Coat Killer

Qu’est-ce que c’est?  It turns out that two artists, probably from the future, created a coat out of mouse stem cells for a piece called ‘Victimless Leather’ at MoMA.  After five weeks on display it grew rather more than anticipated, clogging its incubator, and its coat-support system had to be deactivitated.  The curator fretted a bit before throwing the switch.  You can read a short report here.

Should she have fretted?  Was the damn thing alive?  What’s interesting to me at the moment is that you can get different answers to those questions.  I mean that you can get a ‘no’ or a ‘yes’ running either way.  I kind of think that maybe the thing was alive, but probably she shouldn’t have fretted.  It’s possible to think that the thing wasn’t alive, but that fretting about it was the right response, too.  A post or three back considered the question of whether we should fret over the dead in a certain way.  The two concepts — being alive and being of moral concern — seem to come apart readily and maybe that’s surprising.  If you want to rub your nose in it, you can think of stuff that never was alive which demands treatment of a certain sort.

But is it right to think of this kind of treatment demanded by the dead or the nonliving as genuinely moral in character?  Is it really reverence or as-if morality or a kind of transitive morality conferred by the interests of nearby, living stuff?  Should only living stuff make it into my sphere of moral concern?  Or should there be some dead people and some inanimate things in there, too?

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