Against Nature: Power to Turn the Beautiful into the Grotesque


I love technology, and I am always fascinated by the latest breakthroughs in science. We live in a universe which is rich and ripe for discovery, and I am buoyed by the stunning achievements of mankind.

We have come from using sticks and stones as tools, and huddling around fires for warmth, to today’s panoply of designs and infrastructures which allow us to undertake the phenomenally complex processes that have created our modern civilisation.

Of course with great power comes great responsibility [credit to Spiderman’s Uncle Ben], and from this, there is one fear that lurks in the back of my mind:

That despite our good intentions, through the great power that we now wield in manipulating biology, genetics, and other fields, we may make ourselves, not into better human beings, but into monsters.

A few days ago, Time Magazine released the story and picture below about a trans-man giving birth, and breast feeding ‘his’ child. Without a doubt, it is a confronting image, and in the future it will probably become one of the defining pictures of our era.

Some have reacted to the picture with celebration. Others, with revulsion.

Many who reacted to the picture with feelings of revulsion are legitimately worried that same-sex marriage is a Trojan horse that will enable the re-definition of the vital concepts of sexuality and gender. I have little doubt that this is true. But what we are seeing now is more than an attempt to re-define terms. What we are seeing, is an attempt to recreate reality, indeed, even mock the very definition of reality; to play with it and turn it on its head, to manipulate it to our whims and preferences.

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Screenshot from ‘Time’, Facebook

Hubris with nature is one of the great themes of ancient myth. And rightly so – because attempts to curtail and manipulate nature are necessarily destructive to our ourselves, humanity, and can be cataclysmic to life itself. My fear is that as our power to remake and redefine ourselves in our own image grows, when we look in the mirror, the humanity we see becomes no longer beautiful, but grotesque.