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In Margaret Atwood’s chilling novel “Oryx and Crake”, the readers are sent into a backwards spiral to a tragic catastrophic event while its full dimensions are slowly revealed, Jimmy is the apparent last human on Earth, making his way back to the Rejuven-Essence Compound for supplies. Oryx and Crake mobilizes a wide variety of futurological and ‘mythological’ speculations creating a horrifying, almost parallel universe. This novel portrays the extreme possible outcome of the world we live in today today where people put technology and science in front of morals; along with the attempt to creating the “perfect” human race.
The turn of 21st century events marked unprecedented advantages in science and technology which fueled various speculations about the future of culture as money start to become a major influence on actions of corporations along with the availability of certain medicines/healthcare to the various levels of socioeconomic class. In order to play a divine role, Atwood argues that humans tend to sacrifice ethics and morals to control their own fate in the process.
In search for money and power, the HelthWyzer company produce ‘chickienobs’ – chickens without eyes or a beak – for the sole purpose of food production. They are produced for special services like “‘Just the breast… They’ve got ones that specialize in drumsticks too’…”(105).
From that excerpt alone, it is obvious that humans seek to play a distinctive role within the tiers in capitalism through the manipulative of artificial creation. In history, western culture is known to simply only eat a few parts of animals, while discarding the rest.
With the ‘morals’ of HelthWyzer and Crake, by creating things such as living breasts and drumsticks machines for human consumption, they reach to point and overall goal of less waste and more revenue. However, their greatest downfall with this idea is the demolition of the human race. In the featured world of Oryx and Crake, humans have started to revolve around their own needs opposed to the ethical issues that lie behind genetic engineering. In the book, humans are the main and overall cause to the destruction of the environment as the develop more way to the continuous rhythm that is nature. Humans continue to destroy the world through the act of scientific corporations and genetically altered organisms while “everything was being ruined and would never be the same again…”(75).
Although in the post apocalyptic world, nature is finally free of burdens and chaos, the excessive damage done by humans over a vast time period has only lead the world into becoming one large uncontrolled experiment. Along with that, humans tend to neglect against acting/responding to then continuous damage brought onto the environment. In the novel, the climate has reached a point of total alteration such as wet seasons, scorching sun, and tornados. In this futuristic dystopian world, the chaotic end to humanity is pulled by a “genious” man in charge of one of the most powerful pharmaceutical companies.
It is very known that pharmaceutical companies have made immense impacts through human medicine; the biggest breakthroughs being the creation of penicillin with various alternatives that prevent diseases measles, mumps, and even rabies. After World War II, a tremendous amount of antibacterial research was performed causing the death rate to plummet due to scientific breakthroughs. According to a New York Times, pharmaceuticals companies have steadily increased the prices of medicine and overall health care; “Albuterol, one of the oldest asthma medicines, typically cost $50 to $100 per inhaler in the United States, but it was less than $15 a decade ago, before it was repatented”(Rosenthal 2013).
In 2007, many companies gave ¾’s of their funding (amounting in 89.9 million in total) to Republicans in a large scale attempt to stop Obama’s affordable act that was meant to lower the prices of medicine to decrease the overall costs of healthcare necessities that burden low income families. In the novel, pharmaceutical companies share the same aspects. They wield a majority of their power solely because of their money; buying as much as you want in a democratic society. Advances in the pharmaceutical world are still huge and have extended to genetic modification, however tend to be extremely expensive. Leading the corporations to “Naturally develop the antidotes at the same time as they’re customizing the bugs, but they hold those in reserve, they practice the economics of scarcity, so they’re guaranteed high profits”(211).
The disease ridden pleeblands are filled with the lower end of the socioeconomic scale meaning those families in general struggle to pay for medicine and eventually die from it. From this, a large gap between the socioeconomic classes for causing one half to live only disease ridden lives, while the other enjoy the gift of life all because of money. It is obvious that Crake knew that disease and violence heavily affected all forms of life on Earth – from the games he played – but continued to do so until he was left with a perspective that life itself is just a long agonizing dread before the human race truly ends.
