Week6_Biotech and Art

Immediately when we began this discussion in section, I had a strong, negative, visceral reaction to the idea of biotechnological art that manipulates or uses animals. The first image that was brought to mind was that scene in the Simpsons Treehouse of Horror XII where Wizards Lisa and Bart are asked to make a prince out of a toad.  Lisa turns out a perfect prince charming, whereas Bart, less studious and less familiar with the mechanisms of the magic produces this:

Every moment I live... is Agony

"Every moment I live... is Agony"

It shows how great power, when given to those who do not understand it’s full implications, can lead to “Sins against nature” as Ms. Krabappel put it.

When an artist exhibits an animal that has been genetically manipulated (BY HIM/HER) and uses that display as a way of unveiling the horrors of the modern biotech industry, I can’t help but wonder what he/she was thinking at the time.

Here’s an example.  Pretend that some hideous crime, like the murdering of babies, was happening behind the scenes out of the public eye.  Then an artist comes along, in full view of the public, and starts murdering babies.  He says, “See? Isn’t it horrible?!  This is exactly what they (in the case of biotech the Scientists) are doing all the time!”  Maybe the artist got some public attention to the horrors of baby killing, but by killing babies himself he completely stripped himself of all credibility and dignity as a human being.  The ends do not justify the means, especially when much more effective, less abraisive, and more ethical means are readily available.

I recently went to the Hammer museum with a friend.  On display was a photograph an artist had taken of himself with hundreds of needles in his arms and chest.  I did not get a good look at it, because I immediately turned away and refused to look at it.  My friend inquired as to why.  I responded that not only did the image shock me, but that I felt like by looking at the work I was personally condoning the practice of self-abuse and legitimizing it as an art form.  Doing a horrific act is doing a horrific act.  Simple.  Whether I am an artist, a biologist or a chemist, hiding behind the title of my profession does not serve to justify the actions I take against myself, humanity, or the biosphere.

The article for this week closed with the following statement:

Whether to continue to put energies toward a new art form of creating living
beings or to commit to a more radical worldview that responds to the urgent
cries of a disappearing natural world is the choice before the contemporary
artist.

While I overall enjoyed the analysis in the essay, and found the author’s eye for contradiction in argument refreshing, I found the closing remark disappointing.  I thought she had readily dismissed the arguments that “vegetarianism is futile” and that “progress in the advancement of biotechnology is exclusive to a higher moral perspective” as conformist, but she closes with the idea that the “worldview that responds to the urgent cries of a disappearing natural world” is a radical one.  I couldn’t disagree more.  Reducing animal abuse and unneccisary experimentation is a viable goal, well within our present moral system.  Making the process to obtain the legal rights to use animals in the lab more difficult is well within our legal and political system.  Reducing the amount of destruction done upon our planet and increasing our fellow human beings standards of living at the same time are not mutually exclusive, but mutually inclusive, as you cannot truly have one without the other.

Here is an extremely interesting TED talk about what we eat, the issues of local food, the problems behind large-scale livestock production, the development of the American diet over the last 100 years, health, and global climate change:

http://www.ted.com/index.php/talks/mark_bittman_on_what_s_wrong_with_what_we_eat.html

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