We continue our 1997 interview with pioneering Visionary Fiction author John Nelson. Inspiring in itself but also an authentic piece of VF history from a writer who was part of the early experiment with the VF genre at Hampton Roads Press in the 1990s along with others like Monty Joynes, Frank DeMarco, and Bob Friedman. Read Part One HERE.
Do Visionary Novelists Dream of Cloned Sheep?
An Interview with John Nelson, Part Two
by Jerry Snider (Magical Blend Magazine, August 1997)
In the meantime, we have to learn to cope with a technology that seems to be setting the agenda for the spiritual growth you’re talking about. For instance, your novel Transformations, which tells the story of human beings coping with an evolutionary leap, broaches the subject of biotechnology. As we all know, cloning has now become a reality, and despite all of the media attention and hand wringing it has attracted, the debate falters as soon as it gets into the spiritual area, where it sounds like the same old “If God had wanted us to . . .” song and dance.
John Nelson: The current ethical questions about biotechnology, and especially the cloning of human beings, seem to miss the point by not approaching it from the idea that we are spiritual beings, that the physical is interchanging constantly and being fed constantly the energies of the spiritual, and by tampering with the physical, you are also tampering with the spiritual. Each gene is an energetic pathway, and each combination is a kind of energetic pathway that allows certain types of energies to come through, and as you change that and the variability is taken out, the spiritual matrix that feeds the process is being altered. I think this is where the great risk is.
What is interesting to me about the whole biotechnological breakthrough is that we are getting a science that represents the conscious mind of the species, able to manipulate other levels of the species using only a conscious mind’s understanding of where that should go. The horror is that each generation keeps programming in its own bias. One generation’s ideal may be red hair; the next generation’s ideal may be blue eyes. Pretty soon, you’ve programmed all this in without understanding at all what the deeper aspects of this may be.
What human cloning is going to do is make us define who we actually are. Are we just a bag of genes, or are we spiritual beings? And if we are spiritual beings, then there is another way of looking at this whole thing that we need to incorporate. Whether we like it or not, we are going to have to face this whole genetic business from a social-political point of view, in the same way we had to face the reality of the nuclear bomb, where we discovered we could no longer engage in these tribal wars, and that we had to grow up to a certain point.
And that’s where science and fiction come together. One of the primary themes of speculative fiction of any kind, from sci-fi to horror to the visionary fiction you’re talking about, is how to you deal with the genie once it’s out of the bottle. And it is out of the bottle.
John Nelson: You’re right, you can’t put the genie back in the bottle. Still, that doesn’t mean you just throw your hands up. Look at nuclear weapons; we still have millions of nuclear weapons on this planet, and no one is using them. We still have stockpiles of chemical weapons all over the place, but nobody is using them. [Published before Saddam Hussein and Bashar Assad of Syria used them on rebel forces.] The genie’s been out of the bottle on a lot of these things, and what is happening has forced us to define ourselves and our humanity in a certain way.
I think they are going to clone human beings; there’s no doubt about it. So whether we like it or not, this is a grand opportunity for us to define ourselves on another level. And once we’ve cloned an exact duplicate of a human being, I think what we’ll find is that the duplicated body is a unique, individual soul.
What amazes me about the whole cloning debate is that it continues to focus only on the cloning of humans. Little is being said about the ethical questions regarding the animals, whom we’re using to mass-produce certain medicines.
John Nelson: Right. They’re trying to turn cattle and sheep into pharmaceutical industries. Rosey the Cow is a good example: they took a human gene for lactating milk and incorporated it into the egg, and as the cow grew, it activated the gene and created milk with large quantities of the human protein alpha-lactalbumin.
They call these hybrids “transgenetic animals,” and they’ve been around for ten years now. Since it primarily involves animals, a lot of people in the scientific community don’t seem to have an ethical problem with it. I think it’s hideous myself. A cow, a sheep, a dog, a cat—they all have integrity; they are living beings; they have souls; they feel, as anybody who’s had a pet knows. We have no right to tamper with them. It’s bad enough that we slaughter some of them for our food. And this transgenetic stuff is just the next chain about that. The temptation is, if they treat a cow or a sheep as no more than a bag of genes to be manipulated, then we have to ask, “Who’s next in line?” It’s far too easy to project this same kind of superior attitude so many people have about animals onto humans, or those we might characterize as sub-humans, like the Nazis did. Prejudice always projects its object as somehow less than human. How we treat ourselves starts with how we treat animals.
And, of course, there’s an even more immediate concern. What are the consequences of us drinking the milk from these transgenetic animals or eating their meat? What are we incorporating into our energetic field when we eat something that has been changed that way? The human body has evolved over many millions of years, and it has adapted to certain things, and when you start changing the food line, what are you going to end up doing to the species, as well?
I think anybody with any kind of developed intuitive faculty cringes when the prospect of genetic engineering is brought to the forefront, because we are stealing the fire from nature, like the Promethean Myth, and it’s going to burn us. [As of 2015, forty countries worldwide have banned the production of GMOs.]
And yet your work suggests that the way to keep from being burned to cinders by that Promethean fire is to tap into the inner flame of spirit. In other words, as technology is making the world smaller, we have to make ourselves larger.
John Nelson: Right. And, of course, that’s not unique to me. It is a theme we are all having to deal with at this stage of our development, so, naturally it is a theme that we’ll see reflected in all the arts, including literature. We are being called upon to move beyond limitations—self-limitations, social limitations, religious/philosophical limitations.
I really do believe we’re about to recreate ourselves as a species and move into another level. We are at a point where we are opening up these closed-off parts of ourselves. This can be very scary, because opening up these closed-off areas is just the beginning. The real challenge is incorporating them into our lives and our society. But, as individuals start to integrate these previously cordoned off areas, it’s going to change society immeasurably. How can it not? It’s going to change the landscape like we’ve never seen before. The book I’m editing for Hampton Roads Publishing in connection with Magical Blend, Solstice Shift, is about that very issue—the process of reforming ourselves and changing ourselves. And the result of our changing ourselves it that the world is changed. That, I think, is the only way we’re going to see progress.
Judging by past attempts, any effort to change the world seems doomed to failure. To me, that says changing ourselves has to be the first step; social change will then come about as a byproduct of individual change.
The novelist has always been a little bit ahead of his time, as the artist has always been a little bit ahead of her time. What’s going to happen is the spiritual novelists are moving into an area that over a period of time will result in the outcropping of acceptance of ourselves as spiritual beings first and as physical beings and mental beings second, and finally all of us, all of our separate selves integrated at a higher level. And I think the outcropping of that is going to be a higher way of living and a higher way of dealing with ourselves and the world.
And in a more sustainable way, I might add.
John Nelson: Exactly. And the spiritual novelists who are working in this venue today are pointing to that. They give us hope that we will be able to resolve our most urgent issues through a new perspective.
Click link to visit John Nelson’s website.