Hey, I'm Jason! I'm an interdisciplinary designer using digital and physical experiences to tell stories about where we've come from and we're headed in the future.
Pondering the morality of individual and species survival
Sep - Dec 2022
What started off as a project about the future of space travel, led to me questioning the point of even pouring our resources into space travel whilst the problems down on the ground worsened. To me, this obsession could be traced back to the human drive for conquest and survival. The ethicality of conquest has historically been evaluated with moral parity, but the right to survival has always had its place in the garden of Eden. Moreover, space travel doesn’t deal with the survival of self, but of our species. This brings me to the question: is the survival of our species ethical, or can it even be moralized? Before we get further, I must explain the different types of survival that I'm discussing.
Survival can be divided into two categories, biological and ideological, both of which are explicitly protected by constitutions drafted by the US and the UN, guaranteeing the right to live unharmed and unsilenced. Though the idea of the individual and his rights may seem without challenge, the liberal belief of individualism is one of relatively recent conception, and can be attributed to the writings of John Locke.
What about reproduction? Is this an act of biological or ideological survival? For a variety of reasons, some couples may choose to adopt, so there must be a reason for having children that goes beyond spreading one’s own genes. Is having offspring then more about the ideological persistence than a genetic one? The deeper I dug, the more I found myself questioning. Is the act of having children completely selfishly motivated? Antinatalists claim that the act of procreation is immoral in itself, as one would be bringing a life into this world bound for pain and suffering.
"It is curious that while good people go to great lengths to spare their children from suffering, few of them seem to notice that the one (and only) guaranteed way to prevent all the suffering of their children is not to bring those children into existence in the first place." - David Benatar
There have been other attempts to moralize survival, but the major breaking point for all arguments is that they fall back onto prescribing a set of values. The conclusion I’ve drawn from my reading about ethics is that there can be no absolutes, and all ethical frameworks are subjective. Life persists, and in our campaign to survive, we continue to alter our set of values that work towards sustaining life.
"Man is a storyteller! He lives surrounded by his and others’ myths. With them he sees everything in his life, no matter what befalls him. And he seeks to live his life as though he were telling it." - Jean-Paul Sartre
Reading the accounts of survivors of war and genocide, one can sense their urgency to pass on their stories of terrible pain and injustice. In having their story told, these survivors hope to prevent such horrors from occurring again, or even to seek justice. Derrida writes more on justice extensively, but I will skip that for now. For people that lived much less tragic lives, what will be the purpose of their stories? Is there value to a story bearing no call to action or inaction? Maybe there is value in just telling one’s story, as it represents one’s own version of truth. To then have that truth passed down would be a confirmation that one has lived.
Marisa Berman describes the trauma carried on by children of Holocaust survivors, and the duty they feel to pass on their stories. (Photo by Alison Brockhouse)
Here, I present a thought experiment: It is the year 2200, and humans have depleted Earth’s resources and the climate has become uninhabitable. The last fleet of ships leaves with a select few into space, taking with them both humanity’s future and past. How will those that are left behind ensure their story is told?
My design brief: Create a rocket hijacking device to allows those left behind to still pass on their story.
I looked at remoras for inspiration. Commonly known as suction fish, they grip onto larger fish like sharks to feed on scraps, they also save a lot of energy my hitching a free ride.
Exploring simpler glider concepts. I realized that I wasn’t designing a passenger aircraft, but a glider that could carry enough fuel to attach to the ship, then detach on arrival. I experimented with the idea of using an electromagnet to attach to the exterior of the space shuttle.
I finally settled on a design using a flexible wing that could conform to the shape of the space shuttle. The wing can actuate to flap, and extend to glide.
The bottom of the glider uses artificial gills to stick to surfaces.
Individuals are able to encode their stories within the DNA of genetically modified plants. These seeds are then deposited within capsules that can be deployed in Martian soil. As they grow and reproduce, they carry with them the stories in their genetic code.
Carriers loaded with these capsules are then deployed as the last space shuttles leave Earth behind.
Their flexible wings allow the carriers to conform its shape to the exterior of the craft to reduce drag. Suction pads on the bottom of the glider can withstand the intense forces of exiting and entering the atmosphere.
As the shuttle blasts off to new frontiers, the gliders hitch a free ride.
Once the shuttle arrives at its destination planet, the carriers detach and seek out ideal spots to release the capsules.
As the seeds sprout, the people left behind regain a chance to pass on their story to the generations to come.