DeHumanize

Back before Christmas, Bakka-Phoenix hosted a launch for Sentient Tumor. In  the course of that event—during the traditional Reading Of The Excerpts— I revisited a 2015 scenario in which gut flora reprogram the brain’s anger and image-recognition macros via the Vagus Nerve. People thus weaponized could be driven into a violent rage at the site of specific corporate logos; anyone working at a Bell Canada kiosk (in the original scenario) or wearing a Google t-shirt (in the story that ultimately resulted from it) would find themselves getting shit-kicked by complete strangers. Fearing for their lives, they would quit in droves; the CEOs standing on their backs would lose their balance; evil corporate empires would collapse for want of cheap labor. As Peter Watts fantasies go, it was one of my more heartwarming.

 

During the Q&A that followed, a friend in the audience reminded me that the violence I was so gleefully imagining would be directed against a bunch of overworked and underpaid grunts who were barely making a living under terrible working conditions. After all, how many of Amazon’s warehouse employees would be working there if they could find anything better? Was I a Utilitarian? Did I think it would be fair to inflict even more hardship on those already hard-done-by, in the name of the Greater Good?

Taking the question literally, the answer’s obvious: it wouldn’t be called “the greater good” if The Good was not, by definition, greater. That may not sit right in the gut, but then again the gut is an idiot: always opting for morality over ethics, for what feels good over what can be defended rationally. The gut doesn’t like Truth, as Stephen Colbert so eloquently put it; it prefers “Truthiness”.

Still. The question got me thinking out loud, right there on the spot; someone remarked on Twitter how entertaining it was to watch Peter Watts trying to work out, in real time, whether he wanted to see the world burn. Ultimately I reaffirmed that I only wanted to burn part of it, and that would only be to save the rest. But it had been an obvious question, easy to anticipate, not something I should have had to work out in real time. The answer should have been preloaded and ready to fire.

Now it is, and that answer begins with another question: what’s the current exchange rate between genocide and extinction? How many species, to pick an obvious example, would you be willing to wipe out in order to prevent the Nazi Holocaust?

Back in the forties, six million was about 0.24% of the global Human population. The Rwandan Genocide of the nineties took out a measly 0.01%. So the real question is, How many other entire species would you sacrifice to save a quarter of one percent— a hundredth of one percent— of this one?

You might immediately reject the very question, along with the calculation it demands.Which species? you might ask with equal parts derision and defensiveness. Are you asking if we’d let six million Jews die to save the coelacanths? The Florida panther? Smallpox? And even if I answered (Let’s make it simple— let’s say the species we’d be sacrificing all belong to the charismatic megafauna, species we would value— or at least not be actively hostile to— under normal circumstances) a lot of people would still reject the question because it’s just so stupid. It’s contrived, it’s artificial, nobody would ever have to make such a decision in Real Life and how do you hang a value on a “species” anyway?

Well, obviously the scenario is contrived and artificial. Realism is not a prerequisite for thought experiments. Platonic Caves and Trolley Scenarios exist not as NSERC research proposals, but to throw light on the nooks and crannies of the Human condition. The cranny illuminated by my Genocide/Extinction exchange rate is, paradoxically, clear in that last rhetorical question, delivered with eyes rolled, meant to highlight the absurdity of trying to hang a “value” on a species. It’s paradoxical because those asking it have, in all likelihood, already ascribed such a value.

That value is zero.

The very idea of weighing “animal” against “human” life is meaningless— nay, downright offensive— if your default position is that nonhuman life is valueless unless it serves our interests in some way. How dare you even imagine some, some conversion factor between Humans and muskrats; the very idea invites one down the road to a ridiculous scenario in which some arbitrary number of muskrats, obscenely, becomes more important than a Single Human Life. The very idea!

This, I would submit, is the position of many— even most— of our species. So let’s return to that poor bastard working for some bastion of ecocidal capitalism because they really need the job, and send them back in time to a more acceptable iteration of the same question:

Suppose the only job available was janitor at Auschwitz?

At least now we’re comparing the competing interests of Humans. No one’s going to deny that there are values worth considering on both sides of the equation. So: do you forgive the janitor because jobs are hard to come by? Do you give them a pass because they’re just a tiny cog, with no hand in the decisions of the monstrous machine in which they’re embedded? If some resistance fighter devises a plan to cripple that machine by damaging the cogs, do you object because the cogs have already suffered enough, and would much rather be working in a bakery?

I’m guessing a lot of people would say no— Just Following Orders never really cut it as a defense, after all. At the very least the lines would be a lot blurrier. And yet it still doesn’t sit right, does it? You remember my original question, and the analogy feels cheap, exploitive. Disrespectful to all those millions of (Human) victims across the generations. Amazon may be evil, but it’s not Nazi-level evil. Exxon-Mobil may have set back efforts to combat climate change by decades, but they didn’t set out to eradicate whole populations (not Human ones, anyway). Nike, Apple, Nestle— well, their business practices may cause deaths in sweatshops and totalitarian regimes and places where there’s not enough water to go around any more, but they’re not doing that out of ideological hatred; they’re just doing it for the money. That’s not as bad, somehow.

No one knows exactly how many species we’re wiping out. The estimates I’ve seen1 range from 70,000 to over 120,000 per year. At those scales you can be as flexy as you like with the details. Fossil-fuel capitalism has gotta be the prime driver behind a big chunk of that, but there’s lots left over for the commercial fishing industry (which, even a decade ago, had already wiped out an estimated 80-90% of the world’s commercial fisheries biomass). You might expect Amazon to be small spuds on the ecocidal front— it’s not like they directly strip-mine the oceans or finance tar-sands extraction— but their carbon footprint is the size of a small country’s, so it’s not unreasonable to lay at least some of those extinctions on Bezos’ doorstep (Amazon is, after all, the 4th-largest company on the planet in terms of market capitalization). A measly one percent, say: seven hundred to twelve hundred extinctions per year. Seven thousand to a hundred-twenty thousand per decade, more or less. Change your assumptions all you want, within reason. Make Corporation X twice as destructive, or half. Tweak the numbers; the orders of magnitude remain.

It’s Human Nature to prioritize our own interests over others’, a bias that comes standard in virtually every organism on the planet (consciously or otherwise). But if you’d allow the greater-good sacrifice of the Auschwitz janitor who played an infinitesimal role in the murder of 0.25% of one species— while also defending the Amazon employee who plays a commensurately small role in the wholesale extinction of thousands of them— well, you’re not just saying that Humans have more value. You’re saying, to all intents and purposes, that no other species has any. And that, fellow mammal, sails right out of mere bias and into the realm of outright pathology. The fact that it’s so ubiquitous throughout our society does not make it any less pathological.

Most people regard “dehumanizing” terminology as a bad thing.

These days, I have a hard time seeing it as anything other than a compliment.


