Riding Shotgun: Where’s my Motherfucking Jet Pack?

The future ain’t all it’s cracked up to be.

My gosh, golly, gee-whiz. Who, peering through some as-yet-undiscovered cosmic oracle from past to future, could have foreseen the wonderful, amazing, technological … grimy, boring, repetitive, crap world we live in? Maybe that sentence is a little harsh, but I’ve resolved to cut down on the little death-sticks that I suck down every day, and so I’m a little on edge. Touch me and I might just rip your intestines out through your bellybutton. I feel that capable. I really do.

Anyway, I stick by my opinion.

You know the phrase: “The future is now.” I know it’s a generic tag line, but what product originated it, I don’t know. But it does have a ring of truth. Every present was once a future.

The present you are in now …

And now …

And now …

— and so on, was once a future only seconds, hours, days, decades before. So look at your present and ask yourself, “How about this wonderful, amazing, etc., etc. future I live in?”

Jules Verne saw underwater journeys. H.G. Wells saw visits from extraterrestrials. George Orwell saw an iron-tight, morally skewed Big Brother society appearing by the mid-80s. Okay, so Reaganomics came close, but really, no cigar.

Scientists and industrialists in the mid-50s looked at the turn of the millennium in the cosmic Delphi that was their imaginations and saw clean energy and peace through cooperation, colonies on the moon and a personal hovercraft in every garage. What do we get? Another war in the Middle East and no man on the moon for three decades. The closest we have to clean fuel is soy diesel, and I’m driving a Hyundai.

Where’s my hovercraft, you assholes?! Where’s my motherfucking jet pack? Where are my anti-cancer pills so I don’t have to be going through nicotine fits? Where’s my furry, alien pet? Where’s my day-trip to Mars? Where’s my Jane Fonda/Barbarella weightless sex?

It’s 2003, goddammit. Kubrick thought, at the very least, we’d be having life-and-death struggles with evil, living computers as early as two years ago. My PC crashed and I lost a couple files. Does that count?

“What are you doing, Steve?”

“I’m reinstalling Windows, HAL, and there’s nothing you can do to stop me.”

Somehow, it’s lacking in drama.

So, no monster computers, no trips into space, and no insta-trips to California via teleporter. And is our esteemed scientific community any closer to making this vision of the future a reality? They don’t even seem to be trying. They’re too busy coming up with a smaller MP3 player and a spaghetti pot with holes in the lid.

Holes in the lid! Hey, who needs a jet pack when I’ve got holes in my motherfucking lid!

To make things worse, it seems that every time we get within reach of something akin to futuristic technology, people start shaking in their boots.

“That’s sounds pretty weird. Who knows where it could lead?”

“I think we’re standing on a slippery slope.”

“I don’t know if we should do that. It seems morally questionable.”

And that last is from our federal government. Yeah, these are the same guys that thought for a few scant decades that syphilis and black people made a perfect combination.

Morally questionable, my ass.

I speak, of course, of clones. Clones, glorious clones, wonderfuuuuuuuul clooooones.

Also, apparently, scary fucking clones.

The idea of human cloning makes the controversy surrounding abortion look like the Pepsi Challenge. This is the sort of thing that gives congressmen cold sweats and night terrors. You thought partial-birth abortion was a prickly subject? Ha! That was nothing. You thought stem cell research raised harrowing ethical questions? Not even close.

The phrase “scientists playing God” was batted around during both of those debates. Well, with cloning, the scientists would not only be playing, they’d be turning semi-pro.

On the other hand, for our esteemed Commander-in-Chief, the decision on what side of the fence to stand on is a lot easier with cloning. With stem cell research, the man cloistered himself away for two weeks to think about it. Christopher Reeve — fucking Superman himself — asked the president from his motorized wheelchair to allow the research to continue, and the man still had to think about it for two whole weeks. And then, when he finally made a decision, it was a compromise so lukewarm you could have bathed a baby in it.

But, what if that baby were a — gasp — clone?

We’ve cloned mice and monkeys and sheep and goats and pigs and rabbits and a house cat and even a guar (an ox-like mammal), and now scientists are telling us that human cloning is right around the corner.

Now this is the science-fiction future that I was promised.

Oh, but what of the implications? Those scientists had barely gotten the words “genetic template” out of their mouths before the United States legislature brought down the gavel.

“Hell no!” a bipartisan cry went out. “Think of the implications!”

“Implications” means “the possible significance of.”

I say, “Screw the implications! I want to think of the consequences.”

