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With your feet in the air, and your head on the ground . . .


{Thursday, November 16, 2006}

Essay question: (answer in 500 words or less, by "comment" or email)

Without defering to God, give a justification for caring about the fate of the world at a point in the future sufficiently distant (say, 500 years from now) that there is no chance you or anyone you know will be effected. No fair being simplistically humanist and just assigning "value" to human life.

(Yeah, I'm serious! Go ahead, give it a try.)

posted by Miles 10:36 AM

I'm not sure how well your question is posed. If one must assume that this future world state [1] has no current affect then one is limited to phenomena which, if represented as a function of value vs. time, must have a discontinuity. Which is to say, the scenarios that one can discuss are limited to dramatic events, e.g. one can't use things like global warming since it has both a current and future effect. I would argue that this is over limiting since predictable phenomena are only predictable because there are indicators which exist now and which have some kind of current effect on the world. If you relax that condition then one is justified in caring about the fate of the world in the future because all the ways that one can predict the way the world will be affected in the future are ways that the world is affected now. I would argue that it is not justified (if not impossible) to act based on unknown or unpredicted phenomena.

However, if that's not copesetic then I would argue that the justification is aesthetics. Pharaohs made pyramids which would not be completed until after they were dead, yet they remained committed to their completion because of the immediate personal fulfillment one gets from transforming labor into art. One can act in ways now that can work toward building a greater human society in the future. Why work toward such a society? 'Cuz it's there and has a nice view.

[1] How come we can't talk about "value" or "God" in our answer, but you can refer to "fate" in your question?
Just had to say how much I appreciated that link to The Long Now.

Their idea for a "temporally massive" clock is a great project. Wouldn't you love to experience that? Would you find it as comforting as I would, to be reminded just how much TIME there is out there, both within and beyond our individual lives? I like the idea of feeling small amidst the great and unchangeable. Maybe it absolves me of feeling too much responsibility.

In my opinion their Clock would be a much needed point of perspective in today's world...a piece of art in the most glorious possible incarnation. If it existed already, I know that I would like to go and sit near it for a while.
Give a justification for caring about the world beyond it having any effect on me? Simple sentimentality, after all it’s where I grew up and I can get sentimental and care about such things. That’s it really it, the question negates any other reason.

If there is no chance of me or anyone I know being effected then I must assume that the human race is extinct. If not then I do have a vested interest as it is likely my genetic material, or that of my friends, will still exist and I wish my progeny the best. If my progeny survive then I am effected, albeit indirectly. So we have an assumption that humankind, and indeed any other form of life I’m fond of and would like to see perpetuated are extinct. Mmm it’s a pretty bleak place this future isn’t it?

Then there is the sheer physical beauty of the world. Even if all life were extinct wonders such as Ayres Rock (Uluru if we are going to be official) would perpetuate and I quite like that sort of thing so I would like it to continue. Sure, there would be no-one or thing around to appreciate it but that doesn’t stop me appreciating it now and wishing it to continue so I do care.

But that isn’t what the question is meant to be asking is it? Surely the question is meant to be: Give a justification for caring about the fate of humanity at a point in the distant future (a quite distinct question to caring about the world). For that I redirect you to paragraph two, above. I care about the perpetuation of my line beyond my own death and the survival of humanity is pretty essential for that to happen. So I care about the fate of humanity for, admittedly, fairly selfish reasons.

Or maybe the question is care about the socio-economic structure of the world to which I can give no justification because I couldn’t give two tugs of a dead dogs cock about the current socio-economic system in which we live as it is fatally flawed. Now for reasons of my surviving progeny I’d like a reasonable socio-economic structure to exist, and one considerably better than that which we are lumbered with now I come to think of it.

So in conclusion, I care about the fate of the world because I would like my family to live on, ideally in a state of fulfilment. All other things being equal though, I quite like Earth. As I say I’m a bit sentimental about things from my childhood so I feel justified in caring.
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