Thursday, 17 September 2015

Is Conservation Contrary to Nature?

The blog that you are about to read might confound or upset your own personal beliefs. But before you decide that I am an anarchist who wishes to see wanton and random destruction I want you to read the full blog, attempt to understand it on my terms and give me a fair hearing. You will then have the task of taking on board what I've said and bringing it into critical interaction with the beliefs you already have. This, as I understand it, is something like how our belief systems progress anyway. And so I ask for a hearing.

My blog today starts from one of my own beliefs. This belief is that conservation, not just ecological conservation but pretty much all forms of conservation, are contrary to nature. What do I mean by saying this? I mean that the nature of the universe, the way it works, the way things are ordered, the way this universe progresses, is not based on the conservation of individual specific things. The universe, for example, does not have as one of its guiding principles that you or I must be saved. It does not think that lions or elephants or rhinos or whales or planet Earth or our sun or our galaxy should exist forever. Indeed, it doesn't think that anything should. It just is. Conservation is not a part of its make up. The universe is a big engine of change.

So what is a part of its make up? From observation it seems that constant, radical, permanent change is a part of its make up. The universe, left to its own devices, is merely the living history of forms of energy if you break it down to basics. These forms of energy interact with one another to produce the things we see, hear, and experience. More importantly, they interact to produce things that we will never see, hear, experience or even imagine. Existence, in this sense, is just energy doing what energy does. There are no over-arching rules for it and nothing is mandated to exist or not exist because the universe is impassive and uninterested in what is - or is not. Its just random, chaotic energy. Out of this random chaos came us - quite inexplicably to my mind but that's another discussion. We human beings are not impassive or uninterested. Indeed, we need to be concerned and interested in order to survive. And so from this universe of chaotic energy we interested beings were produced.

I have observed the interest in ecological conservation as a phenomenon with my own growing interest for many years. Its one debate which can get some human beings very hot under the collar. When I hear people saying that we need to "save the planet" I often ask myself "What for?" For me its never really good enough to assume the rightness of an agenda merely because it seems to be either moral or, in some sense, on the side of good. I know both morality and goodness as interested ideas which are in no sense neutral but always serving some interest. You might think that the interests of saving the planet are very good ones but I would always seek to undermine the foundations of a belief to ask what presuppositions it stands on. Our beliefs always have these groundings and they are often very revealing and easily toppled. Such are human belief systems.

Of course, conservation is about more than wanting to save the planet or some species upon it (whether that is a rare kind of insect, a cuddly mammal or even us). I had a think and I reasoned that you could connect capitalists (who want to preserve their economic status in society as well as the value of capital), theists (who want a god to be the guarantor of everything that is as it is right now), Greens (who want to preserve the planet and species of life as we have them now) and Transhumanists (who want human beings to outlive our current surroundings and even our planet) all as types of people interested in conservation broadly understood. You may be able to think of others. Conservation is, of course, most commonly associated with the Greens but, as we can see, the drive to conserve things is actually apparent wherever people want things to stay roughly as they are right now (or in an idealized, utopian form of right now). My point, as I've said above, is quite simple: this is contrary to the way things are, contrary to nature, against the organizing principles of an indifferent universe.

You may argue that this is to misunderstand the way things are and that's a fair point to challenge me on. You may say that I am right and the universe doesn't care what stays or goes. It will just keep rolling on until the energy all dissipates in the eventual heat death of the universe in some trillions of years. In that context you may say that what is is then up to those species who can make something of it and that if the universe allows us to make and manufacture things a certain way, guided by our principles, then we should. I don't actually find this position all that wrong. My concern here, I suppose, is with those who reason that there is some form of rightness or naturalness or in-built goodness with this drive to conserve. To me it is entirely manufactured and interested as a phenomenon. It is the activity of self-interested and self-important beings. To want to save the whale because you have an impulse to save whales is one thing. To say that we have a responsibility to save whales is to use rhetoric in the service of an agenda. The universe doesn't care if whales live or die. It follows that there is no imperative for me to care either - although I may choose to and may give reasons for so doing. But these reasons will always be interested and (merely) rhetorical.

So what am I arguing against? I'm arguing against those who want to find or impose imperatives. I'm arguing against those who think that something put us here to "save the world". I'm arguing against those who see us as over and above nature as opposed to merely an interested and self-interested and self-important part of it, a species and individuals with a will to survive. I'm arguing against those who see us as anything other than a rather pathetic bug-like species on a nothing ball of rock in a nowhere solar system in an anonymous galaxy floating in a space so big you cannot begin to quantify it. I'm arguing against those who regard life as nothing to do with power and its operations and how those dynamics play out in human societies. Human beings are very conscious of their station in life and will seek to preserve or increase it. This, amongst other things, is why there are differing sides of the Green conservation argument. People have empires to protect. But seen from that angle life just becomes a power struggle between forms of energy marshalled to power differing agendas. We, instead of being the savior of our world, the universe and everything, are merely just more energy acting in the vastness of space until we dissipate.

So yes when I hear the slogans of Greens I chuckle. I wonder what we are saving and why. I smile at the naivety, if that's what it is, that just assumes this is the right thing to do. I wonder at the hubris that thinks we and our planet in some sense deserve to live. I wonder how these people have factored in the assumptions of our eventual destruction. I wonder how they explain away the fact that well over 90% of things that ever lived on Earth are gone forever without any human action whatsoever. Because that's what things just do - have their time and then cease to exist. I wonder where they reason the meaning they ascribe to things fits in. For nothing exists in a vacuum. (Feel free to ponder on the vacuum of space here and how that affects my last sentence.) The reasons we give for things, the beliefs we hold, are supported by other things and it is they, when articulated, that support our actions and drives. Life is wonderful and random. But it is not permanent. And, as far as I can see, it was never meant to be nor can it be. The drive to conserve is an interested human drive, just one contingent outworking of the energy that drives a form of life. This doesn't mean we shouldn't care or should ravage and destroy. Its just a context for something humans want to do for their own, personal reasons. It is, in the end, just one more example of the universe doing its thing, its the energy that exists exhausting itself until there's no more left. 

Its an example of the kind "Anything the universe allows is allowed".

Now you may feel free to think about this and decide who is right or wrong and, just as importantly, why.

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