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Wednesday, March 07, 2012

Meat Brain Futurology: One More Time On the "In-Vitro Meat" Merry Go Wrong

The Very Serious Futurologists at IEET have decided that enough time has passed since the last time they had a circle-jerk about how “in-vitro meat” will change everything even though it didn’t exist and didn’t change anything, so that they can now have another circle jerk about how “in-vitro meat” will change everything even though it doesn’t exist and won’t change anything. I have been a vegetarian for decades now, and I have also been paying critical attention to futurologists for decades now, and so I suppose it isn’t that surprising to find that I have already weighed in on this topic a while back during an earlier whirl of this particular futurological ferris wheel. Skeptical though I already was of the futurologists, it seems to me now I was far too kind about such enthusiasms back then, thinking futurologists rather overeager and under-critical rather than as utterly unserious at best and fraudulent at worst as I tend to reckon futurologists nowadays.

Be that as it may, Winston Churchill is said to have said in the 1930s, "Fifty years hence, we shall escape the absurdity of growing a whole chicken in order to eat the breast or wing, by growing these parts separately under a suitable medium." It is very unlikely that he was actually the first person to get this particular prophetic utterance so wrong, and one will be more right than most futurologists manage to be when making their space hotel and personal jet-car predictions if one declares that many more people will be very likely to get this prophetic utterance wrong again in the future over and over again many times before cheap, abundant, wholesome “in-vitro meat” is actually anything like an everyday reality. Although Dutch scientists have indeed declared that they have managed to make some in-vitro meat-like substance in the lab, it remains very much to be seen if the processes through which it would be manufactured at any kind of scale would be practical, commercially viable, actually nutritious or even safe, let alone tasty -- or, one wonders, given the faintly aqueous pink petri-dish Success Story that seems to have provoked the latest predictable futurological ejaculation, even really recognizably meat-like.

In this, as it were, vein, IEET directed our attention first a couple weeks back to a video-blog post claiming to provide “a look at the technology of In-Vitro meat” (even though one really can’t “take a look” at something that doesn’t exist, and one really probably shouldn't describe as a “technology” something that doesn’t exist), in which self-described “television personality, film-maker, philosopher” Jason Silva somewhat ecstatically says lots of things like “scientists have figured out” and “we can really do this” about things scientists have not really figured out and that we cannot really do at all while literally waving his hands madly about. (Robot Cultists always pout and stamp when I describe what they do as “handwaving,” but, honestly, have they looked at themselves?)

Within days Robot Cultist Nikki Colson went on to elaborate for us what she called “Five Factors Influencing the Adoption of Artificial Meat.” Those who do not follow futurology with any regularity might be surprised to discover that the non-existence of the meat in question was not one of the five factors influencing its adoption in her very considered opinion. As often happens with transhumanists, Olson seems to think there is something very brave about championing the adoption of a non-existing thing and decrying majorities who are presumably too afraid or too prejudiced to champion the adoption of this non-existing thing. It might seem to non-futurologists that actually existing people are suffering from intolerance, exploitation, neglect, and abuse because of actual fears and actual prejudices that might deserve attention, but futurologists know better. Futurologists also seem to think that enthusiasm for outcomes contributes a substantial measure to their eventual achievement -- pesky questions of actual funding, science, regulation, development, education, distribution be damned -- and appear to be quite prepared to take pre-emptive victory laps even if nobody else is.

The very next day, Robot Cultist Hank Pellisier (who I have had occasion to deride before, for example here and here and here and here) declared for IEET's Very Serious Futurologists: “Future Flesh is squatting on your plate. Are you nervous? Stab it with a fork. Sniff it. Bite! Chew, swallow. Congratulations! Relax and ruminate now because you’re digesting a muscular invention that will massively impact the planet.” Of course, there is no “future flesh” actually squatting on anybody's dinner plate to be nervous or happy about, to stab, sniff, chew, or find, er, hard to swallow… but why quibble when one wants to devote paragraph after paragraph after paragraph to masturbating about all sorts of marvelous things that also are not real but which would be cool if they were...? like skyscraper farms and eliminating world hunger with a techno-fix that doesn’t cost anybody anything (futurological vaudeville bits so old they’ve got whiskers on 'em)? like meat that is good for you as actual meat almost never is? like meat that isn’t the already decomposing corpse of an animal slaughtered in a nightmare of screaming violence after a lifetime of misery on a factory farm as actual meat almost always is? Why take actual problems in the present seriously if you can day dream about how nice it would be if the problems were not real -- especially when there are people eager to treat your daydreaming as serious intellectual engagement or even, in an almost flabbergasting inversion, a kind of activism?

I am not opposed to the work that scientists are doing in the area of "in-vitro" flesh-making, I am not even necessarily opposed to what scientists are doing in this area as an ethical vegetarian who sometimes opposes very much the extravagant abuse of animals (nonhuman and human) in scientific experimental trials here -- although I would want to be better educated on the issue before I weighed in on these complexities in a really considered way. Certainly I do know and decry the environmental catastrophe exacerbated by the meat-habit of especially North Atlantic societies, the relentless horror-show of exploitation and violence that is the industrial-ag factory farm, the health crisis and massive institutional failure of publicly propagandized and subsidized mass corpse consumption, as well as the completely unnecessary neglected treatable diseases, lack of clean water, and mass starvation to be found everywhere in the overexploited regions of the world regularly mis-denominated by elites as "underdeveloped." But I will say that none of these serious discussions look anything like the discussion in which futurologists indulge so enthusiastically, whether in mainstream pop-tech pop-science pseudo-journalism or in the even more techno-fetishistic techno-transcendental screeds Robot Cult futurologists prefer to circulate among themselves.

1 comment:

jollyspaniard said...

We do have a few technologies for meat production which. They are self replicating and turn grass into meat and fertilizer.