Sunday, January 16, 2005

The Greens' Moral Conundrum

One of the more tiresome bongos whacked by the Greens is that we need to reintegrate ourselves into nature. This means, depending on who's doing the talking, that we should relocalize -- i.e., give up on industrial civilization and get in touch with our inner Amish. That the Amish are enthusiastic users of modern technology will come as something of a disappointment to the near-survivalist cultists that pervade the Peak Oil movement.

But for the Greens, Peak Oil is something of a means to an end, a plausible boogieman that can -- will, they hope -- ultimately goad others into pursuing those ends. In this view, man must return to his status as a citizen, and not ruler, of the earth. An interesting review from the Acton Institute of the book, A Declaration of the Rights of Land, makes the inherent ridiculousness of this demand transparent. In rebuttal, Marc D. Guerra writes

There is, however, something fundamentally incoherent about Leopold’s position. On the one hand, he accepts Darwinian theory as a basic fact. What is more, he thinks the odyssey of evolution is ongoing, since the "biotic enterprise … never stops." Darwinian theory shows that human beings do not occupy a privileged place in the natural world. The human animal is himself part of nature. It makes no sense, therefore, for human beings to view nature as something extrinsic, something that is there simply to be used. On the other hand, Leopold claims human beings have a responsibility to act unlike any other natural being. People should act reasonably with other living beings. They should "live and let live." By some kind of twisted logic, Leopold both claims that man is king of the beasts and that, as king, he has a moral obligation to rule benevolently.

What Leopold fails to realize is that one must look outside of Darwinian theory for the kind of moral ethic he wishes to establish. One cannot lower human beings to the level of all other living beings–as, say, animal rights advocates do–and simultaneously argue that they have a moral obligation to treat other living beings ethically. Leopold’s argument for the "renaturalization" of human beings, in the end, would make them the most unnatural products of evolution. Ecology’s admirable effort to reintegrate human beings into nature and to make them aware of their obligation to dumb nature, in other words, requires one to admit that as rational animals, human beings differ from other natural beings almost in kind.

Yes, we're special. That specialness requires we act like it -- that is, we should act as though we were better than mere animals. The reverse idea -- that we are mere beasts, and will act accordingly has its advocates. It is these whom I oppose, those who lust for a return to the Dark Ages, a Book of Revelation as retold by the Greens. It is these who believe we are in for a future armed to the teeth and fighting for each morsel on every table. For that reason -- for the fates of billions of souls -- we must find new energy sources. Else, we face the "long night of barbarism... unbroken even by a star of hope" Churchill foresaw when another terror faced mankind.