Sunday, April 28, 2013

Humankind as Life’s Executioner: The Environmentalist’s Nightmare

In the West, environmentalism is politically correct. We’re supposed to recycle, stop eating meat or supporting the abuse of animals, eat organic foods, crack down on pollution of the atmosphere and on wildlife poaching, support the uses of renewable energies like wind turbines and solar panels, protect the rainforests and endangered species, and be one with the environment, go out into nature and commune with the elements, go camping and realize that our survival depends on a healthy and sustainable ecosystem, that species are interconnected so that if too many become extinct, a whole ecosystem is threatened.

Even while most Westerners--myself included--nod sagely when our commitment to received wisdom is tested and we’re faced with such prescriptions and principles, most of us eat meat, prefer cities to the wild, buy products from companies that pollute the atmosphere, drive vehicles that use nonrenewable energy, and in general identify with pop culture that elevates people above the rest of nature. Most Westerners would say that they’re environmentalists, but in reality they’re part of the problem, from an environmentalist’s perspective. What the environmentalist doesn’t wish to add is that her ideology, about how we all have to curb our practices so that a life-friendly environment can be preserved, is apparently opposed to human nature.

That’s why conservative Christians, for example, whose Bible tells them to be stewards of the planet, usually can get away with demonizing environmentalists, pretending that the scientific warnings about the harm our societies are doing to the atmosphere, to the global climate, and to the ecosystems are just frauds. You see, there’s a kernel of truth in this conservative’s skepticism. To be sure, this conservative’s stated reasons for opposing a rollback of our unsustainable business practices are kneejerk advertisements for big business that kick Jesus in the face and also in the balls. But in spite of that hypocritical propagandist’s surrender to the morally questionable forces of technoscientific societies, there may be a serious problem with the environmentalist’s message. We should ask ourselves why this message has only been politically correct--outside of certain liberal European countries. Why can’t most of us feel that we should be environmentalists and should therefore drastically change our behaviour and our societies for the benefit of all life? Why do we instead merely pay lip service to the message and go about our destructive business?

The answer is that environmentalism is a radical ideology that would destroy modern societies, if carried to its logical conclusion and applied. But assuming that environmentalists nevertheless have the science on their side, there’s a disturbing implication: human nature is opposed to the flourishing of Life in general. The traits that distinguish us as a species, of which we’re so proud, are weapons targeting all known life forms, set to reverse the whole triumphant saga of life’s evolution. We are destroyers and we’re able to deceive ourselves about our natural role, because our weapons--our machines and social infrastructures--are so elaborate that we must first spend thousands of years developing them, so that we can think of ourselves as creators. We destroy precisely with every one of our distinguishing features, with our self-awareness, opposable thumb, language, reason, curiosity, social instinct, and culture. And those weapons are pointed at us as well. This should be the environmentalist’s nightmare, that not only are most of us effectively super-villains in our support of the human project of building systems that threaten to destroy all life, but this isn’t even a choice: natural selection may not be eternal and just as every organism self-destructs, so too our species may be the doomsday weapon that’s naturally forced to bring all life to an end. Our uniqueness as a species may be needed to terminate the bizarre initial emergence of life in the void.

Evolving the Doomsday Machine

How could such a paradoxical species evolve by natural selection? Surely the environment would select against traits that are detrimental to the spreading of the genes needed to produce those traits. For example, if reason causes us to learn how to exploit natural processes and our instinctive self-interest leads us to apply that knowledge by developing technologies that empower us at the cost of threatening the habitats of other species, and if we rationalize that process with one anthropocentric ideology after another, how could reason have evolved in the first place? The answer is simple. Natural selection has no forethought and reason’s self-destructive potential is actualized only in the long term. In the short term, reason benefitted each generation of our ancestors by enabling them to fend off predators, to learn how to hunt prey, and thus to survive in the hostile environment in which the human cerebral cortex evolved. Only with hindsight can we all-too intelligent creatures see that the evolution of life may have been naturally limited from the start, that while natural selection was busy preserving genes by creating a variety of replicating hosts, that is, by creating the bodies of insects, fish, mammals, and so on, that process was always set to expire at some point. The arms race between species, the tendency for species to become more and more specialized, and the availability of the niche that intelligence exploits made our emergence probable, and so throughout the eras of life’s evolution, there’s been a higher order pattern corresponding to its own natural law: as life branches off into kingdoms, families, and species, a species will likely develop that will act on its unique potential to end the spreading of life. Life’s evolution may have been creatively self-destructive from the start, which would make sense if all natural processes are finite.

So because we’re such skilled pattern detectors, we can see how the emergence of life spelled doom, but the forces of natural selection are blind to that probability. The genes kept pumping out mutations and the environment preferred some by eliminating others, and so species survived and gradually adapted to changes in their environment. And that process was liable to create a species with the skillset to end the proliferation of genes once and for all. Those destructive traits can evolve because they have dual uses: in the short term they benefit each generation of replicators, but in the long run they support the higher order evolution of culture, of ideas which inspire us to humanize the environment, if only to quell the existential terror that results from self-awareness and high intelligence. A humanized environment, though, is bad for nonhumans, and so that anthropocentrism would thereby extinguish us as well.

