Saturday, June 26

Guest Article: "Should This Be The Last Generation?"

Reprinted from: The New York Times
Date: June 6th, 2010
Author: Peter Singer

My purpose is to perpetuate Mr. Singer's question and its exploration into a new medium for discussion or reflection. No copyright infringement is intended; I do no represent this work as my own in any way. A link to the original article at The Times is provided here. No changes have been made to the text whatsoever.

Should This Be the Last Generation?


Metamatician said...

My viewpoint is the same as the author of the book whom the article cites - David Benatar. And it seemed the author of the article was right with me until the first half of his last paragraph.

After constructing a logical scaffolding upon which one ought to conclude that not existing has no value at all, for good or ill, while existing brings with it inevitable suffering (as the Buddha maintained over 2500 years ago), how he can then suddenly assert that he's an optimist and does feel most lives are worth living, or at least will be in the future, seems to me to be a cop-out; a ninety-degree turn into Wishful Thinking country and off the road of logic.

Yes, it is depressing for those of us living to contemplate, perhaps, but to state that most people live happy lives is patently not true, in my estimation, when you at humanity as a whole, including all the parts of the world ravaged by war, poverty, and disease.

And to place bets on what is at best an extremely uncertain future, especially as fossil fuels run out, is in my view naive. But the rest of the article is well-stated.

I agreed with Schopenhauer before reading this and I still do; it's nice to know I'm not the only one who can imagine a universe which does not contain us without being looked at as somehow evil (as though I meant to bring about that state by genocide or in some other radical way), or at minimum as a member of another species, one which doesn't have a Biological Imperative to continue and spread the species by any means.

It's just that I recognize this desire (which most people possess, but by no means all) is our genes "speaking," as it were, those genes being the descendants of others which by chance had both the knack and the "desire" (again to anthropomorphize) to themselves survive whilst others not so constructed failed to do so.

It's a self-fulfilling state of affairs that organisms in a limited environment will end up either dying or prospering in a way which brings about a domination of those most suited and keen to continue to dominate. "Existentialist" bacteria don't live very long in petri dishes!

Anyway, I hope the article made you think and didn't depress you too much. I think the idea of universal sterilization would be grand - imagine 10 billion children, maybe many, many more, who will after you have read this be born into a world which already lacks the resources to support the population it has, and the misery they will suffer as the forests continue to be cut down, sea levels rise, droughts and famines strike, and nature does her own culling. Yes, some fraction will end up the rich barons of a new post-oil age. But the great majority will be no better off than the poor at almost any time in human history have ever been. That is to say, their lives will likely be brutish, nasty, and short.

I would feel better to never bring future generations into existence than to contemplate a possible post-apocalyptic scenario such as that waiting in store for humanity as I trundle off to my own grave.

Hans said...

This is from Hans' mom: Actually just talking about this with Heath 2 days ago - it would be a better world without sentient beings. The world would regulate itself without human interference. Humans have done more harm than good - most people aren't happy - and from now on, people should adopt the children already born and sterilize everyone. Give the world back to the innocent and maybe we can do some good afterall.

Metamatician said...

Agreed! Good ideas.

Raelha said...

But who would look after all the cats?!

More seriously, I like the idea of an Earth without humans. I think the reaosn many people have children is to make sure they'll be looked after in their old age. Although with the stresses and attitudes of life today, I don't think even having offspring is a guarantee of that for many people in "developed" countries.

If we were all sterilised, would another form of sentient being evolve again? And the cycle restart itself?

Metamatician said...

Good questions... Some maintain the development of sentience was entirely accidental, others than some unknown mechanism of evolution directs life toward increasing complexity and eventually sentience. I think the real answer is nobody knows. Will we ever know? Probably.

The universe does seem to exhibit many anti-entropic organizing trends, such as the tendency of complex elements to emerge from simpler ones in the furnaces of the largest stars, for amino acids and then proteins to form, which must at some point produced an RNA-like molecule capable of copying itself, at which point natural selection could begin acting on the slightly varied copies, and then you have the runaway effect of Darwinism.

But all of that runs counter to the second law of thermodynamics, which holds that order breaks down into chaos, energy capable of useful work into waste heat. Like a wind-up mechanism left alone, it never goes the other direction. So why does life seem to buck this trend? My answer again is simply that we don't understand the laws of physics as well as we think we do.

As far as looking after the cats, I think they'll manage just fine. In fact, I think they are probably just waiting for us to sterilize ourselves so they can take over the planet and start owning dogs and running the show. Except for the poor Persians, who without human intervention will all die of matted fur and sinus infections.

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