Nadine Gordimer received the Nobel Prize in Literature for 1991. She
has honorary degrees from Yale, Harvard, Columbia and Cambridge universities,
and the University of Cape Town and the Witwatersrand in South Africa.
This article is taken from the current issue of WorldWatch, ''Beyond Cloning:
The Risk of Rushing Into Human Genetic Engineering.'' More information
can be found in English at www.worldwatch.org;
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QUESTION: Last year, in Durban, you gave a speech at the U.N. conference
on racism suggesting that human engineering through genetic science could
be the new face of racism. Could you elaborate?
NADINE GORDIMER: There are precedents for breeding that is politically
manipulated. You only have to think of the German Nazi ideal, the blond
There's a very big distinction between the sort of genetic engineering
that could prevent certain diseases, and the possibility of breeding a
different or separate race of people. There's always a good that can come
out of it, but how do you control the evil?
Q: In some of your writing, you have pointed to the possibility
of a two-tiered health-care system in which the rich or mostly light-skinned
people have access to the new genetic medicine, while the poor, mostly
dark-skinned people have not.
GORDIMER: Yes. I was thinking particularly of my own country (South
Africa), and I was thinking specifically of AIDS. Now, among people who
have money to provide themselves with the drugs that are available to
control HIV or AIDS itself, there's a good chance to go on living. But
in the poor, mostly black majority of our population, they simply cannot
afford these drugs. So AIDS is a death sentence for them. Will the same
happen with genetic medicine? That is certainly the worry.
Q: Sometimes we wonder whether scientists simply do everything
they can because that's what they are driven to do. If they are able to
split the atom, they will split it. If they are able to make clones, they
will make them. Maybe it's a part of our hubris that we just rush forward
andbuild whatever we can, and inevitably we encounter consequences we
GORDIMER: There is something wonderful about the constant wish
to discover. If you're a writer, you are always looking for the meaning
of human life; your whole writing life is a process of discovery, of solving
the mystery of human nature. So I can see that if you are a scientist
you have this urge to discover. But unfortunately, when you are brilliant
and lucky enough to strike on something, it may be a Pandora's box that
you have opened, not the key to the world's wisdom. I know that toward
the end of his life, Alfred Nobel had many doubts about his dynamite and
what it would be used for.
Q: Let's go back to the concerns you raised with the United Nations,
when you suggested that genetic engineering could lead to a ''new racism.''
How might a genetic racism be manifested? Do you mean that people might
be manipulated to be more accepting of the political regime?
GORDIMER: Or even to have memories that block out certain things.
Q: Such as?
GORDIMER: Well, for instance, it's come out through the Truth Commission
here in South Africa that there were plans to use drugs for crowd control,
to make people more docile. I think it's possible you could torture somebody
and then block out the memory of that.
Q: Obviously we're not talking about one technology. As our knowledge
of the genome and of neurosciences expands, it opens up a whole range
of frightening scenarios -- from crowd control to the drugs that Aldous
Huxley talked about, which could numb a whole society.
GORDIMER: Yes, I suppose we have all tried in one way or another
to manipulate our consciousness -- most of us with cigarettes or alcohol
or music. This is a personal choice that you make, and you're not forcing
it upon other people. But if certain physical characteristics and mental
attitudes can be genetically induced in some way, that becomes a hierarchy
that leads to some people being regarded as custodians of everybody else.
(c) 2002, WorldWatch/Nobel Laureates. Distributed by Los Angeles Times
Syndicate International, a division of Tribune Media Services.
For immediate release (Distributed 7/16/02)
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