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Humans Aren't Rational
Misplaced morality 
14th-Mar-2009 08:32 pm
Though of course the environmental movement is mostly a good thing, there is the potential of falling victim to a particular type of pride, which I, at least, have sometimes done. I'm referring to the tendency to label any eco-friendly/organic product, anything natural, anything sustainable, as morally praiseworthy - and anything corporate, anything industrialized, anything artificial as morally evil. Of course the former are frequently helpful, and the latter often harmful - but it is a grave mistake to judge industrial society and praise the Earth.

The fallacy can be seen by considering the underlying ideology involved in the making of this distinction. What is this type of environmentalist really saying? That they want to take regular modern life, replace all their material possessions with eco-alternatives, and with intelligent application of technology and intelligent purchasing decisions, we would avert the environment crises and - be good. Humans are great and our intelligence can solve our problems, if we would just stop being idiot, passive consumers, and once we stop being idiot, passive consumers and make intelligent purchasing decisions, we are - good. You know you've heard people talk like that. This has ever been the great error of secular humanism, and if we don't soon see it as an error, it may be our downfall.

For how can it be that mere intellectual changes in one's life, with no inward change and no sacrifices, make us better morally? Consider switching to hybrid cars or wind power. The assumption is that you want to keep driving a car and using electricity, but if you buy these instead, you'll be doing less harm and thereby be morally and/or spiritually cleansed. But hybrid cars and wind power are worthwhile precisely when they save more money overall than the alternatives - and then how is one's purchase of them benevolent? Or at least, they might cost a bit more, so people who can afford them buy them, and those who can't don't - but are those who can afford them really giving up much? In most cases, I doubt it. But if something takes little effort, how can its doer have merit? In other words, hybrid cars and wind power are not universally morally good.

Instead, I propose that there are only 2 things which, if done by everyone, could probably save the environment. But - they involve a moral change in yourself.

1. We need to stop being greedy - that is, stop consuming luxuries for ourselves. What's a luxury? More than you need, which is bought for your own enjoyment. "But isn't this just a matter of degree, and doesn't it ideally mean buying nothing?" No - you can buy things for the benefit of others, and that's not greedy. "What about survival? Isn't survival done for oneself?" Wrong - you can choose to survive for reasons other than your own happiness. "Doesn't this mean never enjoying anything, if you can never treat yourself to products?" Wrong again - there are lots of enjoyable free things or things that come as a package done for some other reason than your happiness. So, would buying a hybrid car (or any car) be a selfless act? Maybe. Maybe not. That's my point.

2. We need to stop caring about how we appear to others. This inherently causes resources - whether time, money, etc. - to be spend towards something that is ultimately meaningless. An obvious example is fancy clothes worn to impress others. A less obvious example is a strict adherence to ritual done to avoid social stigma. But supposed "natural" things can apply too, can be done to impress rather than out of true care for nature. Is spending resources to plant and maintain a flower garden done to make others happy at the flowers' appearance, or to receive praise from others at the beauty of the flower garden? Maybe the former. Maybe the latter. That's my point.

(Voluntary human extinction might also be needed to save the world, but it's hard to tell. If people only had children selflessly and when it is ethical to do so, rather than because they want to have their own children and/or a family life, would there be few enough people in the world? There might well be.)

So we shouldn't judge others when they do things that appear good or bad, which might not be. We need to change our lives rather than our shopping experiences to become good, though changing our shopping experiences can be beneficial. If resources are being spent out of true concern for others, you needn't feel guilty about spending them. And rationalism is better than post-modernism.
Comments 
15th-Mar-2009 01:05 am (UTC)
Anonymous
If all gasoline cars, trucks, and SUV's instead had plug-in electric drive trains the amount of electricity needed to replace gasoline is about equal to the estimated wind energy potential of the state of North Dakota.We have so much available to us such as wind and solar. Let's spend some of those bail out billions and get busy harnessing this energy. Create cheap clean energy, badly needed new jobs and reduce our dependence on foreign oil. What a win-win situation that would be for our nation at large! There is a really good new book out by Jeff Wilson called The Manhattan Project of 2009 Energy Independence Now.
15th-Mar-2009 03:10 pm (UTC)
Sure - sell me wind energy for a reasonable price, and I'll buy it. In the meantime, I don't have that option, and even if you did implement that plan, I don't live in the U.S. so I probably wouldn't be able to benefit from it. Until all our energy is supplied by non-harmful processes, we ought not use more than we need, because then there's more wind energy for other people who can use it instead of fossil fuels. So either way, we shouldn't drive a car for our own convenience. Which, I bet, is mostly why people drive cars.

And what about issues other than energy? Loss of biodiversity? Degradation of soil used to grow food? Water pollution? Corporate control over lives? Advertising? Your seemingly simple solution solves none of these, because it assumes that modern life is to be retained. Elimination of greed and outward appearance would likely solve all of those issues, and many more.
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