The New Bio-ethics of Luxury
Luxury can be a divisive word. Traditionally, luxury indicated a status symbol and worked as a social interface in a context of privilege, exclusivity, and accessibility. However, the last few decades have seen a decline in the possession of material, as luxury appears to have started refining itself from its social interest and become far more personal and individualistic.
Scientists, futurists, and philosophers have theorized about the immortality of the human body as the ultimate stage of the luxury hierarchy and advocate that human perpetuity could be achieved in the indefinite future. This awareness regarding the possibility of extending our stay on the planet combined with the new responsibility towards next generations to come—felt by most of us as the remainder of the excessive exploitation of our resources—seems to have infused the meaning of the term with a more nostalgic aftertaste. This new approach to the idea of luxury puts its values in an entirely different context that emphasizes notions of identity and inheritance.
Furthermore, as our current society is becoming mostly driven by the aspiration to constantly innovate, it is starting to lack the ability to analyse the cultural understanding of what we are experiencing in the process of innovating. Old definitions and stereotypes of original and fake, natural and synthetic, alive and dead are becoming obsolete as new discoveries in the field of synthetic biology are being made.
Looking specifically at the de-extinction proxies, the paradox of what we categorize as a synthetic and, therefore, unnatural/unsustainable material becomes evident. The research behind the Phylogenetic Atelier project showcases the process and findings of The Great Passenger Pigeon Comeback project— the template project from Revive&Restore that offers a blueprint for most of the de-extinction aspirations.
Portrayed within the display of the research project is a speculative scenario of a future venue that showcases a possible intersection of practices such as laboratory work, museum environment, and a luxury artisan gloves workshop. The product displayed in the fictional venue is a glove made from the de-extinct passenger pigeon skin—replicated by creating pigeon leather to resemble the hypothetical outcome. Visitors are encouraged to move the mechanical arm and examine the gloves to understand the ambitions and the motives of the organization Revive&Restore to de-extinct the species.
A display of blueprints and informative posters alongside the replicated first edition of the leather showcases the process and findings of the project. The documents displayed include research from the Revive&Restore organization: a sequenced DNA from the passenger pigeon and the band-tailed pigeon, a comparison of the two DNA, easily understandable graphics representing the proposed plan for the de-extinction process and a timeline of the development of The Great Passenger Pigeon Comeback project.
Scaling down the complexity of the project to the debate already present in our society in terms of real and artificial leather, the project tries to understand and tackle the complexity of the much bigger scientific problem. Therefore, I am proposing that the public engage with some of the following questions:
> as biodiversity is decreasing at a fast speed, would enhancing it with synthetic biology techniques help introduce and sustain a more holistic ecosystem?
> if we are going to be able to bring back extinct matter, would that impact our willingness to care for the environment?
> do we have the right to take ownership of nature?
> is producing ‘fake’ copies of an extinct material an attempt to understand the past, or is it just an excuse to constantly create the desire for rarity?
> if we can do it, does it mean that we should?