A young couple enters an office and takes seats on one side of a large sleek desk. Behind the desk, a small bank of screens displays a variety of incomprehensible images, codes, graphics, and icons. Lights from behind the couple flash in rotating patterns of red, yellow, and green. The effect is disorienting, yet serves to indicate the inner workings of a busy laboratory environment. A smartly dressed middle-aged woman enters and sits on the other side of the desk from the couple. The lights in the room brighten.
“Welcome to Bioessentials Integrated,” she cheerily begins. “It’s a pleasure to assist with your introductory screening session. But before we begin the formal process, do you have any questions for me?”
“Well, I, um,” stammers the man, glancing at his wife, “I mean we, have heard a lot about BI and we’re basically familiar with how it works, I guess. Neither of us is a scientist, of course, but, you know, well—could you just walk my wife through how this all works one time? I mean, it does work, right?”
The representative smiles broadly but nervously. “Of course! Many people ask the same question. It’s really quite simple—but just interrupt me if anything is unclear, okay? We start by extracting a genetic sample from your unborn child, and—”
Rubbing her barely bulging stomach, the woman worriedly cuts off the representative: “Um, will it hurt? I mean, will it hurt the baby in any way? How exactly do you extract this sample? I’m asking partly because we had a very hard time getting pregnant and I don’t want anything to go wrong with it.”
“No, no, of course,” assures the representative. “It’s really nothing more serious than having a polyp removed or an outpatient biopsy. You won’t feel a thing and neither will your baby. We only require a handful of cells at this stage.” (Which, she thought, was about all a newly conceived fetus within the procedure’s viability window really had available, anyway.)
“What about in the later stages—is the procedure more intrusive or painful?” asks the man, protectively.
Rising and smiling gently, the representative speaks reassuringly: “My friends, let’s not get ahead of ourselves, okay? Our process is safe and our results have been excellent. Let me continue describing the process…. We take a small DNA sample and from that we extrapolate to produce a full-spectrum snapshot of the entire four-trillion character genetic code. Actually, to be technical, it’s really more like a holographic matrix in three dimensions than a linear code or a two-dimensional image, but the basic idea is the same. We basically lay out your child’s full genetic makeup to understand the spectrum of its humanity.”
The woman frowns. “So then, you’ll know exactly who and what our child will become in their life?”
“Not quite,” explains the representative. “DNA sequences represent probabilities—or perhaps more accurately, potentialities. Genetic expression is conditioned upon many factors, including environment and upbringing, but mostly these factors can hinder a person from realizing their potential rather than enabling them to exceed it. Make sense?”
“Yes,” interjects the man, “kind of like how a tax collector can limit your income but not give you more than you started with, even if you get a refund at year’s end, right? I’m an accountant, you see!”
“Uh, sure, something like that…”
“Or,” says the woman, “how a professor can mark you down from an A but can’t give you a grade higher than that. I’m a teacher!”
“Um, yes, I suppose so, and…”
“Or maybe,” interrupted the man, “how a politician can make a lot of promises but at best deliver only partially on just a few of them.”
“Okay!” exclaims the representative. “You get it. Let’s move along, shall we? The basic idea is that we can identify your child’s maximum capacities across a whole range of qualities. Physical attributes, mental abilities, creative capacities, emotional intelligences, even spiritual inclinations—all of these areas are capable of being, um, ‘tweaked’ in our processes.”
“Wow! I guess I knew that from the promotional materials and what I’d read about, but it seems more real hearing it now, here…” the woman trails off.
Smiling and raising a finger in gesture, the man chides, “Waiter! We’ll have one tall, handsome secular humanist with a 175 IQ who can paint and play guitar and is kind to animals and children, with unlimited earning potential and a taste for fast cars and fine wines!”
“Actually,” retorts the representative, “you’re not that far off, sir. While there are no guarantees and results may vary according to factors beyond our control, you might be surprised at the range of attributes that we can manipulate. For example, did you know that in many cases, even the expression of gender is within a range that can be guided while a child is in utero in its very early stages? The same goes for race, to an extent and within certain limits, plus sexual orientation as well. You can in fact order up a straight white male in many cases, if the genetic profile contains the right markers. Interested?”
