Ecological sustainability is the core issue for survival. Sometimes I think the death instinct is more powerful than the survival instinct with regard to the human social animal in aggregate. There is a preponderance of insane, narcissistic (anthropocentric and anthropotheistic), psychopathic behavior as evidenced by anthropogenic climate disruption on the environmental sphere, inverted totalitarianism on the political sphere and growth for growth’s sake (the genetic instructions for cancer) in the economic sphere. As much as I would like to have confidence (trust, belief, faith) and hope in the transformation of society, I think that the hard truth and the painful reality (as opposed to comforting and assuring illusion and satisfying self delusion/cognitive dissonance) is that Art is the last refuge for the chronically depressed pessimist. Art and Myth.
Check out “Straw Dogs: Thoughts On Humans and Other Animals” and The Silence of Animals: On Progress and Other Modern Myths” by John N. Gray
You need a pretty convincing and solid argument (more than anecdotal evidence) that the cognitive tools which drive cultural evolution trump the natural laws and forces that drive biological evolution – if that is indeed the case you are trying to make. Intelligent design has a lot less experience than the millions of years of natural selection out of which a complex brain emerged. The thought that wise, intelligent and conscious acceleration of adaptability has made the human animal immune to contingency and fate smacks more of metaphysical trans-naturalism than naturalism. Your suggestion that the arc of history bends toward wisdom and well-being is a faith based statement, not a scientific one. Maybe in our enlightened instead of benighted day and age, the human animal IS trans-natural. :-0
Repressing the fear of death and the yielding to the denial of death are both very real. You don’t deny the denial of death do you? The threat of extinction is hardly based on scientific illiteracy. Minimizing the threat, ignoring it, denying it, being distracted is habitual. Check out “What SHOULD We Be Worried About: Real Scenarios That Keep Scientists Up at Night” by John Brockman, publisher of Edge.org before you bandy about the term “scientific illiteracy.” For shame.
After reading Pinker’s “Better Angels” I thought Herman and Peterson’s critique ” Reality Denial: Steven Pinker’s Apologetics For Western-Imperial Violence” more based in empiricism. For humans to think that cultural evolution will forestall our own extinction as we carry on business as usual with our current political/economic/social habits is denying reality too. It’s to synthesize an ancient myth with a modern illusion that humans are – because of our big brains, the ability to accumulate knowledge through writing, and our adaptive cognitive tools – Historic animals with a rationality (transcendent Logos out of the gospel of John) that increases over time. Faith based myth making.
Metaphysical naturalism and neo-Darwinism have demonstrated conclusively that humans are just animals – not all that unique. From an anti-humanist author “Human uniqueness is a myth inherited from religion, which humanists have recycled into science.” Show me the science that any animal is proof against contingency and fate! Because human cultural evolution is progressive, does that progress make the human animal immune to the laws and forces of nature which govern the universe? You can conjecture and hypothesize about myths all you want, but don’t confuse that with scientific theory. Darwin, Dawkins (“The Selfish Gene”), Dennett, et al show that a species is only a collection of genes interacting within its genotype/phenotype and against a changing environment. People who think that higher concentrations of greenhouse gases, disrupted natural cycles, collapsing ecosystems, and rising baseline dry bulb temps are not selective pressures on a species at the top of the food chain are the ones living in a fantasy. These disruptions pose a real threat (not imaginary, not mythical) to the human animal and constitute a changing environment. To think otherwise is to deny reality.
Extinction is hardly uninformed paranoid unscientific fantasy. To speak about extinction is hardly fear mongering. E.O. Wilson coined the word Eremozoic for the next geological era. Was he being unscientific? Are you a scientist of higher repute than Wilson? Death is as natural as sex as the driver of evolution. Natural history and modern evolutionary synthesis show quite matter-of-factly that extinction is the rule. Human survival of climate disruption is hardly a foregone conclusion. I might read “Are We Doomed?” but the answer is clearly yes. The human species will go extinct, sooner or later. Those who think that it is hundreds of millions of years into the future could very well have bought into a secularized heroic cosmic immortality identity project.