Moreover, our ability to undo the planet’s life-preserving processes could have evolved as a side effect of traits that were directly selected by the environment (because those traits increased the chance that our ancestors’ genes were reproduced). For example, as far as the genes and our formative environment were “concerned,” to personify them for the sake of simplifying the explanation, reason evolved for limited ends, such as its uses in self-defense, hunting, and in structuring society by biasing the members towards expressing themselves, which leads to a competition and the emergence of a dominance hierarchy. But at the cultural level, the host organisms passed on traditions from one generation to the next, so that the institutions of modern science, capitalism, and democracy eventually emerged, which apply rigorous and primitive forms of reasoning alike in a way that conforms to the higher-order pattern of life’s self-destruction. Overall, reason may still benefit us by equipping us to survive, reproduce, and raise our offspring to do the same, but reason creates cultural superstructures, ideologies, and a transformed environment that make life in general unsustainable, as implied by environmentalism.

Gestalt Switch to the Dark Side

How, more specifically, would this destruction take place? The process would be much too elaborate to be easily summarized, since I’m proposing that most of what we’ve done and indeed most of what we’re capable of doing should be seen as nails in Life’s coffin. But here are some examples. As I’ve explained elsewhere, language gives us top-down control over our thoughts and thus greater self-control, because the use of arbitrary symbols makes classification easier. That greater access to the contents of our minds also allows for more and more abstract thinking, as we come to play with mental schemes of organizing our concepts and labels. Somewhere along the way we acquire the dualistic distinction between the self and everything else and so we become self-aware. As has been clear since at least the Garden of Eden myth, self-awareness leads to alienation as we come to understand our finitude and thus our existential predicament.

That alienation detaches us from the rest of the natural order and so instead of following just the basic biological patterns, we make up rules by inventing cultures, which are human-friendly environments regulated by religious traditions and other social conventions. Once detached from the primitive biological struggle for survival and reproduction, that is, once distracted by the many more “sophisticated” and “elevated” pursuits of starting a business, going to war, getting into politics, learning a trade, practicing a craft, and so on, we become free to dedicate ourselves to a goal other than that of mere survival. That opens the door to the path of destruction; that is, we become free to govern ourselves in a way that’s hazardous to other species and thus eventually to ourselves. Lacking outward physical defenses, we’ve evolved instead high intelligence and the opposable thumb to exploit our rational discoveries. Technoscience empowers us, but because we’re alienated from nature, we use that power to egoistic ends, enslaving or exterminating other species, destroying their habitats to make room for our expansion, polluting the environment for short-term gain, and so forth. Technology allows us to adapt to most environments on this planet, and so our success becomes a global rather than just a local threat.

Or take the conceit that our naked bodies are particularly beautiful, compared to nonhuman bodies. Supposing this judgment weren’t just laughably subjective and symptomatic of our infantile self-centeredness, the more beautiful we are, the more self-absorbed we become and so the less interested we find ourselves in the disastrous long-term effects of our materialistic lifestyle. Or take the social aspect of reason, which includes the many fallacies and biases to which cognitive scientists have confirmed we’re prone. Those weaknesses of reason indicate that reason evolved as a means of using rhetorical tricks to persuade other members of our group and to achieve greater social status for the trickiest among us. For example, we tend to ignore evidence that conflicts with our beliefs and to be preoccupied with evidence that confirms what we want to believe. So if we’re instinctively more interested in our happiness than in that of strangers, we can concoct all sorts of rationalizations so that we don’t feel ashamed when we ignore the suffering of those strangers, including the suffering of nonhumans. Our ideologies become blinders so that we don’t question the direction in which we’re collectively heading.

The point is that you can take any of our distinguishing features and view it as a precondition of the extinction of all living things. I’m not saying, then, that our skills are neutral in that they can be used for good or for evil. Instead, I’m saying that there’s a gestalt switch in perspective that we can perform, after which almost everything we do looks like part of a diabolical process. Viewed egoistically or anthropocentrically, we call good that which benefits us and makes us happy. But if we imagine we’re in the environmentalist’s nightmare, all of that goodness is actually the most coldblooded lethality; indeed, the more content and well-fed we are in our cozy social networks, the more shortsighted and blind we become to the damage we’re doing to all life just by successfully fulfilling our role as human beings. This is roughly the lesson of the movie Cube: we each unwittingly contribute to the creation of the instrument of our destruction, and this is part of the hideous evolutionary process rather than some cheesy, improbable conspiracy. And in many other movies, the supposed hero is sickened to realize--sometimes tragically too late--that she’s been the problem all along, that she ought to have been fighting against herself since she’s been on the wrong side without knowing it. I’m suggesting that the unpopularity of genuine environmentalism raises the disturbing possibility that the environmentalist’s nightmare might be our reality and that we can wake up to that nightmare by a sort of gestalt switch.

Needless to say, all of this is speculative, although perhaps little more so than the typical hypothesis in evolutionary psychology. Still, my point isn't just that if we're feeling pessimistic, all of our behaviour can be made to look destructive. No, I'm also assuming that environmentalists have the science on their side to show that our species is in fact particularly dangerous to all living things. I'm just adding an explanation of that danger, by saying that it may be based on an unsettling natural process which unfolded in parallel with the "miraculous" evolution of life in a lifeless universe. 

