TechnoMoral Scenarios for Product Application

Statement of Application Considerations

As previously stated, "In order to explore the future prospects of our proposed solution to the tailing ponds crisis in Alberta, we articulated a specific vision for the future application of our synthetically engineered bacteria in the oil sands industry. Under the supervision of Synenergene, we explored the potential “hard” and “soft” impacts of the future use of our product in the context of the Albertan Athabasca region. “Hard” impacts broadly correspond to the intended and quantifiable consequences of technological application, such as direct effects on environmental health, regulatory changes, and redistribution of power and risk. “Soft” impacts are less visible, often unintended, social and cultural consequences of technological progress, such as changes in personal relationship patterns, emergence of novel social mobility opportunities, and adaptation of norms and values to the existence of the new technology (Smit & Oost, 1999)."

Our TechnoMoral Scenarios aim to explore the soft impacts of our technology - the way that human-human and human-biosphere relationships will be affected by application of our designs.

Scenario One

Natural scientists seek to understand natural reality by observing the parts that make it up separately. However, to fully understand human reality, individuals must examine the larger structures they are a part of. Individuals often develop an instinctual sense of others’ self by observing, using the individual's five senses, the signals provided by others’ behavior (Blackmore, 1999). Preference is developed as the quantity of signals between selves increases (Zajonc, 2001). Akin to the development of sensory memory, two “I”s learn each other and develop certain kinds of patterned relationships such as bonds (friendship, marriage), ranks (hierarchy, order), competitions (sport, market), and contracts (employment, fife) (Fiske, 1991). These patterned relations are the micro foundation of society, and serve specific functions in organizations, such as the family, community, and workplace, which form the meso level of society. In turn, organizations group to form more complex macro organizations - families group into tribes or ethnicities, communities group into cultures, and workplaces group into firms (Dopfer et al., 2004). Analogous to our genetically engineered bacterium, the three level of social relationship may be thought of as separate functional parts in the large cell we call “society”. We explored the effect our synthetically engineered bacterium may have on these different levels of society, by developing a hypothetical scenario to match each of the three level.

I am the mother of all things green that grow from the soil of this land. I have been reborn onto these lands, bringing fertile life and reclaiming these lakes of blackened ooze. Lakes that seeped from deep within earth and stone onto the surface of green and blue. I have seen time come and time not pass, time mired in stand still seconds, standing stiller in years and decades into eternities. Memories washed upon memories, memories primordial in the slumbering forests, memories etching itself into existence from the stirring present.
In the waking dawn of this once crimson land, I remember my birth bed a palette of rose petals blossoming overhead while the shifting red sands crept over land. As the cool winds mend the fiery red into a burning black, from burning black to cold dull earth. Soon the earth turned to green when I took form, like the creatures who would come to live upon land I was not given a choice on whether I should come to be. Neither an origin I have known nor a purpose for what I am, only stark and naked existence.
Who are these but yellow, lumbering carrion eating at my backside? These creatures that bares the image of a progeny of my domain, whom tenderly graze within my consecrated groves, whom adorns a crown of horns. That which tears me from the earth, austere and cold as stone, moving lumbered and laboriously and with a soul that I cannot know. Steeds to animals that have arisen from another time, those that bare yellow shells upon their heads. Ought I to fear what awesome powers they hold? For in their wake they have turned the wheel of time against itself, having cast my sacramental green into cold earth. From cold earth they have turned into that burning black. Upon this burning black on which their beasts do so feed.
I have seen cycles of life and cycles of death, cycles of frozen ice and burning fires, cycles permeating ever again. I have seen the land sundered and drifting away like a mangrove lost across the deep blue sea. I have seen the flux of life, the creatures that come and go, mottled as they were. Scampering across the shrubbery of my beard, sulking across my flowing veins, slumbering in my columnar legs. I have seen those whose blood flows cold and adorned with scales vanished, and those with fur take their stand. I have seen tides of ice conquer my domain, time and time again. I bore witness to when fires erupted from the skies as it did from below, casting shrouds of smoke that obscured my realm. My own death I have known time and time again, left to rot within the cold tombs of the earth, oozing within the ancient abyssal pits. I have seen my own rebirth in time yet again.
These lakes that fetter these sullens land, not made by the command of nature’s hands. I have seen my soul reclaim many a withered husks, but my appendages cannot extend across these blackened lakes. Neither treads the spirits of the clouds overhead, my paramour more ancient than I, and neither treads our progeny the trees of these lands. Neither flies the heralds of the azure skies, neither swims the scaled progenitors of the beasts that stand.
Those who wear the feathers of the sky upon their heads, had long ago entered into my domain. They who have heard my voice echo and offered only their ears. Who hold reverence for both time that passes and time that does not, folding themselves into the fabric, the layers of these lands. Heeding to my own warnings, to neither disturb the cycles of life and death, of the timeless essence that governs this land. I have seen them come and go, as is the fate of all creatures born into time.
Oh these waterfalls that now dot these lands, nesting creatures invisible to the eyes of man. Like a fountain of life, they breath upon the murky blue, letting shimmer again the deep blue lakes. These creatures I cannot come to understand, with mastery over life that the spirits have command. Like the movement of the clouds, or the shining of the sun, their intentions neither good nor bad. Only to their ends do they serve, to not disturb the cycles that will harbinger their end. And now I can reclaim these lands once again, in unison with my eternal companion, the spirits of clouds that overhang. Bear to existence offspring of our union, the seeds of these lands, the forests immaculate shall once again stand.

