The right to an uncle



The invasion of the latest technological products in biological cycles.

The questions involved in the French legislation on Medically Assisted Procreation (PMA, since everything in the world of “progress” becomes an acronym) are numerous and of the highest importance: PMA only for married couples or also for those in a free union? For homosexuals? For single women? Reimbursed by the State or at the expense of the customer? With prenatal selection of embryos? How many “surplus” embryos will be created? Freezing surplus embryos (and for what use) or destroying them? With anonymous donors? With an external uterus? After death? Modifying the genome? Etc…

Each of these issues sparks heated and sometimes angry debate. There is, however, a question that almost never arises: should there be some particular form of PMA or wouldn't it be better to abandon it altogether? Almost all the social forces involved – the political parties, associations of the most diverse types, demonstrators in the streets, the general content media and the specialized ones – only clash over the details of the application of the PMA: at no time do they question its principle .

Not even the “hard” right, the Manuf Pour Tous,[1] Catholic fundamentalists dare to go beyond rarely criticizing it as such. In general, they are simply interested in subjecting its use to the criteria of their morality – which sounds hopelessly outdated to the rest of the population. When it is the traditional couple who want to adopt it, they hardly have any objections. This acquiescence of “obscurantists” and “reactionaries” towards the latest technoscience is, in fact, surprising.

However, we should – or, at least, we should – be even more surprised by the almost unanimous enthusiasm of the “left” with this new human right made possible by technoscience. An adhesion that extends to the ecological, libertarian, radical feminist field. We should remember that PMA, in all its variations, from “simple” artificial insemination to the implantation of a genetically modified embryo in a surrogacy uterus, from the transplantation of a uterus to the artificial uterus (still in development) is part of the same universe. where nuclear power plants and pesticides are, animal cloning and asbestos, dioxin in chickens and plastic in the oceans.

It is a violent invasion of the most recent technological products in biological cycles, with incalculable consequences. It is completely incomprehensible that there are people who are sincerely opposed to such deadly inventions and who can suddenly accept one of their most intrusive developments. They defend it with such intensity that they even violently attack opposing points of view (for example, preventing conferences from people from as different horizons as Alexis Escudero or Sylvaine Agacinski) and end up completely silencing the various voices (certainly more numerous than his) who do not share his enthusiasm, labeling any opponent, even historical feminists, as homophobic, misogynistic, transphobic, reactionary, lepenist, fascist, etc., using strategies that resemble the Stalinist control of the left between the two World Wars under the pretext of "anti-fascism".

There is even a curious convergence of interests with multinationals such as Monsanto,[2] or the mafias that organize surrogate motherhood in poor countries, with the pro-WFP of the left: a convergence that is probably not explained by a transfer of funds, or by obscure plots, but by an umpteenth trick of non-reason – in this case, that of the bourgeois subject-form.

It's not just about the health consequences (it's another mystery why women and feminists rush to offer themselves up as guinea pigs for science or tacitly accept the enslavement of “surrogacy” mothers in poor countries). The PMA is also a kind of high point, the conclusion of the centuries-old process of expropriation of all “original endowment”. The lands (in the process known as enclosures, or enclosures), water, knowledge, communication, culture, domestic reproduction – everything was kidnapped, little by little, by capital, and not only by economic capital, but also by technoscience.

We can no longer even move or feed ourselves, heat or instruct, without the help of the mega-machine. No autonomy anywhere. A significant portion of our contemporaries have even lost the ability to cross the street without the aid of their GPS.[3] The ability to add 5+3 without using a calculator had already become rare. And this list goes on and on. Individuals always belong to different social groups, to different ethnicities or religions, they live in different parts of the Earth, they are illiterate or erudite, refugees or rich: but all, or almost all, live under the same dependence on the technological bottle. Whether in Somalia or California.

Everyone complains about the respect they don't receive, discrimination or marginalization, or the lack of recognition they suffer; and everyone insists on women empowerment to which he would be entitled: but no one seems to feel humiliated for not being able to live a day without his smartphone, a tool that was not needed until recently – after all, it did not exist yet – and which is controlled by private companies that do not seek anything beyond their interests.

