Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Philosophers for Genocide

Sad to say, there is nothing new in seeing a philosopher call for genocide. The great German philosopher Martin Heidegger joined up with the Nazi Party in Germany in 1933. He resigned shortly thereafter, because he was offended to see the Nazi Storm Troopers liquidated by Hitler.

You see, Heidegger preferred theatrical pogroms to the industrial liquidation of peoples. He never had a real problem with genocide; he only objected to the methods. Heidegger understood what Hitler was about and never apologized for his contribution to the madness.

In academic circles Heidegger is alive and well through a practice he invented, called deconstruction. It is obviously a fancy term for pogrom, but its practitioners still seem not to understand what they are teaching.

I have commented extensively on these matters on the blog and elsewhere and will not belabor philosophers’ willful blindness to the import of Martin Heidegger.

Anyway, our theme today involves a philosopher named Todd May. He teaches at Clemson University and has just penned an op-ed column for the New York Times calling for… not quite genocide, but forced sterilization of the human species.

He has gussied it all up in fancy philosophical clothing, but, like Hans Christian Andersen’s Emperor, the argument is not decked out in philosophical finery. It is an appalling exercise in rationalizing genocide.

Apparently, today’s philosophers are so completely torqued over what human beings are doing to the planet, about the amount of suffering they are causing to sentient animals, to say nothing of plants and pet rocks, that they dare to imagine a time when the planet will thrive and flourish in the absence of human beings. A planet without human beings... no great loss. So, let's try to figure out how to extinguish the species... our very own species.

May counts among those philosophers who do not know how to think. What if he used the same reasoning about Jews or about white people or about any other specific race or ethnicity. The argument would be the same. Only, then he would need to divide the species into those who are causing animals to suffer and those who are trying to prevent the suffering.

May does not recognize it, because May does not know how to think, but if we were to adopt his plan for forced sterilization, some people would need to decide who gets sterilized first and who gets sterilized last. And what would happen if some people and skipped out on the sterilization police? Their progeny would rule the world.

As I said, May does not know how to think, so he bases his reasoning on an apocalyptic vision of the destruction of nature. He pretends that it’s science but he does not recognize that it’s prophecy. There is no such thing as a scientific fact about tomorrow. A real philosopher, named Ludwig Wittgenstein, said that… and it’s worth keeping in mind when philosophers concoct genocidal schemes, to save the cows and weasels.

And, to elaborate a bit, human beings are animals too. They are programmed to keep their genes alive, through procreation. If May thinks that all human beings are going to agree to defy such biological imperatives, he is dumber than a post. As I said, his proposal would naturally divide the species between those who deserve to live and those who do not. Next stop, genocide.

May begins by noticing the “increasingly threatening predations of climate change.” It’s a mixed metaphor, one that makes no sense, unless you think that the human species is filled with predators who are destroying the climate by exhaling too much carbon dioxide.

There are stirrings of discussion these days in philosophical circles about the prospect of human extinction. This should not be surprising, given the increasingly threatening predations of climate change. In reflecting on this question, I want to suggest an answer to a single question, one that hardly covers the whole philosophical territory but is an important aspect of it. Would human extinction be a tragedy?

May makes a lame effort to rationalize his program by suggesting that he really wants to know whether or not it would be a tragedy if the planet no longer contained human beings:

To get a bead on this question, let me distinguish it from a couple of other related questions. I’m not asking whether the experience of humans coming to an end would be a bad thing. (In these pages, Samuel Scheffler has given us an important reason to think that it would be.) I am also not asking whether human beings as a species deserve to die out. That is an important question, but would involve different considerations. Those questions, and others like them, need to be addressed if we are to come to a full moral assessment of the prospect of our demise. Yet what I am asking here is simply whether it would be a tragedy if the planet no longer contained human beings. And the answer I am going to give might seem puzzling at first. I want to suggest, at least tentatively, both that it would be a tragedy and that it might just be a good thing.

One might ask, tragedy for whom? If there were no more human beings, who would be around to experience the tragedy? The hyenas? The reasoning becomes dumb and dumber.

As for it’s being a good thing, this suggests that animals would all be living in a Rousseauvian paradise… if only there were no more human beings. Tell it to the dinosaurs… May does not consider the chance that Mother Nature will one day exterminate most of the species on the planet.

As for tragedy, May is at pains to show that he understands nothing about it. He certainly does not understand Aristotle’s theory, which he makes reference to without mentioning the philosopher’s name.

In theater, the tragic character is often someone who commits a wrong, usually a significant one, but with whom we feel sympathy in their descent. Here Sophocles’s Oedipus, Shakespeare’s Lear, and Arthur Miller’s Willy Loman might stand as examples. In this case, the tragic character is humanity. It is humanity that is committing a wrong, a wrong whose elimination would likely require the elimination of the species, but with whom we might be sympathetic nonetheless for reasons I discuss in a moment.

It does not get any more stupid than this. In Aristotle, tragic heroes begin at the summit of achievement. This excludes Willy Loman. They are done in by their hybris, their arrogance which causes them to err. As the dramatic events unfold, we identify with the hero and dread the possibility that it might happen to us. In the end our dread is purged by the recognition that we are not them. As I said, May has no understanding of the theory of tragedy.

Humanity is obviously not a tragic hero. It is not a king or a prince. And besides, if we eliminate human beings, who will be around to experience the experience the tragic catharsis. This means that May’s followers will happily divide the species into those who are destroying nature and those who are not.

May continues to list the crimes against nature. Note that we are not talking about crimes against humanity but crimes against toads and leopards and spiders and mosquitos.