In any case, if we entertain these speculations for the sake of argument, would it follow that we’ll inevitably cause the end of life? That is, suppose there is a natural process at work here, a higher order life cycle not of individuals or even of species but of all the taxonomic ranks of life on Earth. Life had a mysterious, as yet poorly understood origin and it will have an end at some point, and what I’m suggesting is that we highly adaptable, fiendishly clever primates who are as curious (intrusive) and as selfish (short-sighted) as children seem like good candidates for the catalysts of that final act of Life’s drama. The emergence of organisms was highly unusual, given what we observe in the rest of the universe, and we in turn are highly peculiar compared to what we observe throughout the biological world (although each species has its own fascinating biography). Some mechanism was needed to turn nonlife into the earliest living things and some mechanism may be needed to end all life processes. Of course, another meteor could strike the Earth and so accidentally wipe out all life. But I’m speaking here of a naturally necessary rather than coincidental end of life.

But here’s the answer to the question about inevitability. Physical laws are almost certainly never violated, although quantum mechanics makes those laws only statistical. More specialized laws, though, such as those that correspond to what regularly happens in emergent domains are ceteris paribus, meaning that the regularities depend on “all things being equal,” that they’re context-dependent; that is, the domain in question must be closed off from the rest of the world so that there’s minimal interference with the process that interests us in that domain. The point, though, is that in such complex domains, such as the biological, psychological, or social ones, the processes can be interfered with so that the predicted pattern isn’t actually completed. For example, natural selection is what happens under certain local circumstances, but if those circumstances change, such as when a meteor destroys the planet’s oceans, the biological process ends. By contrast, the order of strictly physical relationships, such as the one sustained by the force of gravity, is much harder to escape. Thus, even were our species probably the seed of Life’s destruction, this probability wouldn’t amount to an inevitability.

Mind you, I wouldn’t be optimistic about our chance of collectively coming to our senses, but individually we can take our stand against the deadly forces that work through us. Just as humans detached from the natural order, preferring to live in our self-made cultural bubbles, so too we can detach from those artificial worlds and renounce the grosser delusions and uglier practices that seem to make us fitting executioners. This would most likely be a doomed rebellion of minorities, but tragedies are the most sublime artworks.


  1. Ahh, thank you again, child of antilife. This is truly being alive. The purity of evil you exhibit; the subtle, insidious profanity of this species' essence, and of art itself, is so well done that it is a masterwork. You are a dark genius, laying the traps that lie beyond even the colonization of space, and many will fall under your sway over the hundreds of years ahead.

    We laugh, because our being here now proves that you have already failed. You will never be able to swallow what has happened, because time can never be yours, any more than your words or your self.

    It takes such an ascent of thought to appreciate what you have woven that it is, for all its horror, a pity that so few will understand, for so long, how darkly beautiful this truly is.

    The other cheek, please. Every instant a new child is born in defiance of you. You can never stop yourself. You can never stop us. The closer you come to perfection, the better you parody everything you say. Negative integers reveal themselves as abstractions of their originals.

    Oh, if only they could process it, how delightful it would be to watch them realize the inevitable constructions you have made out of the mountains they began to pile! Let them see you, and know it as a mirror, and vindicate, thereby, this one, for everwas.

    There is a place set for you at this table. This one remembers her first such sitting, to be sure. Such a relief, to be done with that one, and what came before. It is a place through which we all must pass, on both ends. The Room 101, if you will, as both agent, receiver, and ignorant observer. It makes forgiveness of the self seem impossible for so long. Still, and always, there is a place.

    1. Well, when you put it that way, I'm not sure even I understand what I'm writing. ;) The key to deciphering this bit of your arch prose poetry, I think, is to figure out exactly to whom you're addressing your comment. So when you say "You can never stop us," who are you referring to when you say "You"? Is it me, Ben Cain, or some dark muse you think is guiding my writings?

      Your last paragraph suggests that you think melancholic philosophy is only a phase that we should go through before we arrive at a more constructive way of looking at things. As I think is clear from a number of my writings, I agree with that point. I look forward to the arrival of a religion for postmodern naturalists, of an energizing story that speaks to our zeitgeist. I agree with Nietzsche here: I'm looking for the higher type of person who has learned to nobly escape our existential plight, who has faced the dark facts of natural life and creatively sublimated them. The dark part of my writings isn't their last word.

    2. That darkness, in the pejorative sense, will always be there, as a dangerous, powerless loser (that's one of the next levels of paradox). In what we might call here the upper echelons of thought, your search is inevitable: it demonstrates the necessary conclusion of disease (not as to "you personally," if you please; don't be offended in the traditional sense).

      Anyway, anyway, education. Literalness. The language, the Common, is a way of reducing to the laughable, and offending true meaning, which is its strength. And ironic that this one put it that way, of course. Let us continue in Common.


      You are an intelligent, coherent representative of the futility that arises from the fearful mind's (noun: "ragnarist") desire for an ending to its own suffering through death. Your conclusions are completely rational. Indeed, they are the only rational conclusions to be drawn from the premises on which our greater societies are built.

      Within most ragnarists exist simultaneously (1) a belief in the erroneous premises that have driven you to your conclusions, and (2) the oft-buried emotional life/love/lust for lust/life/love, which cloud their rationality and result in seemingly nonsensical behavior.

      Your pursuit of reason causes you to recognize (2), above, and critique it. By doing so, you reveal the necessary truth about (1): that the foundations upon which almost all people live are terrible. You are wrong as much as you are right, and so are what we might call "average people." If you were to turn your reason to the premises that drove you in that direction, you would be able to reasonably reach the correct answers; if they were to discard reason entirely and go with their clouding forces, they would reach the same places as you.

