This blog represents most of the newspaper columns (appearing in various Colorado Community Newspapers and Yourhub.com) written by me, James LaRue, during the time in which I was the director of the Douglas County Libraries in Douglas County, Colorado. (Some columns are missing, due to my own filing errors.) This blog covers the time period from April 11, 1990 to January 12, 2012.

Unless I say so, the views expressed here are mine and mine alone. They may be quoted elsewhere, so long as you give attribution. The dates are (at least according my records) the dates of publication in one of the above print newspapers.

The blog archive (web view) is in chronological order. The display of entries, below, seems to be in reverse order, new to old.

All of the mistakes are of course my own responsibility.

Wednesday, March 5, 1997

March 5, 1997 - Send in the Clones

Well, mankind (in the form of Dr. Ian Wilmut, a Scottish embryologist) has cloned a sheep. Cloning, for those of you who don't follow such things, is the replication of an individual member of a species. The famous baby sheep is an exact genetic copy -- the identical twin -- of another, adult sheep.

Straight away, pundits began speculating about the ethics of cloning a human being (although science is still a ways from knowing how to do that).

As it happens, this topic has been dealt with extensively in science fiction. Nancy Mars Freedman's "Joshua Son of None," for instance, is the story of an unsuspecting clone of John F. Kennedy. The story focuses on recreating enough of the social environment of Kennedy's "twin" to produce a vigorous political leader.

"Joshua" dealt with the classic conflict between "nature" and "nurture." Are we who our genes say we are, or are we the products of our upbringing?

This defines one kind of intriguing speculation about the use of clones: the serial immortality of strong leaders, or mathematicians, or musicians. Think of it as a bank -- or even a library -- of human genotypes.

If you're inclined toward paranoia, you might imagine a grimmer scenario. Suppose we cloned warriors (as in Frank Herbert's Duncan Idaho, of the "Dune" series). Or, you might find it attractive to consider cloning deliberately brain-dead clones to use for spare body parts -- as in Robert Heinlein's "Time Enough for Love."

Each of these possibilities raises new ethical quandaries.

Another intriguing book about cloning was "Glory Season," by David Brin. This "female utopia" novel, the only one I know of that was written by a man, is predicated on a society that largely perpetuates itself by cloning (or, more technically, through the practice of "parthogenesis," where mothers give birth to their twins). So there might be, for instance, a "House of LaRue," presided over by the oldest female LaRue, and populated almost exclusively by her exact genetic duplicates of various ages.

There is something enormously seductive in having your child be ... yourself. You could raise yourself right, avoiding all those mistakes your parents made. Of course you wouldn't make any mistakes yourself, because you would really understand this child, right?

But let's suppose that you did manage to avoid all your parents' gaffs -- in itself an unlikely proposition. (I won't even get into the greater likelihood of introducing your own mistakes.) The child wouldn't be just like you anymore, would he/she? Even identical twins are, after all, separate people.

Beyond that, the world into which your clone was born wouldn't be the same as the world you entered. Even if you had perfect recall about your childhood, circumstances would be different. So too would parenting decisions -- and consequently, the child.

Then there's the question of evolution. Science tells us that the shuffling of genes from generation to generation makes us more fit, generally speaking, to survive. If we "freeze" the genetic pattern, aren't we just asking for nature to swoop down and wipe us out?

As always, science fiction has given us a heads-up on the future. It might be worth a trip to the library to look over some of the titles I've mentioned.

As my friend Connie Willis (Hugo Award winning science fiction novelist) once told me, "Anyone could see that the invention of the automobile would make a huge difference in our society. But it takes a science fiction writer to foresee the traffic jam."

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