Despite this, even the most destitute have always had at least one thing of their own. What was the name of the lowest, poorest class of citizens in ancient Rome? The proletarians: those who owned nothing more than their offspring. Children were the zero degree of property, what everyone could have and what, in the absence of other means, allowed a belonging to the community. No amount of expropriation suffered in other areas could deprive the poor of their most fundamental faculty: that of reproducing and inserting themselves in the community through “affiliation”, without anyone's help, without asking permission. Today, the PMA has dispossessed us of our last faculty, the one that power could not take over until then: biological filiation. The PMA literally turns us into sub-proletarians, into less-than-proletarians: those who don't even have a offspring, because they agreed to delegate this last bit of autonomy to the technoscience of capital (and there is no other besides that).[4]

The arguments in favor of the PMA are well known. What to propose to those who want to have children but are not able to? We proclaim the “right to children”. What a bizarre idea! Is there a right to have an uncle? Can I ask technoscience to create me an uncle, since nature didn't give me one and my life is therefore incomplete? And another human being, can he constitute a “right” for me?

Should childless people, then, resign themselves to their dismal fate? In fact, all human cultures have offered solutions to this problem. But none of them had the idea of ​​turning to the PMA. The solution consists, of course, in the different forms of adoption. Is it not enough for those who cannot or do not want to resort to biological procreation? We know that it is currently very difficult and expensive to adopt a child. But in the end, wouldn't it be easier to change human laws than biological ones? It can be said that the preference for PMA, as opposed to adoption, hides a very archaic desire, quite “essentialist” or “naturalist”: to have an offspring “of your own blood”, with your own DNA. It is strange that people who lash out all day at the “retrograde” or “traditionalist” mentalities of their opponents reproduce, themselves, an attitude that could not be more bourgeois and “biological”: a child who is not my sperm or my eggs don't interest me...

Indeed, different cultures have come up with often surprising responses to the problem of affiliation. Anthropologist Françoise Héritier highlights, among others, a particularly striking case: for the Nuer of Sudan, a woman who, after marriage, does not give birth (she is automatically attributed sterility) is returned by her husband to her family of origin, in which she can, if she has the means, “acquire” one or more wives. These must become pregnant with one of their cow guardians, finally taking the children as their own. We can conclude from this – and many “experts” from “ethics committees” do – that the classic western family is anything but “natural” and that it is not seen why leaving this condition would traumatize the children raised in this way.

We can, however, also conclude that resorting to medical solutions testifies, at the very least, to a terrible lack of imagination: instead of resorting to the symbolic – accepting children as “children”, despite not being genetically so –, a “ medically assisted zoology”. An “applied zoology”: human beings are reduced, like cattle, to their biological characteristics, which must be transmitted. It is the fundamental principle of animal creation, whose resurgence in people who spend their lives making a fuss against "essentialism" and "naturalism" while advocating "deconstruction" is, to say the least, surprising.

In a society governed by “gregarious individualism”, the first question that arises is the following: if the individual wants something, who has the right to oppose it? If that desire, at the very least, does not harm other individuals. This is a perfectly “liberal” argument. And it is curious that the same people who take advantage of it criticize, in other domains, precisely the “individual freedom” to circulate by all means, to consume unbridled, to always say “me, me, me”. Wouldn't wanting to invert biology to have a “real” child be the height of narcissism, which subjects everyone to the criteria of its whims? Wouldn't that be the triumph of liberalism and "every man for himself"?

Thus, we arrive at the final argument, which seems irrefutable: whoever is against the PMA must be homophobic. He is sure? This argument has a value that is similar to the one according to which those who criticize the use of pesticides are “against the peasants”, a statement already made by the “cellule Déméter”[5] of the French police to combat the agro-bashing – name that designates all criticism of industrial agriculture. This also applies to the statement according to which anyone who defends the closure of the most polluting plants or nuclear power plants would be “against the workers”.

Eugenics seemed to have disappeared from the world along with Nazism, which had revealed the truth about this “science” that, previously, had seduced even certain sectors of the left (from Trotsky to Salvador Allende, among others). But the direct application of technoscience to human biology and its hereditary transmission is too “in phase” with general progress for it to disappear due to episodic “misuse”… in the 1980s, this time with liberal costumes: no one is obligated. In place of "negative" eugenics (avoiding the spread of bad genes through forced sterilization, preventing procreation, or simply physical elimination), we move to "positive" eugenics. Carriers of the best genetic materials are encouraged to reproduce. And, above all, the genetic heritage is directly improved: prenatal selection of embryos, selection of sperm and eggs from a catalogue, direct intervention in DNA, (future?) creation of synthetic genes.

