Op-Ed: Yes, Professor May — Human Extinction WOULD Be a Tragedy – Joseph Lord

Recently, Clemson philosophy professor Todd May wrote a piece for the New York Times which is both unremarkable, given national trends, and a tragic glimpse into those same trends. His question: “Would human extinction be a tragedy?”; his answer: “it just might be a good thing.”

Dr. Todd May’s article as featured on The New York Times

This self-immolation is unsurprising – in our valueless age, there remains one absolute virtue: denigration of yourself and your species and guilt for your race/ gender/ “gender identity”/ sexual orientation. The fallacious line of thought by Professor May is indicative of this “virtue,” and it discredits the value of human as opposed to animal consciousness, the outstanding achievements of human beings, and their peculiar ability to experience the universe and make it a better place.

To make his point, May first points to the destruction and suffering that human beings are bringing to animals through the destruction of and encroachment upon ecosystems, and factory farming. May then belittles those who distinguish clearly between human and animal consciousness: “those among us who believe there is [a gap between human beings and animals should perhaps become familiar with the richness of lives of many of our conscious fellow creatures”  The Cambridge Declaration on Consciousness aptly summarizes this “richness”: “non-human animals have the neuroanatomical, neurochemical, and neurophysiological substrates of conscious states along with the capacity to exhibit intentional behaviors.” The question one must ask, then, is if the shared capacity for volitional actions implies a shared capacity. To this, the answer can only be a resounding no. Human beings have a capacity both for volitional action and for an understanding of why they have undertaken that action. For example, the animal consciousness, devoid of such a recognition, would be inclined to always accept heroin by completing a pre-determined task; heroin, of course, is perhaps one of the most pleasurable drugs that exists. For the animal, even technical “volition” can be based only upon a pursuit of pleasure. Human beings, by contrast, have a capacity for reason, and thus can understand and integrate the idea that heroin is not a good to be pursued; even an Epicurean worldview, which holds pleasure to be the ultimate good, would dictate in this situation that the capacity for future pain outweighs the immediate pleasure, a capacity that animals can simply not have. Then, animal and human consciousness does differ to an astronomical degree, even given that animal consciousness does exist.

Moreover, when one considers what that capacity has allowed for and certainly will allow for in the future, one can understand that humans, not animals, are the universe’s last, best hope. It is human beings who create art, literature, philosophy, and science. These are unequivocal goods which May quickly reduces to a lower order than the prospects of animal suffering. And yet, one must consider whether human beings are ultimately the best things which could happen for the perpetuation of the only known bastion of life in the universe. Human efforts are already well underway to protect endangered species and reverse the damage which has admittedly been done. A better thought experiment to demonstrate the point, however, is the possibility for a catastrophic event to strike the Earth: a supervolcano, an asteroid, and so on. It is not guaranteed that humans will be able to defeat these, but we can say with unequivocal certainty that animals driven mostly by the pursuit of reproduction will not be able to defeat these. We can say with unequivocal certainty that animals, unlike humans, will never have the capacity to colonize planets and systems and spread life throughout the universe. We are indeed, as Alan Watts has said, “the universe experiencing itself.” And for all of our faults, we are biology’s greatest defenders. Despite all this, May has a suggestion to undo this harm: mass sterilization of humanity to prevent the existence of future humans. This answer comes only after May’s admission that mass suicide may be an option for open discussion. The end of humans, of course, would only be a tragedy to ourselves, and nobody would be around to experience it. And yet, I think that a comment by Aidan Mackenzie on the NYT article aptly summarizes the true scale of tragedy that this would entail: “Humanity going extinct would be an incredible tragedy and, if natural development of consciousness is a once-a-universe phenomenon, it would be the greatest tragedy in cosmic history.”–

The original Op-Ed can be found here: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/12/17/opinion/human-extinction-climate-change.html


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