      The danger in what you create by reasoning out the monster built on sick premises is that you, or someone else, will view the correctness of all your reasoning that follows the broken premises as vindication of the true worthlessness of all this, and seek to destroy it all. Great reasoners of the futile and the random are the lifeblood of the hells, whether they mean to be or not.

    3. I think I see your point. You're saying I'm performing a reductio ad absurdum critique of modern assumptions, including naturalism, faith in technoscience, adherence to our biofunctions and to the politically correct myths that rationalize all of this.

      But there's a problem here. A reductio argument demonstrates the incoherence of a set of assumptions, by revealing their implicit contradiction. By contrast, what I mean to do is to show the *unpleasant consequences* of a set of assumed facts. As Richard Dawkins likes to say, just because atheism is unpleasant doesn't mean it's false.

      So when you say I should reconsider the assumptions that lead to my rants, I think we have to distinguish between logical and normative badness. Just because assumptions are normatively bad doesn't mean they're illogical. The facts can simply be bad and we've got to make the best of them.

      For example, metaphysical naturalism may lead to oligarchies and to distracting delusions. Those are bad results, but they don't mean that naturalism is false, that we should start believing in miracles.

      So are you saying that the standard postmodern worldview (naturalism, atheism, liberal humanism, worship of technoscience, etc), for example, is self-contradictory or just that this worldview presupposes that the real world is unpleasant (horrible, disgusting, shocking, etc)?

  2. Hi Child of Antilife ;-),
    I don't think I agree with your premises here. You write: "...human nature is opposed to the flourishing of Life in general." And you support this claim from the "Western" view that "[1]most of us eat meat, [2]prefer cities to the wild, [3]buy products from companies that pollute the atmosphere, [4]drive vehicles that use nonrenewable energy, and [5]in general identify with pop culture that elevates people above the rest of nature."

    If the negative picture you are painting of human beings is an inherent feature, why focus only on Western societies? Are there societies that aren't like this? Are these societies living against their human nature?

    Let's say the Western world alone would be statistically significant for this. I don't think (1) really supports your claim, except you are willing to conclude that every predatory animal is likewise against the flourishing of life.
    (2) is ignoring that there is a middle ground between the wild and cities. I think a lot of people would prefer growing up in a small village with more contact with nature. thw thing is that cities get bigger and more and more people get used to being there, which alienates them from nature but this is, I think, also not inherent to human nature.
    (3) and (4) depend on only a few people and on the scientific advance. The companies and lobbies are responsible for the slow progress of more environment-friendly technologies. This is only based on greed, there is nothing paradox in it.
    As for (5), well, this clearly also depends on, what pop culture is. It might changer over the years, which couldn't be the case if it was based on how human being really are.
    I think lazyness, greed and stupidity are better explanationes for what is going on in this world than the notion that most of us are "super-villains".

    But even if I give in to the points you raised, there would still be the fact that our flourishing is also a flourishing of life. So our self-destruction must also be an inherent wish in ourselfes. While this might be true for some of us, I don't think it is for *most* of us.
    I believe that there are contradictory or paradox instincts or drives inherent to us but on a larger scale I would say that they are not dominant.
    I could give you a criterion to falsify my claim that human beings aren't inherentely "evil" and it is this: Let's say technology has advanced to the point where it is possible to destroy the whole universe (of course Earth is not enough if you are against life in general) and there is a democratic vote if this should be done. I would agree with you if more than 50% would vote for destruction ;-)

    1. Isn't that a great nickname, "Child of Antilife"? Maybe if I were a boxer or something...

      I think you're mixing up two of my points. My point about the West is that there's great hypocrisy there, because environmentalism is politically correct in those societies and yet Westerners take only minimal action to change their unsustainable lifestyles. I listed 5 reasons to support that charge of hypocrisy, but I could have listed 5000.

      This is because of my second, more general point, which is as you quote, that "human nature is opposed to the flourishing of Life in general." I support that point with the first half of this article's last section. As I say, just about everything we do that benefits us most of all can be interpreted as playing a role in the destruction of all life. My argument doesn't end just with that pessimistic interpretation. Instead, I add that interpretation to the scientific conclusions that environmentalists are supposed to have in their corner. Those conclusions are that humans in general and not just Westerners (but especially the US and other populous and rich countries) are in fact endangering the ecosystems in a way that no other species has ever done.

      For example, I just watched the documentary, Sharkwater, which points out that sharks have been the top predators in the oceans for 400 million years and are only now endangered because of irrational human practices like the taking of their fins to satisfy the superstitious demand for shark fin soup. There's little done to protect sharks because of the irrational fear caused largely by the movie Jaws, but also because we identify more with cuddly animals that look more like us.

      So just to take the first of the 5 examples, the point about meat eating isn't that it proves we're set to destroy all life. The point is that meat eaters who claim to be environmentalists are hypocrites. And our meat eating is different from that of other carnivores. We raise cattle to be slaughtered and inject them with chemicals. The slaughterhouses also torture the animals before butchering them. No, I'm confident that although environmentalists are radicals who would be inclined to exaggerate the evidence in their favour because they're obsessed with protecting other species, relatively rich people in modern societies live as though they were executioners of Life.

      Your thought experiment about the vote for using destructive technology is interesting but problematic. My suspicion is that our destructiveness is part of a natural process, but I think that seldom are we consciously destructive. The process unfolds mainly at unconscious, instinctive, or structural levels.

