Ed Driscoll

Academia's Endless Doomsday Cult

Now that global warming is increasingly a discredited meme, at least outside of epistemically closed feedback loop of academia and the newsroom, is zero population growth returning to be the chief “progressive” doomsday cult?

It’s an equally hoary old Malthusian meme, which like environmentalism dates from the dawn of the 1970s, the nadir of the second half of the 20th century. We already mentioned the epic meltdown of Peter Singer’s, Princeton University’s Professor of Bioethics in the New York Times earlier this month, where Singer suggested that mankind turn out the lights on the way out:

The 19th-century German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer held that even the best life possible for humans is one in which we strive for ends that, once achieved, bring only fleeting satisfaction. New desires then lead us on to further futile struggle and the cycle repeats itself.Schopenhauer’s pessimism has had few defenders over the past two centuries, but one has recently emerged, in the South African philosopher David Benatar, author of a fine book with an arresting title: “Better Never to Have Been: The Harm of Coming into Existence.” One of Benatar’s arguments trades on something like the asymmetry noted earlier. To bring into existence someone who will suffer is, Benatar argues, to harm that person, but to bring into existence someone who will have a good life is not to benefit him or her. Few of us would think it right to inflict severe suffering on an innocent child, even if that were the only way in which we could bring many other children into the world. Yet everyone will suffer to some extent, and if our species continues to reproduce, we can be sure that some future children will suffer severely. Hence continued reproduction will harm some children severely, and benefit none.

Benatar also argues that human lives are, in general, much less good than we think they are. We spend most of our lives with unfulfilled desires, and the occasional satisfactions that are all most of us can achieve are insufficient to outweigh these prolonged negative states. If we think that this is a tolerable state of affairs it is because we are, in Benatar’s view, victims of the illusion of pollyannaism. This illusion may have evolved because it helped our ancestors survive, but it is an illusion nonetheless. If we could see our lives objectively, we would see that they are not something we should inflict on anyone.

Here is a thought experiment to test our attitudes to this view. Most thoughtful people are extremely concerned about climate change. Some stop eating meat, or flying abroad on vacation, in order to reduce their carbon footprint. But the people who will be most severely harmed by climate change have not yet been conceived. If there were to be no future generations, there would be much less for us to feel to guilty about.

So why don’t we make ourselves the last generation on earth? If we would all agree to have ourselves sterilized then no sacrifices would be required — we could party our way into extinction!

The Weasel Zippers blog catches a similarly-themed article published in England’s Daily Mail, about an Australian professor who sounds like he’s living in Dorthy’s version of Oz:

As the scientist who helped eradicate smallpox he certainly know a thing or two about extinction.And now Professor Frank Fenner, emeritus professor of microbiology at the Australian National University, has predicted that the human race will be extinct within the next 100 years.

He has claimed that the human race will be unable to survive a population explosion and ‘unbridled consumption.’

Fenner told The Australian newspaper that ‘homo sapiens will become extinct, perhaps within 100 years.’

‘A lot of other animals will, too,’ he added.

‘It’s an irreversible situation. I think it’s too late. I try not to express that because people are trying to do something, but they keep putting it off.’

Since humans entered an unofficial scientific period known as the Anthropocene – the time since industrialisation – we have had an effect on the planet that rivals any ice age or comet impact, he said.

Fenner, 95, has won awards for his work in helping eradicate the variola virus that causes smallpox and has written or co-written 22 books.

And that’s on top of these earlier doomsday prognostications on this topic we linked to a couple of months ago:

But think of the cross-promotional opportunities! Microsoft could launch their own version of Apple’s “Think Different” campaign featuring Margaret Sanger and H.G. Wells, or George Bernard Shaw. Perhaps new Windows PC could ship with a director’s edition of M. Night Shyamalan’s 2008 film, The Happening. Or at least a PDF file of this “classic” work by Obama science czar, John Holdren.

So which is it, fellas? Should mankind deliberately choose to wind things up and “party our way into extinction?” (Party? Hey, don’t be a stupid, be a schmarty!) Or will it happen automatically?

Talk amongst yourselves, work out your stories and get back to me. OK? Thanks!

Elsewhere, while Newsweek the home of the “We’re All Socialists Now” and “Friedrich Hayek? Who?” pundits is pooh-poohing the concept of life extension, at least they’re not, for the moment at least, calling on the death of humanity, unlike their brethren in punditry at the other end of the Northeast Corridor. (Maybe a fear of the terminal moment hits too close to home.)