Monday, July 10, 2006

Making Flat Earthers Look Smart

As you may have gathered, I’m a space advocate, and in fact, I believe strongly with Tsiolkovsky that “Earth is the cradle of mankind, but one cannot remain in the cradle forever.” People should and will eventually also live in places other than Earth, and for a variety of reasons, I believe this is an important idea. I realize this is currently a minority viewpoint and that most people assume that human life begins and ends here on Earth. So it goes.

But what I didn’t realize until today is that there’s a big hidden assumption in the above beliefs: that it’s a good thing for human life to continue to exist at all. While I’ve heard of all sorts of beliefs, including those of people who demand the destruction of other people who don’t share their faith, and those of the occasional cult whose disturbed leader calls for mass suicide, I was not prepared for the bizarre beliefs of VHEMT, the Voluntary Human Extinction Movement. I learned about it today in an article in the Space Review (“Destroy all humans!”). Why there? I guess because this view represents the polar opposite of the typical space advocate’s view of “expand into space to spread and preserve humanity” – it’s “keep human life on Earth and let it become extinct.” VHEMT doesn’t advocate suicide or war, merely that we all stop having children and let the human race quietly go extinct.

I’m not sure why this weird movement bothers me more than, say, the Flat Earth Society, but it does. If you read the article and look further at the VHEMT web site (which claims to be serious), it’s clear that they represent an extreme form of Earth-first environmentalism (“Phasing out the human race by voluntarily ceasing to breed will allow Earth’s biosphere to return to good health.”) I’m all for preserving the environment and living in balance with our fellow creatures. But this idea that “nature” is the only thing that matters, and that humans are a kind of toxin whose main effect is to destroy nature– that’s just insane. We’re part of nature too!

Humans are animals that have evolved to be especially versatile in adapting to environments. Evolution gave us large, adaptable brains, and we have used them to extend our capacities beyond biology. We make use of culture and technology to adapt better than biology alone would allow. While we have been wildly successful at this, we have not always been kind to our fellow creatures (including fellow humans) and to our Earthly home. Through our numbers and our technology, we have “fouled the nest,” as they say. But we are also smart enough to finally realize this and to begin to take measures to overcome it. We have made mistakes in managing this planet, but our brains, culture, and technology can also give us the tools we need to fix the problems. Will we be successful? I think so, though it may take a while. Obviously not everyone is on the same page on this, and there are many competing problems and threats. We need to try a lot of things, including fixing up our environment, cleaner energy sources, reasonable population controls, and expansion into space – a backup plan, as it were.

Just as obviously, the VHEMT freaks don’t represent any sort of mainstream view, so I feel a little funny ranting about them like this. They aren’t going to convince many people to “cease to breed,” and since they aren’t advocating active measures to reduce the population (such as mass murder), they don’t seem to be much of a threat. But the fact that a group of people can seriously advocate the extinction of all human life as some sort of a desirable goal shows that humans can believe anything. And that’s scary! Unfortunately it’s not the scariest irrational belief that’s floating around the planet these days.

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