TV Show Intelligence: Patriotic Transhumanist Propaganda

transhumanismMy husband watches the new TV show Intelligence starring Josh Holloway (previously Sawyer from Lost) as Gabriel, a man with a rare genetic mutation (or some such) that allowed the U.S. government to put a chip in his brain. This chip gives Gabriel unlimited access to the Internet directly into his consciousness. As an agent for a super secret intelligence agency, that comes in super handy. Gabriel, the best of all guys, uses his enhancement only for good. He saves people and catches bad guys and he looks good doing it. Gabriel is the quintessential enhanced American hero reminiscent of Captain America, just without the tights and shield.

In a recent episode, Gabriel has to enter a middle eastern country to rescue two American journalists sentenced to death for being spies. A former U.S. president tags along to distract the middle eastern government with diplomacy while Gabriel breaks the journalists out of prison using his enhancement to hijack security cameras and pinpoint his targets’ exact location.

After many twists and turns, the objective of their mission complete, the former U.S. president asks Gabriel why he would let the government put that chip in his head.

Gabriel answers, “Because I love my country.”

And there it is. A good American would do anything for his country, including volunteering to be an experiment and allowing the government to violate his or her bodily integrity with a microchip in the brain.

And why not, when we ask those who serve our country to place their lives at risk? Why not ask them to alter their bodies, with possible permanent side effects, to make the job easier? Why not if it means an American victory?

Many Catholics do not see the harm in such enhancements for our soldiers and intelligence agents. In a discussion at a Catholic blog about genetically enhancing soldier’s eyes to have night vision like a cat, one commenter saw no moral issue with such an intervention. Why would we not give our soldier’s such an advantage?

But is that treating the soldier as a person or a means to an end? What about the possible side effects? The human brain is not wired to “see” in the dark permanently.

Why not instead equip our soldiers with the best in night vision goggles that they can take off at the end of the day and at the end of a career?

Do we really need to ask those that serve American interests to radically alter their bodies?

But I am afraid that with shows like Intelligence, the seed had already been planted. I doubt any parent turned to their child after Gabriel announced that he loved his country and said, “This is a fun show and that was a nice sentiment, but in reality it would be immoral for a government to do that to one of its citizens.”

Not everyone is buying what shows like Intelligence are selling. Here are some comments from viewers on IMDB:

my next question however is: “when will they find the unusually large mass in his brain next to that constantly radiating chip?”

in the shadow of NSA scandals and the fear of the absolute transparent citizen, this series tries to numb your concerns by showing you how well meant and helpful the absolute access to every information in the world, to one guy can be even, in the hands of an unpredictable, mischievous sawyer guy, as long as he is American.

To make the show ‘better’, every plot serves as a bit of pro-NSA propaganda that doesn’t even bother trying to justify itself: they have the right to spy on everyone on a hunch, borders and international relations don’t matter at all – as a super secret government spy agency they can do as they please all over the world. It goes without saying that being good guys, they don’t need to bother with details or justification.

This gives me hope that some Americans are thinking critically about radical enhancements and the physical and moral implications of the “super soldier.”

I fear, though, that not enough of us are dissecting such mainstream depictions of transhumanism, especially when they are placed in such a patriotic package.

Rebecca Taylor is a clinical laboratory specialist in molecular biology, and a practicing pro-life Catholic who writes at the bioethics blog Mary Meets Dolly. She has been writing and speaking about Catholicism and biotechnology for six years and is a regular on Catholic radio.