Human beings are destroying large parts of the inhabitable earth and causing unimaginable suffering to many of the animals that inhabit it. This is happening through at least three means. First, human contribution to climate change is devastating ecosystems, as the recent article on Yellowstone Park in The Times exemplifies. Second, increasing human population is encroaching on ecosystems that would otherwise be intact. Third, factory farming fosters the creation of millions upon millions of animals for whom it offers nothing but suffering and misery before slaughtering them in often barbaric ways. There is no reason to think that those practices are going to diminish any time soon. Quite the opposite.

This assumes that we know how much mosquitos suffer. And it assumes that we understand the feelings and the consciousness of lions. Perhaps philosophers have a superior wisdom, but the rest of us do not know anything with any certainty about the consciousness of animals:

Humanity, then, is the source of devastation of the lives of conscious animals on a scale that is difficult to comprehend.

Of course, May has no empathy or sympathy or compassion for all the human beings he would see extinguished. So, he pretends to be fair minded and lists some of what human beings have contributed to the world:

Human beings bring things to the planet that other animals cannot. For example, we bring an advanced level of reason that can experience wonder at the world in a way that is foreign to most if not all other animals. We create art of various kinds: literature, music and painting among them. We engage in sciences that seek to understand the universe and our place in it. Were our species to go extinct, all of that would be lost.

Apparently, we need to justify our continued existence, lest our philosopher kings decide to sterilize us all.

Doesn’t the existence of those practices outweigh the harm we bring to the environment and the animals within it? Don’t they justify the continued existence of our species, even granting the suffering we bring to so many nonhuman lives?

And yet, given the depths of his sensitivity, May suggests that he would not sacrifice a single human life to preserve the words of Shakespeare. Considering how many copies there are of Shakespeare’s works, the example seem frivolous. So, he is not in favor of sacrificing human beings for art. He would do so to protect nature, perhaps… but, to save art… not at all:

How many human lives would it be worth sacrificing to preserve the existence of Shakespeare’s works? If we were required to engage in human sacrifice in order to save his works from eradication, how many humans would be too many? For my own part, I think the answer is one. One human life would be too many (or, to prevent quibbling, one innocent human life), at least to my mind. Whatever the number, though, it is going to be quite low.

So, May wants us to show more empathy for toads. Apparently, science will show us the way, but science still cannot answer a remark made by Wittgenstein-- to the effect that if lions could speak our language we would understand nothing of what they were saying.

There is just too much torment wreaked upon too many animals and too certain a prospect that this is going to continue and probably increase; it would overwhelm anything we might place on the other side of the ledger. Moreover, those among us who believe that there is such a gap should perhaps become more familiar with the richness of lives of many of our conscious fellow creatures. Our own science is revealing that richness to us, ironically giving us a reason to eliminate it along with our own continued existence.

Then, May considers mass suicide, like Jim Jones at Jonestown, but this will, he suggests cause too many of the survivors to suffer. Good of him to think of the survivors. So, he opts for mass sterilization, ignoring, as only a philosopher could, the fact that human beings would suffer for not reproducing themselves.

The genetic code bends toward procreation. You could only stop people from doing so by force. To sacrifice a human being is one thing. To sacrifice your blood line, the future of your community because a crackpot philosopher, a would-be philosopher king told you to do so… would require a genocidal movement the likes of which we have not seen since the Third Reich was beaten into oblivion:

One might ask here whether, given this view, it would also be a good thing for those of us who are currently here to end our lives in order to prevent further animal suffering. Although I do not have a final answer to this question, we should recognize that the case of future humans is very different from the case of currently existing humans. To demand of currently existing humans that they should end their lives would introduce significant suffering among those who have much to lose by dying. In contrast, preventing future humans from existing does not introduce such suffering, since those human beings will not exist and therefore not have lives to sacrifice. The two situations, then, are not analogous.


whitney said...

Just the continued degradation of the modern world. Philosophy used to discuss how to live in the world now it's telling you not to live in the world. Madness

Dr. Irredeemable Dreg said...

"Would human extinction be a tragedy?"

Of course not, since without humans around to classify it as such, there can be no tragedy or boon, good or bad, beautiful or ugly, nobility or ignobility, natural or unnatural. Much like there is no "sound" in a forest if there is no biological sensor present to classify the microbarometric atmospheric disturbance caused by a falling tree as such. In fact, there is no difference between alternating, weather-related high- and low-pressure fronts and "sound" except frequency, amplitude, and the presence of a biological detector sensitive to the frequency band of the "sound".

I do note that May carefully avoids his own duty to commit suicide by invoking utilitarian reasoning that would amuse Jeremy Bentham. However, I suggest 100 lashes on Bentham's other invention, the steam-powered flogging machine, for self-serving philosophizing. It's a common trope among population fanatics to prescribe solutions for other people, excluding themselves.

sestamibi said...

D. Keith Mano's take on this idiocy from back in 1973. In a way I'm glad he's no longer with us to see it become a reality.

Sam L. said...

"I have commented extensively on these matters on the blog and elsewhere and will not belabor philosophers’ willful blindness to the import of Martin Heidegger." I disagree with you on "willfull blindness". I say they'r all-in for and with Heidegger.

Anonymous said...

Surely this gentleman should be asked to 'put his money where his mouth is' - and off himself?!

Anonymous said...

Thinking about Heidegger and theorizing,’ if it walks like a duck,’ a casual search of philosopher Todd May reveals he is a longtime ardent antizionist, no doubt a necessary credential in today’s academia. Some of his essays on Israel appear on such (cough) esteemed conspiracy theory promoting websites as Counterpunch and Rense. Ironically, he has accused Israel of committing ‘slow motion genocide,’ so it’s possible he does not have a firm grip on what genocide means.