Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

December 30, 2018

Genesis 2.0

Filed under: extinction,Film,indigenous,Russia,science — louisproyect @ 9:34 pm

If you knew nothing beforehand about “Genesis 2.0” and sat down after the opening credits had rolled, you’d swear after about 15 minutes that you were watching Warner Herzog’s latest documentary since it incorporates his obsession with obsessional people. In this instance, it is the Yakut hunters who have set out on a hunting trip for dead animals, specifically the tusks of woolly mammoths that have been extinct for around 10,000 years. It would not be far-fetched to call them scavengers rather than hunters.

The Yakuts live in the very north of Siberia. If the word Siberia summons up visions of frigid, desolate and barren tundra, nothing prepares you for the hunting ground they have chosen, the New Siberian Islands to the north of Siberia that would be of little interest to any Russian if it were not the high price paid for the tusks of creatures dead 10,000 years ago and up. Of course, that price is relative since like most indigenous people drawn into the commodity production, they are likely to be the lowest paid.

We learn that woolly mammoth tusks are in high demand because there is now a ban on exporting elephant tusks to China where they are used in carvings purchased by a nouveau riche population that seem little interest in whether a knick-knack on their fireplace mantle might eventually lead to the extinction of the African elephant, the genetic relative of the woolly mammoth as well as the mastodon. In the commodity chain, a Yakut hunter might get a hundred dollars for a tusk that is in relatively good condition. It is then sold in the marketplace in China for up to tens of thousands of dollars to a merchant who then hires artisans to turn it into something looking like this:

This goes for $130,000 at http://mammothtusk.org/

“Genesis 2.0” is narrated by Christian Frei, the Swiss director whose native language is German. If it wasn’t for the offbeat subject, the narrator’s quizzical tone and German accent would convince you that you were listening to Werner Herzog. That being said, Frei is dealing with far more deeply philosophical questions than any I have ever seen in a Herzog film. Since I consider Herzog to be one of the top ten living filmmakers, that’s quite a compliment to Frei whose ambition is to engage with the deepest concerns of the 21st century: what is humanity’s future and what is the future of life in general? Although we do not hear the term “sixth extinction” once in the film, you can’t help but think of it.

Among the men profiled by Frei is Peter Grigoriev, a Yakut who dropped out of college to become a mammoth tusk hunter. His brother Semyon also plays a major role in the documentary even though he is not a hunter. He is a paleontologist and head of the Mammoth Museum in Yakutsk, the capital city of the Sakha Republic in northern Siberia. His dream is to resurrect a woolly mammoth, a task his brother and his fellow hunters make plausible after they stumble across the nearly complete carcass of a baby woolly mammoth that has been so well-preserved under the frozen tundra that its blood pours liquid from its veins.

Like Indiana Jones coming across the lost ark of the covenant, Semyon feels like his lifelong dream has been realized. With samples in hand, he flies to South Korea to connect with Woo Suk Hwang who runs Sooam Biotech, the largest cloning laboratory in the world and most successful. While Woo is mainly interested in pure science, he pays his bills by cloning the pet dogs of wealthy people who are willing to pay the same money to be reconnected with Fido as those willing to shell out for a mammoth tusk carving. We hear from one customer, a woman with a distinctly nasal Queens accent who says she loved her dog more than anybody, including her husband and her mother. In moments like this, you can also be fooled into thinking you are watching a Werner Herzog since the unintended comedy is funnier than any Will Ferrell movie I’ve ever seen.

This is not Semyon’s last stop. Next, he flies to China to meet with the top management of BGI, a genome sequencing laboratory that has Communist Party members and military officers on its board. They are anxious to register the dead baby woolly mammoth’s genome codes with BGI that is aspiring to encompass every single living thing on earth in its electronic archives. Like Woo, BGI pays for their pure science undertakings by the more menial job of testing fetal samples sent to their labs by parents anxious to preempt having a baby with Down’s Syndrome. When Semyon’s colleague questions the morality of such a business, the BGI executive stares blankly at him with a plastic smile on her face.

