I’ve been thinking once again about systems of thought. One of the things that I have always appreciated about animals like the systematic theologian is that they generally acknowledge that their system is founded on some basic assumptions. Most of the time, the basic assumptions are things that can’t be “proven”. Historically, every time the architectural firm of Whitehead and Russell attempt to erect the perfect system, the demolition team from Gödel is there to knock it down. Lately, I’ve pondered the idea of people who are concerned about global warming saying we shouldn’t pollute the planet. That is a great concern of mine as well, but I have a specific religious basis for my thinking. Without that, I don’t really understand the basis of the argument. It’s like the old Love & Rockets song, “You can’t go against nature, because going against nature is nature too.” Without some grounding outside of ourselves, how do you make the argument that it is a “good” thing for humans to exist and continue as a species? In aesthetics, I see this manifesting itself in the tendency to approach epistemological problems by breaking things down into their constituent parts and labeling them. Once that is done, we “know” the art object. I’m not exactly sure how that is related to what is above. All this is to say, I’ve been reading and thinking about Buber again. I need to clarify some of these thoughts for myself, so comment away.
Questions about systematic thinking
by Kurt Knecht | May 27, 2011 | Buber, epistemology, Uncategorized | 2 comments
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You say that your ideas about environmental stewardship are based upon your faith which is great, although many "faithful" others derive the opposite conclusion from the Bible, that the land and the animals are mere resources to be exploited for humanity's needs. My own interpretation of the Bible somewhat reinforces your viewpoint. However, your reasoning that it is only through faith that this choice seems valid appears to be a version of the myth that those without faith cannot have morals or values and is mistaken for the same reason.
Let's take the concepts of Heaven and Hell, or negative Karma and re-incarnation, off of the table because I think it goes without argument that morals and values are based upon internal mechanisms rather than punishments or rewards. Morality to me requires autonomy rather than obedience. It requires a choice.
So, why would I, an unbeliever, make the choice to recycle? First, there are many venial reasons that could motivate me; things like societal pressure, pride, the desire for intimacy with a hippie girl, whatever. These are earthly versions of reward and punishment also and therefore we must set them aside for the same reasons.
There are just two obvious answers. The first is survival, either for myself or my loved ones/descendants. The better steward I am (and that I can motivate others to be) of my resources, the better/easier my/my descendants potential lives will be. Pollution is poison and despoiled resources mean increased scarcity and competition. It means more toil and less security. That's easy.
The other possible motivation is a little trickier. Let's call this one compassion. It is difficult to prove or refute the origin of compassion in the human psyche. Some would argue that it is God's love writ in our hearts. Some might say that it co-evolved with humanity as our survival became group or community based. Whatever it might be, it seems that most people (sometimes including myself) have compassion. They desire, unselfishly, to alleviate suffering in others. Admittedly, this is certainly watered down much by our more recent survival pressure of manufactured scarcity and our culture of greed. This compassion seems endemic to our nature. Therefore we all want to leave a better world than we inherited, more just, less polluted, and with less misery. We fail almost exclusively, but the trying is important.
I knew I could count on you for cogent arguments which is one of the only things I enjoy as I get older. I would also add that I often find I have more in common with the moral values of people who don't consider themselves religious than I do with many "religious" people. You comments remind me of some of the points that Daniel Quinn brings up in his writings. Don't know if you've read him, but he suggests that one of the myths of Darwinism is that humanity and its survival is some sort of moral imperative. Rather, that we often assume that we were the end result of the evolutionary process and not the middle. Now, I can justify that position religiously, but I haven't heard a good argument that makes humanities survival some sort of convincing "universal" good. Now, if I value the planet above all else, I could probably make an argument that it would be better for the planet if we went extinct. The compassion argument intrigues me in a Buddhist sort of way.