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First, a meme: You scored as Existentialist. Existentialism… - CERisE's Testing for L

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July 11th, 2005

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04:24 pm
First, a meme:

You scored as Existentialist. Existentialism emphasizes human capability. There is no greater power interfering with life and thus it is up to us to make things happen. Sometimes considered a negative and depressing world view, your optimism towards human accomplishment is immense. Mankind is condemned to be free and must accept the responsibility.










Cultural Creative








What is Your World View? (updated)
created with QuizFarm.com

It's complete bunk IMHO. They merely believe that Romanticism and Idealism are necessarily tied up with spirituality.

In other news, I was moved to comment by a response to Deep Impact in spacexploration:

Does anyone ever think that, just perhaps, we have no divine imperative to claw our way to the stars to spread our problems and filth to the rest of the universe? Eh. I'm a big fan of benign observation missions like Cassini or the Voyagers, but I always have a subtle ill feeling when I think about missions which actually deface the pristine environments of the solar system, like impacters, landers, and rovers.

These sorts of things are very clearly born from the environmental movement in which there's a strong tendency to preserve things as they are and not interfere. It's always amused me that it's usually liberals who conservate. Indeed, I think the parallel is strong enough to question those who are rather far over on the green side of things. Is the interest in comets enough to warrant punching a hole in one?

What if we take a page from Heart of the Comet and assume that there is in fact some life on the comet in question. Plant spores, for example, aren't horribly farfetched. Consider ALH84001. In this act, haven't we disrupted a potential ecosystem? Is it worth it?

My stance: Do we care? Why do we incessantly separate our actions from those of animals? Aren't we animals? Is it because we construct cities? Why is that unnatural? Why aren't the dwellings of ants, beavers, and other creatures unnatural? Why is it that Deep Impact (assuming that we did disrupt potential life on it) would be any more criminal than, say, a lion hunting down the last quagga in the wild? Why is it that hunting quaggas into extinction is considered criminal?

Well, that has a simple answer. Removing a species from a food chain usually causes larger problems (cf. the natives of Easter Island). Of course, we're a bit more advanced than they were. Why assume we wouldn't avoid that very trap?

I'll have more on this later. I gotta get home for SMAUG tonight. 8)

(EDIT: I'll get the name of the community right eventually ; ) )

(10 comments | Leave a comment)


[User Picture]
Date:July 12th, 2005 01:53 am (UTC)

Popular liberal mythology

While I understand this person's rant against the manifest destiny mindset, it seems to me that they are attacking this mythology with another equally foolish and destructive mythology. The idea that we should leave the whole world (or in this case, the rest of the universe) pristine and untouched relies on an arbitrary definition of pristine, usually that it is untouched specifically by us (whoever "us" happens to be). This perspective smacks of fear just as much as the other perspective smacks of arrogance.

To give an example of how this mindset can cause more problems than it solves, consider the effects of the Endangered Species Act; now hundreds of square miles of private land can be seized by the government and "set aside" for a species (as long as you can prove that it's the species native habitat). The people who owned the land can't use it. This act has been abused in the past to keep land from being developed for reasons that have nothing to do with saving species, but nonetheless, the Endangered Species Act is a ready excuse.

You have to ask, do we really care if some obscure species of shrimp goes extinct? Nature adapts to all kinds of changes. Did you know there is even a species of fungus that only grows in the reactor room in the ruins of Chernobyl? But you don't see environmentalists getting all worked up over protecting that species habitat, because nuclear energy is, after all an "unclean" product of Western culture. What about the purple loose strife that loves to grow on the side of paved roads? I'm not saying that spreading radiation or turning the world into one giant highway is a good idea (certainly not), I'm just saying the nature/culture divide is arbitrary and we should consider why it is we really care about protecting our environment. Call me crazy, but I think it's because we want to have a viable habitat for ourselves (whoever that happens to be). So maybe we should worry more about what is actually going to make the environment inhospitable for us, like desertification, global warming, and the loss of whole ecosystems and biodiversity (as opposed to individual species, which we can take or leave). Sometimes its true that the extinction of a single species will cause the collapse of an ecosystem, but this is extremely rare. Just as often, some other species will come along and fill the niche and life will continue as usual. Invading species are also not as much of a problem the majority of the time as some would have us believe. Consider the example of Homestead, Florida, a passage point for most live cargo into the US. Sometimes the critters escape, and as a result, the town is overrun with all kinds of exotic species, even giant boa constrictors. But for the most part, the ecosystem still seems to be thriving; life continues as usual.