1Excluding denialist numbers from the likes of Fox News and the Koch Brothers.

This entry was written by Peter Watts , posted on Wednesday January 22 2020at 03:01 pm , filed under In praise of biocide, rant . Bookmark the permalink . Post a comment below or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.

106 Responses to “DeHumanize”

  1. Thank you, Peter! You framed my own feelings about human sociopathy in far more scientific and literate terms. It’s happening, and barring genetically altering ourselves, it won’t stop. Acceptance of this and the hastening permutations of the world we’ve always known probably won’t happen.

    The Corona Virus might fight us a little bit. Not enough to matter. Biotech and The CDC being what they are only dull and/or mutate our collective danger response. We’ll get through it.

    Ever read the short story “The People of Sand and Slag” by Paolo Bacigalupi? Deals with the deeply unsettling ways we humans might end up viewing other organisms.

  2. Yeah, Peter. Sorry but yeah. A billion years of intricately evolving ecosystems is pointless if there isn’t someone to appreciate them. I admire the beauty of a tiger because he hasn’t eaten any of my cattle, and I’m not hungry or threatened by it. I think wasps and scolopendras are cool because I watched the right kind of japanese cartoons as a kid and I derive some pride out of not being reflexively scared of arthropods like a normie. I am not a vegan because I cannot muster any concern for the fate of battery chickens – I think empathy (My empathy) is a limited resource to be husbanded. Vat grown meat will be a more ethical step in the same direction, if we can make it efficient, cheap and tasty enough, but it is the same direction, it makes sense to breed food animals that way.

    Personally I favor rural abandonment, concentration of human populations in our hives to give the rest of nature a chance of rewilding – people are happier that way anyway, but most people’s idea of eco living is a fucking farm with 3 or 4 cars, and so we tile the planet with rectangles. In any case I don’t kid myself I have any say in the matter.

  3. I have read “The People of Sand and Slag,” and I’m afraid it disgusted me so much that I got rid of the book.

    The inventor of the “worm” that allows humans to eat anything, regrow limbs etc. is described as refusing to take his own creation, preferring to die than become what his creation turned human beings into.

    I agreed with that character, and would prefer to die than live as described in the story.

    Looking at some articles on maintainable food production I found an assertion that the world can only support about 3.4 billion people with sustainable farming. That as they say is not good. However, there’s little I can do to change human nature, and the history of life on Earth is extinction.

    On that cheery note, I leave you to now go and contemplate more morbid thoughts.

  4. Your response to the question seems to reveal your own bias. You are taking as a given an exploitative power structure that applies coercion, and building from there. The Thatcherite “there is no alternative”. If you don’t think you can hold to account those that create and enforce those structures, much less conceptualize different systems of power that you can build and wield to change them, then yes, the question of “what is the tradeoff between the marginalized human and biological species?” comes to the fore.

    But if you think about ways to target the lynchpins of the way things are, that opens up a lot more

  5. Not sure it’s a valid question.

    In the end, it’s our species moral duty to eradicate all life on Earth and elsewhere.

    Whether to kill off some species earlier or not depends entirely on whether the genocide prevented would serve to postpone the date on which we can cook the planet so thoroughly only deep-rock bacteria survive.

  6. To explain my reasoning here: life is endless competition and suffering is what nature imposes on organisms to make them hew more closely to their evolutionary programming.

    All evolved life living in natural environments is going to be end up in a state heavy on suffering and low on happiness.

    Thus, if we believe we ought to care about suffering, the thing to do is end complex biological life on this planet and perhaps even beyond, unless said life is less intrinsically horrible.

    Of course, you could just be cruel and do nothing about it entirely.

  7. The ‘janitor at Auschwitz’ question is something I’ve thought about a good deal lately, as I’ve a friend of long-standing working as a programmer for a petrol company, a position that seems to me to be about as morally defensible as being an accountant working for major interests engaged in the Triangle Trade circa 1720. And that might be generous: as risible as slavery was/is, it didn’t threaten the survival of the species.

    ‘He’s a good guy,’ I think, ‘A progressive, etc.’ ‘How many of those worked for the slave trade?’ another part of my mind answers. And so it goes, down and down. The world is a very depressing place sometimes.

  8. I’d be willing to put my name into a global lottery to cull the population back to about 50 million or so, provided everyone else was. If everyone was willing to put their names into the hat, and the lottery went forward, then those with the winning tickets would have shown a genuine commitment to living in greater harmony with the natural world going forward.

    I’d love to see someone genuinely promote the idea just to see who would be willing to sign on. There would be no danger of actually having your name drawn unless all 7.5 billion of us signed on, and the lottery was a go, so it’s something that could be started just to see how people would react. If someone starts a Change.org petition, I’ll sign on.

  9. Phil: I’d be willing to put my name into a global lottery to cull the population back to about 50 million or so, provided everyone else was.

    I don’t think we need to implement anything as extreme as culling. Reducing birth rates dramatically for couple of generations would allow numbers to get down to sustainable levels, and I imagine would be a more palatable solution for most. 8 billion people are more likely to sign up for intelligent and responsible family planning than for a global cull lottery IMO.

  10. Fatman,

    No question, although my reduction could take place this year rather than 60 years from now, and avoid the attendant additional 59 years of species loss, along with assorted problems related to planetary warming. Not that the one year option could actually happen, for many reasons, not least because people would find it unpalatable.

    Genuine question… Do you think there is sufficient time and inclination for humanity to reduce its population through birth control, before events beyond our control do it for us?

  11. What if you turn the question around: how many Auschwitz janitors sum up to one Himmler? Maybe the janitor also deserves to die, but these people aren’t lining up for the firing squad and your ammo is limited. But let’s say you do have enough. By the time you’ve mowed down the SS to a man, how much longer are people going to cheer as you execute increasingly irrelevant menial workers?

  12. Phil: Genuine question… Do you think there is sufficient time and inclination for humanity to reduce its population through birth control, before events beyond our control do it for us?

    That’s a great question. I haven’t seen any numbers to support one answer over another.

    Regarding inclination, I do believe that it exists. Poor and undeveloped countries suffer greatly from exploding population and its attendant evils. There is solid understanding of how/why it is harmful and a genuine desire to make a change. Even better, intelligent family planing requires no technological breakthrough or expensive investment. Where average literacy and basic education (especially among female children) go up, birth rates plummet – as simple as that. Affluent countries have been witnessing this for decades.

    So why aren’t birth control programs more effective? Lack of resources to promote birth control practices in regions where they are most needed is probably the biggest obstacle. Corruption is another – local politicians prefer to divert money into their own pockets, or their pet projects, or require bribes to allow birth control projects to operate. When the economy shits the bed in already impoverished places, wannabe authoritarians tend to promote “having more babies” as part of nationalist agendas as a distraction from the mismanagement that caused the crisis. To top it all off, foreign aid funds coming in from overseas are often under fire from groups who oppose all forms of birth control as baby-killing and angering Magic Sky Daddy.

