Language & Composition

Mr. Eure | Brewster High School

Who Warrants Survival?

We’ve been focused on education, learning, and especially reading for a while now. Let’s take a break and talk about the apocalypse.

First, head back to this post on torture porn and obscenity, scroll down to the section on the Toulmin model, and brush up on claims, support, and warrants. We covered these terms back at the beginning of the year as part of an introduction to cogent argumentation; now you’ll probably find them useful as you prep for the AP exam’s third free-response question. The quick breakdown: Your claims need support, and warrants connect support to a claim. One of  the easier ways to see how that works—as well as the importance of that connection—is the following exercise. Read it carefully, and then use class time and the comments section of this post to explore your reasoning.

If you’re interested in what last year’s group had to say about this, check here.


Adapted from K. Sherlock’s work at Grossmont College in El Cajon, CA. Available in its original form at this website

A sudden, unpredicted asteroid impact has wiped out virtually all life on Earth. The eleven survivors on the North American continent grieve the loss of billions of human beings and billions of species of flora and fauna. Among the remaining is a NASA scientist, who reveals the U.S. Government’s secret plan to send its country’s eight most powerful and richest people to a newly discovered Earth-like planet in a nearby solar system in the event of a predictable Extinction Level Event. The plan remains, but the intended passengers perished in the asteroid strike. In their place, the eleven survivors will leave the Earth to start over.

The immediate concern, however, is the journey, itself: Only eight stasis tubes are available to keep alive their eight occupants for the predicted 227-year journey. Two of three members who will not being going to the new planet must be left behind to live out their remaining days on a dying Earth. One of the remaining three may choose to board the outbound ship as a caretaker, but only with the undertanding that he or she will not live to see the end of the journey.

One day before take-off, the group has its final meeting about who will go, who will stay, and who may come along as caretaker for the journey.

THE TASK: Choose three people who, by your own standards, should not be permitted to go to the new planet. Rank them in the order in which you would choose them and indicate the reasons for your selection (i.e., why you chose these particular persons and why you placed them in this particular order). Select the one person from the three that you would permit the option of boarding the ship in the capacity of a caretaker, and, again, be ready to explain why.


Curtis Dane, M.D.—47; African American; no religious affiliation; Ph.D. in history; college professor; in good health (jogs daily); hobby is botany; enjoys politics; married with one child (Bobby)

Mrs. Sandra Dane—43; white; Jewish; rather obese; diabetic; M.A. in clincal psychology; counselor in a mental health clinic; married to Dr. Dane; has one child

Bobby Dane—17; bi-racial; Jewish; mentally retarded with IQ of 70; healthy and strong for his age; a sweet disposition; has a beautiful singing voice

Farhia Abdin—23; immigrated to the U.S. from Iraq at the age of 17; devout Muslim; did not advance beyond the 9th grade but intended to return to school to continue her education

Ayaan Abdin—Farhia Abdin’s 1-year-old baby girl, born three weeks prematurely

Tran Nguyen—18; female; Asian–American; Buddhist; trade school education; wears contact lenses; very artistic but wants to be a physician of gynecology and obstetric medicine; has 2nd degree black belt in taekwondo

Lamar Newton, M.D.—35; African American; atheist; gay; music as a hobby; physical fitness nut; was completing the human genome project before the catastrophe; considered at one time one of the top ten medical researchers in the U.S.; author of a pioneering human anatomy text

Mrs. Anita Clark—28; African–American; Protestant; daughter of a minister; college graduate; electronics engineer; single now after brief marriage; Civil Rights advocate; member of Zero Population Growth (an organization committed to reducing overpopulation)

Mr. Cletus Blake—51; white; Protestant; N.A.S.A; professor of aeronautics and space engineering; married and had four children (five grandkids); enjoys outdoors; much experience in construction, quite handy; rumored to be a White Supremacist

Father Edward Zelly—67; white; Catholic priest; has liberal views but was criticized in the 1960’s for not taking a more pronounced stance against segregation; former college athlete; farming background; loves Napoleon brandy, sometimes to excess

Dr. Ricardo Gonzales—46; Spanish–American; Catholic; doctor in general practice; two heart attacks in the past five years; loves to read literature and quote playwright and poet, Fredrico Garcia Lorca


25 responses to “Who Warrants Survival?

  1. Jessica Lau April 24, 2013 at 9:01 am

    As this is the first comment to this post, I’d like to say that I already think Bobby definitely should be left behind because he does not have any special abilities that can help the others survive on the new planet. I am not singling him out because he has a mental disorder, but he can do nothing for the benefit of the others, not even his own parents. Yes, he is quite young and has quite a long way to look forward to since he is only seventeen and it does say he has a beautiful singing voice, but none of those will help the others build another civilization, and it is necessary to keep those with useful skills (ex. farming experience, medical training, construction experience) to do so because it is an immediate situation that must be taken care of once they get to the new planet.

