Felix Stalder on Thu, 28 Oct 1999 21:31:58 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> Natural Selection and the New Economy

Natural Selection and the New Economy: Online auction for superior genes

This story could be right out of a William Gibson novel. A surreal
combination of cutting-edge technology, showbiz, popular Darwinism, global
markets, genetic engineering and pornography all mixed into one headline: 
the online auction of eggs of supermodels is open now! 

But this is not post-apocalyptic Japan, this is normal US craziness, right
now, right here. Just a click away. Ron's Angels, a web-based business
[1], also known as Art and Sex [2], that usually peddles pictures of nude
'supermodels' to a paying membership, has now expanded the range of its
commercial activities. As of now, it offers to the highest bidder eggs of
a few 'supermodels', pictured but unnamed on the site. The bidding starts
at $10.000 to $150.000, depending on which model's egg you're bidding for. 
Starting with the photo, the prospective bidder can go through a brief
background file, which includes vital statistics and the age of parents
and grandparents. Before placing a bid, the would-be father has to pay the
membership fee for Ron's erotica site. Once the highest bid is determined
15% of the price is due when the model begins the hormone treatment, the
remaining 85% have to be paid when the eggs are delivered. 

Harris, 66, a photographer who worked for Playboy Television and has
specialized in high-brow porn, charges 20% on top the arranged price for a
service which simply covers the transaction of the merchandise, the eggs
containing the desired gene material, nothing more. 

For Harris, there is nothing problematic in the combination of female
fertility and crude capitalism. To the contrary, under the tag line
"Beauty to the Higgest Bidder" he explains that capitalism and evolution
are indeed one and the same. In nature and society, it's all about
selection. In the case of the auction, selection determines the best
bidder in two steps. The first round of selection is carried out by
society at large. It rewards superior genes with the ultimate form of
success: money. The second round of selection is the bidding process
itself, when the preselected, that is wealthy, alpha-males fight against
each other. Here the most determined males is selected, that is the one
willing to pay the highest price for a particular gene set. The
donors--the 'supermodels'--are selected by Ron Harris himself who makes
choices that are, of course, not his own but are 'objectived' by the need
to match supply to demand. This ensures that only the best make it
through. As Harris explains: 

<quote> "This is Darwin's "Natural Selection" at its very best. The
highest bidder gets youth and beauty. "Natural Selection" is choosing genes
that are healthy and beautiful. This "Celebrity Culture" that we have
created does better economically than any other civilization in our
history. We are turned on by beauty. Why?

We know our genetic code dates back to purple photosynthetic, sulfur
producing bacteria, then on to Chimpanzees and us. We are evolving upward.
The world economies are booming and there is just enough instability to
create growth.

It is human nature to strive to improve everything. From fruits and
vegetables, to animals, to medicine, and even to human genes, we modify
everything to produce the best we can.  And of course we all want the best
for ourselves and our children." </quote>

In the view of Harris, the Internet has created the chance to let natural
selection play on a global scale. Selection, then, is no longer hampered
by relying on ultimately arbitrary, local face-to-face encounters -- maybe
even better genes are just in the other room, but heck, you cannot be at
two places at once! Online, you can be everywhere at once. No gene pool,
particularly none that is presented so appealingly as the one on Harris'
site, will be missed by your all seeing altavista-gaze. Harris, as he
presents himself, is doing mankind a favour. A technically enhanced nature
can now accomplish its age old goal much more effectively: advancing the
superior, thus in extension, sorting out the inferior. 

In a culture dominated by media-driven capitalism, bidding for genes poses
no moral dilemma. It is simply the somewhat crude combination of two
dominating values: money and appearance. Money is good; and more money is
even better. Screen appearance is an end in itself. The more appealing you
look, the higher your value as a person. Plastic surgery is not booming
for nothing. 

All of this has, of course, nothing to do with social Darwinism, eugenics
and crypto-rascism. Mind you. Harris citing an Asian couple who chose an
egg from a tall blond, blue-eyed model is just a fact. Nothing more. It's
neither good nor bad, it's how the world works, pragmatically seen. 

Bidding for model eggs, is the ultimate extension of what Ignacio Ramonet
(Le Monde Diplomatique) called the "One-Idea-System." This system has been
created by current discourse of inevitability, call it neoliberalism or
techno-determinism, arguing that whatever happens--mass deprevation and
genetic cleansing--are nothing but natural and necessary, and above all,
unavoidable. Therefore, promoting them is nothing but pragmatic realism in
an "post-ideological" era. Resistance would be delusionary and simply make
worse what needs to come anyway. 

What is so appalling about this website is not so much the offer. That is
not very different from what more respectable infertility clinics, most of
them private and for-profit, do as everyday business. Of course, the
spokesman for the American Society of Reproductive Medicine, Sean Tipton
has to come out and declare in the New York Times that Harris' offer
"screams of unethical behavior." How much of his outrage, one wonders, is
motivated by concerns over the negative impact of Harris' crude offer on
his own business environment? What is appalling is Harris' righteousness
which he can afford for he knows the basis of his business, money and
screen beauty as the ultimate normative values, is the very heasrt of 21st
century rampant capitalism. 

After all, as Harris says, "if you could increase the chance of
reproducing beautiful children, and thus giving them an advantage in
society, wouldn't you?" 

[1] http://www.ronsangels.com
[2] http://www.artandsex.com

  Les faits sont faits.

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