Human Extinction

Would it be a tragedy?

Note that he doesn’t consider the possibility of homes for both humanity and other terrestrial life off planet.

FWIW, if I had to choose between saving a few lives and all of the art in the Louvre, it’s not at all obvious that the lives have higher value. I can certainly imagine some people willing to sacrifice themselves for it, but that issue isn’t in his question.

30 thoughts on “Human Extinction”

    1. Why does the fact that this article is linked to the New York Times not surprise me? All pious martyrs to the head of the line please. Leave it all to me. I’ll clean up and turn off the lights….

      1. Your sentiments are reminiscent of those expressed on the bumper sticker, “In case of Rapture, can I have your car?”

  1. If all those moronic commenters think the species should die out, they should do their duty to the planet and help out by starting with themselves.

  2. “if I had to choose between saving a few lives and all of the art in the Louvre, it’s not at all obvious that the lives have higher value. ”

    Maybe you feel this way when you sit at your computer. Maybe you’re thinking of the loss of the Columbia, and how you felt the real loss was the loss of the orbiter, and not the loss of the astronauts, who, after all, volunteered to risk their lives to do something they felt was both wonderful and important. But that wasn’t the scenario in the article. This was:

    “Or suppose a terrorist planted a bomb in the Louvre and the first responders had to choose between saving several people in the museum and saving the art. How many of us would seriously consider saving the art?”

    Rand, I think that if you just happened to be in position to help (as opposed to being an official first responder), you would save the people. Of course, I don’t know you – I just think that the vast majority of people would save other people before saving art, even world famous art. You know yourself: do you think you wouldn’t save the people first?

    By the way, the piece included a link to a far better piece, about the importance of completely unrelated strangers who haven’t been born yet. I thought a certain kind of libertarian – the sort who got a lot out of Ayn Rand – would particularly find the piece thought provoking. And while I’m certainly not much of an Ayn Rand fan, I thought the article was very moving:

    1. No one, either you, or I, knows what they would do in such a situation. And it seems like a very unlikely actual situation. I am in fact making a measured judgment from a keyboard.

      1. I know what I’d do. Tell each potential victim to grab a top piece of art before I get them out, and then settle up with them in the parking lot, before throwing the loot into my SUV and speeding off into the back alleys of Paris.

        It’s a win-win, except for the part in the parking lot where I shoot dead everyone I saved so I don’t leave any witnesses, but morality tests are like that.

    2. It is kind of a stupid premise, why choose one or the other rather than both? As laid out at the link, first responders try and save the art at great risk to themselves but it is a choice they make.

      It isn’t sacrificing undesirables in exchange for art. It is people making the choice to accept the risk and do what they can. Why wouldn’t there be an option to save both art and people? How can we say the people lack value when one of them may be the next great artist? We have to look at possible unknown outcomes as well.

      1. You are missing the structure of the author’s argument — have a look at the original article.

        The author assumes many readers, like me, wouldn’t sacrifice even one human life to save inanimate art. So then the author asks “how much suffering and death of nonhuman life would we be willing to countenance to save Shakespeare, our sciences(*) and so forth?”

        If we pretend the author never mention science, the author asks an interesting question: is human art worth billions or even trillions of our fellow mammals suffering?

        Read the original article to put that question in context.

        (*) Here, I think the author makes a silly mistake. The author shouldn’t have mentioned science. I think the author viewed science as a sort of artistic endeavor, but we know that’s wrong. Science is a process which has the demonstrated capacity to save vast numbers of human lives, so it is worth a lot. It is arguably worth more than X human lives, where X is enormous, because it can save so many more than X human lives. But that’s quibbling which misses the point of the piece.

          1. Wodun, you’re right, I apologize. I was reminded of Rand’s comment on the Columbia loss, and, in general, his book on safety, but once I brought it up, I didn’t want Rand to look like more of a monster than he is, so I put in the bit about the astronauts being volunteers. That was confusing.

            I think it is funny that there are complaints here about the Left being relentlessly misanthropic, etc, when it is Rand, and perhaps only Rand, who thinks that artwork from the Louvre like the Mona Lisa and the Venus de Milo are worth more than living breathing human beings. Art is nice, but even one person having a full life seems a lot more valuable to me.

          2. The Left’s misanthropy lies in its hatred of humanity itself (and human nature), not individual human beings.

            I wasn’t talking about individual pieces of art. I was talking about the entire contents of the Louvre.

