News & Politics

Would the End of All Human Life Really Be That Bad?

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Everyone knows the extinction of the human race would be a bad thing. What a new op-ed presupposes is: Maybe it isn’t?

Todd May is a philosophy professor at Clemson University, and yesterday he published an interesting op-ed in the NYT:

Would Human Extinction Be a Tragedy?

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. In reflecting on this question, I want to suggest an answer to a single question, one that hardly covers the whole philosophical territory but is an important aspect of it. Would human extinction be a tragedy? …

I want to suggest, at least tentatively, both that it would be a tragedy and that it might just be a good thing.

Well, at least he’s only suggesting it tentatively.

You can read the whole thing if that sounds like a fun time, but here’s the idea: Y’see, we’re killing all the animals and destroying the planet, and the tragedy is that in the process, we’re destroying ourselves. But maybe that’s not such a bad thing, since the planet would be better off without us anyway. At least I think that’s what he’s saying. I got kinda bored halfway through. Professor May also throws out the old thought experiment about being forced to choose between saving a human life and saving the works of Shakespeare. How do you decide which one is more important? To me, it would all depend on the human life we’re talking about. Is it Piers Morgan?

The name Todd May sounded familiar when I read this op-ed, and I realized that just the other day I watched him explain the meaning of life to me. He’s the philosophy advisor for NBC’s awesomely funny and sweet and weird sitcom The Good Place, and he’s in the latest video on the show’s YouTube channel. On the surface, the show is a wacky, rapid-fire comedy about a very unique and unusual version of the afterlife, but it also tackles some surprisingly weighty topics. Like existentialism:

If the human race went extinct, we’d miss out on stuff like this!

I dunno. Philosophy gives me a headache, but at least it provides some people with the illusion that there are any answers and that anything means anything. If musing about the end of the world makes you feel better about being a part of the world, who am I to stop you?

But if your guilt about your part in the alleged destruction of the planet is making you contemplate the death of every human being on earth, here’s an idea:

After you.

Go ahead. If you really believe we’re such a burden on this planet, if the fewer of us kept breathing the better, then it’s your moral and ethical obligation to show us the way. Get to it.

Well, that’s different, isn’t it? It’s not just a thought experiment anymore. It’s not just a way to pass the time. Not when it’s your life.

If all the people who think human extinction might be a good idea actually killed themselves, there would be no one left to write op-eds about what a good idea human extinction might be.

And this is why everyone hates moral philosophy professors.

Well, I am strictly anti-genocide. Call me a cock-eyed optimist, but no matter how bad things may get, I still believe in the goodness and worth of the human r–

Okay, never mind. Push the button. Blow it all up.

P.S. Speaking of The Good Place, I feel like Chidi here at least once a day. Except I’m way dumber. And fatter.