“I, I, I mean—” thinks the woman aloud, “I guess that would be good if it’s possible. But since I’m half Latino and my husband is part Asian, maybe that’s not quite right for us. Honey?” She nods toward him.
Looking upward, the man muses, “Hmm, a straight white male, yes, that would bring many advantages in life, many advantages indeed. Who wouldn’t want that for their child? I mean, if it was possible to choose, and all. I don’t want to be crass, but shouldn’t we opt for as many privileges as possible? No?”
“Didn’t you pay any attention in college?” snaps the woman. “I mean, we met in a Social Justice class for Chrissakes! Plus, if everyone selected the SWM configuration, it would lose its power eventually anyway. No, we need another option from the palette—maybe a touch of brown with yellow accents?”
“Yeah, but not everyone can afford these advantages,” mutters the man under his breath.
The representative waits patiently to interject. “So these are all big questions to consider. But there are also a lot of interesting details to ponder. Height, weight, agility, dexterity—we’re way beyond hair and eye color here, if you know what I mean. And that’s not even to mention health issues, susceptibilities, immunities, and more. We can even talk about SAT scores, earning potential, charisma, sense of humor, and more intangibles such as—”
“Wait!” exclaims the woman. “I, I need a moment to catch my breath and think.”
Wistfully, the man jocularly intones, “Money, fame, looks … a real chip off the old block!”
“You wish!” The woman rolls her eyes and gathers herself. “Ma’am, is there any possibility of doing retroactive engineering—on my husband?”
Smiling, palms open, the representative says plainly, “Folks, let’s get back on track here. We can make adjustments to improve your child’s chances in life, but we’re not miracle workers. Well, maybe a little! But back to gender, to follow up on something concrete…. Many people have substantial markers for a range of gender outcomes, and we can intervene to tailor that in many cases. Masculine, effeminate, type of genitalia, mix and match, it’s really up to you: gay, straight, bi-, whatever.”
“This is all very confusing,” replies the woman. “How do we even know if the child will grow up to prefer the configuration that we select for it, after all?”
“Ah, good question. This is where genetic counseling comes into play. Certain psychosocial attributes seem to correlate well with certain genders and orientations. It can help solidify these sorts of choices.”
“Yes,” says the man authoritatively. “I read about this. It’s called ‘transvergence’, I think. Yes, that’s it. It’s kind of complicated, I recall, but basically there’s some sort of genetic algorithm for mapping out a mind-body connection. ‘When biology and identity converge…’ was the tagline. Or something like that.”
“Exactly. Good memory. We can work with that!”
Sneering, the woman glares at the representative, then at her husband. “I’m sorry, but I’m starting to think this was all a mistake. I mean, people have been having babies for a long time and it’s worked okay.”
“Okay?!” The representative raises her voice a few decibels. “OMG! Cancer, violent tendencies, poor health, bad breath, stupidity—we can fix these sorts of things today. If you have the means to do it and you don’t, it would be irresponsible. It’s our duty to strive for human maximization, and now we have the tools to do it right, finally. This isn’t eugenics, folks, it’s your genetics at work here. In other words, it’s about the long-term legacy of your DNA and how you can use it to contribute to the overall betterment of mank—er—humankind.”
The man beams. “Absolutely. Human. Kind. I like that.”
“Okay, me too, I guess,” offers the woman.
“So then, back to the menu,” hastens the representative. “Let me show you some of the most popular transvergent integrations. Now here,” she continues, pointing to one of the screens appearing behind the desk, “we have our popular Beyond Beyoncé model, and here is the very attractive Brad Without Pitts setup, both top of the line. Our best values include the Young Michael Jackson or the Slim Kim Kardashian configurations. Remember, we cannot guarantee specific outcomes, even with these templates, but we can help you to guide your child toward the best possibilities for a happy, productive life. There are many options—all we need is your credit authorization to proceed. Shall we?”
Lemar Starland, Spring Equinox, 2016