We could have clone armies, creating a whole new industry revolving around the manufacturing of eggshell-white blast armor. We could clone lost children, deceased relatives, and other victims of tragedy. We could even — and I ain’t lying, this is from the scientists’ mouths — clone brain-dead versions of ourselves for use as spare parts. Spare parts!

Hell, we could just clone the parts.

“Fuck the triple-bypass, just clone me a new heart, Doc.”

Who needs anti-cancer pills when I can get a set of soft, pink, vat-grown lungs?

Okay, that’s a bit of an exaggeration, but therapeutic cloning techniques (as opposed to reproductive cloning techniques) could involve cloned tissue to further medical procedures.

Well, our congressmen thought long and hard (about as long as it took them to test the waters of popular opinion) of those implications and had a conniption fit.

Last year, France and Germany tried to pass a UN resolution condemning human reproductive cloning. Bush denounced it, calling for a complete ban that includes therapeutic cloning. The House of Representatives gave him his wish and passed a bill for a complete ban on human cloning, but the Senate couldn’t quite get their shit together by the end of the 2002 session.

And, while there are potentially serious moral, political and scientific consequences to take into account, the best argument that a lot of these guys can come up with is, “What if someone went and cloned Hitler? What if we brought that guy back?”

Does anyone else think we need to pull these guys away from reruns of the Twilight Zone and give them a few treatises on biology vs. society to read?

But, is this in-the-works ban a little too late? A rogue Italian fertility specialist and an alien cult say it is, and those are the sort of people I’d like to believe.

In November, Dr. Severino Antinori (this is the same guy whose patient, a post-menopausal 63 year old, became the oldest woman ever to give birth) said that one of his patients was carrying a cloned embryo and would give birth by the first of the year. Before that deadline came and went, though, members of the Raelian (pronounced like “alien”) sect announced the birth of “Eve,” who they claimed was a clone.

Two very serious claims from some very serious people that scientists and politicians are taking very, very seriously.

Okay, not really. The first of the year came and went, after all, and Antinori hasn’t been seen walking around with a mewling clone in his arms. The esteemed doc won’t comment on the broken deadline, saying that his patients need their privacy. So that’s still a bit up in the air.

The Raelians are a completely different story. Their founder is Claude Vorilhon, also known as Rael, a former sportswriter who met a short, bearded alien on a French mountainside in the 70s who told him that all of mankind is descended from alien clones. Despite their excellent scientific credentials, the Raelians have declined to have the 31-year old mother and “Eve” subjected to DNA testing.

Regardless of just how silly these last few weeks have gotten, the Raelians’ claim has jacked up the debate in the media, and maybe even among the actual, honest-to-goodness public.

President Bush is, and I quote, “deeply troubled.” The Vatican is going apeshit, and one legislator after another is calling for “action.” So, will the Senate catch their collective breath and pass their version of the House’s anti-cloning bill?

Probably. There aren’t enough politicians speaking against it, and the Republicans hold the Senate now, and we know how those guys feel about progress.

Those speaking out against a ban are mainly scientists. Those lab-coat-wearing eggheads should know our elected officials have seen 17 versions of Frankenstein by now. They know what goes on in those laboratories. First human cloning, and then death rays and time travel and Godzilla.

Well, those Victor Von Troublemakers can just go back to their castle dungeons and lightning catchers and their random bursts of maniacal laughter. Or they can go to Europe.

And that’s what’ll happen, too. A ban on human cloning will put a serious crimp in funding for general genetic research and slam the brakes on stem cell experimentation — currently the most promising scientific field with unlimited potential for answers to genetic diseases.

So, our smartest medical minds will head to labs in Europe and South America, where the fervor over cloning isn’t quite so high-pitched. In the meantime, people will still suffer and die from multiple sclerosis, Lou Gehrig’s Disease and Parkinson’s. Organ-transplant patients will still be playing Russian roulette with genetically mismatched parts. And Christopher Reeve will still need hydraulics to see what’s in his kitchen cabinets.

We’ll have razed the forest because we didn’t like some of the trees, and Mr. “You will believe a man can fly” will still need help cleaning himself.

And the first successful use of cloned material won’t happen in the United States. Patients will have to travel out of the country for that kind of treatment. Otherwise, they and their doctors would be arrested.

And the first actual cloned human?

The first human clone will be born in Scotland, or Italy, or Venezuela, and it’ll be named Susie or William instead of Adolph. And, if the stars align and the cards fall right, he will be happy and healthy and not set his little baby mind on world domination.

And all this will happen while Americans are fussing over the newest portable DVD player and wondering when the future is going to get here.

And I’ll still want my motherfucking jet pack.

Article © 2003 by Steve Spotswood