However, Crake might have possibly acted the way he did with the games he played because he already predicted the end of the human race beforehand. When many people were dying in the pleeblands and medicine itself was rapidly increasing in price, is when he realized that companies would fight the whole nine yards just to be able to stay in business. Eventually, it leads to a majority parishing away, and the poorer of the few left will simply have their life continuously trampled on by higher “authorities”. Crake may have perceived that the want of money and the act of vulnerability of sickness eventually led to an inescapable cycle of those in power draining the weak. He sought to create a race (Crakers) that would be able to avoid horror and hardship in human nature simply because he was disgusted with humanity at the time and wanted to create a clean slate. There is a sense of post-human chaotic economy, there is a cosmopolitan that “people come here from all over the world – they shop around. Gender, secual orientation, height, colour of skin and eyes – it’s all on order, it can all be done and redone” (289).
The isolation and even free exchange of biological elements have increasing particularization thus reaching an idolization in society. The index of changing such status of the human race lead to bigger possibilities for modification across biological being: psychic and genetic. It is often brought to attention the myths that have to do with the end of the human race itself. In today’s time, the significance of the various dimensions of culture allow the examination amongst phenomenological, biological, and even ontological areas. At the same time, what seems to be a simple question is almost impossible to truly comprehend – “How can we speak of the end of the human, when ‘we’ are still here, insisting on out humanity?” – no matter how you approach it. With that, still remains the idea that the human race is fundamentally implicated in biotechnology and vise-versa.
Atwood creates a reflection on what the answer to a question such as that one might be; by placing civilization itself in jeopardy along with causing the audience to reflect on the route the world is plummeting into today. The novel itself, as many can assume, was simply created out of fear, to give the intended audience a insight of what we’re headed towards. Humanity itself amongst the human race is faced with a whirlwind of disasters that many didn’t think possible. As almost as if it is a plea – for humanities scientific and natural resources – Atwood gives us a glimpse into the “powerful and perturbing dark future” (Talese 2003).
Her almost realistic insight continuously challenges the fate of the human race within the near future. However, in an interview, Atwood states; “Our tools have become very powerful. Hate, not bombs, destroys cities. Desire, not bricks, rebuilds them. Do we as a species have the emotional maturity and the wisdom to use our powerful tools well?’ – so what does her position really suggest? It is not techinis or even biotechnology that is dangerous, but it is how humans going about using these resources. The answer is simple, the end of humanity is not because of science, but because of ourselves as a human race. Just like the the whole gun control debate; “guns don’t kill people, people do”. With that statement, it somehow is meant to separate the gun from the person who possess it, as if the gun was forced into a void while being stripped of culture and politics – all while assuming practice with a gun is not really “technical practice”.
While Atwood attempts to separate herself from the whole biotechnology critique by claiming that it is simply human instinct to drives us into certain events, there is possibly an underlying tone to the novel that presents a different position, one that is ultimately divided. The distinction between biotechnology as a technics and the human use is perhaps a false one. The pride and overestimate that Atwood wises to achieve from the impassive technical practice simply comes from the same context as the latter and a warning rumor that overestimating could stem from the same area of cautionary technics. It could be assumed that Atwoods opinion of keeping humans separate from technics itself is really just a concern focusing on the idea of “man the maker”.
Also, while human pride and anxiety may result in the end of a species or race, it can also result in the end of a language. The end of what can be considered a vitally technical epigenetic infrastructure to even be considered biologically human. All to say that the end of the human race cannot be imagined without ending technics. The attempt to separate humans and technics would emerge from many ways that the two are connected with both a beginning and ending.
Overall, Atwood does an intensely scary but great job of giving the readers an insight to where society as a whole, even possibly all over the world, is truly going. Despite the chaotic atmosphere of Snowman’s dystopian world, there are still many signs of hope throughout. The journey offers an insight into a new hope for not just humanity but other life forms as well. The lands throughout are adapting to the changes and growing which can be taken as a representation of life and overall hope.
In an article, the author Rozelle goes to point out that “…Life emerges to confuse the dividing edge, adapting and multiplying to reconnect pieces that have been broken. It is that “unconscionable” connection, the gene splice that enables Margaret Atwood’s Oryx and Crake to be read against the grain of critical responses that reduce the novel to a dystopian tale” (Rozelle, p. 12). Both Jimmy and Snowmans worlds show dystopian characteristics in their own unique ways, and although they both may have seemed horrible, Atwood used the setting as more of a tool instead of just being somewhere to have the story take place. Superficially, the novel just seems to be a simple science-fiction thriller, but deeper down, the dominant themes parallel our world today in a chilling way.
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