Being a Unicellular Organism

Project research

Cosmo Niklas Schüppel


Ethics of working with living beings

When I think about working with another living organism artistically, or scientifically, an ethical problem arises in my mind. This problem is the question of consent. When I work with another being, then it is less an act of working together, but one, where the other being is working for me, or I am using them to be in my work. In the worst case the other being is even harmed for my benefit. This problem comes up, because of the impossibility of communication between the user and the used, and our believe-system, which puts us humans above all other beings. So is it possible to really work WITH another being, if you cannot communicate with them and if there is clearly a hierarchy of whose interests are more important?

Of course nature is full of hierarchies and unspoken ‚agreements‘. Food-chains are one of many examples, the strongest survives and eats the weak, but where is the difference? The difference lies in the justification for the action. Every being has a drive to survive and it will do everything in it’s power to do so. This inherent quality of nature is one of the basis of the system in which we are living and no way goes around it. The drive to live justifies actions that decide over life and death, at least for beings that don’t have the ability to question their actions in the way that we can. But what is my justification?

Can science justify their harm on helpless beings, or even animals, with the good that they are giving to human kind? Is this not again an unjustified hierarchy put on the relationship of humans to other beings? Is the human really better, or more worthy to be alive than other beings? Even though many would disagree, can we even act according to this believe? Is it possible to NOT put ourselves above others? Human above animal, but also human above human. How much can we put others above ourselves without decaying in the process? Of course with little things it is not a problem and it is even seen as a virtue, but in situation of survival, how much leeway is really there? How selfless can we be? How selfless do we want to be? How good it being selfless working, if you cannot comprehend the damage you are making?

If putting yourself above others is a natural state of survival, then where is the problem when working in an artistic context? It is in many ways important for our survival. Science definitely is, but still there is a difference. The difference, for me lies in how conscious the decision has to be made. The more aware I am of my actions, the more I can start to question my role in my actions, my responsibility and also my justification for my actions. The more conscious I make my decisions, these questions don’t just become possibilities, they become necessities, they become an indispensable part of life, and this is what these questions truly are.

As humans we have the gift to be able to contemplate nature in a unique way. These questions have to become our underlying base of understanding and interacting with the world, if we want to start living in a way that harmonizes with the beings that share our living space. It may not always be possible to act in a way that does not put humans above other beings or yourself above other humans, but opening the door to questioning your justification for your actions is the first step of changing your behavior.