    As to sufficient time… I don’t know, and at this point I don’t think it really matters. There is no coherent inter-governmental effort to alleviate global warming. Extreme weather catastrophes don’t matter. Humanity doesn’t give a shit about eroding habitats and steadily rising temperatures. In terms of avoiding the cliff, falling birth rates won’t help, and culling won’t either, unless it’s in the billions. We probably can’t avoid loss of human life through runaway climate change 60 years from now, but a smaller population would be better positioned to minimize that loss and survive on whatever resources are available.

    Santiago G.: Maybe the janitor also deserves to die, but these people aren’t lining up for the firing squad and your ammo is limited.

    After every war comes amnesty. It’s impractical and impossible to root out everyone who fought on the losing side, even if the losing cause is inhumane and evil.

  13. Fatman,

    I agree. The cull suggestion was a tongue-in-cheek discussion starter (not because it’s necessarily a bad idea, which would require a discussion of first principles to determine, but because consensus could never be reached on the idea), and the idea of global population control has merit for all the reasons you mention, along with the caveats.

    I can think of one other problem with population control. About 30 years ago I started writing a paper for a grad course where I was gung-ho on the need for global birth control. I ended up stating pretty much what you note, which is that one of the best means of accomplishing this is through a broad-based increase in educational attainment. The other factor was an increased standard of living. The very poor in the cities of many developing nations needed large families to forage for resources, for example. As standard of living increased, family size decreased, with education preceding rising income. My take-aways were simply that education was a good thing, that a straight line toward promoting birth control globally was a non-starter, and that I should stop advocating that everyone limit family size to two or, preferably fewer, kids. Looking back, though, I’m not sure that smaller family sizes resulting from an increased standard of living would reduce environmental impact. The way we generally gauge standard of living is focused on our ability to travel, acquire material possessions, and live with an increasing amount of personal space that is comfortably heated and/or cooled. Education focused directly on reducing population size can be interpreted as a form of soft genocide.

    I’m not arguing that our current approach isn’t a much more entrenched form of annihilation – I certainly believe it is, and am glad I have no skin in the game. But I’m not sure how a global birth control program can be advocated without creating the kind of backlash we see from climate change deniers. I’m sure inroads can be made in that direction, but I’m not sure exactly what form those would best take.

  14. Phil: Looking back, though, I’m not sure that smaller family sizes resulting from an increased standard of living would reduce environmental impact.

    It’s tough to quantify, for sure. The reduction would probably be slow and marginal, but make a difference in the long term. E.g. village gets reliable supply of electricity from a power plant (somewhat carbon-contributing, less if hydro- or wind-based) and stops using hundreds of clunky, inefficient oil-burning generators (extremely carbon-contributing). Or a family of eleven, using heaps of charcoal (not only inefficient and polluting, but also the cause of mass deforestation, with the smoke a health hazard by itself), becomes a family of five that relies on more carbon-neutral alternatives. Or misguided attempts at commercial farming and the resulting destruction of water habitats are avoided through strong regulation and sensible farming techniques.

    None of this will work, as you point out, unless it’s accompanied by significant cultural change, primarily how we define “wealth”. But overpopulation has a negative impact beyond global warming, so it might be easier to convince people to deal with it. At least that’s my hope.

    Phil: Education focused directly on reducing population size can be interpreted as a form of soft genocide.

    Oh, the deniers are way ahead of you on that one. Especially the slimier end of that spectrum.

  15. An activity possibly affecting global warming more than all other human activities combined is modern agriculture. Not livestock specifically, but general practices. There’s a movement in farming towards something called “Regenerative Agriculture” that aims to apply ecological principles to farming, one of the benefits of which is to promote rapid carbon sequestration. It might all be hooey, but if not then it’s an area in which we can very quickly make an enormous impact without culling humans or blowing up oil refineries and coal mines. We use a lot of land for farms.

    A typical modern vegetable farm would till the soil using large tractors, which does a lot of bad things, like destroy roots from previous crops that anchor topsoil, and expose weed seeds and aerobic plant diseases to air, encouraging them to germinate. Nature hates bare soil. Weeds and the diseases promote topsoil formation. This can be thought of as a healing mechanism, like blood platelets. Farmers also plant seeds using a tractor, which cannot deposit seeds close together due to physical limitations. Thus plants are spaced far enough to allow sunlight to reach weeds. Weeding by hand in such a manner requires much effort. In some farms it accounts for eighty percent of the labor. It’s a lot easier to use broad-spectrum herbicides to handle the weeds (such as glyphosate, a.k.a. Round-Up). Except the herbicides affect the crops, so then we need to engineer herbicide-resistant seeds, and the herbicides also kill plant bacteria in the soil that help decomposition. The herbicides also make their way into our food and water, which end up being consumed by humans, and our intestines are full of plant bacteria that produce most of the dopamine (or was it serotonin?) in our bodies.

    A regenerative approach often involves not tilling the soil, and adding compost, as would normally happen without human intervention, as plants die or shed leaves, fall to the ground, and are decomposed by microbes, fungi, and insects. Plants are spaced very close together, usually hand-planted or with simple machinery, which allows greater yield for many types of crops. Weeding isn’t generally an issue and very little time need be spent on it. Harvesting can again be done by hand or with simple machinery. Roots are left in the ground to both anchor the soil and enrich it through decomposition.

    For livestock, a modern industrial farm does the usual horrible stuff: keeps animals cooped up in one place, often indoors, without getting enough exercise or fresh air, often living in their own excrement, pumped full of antibiotics, producing harmfully high concentrations of waste. In other words, they have been taken out of their natural ecological roles and thus all of their ecological benefits become problems, which are handled ways that often cause more problems.

    A regenerative approach to livestock farming often involves intensive rotational pasture grazing using multiple animal species (look up Allan Savory, Joel Salatin, Richard Perkins, et al). For instance, cattle can be rotationally grazed through pasture broken up into multiple paddocks, and are usually moved every day or two. Grass goes into a type of shock after being grazed on, and regrow for a few days. During that time, insects like dung beetles pull manure into the soil and flies lay eggs in the cow pats. They hatch and the maggots go to town. Then chickens are brought in behind the cattle. They eat the maggots and spread the manure around. This method promotes rapid plant growth and allows livestock to be grazed in a fairly small area. It apparently can also be used to combat desertification, which looks to be a growing problem.

