The Philosophy of Global Warming

If you are interested in the relationship between the human species and the rest of life on Earth, individual and collective human purpose, evolution, cosmology, the nature of reality, astrology, spirituality, and how all of this relates to global warming & the environmental crisis of modernity, then I am sure that you will like my new book 'The Philosophy of Global Warming'. In the post below I have provided the book description, the list of contents and the first two sections of the book. You can find out how to get hold of the book by clicking on this link:

The Philosophy of Global Warming

Wednesday, 28 January 2015

Discussion about Human Nature and Suffering

 I thought I would share with you some more objections to my philosophy, and my replies to these objections. These objections are on the theme of human nature and suffering.

Objector:   Humanity is evil because it displaces the rest of creation.

NPC:   Any life-form that exists displaces some other form of life / some other part of creation. That is just a simple fact; an inevitability of being a complex life-form that exists on the Earth and that therefore needs to consume other forms of life in order to survive. As the population size of a life-form increases, as with humans, then other life-forms are typically displaced to an increasing degree. So, we agree that "humanity displaces the rest of creation". How could anyone disagree?!

Let us move from this simple fact to your judgement that this displacement is evil. This is seemingly where we disagree. The 'evil' view of human existence currently pervades the news, the television, politics and business, so it is not surprising that so many people have that view implanted into them. 

The 'evil' view is an attractive view, after all, the human displacement of other life-forms on the Earth has involved terrible suffering, mass murder of our fellow creatures, and exploitation and pain and suffering on a barely imaginable scale. However, rejecting the 'evil' view of human existence does not mean that one rejoices in this terrible suffering and exploitation. Rather, one can see that this is just the terrible predicament that being 'human' entails. On the view that has arisen within me the 'human' is that part of an evolving planet that brings forth technology for the good of life as a whole. This role on the planet means that life causes great harm to itself, via the human, for its own benefit. Being that part of life that is human involves inflicting immense suffering on oneself (because all life is one, so causing suffering to the non-human is effectively harming one's brothers, one's babies, oneself).

To be human is not a bed of roses. How can humanity be happy and sane when it inflicts such pain on itself?! It is not surprising that so many people kill themselves, it is not surprising that the mental homes are full of 'insane' people, it is not surprising that so many people are desperately unhappy and turn to crime and drugs. Humans endure all of this suffering, the greatest suffering on the planet and the greatest suffering in the universe, for the good of life as a whole. That which makes humans human, the separation from the non-human, is the inevitable bringer of suffering to the human. So, to be human is not to be 'evil', it is to be that part of the evolving planet which suffers greatly in order to be the saviour of life on the planet.

Objector:   You talk about human suffering and how it is related to our relationship with nonhuman life. Us humans, as a species, are destroying other forms of life, often inflicting great suffering on them in the process; and while there may be many people in poverty around the world, and many humans in all walks of life who suffer personally for various reasons, there seem to be very few who are overtly suffering because of the suffering and destruction being inflicted upon nonhuman life.

NPC:   You seem to be thinking about human suffering in terms of individual humans. You wonder what the exact reasons are why a particular person suffers and how is this related to the suffering and destruction the humans inflict upon nonhuman life. I am making a more general point. I am coming from the perspective of the entire planet as it evolves on its journey as a life-bearing planet flowing through an ageing Solar System. Before humans evolved there was suffering and destruction on the planet. At a certain point in the evolution of the planet the 'human' evolved (what exactly this means, what exactly the 'human' is, we don't need to get into now). All that we need to appreciate is that at this point, the point of the evolution of the human, immense suffering also evolved. Suffering came into existence that was of a different magnitude to that which came before. This suffering is not because of humans causing suffering to non-human life. This suffering exists because to be human is to suffer. Some people might say that this is because humans are the only form of life to have self-consciousness, or that they are the only form of life to have advanced rationality and therefore mental torture, self-doubt, and problems of ego/self-image. For me, the foundations of human suffering are separation from the rest of life that is caused and inherent to being the technological animal = human.

Objector:   How can our arrogant, ignorant, unnecessary, and ultimately suicidal human destructiveness be considered "an expression of the very essence of life"?

NPC:   The essence of life is obviously hard to express in words. We can think of life, since it arose on the Earth, as a force which seeks to modify, expand, propagate, dominate, push forward, strive upwards and onwards, as much as is physically possible. So, simple life-forms evolve into more complex life-forms which have a greater modification ability. This primitive force reached its zenith in the technological abilities of humans.

Objector:   We are on the brink of a considerable knocking-down of planetary diversity, however, as has happened in the 5 previous extinction events, we will have a relatively life-impoverished planet for some millions of years until life elaborates itself again, probably without human beings in the picture.

NPC:  Your extrapolation from the outcomes of past mass extinctions, to a forecast about the outcome of a future mass extinction, is flawed because it ignores the changing state of planetary dynamics. One cannot simply say that because life has bounced back in the past that it always will do so in the future. This is like a 90 year old human saying: "When I was 20 I was able to run a mile in 4 minutes, when I was 25 I was able to run a mile in 4 minutes, when I was 35 I was able to run a mile in 4 minutes; therefore, when I am 100 I will be able to run a mile in 4 minutes." The mistake is simply to believe that past events and outcomes will be repeated in the future. This isn't always true on an evolving life-bearing planet which is homeostatically regulating itself in an evolving cosmos. 

Objector:   I have to take issue with your assertion that: "Any life-form that exists displaces some other form of life . . . That is just a simple fact; an inevitability of being a complex life-form that exists on the Earth and that therefore needs to consume other forms of life in order to survive. As the population size of a life-form increases, as with humans, then other life-forms are typically displaced to an increasing degree." 

While it is true that life needs other life to survive, we humans are capable of making ethical choices, and we can choose in what way and to what degree we displace other life or cause it to suffer. People can choose to "eat lower on the food chain," reducing animal suffering and their ecological footprint at the same time, for example. And why assume that a species with the power of choice must maintain a population that continually "increases"? We are capable, as a species, of deciding to limit the size of our families just as we are capable of deciding to reduce the amount of carbon and other GHG we spew into the atmosphere. It is not "a fact" that we humans have to continue along the same trajectory that we've been following; to do so, or not, is an ethical choice, and that is the "fact."

NPC:   I think here we simply have a disagreement about the extent to which humans as individuals, and human culture in general, is determined by freedom. You will be aware that there is extensive literature on the issue of the extent to which an individual human has free will or not, and there is a similar literature on the slightly different question of whether or not the overall trajectory of human cultural evolution is 'determined in advance' or could be changed by 'human free will'. It is obvious to me that human free will is severely limited at best, and that the trajectory of cultural evolution from hunter gatherer to globalised technological society will occur on any successful life bearing planet. I presume that you disagree with this. On my view the scope for humans who lived in the past to make ethical choices to life in a way which didn't displace other life, or cause it to suffer, was non-existent. Never going to happen. You seem to want to believe that this could have happened. When we switch from the past to the future, then I am happy to accept the possibility that at a later stage of the evolution of the Earth/Solar System the time will be right for human freedom to exist in a more meaningful sense. 

So, what you say is a "fact", isn't obviously a fact.


No comments:

Post a Comment