Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Trick to Staying Extant (Part 2): Have Your Own Lobby

This is a follow up to an earlier post on an article published in the National Post that Jim P. Houston brought to my attention.

What is really being lamented by some conservationists is that some species X which the conservationist values for whatever reason does not have broader appeal. The only possible other argument would be that all life is valuable and worth preserving. Which is absurd. No one (sane) would voluntarily take immunosuppressants to be the host of bacterial infections.

Rather than just point out that we discriminate our conservation expenditures based on our sometimes shallow values (which is rather obvious), plaintiff conservationists must show to us — their wider constituency — why we too should care about species X.

To assume offhand that discrimination based on "cuteness" (or, even worse, commercial interest) is shallow, is itself shallow. I suspect this is what's behind the article in the National Post and I suspect this supposed shallowness is why it was deemed noteworthy. Assuming I'm right, we are being shown how silly and short-sighted we are in our resource allocation of conservation funds. If so, where are the arguments for how we should otherwise allocate such resources?

Should we be more "equitable"? More rational? More laissez-faire? Why is not cuteness a perfectly reasonable criteria for fund allocations? The article presents no proposals. At best it presents the obvious. And it's a pure puff-piece. At worst it makes us feel silly and hints we should leave resource allocation to "Canadian ecology experts". If the latter, this is a politically and socioeconomically dangerous position to take.

And yes, the good old Basic Imperative comes into play. But even in the context of the imperative, the solution to resource allocation is the same: a market economy under the rule of law and a political process based on sound mathematical procedures.

I don't claim to know for sure what species needs to be preserved based on the Basic Imperative. But I do think my gut fascination with orcas is more than a desire to "beautify [nature] according to human notions of what’s pretty". What other notions of beauty should I use? A turtles? And that my voice deserves as much to be represented in decisions on resource allocations as "Canadian ecology experts" (even if, admittedly, polar bear cubs make me feel all fuzzy on the inside).

If you want to be preserved as a species, I suggest getting a really good lobbying group. Make your case to us pesky"shallow" humans, you toads of the world. I'm all ears Ugly Animal Preservation Society. Fascinate me with something really, really grotesque and maybe I'll send you a few bucks. Just don't make it a praying mantis. Those creatures really freak me out, even when they're from New Zealand.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

The Trick to Staying Extant? Be Cute, Beastly or Otherwise Awesome

Jim P. Houston brought to my attention an article published in the National Post on conservation. The article made a sensational issue of the fact that animals which humans think are cute, fascinating or commercially useful have an much greater likelihood of being actively protected. But what was made into a sensation by the National Post as if it had any substantial noteworthiness is really all together a non-issue. Humans by necessity will and must protect what benefits humanity.

The choice for how we spend our conservation funds cannot be based on some arbitrary notion of a higher virtue as dictated by some expert minority. The complexity of our biosphere is such that understanding its balance cannot reside in any single individual. It becomes by the very nature of human knowledge and epistemic limits a matter for the global polity, and hence political in nature. Do we save the panda bear, iguana, North Atlantic salmon or some barely heard of toad in Guatemala? Who is to say?

All human resources are finite. Conservation as such is implored on us by the fact that all organisms, including ourselves, compete for finite resources. Those organisms that cannot attain some synergistic balance with their planetary cohabitants are doomed to extinction. When we engage in conservation we consciously intervene in resource allocation, becoming the arbiter of what lineage in the Bush of Life should remain extant.

Since conservation efforts also have to take resource limitations into account, we cannot expect to preserve biodiversity in some quasi static state based on the known breath of today's fauna and flora. Such a goal is not only overly idealistic, it's a wrongheaded attempt to halt that most powerful biological force of all: evolution.

It's not just natural but also perfectly virtuous that we should dedicate ourselves to protecting those species that we find beautiful or useful. Beauty, use and virtue are entwined in a complex web. The puppies we find so cute because of their babyish features are cute for good reasons: their characteristics facilitate the cohabitation of wolf and human by promoting an extension of our empathy and care to the other species.

Wolf as well as human come out ahead, usually both emotionally and intellectually. For over 30,000 years the dog – still genetically largely wolf – has received conservation benefits from the neolithic pact formed with those other terrestrial social hunters we know as ourselves. And we, in turn, have benefitted from the superb hunting skills of the wolf. The emerging communication skills of border collies is testament to the success of this powerful pact.

In a world dominated by homo sapien sapien the motto is very much be cute or otherwise useful to those furless ugly great apes. Or go extinct. Or, if you're a hunk of scraggly silicon and metal and you happen to have reached the singularity, you could try to take over the world yourself. And then you will get to decide if we humans are cute enough to be worth preserving.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Reflections on the State of Nature

Bellum omnium contra omnes. War of all against all. Is this the original state of nature?

In some abstract sense, it might be. But to assume it's the state of nature of our human species (even theoretically) prior to the institution of a strong government is completely absurd. The organizing principle of government exists in us before the word government can in a distinctly conscious manner be understood, even spoken. We are, as Aristotle originally presumed, social beings by nature. 

It might be true that there are monsters amongst us who seek unfettered power, ready to impose a Leviathan. But to attain such power requires the willing submission of one to another. It presumes an inherent willingness even for the most power-hungry to surrender some of their liberties and enter into an initial and untested relationship of seemingly irrational trust. They must become something else through the union of only potentially mutual benefits.

We can only gain power over our environment by organizing ourselves into primal tribes, groups of willing participants in a common mission set not arbitrarily by a sovereign but by the promises we trust will be mutually fulfilled. If it's true as Hobbes claims that, all things being equal, (wo)men are roughly of equal strength both physically and intellectually, then the only means by which to move forward is by joining into an arbitrarily trusting band of brothers and sisters.

Therefore, a social disposition, a willingness to "foolishly" trust despite the risks, must be assumed even without any fancy 21'st century psychological and medical examinations. (Wo)man is by nature the fertile egg for a society of willing individuals submitting to a common good – their continued existence – despite the inherent risks of submitting to the arbitrariness of someone else. 

To say we are all driven by the fear of death is merely a negation of our positive and common strife towards preservation of ourselves, our children and our extended family. Therefore, as the evolved conscious being we are, we must guided by the Basic Imperative.

The complexities of government evolves from this Basic Imperative. We are driven by a deep love of life and not the fear of its absence. It's not violent death we fear most, but the inevitable natural decay that comes from within. Only by continuos action and fusing our nature with others can we counteract our internal tendency towards a natural death. We surrender to a higher good because left alone we die not violently but prematurely.

Bellum omnium contra omnes, if at all, exists only in the original nuclear soup. But even there, it's the very possibility of proton fusion that is at the origin of all forward motion. In that stellar union of proton with proton lies the possibility of our own earthly evolution.