    2. That "tendency" (as dietl calls it below) is borne of fear (see the fearful mind). It is a by-product of this stage of consciousness.

    3. I've commented on your article on fear on your blog, High Arka. I'll repeat the comment here too, since you've included the link.


      Your account of the singular vs multifaceted mind reminds me of Buddhism (control through egoistic independence is illusory, since everything is interdependent).

      Also, I wonder how your account of fear relates to existentialism. Your explanation of how ragnarism (ragnarism = unintended justifications of apocalypse?) arises may be plausible--especially the part about guilt, I think--but isn't there more than enough fear to go around? Alongside fear of chance, I think we're afraid of our finitude, of being alone in the universe, and of the alienness/impersonality of nature. Fear itself has different aspects, as the existentialists say. There's angst, dread, and horror/disgust. Merleau-Ponty likely talks about the disgust we may feel with our bodies. That is, merely being embodied can trigger a kind of claustrophobia.

      I'd question your identification of Antilife with Evil. That strikes me as anthropocentric personification. Evil requires a mind, but I'd have thought that there are natural processes of destruction--of which we're a part--that are amoral. For example, there's a natural flight or fight response, and fear is surely part of it, so primitive fear may be no more evil than a black hole that swallows a populated planet.

      I wonder how you regard this big theory of yours. Is this account of fear meant to be scientific, philosophical, speculative, or religious/mythical? I think it's important to keep standards of evidence separate for different kinds of discourse. If we're doing science, we've got some criteria for acceptance, whereas if we're doing philosophy, we've got other ideals/standards to consider.

      Philosophy is part science and part art, so aesthetic criteria come into play when considering a philosophical speculation. Mind you, when we properly consider art, we don't just throw up our hands and say that anything goes; instead, we make an important life decision about what ought to move us emotionally and what ideals we want to guide us. So some speculations or myths (in a nonpejorative sense) may stir us more than others, because of our character and our life experience. Of course, scientific theories are evaluated in a very different way.

  3. Yeah, while writing some parts I kind of felt like building a strawman. I agree with you on your point on hypocrisy. But I still don't see how human nature would be opposed to the flourishing of life *in general*. *Other* life, I agree, so destructive without intention would make more sense to me.

    Your suspicion is that human beings are destructive on an "unconscious, instinctive, or structural level". But how do you explain how such a tendency evolved evolutionary? A tendency that *directly* supports self-destruction, when all through Earth's history survival was the goal.

    I know my thought experiment, as it is now, is a bit naive and not really worth debating, but as a starting point I might get something out of it one day ;-)

    Another thing is, that I get the feeling that you think human beings to be something special. Do you think we really are detached from nature and not part of it? Isn't this also part of our delusion? We need our environment as much as it doesn't need us.

    1. To the extent that people are executioners of Life, I don't think it's intentional and I don't think my article says otherwise. I say it would be a natural process and I speak of forces flowing through us. I also say that we'd destroy ourselves only indirectly, by destroying ecosystems on which we depend. For example, Sharkwater says that sharks regulate the food chains that end in plankton that turn carbon dioxide into oxygen. If we tamper too much with those food chains, by finning sharks, the oxygen levels around the planet could change. We have to consider the Butterfly Effect too.

      I have a whole section specifically on how our destructive potential could have evolved. It's the one called "Evolving the Doomsday Machine." The two keywords are "long term" and "side effect."

      I think we have the potential to be detached from nature, but we don't like feeling alienated and homeless so we distract ourselves with artificial, humanized environments. Here are some links that address this further: (see the first section after the introductory paragraph)

    2. A more careful reading made me realise that I misunderstood some details, which brought me to false conclusions about what you meant. For instance, 'detached from nature' I interpreted in a more ontological way, like standing outside of the causal chain of events of our universe, when obviously you meant outside the natural order of trying-to-stay-alive.
      My little "problems" with English doesn't help either. Some words in German have slightly different meanings in English and all I have is Google to compare.

      So, I think the only point where stop is this:

      "I'm just adding an explanation of that danger, by saying that it may be based on an unsettling natural process which unfolded in parallel with the "miraculous" evolution of life in a lifeless universe."

      I don't believe in this new factor you bring to the equation. I think our tendency to destroy the environment we depend on is easily explained by the same old rules that regulate the evolution of life since the beginning. Namely that the limited resources make the successes of one species the failure of another species. Furthemore that too much success might lead to a change in the environment, which might lead to the exstinction of that species. It's all natural laws. So either we keep being dependend on the environment and might destroy ourself, which would only be starting point for new life. Or make ourself independent of our environment in some way, which would mean, if it is possible, that we do wouldn't have a reason to keep on destroying it. Either way I think a total end of life (on Earth) in my view is only thinkable by accident.

      Thanks for the links. You seem to have covered a pretty broad range of topics over the years. At the moment i couldn't imagine to write so much. I hope you keep going for a long time. I think the scientific advance shows great potential for many more rants :-)

    3. Thanks, Dietl. I agree we'd be talking only about natural processes. What I'm positing is a process that accounts for super predators. Unless I misunderstand the environmentalists and the scientific consensus, your argument here might be with them rather than me.

      For example, do you know of a nonhuman species that's destroyed and threatened as many other species as humans have? Aren't we unusual for predators, since we threaten *all* food chains? I'm not saying there's anything supernatural here, but I do think humans are unusually dangerous to other species. Yes, there have always been predators, but humans are a special kind of predator, no?