    I’ve only touched the surface of this, and my knowledge is very limited, but it was something I’d never considered until recently. I got rid of my car and ride a bicycle instead, buy used when possible, eat local seasonal or at least national, grow some of my food, prepare all my meals, compost my food scraps, keep my thermostat really low in winter and off during the summer, line-dry my clothes, et al, and I tell people but they won’t change, not even when I explain how much money I have from not wasting it all. Knowing and doing are different, old habits die hard, etc. The most environmentally responsible thing I did up until a few years ago was recycle. Why did I change? Maybe if I can trace the history. Maybe it was my job? In abstract, I corrected mistakes or dealt with consequences, which, combined with my desire to actually be good at it, led to an understanding of those consequences and of the system. My initial adaptation was a necessity. A janitor at Amazon might understand that better than most. The people who repair things or clean up messes might have a better understanding of the systems they maintain, including how to break them, but no one pays them any mind.

  16. I’m reminded of an animal rights event (Voice for Animals) I was part of protesting outside a fur coat store in San Antonio, Texas 25 years ago. The store was located on a busy intersection and we were holding our signs and banners on the sidewalk next to the parking lot facing the street. Some cars honked in support, one driver yelled out his window, “People are more important!” and I remember thinking to myself – If people are more important why are there millions starving or dying senselessly?

    I wish I had yelled back, “Soylent Green is made out of people!”

  17. Meh, I feel like this anti-human environmental stance is too cheap. I mean, are you going to be the one leading by example and not having any children, ever?
    The fact of the matter is that we can easily sustain a large population IF we lived cost-effectively. GMO plants and animals could drastically reduce the resource consumption of farming. Using e.g. nuclear power instead of harmful but cheaply available coal could drastically reduce CO2 emissions from energy production etc.
    Hell, we could even eat dead humans to recycle as much nutrients as possible instead of just burying or burning them.
    Note that the environmentalist left-wingers are all strictly against this because of what is essential religious belief.
    The issue is not overpopulation, it’s that humans are sick. There’s a distinct part of the human neural circuitry related to stone age social cohesion that is catastrophically malfunctioning.

  18. Ever read the short story “The People of Sand and Slag” by Paolo Bacigalupi? Deals with the deeply unsettling ways we humans might end up viewing other organisms.

    Thanks for that recommendation. Definitely in the same mold as our gracious host.

  19. Does the fact that 99.999% of humans are unaware of their own pathology elevate it to something else? Nature, perhaps? We’re just inherently shitty, and so, still in need of a good (third-party) culling, but somewhat ethically off the hook?

  20. On the violence against Amazon workers…

    I don’t accept the greater good argument because it conflicts more strongly with another of our ethical/moral calculations, appropriate punishment.

    In the Auschwitz case, the senior commanders got executed, because they had a lot of choice and lot of control. The next levels down got long jail terms, because they had less choice, and so on. By the time the Nuremberg tribunals or equivalents got down to janitors, punishments were much reduced.

    So, let’s get the violence against Amazon employees started. Janitors, truck drivers, computer sysadmins, marketing folk, whoever.

    (And don’t forget the writers who sell their books through Amazon. If we’re beating up janitors for their contribution to the corporate machine, I don’t see why Peter Watts gets excused.)

    Hundreds, maybe thousands, are maimed or killed. Amazon can’t find anyone to work for it, and the corporation crashes, losing 99.9% of its value.

    Jeff Bezos has gone from being a billionaire to … a millionaire.

    He has to sell some of his private jets. Bill Gates snickers in his presence at the golf club. His ego is hurt, really hurt.

    Even if I accepted the means justify the end, that’s not enough.

  21. Cal: Does the fact that 99.999% of humans are unaware of their own pathology elevate it to something else? Nature, perhaps? We’re just inherently shitty, and so, still in need of a good (third-party) culling, but somewhat ethically off the hook?

    You call it pathology, I call it life.

    There isn’t a single animal species that doesn’t behave like that. Or wouldn’t if it could.

  22. I think the humans don’t collapse screaming in pain like the lunhuis but there is an equivalent failure mode.

    I recommend Scott Alexander’s essay on Moloch, understood as the personification of the race to the bottom in all aspects of human endeavour.

  23. Jeff: Ever read the short story “The People of Sand and Slag” by Paolo Bacigalupi?

    I am ashamed to admit that I have only read one Bacigalupi story, “A Full Life”. I was impressed. I hope to read others.

    Nestor: A billion years of intricately evolving ecosystems is pointless if there isn’t someone to appreciate them.

    Why does there have to be a point? Point implies purpose: purpose implies design. That’s Creationist logic.

    I mean, I don’t deny the specific claim. I just reject it’s implication, and by extension, how it relates here.

    Ashley R Pollard: Looking at some articles on maintainable food production I found an assertion that the world can only support about 3.4 billion people with sustainable farming. That as they say is not good. However, there’s little I can do to change human nature, and the history of life on Earth is extinction.

    “Utopia”. The series. Check it out. (It gets better in the second season.)

    Mister_DK: Your response to the question seems to reveal your own bias. You are taking as a given an exploitative power structure that applies coercion, and building from there. The Thatcherite “there is no alternative”…if you think about ways to target the lynchpins of the way things are, that opens up a lot more

    Just to be clear, this post wasn’t intended as an endorsement of the weaponized-yogurt scenario; rather, I was interrogating one response to that scenario, by mulling over community standards on collateral damage and the relative value of Human vs nonhuman life. I agree that there are other ways to target those lynchpins you’re talking about.

    That said, those lynchpins are so set and corroded, so defended by those who want to keep them that way, that I doubt any alternative will do anything beyond nudging the Titanic three degrees to port. Technically it’s progress, but that’s cold comfort if a hairpin turn is what’s required to avert catastrophe. (In fact, depending on what part of the world you’re living in, the only way to do that might involve time travel.)

    R.: Thus, if we believe we ought to care about suffering, the thing to do is end complex biological life on this planet and perhaps even beyond, unless said life is less intrinsically horrible.

    Why, “R”. You’ve read “Kindred”.

    Or more likely, both you and I have read the same stuff from the Human Voluntary Extinction movement.

  24. Phil: I’d be willing to put my name into a global lottery to cull the population back to about 50 million or so, provided everyone else was. If everyone was willing to put their names into the hat, and the lottery went forward, then those with the winning tickets would have shown a genuine commitment to living in greater harmony with the natural world going forward.

    Random lotteries don’t seem very scientific. I’d prefer a height-based cull, with the shortest individuals being culled first. (Short people are energetically less efficient because of their higher surface/volume ratios.)

    Fatman: Reducing birth rates dramatically for couple of generations would allow numbers to get down to sustainable levels,

    Not as much as you might think. Sadly.

    Santiago G.: Maybe the janitor also deserves to die, but … By the time you’ve mowed down the SS to a man, how much longer are people going to cheer as you execute increasingly irrelevant menial workers?

    That’s not the issue. The question is not whether the janitor/Amazonian deserves to die, the question is whether those deaths are justified if they accomplish a greater good. Society generally says collateral damage is okay in wartime, to a point at least, and it’s unavoidable in any case. What I’m asking is whether society comes to the same conclusion when whole species are at stake, as opposed to a few million hominins.

