It’s possible, though often not easy, to alter our circumstances: occupation, residence, nationality, marital status, social class, educational and economic levels, and religious and political preferences.
But until now, there wasn’t much we could do about our human condition: gender, genetic heritage, anatomical features and mortality. Though for ages unable to change our condition, at least we learned to fudge appearances. With cosmetics, clothing, styles and disguises we became shape-shifters, making ourselves look younger or more attractive and in cases of extreme deception, even passing for the other sex.
Now we may be on the verge of something much more fundamental: changing our condition as readily as our circumstances.
But why should we? Because our circumstances constitute the general arena of our happiness, whereas traditionally our condition has restricted us and put much of life off-limits. Until now, for example, as men and women we couldn’t experience life directly as the other gender, but only through art and imagination, which partially offset the tyranny of our condition.
Through drama, books or movies we can live vicariously as either sex.
The urge to improve our circumstances, and therefore our happiness, is as old as humanity. Hoping for a happier life, we may leave ancestral lands for more promising countries. Likewise, we hone our skills and increase our knowledge in order to earn and enjoy the better things of life.
Slowly at first and swiftly of late, mankind’s hope for happiness, once often stoically postponed until the next life, has morphed into a belief that it’s our human right here and now, and that regardless of condition there’s no justifiable reason to deny ourselves happiness.
If changing our circumstances has always obeyed this general imperative of happiness, the possibility of altering our human condition for the same purpose is unprecedented. There have always been members of one gender who felt they belonged to the other, just as members of one race or ethnicity sometimes prefer another.
But if such changes were impossible in earlier times, today cases of transgendered persons, though still relatively rare, continue to accumulate. Indeed, lately we hear the argument that gender itself isn’t an absolute, but a choice that may be made after one has a clearer vision of what constitutes the happy life.
The procedures could turn out to be as commonplace as changing our profession or residence. In other words, converting our human condition into yet another circumstance may become a mundane — or monstrous — option. I concede the possibility of the former; I much fear the prospect of the latter.
The first question these possibilities raise is whether, and to what extent, human condition and personal circumstances can be interchangeable concepts?
Second, what are the social, ethical and religious implications of these transformations? Third, does this call for a new understanding of what it means to be human? And, fourth and finally, do they lead to enduring happiness or eventual heartbreak?