The Mind challenges Genes

(Geist Gegen Gene)

In the early sixties a symposium on "the future of mankind", which was hence quoted for years on numerous occasions, took place in London.

Twenty-seven top scientists, above all natural scientists- not a single woman among them - discussed the consequences of a biological revolution. Topics were scientific issues, as well as visions on health and illness, eugenics and genetics, but also the future of mind in view of an expected population explosion and a genetic decline, which had to be prevented. The envisioned aim determined the perspective: the quality of life was to be improved substantially by putting scientific findings into practice. Scientific visions under the banner of humanism was what resulted. In the meantime many of these hybrid visions have become, in accordance with their marketability, practicable and thus social reality in our societies.

At the beginning of the new millennium and in view of the newest biotechnological developments we call for a new discussion about the future of mankind. From June 29 st to 2th 2001 an international symposium entitled "The Mind challenges Genes" will be taking place in Berlin, to which any contribution you may wish to give will be most welcome. What we are looking for is fictional science.

A forum needs to be opened that allows itself to go beyond conventional paradigms and to produce knowledge that might not be marketable. If you allow me to interprete Searle freely, consciousness is intrinsic and cannot be eliminated. Fortunately, consciousness is not patentable either - just as mind is not. Instead of limiting ourselves to the immanence of purposeful production of biotechnological knowledge, let us make use of this opportunity to be transcendent.

Our project is all the more important as the "biological psychiatry" will hold its 7th World Congress at the same time in Berlin. While Joshua Lederberg in 1963 was pleased to simply announce that we are able to define the human being genotypically, biological psychiatry today enjoys growing popularity with its claim that it can predict people´s behaviour with the help of genetic tests. Even though this "fact" is not scientifically provable and consequently a myth, German history is proof of the fatal potential of eugenic ideas that hide behind the classification into wanted and unwanted behaviour. Between 1939 and 1947 alone 275,000 people, who had been previously stigmatised as mentally ill, were killed under a euthanasia programme carried out by psychiatrists in Germany.

Today the production of scientific truth is no longer governed by the ideology of "blood and soil". Eugenics, that had an bad reputation after the war, started to calls itself ´human genetics.` It merged with medicine and pretends to be a "neutral science." Despite of all efforts by ´human genetics´ to follow an empirical orientation that should garantee its objectivity, it is still about an ideology of ´improving the human being.´ Methods have changed, but the aim of eliminating unwanted individuals remains: The Nazi state made unscrupulous use of repression and coercion in order to implement its ideology of race. Modern racism, however, functions in a totally democratic way and in the sense of personal freedom, by using the promise of health. Because of the supposed recessivity of hereditary diseases every human being is a risk until the opposite is proved by tests. Women, who take the precaution of amputating both their breasts because they were diagnosed to have the genetic predisposition to breast cancer are an illustration of a faith in medicine that abolished the difference between illness and health in favour of latent illness. Thus everybody is under suspicion and hopes to be acquitted following a medical check-up.

The game with the fears and desires of each individual opens an enormous market for medicine, which forms a cartel with the pharmaceutical industry. Today scientific success is measured more and more by commercial success. This leads to interconnections that reach their climax in the commercialisation of the natural human set of genes: According to the European Patent Office, human genes and cells can be registered as patents from September 1st 1999 onwards. Medical genomics is taking its course. By means of genetic tests, mutation and hereditary dispositions are diagnosed, which enables experimentation with genetic therapeutical methods that bring very doubtful results. It is by no way a coincedence, that the 1988 EC Research Programme entitled "Preventive Medicine" was started two years later than scheduled under the more neutral name "Analysis of the Human Genome." As there is a lack of therapeutical options, the new knowledge is used mainly as preventive measure. The application of predictive and preventive medicine reveals negative and positive eugenics and is currently aiming less at the phenotype than at the genotype. In this racism without races diagnosis decides our fate- above all if the only possible therapy is the social elimination of the illness and thus of the person.Conversely, it will be possible to duplicate "healthy", biologically high-quality genetic material, as in the "Lebensborn Project" (a Nazi programme for the organised breeding of human beings) or to allow its cloning rightway.

Since its beginnings psychiatry viewed itself as predestined to promote eugenic models, in as far as it is an authority, that refers to the norm of health. Due to the systematisation of symptoms and diagnosis deviant behaviour develops into "mental illness" and gives from henceforth biological answers to social questions. The law supports the power of definition of psychiatry´s models of explanation and provides for its implementation e.g. through the German "Law on support and protective measures in case of mental illness" (Pschy. Kg). At the same time psychiatry takes some of the load off the legal system which is overburdened by social conflicts. Psychiatry does this by legitmising the legal system´s decisions with seemingly objective scientific models of human behaviour. Psychiatry embodies the alliance of medicine and law as the modern "science of behaviour." In psychiatry for the first time profils of normality that are wanted by society can be elaborated by elevating health into the norm- and most amazingly- to define norm as health. Meanwhile behavioural genetics continues in its efforts to biologistically explain the reasons for affective psychosis, schizophrenia, delinquency, alcoholism, intellegence and homosexuality once again by biological means. In the face of the complex social situation, the promise of health, and above all of mental health, opens up an enormous market. Apart from the pharmaceuticals industry, there is an increasing number of alternative suppliers (social workers, psychologists) competing in/on this market.