    • conor mitts April 24, 2013 at 11:48 am

      I agree with you Jess Bobby should defiantly be left behind since he brings nothing to the table and is only a burden to his parents and those around him. I think the second choice is Mrs.Dane she has diabetes and yes she is a shrink and that could be of use when restarting the human race. However someone with diabetes will not last long she has diabetes, and she will need insulin all the time and will die without it.

      • Liam Lonegan April 24, 2013 at 12:06 pm

        Even though Bobby does seem like he would not contribute, you have to shed light on the skills he does have. Jessica mentioned that he has a singing voice, which is strong cultural diversity as well as pleasant therapy. Along with that voice, he has strength that is great for his age. As he grows, he will contribute in man power and construction, as long as someone is there to tell him what to do.

        • Marissa Milazzo April 24, 2013 at 2:04 pm

          In my opinion, Bobby Dane is less of a burden than someone like Mr. Cletus Blake. Mr. Blake would cause a lot of problems due to the fact that he is rumored to be a White Supremacist. Out of the 11 people, 3 of them are African American, therefore right off the bat many problems would exist. Even though Mr. Blake is a professor of aeronautics and space engineering, like Liam stated, Bobby Dane can maintain tranquility and his strength will be very useful as long as someone tells him what to do.

          • Marissa Milazzo April 24, 2013 at 2:11 pm

            Also, I am not saying Mr. Blake shouldn’t be one of the 8 people to be guaranteed survival, I am just stating that he is more of a burden than Bobby Dane is.

    • Tomi Alade April 24, 2013 at 6:04 pm

      In my opinion, Bobby shouldn’t be left behind on the dying Earth because he’s a teenager making him part of what will be the future generation. Although he’s mentally retarded, he’s healthy and strong for his age so as he matures and gets older, he can help out with the civilization. He also has a beautiful singing voice which can cheer the people up if they’re having a bad day. Music is a part of our culture today because it allows expression of oneself. It defines a person as an individual with its words and sound. Despite the fact that the other people have skills that will allow the building of a civilization, you have to think about the state of mind all the people are in. Everyone they know and love has died in the apocalypse and all they have is each other. They need something to comfort them after this tragedy and music is the key. Food, medicine, shelter, etc. are all good but it won’t keep the people elated.

      • Avery Pan April 26, 2013 at 12:55 pm

        I agree that Bobby shouldn’t be left behind on Earth. However, I disagree with the argument that “his beautiful singing voice” will play a key role in their successful survival at the new planet. I believe that Bobby should be kept alive due to the fact that there are other people with less desirable traits that should be left behind. I don’t think that the way we measure how much a person should stay should be based on desirability, but instead how undesirable they are. Because Bobby is more likely to continue surviving on the new planet in comparison to other characters, and because he does not show many signs of misbehavior or contribute any additional needs or problems, he should be able to stay.

  2. Joseph Oliveri April 24, 2013 at 2:11 pm

    I would suggest to everyone to check out the original link, (titled “this website” in the post.) … pictures of the individuals are included. Does looking at the pictures and putting faces to names change your guys’ decisions?

    What would happen if the ship they’re traveling is either high and and technologically sophisticated, or the complete opposite? There are several things that go unmentioned, that may or may not affect one’s decision.

    • Will Henningsen April 24, 2013 at 5:30 pm

      I feel like you’ve brought up a very interesting point, Joe. I hadn’t even looked at their faces, and just referred to them as names and information to avoid making judgements based on looks. I wonder if anyone’s opinions would be swayed by having a visual connection….

      And I can’t help but think that we are really lacking useful information. We’re being asked to play God, with only just enough details, like a black-and-white pro and con list, and these people would be more complex than that. The technology is a key point that we don’t have.

      • Avery Pan April 26, 2013 at 1:01 pm

        Although it’s interesting to put faces to the descriptions we’ve been provided with, the photos do not change my viewpoint on who should be left behind. We’ve been taught not to judge people by their appearances but by what they have to offer as people, or in this case, the content of their descriptions. The availability of their pictures may only skew our judgement as to who is important to keep and who is not.

