Double Helix Hubris: against designer genes

Against Designer Genes

JP Harpignies

ISBN: 978-1-887276-06-1 • $ 10.00

JP Harpignies’s Double Helix Hubris is a powerful broadside against the corporate juggernaut of genetic engineering. For those (and there are many) who have been averting their eyes and ears, this short survey will be a desperately urgent wake-up call. Reading it gives new meaning to William Burroughs’s definition of the paranoid as ‘anyone who is in full possession of the facts’. – Donald Nicholson-Smith, translator of Guy Debord’s Society of the Spectacle (Zone Books, 1994)

Double Helix Hubris by JP Harpignies is a polemical essay written to educate the public and to stimulate debate about a technology that has the potential to dramatically alter life on Earth, but that has been insufficiently understood and discussed.

It also explores Techno-Utopianism in contemporary popular culture and why opposition to many potentially hazardous and ethically perplexing developments in Biotech research has, so far, been hard to mobilize.

While the media is now displaying some fascination with the cloning of animals, as a rule, the coverage has been sporadic and superficial. As a result, even the usually well informed are confused or unaware of the startling and dangerous developments in this field.


The techno-utopian view has no respect for nature’s design sophistication; for the sublime, symbiotically balanced ecosystems that have developed over the aeons, compared to which our technologies seem pathetically crude and simple minded.

Does it even work?

The dominant scientific metaphor guiding genetic research views DNA as a sort of highly malleable computer program which can be cut, spliced, edited and rewritten to our specs. Putting aside its depressing reductionism, this is a profoundly flawed metaphor from a purely scientific perspective. One persuasive, if radical, view proffered by Professor Stuart Newman and, to some extent, Stephen Jay Gould, argues that species generally take on their characteristic forms early in their evolutionary history. They often settle into very prolonged evolutionary near-stasis, evolving homeostatic mechanisms rather than new phenotypic characteristics. This implies that evolution is much less plastic than commonly thought. Domesticated animals, for example, even after centuries of breeding, return to their pre-domesticated wild state after very few generations, if they escape. Another implication of this, which has been confirmed in numerous studies, is that that the strict coupling between genetic change and phenotypic change predicted by neo-Darwinianism does not exist. In any case, whatever evolutionary theory we subscribe to, our understanding of cells and living systems is still extremely primitive. To attempt to redesign what we haven’t begun to comprehend is pure madness.

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JP Harpignies is a Brooklyn, NY-based consultant, conference producer, copy editor and writer. He is the author of several non-fiction books, including Double Helix Hubris (1997), Political Ecosystems (2004), and Delusions of Normality (2009); co-writer of The Magic Carpet Ride (2011); editor of the collection,Visionary Plant Consciousness (2007); and associate editor of the first two Bioneers books: Ecological Medicine and Nature’s Operating Instructions.

He has also been the associate producer of the Bioneers Conference ( since the early 1990s; co-founded the Eco-Metropolis Conference (2004/05); has served as a senior member of the Buckminster Fuller Challenge ( review team since 2011; and was formerly a program director at the New York Open Center (in the early/mid 1990s). JP also taught t’ai chi chuan in Brooklyn for 25 years.