    Fatman: Where average literacy and basic education (especially among female children) go up, birth rates plummet – as simple as that. Affluent countries have been witnessing this for decades.

    Undeniably true; last I checked Africa was the only continent in which birth rates continue to increase. But there are two flies in that ointment: 1) societies with lower birthrates also tend to have lower mortality, counteracting any gain; and 2) “affluent societies” aren’t just better educated, they’re, well, affluent. Which means that our righteously small North American families have carbon footprints an order of magnitude bigger than some poor family in Botswana, no matter how many kids they have.

    (Oh, wait. I see Phil beat me to that point. Sorry.)

    Dale Allen: Some cars honked in support, one driver yelled out his window, “People are more important!”

    That’s a tellingly ignorant quote, given that the issue wasn’t even one of balancing one life against another. There was no “Him or me” moment, no “I must eat this animal to survive”. That asshole wasn’t saying People are more important at all. He was saying Human fashion is more important. Human vanity is more important.

    I hope that person died a slow lingering death from some painful disease. But then again, I hope most people do.

    Tran Script: Meh, I feel like this anti-human environmental stance is too cheap. I mean, are you going to be the one leading by example and not having any children, ever?

    Uh, yeah. Also by never owning a car, and by living in small apartments until I was in my fifties, and by pretty much giving up meat (I still eat seafood occasionally, have a steak maybe once or twice a year). The vasectomy was just the start.

    Of course, I also fly across the Atlantic a few times a year to events where I lecture people on the evils of climate change. But I’m covered on the grounds of “not having any children, ever”. In relative terms, my overseas flights rack up a carbon debt the size of a marble. The child I never sired nets me carbon savings the size of a fucking basketball. (Two basketballs, if you compare me to your typical dual-larval family).

    The fact of the matter is that we can easily sustain a large population IF we lived cost-effectively. GMO plants and animals could drastically reduce the resource consumption of farming.

    I’ve seen similar assertions in the past. I haven’t seen numbers to back them up. As far as I know, GMO animals don’t eat less or shit less than any other kind; I don’t see any resource-consumption reduction from anything short of vat-grown meat or swearing off the stuff entirely. Although I suppose I’d give a bronze medal to the folks who gengineered cow gut microflora for reduced methane production.

    Cal:
    Does the fact that 99.999% of humans are unaware of their own pathology elevate it to something else? Nature, perhaps? We’re just inherently shitty, and so, still in need of a good (third-party) culling, but somewhat ethically off the hook?

    Yeah, that’s a good point. Nature has no foresight, and has wired us for denial and delusional optimism (despite what the so-called Hopepunks might tell you). When you strip away all the chrome and circuitry, we behave pretty much like any other beast in the field: maximize the now, ignore the future.

    But that’s kind of what I’m saying: we’re smarter, we’ve got a vastly disproportionate impact, but we’re not really all that different. We’re not that special. If we as a species would admit that we’re just another mammal, doing what mammals do— well, it wouldn’t make our actions any less destructive, but maybe I wouldn’t hate us quite so much. But no. We’re created in the image of God. We’re not fighting over resources, we’re “spreading democracy”. We’re not protecting our genetic investment, we’re “following God’s laws” when we stone adulterers and commit honor killings and kill our step- and foster children way out of proportion to the rate at which we kill our own.

    That kind of fucking hypocrisy drives me up the wall. The moment you call yourselves ethically superior, then you’re damn well ethically culpable. By your own rules.

    Hugh: Hundreds, maybe thousands, are maimed or killed. Amazon can’t find anyone to work for it, and the corporation crashes, losing 99.9% of its value.

    Jeff Bezos has gone from being a billionaire to … a millionaire.

    He has to sell some of his private jets. Bill Gates snickers in his presence at the golf club. His ego is hurt, really hurt.

    Even if I accepted the means justify the end, that’s not enough.

    Again, you’re missing the point (see my response to Santiago, above). The point is not to impoverish Jeff Bezos (although I certainly wouldn’t object to that). The point is not to punish the Amazon workers. The point— the question, really— is, do we extend our societal acceptance of collateral damage in contexts when species other than our own are at stake? Is it okay to use the same calculus when saving literally thousands of other species that we use to save a fraction of a percent of our own?

  25. Peter Watts,

    The Amazon thing is something I wrote while thinking about my response to the question. Here goes with the real point…

    My answer is yes. Some of us are starting to value non-human life sufficiently to accept human deaths as collateral / cost of preserving another species.

    Example: google for “Kenyan Park Rangers” and look at the images. They’re carrying fully automatic asault rifles, far more firepower than needed to defend yourself against an angry leopard or lion. They can and have killed fellow human beings to defend the last few rhinos in Africa. That’s the policy of the government of Kenya.

    Example: 1st Gulf War, 1991. The Iraqis started pumping massive amounts of oil into the sea. The UN Coalition spent resources and risked lives to bomb the pump control station, ending the spill.

    Now, it’s not clear that the Iraqis meant this solely to cause environmental damage. Nor is it clear that the bombing actually worked. Still, at the time, not in hindsight, the environmental case was being used by both sides. Military action is necessary because the Iraqis have demonstrated they’ll destroy the environment. No, military action should be avoided, let the Iraqis do what they like to the Kuwaitis, because the environmental danger from an invasion is too great. Human lives were being balanced against environmental costs.

    Example: US Navy ultra low frequency sonar. ULF sonar is very effective and very long ranged, giving US submarines an advantage in warfare over others. But it also uses the same frequencies as whales and dolphins, and implicated in mass strandings. So under the Maritime Protection Act environmentalists forced the US Navy to stop using ULF sonar. Animal life over risk to humans.

    So I say yes, although baby steps. But we are making progress.

    Looking to the future, I doubt that “save a species to prevent a genocide” will be the common choice. I think it’s far more likely we’ll be asking whether to commit genocide to save another species.

  26. Peter Watts,

    >Why does there have to be a point? Point implies purpose: purpose implies design. That’s Creationist logic.

    Quite the opposite, I’m a rat in the dreamtime (To borrow Scott Alexander’s terminology) – I have the luxury of doing things besides survive: sport, art, entertainment… conservationism? But give me a motive to lay my life down for nature. To quote my dearly departed nana:
    Attenborough: “There are less than 1000 tigers in the Indian subcontinent
    Gran: “Why do we need so many tigers?”

    I like tigers, hell I even like mosquitoes, they’re cool, but it sounds like you want me to sacrifice myself for the malaria plasmodium. I mean, if we are not allowed to do it for utility, aesthetics or survival, or to end suffering (Speaking of which – I too would double down on the voluntary extinctionists – if suffering is the problem, then we should take down the whole biosphere with us, go full Harkonnen!).

