Upgrade By Blake Crouch: Do humans need gene modification to evolve into Homo Deus?
We were a bunch of primates who had gotten together and, against all odds, built a wondrous civilization. But paradoxically — tragically — our creation’s complexity had now far outstripped our brains’ ability to manage it.
Last month when I realised a new Blake Crouch novel is about to be released, I was super pumped and had it pre-ordered right away. Crouch’s Recursion was the first Sci-Fi Novel I ever read and no doubt it turned out to be an amazing read— making all his past and future work a part of my bookshelf.
After diving into Crouch’s dream world in Recursion, mirror-world in Dark Matter, future-world in Pines, I was super-excited to jump into an all new world in Upgrade. Except for the fact that… there was no new world of any sort.
Yup, that’s right!
Crouch instead focuses the plot of his new Novel on the current world and what it could mean for a new world ahead of us — how gene modification could help humanity, take it to the next level and potentially save us. One of the most interesting thing about Crouch’s novel are their Anti-Heroes. Nope, not Villains because they are just heroes who chose a different path. And that is exactly how Crouch paints them in his stories. In this story, they are Miriam Ramsay and Kara Ramsey.
While throughout the second and third part of the book, Kara is fighting her own brother Logan to continue on a mission started by their mother Miriam Ramsey — a mission to genetically modify and upgrade every human being possible so they could become smarter (the 200+ IQ type) and stronger (physically). And how would that help? Apparently, humans would finally be able to solve problems that they once ignored because they thought them to be difficult and thus stop them from reaching their own end (as a species). This is how Miriam Ramsey described the biggest threat to humanity:
“It’s denial. Selfishness. Magical thinking. We are not rational beings. We seek comfort rather than a clear-eyed stare into reality. We consume and preen and convince ourselves that if we keep our heads in the sand, the monsters will just go away. Simply put, we refuse to help ourselves as a species. We refuse to do what must be done. Every danger we face links ultimately back to this failing.”
But… (and there’s always a but) what if upgraded humans use their intelligence and strength for a wrong purpose? I mean of course, an gene upgrade program does not specifically make you good at heart, right? Criminals could still use their mind and body to commit more notorious crimes. And so can Politicians or any good orator.
And this is exactly where our story’s hero steps in — Logan Ramsey. Brother of Kara, who had helped his mother with the first gene editing program on a swarm of locusts in China, to help solve some sort of crop cultivation problem — which went terribly wrong after the locust plan backfired, killing all crops and throwing the entire world into the hands of a famine and Logan into prison. However, he did learn it the hard way and opposed his sister’s plan to give all humans a similar gene upgrade. It was even more beautiful when he described the problems humans actually face:
Our species’ superpower is not caring. We merely exercised that ability. We don’t have an intelligence problem. We have a compassion problem. That, more than any other single factor, is what’s driving us toward extinction.
In so many ways, these words rang in my head for days after I read them. Every single word in it sounded like a reality-check. Its much easier to say the neighbourhood is not safe because of thefts, its another thing for the thief to understand the value of the patsy’s hard earned possessions. In many ways, this applies to also how humans steal from nature, without guilt, and there’s hardly anything nature could reply back with other than what we call an “Act of God”.
When I heard of Homo Deus, initially from the Author of the revered book Sapiens, I believed it to be an evolution of humans that involved more of the mind and physical strength — exactly how the Anti-heroines of Upgrade imagined it. Like Kara and Miriam. But what if we actually do need an upgrade the way Logan thinks and works on — a gene upgrade that would take our compassion to the next level. And more importantly, do we actually need a gene upgrade?
One thing, we did learn from the COVID-19 pandemic was that… yes, we do need a vaccine. After all, it was a foreign virus (oxymoron?) our body wasn’t familiar with. A Vaccine made us more endurable (or at least less vulnerable to it). But greed and selfishness aren’t any foreign agents at all. They are very much built-in. They helped us over millions of years of evolution — to survive and inevitably become the masters of this planet but at what cost? Surviving as the only lone species in the world? That definitely is not our end-goal but unfortunately might be our endgame, if we don’t try to evolve further for better.
We were a monstrous, thoughtful, selfish, sensitive, fearful, ambitious, loving, hateful, hopeful species. We contained within us the potential for great evil, but also for great good. And we were capable of so much more than this.
And if there really is a Gene Upgrade program in future, I really do hope its the Logan-way and not the Miriam-way. And that we won’t need it, either.