Why would perfection be anything but, well… perfect?

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Writing a story about the only human in a world made up entirely of nine clone models gave me the opportunity to explore some of the essential qualities that make us uniquely human. The clones in the world of Your One & Only have sought something that we often desire in our culture: perfection. As a result, they’re free of disease, anything that might be deemed a physical imperfection, or any undesirable emotional trait. These are things we often want ourselves.

It’s an image we’re sold on TV, in magazines, and online, giving us the impression that perfection is something not just attainable, but desirable. Why would perfection be anything but, well… perfect? The world of the clones is orderly and peaceful. They don’t suffer from insecurities the way we do, about our looks, our weight, or whether we fit in with the crowd or not. On the question of who is most beautiful, one of the clones points out, why bother comparing? We look the way we look. It’s a nice idea, to think that comparisons are immaterial, that we simply are who we are, with no need to change.

When I wrote the character of Jack, the first new human created in centuries, I knew I wanted to distinguish him from the clones in some fundamental way. That meant figuring out what the clones have lost in realizing their vision of perfection, and what inherent dangers lurk in the enduring fiction that something like human perfection even exists. The fact is, attempts to achieve the perfect human will always fail, since it inevitably leads to the dehumanization and objectification of others.

Consider the logic of those seeking genetic purity or adherents to the theory of eugenics. The result is, of course, a lack of diversity. Jack’s differences and “imperfection” challenge the moral health of the community, which then breaks down, because their aspirations of perfection lead to intolerance, hostility toward the individual, and ultimately to cruelty and violence. The clone’s lack of person-centered morality becomes apparent in their treatment of someone who is radically unlike them.

A challenge facing the citizens of the world is how they deal with an outsider. The clones fail the ultimate test of compassion and kindness because they know only homogeneity. An insulated society becomes sterile, stagnant, and driven by fear. I hope in the end that Your One & Only illustrates that we are better because of our diversity, so long as we acknowledge and respect the differences among us.

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About Author

Adrianne Finlay received her PhD in literature and creative writing from Binghamton University. Originally from Ithaca, New York, she now lives in Cedar Falls, Iowa with her husband, the poet J. D. Schraffenberger, and their two young daughters. She is an associate professor of English and the Program Director of Creative Writing at Upper Iowa University in Fayette, Iowa. When she’s not writing, reading, or grading, she’s making soap to sell locally, raising money for type 1 diabetes research.

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