The Morality of Volcanos

Posted: February 13, 2009 in Uncategorized

Chilean volcano – Chaiten

Volcano’s – although I’ve never seen or will likely ever see one, are the kinds of natural events that really give us a sense of nature’s indifference to humanity. The philosopher in me asks: “I wonder if Vesuvius, Mt. St. Helen, or Chaiten think it’s “fair” to destroy everything in their path? If we ask him nicely, do you think Mr. Volcano over there would take our human aspirations and goals into consideration before erupting?” And volcanoes are just natural events taking place on Earth. What about the possibility of something happening to Earth as a whole. What about something like “The Big Rip“?

I maintain the view that we should concern ourselves with events that are probable, rather than merely possible. Granted, most financial analysts would’ve scoffed at the idea of a systemic financial crisis only a year or two ago, saying that, if it were even possible, it was highly unlikely to occur. Surely, these would be the same people who would argue that our economies, with the exception of the excessive debts burdening them, are fundamentally resilient and capable of withstanding major shocks. Perhaps the best approach is to assign rough probabilities to a host of possible outcomes, and weight them according to the impact that their occurrence might have. By this logic, even an extremely small chance of full-blown collapse of civilization (either induced by climate change or peak oil leading to diminishing marginal returns on complexity) would be logical to act upon over the business-as-usual scenario.

George Carlin used to muse that ” The Planet is Fine…The People Are F&#ked.” Although I was often intrigued by Carlin’s brand of comedy/philosophy, I have also heard that if we don’t get this project of intelligent life correct now, we’ll have used all the high quality energy and mineral resources – thus making another go at it next to impossible. But maybe Carlin was driving at something different. Perhaps what he was getting at, was that instead of the arrogance of trying to save the planet, or making nature our slave, we should try to address the problems of and between humans. Perhaps the way to save the planet, is to get beyond simple evaluations of good & evil, right & wrong, useful & not useful, and to focus on creating a world where real human flourishing can take place.   Where creativity and subjective human experience are elevated over utility, conformity, and mindless notions of material progress.  Where meaning isn’t defined by quantity, but by quality.

– a.j.m.

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