Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Stasis Cravings

As my previous posts no doubt make glaringly clear, I'm a politically liberal guy. In fact, according to Political Compass, I'm liberal on both the social and economic axes. And, like most self-described intellectuals, I'm not a perfect fit into that region of the politisphere.

For one thing, I oppose Affirmative Action, at least in its current form. I'm unsatisfied with most of the strongly socialist governments in Europe, in that I feel they have, in many respects, spoiled the population (the French, my kinfolk, are famous worldwide for their strikes demanding 33-hour work weeks). But one area where I am fairly stereotypically liberal is the environment. I was as incensed by Bush's backwards-named "Clean Air Act," which by all accounts leads to less-clean air. I'm a fan of conservation and reclamation. I pay extra on my power bill to invest in renewable resources. I have a lot of sympathy for the beleaguered, misled, and disoriented Green Party here in the states.

But I've recently been thinking about extinction. The basic assumption underlying the protection of endangered species for its own sake is the idea that every species has value. Now, it's perfectly obvious that many have undeniable value in terms of maintaining various ecosystems worldwide, but others are more questionable. There are roughly three flavors of the theory, in increasing simplicity and severity:

a) We should not be responsible for the extinction of species, and they should only become extinct by natural means.
b) We should preserve all species because we can't anticipate the effect of any one species disappearing forever.
c) We should preserve all species because any species lost is a tragedy.

I myself fall into the central category, to be clear.

Which brings me (eventually) to my point - those motivated by the Flavor C believe that natural extinction should be stopped at all costs. It's an assumption that Life Was Fine before we got here, and that it should therefore be locked in place. Let's say a natural ice age occurred. Should we try to keep the tens of thousands of species that would die alive? What about the Earth being hit by an asteroid, a la Dinosaurs. In the face of a serious enough natural cataclysm, we'll have a lot to worry about ourselves - where does the value in species arise from, apart merely from being unique?

In asking, I in no means wish to suggest that no value exists. I merely suggest that this topic merits further exploration. How should one's ethos inform this question? To the extent the question is unanswered, to what extent should one's ethos be expanded? I don't think there's been a lot of reasoned thought on this topic, either by the hippie treehuggers or the corporate whores (let's insult everyone equally, to make sure I'm not on anyone's side). For the environmentally conscientious, these are core values that need no justification; for the environmentally inconsiderate, these topics do not have inherent value, and thus merit no further consideration.

I call upon everyone who reads this (Hi, Taquito) to give this some thought - what degree of pragmatism is reasonable here? What are the values at play (e.g. is divinity involved)? Is trying to slow evolution better, or is trying to speed it up?

Should we strive for stasis, or for change?


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