Sunday, June 26, 2011

Optimistic Pessimism

Optimistic Pessimism
by Scott Bradley


Ever since my sinful 'pray for plague' outburst, I've been debating with a friend about ecology and our concerns for the future of Earth. Neither of us really has a firm 'position' either in terms of the possible outcomes of the continued human impact on the planet or solutions (preventative measures) to it.

What does come out is my immediate pessimism and his optimism. I see the total degradation of the natural world by humanity as almost inevitable; he is not so sure. My immediate pessimism by no means overpowers my more general and fundamental optimism, however. Nothing can destroy Nature, because Nature (as I understand it) is all that is. This is a great deal more than the spotted owl, how ever much I might mourn its loss. All is and shall remain well, whatever happens.

Why this immediate pessimism, on the one hand, and fundamental optimism, on the other, does not lead me to fatalism and abandonment of the active desire to preserve wild Nature is quite simple: Love and respect for Nature is the natural expression of who I am. And I will let that express itself, just as I let life express itself, though death is inevitable.

My friend has interjected several very interesting thoughts into this debate. One is that humanity is Nature and thus what it does is Nature at work. I (try to) contend that, no, humanity is Nature gone awry. Perhaps both views are true and complementary.

In any event, the evolution in humanity of the apparent freedom to choose between courses of action does seem to somehow elevate humanity to a degree of transcendence from Nature. We determine our relationship to it. It is this idea, of course, which gives rise to the concept of the Universe (purposely?) observing itself through humanity. [But if the Universe thought this up, surely It doesn't need me to do Its thinking for It?]

Another idea he has suggested is that Nature has totally destroyed Earth's ecosystem before (through asteroids and the accumulation of 'harmful' gases, for example) and has always subsequently come up with something new and 'better'. I see this as but a corollary of the 'all is well' doctrine. But if an asteroid were approaching Earth I would, nonetheless, want to send Clint Eastwood into space to blow it up or, at least, die trying.

What has all this to do with philosophical Taoism? If your answer is 'nothing', then I guess we're on different pages.

You can check out Scott's other miscellaneous writings here.

1 comment:

  1. It has everything to do with Taoism. (And I refuse to get into the philosophical/religious distinction.) Humanity, in its present state ("post-heaven", if you will) is simply out of touch with, alienated from, Tao. Not transcendent of Nature, but kind of caught between "heaven and earth." Our ability to choose (something that has come with our evolution) indeed has gotten us into this mess. It's an idea as old as ...Eden. There's probably no going back except dealing with the bang or the whimper on some kind of individual (or small community)l basis. Maybe after an apocalpyse there will be just small communities. It would be interesting to see if they turn out to be Mad Max social groups or Yangshao Culture. Funny how yin and yang work.

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