The minority report and DNA profiling

Most of us should have seen Steven Spielberg’s Minority Report starring Tom Cruise. I liked it, and the premise of preventive arrest is as frighteningly enchanting as a Matrix-like dystopia.

Sometimes, the fear of what we could do in the future paralyzes us to immobility.

Hence my interest in this matter perked up upon reading this piece in the TimesOnline.co.uk .

There is a conflict, it often seems, between science and freedom. The more scientists discover about us, down to microscopic genetic tendencies we might have to aggressive impulses or early dementia, the less secure we feel in our liberties.

In a sense, science is like gazing into a crystal ball. After all, in the public mind, science matters because of its predictive power, which is what everyone cares about anyway.

This raises the age old debate between free will and determinism. How much of me is free-how much of it is controlled by factors outside my control, like my genetic makeup.

Public policy makers, heck even the layman often make the mistake of thinking that just because I don’t have direct control over my DNA, therefore I don’t have control over my future actions. Or perhaps it’s immediate corollary appeals to us even more: If I want to control my actions, I must change my DNA.

Fallacies like this play up the apparent conflict that science has with personal liberty. A conflict fueled partly, by the innate belief that science tells all there is to know about me, while personal freedom is all there is to being me. It’s a tough call, one that plays out in policy debates as a conflict between security of the masses and individual freedoms.

But there needn’t be a conflict. If DNA tells us that we are predisposed to violent or suicidal behavior, perhaps the right response is to take personal responsibility for our choices. Granted that some thoughts and immediate impulses are above control, there are habits we can undertake that will reduce the likelihood of such behavior from blowing out of proportion. We are certainly not mentally incapacitated and clearly lucid enough to realize where our emotional state is heading to. In essence, isn’t this freedom?

No one, not even in government wants a totalitarian dystopia. But then there’s the age old paradox of the heap. Adding one  grain of sand to a scattering of sand grains doesn’t make it a heap. Although, if the process continues, eventually you’ll have one. The question to ask is how much restrictive policy can governments enforce, before we cross the line?


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About me

moogleBorn and bred in KL, Malaysia. Now studying for his Phd in Singapore. Learning to walk one fall at a time.
September 2007
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