Big Hairy Hobbit feet are OK by me


I always like watching movies I haven’t seen in awhile again. Life changes you and your perspectives, so when you watch a movie again later you bring something new to the viewing experience. Potentially a perspective you didn’t think about the first time you went. This is what happened recently when I saw Lord of the Rings: The Return of The King while obsessively cleaning out my cabinets. (I might note too that it’s good to not look for the cues, but inadvertently discover them.) Anyhow, I was watching the movie and the interactions between the Hobbits, Humans, Dwarves, Elves, etc. I watched their world, which is technologically simple. They fight with bows & arrows, elephants, fire, quite medieval. I couldn’t stop watching the Hobbits. I love Frodo, Sam, Pippin and Merriadoc. They are proud of whom they are and that pride was something I couldn’t quite shake.

It made me think of the topic of conversation surrounding genetics and the altering of genomes. While I am admittedly not an expert in genetics, one of the discussions that surround this topic is on whether or not we should alter genes. The obvious fallback movie is GATTACA, but there are other ways and film lenses in which to view this discussion. One of the aspects that interest me is who decides what is normal and what is decided by science vs. society to be changed. I recognize that the word “normal” is not necessarily the ideal term to use since normalcy is more an opinion than a fact. Normalcy can be contested depending on which side of normalcy you fall on. When I think of altering genetic feature I think of it as having great pros and cons. One of the cons is the perception that there is desire to “fix” what is not a socially acceptable “normal” feature.

As I was watching Lord of the Rings: The Return of The King, I thought about what it would be like if this technology, and therefore discussion was overlaid on to Middle Earth, after the battle and they all went home. The Hobbits have a proud culture, one where they live together as a community, everything is their size, they are as happy as anyone can be. They co-exist with those that are dramatically different from them, even if they might not all interact with these other cultures and species on a daily basis. Ok, but now look at it again with this situational overlay. What if the Humans decided that the Hobbits feet should be smaller, less hairy, and they should be taller, more like the humans? Or even, what if the Elves, who live in an Aubrey de Grey type life where they don’t age, but could, still get hit by a bus and die, decided that everyone should have rounded ears. Because there is a founded clear superiority for beings to have pointed ears and therefore the inferior rounded ears should be addressed. The feet, ears, hair, height, they are all hindrances to optimal living. Not to pick on the Hobbits, this argument can start from any of the points of view, but the Hobbits seem more relatable in this argument than even the humans to make my argument.

After watching the movie, I started thinking about how I don’t want to change the Hobbits. At least, not unless their feat, ears, height result in them having some illness or disability that is life-threatening and as a community there is agreement that these features needs to be fixed so that future generations of Hobbits don’t suffer or die from them. I think the Hobbits are quite great, just the way they are without intervention. What I’m trying to say then is that we are exploring new fantastic ways to understand, change, and enhance ourselves that it’s not a forward movement to be taken lightly or made rash. If dividing lines of opinion are to be drawn both sides need to be heard for their core arguments of pros and cons. Let’s just make sure that when with forward movements that alters ourselves that we don’t make cookie-cutter versions and those who don’t want to participate are respected too. How boring of a life that would be for everyone to be the same. There is something to be said for the differences that we have that make us unique. If they aren’t killing us off then let them be, unless it’s for aesthetics and vanity, which is another discussion I’ve already ventured in to you can check out and weigh in on. I mainly say this for those of you out there that are also concerned that society is going to be stripped of uniqueness. This is for both sides of the aisle on change. The Hobbits are wonderful, so are the Dwarves, Elves and Man (the undead army….well…if they can stop killing people and acting crazy that would help their cause). This is my take. What do you think?

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2 Comments

Filed under ethics, future, human enhancement, responsibility, self, technology

2 responses to “Big Hairy Hobbit feet are OK by me

  1. You may not want to change the Hobbits, but what if the Hobbits want to change themselves?

    I think trying to pressure other people into changing a trait is problematic, but if somebody wants to change a trait (normal or not), I don’t see the problem. If an elf wants to age normally, or if a Hobbit wants less hairy feet (or hairier feet for that matter), I don’t see a reason to try stop them.

    I guess I just think individual choice comes paramount with regard to genetic enhancement.

    • I agree with you Josh. I apologize for leaving out the personal choice option. If someone wants to change a trait it is their decision to make of course. My caveat would be in line with my post on cosmetic plastic surgery article http://ieet.org/index.php/IEET/more/scott20090727/ where the personal choice needs to be an informed choice. That there are greater ramifications outside of just changing ones self. Others are affected by the decision. If the person is informed, ok with the effects on relationships, etc. then more power to them. I think there is another aspect here, one I was intending to elaborate on further in another post. That is that the decision to change being made on the person,or on their children, and potential ethical thoughts on that which might be taken in to consideration.

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