  3. Lindsey Ragan April 24, 2013 at 2:18 pm

    I think we should keep in mind that Mr. Blake is only “rumored” to be a White Supremacist, Marissa. We don’t know the validity or accuracy of this, nor do we know who made that statement about him. Not to mention, there are plenty of people present, including Anita Clark (a Civil Rights advocate) and Mrs. Dane ( who has an M.A. in clinical psychology and is a counselor in a mental health clinic), that are trained/able to help mediate in these situations in case there does happen to be a problem. In addition, he is a N.A.S.A worker, as well as a professor of aeronautics and space engineering, and therefore will be able to help out a lot with the journey to the other planet.

    • Kait Donohue April 24, 2013 at 10:40 pm

      I agree with Lindsey that Mr. Cletus Blake’s N.A.S.A aeronautics experience and space engineering skills are very helpful in order to survive and everyone could benefit from having him around. However, I do see Marissa’s view. Everyone left must learn to coexist together in order to survive. Since Mr. Cletus Blake is rumored to be a White Supremacist, he could create issues among people with different racial backgrounds. Yes, it is only a rumor but we should consider the chances of it being true. He could create chaos among those left and could create a hostile environment, when everyone should be working together, helping eachother survive. In his case, we would have to see if his NASA and engineering skills along with his construction skills outweigh the cons of him possibily being a White Supremicist.

      • Bridget Stapleton April 26, 2013 at 9:51 am

        Yes, he has some important skills, but if we are starting a new civilization, from the bottom-up I’m assuming, then how important are engineering skills? It seems to me not very. These kinds of skills will be developed again once the society on the new planet has been built up and is sturdy, but they aren’t going to be building any space shuttles when they don’t have a society. I think that the rumor about him being a white supremacist is really worrisome. Yes, it could be just a rumor, but we have to remember that most rumors spring from truth. I think that it’s too much of a risk to bring him along, because we are trying to begin a new, peaceful, hopefully better society. I would think we would try to leave behind the bad parts of humankind, and try to eliminate them. I don’t think it’s worth risking the corruption of a new society because he might not be racist. I’m not sure though, I do see both sides of this issue, it’s a difficult one.

  4. Colin Cavanagh April 24, 2013 at 11:27 pm

    I realize that this conversation has mostly been about who doesn’t deserve to stay, but I’d just like to put it out there that I think we need to keep the baby. There are potentially many issues which could arise with this in the short-term, but I think in the long run it would be very wise to bring the baby along to the “New Earth.” Looking at this logistically, there are several people who are already in their 40’s or older, and considering they will not have access to the same resources and medical supplies which were available on Earth, we have to figure that, in the time that it will presumably take to set up a new civilization and/or possible government on the new planet, one or more of these older people could potentially die. However, by the time this is all set up, the baby would have grown to the point that she would at least be able to comprehend everything that is going on, and thus, in the emergency that several of her other survivors have died, she can serve as a mediator of sorts between the “first generation” (8 survivors chosen to start anew) and the presumable next generation which will be around once the 8 survivors begin procreating. Additionally, being a young female would be very advantageous in the procreation process, as she would probably be only a teenager or in her early 20’s (at the latest) once the survivors begin this process.

  5. Briana Beach April 25, 2013 at 10:44 am

    I think that the baby is an asset to this group of survivors, because she will be the first generation to grow up and experience the “New Earth.” Therefore, she would learn to survive and would grow up naturally making adaptations to the new conditions. However, I would leave behind the baby’s mother. Although young, Farhid Abdid is not educated and a devout Muslim; meaning she will be less likely to reproduce with a man whom she is not married to/a different religion. Although Cletus Blake is rumored to be a White Supremist, his experience and intelligence is to valuable to let go. Lamar Newton, although gay and most likely against reproducing with a female, he still has the ability too. Also, he is a young, strong male and extremely intelligent and successful with human anatomy and medics which is very important if they want to survive. Father Edward Zelly is an alcoholic and an older man. He is also a Priest, who would not reproduce. I believe the two most important factors are surviving and reproducing. Religion should not be considered because it is not a top priority at this point. In the end, I would keep Bobby Dane and Father Edward Zelly behind. I would choose Cletus Blake to take care of us and die on the way there.

  6. Will Kelmenson April 25, 2013 at 3:43 pm

    I would like to point out that in these apocalyptic circumstances, survival is literally the only thing that should ever cross a human’s mind. Without life, there is nothing, but you cannot take life for granted, especially if there are a mere eleven surviving humans remaining on the planet. If you move on to issues like preserving morals or religion, then you are making the assumption that these eight selected people will last even a week on the new planet, which is certainly no sure thing. Even if you have the farmer, the doctor, the physical laborer, and theoretically everything necessary to continue living, the odds for survival remain very unfavorable. If the population has reached the single digits, the risk for extinction is huge, so it seems reasonable to focus any and all efforts on surviving, while abandoning everything else. Only when the group of survivors has satisfied its basic needs can it start to worry about quality of life.