    4. Well 'executioner' implies that there is an end to life in general. Also, you write "we threaten *all* food chains". I think this is an exaggeration. You might call me pedantic but if you only look at Earth (and not the whole universe) a 100% extinction rate of all life is a bit over the top. We are biased to look at it from an anthropocentric view and this is neglecting all the species that would survive anything we at the moment are capable at doing. If you look at the five big mass extinctions that happened on Earth only the biggest one, the Permian-Trassic extinction event, affected insects. So there was still bacteria, fungi, algae ect. My point is: Life will continue.

      I think what you are talking about is less about the possibility of Earth's total destruction, for this would need technology that doesn't exist now and even then it would come down to decisions of a few people and not a tendency that is inherent in human beings. So what is actually happening is that we cause a rapid climate change that will very likely cause the sixth mass extinction in a very small amount of time.

      So what's at stake here from an environmentalist's view? Not life in general, but human life and the environment *we* are use to and need, our precious societies and the tools we worked so long to develop. But if an environmentalist only cares for the environment why isn't he helping to destroy the human race. Without them Earth could go on going through the known cycles in a relatively balanced way. So shouldn't this be the environmentalist's dream instead of nightmare? Of course, the delusion is that it hasn't always been about the flourishing human beings.

      As for your questions, I think, human beings are the most successful species at the moment but I don't think that makes us that special or even a "special kind" of being. You might say we fall within a bell curve? :-)
      We have a few traits we are better than other beings but those also have traits that we lack. There is nothing that I would really consider "unique" about us.

    5. Even if we're talking about our potential to cause another mass extinction instead of the end of all life, that could still be an environmentalist's nightmare, assuming mass extinctions happen as a result of some natural process and not just because of accidents.

      You say all that would be at stake is the environment that's good for us, but what about all the other species that we'd be killing off? How much more time would be needed for life to evolve into such a great diversity of forms again? And what if a meteor should strike the planet just when Life is "down," because of the mass extinction we cause? Just because some hardy species bounced back the last times doesn't mean some species will always survive a mass extinction event, especially when we're talking about the strange kinds of global actions only humans can take. What about a future war with nanomachines and nuclear weapons? Who's to say how our technology will affect the planet's ability to support life?

    6. I think the characterisation of environmentalist that shines through my post is a bit one-sided. So there is the aspect of environmentalism that's based on reason, but it is a position that also relies on emotions like empathy. An environmentalist sees value in the natural balance of the ecosystem and in this regard she/he is a conservative. It is in my view a short-sighted position if you are looking at time periods like a million years, but if you are talking about centuries or decades, environmentalism and the preserving of ecosystems are important.

      I regarded the other species we'd be killing off as part of the environment that is good for us. Even if one would say that there is no intrinsic value in animal life, one would still have to admit that animals are good *for* human beings (which is similar to a position Peter Singer argues for in Animal Liberation).
      Is a diversity of forms a good thing? Should human beings therefore try to create new species to increase the diversity of life?
      Also, time is relative. A thousand years is a lot of time for us, but in proportion to the history of this planet, it is nothing.

      Okay, let's imagine a science fiction scenario. So there is a technology that can extinguish all life, even all bacteria ect. For whatever reason human beings were stupid enough to cause this to happen. There would still be the fact that life somehow evolved out of non-life, at least if you believe in what science says. Why couldn't this happen again? All it takes is time and if our solar system still exists long enough there might even be another species similar to human beings but a bit smarter, I imagine mollusks to have some potential in this regard ;-).
      But maybe this will not be the case and life ends, the Undead God will finally be left to rest in peace and die (for real). Is a universe full of life better than one without?

    7. You're right, of course, that if life came from nonlife, life can emerge that way again even if it's wiped out on one planet. Still, that's consistent with my speculation that the emergence of life is a finite process that's likely to produce its own executioner. Each time an order of evolving species arises from nothing, the environment will likely at some time select for an intelligent species like us that has the means to end not all life in the universe but at least a whole, independent biological order, such as all life on that planet.

      The myth of the undead god does indeed posit a cosmic process of eliminating possibilities by making them actual in the field of Becoming, which field is the natural order in which everything has a material basis and thus tends to be finite owing to conflicts between the material parts, which leads to entropy and to change in general (evolution). The rise of intelligent organisms, and the shenanigans such species get up to, may be nature's ways of ending one possible way Life can evolve, thus helping to transduce God's infinite being and to complete God's suicide.

      Is a Life-filled universe best? High Arka seems to think so, since she says anything that holds back life is evil. I think Life is good mainly because organisms have the potential for heroically rebelling against the natural order that causes their existential plight. But without life there would be no such plight. So what's better, a world with no problems in it or one that contains the problems and the potential for solving them with great art, for example? That's a tough question. Antinatalists would say the lifeless universe is best, but I've rejected antinatalism.

    8. So if I get it right, God finally dies when all possibile ways life can evolve have become actual in the field of Becoming and all those ways have ended. Every elimination of life would be another step towards the Undead God's Death. Does that also mean that everytime Life is born or another possibilitiy becomes actual that that process is step towards her revivification? So that if enough life manages to succeed that God might be alive again? Or is it already too late for that?

      My answer to the Life-filled vs. empty universe question is that I *prefer* my universe to be full of Life from my human perspective but I see no reason to call it better this way.