            Are you saying that losing all of that cultural history is inconsequential, or that a human life has infinite value? In that case, how do you deal with the Trolley Problem? Or killing a terrorist who plans to murder hundreds?

          3. “Are you saying that losing all of that cultural history is inconsequential, or that a human life has infinite value?”

            I said neither. The loss of the Louvre wouldn’t be inconsequential, it would just be less consequential than the loss of, let us say, a healthy child who could be expected to live an ordinary human life until she dies at age 84. Elsewhere on this thread, I suggested that the preserving the scientific method (the loss of which was discussed in the NYT piece) would be worth millions of lives, because science can save billions of lives in the time that might elapse before science was reinvented.

            ” In that case, how do you deal with the Trolley Problem?”

            It is pretty easy: value the most human life the highest, with a caveat for evil people, particularly those deserving the death penalty. You can calculate human life in terms of total hours of life expectancy (so one child might be valued more highly than two 90 year olds) or in terms of the number of lives (in which case the reverse would be true). So, yes, I’d pull the lever.

            “Or killing a terrorist who plans to murder hundreds?”

            That’s even easier. Heck, I was in favor of the war in Iraq.

  3. I never cease to marvel at how irenic and universalist the cosmopolitan Left can be while being so relentlessly misanthropic at the same time.

    Perhaps part of the problem is that saving the human race would mean having to save too many of the wrong kind of humans.

    1. Arthur C. Clark said that any technology sufficiently advanced is indistinguishable from magic. The cosmopolitan Left lives in a world of magic. They enter their home and flip a switch and light appears. Magic. They go to a restaurant or a grocery store and, like magic, food appears. They throw out their trash and it disappears. Magic. They profess to love humanity but hate people, especially the people who work to make the magic happen. Should the magic stop happening, they’d all be dead within a few weeks. They have neither the skills nor the understanding to know how to stay alive.

  4. There are stirrings of discussion these days in philosophical circles about the prospect of human extinction. This should not be surprising, given the increasingly threatening predations of climate change.

    It shouldn’t be surprising because nature has been trying to kill us for millions of years. What is surprising is the self proclaimed elitists don’t know this and think that we live in a near state of Armageddon when in reality, it is the best time for humans in our entire existence.

    Nature is just as cruel to other animals and it is stupid to think that absent humans, life would be a garden of eden. Humans need to feed, cloth, and protect ourselves. None of this happens without taking life. This is true for all animals. And what about all of the benefits we have brought to all different kinds of plants, animals, and environments?

    The tragedy in human extinction isn’t lost art, smartness, sciencyness, or a feeling of superiority that comes with being a leftist. No, the tragedy is that we have no yet met our potential that will not only ease our own mortal suffering and strife but that of nature as well. This wont happen through flagellation and systems that seek to control but through doing what humans have always desired, pursue a better life for ourselves and our families.

    Focus on this and the rest will improve by default.

    1. “Nature is just as cruel to other animals and it is stupid to think that absent humans, life would be a garden of eden.”

      The author argues that nature, while cruel, is not “just as cruel” because it doesn’t cause animal suffering on anywhere near the vast scales that humans do. I think you needn’t deny it to make your point.

      1. If that is the author’s point he or she needs to study nature far more closely. I’d start with the Ebola Virus.

      2. Nature always threatens mass extinction and life is one of daily struggle for survival punctuated by brief and transitory moments of joy. Do you really understand what it means to live as an animal or as a human?

        I don’t think the author is correct in his assessment as it paints an unrealistic and romanticized version of reality.

        Also, lets not forget humans are a part of nature too.

  5. Bob-1, that article you linked to was good but hardly an outstanding insight. Ray Bradbury put it better when talking to Oriana Fallaci in the article I linked to.
    Poul Anderson once wrote a story about the Pact between the dead, the living and the as yet unborn and Arthur C. Clarke had “The Songs of Distant Earth”.
    This is a space site where I think most are hoping for a long term future for the human race amongst the stars and if threatened with extinction, we should fight.

  6. “Third, factory farming fosters the creation of millions upon millions of animals for whom it offers nothing but suffering and misery before slaughtering them in often barbaric ways.”

    The animals are raised, fed and given shelter.
    [also healthcare and maybe some music].

    It’s better than governmental welfare program.

    And should be noted that barbaric is an improvement over animal or inhuman- and it appears that vegans are practicing an inhuman activity,

  7. I’ve long thought that free range chickens spend their time looking fearfully into the sky for chickenhawks and other raptors. The ones that didn’t aren’t here any longer.

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