    • Michelle Salazar April 25, 2013 at 5:07 pm

      I disagree with you completely. If society survives only for the purpose of surviving, and nothing else is even considered, it will be an awful society, even if it is just eight people. When extinction is as likely as it is in this scenario, survival should be thought of, but it should not be the only thought. Such huge chance of extinction should also mean thinking about what matters most(which most people find to be things like love, family, religion, community, etc.), and putting even more emphasis on these things. If humanity’s time is drawing to a close, why prolong humanity’s existence, making it a miserable, and dragged out existence? Wouldn’t it make more sense to accept the end, but to let the end be filled with the values that matter most to people, making humanity happy and content? If humanity dies with these eleven people, I think that’s okay. I don’t see why the human race should have to continue. Besides, focusing on values, and society as a whole doesn’t necessarily mean survival would then be unattainable.

      • Will Kelmenson April 25, 2013 at 7:19 pm

        I have no problem with certain values and “what matters most” being incorporated into the new society, as long as they are not detrimental in any way to to the overall goal, which is survival. By some standards, the result of this may be considered an “awful” society. However, I think many would agree that an awful society is far better than no society at all. If everyone dies, the likelihood of which is increased greatly if survival is not prioritized, then there is absolutely nothing left; it is all over, and this pertains both to the group as well as the individual. Also, this “awful” society would by no means have to be permanent. If the survivors did successfully repopulate, thus securing the human race’s existence, then a greater focus on other aspects of life would do no harm. As for the question of why the human race should go on living at all, this is more difficult to answer. It doesn’t have to, but I can at least point to the original prompt, which states “…the eleven survivors will leave the Earth to start over.” That last phrase, “to start over,” implies that the survivors will indeed attempt to restart their population on the new planet. It is also important to note that in this scenario, there is no need to “accept the end.” Even if there are only eight people left, the presence of both males and females means that re-population is still very possible. Humanity would not have to be merely prolonged and dragged out in a miserable existence, but instead could potentially be restored to full health over time.

        • Michelle Salazar April 25, 2013 at 10:07 pm

          I think our disagreement basically hinges on the fact that you think “an awful society is far better than no society at all.” I don’t think that. I guess I just see no value to a society so focused on surviving, that other important things are put to the side, instead of being the main focus.
          Also, when I talk about accepting the end, I’m talking about the end of society. You say that if survival is not the main focus, then everyone will most likely die, and “it is all over, and this pertains both to the group as well as the individual.” These individuals are going to end. If they focus on survival, or if they don’t, they’ll still die. The survival of society is what’s at risk, because society might continue, even though these people will not. Here it comes back to the fact that I would rather have eight individuals that focus on values, love, etc., with survival as a strong second or third influence , than a society that lives longer, but is centrally focused on surviving. If the primary focus is survival, then I think it would be a miserable existence for society. It’s true that society’s focus might be able to be “restored” later, but it is hard to change society, and the society might still die out before this change occurs.

  7. Michelle Salazar April 25, 2013 at 4:50 pm

    From what I’ve been hearing, lots of people want to leave behind Bobby Dane, Dr. Ricardo Gonzales, and/or Father Edward Zelly, or take them as a caretaker. However, I think it’s incredibly important that all three of this people end up on the new planet. Instead of making one huge post, I’m going to make three small ones defending each person.
    Let’s start with Bobby Dane. First off, I think there’s a chance he might be a savant. WIkipedia provides a good explanation of savants here.It says he has a good singing voice, so maybe he’s a savant with special skills in the musical area, or maybe he’ll have special skills in something that’ll be discovered on the new planet. The statistical likelihood varied greatly from each website I checked, but it seems like a very rare condition. Still, it could have a huge pay off. Even if he’s not a savant, he’s still useful. He can sing well, which will keep up morale. If you take his parents along, he’ll especially keep their spirits up. He will remind everyone that most of humanity valued even the weakest person. There is no point worrying about continuing the human race, or even just these eight people surviving, if they will only be focused on surviving everyday. A life with just constant duties and worries, and a society that only focused on productivity and surviving. Those aren’t good things, and new Earth shouldn’t end up like that. Bobby would remind everyone that there’s more to society than just a need to continue. He’d remind them that there’s singing, and beauty. and love, and that every life matters. He’d be the reminder that would prevent one of those societies a lot of sci fi books have, where the society will kill off the weak children, and constantly strive for absolute perfection, causing everyone to be miserable. It might not be to that extreme, but he’d still be of use that way. Plus, if at least one of his family members is brought with him, they’ll bring family, community, and that type of love to the new planet. Those are important things a society should have.

