rarely taught anymore. Now people are taught to focus, to apply precise learning to precise topics and not deviate from the task at hand.

But we need to deviate. We need to learn how what we are being taught applies to the past, present and future. We need to see the historical consequences of actions without the filter of politics or religion. We need to understand what it means to make our own decisions and therefore learn to accept responsibility for our actions. We need to learn to think, to analyze, to discuss, to hear, to listen, and to contemplate.

 Because if we don't, our singularity will be the chain hooked to the nose of our precious little prejudices, and the other end will be in the hand of those who need herds of singular minded sheep to use for their own purposes.