    The point is, what is the point? Greta Thunberg is telling us “We’re all going to die”, you are too, but you don’t think that in particular is a bad thing. Why does Peter Watts want to preserve the ecosystem? Because it keeps us alive? Because it’s beautiful? Because he spent years getting a ph.D studying the wet bits of it? Ascribing value to it is insulting because value is a human concept. Ok, so it has no value, no function, it just is.

    So why should I care?

    If you take a sufficiently Olympian view, we’re part of the ecosystem. There have been mass extinctions before, some even biologically mediated, we’re just the latest example, like an algal bloom choking out the oxygen from the water.

  27. R.,

    It’s pathology when combined with moral superiority as is my understanding of Peter’s use of the word. We’re just beasts wallowing in our own excrement but we think we’re better than beasts, and masters of them, and so we use them to all ends, no matter how cruel. Ah but nature doesn’t care about cruelty either. The only moral code in nature is to survive (long enough to reproduce, and not much longer).

    Which is my answer to Nestor:
    So why should I care?

    It doesn’t mater if you do, but something in the DNA of most of your species does want to survive, and if we’re all going to die, that’s entirely unsatisfactory to your true masters. It’s easy to have sang froid in a natural gas-powered house with a full belly, but when the gut flora pandemic reduces everything to a state of nature, you’ll be bashing in heads with the rest of us, or you won’t, and your line will cease (unless your descendants continue to bash). If you’re a parent, on average, you’ll bash harder and longer than if you don’t have any (genetic) skin in the game. So, most people do care, at least about their local group.

    If you’re already past the point of reproduction, then to nature, it’s the same difference. To an individual human, I guess it’s just an aesthetic choice. I would prefer to cull 9/10 of y’all than to lose the last breeding pair of tigers. However I think it should be the tall ones first as you use in absolute terms more per capita energy even if it is expended more efficiently. It will also leave more room for charismatic megafauna.

    However I wonder, and feel free to steal this idea, anyone. I wonder if it will be more than an aesthetic choice for nature. Why bring in this highly disruptive (in the sense of extinctions but also in the sense of genetic dice-rolling experimentation) creature only to go back to the old ways of doing business? What if the real ‘purpose’ (more like, side-effect) of human existence is a stepping-stone to something new and more interesting? Not just AI or GMO microbes, but enduring and rapid genetic dice-rolling, something much faster than baseline evolution. Something that allows a new proliferation of ‘species’ (or some loose correlate) on a canvas conveniently blanked by us truly?

    We’re almost guaranteed to get it, considering that whatever crawls out of the ooze after WW3/gut-flora end-times is going to be one tough (and possibly smarter) sumbitch but also we might get something entirely unexpected, a hybrid of human and natural efforts.

    I know that this is anthropic principle daydreaming but it’s worked out for us so far, and it’s a comforting thought (that killing everything wasn’t entirely pointless) at the end of the anthropocene.

  28. Peter Watts: Uh, yeah. Also by never owning a car, and by living in small apartments until I was in my fifties, and by pretty much giving up meat (I still eat seafood occasionally, have a steak maybe once or twice a year). The vasectomy was just the start.

    Fuck I had no idea, I’m sorry to hear that. Can’t genuinely imagine not wanting/being able to propagate your own bloodline. Who knows, maybe your children would’ve grown up to become the draconian dictators that humanity needs…

    Peter Watts: I don’t see any resource-consumption reduction from anything short of vat-grown meat or swearing off the stuff entirely

    I’m up for anything vat-grown to be quite honest. Vat-grown meat would be fucking sweet.

    Anyway, I still stand by my point that we could live a lot more cost effectively since the majority of CO2 emissions come from the burning of fossil fuels, which we more or less already have the technology to phase out.

  29. Apparently the compensation for being eaten by a tiger is a million rupees, about $14k? I have to say I would not take my mom being eaten by a tiger with equanimity. Those $14k ought to buy a couple of AK47s and sufficient ammo to make amends.

    It seems our esteemed host dislikes the hypocrisy, personally, I try to own by biases and scope insensitivity, like I said before, I don’t fear tigers so I feel free to like them aesthetically. I would likely not feel the same if I’d had to climb a tree like those poor unfortunates in this article.

    I don’t think human societies as a whole can be hypocritical though, it’s why I posted the Scott Alexander link, we fall into involuntary constraints that lead us against our chosen values and it takes an heroic effort or an abundance of resources to let us make the optimal choices.

    I too have no children and probably won’t have descendants, I try to avoid harming animals directly and am keeping a fairly low carbon footprint (I did just come back from Australia, but I’m going to keep my flying to a minimum from now on) but I don’t claim my life choices are motivated by any sort of principled stance, it just shook out that way (Anyway there’s no free will is there?) so I don’t feel entitled to castigate people because they’re doing the same as everyone else.

  30. Tran Script, you wrote, “I still stand by my point that we could live a lot more cost effectively since the majority of CO2 emissions come from the burning of fossil fuels, which we more or less already have the technology to phase out.”

    Fossil fuels are problematic, true, but animal waste from meat-producing industries is far more problematic, CO2-wise, than fossil fuels. Eating plant-based (as I do, but don’t worry – I’m not a recruiter) reduces the amount of farmland acreage needed to produce a pound of meat by 90 percent. Thus the (mega) tons of animal waste dumped into oceans every day around the word is reduced on a personal level by that same number. Not having children and eating vegan are the two biggest things anyone can do to make any kind of difference.

    But I honestly doubt it’ll matter. Fossil fuels will keep burning because the economic machine controlling those industries wants to make money and people love their cars.Hyperbolic reasoning kills all long term goals, thus short-term over long-term thinking wins out. It’s how humans operate.

    The bigger question is, how will we adapt? Will we even be able to? And in seventy years, will we even be human anymore?

  31. Why, “R”. You’ve read “Kindred”.

    Or more likely, both you and I have read the same stuff from the Human Voluntary Extinction movement.

    Drawing a blank here on both accounts. Voluntary extinction movement are useless idiots. Kindred? I don’t read environmental literature, it makes me want to do things to environmentalists. I have no use for new age religions.

    I believe I was mostly inspired here by a few ideas I got from JBP’s lectures, then the worst technothriller ever by you know who (not gonna name that shut that book is legit infohazard) and probably also this blog, a little.

  32. Jeff: Fossil fuels are problematic, true, but animal waste from meat-producing industries is far more problematic, CO2-wise, than fossil fuels. Eating

    You fucked up exponents somewhere. The alternative is left unstated.

  33. Peter Watts: Random lotteries don’t seem very scientific. I’d prefer a height-based cull, with the shortest individuals being culled first. (Short people are energetically less efficient because of their higher surface/volume ratios.)

    I like the elegance of this suggestion. All you need is to sequester the 50 million tallest people on Earth while culling the rest. I was initially troubled that the moral component implicit in my suggestion is missing here: Would these energy efficient humans be motivated to educate their offspring in the importance of population control? Then I saw the light: The 50 million tallest humans on Earth are likely to be men. Within one generation there would be no one who would need educating.

