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Thursday, March 03, 2011

An Exchange with Nature Mystics

"Those are my principles, and if you don't like them... well, I have others." - Groucho Marx

***

A musing someone had on the right to use land sparked off a heated exchange on various issues related to the environment and Nature Mysticism. My course on Environmental Ethics had taught me that it was mostly rubbish, but this was a new level of questionability.

(I haven't had such a long Twitter exchange since the lactivists)

Due to the nature of Twitter exchanges I have organised the following roughly thematically, rather than chronologically.


On environmental obligations:

@exis10s: Do we have the right to use humans, animals, and land?

@looselyhuman: Re: Animals, we currently have a need, but not a right.
Ethically we should reduce the need (suffering) as much as possible.

@exis10s: I agree. I feel that our use of land is a problem too. That too negatively impacts the other animals.

@looselyhuman: Yeah, especially where it's not required for basic needs. I see it as a scale; as humans we get weighted a little.

Me: Are you vegetarian? Do you travel? Go to amusement parks? Read books? They all raise your carbon footprint

@exis10s: they do! That's what sucks! Just by being American I am, to borrow a term, sinning.

@looselyhuman: I do as little of all these as I possibly tolerate and remain sane, as is my duty.

Me: If people could go insane without travel, could the same be true of meat?

@looselyhuman: I eat very little meat, not none. I am deeply aware of the suffering I cause, and that is part of my responsibility.
...

@looselyhuman: Ethically we should reduce the need (suffering) as much as possible.

Me: Do animals in the wild suffer?

@exis10s: they do. There's a study that shows some chimp communities are at risk of losing their culture because of human development.

Me: No, I mean wild animals suffer without human intervention, e.g. chimpanzee genocide

@looselyhuman: As a moral agent, I am only responsible for the suffering within my control - applies to humanity at large.

Me: It is within your control to try and reduce the suffering of wild animals. Or even farmed ones (e.g. burning farms).

@looselyhuman: Nature is to be revered, and not interfered with more than possible, where we come into contact, I have responsibility.

Me: Life consumes resources. The best way to reduce your carboon footprint is to kill yourself

@looselyhuman: It's in consideration, but my duty extends to myself.

Me: Just by being alive you are sinning. Environmental extremism is deeply misanthropic

@looselyhuman: Anthropocentrism is deeply misguided. We are part of a greater system.

...

Me: "Once we abandon human valuations as the sole reference system for human action, we have to ask whose valuations are to replace them: maybe the polar bear's (sic) for whom humans are food? Humans have no way of entering into communication with other species. All that happens is that some human agent argues on behalf of another species on the pretext that she or he knows what serves that species. When we abandon human valuations and logical discourse about them, the 'interests of Nature' therefore become an excuse for some self-appointed elite to overrule human valuations. The protagonists will claim superior knowledge about what is good for nature conservation and then enforce their decisions against the wishes of the majority of people."

@looselyhuman: If your goal is a planet-wide urbanscape then your philosophy is of no use to me.

Me: Those who revere planet-wide urbanscapes would say the same to you


On respecting nature:

Me: Why is using land a problem? Land is not alive

@looselyhuman: Land is the source of all life, and we diminish it.

...

Me: You have to provide a reason for reverence of nature.
Quasi-religiosity does not stands in non-religious discourse

@exis10s: because it sustains everything. It is the force that creates and destroys life in a real scientific sense.

@looselyhuman: My reverence is for that which gives me life, awareness, that which produced me. It is not religious, it is famlial love.


On what determines moral personhood and thus worthiness of respect:

Me: The chair I sit on is part of a greater system too

@looselyhuman: And you best respect it.
More so if it had any sentience, the same spark that makes humanism valid exists in many forms of life to varying degrees,

Me: So? Nature is impersonal.

@looselyhuman: Then so are we. We are nature and no more.

...

Me: The subway took me to work this morning. That does not mean I should respect me

@looselyhuman: I think I agree U should not respect U. ;) Try empathy. It extends beyond your species if you let it. Rocks are "immaterial"

Me: you revere non-sentient beings too.
We are sentient, thinking beings. That is a lot more than simply existing

@looselyhuman: Says you. Arrogance.

Me: I don't see what existence has to do with anything either. At least with sentience one could make a case

...

Would you respect a robot's programming ("drive")? What about a computer virus's?

@looselyhuman: Yes, actually, if capable of evolution/self-improvement and other advanced functions of life.

Me: Please let polymorphic viruses infect your computer, then.

@looselyhuman: I take action to defend myself, as is my duty, and sometimes I do harm, which I take responsibility for.

Me: Does your duty to defend yourself extend to quashing other life? Tapeworms don't kill us by living in us

@looselyhuman: Only when absolutely necessary will I do harm - based on my scale of duties that places me towards the top, but just.


On rationality:

@looselyhuman: No, I revere the system which is life, which is me.

Me: I don't even know what that means

@looselyhuman: I am sorry for that. You are missing that which is obvious but inaccessible to an overly-rational mind.

Me: Funny, that's what religious people say to me... and a variant of what they say to each other

@looselyhuman: Perhaps because you are disconnected from the part of your humanity that cannot be forced into rationalistic thinking.

Me: If we abandon rationality, there is no way to adjudicate competing truth claims

@looselyhuman: And perhaps there is not.


On Purpose and whether a chair is part of Nature:

Me: I feel sorry for the chair groaning under my weight now. I would kill myself, but that would dirty a knife

@looselyhuman: Never said feel for it. Respect it, it's providence, it's structure, it's limitations. There is more to existence than thot.

@exis10s: it's funny that you make jokes about the silly things you brought up. Straw man argument?

Me: If you think we have an obligation to Nature and to Land, why not to a chair?

@exis10s: land is a direct part of nature. A chair is not a direct part of nature. It is made with parts of nature by and for one species.

@looselyhuman: A chair is no longer alive (but was)... The driving force of life is what produced us, and is to be revered if we are.

Me: Perhaps this chair was not meant to bear my weight

@looselyhuman: The chair was only meant to do the purpose for which humans built it; the tree only meant to live, like us.

Me: Actually I'm sitting on a plastic chair now. There is no wood inside.

@looselyhuman: It is made of ancient life. Plastic = oil = organic. Thats really not the point; respecting your surroundings.

Me: You're committing a teleological fallacy: who's to say what the 'purpose' of humans or trees is

@looselyhuman: Purpose is the drive of life, of genes, to live. Other meanings are constructs - but some good ones like my responsibility.

Me: That's analogous to naturalistic fallacy. Humans are driven to have sex. Doesnt mean sex is the purpose of human life

@looselyhuman: There is no purpose otherwise. In fact, there is no purpose but what we determine; beneath that only the drive to live.
And if I am to respect your drive to live, I will also respect other life. Differences are quantitative not qualitative.

Me: But you revere Nature. Which has no drive to live, even.

@looselyhuman: Nature is the sum of the parts. We beings are the sum of our genes, nature is the sum of us beings. Same concept/purpose.

(I was tempted to add that this was the fallacy of aggregation, but I'd moved on to do other things by this time)


On Free Will:

Me: So can non-thinking entities have purpose? You're also mixing what we determine and our instincts (drive of life)

@looselyhuman: You think free will is limited to humanity? It's an extension of survival instinct. If it has genes, it has the same core purpose as I

Me: Free will requires the ability to reflect. So plants and animals that fail the mirror test most probably have none

@looselyhuman: I disagree. Free will is neurological static that causes decisions to be probabilistic.

Me: Then free will has dissolved into chance

@looselyhuman: Wrong, it allows some new options for consideration to be introduced, and provides for some variance in choosing.
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