The film Gattaca by Andrew Niccol (1997) knew how to show to a large public what a caste society based on genetics would look like, where the rich can afford descendants who are automatically part of the upper classes, at the same time as those who are born without the assistance of science are destined to be the servants of the "improved ones". Literature and cinema have proposed other perspectives, but almost everything essential about eugenics has already been said in Admirable new world of Aldous Huxley (whose brother, Julien, was one of the main representatives of eugenics). With two differences: in 1932, the structure of DNA was not known, therefore, the manipulation of embryos in the Brave new world happens through chemistry. And, above all, in the book it is organized by public authorities and breaks any ties of affiliation: all “donors” are anonymous. Calling someone "Dad" or "Mother" would be an obscene insult. In contrast, in the best of postmodern worlds, the traditional family survives, and we pay dearly to have descendants with a guaranteed future.

the world of Gattaca it also helps us to better determine another issue: the PMA will never become the rule, will never be the majority, because most people prefer, and probably always will, the good old way of making children, and because the variants more Sophisticated ones – with enhancements – are too costly. Whatever. But it is not necessary for a social phenomenon to be practiced by the majority of the population for it to become a parameter, an ideal of life, a norm for what is desirable, and for it to establish social hierarchies. Even in Europe, most people cannot vacation in the Seychelles, wear Prada and show off the latest iPhone model: but those who can do so set the tone for society as a whole and point out to others what needs to be done to become "someone".

Likewise, the majority who do not resort to technoscience to procreate themselves will be invited to feel both guilty, in relation to their children, and inferior, in relation to society. Even today, those who do not submit to prenatal exams and bring a disabled child into the world are almost considered irresponsible (which cost society dearly). Of course, there will be no shortage of good souls on the left to demand, under the pretext of “equality”, the guarantee that every citizen has the same access to reproductive techniques, even the most expensive ones.

Furthermore, a “democratic” or “popular” management of these techniques would by no means be preferable. A few years ago, it was proposedbiohacking” (also called “do-it-yourself-biology” or “participatory biology”): in the form of kits sent at home, in opensource or in “bio-cafés” conceived in analogy with cybercafés, each one could have access to the technologies and advice necessary to manufacture his own little monster, at least in the form of a fly.

Such an inscription of the social hierarchy into one's genes is rightly regarded as the absolute horror of many anti-capitalists. Nothing stops, however, its promoters; positive eugenics naturally gave way to “transhumanism”. Its most convinced apostles, at the moment, are not the totalitarian states, but Google and the libertarians Californians. It is not at all clear how we could have, under current conditions, a PMA without accelerating the march towards genetically improved man and without further reinforcing the power of the holders of its keys. But those who only think about their “right to the child” are so obsessed with it that, without hesitation, they would throw all their usual principles overboard. Certain feminists, especially in the 1980s and 90s, had denounced, in reproductive techniques, an expropriation of women's bodies by a masculine techno-science. Would they have been “invisible” by the fanatical defenders of the PMA?

*Anselm Jappe is a professor at the Academy of Fine Arts in Sassari, Italy, and author, among other books, of Credit to death: The decomposition of capitalism and its criticisms (Hedra).

Translation: Daniel Pavan.

Originally published on the portal Médiapart.


[1] (T.N.) “Manif pour Tous is the main collective of associations responsible for organizing the most important demonstrations and acts contrary to the law that allowed marriage and adoption by same-sex couples in France” Source: Wikipedia.

[2] “Just as Monsanto made its fortune by sterilizing seeds so it could resell them every year, attempts to trivialize reproductive heteronomy resemble an attempt to force us to have to buy our own children,” commented one person. well informed.

[3] In 1984, of Orwell, O'Brian tortures Winston to make him admit that 2+2=5. The first time O'Brian asks him what 2+2 is, Winston spontaneously replies: “4”. Today, it is very likely that he would have asked for a calculator.

[4] To avoid misunderstandings, we are not dealing here with modern “proletarian” families and the role that women play in them, but with the ancient Roman legal category. Being able to have children was a sufficient condition for being a citizen. And this status was automatically assigned to every free man: it was what no person could take away. Evidently, this is a situation that has nothing desirable as such: this form of citizenship was reserved for men, and for free men. In addition, it served military requirements. However, on a metaphorical level, we can say that losing reproductive autonomy means regressing to a position inferior to that of the proletariat old

[5] (N. do T.) “Demeter is a cell of gendarmerie French [military police] created in 2019. It aims to protect male and female farmers from aggression and intrusions against agricultural holdings”. Source: Wikipedia.


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