  34. What’s left unstated? Do you mean the numbers for animal waste contributing to worldwide CO2 production?

    https://academic.oup.com/af/article/9/1/69/5173494

    From Oxford University, January, 2020. Offers some peer-reviews numbers if you’re looking.

  35. Sorry — that paper was actually published in November, 2018.

  36. Jeff:
    Sorry — that paper was actually published in November, 2018.

    I’d have to be literally drunk & retarded to even entertain the idea that the ratio of co2 from fossil fuel use for everything and meat-production is lower than fifty. More likely a hundred+.

    You do realize we are mining & burning appreciable fractions of animal, plant derived carbon deposits formed over hundreds of millions of years?

  37. Fatman: Reducing birth rates dramatically for couple of generations would allow numbers to get down to sustainable levels, and I imagine would be a more palatable solution for most.

    By current estimations, there will be no need even for that – birth rates are declining steadily all over the world, and even in Africa, and there are projections that by 2100 the growth of population will be all but halted, at about 12 or so billions. Even though it seems like a large number, it really isn’t, not even twice as big as today. The demographic transition is going to do most of the job.

    The real problems are going to be more substantial, and it is about the financial stability, especially as amount of people of advanced age is going to increase substantially. And if all the emancipation movements, “green” revolutions and so on are going to drive down the birth rates even further, well, the population in “developed” world is going to go through the floor. They are going to get bankrupt. There are already several countries that are diving down due to the same problems, and surely migrants are not going to solve that one problem (not without creating a cascade of others).

    https://www.americansecurityproject.org/demographic-decline-a-tangible-threat-to-the-baltic-states/
    Naturally, the “threats” to these countries are only viewed through the interests of US and as long as they are concerned – after all, these countries have always been viewed as a transient administrations for the US military base backyards, who need a large population for those? But it is still a major threat that is going to be noticeable in places where the death cults of Mother Nature are going to be more prominent.

    Santiago G.: What if you turn the question around: how many Auschwitz janitors sum up to one Himmler?

    None whatsoever. By superior ruling of supreme leaders of Better World, Just Following Orders can be a reliable defence in the same manner as “the bullets kill them, I am just pulling the trigger”. And it will be, if it yields the desirable result.
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Superior_orders
    People might argue that everything changed since 1940s. It really did not. As we speak it goes back to square one.

  38. Jeff: Fossil fuels are problematic, true, but animal waste from meat-producing industries is far more problematic, CO2-wise, than fossil fuels.

    But it’s like, not.
    I mean, just cursorily googling it (e.g. the pie chart on this website https://www.epa.gov/ghgemissions/sources-greenhouse-gas-emissions ) shows that by far and large fossil fuels are the major driver of CO2 emissions.
    You better not be driving a gas powered car because otherwise the noble sacrifice you’ve made by abstaining from chicken tendies will be in vain.

    Peter Watts: (Short people are energetically less efficient because of their higher surface/volume ratios.)

    This is false. Tall people should be killed first because they will die from overheating anyway due to their lower surface/volume ratios trapping more heat in a warming world.
    Also, while we’re at it, can we also kill off megafauna like elephants, dolphins, primates etc. just to make sure none of them ever evolve to be smart enough to start mining coal?
    Maybe we should just kill the whole fucking world and leave only plants and micro-organisms. A true eden with no suffering.

  39. Tran Script: Meh, I feel like this anti-human environmental stance is too cheap. I mean, are you going to be the one leading by example and not having any children, ever?

    Yes.

    It’s not even a matter of principles, or concerns about the contribution of little carbon bombs to climate change. More and more people are not having kids because they have better things to do with their time and/or don’t see the point. Kids are no longer useful as free labor, or a source of income, or financial security in old age.

    Tran Script: The fact of the matter is that we can easily sustain a large population IF we lived cost-effectively.

    “Large population” is meaningless. Our current population is “large”. 20 billion would be “large”, as would 5 billion. “Cost-effectively” is likewise meaningless without someone actually crunching the numbers. It’s like saying “stuff could be much better for everyone if we just got along”.

    Peter Watts: Not as much as you might think. Sadly.

    Agree with the numbers, and the fact that the cliff edge we’re approaching cannot be avoided. I do, however, believe that fewer people would be better positioned to survive on whatever remains available after SHTF. I don’t see any downsides to it, in any case.

    listedproxyname: Even though it seems like a large number, it really isn’t, not even twice as big as today.

    It’s a huge number, especially considering that whoever is alive in 2100 probably won’t even have the resources available today at their disposal.

    listedproxyname: There are already several countries that are diving down due to the same problems, and surely migrants are not going to solve that one problem (not without creating a cascade of others).

    As discussed before, populist bandits and their troglodyte supporters are not offering a solution by repressing emancipation movements, environmentalists, etc. The reason why populations in their fiefdoms are free-falling is because their thieving, gross mismanagement and abuse have eroded people’s trust in a better future, making it less attractive to reproduce.

    But that line of theorizing isn’t particularly useful. Ultimately, it comes down to the aging population factor, as you point out.

    In a few decades’ time, even the most entrenched bastions of reactionary primitivism are going to see huge influxes of immigrant populations. Liberal or neo-fascist, pro- or anti-immigrant, decrepit palefaces around the world will eventually need someone to wipe their behinds and cram mushy oatmeal down their throats. That someone will most likely be coming from a faraway land with a burgeoning young population.

    Speaking as an aspiring decrepit paleface, I, for one, can’t wait.

  40. Fatman: In a few decades’ time, even the most entrenched bastions of reactionary primitivism are going to see huge influxes of immigrant populations. Liberal or neo-fascist, pro- or anti-immigrant, decrepit palefaces around the world will eventually need someone to wipe their behinds and cram mushy oatmeal down their throats. That someone will most likely be coming from a faraway land with a burgeoning young population.

    Sure, sure buddy.

    Look at Israel. Their birthrate is okay. Even birthrates for university educated atheist women are just slightly below replacement.

    The trick to having a reasonable birthrate is enough threat projection from your neighbors to keep the people sane. Absent psychotic control of female reproductive function. I believe the name for the illegal border fence jumpers is ‘infiltrators’ and they bribed Rwanda to take those who aren’t desired by their countries of origin.

    On the other hand, in a few decades Japanese&Chinese will probably come up with sophisticated neural implants so even an influx of migrants from places where time preference & impulse control are not well developed due won’t be the unmitigated disaster it is at the present.

    Fatman: Kids are no longer useful as free labor, or a source of income, or financial security in old age.

    Make sure to not look at population projections for sub-saharan Africa. Or India.

  41. R.: Look at Israel. Their birthrate is okay. Even birthrates for university educated atheist women are just slightly below replacement.

    Not a major destination for immigrants. Plenty of actually desirable countries to immigrate to with birth rates below replacement. Your point?