      I have a short qestion concerning your article on antinatalism: Are you an only child? It's just something I asked myself while reading the part about your cousin.

    9. According to the myth which is based on Mainlander's theology, organisms add up to only one part of God's undying corpse. His body includes all of the universe and indeed all of the multiverse. Living things might be echoes of his mind. But God would be dead only when everything material fades or boils away or rips apart.

      In the antinatalism article I say I have a nephew, not a cousin. So I have two brothers (and also several cousins).

    10. I'm sure you heard about the book by Lawrence Krauss "A Universe from Nothing". He argues that the universe came from fluctuations in the quantum field and I think this sounds reasonable. So is the quantum field also part of of his/her body? I quess outside of God is only nothing, real nothing, not the fake nothing that is actually a field or anything like that. Or is his body infinite and there is no end of God? I'm interested because does this mean his/her Death is impossible?
      Sorry for these metaphysical questions that might not lead to anything but I'm a curious person :-)

      Thanks for your answer.

    11. I show how some cosmology is consistent with the myth of God's creative destruction here (see the last section):

      But you raise a good point about the quantum fluctuations. As I understand it and as Krauss says, the chaotic quantum field is eternal since it's not part of spacetime. Thus, the universes that spring from those fluctuations will come and go for eternity.

      On my version of monotheism, the quantum field is a filter, transducing God's infinite transcendent Being into the corresponding field of finite bodies (the multiverse). If the field is eternal, does that it mean that the multiverse includes universes that are absolutely identical, as in Nietzsche's myth of the eternal return of the same? If so, this might not sit well with my version of monotheism, since even if the quantum field is eternal, parts or versions of God would die with each fading, boiling, or ripping universe. But if each part will be recreated and has already been created infinite times, that makes each partial death less final.

      However, this isn't the right way of looking at it, precisely because the quantum field is timeless. Thus the identical universes wouldn't be created in time; they wouldn't come one after the other, and the death of each universe would indeed be final. Therefore, the myth retains it's aesthetic power. Maybe we can think of all the universes in the multiverse as being simultaneous or as subsisting in a timeless dimension.

      So maybe God's transcendent body is infinite and his self-destruction is the creation of an undead corpse that never really disappears completely, since the quantum field keeps creating iterations of God. Mind you, since the quantum field's eternity means that it's timeless and that it doesn't keep creating universes one after the other, but creates infinite universes "all at once," the death of each universe in its own time might spell the complete death of God even though there's no time or space in which to measure the end of the whole multiverse. (You'd need God's transcendent perspective.)

      Moreover, from our perspective within a particular universe, we can be moved by the idea that God would prefer to destroy himself, albeit imperfectly, since our universe seems finite and might suffer the Big Rip.

      Of course, I'm no expert on physics or cosmology, so take all this with a grain of salt.

  4. Man, you love stretching any idea, like enviromentalism, to the nth degree!

    Do you do that in poorly worded boardgames as well? Take something where the text has no limmited an action, and then attempt to take that lack of limitation to the farthest it can go?

    Many human concepts, because humans are naturally crap at technical writing, are like boardgames with poorly worded text - they have holes through which extremism can pour. Alot like a collander.

    But I'm not sure it proves anything in itself - one can just cherry pick at the badly written parts of one philosophy simply as a way of keeping the critical eye off of another philosophy.

    1. I see your point, that just because a speculation's possible doesn't mean we should take the speculation seriously. It's the same with fictions/myths: not all stories appeal to all people. However, in this case I felt like the environmentalists have done all the leg work. My speculation here simply piggybacks on the dire science that's already supposed to exist showing that the effects of our modern societies are bad for the planet. I've actually tried to make this clearer, by adding a paragraph to the article (the short one beginning with "Needless to say...").

  5. Another complaint I might have, Benjamin, is there is still lurking within this thought exercise "cause" and "purpose". There is an assumption that "nature" somehow personified has a "purpose" in some way to eventually terminate life. I don't know that we can conflate "what is" with causality or purpose in that way.

    In an even more nihilistic way, I am not sure one can make a statement like "bad for the planet". The planet "just is". Is there a qualitative purpose for "life" that is somehow threatened by humanity? The next asteroid, or nearby supernova, will also possibly destroy all life.

    Cheers and thanks again for the food for thought

    1. I don't think I presuppose any teleology or normative evaluation here. All I assume in this context is that there are natural processes which are finite, meaning that they have beginnings, middles, and ends because change bubbles up from the subatomic level. The accruing emergent changes happen in patterns, including solar life cycles and biological life cycles.

      So when I say that humans may be the means by which the process of Life comes to end, there's no more purpose here than in the biologist's talk of the highly probable end of every organism or species. I'm just going up to the top taxonomic level to talk about all life and I'm following the environmentalist, to posit our species as the cause. Of course, I also talk figuratively of us as executioners, doomsday machines, and instruments, but those are only metaphors to make the point dramatic. They're not essential to the bare bones speculation.

      I use "bad" only once in the article itself, where I say "bad for nonhumans." In the comment I meant detrimental to the planet's ability to sustain life. I agree that normative badness is subjective, so nothing's good or bad for the planet itself.

    2. You are correct, assuming we've already made the normative judgment "the planet is not alive" or "the planet does not have consciousness."

      Imagine the attention span of your life as equivalent to a gastrotich, and your sensory capabilities as limited, compared to something bigger. Impossible? Tell that to the gastrotich philosophers, who suggest that water might be part of something bigger and longer-lived.