Let me conclude with something from the press notes that helps pull together the different strands of this remarkable film that opens on January second at the IFC in New York:

There is a kind of gold rush fever in the air, because the prices for this white gold have never been so high. But the thawing permafrost unveils more than just precious ivory. Sometimes the hunters find an almost completely preserved mammoth carcass with fur, liquid blood and muscle tissue on which arctic foxes gnaw.

Such finds are magnets for high-tech Russian and South Korean clone researchers in search of mammoth cells with the greatest possible degree of intact DNA. Their mission could be part of a science-fiction plot. They want to bring the extinct woolly mammoth back to life à la “Jurassic Park”, and resurrect it as a species. And that’s just the beginning. Worldwide, biologists are working on re-inventing life. They want to learn the language of nature and create life following the Lego principle. ( The Lego Principle refers to the concept of connecting first to God and then to one another. Regardless of the shape, size, or color of any LEGO brick, each is designed to do just one thing: connect. LEGO pieces are designed to connect at the top with studs and the bottom with tubes. Following this metaphor, if you can connect to the top with God and to the foundation with others, you then have the ability to shape the world you live in.) The goal of synthetic biology is to produce complete artificial biological systems. Man becomes the Creator.

The resurrection of the mammoth is a first track and manifestation of this next great technological revolution. An exercise. A multi-million dollar game. The new technology may well turn the world as we know it completely on its head…and all of this has its origin in the unstoppably thawing permafrost at the extreme edge of Siberia.

Genesis two point zero.

 

3 Comments »

  1. The revolution in genetics, which is just in its infancy, will finally provide one of the essential pillars of the material basis for that society of equals dreamed about by visionaries for centuries. It won’t guarantee it, just provide — along with AI and possibly other currently unpredictable advances in science and engineering — the possibility for it. As a small side effect, it will make one of the controversies currently avoided by progressives — the genetic basis of intelligence — a moot point, as our species will choose the IQ, and other desirable biology-based behaviors, of the future generations.

    Comment by doug1943 — December 30, 2018 @ 9:44 pm

  2. Given the magnitude of the extinction event with which we are threatened, these de-extinction initiatives strike me as fanciful and–even if possible–pretty much entirely beside the point.

    The Nazis were obsessed with de-extinction–they yearned to bring back the aurochs and the tarpan. There isn’t anything inherently Nazi about wanting to bring back extinct fauna–no more than there is about vegetarianism–but the whole subject is fraught with contradictions. When do you actually have a woolly mammoth rather than a genetically re-engineered Indian elephant? And why do you wish for this? The Nazis had some sort of crackpot notions about animal racial purity and the need for a fauna suitable to Aryans, bla bla bla. What’s our excuse, other than thrill-seeking?

    In any case, what will woolly mammoths do in a globally warm world? And even if they could survive the heat, what necessary aspects of learned mammoth behavior have been lost? Perhaps we would have nothing more than a few overheated and neurotically miserable intelligent creatures at sea in a world they never made. it could be awful.

    Comment by Farans Kalosar — December 31, 2018 @ 1:29 am

  3. The rationale–or excuse–for some of this is the idea that by restoring large herbivores as per late Pleistocene, the permafrost lands in Siberia, etc.–now releasing or soon to release great volume of greenhouse gases–could be stabilized and the release brought under control, thus helping to forestall climate disaster. I’ve heard crazier ideas..

    The mammoths would topple trees and herbivores in general would eat more grass, which would in turn make more grass grow. Grassy soil retains more carbon than forested soil.

    On the other hand, the lead in this is being taken, apparently, by Russians. Can there be any initiative in Putin’s Russia not swept up in the absolute corruption that is the gangster state? See: https://www.livescience.com/64340-pleistocene-park-progress.html

    Comment by Farans Kalosar — December 31, 2018 @ 11:56 am


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