The point is, we need to be smarter environmentalists and evaluate the whole picture so we can allocate our efforts efficiently. And seriously, who gives a s*&% what we do in space?!
[User Picture]
Date:July 12th, 2005 04:02 pm (UTC)

Re: Popular liberal mythology

First of all, the government could always seize private land by right of eminent domain.

The problem with discussing an obscure species of shrimp or fungus is that it's precisely the same mindset that people in the 1800s had when they built factories run from fossil fuels. Who cares if the sky is black instead of blue? Can you be confident that wiping out those obscure species wouldn't affect the ecosystem in drastic ways? For example, the fungus at Chernobyl (which, by the way, I've never heard of, but I'm not the least surprised by) is the beginning of primary succession. Eventually, other things will grow there and probably in a symbiotic relation with that fungus.

I take some issue with your assessment of the addition or removal of a single species simply because the effect can be disastrous. For example, consider the effect of rabbits in Australia. We were lucky that introducing a virus into the population did the trick and didn't affect anything else. Some of the effects are exaggerated, but some of them aren't and it's not trivial to distinguish between the two.

As for space, if you like the Drake equation, there is a fairly good chance of 4 other intelligent species in the universe. I suspect they might have something to say about what we do in space.
[User Picture]
Date:July 12th, 2005 11:29 pm (UTC)

Re: Popular liberal mythology

Doesn't eminent domain only apply if the government pays for the land? I'll have to look this up.

It's true that the addition or removal of a single species can be disastrous, as in the example you mentioned, but these sorts of changes are not universally disastrous, nor do they cause problems in all cases. The history of the earth is that of one species after another invading, or going extinct (sometimes at catastrophic rates), so I don't think we should be alarmed that this sort of thing happens, though precisely how it happens and what the consequences are might be of interest to us. It's hard to tell which species are necessary and which aren't, so generally environmentalists err on the safe side and try to preserve all of them (I've heard that some sort of DNA frozen zoo Noah's arc is under construction in affiliation with the San Diego Zoo...), but sometimes this conflicts with other interests. If you're trying to save some particular species and that is in conflict with other interests, shouldn't you be held accountable for proving convincingly that saving this species is more important?

The rate at which the world's ecosystems are changing (or disappearing) is serious cause for concern; consider that just in the last 50 years, the Sahara has grown by more than 250,000 square miles due to farming, water use and global warming. That's 250,000 more square miles of sand and nothing. People have also been unfortunately slow moving to come up with renewable energy sources that don't deplete the ozone that protects us from deadly amounts of UV rays. What should worry us, I think, is how rapidly the environment is changing. What sort of future can we expect, and does that future include us? If there was a mass extinction it wouldn't be the first time in the earth's history. There are things we can do to speed up or slow down imminent destruction, and the interplay of interests is complicated.

Also, as for what we do in space, I'm sure any hypothetical intelligences outside of earth might care, but as to what form their concern will take is anyone's guess. Until we actually encounter these other species, the only approval ratings we care about are the ones on earth.