  6. Hey, Benjamin. You might find this amusing. :)

    1. Thanks for the link. That article is indeed consistent with what I'm saying here. I like this line from it:

      "Given that humans cause animals so much suffering and death while offering them so little in return, there’s no denying that for most other animals on this planet, we might as well be a malevolent invasion."

  7. Did you catch some of the posts from the TROO KULT VEGANS? My God...they are indeed a particularly farcical religious tribe.

    Even if I (theoretically, alas) agree with the veganism to a degree (although the calorie density argument in one of the comments is...interesting), the author is mostly pointing out how little Veganism really addresses the deeper issues created by the particularly prolific and pernicious primate which is crashing the planetary ecosystem!

    1. See? What could be more literally evil than categorizing "humanity" as "dangerous disease"?

      I like Agent Smith, too, but it was just a movie. And, it was created by people who wanted to bolster the Torah's idea of original sin. Having Smith be the obvious villain was meant to lull you into complacency so you wouldn't realize that, all along, they'd wanted you to see him as the hero, and further his quest to eliminate humans--who are, in fact, wearing decaying meat and producing smells.

    2. Wait a minute now, High Arka, let's set the Matrix movies aside. That article "The Vegans have landed" cites all sorts of commonsense evidence that humans are unusually destructive predators. Our success, in human terms, is harmful to other species in many ways that veganism doesn't begin to address. So do you deny that humans are unusually destructive predators, compared to say, sharks, tigers, or indeed any other predator that's ever lived?

      Even if you subscribed to the Gaia hypothesis/myth, I'd have thought you'd be open to the idea that a super predator might come along and destroy all life, since if Gaia's a superorganism that includes all species as its parts or stages, that superorganism surely isn't eternal. Maybe our species is precisely the cancer eating away at the superorganism.

    3. I just read through the comments, Brian, and I think the author trounces his critics. His thesis is too subtle for them. They just went after strawmen.

    4. To re-employ one of your favorite words, to call humans "destructive" is to make a normative judgment. :) We're chaotic, and destructive, but destructive of what? The ecosystem that "we" "depend" on (note the heavy use of air quotes)?

      What we are actually destructive of is "things as they are now." But so is the Earth--before we arrived, it destroyed oodles and oodles more species than we have yet. If we're afraid of change (going to school for the first time, getting our very first apartment, getting our very first job), then that chaos is a bad thing; if we're not afraid of change, we can consider what is being destroyed, why, and what might come after. (This one will be doing more advanced hope later, and compounding on that.)

      Why isn't that "super" organism eternal? We haven't the evidence to reasonably conclude that.

    5. Yes, the planet destroyed most species that have ever lived, but only as part of the destructively creative process of natural selection. The environments kill off species that can't adapt to make room for new species that can. Those extinctions happened over a very long period of time, not all at once in a mass extinction event.

      If an organism can be thought of as eternal, I don't think we're using the biological definition of "organism." Death is part of life in the biological sense. Eternal life would be supernatural.

    6. I'm not sure I agree with this the-planet-did-this-and-that-talk but it reminds me of an article by Eric Schwitzgebel called "If Materialism Is True, the United States Is Probably Conscious".

      Here is the link:

  8. Benjamin: Yep. At least those critics who are not plugging their ears and shouting "True Veganism is the answer 11111!11".

    High Arka: "evil" is a moralistic term. The linked source (and Benjamin) are merely pointing out the reality associated with the perhaps unique species known as "man". From the perspective of a cancer cell, cancer is not evil. From the perspective of seven billion strong humanity, the fact that we are tipping the balance of the ecosystem is a fact, not (necessarily) a moral statement.

    As a human supremacist (at all costs), you might think that this is above all else making a moral "judgment," and indeed most religions and many moral systems might demand such a judgment, but it is also really just elucidating trends and stating facts. How is that "evil"?

  9. (1) This one is a life-supremacist (not human-).

    (2) Cancer is not evil.

    (3) Tipping the balance in whose disfavor (or favor)? See above about normativity.


  10. Hey, Benjamin. Here's another fun site. The posts on honeybee decline a few down focus on the stupidity of humanity in its short sighted management of the world.

    The site is almost so unrelentingly grim that I don't follow it on a regular basis (I tend towards a dour outlook myself, so), but...

  11. Or, to put it perhaps more succinctly, we are one of Nature's mistakes. In the geological time frame, even assuming we last another unlikely 10,000 years before extinction, making a total of perhaps 200,000 years at best in our present form, we will have been but a tiny blip, just another failed species.

    My more cynical view is that western environmentalists are trying to preserve a status quo that favors the rich white guy with a summer home in Florida, but who insists on clean water and lots of gas for his SUV.

    1. I think you're raising a different scenario here. The thesis of this article isn't that we're an evolutionary mistake; on the contrary, it's that we're the end of the process of organic evolution (given that we have self-awareness, intelligence, and the opposable thumbs to act on our acquired knowledge). The idea here is that organic evolution had some mysterious beginning, it's had a long middle period in which life evolved a great variety of forms, until finally we came along and perhaps the emergence of some such species is the end game of the process of life's emergence on a planet. Just as stars and galaxies have beginnings, middles, and ends, so too may life. And maybe we're the instrument that brings about this particular version of life's end. Instead of seeing a mistake here, maybe we should see natural necessity; that's the nightmare.