“Why do you insist that the human genetic code is “sacred” or “taboo”? It is a chemical process and nothing more. For that matter -we- are chemical processes and nothing more. If you deny yourself a useful tool simply because it reminds you uncomfortably of your mortality, you have uselessly and pointlessly crippled yourself.”
— Chairman Sheng-ji Yang, “Looking God in the Eye”
Previous to researching the fifth-tier Bio-Engineering technology, the people on Chiron had been restricted to making heavy-handed edits along the lines of those represented by the prerequisite technologies. With Gene Splicing, they had been able to perform large-scale, whole organism edits – such as creating new hybrid crops that would both grow efficiently in the alien environment while nourishing Earth humans. And with Neural Grafting, they had been able to crudely stitch together electronic components into human brains, which judging by the prerequisites had up until now been approached as a computer problem, with the nature of the brain being relevant only insofar as it was another electrical component in the design.
Bio-Engineering represents a major leap forward in the ability of the colonists to edit, design, and build up new organic machinery. In the game, this is reflected by the ability to add the Clean Reactor special ability to military units and to build the Longevity Vaccine secret project. The first is actually a really big deal, as it allows a faction to pay a mineral cost up front in order to create units that do not require minerals in upkeep. With this, it becomes possible for factions with a penalty to their military Support rating (like the Morganites or factions running Democracy) to maintain large standing armies.
Accordingly, we get another quote from Chairman Yang. As we’ve seen in previous quotes, genetic manipulation is a major focus for Yang. Which makes a lot of sense. He is correct in assessing that pre-existing human nature is a major barrier to the creation of his utopia. In this light, his radical social experiments are all inefficient hacks to coax out the proper enlightened behavior from quite flawed material. He wouldn’t need any of his police state machinery if people were just naturally inclined toward enlightenment.
The tone of Yang’s argumentation dovetails in with his previously demonstrated nihilist materialism. When he says that “we are chemical processes and nothing more”, he is not simply rejecting any concept of the soul or the supernatural in favor of a purely biological explanation for the behavior of the mind. This position itself already represents a pretty severe rejection of most prior philosophies, though as Yang previously predicted, the position is growing more and more popular as time goes on. But Yang goes farther still. He’s a pure reductionist: he’s saying that human identity, consciousness, and any other mental state really is nothing more than an arrangement of chemicals.
Given all of that, it then behooves you to arrange your chemicals in the way that best helps you accomplish your goals. As we have already seen, to those walking the Chairman’s enlightened path, these are the transcendent goals of the group and the greater race. To refrain out of concern for the continuity of your own individual identity – whether that is physical death or self-modification into something that you would no longer recognize as “you” – is to pointlessly cripple yourself.
And this chain of reasoning is why Reynolds chose to place this particular quote here. Before now, Yang’s differences on this point with the rest of the faction leaders were simply philosophical. But now, with the capabilities unlocked by Bio-Engineering, Yang now can take direct control over the key chemicals and find the mechanical arrangement of atoms that leads to true enlightenment.