Toronto 2015 Bay of the Brown Beaver.jpg

Traditional Anishnaabe artwork, "Bay of the Brown Beaver" from the Mountain Series Art Collection, Acrylic on Canvas, 24"x32", ©1985 James A. Simon. MISHIBINIJIMA.

Scenario Two

Father and Son from directly affected First Nation

Father: Son, your mother told me about it earlier today - you are going to be a father! That’s the reason I wanted to speak to you. You know our people always put our families first. Always first! You are my son, and protecting your future guides me more than being chief . I know that you will feel the same towards your son in time.
Son: What do you mean, Dad?
F: One day you will have this conversation again with your son. He will sit down with you and tell you that he is going to have a son. What kind of person will you son be then?
S: One can hardly know themselves in the future, how can I expect to know him then. F: Will he be like us? Will he walk in the way of his father and grandfather, or will he be swept into the tides of the settler’s world?
S: I understand what this is about – you still disapprove of my job at CanOil…, they have been against us for long but I do believe what is practical for them now can serve us all. Isn’t that what binds us to another? If not love, then usefulness? F: I have come to peace with that. Now that the murkiness has beyed and life has returned to our lands, our people are less weary of these settlers. Some have even taken jobs in the new water treatment facility, just as you have. As chief I am merely a vessel that carries the will of our people – if they believe in helping the settlers clean up our water, then I give them my blessing. I gave you my blessing as well. But you are MY son! The CHIEF’s son! You will be having a son of your own. The decisions you make now have an impact on his future as well as your present.
F: My grandfather once told me, to resist the tides that surround us, which has swept many of our people in, we must remember our ways - remember how to live as our people lived. The fish and the animals returned, we can now fish, hunt, and trap on our land again. The things we do shape who we know ourselves to be. Many from our community returned to our old ways, and are prosperous. Do you still remember all that I taught you when you were young?
S: I remember well and one day I will teach my son all that I remember. Sometimes it is best to move with the tide and not swim against it. Is it our people’s ways that you fear to lose?
F: Son, knowledge is lost without practice. By the time your son grows old, your memory will fade. Perhaps your knowledge of who you are will be lost in time. How can you teach what you not know? Stay with me son, so you and your child can live as our traditions teach.
S: The time has changed more than this land - our people have changed as well. The world is very different, compared to the world of our ancestors. It is true, the settlers seem to be learning to use our land without destroying it and the wildlife returned. Nothing ever stands still, as much as you would like it to. We are passengers on the current of time and need not look behind us into the past to know where we are. But we must not return to our old ways just because we can. The new job opportunities at CanOil’s bio-remediation facility can do great things for our community!
F: Son, do you not know of the past and the many promises that they have made? Promises that turned to be false. When they came, they talked about peace and prosperity and had cursed us with dead lands. As my grandfather once said “the settlers walk with flowers in hand, and a knife behind their backs”.Yes, their material wealth cannot be matched by ours. But they have no spiritual wealth. We take care of our own, while they praise individual autonomy in success and failure. We live by the grace of the land, while they seek to tame it. We trust each other, while they are suspicious of all. Do not fool yourself into believing that they will ever accept you, or your son, to be truly one of them - the past has taught us that they do not see beyond the color of our skin. Is that the person you imagine your son to become?
S: The settlers you talk about are long gone. In this age we can all come to see each other as fellow human, as travelers in this myriad existence. Perhaps you do not fear to lose our ways and traditions. The ties that bind us as a community will not fade, father. This I will not lose, you have taught me to honor these sacred ties. These bonds can only grow if we open ourselves to the right people. The new settlers believe in fixing the damage they did, as if it were their duty. This is their spirituality! They are not as different from us as their fathers were. Everything is changing, Father, and as you said, change is inevitable. Many others from our community have the same hopes for the future as I do. We hope to give our families the ability to choose their own path. We hope to let our children grow as members of a larger community. We hope to provide them with whatever they desire.
F: Son, many have stood in your place and joined the settler’s societies. And I have seen it erode their character. Where once they sought contentment with oneself and harmony with one another, it is instead filled with emptiness. Emptiness that digs itself deeper the more they fill themselves with material wealth. And the emptier they find themselves, the emptier they feel towards their fellow man. As a bundle is unbreakable together, but a stick just as easily snaps on its own, I fear you will fall to this.
S: Dad, I know myself well. I know who I am and where I am from. I will carry this knowledge with me and I will not falter. But I must choose my own way through this life. I cannot be a continuation of yourself, and your father, and your forefathers. I do recall a poem I once read “your children are not your children, they are the sons and daughters of life’s longing for itself, you may give them your love but not your thoughts, you may house their bodies but not their souls, for their souls will dwell in the house of tomorrow, which you cannot visit.”
S: But we will not forget our culture. Change is modification, not deletion. We will continue to guard our land as zealously as you have. With the new technologies of the settlers, we will form new traditions to reflect our changing world. This is still OUR land!
F: And it will always be...

Toronto 2015 Indigenous art 1.jpg

Scenario Three

Corporate Presentation

References in order of appearance:

Smit, W., & Oost, E. (1999). De wederzijdse beïnvloeding van technologie en maatschappij: Een Technology Assessment-benadering. Bussum: Coutinho.
Blackmore, S. (1999). The meme machine. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Zajonc, R. (2001). Mere Exposure: A Gateway to the Subliminal. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 10(6), 464-470.
Fiske, A. (1991). Structures of social life: The four elementary forms of human relations : Communal sharing, authority ranking, equality matching, market pricing. New York: The Free Press.
Dopfer, Kurt, J. Foster, & J. Potts, (2004). Micro-meso-macro. Journal of Evolutionary economics 14(3), 263–279.