Medical psychiatry realised a double binding drug programme (prescription of psychiatric drugs and at the same time a ban on consciousness enhancing drugs) that had been prepared for years. It is mainly for this reason, that it is so well placed in the health market. Pharmaceutical industry influences psychiatry by financing research projects, sponsoring and organising conferences, publications and other services and their sales representatives offer psychiatrists "scientific" information. Life science is the name of a new advertising strategy of an industry worth a few millions, that makes radical biopolicy (Foucault) with slogans that sound futurist and humanist. Within this system medicine and psychiatry are the traffic police that makes sure everybody is asked to pay up, only because he is alive. It does not matter, whether you take drugs, are consumed by way of organ donation or have checked, if your genes are suitable for your children. Life science with its commodity health concerns everybody.

We strongly oppose a "life science" in the hand of medicine, psychiatry and bioindustry that reduces the philosophical and metaphysical dimensions of life to the mere concept of the genetic code of DNA. According to Baudrillard in such a system our existence amounts to nothing more than molecular chains and neuronal convolutions, where there is no soul anymore. As we doubt the impartiality of what natural science claims to be true, we believe that human beings are more than the sum of their genes. This does not mean, that we want science to be reduced to a social and cultural context. We rather believe, that since the beginning of eugenics, sociological issues cannot be disassociated from technological ones (Virilio). This does mean, that we have to reflect the production of knowledge in interaction with historical opportunities, cultural situation and political interests and that we have to influence the changes and last but not least the application of knowledge. The view of future that is sold to us, is something we dare to call into question. We fear a "Brave new World" (A. Huxley) that is ensured by cultural iatrogenesis (Illich).

Due to the present situation it is necessary to steer against the alliance of medicine, biological psychiatry and bioindustry and their growing network of knowledge and power. We need to develop an open concept that counters the biologisation of mind, as well as the growing medication of social deviance, deviant behaviour and "mental illness". The symposium "The Mind Challenges Genes" is a forum on the future of mankind that promotes social fantasies and puts its hopes on interdisciplinary exchange. Beyond utilitarian logics of the market we allow ourselves to ask for philosophical and social utopia. We would like you to join us.

Current topics

With progressing commercialization of life sciences the danger rises that the value of humans is based on the quality of their hereditary property: an upgrading of the "healthy" goes hand in hand with the downgrading of the "ill". Human life with gene defects is descriminated against. A racism without races is being developed. The pre-implantation diagnostic (PID), which is still prohibited in Germany at the present time is paving the way for prenatal eugenics whose selection criteria are largely obscure. They are just following the latest biological and medical developments. The question is: What will happen to genes which are declared to be unfit for the future? The potential selection of custom-made offspring above all presupposes descrimination against the handicapped because the impression is given that one carries within oneself the responsiblity for one's own deviation.

The pre-disposition for certain illnesses would be able to be stored for each person on "DNS-Chips". What psychic-social consequences will result for the individual? What happens to this information? What do the new discoveries in bio-genetic techniques mean when the interaction between the environment and genes for the evaluation of mental health/normality is blanked out. This is a very pertinent question in view of the fact that politically persecuted and dissenters now, as always, are locked up in psychiatric institutions on the basis of questionable diagnoses. Examples of this are to be found all over the world.

The selection of life which is deemed not to fit the norm has a fatal past in Germany: Genocide is always justified on the grounds of genealogical-biological inferiority, as the latest examples - such as Ruanda - show. Bio-technology delivers the grounds on which it is based. A global economical and military use of genetic engineering is already being practiced. The Human Genome Diversity Project, established in Stanford, are doing research with the aim of studying the variation in the gene sequences of the various ethnic groups world-wide. Their results could be used to discriminate arbitrarilly against certain groups. The Unesco Declaration published in 1987, which states that no-one should be disadvantaged because of his/her inherited qualities and that the human genome should not be used for profit, is being ignored. The patenting of human genetic material is continuing unabated just as is the work on chemical and biological weapons which directly affect the genes. The questions of genetic health are gaining more importance. Bio-piracy in the developing countries must be just as feared as the medical bottle-necks in the health-service in the developed countries which are a result of being protected by the possession of patents.

The symposium will be dealing with matters which are of vital interest to the future of mankind. The need for information and discussion grows with the rapid developing possibilities in bio-technology. Reproduction techniques in medicine, pre-implantation diagnosis and gene technology influence the understanding of man in a fundamental way and surreptitiously create an anthropological norm. The ethical and social effects of biotechnology - with all its juridical consequences of a new social order - are lagging behind. Discussions on the subject are often used as research material to legitimize the new technologies in the public arena. What changes of mind with regard to human understanding are presently taking place? The symposium The Mind Challenges Genes will address questions which are not found in the material bio-logic of the mind. Despite phrenology, electrocelaphogram (ECG) and nuclear magnetic resonance tomography, no-one knows yet what constitutes the human mind. And this, even though the processes mentioned claim the right to make a diagnosis about the intellectual state of the examined patients with results which have severe consequences for the individual.
The Mind Challenges Genes turns the question around: We are interested in the theoretical-perceptual premises of the questionable bio-genetic logic of physical and mental health. What fantasies are hidden under this cloak? Which promises are used to feed the wishes and needs of people?

Elke Heitmueller
(Translation from german by Julia Kriesel)