"Whenever I go into a restaurant, I order both a chicken and an egg to see which comes first"

Monday, January 14, 2019

Man's Responsibility For The Environment - As Much Sinned Against As Sinning

A young boy in a well-known private school in Washington, known for its liberal philosophy and premier education of Washington’s leaders, when asked about the role of man in the destruction of the environment replied that whatever damage man might have done to the environment, the environment took its toll on him.  We are all part of the ecosystem, he went on, and both influence it and are influenced by it. 

A very Buddhist thought, surprising for such a young student.  There is no change but change, he related; or in other words there is nothing but change.  Blame, guilt, attribution, moral consequences are meaningless in a world which is constantly changing and of which we are an integral part.  We may cut down forests, dam rivers, emit pollutants, and kill endangered species; but we may not only die from virulent diseases that emerge from African rain forests – ecology’s revenge – but unknowingly but irrevocably sow the seeds of own destruction.  Who can possibly predict the outcome of genetic engineering, man’s boldest attempt to remake the human organism in his own image?

The implications are far reaching.  As we edit out Great Great Grandfather Hiram’s bad genes, add those of Michael Jordan and Marilyn Monroe, and assure protection against the diseases and deformities we know, but we also expose the genome to other unknown, pernicious viruses.   Can’t the genome, once made public, be hacked?  If we are concerned about GMO foods and their lack of resistance to disease, then why not worry about our genetic structure, made more and more vulnerable by human intervention?

Image result for images buddha

The point is not whether genetic engineering is a good or bad thing.  The genie is already out of the bottle, tinkering with the human genome inevitable, and the search for a more perfect human organism underway and unstoppable.  It is the consequences of these radical and revolutionary events which are unknown.  It is just as likely that we contribute to our own doom and destruction as it is that we find the key to longevity, permanent good health, and a race of superior, highly-evolved individuals.

If man is as much a part of a changing physical, social, economic, and genetic ecology, as responsible for changes to it, instrumental in making others, and subject to exogenous forces which can never be predicted, then why is there a rending of garments over the spotted owl, the snail darter, or the warming of the climate?  If circumstances are such that man becomes extinct, it will not be because he has ruined the physical environment around him – rivers, oceans, streams, and forests – but because the human race has either become so large, and so environmentally influential that a whole host of swine flus, bat brain viruses, antibiotic- and immunology-resistant bacteria, and other unknown mortal pathogens emerge and destroy us; or because man himself, by manipulating a more existential genetic environment, causes his own extinction.

In other words, man is not the destroyer, the predator, and the cause of another Flood or a premature Armageddon, but nothing more than a player in the game of existential baccarat.  It is nothing more than vanity which condemns man for his ignorance, arrogance, and stupidity.  We are acting as we were created – intelligent, creative, entrepreneurial, visionary, and logical.  Creation is destiny, and we can only play out our ambitions, desires, and territorial claims as they are expressed.  We were not created to make right decisions, only decisions which seem to favor our longevity and dominance.  ‘Seem’ is the operative word, for no amount of intelligence can possibly decipher the imponderables of randomness.

Image result for images noah and the flood

The young man at the Washington private school in question soon left the institution.  He felt put upon, unfairly criticized, and ostracized for his conclusions; and enrolled in another school which if less intellectually challenging was certainly less dominated by political creed.

His only sin was to suggest that the decline in the oyster population in the Chesapeake Bay might not be due to environmental pollution and overfishing , but to an insidious, dormant, and suddenly and unexpectedly virulent virus.  Even if this were not the cause, he went on, fewer Bay oysters was not the end of the world; and only part of the inevitable cycle of the life and death of organisms.

The boys and girls at _____ were by no means interested in carrying the argument further, reflecting, as the disaffected student had, on Asian philosophies which were  eloquent on the subject of change, influence, and the role of man.  The Hindu God Siva was The Destroyer and The Enabler; and he danced the cycle of creation, destruction, and re-creation, none of which had particular meaning or relevance (i.e.,  no era was any more moral, principled, or better than any other) but was simply the way God had designed things to be.  Any individual at any point in this cycle was irrelevant as were his actions.  Whatever man does and regardless of the temporal influence his actions might have, in the larger scope of things, his actions are insignificant and meaningless.  The only hope for anyone born into this random drama is to understand it.

Image result for images dancing shiva

The _____School had been established on what it considered to be superior moral principles.  Its original patrons had supported abolition, refused entry into both world wars, and valued pacifism, social reform, and a moral-based system of governance since the 18th century.  While these progressive principles were historically valued and respected, they had come under serious scrutiny in the modern era.  The school and its foundational philosophical supporters refused to budge off a 19th century political platform and had been co-opted by 21st century progressivism., the canon of which – environmentalism, gender-race-ethnic inclusivity, and anti-capitalist hostility – was incorporated into all aspects of its education and social environment.

It was taken for granted that Americans were the world’s villains - environmental predators, military adventurers, territorialists, misogynists, and racists – and far from existing within a universal philosophical context, were outliers, destroyers with no thought of Siva –esque regeneration or renewal, cultural Nazis, and complete moral reprobates.

There could have been no farther straying from essential philosophical principles than that of the _____School and its supporters.

Western philosophers were never in the dark on such existential principles. Metaphysicians like Kant and Descartes, and moral philosophers like Heidegger, Schopenhauer, Kierkegaard, and Sartre all reflected on being and existence.  Only latter-day princelings like Lacan and Derrida weighed in and took an unequivocal stand - the academic philosophy of Plato, Aristotle, and their followers is wrong and irrelevant.  Only social, cultural, and historical context mattered, and one was quite right to judge white, male privileged opinions suspect in a multicultural world.  Of course man is responsible for social and environmental dislocation.

Image result for images derrida

The young student who resigned from the ____School went on to academic excellence, and was later noted for his reasoned and philosophically-grounded arguments against the received wisdom of philosophical environmentalists.  While those he left behind preferred to focus on the here-and-now, he shifted he discussion, broadened it, and demanded more academic responsibility and integrity.  The common wisdom and popular belief is that temperature rises are fact; icebergs are melting; summers and winters are nothing like what they were; and if nothing is done, climate Armageddon is close upon us.  He never denied all this, but only insisted on a broader, more inclusive, and far more intellectually sound analysis.

A priori conclusions, based on and influenced by a contemporary zeitgeist, are never right and valid.  Philosophical reflections are not only pertinent but necessary

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