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02/04/2014

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rumor

It's a little amusing to see a person declaim absolute truth and then posit an absolute prescription for action. What a blind spot!

Let's play pretend. Let's say that climate change, ocean acidification and the other various existential maladies we've wrought have come to a head, and the world government (let's say there is one) and the balance of people on Earth have seen the light, because it's no longer avoidable. We're fucked, scientists say. Most of us are going to die, quality of life is going to fall through the shitter and we're more or less going to end up back in the stone age with a mere tiny fraction of the current population.

We have to do something!, the world government responds. We can't, say the scientists. Too late, it's baked in, the time's over. Wait!, exclaims the government, we can geoengineer a way out of this mess! That's a really bad idea, say the scientists. We don't recommend it.

But of course they do, because you have to do something(!). Hope and action are always better!

And we end up killing the entire human race.

This is just a very silly, simple little thought experiment, but even it demonstrates that hope and action (ACTION!) aren't necessarily always better.

Incidentally, kudos on bringing things back to your old WYSIWYG paradigm for assessing our species. I always liked that one and was glad to see it mentioned again.

Tarjei Vatne

In half a century or so, someone, somewhere, will be holding an emergency workshop in "Geo-engineering for the future". The participants will find their places just as the 237th record storm pounds the city's - for lack of fossil fuel - poorly constructed flood barriers to pieces and swipes them out sea.

Oliver

A most excellent piece of writing, Dave. I am mightily impressed - concise, incisive, devastating.

I am delighted to confer you with the prestigious award of ... A Higgs Bosun. ;-)

John Ennis

As always, I end up agreeing with you, even though you piss me off in the process of getting there.

But, since most of my friends end up doing the same thing with, I can't really say as I hold it against you.

I think that the Archdruid (another one of those "piss me off though I end up agreeing with him" folks) said it the best when he likened the "wish for extinction" as a good reason not to do anything because the die is cast.

Extinction is a kind of silly idea. Now, this doesn't preclude a major die-off, I figure that 90% of the current population will need to go bye-bye before we start getting traction on fixing the problem, but saying that out loud just gets one labelled a pessimist.

Mostly the future is set. I am coming around to the concept of fate. You can call it determinism, but the waxing and waning of a population or a culture is "baked into the cake". We want to think that by writing a book or throwing a prodigious tantrum the world can be made whole and let itself be forced into our narrow model.

Thanks again for the work. I think that, unless I hear from you otherwise, I will post up this particular piece of work on my site as a thought "kicker".

All the best.

John

Jim

Dave - thanks again for providing this refuge of sanity.

Damfino

This is a fine piece of work, Dave. You have the gift of clear thought—a true rarity among our species. Your recent works exploring morality have likewise offered some fascinating insights into human group behavior that I had not previously considered.

Since adolescence, I have been deeply disturbed and concerned by overpopulation and the resulting loss of biodiversity and natural resources. Even today, I look out at the blighted landscape here in California, and imagine a time when antelope herds numbered in the millions, countless grizzly bears roamed the mountains, and water fowl darkened the skies. I wonder if all this “progress” was worth it. (I say this as a participant in industrialized society—so I’m clearly I’m no saint.) However, the economy of modern man has come at great expense for other forms of life on this planet. I suppose only rats, weeds, and cockroaches will have found us beneficial!

Notwithstanding, I have never had it in me to become an “activist” in one environmental cause or another—although many of my friends have fit this description. It always seemed to me that aside from the overriding desire to simply belong to a group, the actions of the activists were typically trivial and narrowly focused on mere symptoms of the greater problem—I.e. hacking at the branches and not the root. Virtually all of these groups will agree that man has the requisite wisdom to look into these problems, which he himself created in the first place, and take the proper corrective actions. If we can just get everybody to agree, if we can just implement the right technology, if we can just make the appropriate policy tweaks, well then we would dwell in paradise!

I admit to being conflicted, however. I have had many heated discussions with friends that about damn well went to fisticuffs! I have been labeled defeatist, negative, pessimistic, uncaring, and apathetic. People get really pissed when you try to honestly discuss human nature! (The older I get, the more silent I become.) There is indeed a fine line between realistically assessing man’s condition and living as if you were unaware. I suppose my answer is to find some personal satisfaction in art or your labor—I know of no other way—man is what he is. How would you address this distinction?

Like you, I believe the behaviors of man must be understandable in some context. It is all too predictable that economic growth and mindless adoption of technology trumps restraint every damn time. We've all seen it with our own lying eyes! Can a human think past a few years out? I would say only very rarely does this occur.

Mike Roberts

John,

Don't expect to get "traction on fixing the problem" at some undetermined point in the future. Homo sapiens is a species so what you see is what you get, as Dave does well to remind us.

In the interview, Kolbert says, "It's pretty widely accepted that the Australian megafauna were done in by people. That was 40,000 years ago." We're often told that "indigenous" people know how to live in harmony with nature, yet they still virtually devastated it. Similarly, the "indigenous" people of New Zealand hunted some species to extinction and started the deforestation. Not that people don't learn from those mistakes, for a while, but we can't expect future humans anywhere to eventually settle down to a lifestyle that is sustainable with whatever is left of the biosphere.

Thanks for the post, Dave.

Andy

Is it ignorance? Or is it just being part of that specific social group? Ignorance could be changed through education, social instincts not so much.

Tony Noerpel

Nikolai Eberhardt asks “Who are we?” A fair question. Well we are a mammal with a modestly evolved brain, about which we are overly proud and a pair of hands which are perhaps the most remarkable invention of evolution on our planet to date. Don’t forget that large brains are common and in particular cetaceans and elephants are much more impressively endowed. We share altruistic tendencies towards our pack and disdain and brutality towards outsiders just like wolves and chimpanzees. We are as sexually promiscuous as Bonobos and are as playful as puppies and bear cubs. But our hands are a marvel. If we are the image and likeness of god then god is a dullard with beautiful hands.

Our hands, unlike the graceful flippers of whales and the tactile trunks of elephants, even with their thousands of muscles, allow us to pass on information to future generations and each other. Once we could write things down and build ever more sensitive measurement instruments we were able to expand humanities scientific knowledge well beyond the dreams of those species lacking hands.

But on the one hand, we’ve managed to measure the age of the universe to within 37 million years plus or minus and on the other most of us don’t have any idea how old the universe is or any concept of deep time whatsoever. They are convinced the dullard designed us a mere few thousand years ago and buried all those dinosaur bones to fool us.

Is there any hope for our survival, then? I don’t know but as a practical matter I don’t think the sixth extinction can be stopped. We’ve probably crossed that Rubicon. Still there is no point in giving up. Is there? We are so close to determining whether an astronaut crossing the event horizon with be burnt to a crisp by quantum mechanical forces or slowly pulled apart by general relativity’s differential gravitational forces. Wouldn’t it be a fine thing to survive long enough to sort that one out?

We are only just beginning to understand entropy. I would like to know and I’m willing to work my ass off against the current of inevitability to find out. That means we should struggle to keep ourselves alive as long as possible or we should die trying. Anyway there is another way to look at things and that is pretending we can survive by doing this or that is loads more fun than giving up. :+)

Tony

Oliver

@Tony N - Good comment. Normally it's Dave who cracks me up with his beautiful woven deconstructive assassinations. But today you split my sides even wider apart with this gem:

If we are the image and likeness of god then god is a dullard with beautiful hands.

That's a keeper.

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