The Frankenstein metaphor that opponents of genetically modified food use to promote their fears is more apt than they realize… for society as a whole, between the perceived risk of GMOs and the real risks of making policy about safety under the torches of an emotion-driven mob that distorts and ignores the evidence, the latter is the FAR scarier of the two.
Let’s acknowledge right away, with respect, that the emotions we ALL have toward various risks are an innate part of the way human cognition sees the world. None of our perceptions, about risk or anything, are simply an objective matter of the facts alone. We interpret the facts through powerful and subconscious instinctive and emotional lenses…
There is a telling moment in the Mary Shelley novel Frankenstein… that perfectly captures… how society deals with risk. The hideous creature created by Dr. Frankenstein has hidden outside a cottage for months, learning by watching and listening to the family inside how to speak, and think. He admires them. He cares for them. Lonely, he longs to meet them, but he understands that how he looks will scare them. One night, when only the blind father is home, the creature goes in. The blind man, open-minded, welcomes him and says “the hearts of men … are full of brotherly love.” He offers the creature food. They have a warm intelligent conversation. The creature is gentle, caring, respectful. But when the rest of the family comes home and sees the hideous beast with their father, the sight fills them with fear, and without regard for the creature’s true nature they attack him and drive him away, turning him into the murderer he becomes.
How’s that as a metaphor for how the emotional nature of risk perception can blind us to evidence and lead to decisions which, while made in the name of safety, can actually make things much much worse… French sociologist Bruno Latour wrote a fascinating essay on the Frankenstein metaphor, Love Your Monsters , arguing that our modern sins are not technologies like GMOs or nuclear power themselves, but our failure to handle them responsibly. He likes this to Dr. Frankenstein’s creature, whose sins arose not from his unnatural creation, but because at the moment of the creature’s creation, revolted by what he had made, Dr. Frankenstein abandoned him.
the frankenstein metaphor :: bruno latour