This is just a silly side note, but what about the many intelligent species on earth? Does dolphin or chimpanzee or porcupine intelligence simply not count because their intelligence is not of the human variety? Animal brains have accomplished plenty that human brains could never hold a candle to. It's time the animals rise up and claim their rightful place in the world's great intellectual tradition! And come on; everyone knows their dog is a lot smarter than the average human.
[User Picture]
Date:July 12th, 2005 05:31 am (UTC)
I think that humans just make the mistake to assume that their outlook on life is entirely objectional. The difference between nature and things that are not natural is really a subjectional human divide. But, you know, so is every intangible boundary we like to enforce through our psuedo-objectionalist logic. You can't just go and point at these lines and say that they don't exist -- at least not if you want to make an effective argument. Of course they don't exist. None of them do. But you're arguing on psychological level, which, I'm sure you have to realize, is really entirely moot.

Anyway. About the subject at hand. I simply don't believe that humans have the power to break natural equilibrium. Natural selection, you know; it applies to evolution, government, ideology, commercialism, and practically everything else, if you understand me; it's the universal law of "whatever works". Whatever humans do will be put through the same trials as everything else, and that's good enough for me.
[User Picture]
Date:July 12th, 2005 10:01 am (UTC)
My objection to the nature/culture divide is not simply that it doesn't exist, but that it gives the false impression that we are somehow separate from our environment and that one set of rules applies to nature and another set of rules applies to culture.

We have just as much a right to exist in any way we please as anything else, but we have the bizarre notion that humans have a moral obligation to be stewards of the environment. Gaea did not ordain humans to carry out her divine plan. When we see that this distinction is arbitrary, we realize that we are just another part of the environment like everything else and the same rules apply; other humans and human creations comprise our environment just as surely as so-called "natural" organisms and objects do. Does anyone fear for the extinction of strip malls, of hog farms, of nuclear power plants? Plenty of environmentalists would probably be partying in the streets if nuclear power plants went extinct and never graced the face of the earth again, but if a poisonous tree frog species goes extinct, it's a tragedy. Their allegiances are totally misguided to the point that many (less educated) souls believe that we have to completely separate culture from nature to save the world. To be fair, there aren't a lot of environmentalists clapping and cheering when a disease recovers from near extinction, but that just proves my point; that "nature" is not exempt from criticism as some would foolishly have us believe, and neither do threats to existence come exclusively from culture.

In the end, it's simply the obligations we have to those we cohabit with, human or non-human, that matter, and the fact that if we want our environments to permit our existence, we have to play by certain rules that vary according to the situation. The nature/culture divide is not merely arbitrary and outdated but detrimental; it's time we redrew the battle lines to show who our real enemies and allies are.
[User Picture]
Date:July 12th, 2005 10:08 pm (UTC)
I've gone back and forth on whether we see ourselves as stewards of the environment or as a blight upon the earth. I really believe that it's the latter. A lot of us have bought into that mindset. Consider, for example, the Voluntary Human Extinction Movement.

I think we have a responisibility to take control of our fate as much as possible, and in that, we have a need to do what must be done. I don't think anyone would rationally think twice about launching a rocket to divert a dangerously close meteor.

What interests me more though is that we have an interest in preserving parts of Earth, but not necessarily parts of space. And, in a lot of ways, I don't see the value of preserving parts of space.
[User Picture]
Date:July 12th, 2005 10:45 pm (UTC)
Actually, it's interesting that you compare the extinction of human creations to the extinction of natural ones because, yeah, actually, a lot of us do fear for our own stuff. Actually, I think this is exactly the point Phil was trying to make with the irony of liberals acting more conservative in nature. Maybe we don't care about nuclear power plants, but many of us are put off about the circus dying off, among other establishments. A lot of us are upset that religion is arguably dying -- or at least religious values.

And interestingly, this reflects another thing about environmentalism: we only really care about things that we can put a human face on. Diseases, for example, are sort of like the nuclear power plant of human creation; not in that they are arguably destructive, but merely because you can not so easily slap some kind of human face on them. We like dolphins and would hate to see them die off more than some species of insects because we can relate to them more. Similarly, a lot of people don't want to see their beliefs and favorite establishments die with their generation because they relate to them, but don't care about strip malls because they aren't exactly most people like to attribute to themselves.