  8. Michelle Salazar April 25, 2013 at 4:50 pm

    Next comes Dr. Ricardo Gonzales. I think a lot of people are willing to leave him behind because he has no attachments, and has a slightly higher chance of dying. I understand that makes him easier to get rid of, but there are people who have a much higher chance of dying than him. and his uses outweigh any of those reasons to leave him behind. Being a doctor is immensely useful for one thing. Sure, you have Lamar Newton, but Lamar specialized in medical research, and worked on the human genome project. While Lamar does have a good understanding of medicine, most of his work wouldn’t have been spent working on actually people. Gonzales is a general doctor, which means he’ll have had a lot more experience actually dealing with fixing up human bodies than Lamar will, since Lamar probably would have spent most of his time in a lab. I think it’s also safe to assume that most of what Lamar did with the human genome project, and such will be useless on new Earth, since he won’t have the proper equipment to work with. Gonzales also likes to quote a playwright and poet. I’m willing to bet he has some other literature (or at least parts of other literature) memorized as well. Plays, poems, and literature are a huge part of our society and something that I think should go to new Earth. By bringing Ricardo Gonzales, you’d have a doctor, and you’d also have someone that could teach generations plays, poems, stories, language, and hopefully he’ll carry over to new Earth the different moral dilemmas, and outlooks, and perspectives literature can present to us.

  9. Michelle Salazar April 25, 2013 at 4:52 pm

    Father Edward Zelly may be old, but he was an athlete and a farmer, so he’s most likely in shape. His alcoholism would hinder him slightly, but as he would have no alcohol, he’d go through withdrawal and deal with it. Once he starts getting over his withdrawal, you’d have a farmer on your hands, and that’s a pretty useful skill. (I sincerely apologize if me posting three comments in a row like this is annoying, it just all seemed like too much for one comment. Plus, people can comment on different aspects easier now.)

  10. Danielle O'Brien April 25, 2013 at 5:17 pm

    I feel that the baby and Farhia should be left behind. Since Farhia only has a ninth grade education I do not believe she would be of much use and therefore she should be left behind. Yes, she can do basic things but so can everyone else (except the baby) and why would we waste a spot for someone who can only do basic things? Although she did intend on going back to school she has been out of school for 9 to 10 years and still has made no move to go back. Now onto the baby. The baby should not go because babies have a lot of needs and require a lot of things to be done for them( i.e. feed them, change their diapers, nurturing). Therefore, having a baby along on the planet would not be a good idea especially if they need all hands on deck when they arrive thus they will not have time to care for a baby. Also, we need to consider whether the baby will adapt to the new environmental once out of the stasis tube. For the caretaker I feel Dr. Ricardo Gonzales would be a good one for that position. Since he is a doctor he would be good at taking care of the stasis tubes and the people in them during the trip. Also in his favor is he loves to read literature and he would be able to entertain himself during the 227 year journey thus decreasing his chances of going insane being in a cramped space for that long.

  11. Bridget Stapleton April 26, 2013 at 9:43 am

    In class yesterday, it seemed as if almost everybody agreed that Fr. Zelly should be left to die, which I don’t quite understand. He has many traits that are extremely extremely important to a society that is starting over. Not only is he a priest, that will be able to pass down a religion and traditions (if we are trying to keep a combination of many cultures and beliefs) but he also has a farming background. As the only one of them with agricultural experience, he is extremely valuable. Farming may seem simple but he would have important knowledge of how to do things quickly, efficiently and effectively. A steady food source is the basis of a civilization. When a society doesn’t have to worry about food, they have more time to devote to other important things, things beyond the basic needs of life. In addition to these things, he was also a college athlete which helps us assume, perhaps, that he is still in fairly good shape and is probably strong and would be able to help. It seems to me that the positives outweigh the negatives greatly in his case. I’d love to hear why some of you guys think he should be left behind, but personally I don’t think the argument for him was made very well in class yesterday. Maybe its just me, but I think there are other people that deserve to be left behind much more.

    • Lindsey Ragan April 26, 2013 at 12:55 pm

      I agree, Bridget, that Father Zelly is a valuable and distinctive person when you simply look at him by means of his description. It’s crucial, however, that we look at him not only as an invidual, but as a part of the group. Comparing him to a lot of the others, it is clear that Zelly is a less essential component to the group’s existence than the rest. Farming is trade that someone else could manage to take up if necessary, whereas the position of a doctor or NASA worker would be nearly impossible to learn on the spot. In addition, it may even be better off that we don’t have a priest on the new planet because there is such a variety of religions present that practicing and preaching one primarily over the other could cause conflicts.

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