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Biotech, Corporate Power, and Democracy: Oryx and Crake


It is important to note that Margaret Atwood’s book titled Oryx and Crake is a post-apocalyptic story with a heavy focus on the preceding events, which are deeply reflected in the current trends in areas, such as biotech, corporate power, and the erosion of democratic norms. The plot explores the problems of genetic engineering, overpopulation, pandemic, and corporate dominance. Therefore, the book is a realism-based speculative fiction, where it is shown how the unchecked power of multinational corporations enables mass manipulation and deceit to maximize profit, how the lack of ethics of genetic engineering results in disastrous outcomes, and how democracy is frail under these pressures.

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Genetic Engineering, Biotechnology, and Crakers

One of the very first non-human characters of the story is Crakers. The book states that was his first view of the Crakers. They were naked, but not like the Noodie News: there was no self-consciousness, none at all. At first he couldn’t believe them, they were so beautiful” (Atwood, 2004, p. 201). In other words, Crake created these sentient creatures as a result of genetic experimentations, which generated a wide range of moral and ethical concerns. The latter problem is further complicated by their purpose. The author writes, “You know how they’ve got floor models, in furniture stores?” said Crake. “Yeah?” “These are the floor models” (Atwood, 2004, p. 201). Therefore, Crakers are bioengineered to be a template for genetic manipulations for people who seek to design their children.

The given state of affairs in the story opens a discussion on the subject of embryonic genetic engineering. The topic is a controversial one since it has implications that are both beneficial and harmful. On the one hand, genetic modification at an embryonic stage results in the prevention and elimination of any genetic diseases and other problems of this type. For example, it is stated, “modern studies show that genetic modification is the only way to deal with multiple disease-associated genes within an embryo,” which is important in the context of “evolution providing minimal protection from diseases that tend to strike in later years” (Tayside & Central, 2019, para. 8). Therefore, many challenges of medicine can be solved at an embryonic stage.

On the other hand, embryonic genetic modification can also be used to enhance a child. In other words, “many unresolved controversies surrounding genetic enhancement, we identify procreative beneficence, genetic disassociation, gender selection, the value of disability, embryo chimerization, and the psychosocial inequality of potentially enhanced individuals as crucial” (Macpherson et al., 2019, p. 1). Thus, such an approach opens a gateway for a number of novel issues, which further increase inequality, deepen the impact of poverty, and fracture key social elements. Crakers serve as a template for future modifications also pose a problem of disregard for sentient and conscious creatures, which can also become the source for many other human needs, such as organ supply, exploitation as slaves, and even entertainment. Therefore, there are many underlying problems with the creation of Crakers.

Corporate Power, Democracy, and Global Domination

Another key subject of the book is corporate rule over the globe and the exercise of its exclusive power to dictate its vision over the entirety of the human population. The book presents a product called BlyssPluss, where the selling points included prolonged youth, high libido, negated impact of testosterone, and protection from sexually transmitted diseases or STDs (Atwood, 2004). Crake explains that humans have misplaced sexual energy, which he views as a cause of all major problems. He states that this ‘misplacement’ leads to “economic, racial, and religious causes often cited. Contagious diseases, especially sexually transmitted ones. Overpopulation … environmental degradation and poor nutrition” (Atwood, 2004, p. 194). In other words, the main design of the pill is to sterilize the entire human population in order to address overpopulation. Crake claims that “demand for resources has exceeded supply for decades in marginal geopolitical areas, hence the famines and droughts; but very soon, demand is going to exceed supply for everyone” (Atwood, 2004, p. 195). Therefore, the goal is to deceive consumers by shifting their attention towards the selling points while the process of sterilization takes place.

Moreover, corporate interests focus on maximizing profits, where human wellbeing is undermined. The book states, “The best diseases, from a business point of view,” said Crake, “would be those that cause lingering illnesses. Ideally – that is, for maximum profit – the patient should either get well or die just before all of his or her money runs out” (Atwood, 2004, p. 142). The given statement reveals a sinister nature of profit-seeking at the cost of human health, autonomy, and democracy. Both population control and deliberate human poisoning show how corporations are powerful enough to erode the rights of human beings and erode the pillars of democracy. Crake single-handedly decides to sterilize humans through deceptive methods and seeks to profit from human misfortune.

The presented story elements can be observed in real life. Modern multinational corporations are the largest organizations in the world, with influence unparalleled in the history of organizations. The key issues include worker exploitation, pollution, market consolidation, government and political influence, tax avoidance, white-collar crime, public health deterioration, and destruction of the social fabric (Barak, 2017). In regard to the book, the key ones are public health deterioration, market consolidation, and deception. The rise of obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular diseases are not solely the result of poor health management by consumers but also the proliferation and aggressive marketing of unhealthy products. Starting with tobacco companies, which contributed to a significant portion of lung cancers worldwide, the current food industry facilitates metabolic diseases through sugar-filled, non-nutritious, and high-calories foods (Barak, 2017). Social media companies are becoming vessels of misinformation, infringement of the freedom of speech, and algorithmic manipulation of the masses to maximize profits (Barak, 2017). These are a few examples of power abuses within the legal boundaries, whereas many illegal activities are also taking place, such as Enron, Lehman Brothers, the Deepwater Horizon, and many others.

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In conclusion, the book by Margaret Atwood is an outstanding piece of literature, which explores the problematic modern trends in corporate power, democratic erosion, and unethical bioengineering in a speculative light. Crakers represent a problem of genetic enhancement, which is a concerning issue and possible with the use of current technology. BlyssPluss is a product of deception, which has global public health and individual right infringement ramifications since the choice for becoming sterile is not made through public discourse but by Crake’s decision. The story also showcases how corporations are willing to undermine human wellbeing for the purpose of profit maximization, where diseases are created with a limited supply of cure via market consolidation and artificial manipulation.


Atwood, M. (2004). Oryx and Crake. Anchor Books.

Barak, G. (2017). Unchecked corporate power: Why the crimes of multinational corporations are routinized away and what we can do about it (1st ed.). Routledge.

Macpherson, I., Roqué, M. V., & Segarra, I. (2019). Ethical challenges of germline genetic enhancement. Frontiers in Genetics, 10, 1-12. Web.

Tayside & Central. (2019). Genetically-modified babies ‘ethically justifiable’, academic claims. BBC News. Web.

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