I realize that you are a philosopher and an historian, not an evolutionary biologist and not a climate scientist and not an investigative journalist. I realize also that you are rooted and grounded in the humanist faith. I am extremely skeptical of that faith. From Wikipedia: Humanism is a philosophical and ethical stance that emphasizes the value and agency of human beings, individually and collectively, and generally prefers critical thinking and evidence (rationalism, empiricism) over established doctrine or faith (fideism)… [ETA: three of the articles of faith in humanism seems to be that (1) humans are unique (inherently different) from animals, (2) that those inherent differences ought to be maximized in terms of propaganda and (3) the philosophical and ethical stance affirms meliorism. Cont quote] Generally, however, humanism refers to a perspective that affirms some notion of a “human nature” (sometimes contrasted with anti-humanism – also from Wikipedia – In social theory and philosophy, anti-humanism is a theory that is critical of traditional humanism and traditional ideas about humanity and the human condition. Central to anti-humanism is the view that concepts of “human nature”, “man”, or “humanity”, should be rejected as historically relative or metaphysical.” Between humanism and anti-humanism I wonder which one is more in harmony with naturalism. Hmmm.
I am reminded of a conversation I had with a psychologist about the denial of death and repressed fears about the annihilation of the mental ego. When I brought up the five previous mass extinctions in geological history, that we are in the sixth (with the rate of extinction higher than the previous five and accelerating) she replied, “Oh, I don’t believe in those things.” Denial of science comes in many shapes and sizes. The fact that it is human behavior that is driving a geological mass extinction event makes the philosophy of humanism all the more repugnant.
I would agree that there are some fundamental differences between our species and our closest primate relatives. That 4% DNA difference packs quite a wallop. The cognitive tools make it a grand slam. But the anecdotal evidence of what we can do with our tools compared to other animals does not take away from the anthropocentrism inherent in the anti-naturalist humanist faith.
Science is a tool for the search for truth is a myth. Maybe, on the other hand, it’s a pure myth — one that relates a metaphysical, hidden, unprovable truth. It’s a mythical story, I opine, people who believe in science tell themselves to feel good. My continued voice for skepticism is directed toward the truth claim that, as a tool, it is the only authoritative war to determine reality. That “truth claim” is a metaphysic and is based on faith. Secondly, I don’t think anyone in their right mind can claim that knowledge is some sort of neural tool. “Knowledge is power” must be a dubious axiom in your way thinking, then. I suspect I’m wrongly interpreting your belief in “neutral tools.” Do you reject that axiom – knowledge is power – as an untruth? If not, what have been the effects or consequences of that power? Or is cause and effect another illusion? You believe that scientific and technological advances are improvements and are progressive. Industrial civilization, which would not have been conceivable without science, is destroying the biosphere. Destruction of the biosphere negates any and all so called “progress” and “search for truth” unless of course you believe in the immortality of heroic identity projects. One reason, probably the main reason, is the failure of scientific knowledge to incorporate ethics. It’s a system’s failure. I don’t blame a science based on holism for that. I blame the discoverers, the perpetrators, and the defenders of a reductionist mechanistic science, a science that doesn’t get off the hook for being destructively amoral. A neutral tool? You are welcome to make your arguments for or against science being the only authoritative tool to determine reality and science being neutral. How the tool is used IS more important than the purpose behind the tool’s making. My point is that the purpose of the tool was to give humans power over nature. Our power over nature is inherently destructive.
Humans behave cognitively as if we are above animals. We believe that human nature is special, that we have a destiny, that we have risen above fate and contingency, even that we are proof against these. This view of ourselves as above nature (super natural) is Promethean madness,in my opinion. Lip service is paid to Darwin, but real service is paid to our power to destroy the biosphere. We live in almost complete denial of our animal nature and denial of our ecocidal behavior. We support business as usual, politics as usual, the status quo. Science, knowledge, power does not get a pass. More probably a fail.
If I believe “everything happens for a reason” that can be taken as simply a trite statement to deny that contingency even exists. I’m skeptical of such a belief. Or have I, as the writer of the gospel of John, elevated reason (logos, the Word) into the fabric of the creation of all things?
Charles Darwin’s great contributions to human psychology was to make it irrefutable that the human being is just an animal. We have a large and complex brain. We make up stories. We order our society politically. We have discovered cognitive tools such as money, commerce, maths, science, technology which tools have allowed us to become the top predator on the planet, the most successful invasive species, increase our population to exceed the carrying capacity of our natural environment, cause nonhuman species to go extinct, and wreak havoc on the natural systems that sustain us. Then we have the gall to call ourselves wise, civilized, progressive. But what’s the alternative? To externalize the means of our “salvation”? That seems as ridiculous of an idea as externalizing evil.
“God is a metaphor for that which transcends all levels of intellectual thought. It’s as simple as that.”