Anyway, I don't agree that humans aren't any different than nature, exactly. We do follow exactly the same basic laws, I certainly agree, but where our human definitions are more concerned is in paying attention to the complex systems, where things really start to change very rapidly. On a psychological level, you can break down money, human sexuality, religion, government, food and water resources, etc. all into the same equations, but as themselves they are all entirely different than their natural counterpoints, and that's what we see; that's how we define who we are, and because basically everything on a fundamental level is the same as everything else it's entirely pointless to change that, I'm utterly convinced. Pushing around those boundaries, and maybe on some level blurring the line, through the use of effective arguments on levels people can relate to is the only way you can change people.

And besides. After you break everything down enough, I'm sure it would all resemble exactly the same equation, which'll probably be something like "everything is everything is everything" over and over again. I'm sure that would be really zen or whatever, but just a bit silly. (Not that I think that's what you're suggesting or nothin', just pointing out.) Either that or be the equation necessary to make our own universe, which we could turn into a really big nature preserve if we really wanted to. :)
[User Picture]
Date:July 13th, 2005 12:36 am (UTC)
Sounds like the zen of string theory : )

I'm not exactly sure what you meant when you said: "On a psychological level, you can break down money, human sexuality, religion, government, food and water resources, etc. all into the same equations, but as themselves they are all entirely different than their natural counterpoints, and that's what we see; that's how we define who we are." Are you meaning to say that we can break them down to the point where they all look the same, but we don't because it benefits us more to divide them up and evaluate them separately? Well it's true there's a futility in blurring distinctions until everything looks the same, and people who think we should do that are being silly.

But how we divide things up is another matter. My mind tends to look at the world as filled with "things", things I can point out or study, and I can name fields of study based on what thing they focus on. But we often find as we study these things that the lines that originally outlined their edges vanish and new distinguishing lines emerge, which is why evolved fields can become so messy. Messy evolved fields are the breeding grounds of new disciplines. Consider how fields recombine to form new fields like sociobiology (and the even more recent biosociality and gaiasociality), bioinformatics, neurocomputation, etc. When we eliminate these useless or harmful distinctions, we also try to replace them with other distinctions that are more useful to us. That's how perspectives evolve.

Something else interesting I heard in Discover magazine: "William Sutherland, a population biologist at the University of East Anglia, has shown that the places on earth with the most biodiversity are the most linguistically diverse as well and that languages are even more at risk for extinction than are birds or mammals. And so the rain forest cultures, with their fragile pluralism born of a lush world of plenty, deliquesce into the raw sewage of the slums of Rio and Lagos and Jakarta." This was in an article called "Are the Desert People Winning?" About how civilizations that come from deserts seem to be taking over the world, while forest civilizations are threatened. The author seemed rather dismayed at this state of affairs, noting that desert civilizations are notoriously oppressive, militaristic, stratified, uptight about sexuality and child rearing and mistreat women. By contrast, forest civilizations are more laid back and less violent. I wonder if some of the current environments in the developed world recreate the same abundance and plurality that forest settings have, and if that means we'll become laid back and non-violent any time soon? Or maybe those conditions create a completely different kind of culture. Well, I could speculate all day, but I think I'm done with my comments for now.

Note: The spell checker didn't like almost all the recombinant fields I mentioned. Silly thing, not in step with the times! : P
[User Picture]
Date:July 13th, 2005 01:11 am (UTC)
That is interesting, and there's probably a good deal of irony found in it, but searching for it would involve diving into politics which I am, for now, going to refrain from doing. :P
[User Picture]
Date:July 12th, 2005 10:09 am (UTC)
Er, in short, the distinction is purely psychological, but I wouldn't say it's a moot point because the psychological aspect is precisely what guides our actions-- in this case, guides them unwisely.

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