Daily Details and Existential Threats

Perhaps I should start with daily details? Chilly today but sunny, in between storms. Despite yesterday’s post, I decided to walk around the house for 30 or 40 minutes last night (while the TV showed Jeopardy or whatever) in order to hit my 5000 step mark, and keep up my 25 some day record. Moreover, we went out for a walk today, up and down the Montclair Railroad Trail (which I blogged about back in February), two full miles, which gained me another 5000 steps all by itself. So as of right now, I have 6456 steps for the day.

(Below this break, discussion of an article about how Western philosophy has ruined the world.)

Otherwise, taking a break between reading books (after the lengthy Baxter novel, and before two or three other 2022 contenders where my vote might affect their placement on the Locus Recommended Reading List), I entered into my databases book purchases from the past three months or so. This took about two hours. And then did a bit of sfadb.com work, toward a set of “core collection” lists, i.e. the top 100 or 200 or 500 top ranked (or acclaimed, or esteemed, or whatever) novels and stories, but arranged by author or by date…


Just one substantial topic for today.

Salon, Michael Paul Nelson and Kathleen Dean Moore, 27 Nov 2022: Did Western philosophy ruin Earth? A philosopher’s letter of apology to the world, subtitled “Much of western European philosophy, from ancient Greece to the present, has led directly to unspeakable evil”

Now of course, one can easily view the history of the western world as “evil,” whatever you take that to mean, given the presumption of Western Europeans to “conquer” the world, to wipe out both human natives and large animal species on the continents they “discovered,” as in the Catholic Church’s “Doctrine of Discovery” (discussed in this post on 13 Oct 22) and the American idea of “Manifest Destiny.”

The writers here make this point very specifically, and elaborate.

We are two professional philosophers who have been trained to advocate the destructive worldview that has made world-wrecking practices not only thinkable, but normal, necessary, the way things have to be. We step forward now to ask for forgiveness. Western philosophy has made terrible mistakes. We repudiate the destructive ideas, “with shame and unambiguously,” as the Pope said, and call for the creation of new or the rediscovery of old truths that redeem our species’ promise as full members of a shining, resilient, endlessly creative Earth community.


What are some of those disastrous claims? Begin with the debasement of many people and all of nature in the Great Chain of Being, a hierarchy that put white men next to the angels at the top of Creation, separate from and superior to people of color, above the animals, plants, and all the ‘lesser’ levels of beings. Strip the sanctity from the world by insisting that only humans have souls, while the rest of creation – forests, wildlife, domestic animals (and quite possibly Indigenous people) — are soulless, unthinking, unfeeling machines, created to serve the needs of their human masters. Add the idea that the purpose of science is to increase the human ability to control nature and turn it to human uses. Add the doctrine of Terra Nullis, that lands not occupied by Christians were empty lands, open to colonialization. Add the ideology of manifest destiny, that those of the dominant western worldview are destined by God to spread their way of being around the world. Announce, counter to evidence, that humans are naturally selfish and that raw competition is the most efficient route to wealth and thus happiness. Then add the moral travesty that the means are justified by the ends. The power of these ideas fused with the mechanical power of the Industrial Revolution to create the harms visited upon the Earth and its people.

We live at the end of a millennium-long experiment in thought and corresponding action. As the Earth’s living systems unravel, as the world becomes biologically and economically impoverished, as men of immense wealth build bunkers or rocket ships to protect themselves from the disasters they have created, it is clear that this experiment in thought and action took the world in the wrong direction, leading to moral failings of jaw-dropping, world-threatening proportions. Western European philosophy got it horribly wrong. The world has a chance now – probably a last chance – to get it right.

Now I would step back (as I always try to do) and acknowledge that what has happened over centuries of Western presumption to dominate the world is in part simple historical contingency (other human cultures from around the world would have done the same thing if they could have; Western Europe just got there first, cf. Jared Diamond) and part simple human nature. It’s human nature to grab what you can when you can, protect your family, protect your tribe; religion is a codification or justification of this very human tendency, to survive and dominate others as necessary.

It’s when these forces from all around the world begin to clash, as they were due to eventually, that global solutions become necessary, to fight global existential threats.

The writers here have the right sentiments…

Now we ask all people of conscience and imagination – including other philosophers — to join in the search for a better understanding of the relation of humans to the wild world and to one another. We call for humility to replace hubris, for service to the Earth to replace service to the economy, for an ethic of care and reciprocity to replace one of callous rapaciousness, and for acts of love to replace those born of selfishness and arrogance.

…but offer no specific solutions.

The number of people who worry about such issues, who write blogs or books or who read them, is a tiny, tiny fracture of the entire population. Most people simply want to get along with their lives, as their ancestors have always done, and resent someone telling them they have to change their ways for the sake of… the planet.

I don’t have a solution. I suspect we’re likely doomed. The temps will rise, the migrations will increase, the extreme weather will increase, millions will die in *those other* countries, and most Americans won’t care, except when the encroaching sea rise undermines their Florida condos.


Meanwhile, I have two growing sets of links to articles that I will eventually get around to. One is a set of articles about conservative complaints about liberals. What is it they really don’t like? I’m fascinated, and I have lots of ideas, but I’m trying to compile first-hand citations. The second is about the whole effective altruism movement, and why some commentators find it sinister, and how or not the downfall of FTX and Sam Bankman-Fried reflects on it.

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