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Environmentalism as Morality

October 10, 2009

Today I finished In the Absence of the Sacred: The Failure of Technology and the Survival of the Indian Nations by Jerry Mander.  It was mostly interesting, specifically the second half of it, but at one point I wanted to throw it down and stop reading it for good.  It was eye-opening in many ways, since I really had no idea of the extent to which native people all over the world have consistently struggled in the past centuries, and still struggle today.  Among the most interesting things in the book were explanations about how Indians have been tricked into signing their land over to whatever-colonial-government in just the last few decades, and also that 60-70% of underground uranium is underneath Native land—which raises a whole new reason to oppose nuclear energy development that I had not previously been aware of.  But this post will not be a review of that book; I only started with this paragraph to illustrate that it was the inspiration for this post.

In one chapter, rather early in the book I think, Mander just kept on pushing a this is morally wrong point, and I always find these arguments difficult to buy—especially in a book that, later on, makes the point that moral codes accommodate particular cultures and do not suit all of humanity.  I haven’t said anything “is wrong” in years, and I never argue anything by making moral justifications.  It shouldn’t be done.

I’ll put it this way: The Universe and Life were perfect before humans intervened and started to do things their own way. Besides the absolute insanity of it, this is where my objections to modern society arise, not in the “wrongness” of it.  I can explain where modern society is functionally wrong, how it doesn’t work (or can’t work long into the future), and how it is its very own antithesis. What I can’t explain is how it’s morally wrong, because there are no moral absolutes.  One might say that this is my moral code, these my spiritual beliefs, and while I wouldn’t fully disagree, that’s not what I call it.  Even if I did, that wouldn’t matter; arguing a global morality is simply preposterous, and by labeling an act wrong one unknowingly declares knowledge of a moral absolute that applies not only to all people but all living things.

I want the Universe and Life restored to the state they were in before humanity hijacked evolution. If others don’t agree, this doesn’t matter; they don’t have to share my view of the world. But there is a caveat: If those who disagree with me follow the path they are on, those who share in my belief won’t be able to continue existing. We aren’t actively trying to destroy those who disagree with us, but they are. We are, therefore, literally at war—and we’re on defense. This is a war they are winning. This is a war that, if we refuse to fight, they will win.  This is not a moral argument, but an argument simply for the continued existence of diverse peoples.  But if the people of one dominating lifestyle are permitted to continue on as they are living, the end of all who oppose them—or just don’t agree with them—is surely imminent.

People like seeya (the antagonist in my “Skyscrapers” post; see his comment about my “primitive brain”)—indeed, most if not all techno-dogmatists—believe in linear models (or exponential models, the important thing being that both show constant increase) of “progress,” which is reflected both in their beliefs that humans are better than all other animals and that “primitive” people are inferior to civilized people.  This belief of superiority will cause them, just like it has caused others in the past (or maybe, if it hasn’t caused them to, it just hasn’t impeded them in their desire), to dominate all others they feel are inferior in order for their worldview to prevail.  Just like the Whites killed off the Natives in the Americas the techno-dogmatists will kill off all “primitives” who stand in the way of their envisioned techno-Utopia.

Let me restate this point: Even though I think the ideas of techno-dogmatists are silly and in many cases stupid, I’m not against them believing the things they believe.  People who believe in the Singularity, or people who believe they’ll be able to upload their minds to computers and who find this possibility desirable (Jerry Mander talked briefly of these people in Absence), even though I find their view of the future repulsive personally, can upload to a hard drive if they want.  But where we stand opposed—most importantly, about the state of the planet’s ecosystems and the need to find, or rediscover, a long-term sustainable lifestyle—our worldviews are irreconcilable.

How do you reach compromise with someone when you’ve determined that more technology will not solve humanity’s “problems” of limited space and resources and he believes humans can just eradicate every non-human species and every non-civilized human population in order to make room for himself and his ultra-evolved brethren?  You can’t.  You’re talking to a person who literally wants you dead.  Telling him he’s immoral won’t change his mind.  You’ll have to fight him just to continue on with your life.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. jleeger permalink
    October 11, 2009 1:42 am

    Tony, read Nietzsche! And read “Finite and Infinite Games,” by James P. Carse. That is, if you haven’t already…

    • October 11, 2009 12:59 pm

      I’m fully aware of Nietzsche, but not of Carse. I actually just read Beyond Good and Evil about two months ago, but I’ll probably have to re-read it at some point because for some reason I wasn’t processing all of it. I’ve read a handful of others too, and probably dozens of essays about his ideas. I find his style of writing kind of hard to follow. Changing subjects every paragraph just kind of diminishes any “flow” that might build up. However, I didn’t find Thus Spoke Zarathustra to be hard to read, and one of my other favorite books (Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations) also is written in bullet-point style with many ideas being touched on over and over throughout the text. I think it might come down to those ones consist of more small ideas; the long paragraph and another long paragraph about something else entirely just isn’t very easy for me to follow.

      Nevertheless I’ll read it (and Zarathustra) again at some point.

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