    R.: The trick to having a reasonable birthrate is enough threat projection from your neighbors to keep the people sane.

    Threat projection from neighbors to drive birth rates downward? Haven’t heard that one before. Could be worthwhile. Links?

    R.: Make sure to not look at population projections for sub-saharan Africa. Or India.

    Trending downwards, with the vast majority of the population below 35 years of age and rarin’ to go (overseas)? Not that your response has anything to do with my comment, but hey.

  42. Tran Script: This is false. Tall people should be killed first because they will die from overheating anyway due to their lower surface/volume ratios trapping more heat in a warming world.
    Also, while we’re at it, can we also kill off megafauna like elephants, dolphins, primates etc. just to make sure none of them ever evolve to be smart enough to start mining coal?
    Maybe we should just kill the whole fucking world and leave only plants and micro-organisms. A true eden with no suffering.

    Except for problems around gaining consensus, your idea to leave only the 50 million shortest people is the simplest, as it would result in 50 million infants. We wouldn’t even have to wait a generation before humans died out, unless the wolves stepped up like they have in the past.

    I think we can leave the megafauna alone. No point prejudging species that haven’t even shown the ability to use complex tools, let alone a proclivity to do so.

    For a true eden with no suffering, I’d have to join in recommending “The People of Sand and Slag” mentioned above. It’s a truly heartwarming read.

  43. To those being dismissive — without any actual evidence — to the effect of animal waste on worldwide CO2 production and environmental destruction, get a grip. I eat plant-based not to make a political statement, but because I enjoy the taste, the high number of different protein-sources available (as opposed to meat, which is usually three or four), and the health benefits.

    The fact I’m doing more than any meat consumer to aid the future of our living environment is just a bonus I don’t think about. Ever, really. Unlike many vegans, who can be pushy, I know. I’m not that guy.

    Peter wrote, “It’s Human Nature to prioritize our own interests over others’, a bias that comes standard in virtually every organism on the planet (consciously or otherwise).” Yep.

  44. Phil: I’d be willing to put my name into a global lottery to cull the population back to about 50 million or so

    You’re already enrolled; the Doomsday Clock is at 100 seconds and we have several ‘leaders’ that have itchy trigger fingers.

  45. Fatman: Threat projection from neighbors to drive birth rates downward? Haven’t heard that one before. Could be worthwhile. Links?

    No, upwards.

    Look up thrive/survive theory of politics. Thinking about death makes people more anxious to reproduce and keeps politics more sane, e.g. more right wing. Concerned with basic stuff like border security, law enforcement, budgets, suppressing subversion, etc.

    USA is pathological, so take a look at say, Austria. They banned Turkish funding of Mosques & Imams, instituted state oversight of imam education, expelled the worst offenders, all to the massive squealing from Turkey about ‘repression’. Because we really want Erdogan’s clerics over here preaching to the faithful.

    Why do you think Israel is the most right wing democratic country at the moment? The threat of death is keeping them grounded in reality.

    Fatman: Trending downwards, with the vast majority of the population below 35 years of age and rarin’ to go (overseas)? Not that your response has anything to do with my comment, but hey.

    1) trending downward extremely slightly. Africa is expected to have double its present population by 2050. Per capita economic growth is very low, sometimes negative. Also, say goodbye to elephants and such.

    2) the human capital there is worse than useless for purposes of modern industrial societies. You can look this up. Danish treasury ran the numbers, and non-white immigrants were a net negative, albeit slight. The reasons are manifold but basically it boils down to insufficient mental acuity. Being born dim, that’s not a moral failing, by the way. This is:

    https://money.cnn.com/2018/02/27/investing/wells-fargo-sacramento-lawsuit-discriminatory-lending/index.html

    In Britain, Somalis are the least employed group
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Somalis_in_the_United_Kingdom#Employment

    They’re more representative of what the West could expect from Africans than say, Nigerians, whose small middle class is running way.

    3) barring a miracle, there’s no solution but what the Israelis are doing: heavy policing, expelling and so on.

    4) yeah, ‘rarin’. We’d be foolish to accept them – look at America, what happened there. It’s pretty grim.

  46. GM,
    I suggest the Pareto principle, a.k.a. the 80–20 rule.

    BTW, why are you using my initials?

  47. Carbonman: You’re already enrolled; the Doomsday Clock is at 100 seconds and we have several ‘leaders’ that have itchy trigger fingers.

    If the rest of what FAS does is so blatantly disconnected from reality as that clock..

    They put it higher bc of Soleimani than it ever was at the height of Cold War nuclear standoff. It’s closer to midnight than during the Cuban Missile crisis. A regional war there would be of no account.

    What people ought to worry about is US not ceding its dominance in world affairs to China gracefully. They don’t have a gnat’s chance against China in a regional conflict, and if they’re sore losers the whole thing could go really bad once they don’t have ‘freedom of navigation’ of warships in south China sea.

    Trying to imagine the drama and hysterics if People’s Liberation Army Navy sailed a carrier battlegroup off the coast of Texas to assure say, Cuba, of PRC’s support for their independence. You know, the way US regularly does for Taiwan.

    But, living in a rural community in a temperate region where you can grow potatoes, preferably one with heavily armed neighbors who like you is probably a good idea anyway.

  48. Carbonman: You’re already enrolled; the Doomsday Clock is at 100 seconds and we have several ‘leaders’ that have itchy trigger fingers.

    True, albeit with the difference that it’s not voluntary, and it drags in every other species on the planet. The point of the voluntary lottery would be to avoid scenarios like this.

  49. R.: Thinking about death makes people more anxious to reproduce and keeps politics more sane, e.g. more right wing.

    The alleged right-wing upswing in European politics is something of a mirage. People still vote stolidly middle-of-the-road. Witness how the neo-Nazi scene in Austria imploded (at least its political wing), and who the conservatives are in coalition now.

    You can win elections by appealing to human trash, but it’s really, really hard to keep said trash under sufficient control to ensure long-term stability and growth, which is all that people care about. Anti-immigrant sentiment makes for good speeches, but racism ain’t never bought anyone a loaf of bread at the shop.

    Old uneducated peasants who currently form the bulk of right-wing voters (speaking of diminished intellectual acuity) in most European democracies won’t be around for much longer. There is no younger generation growing up to replace them. The diminishing ranks of youth are either educated urban-dwellers, or shut-in NEETs living in their parents’ basements, addicted to hentai and posting angry anti-immigrant diatribes online. The former trend toward tolerance and having fewer kids, the latter, by definition, have zero impact on the reproductive rate.

    So we’re back to what I wrote initially. It’ll boil down to a bunch of decrepit palefaces relying on immigrants for sheer survival. Looks more and more likely with each passing year. Maybe I’ll even get to see some of it myself.

    R.: The reasons are manifold but basically it boils down to insufficient mental acuity. Being born dim, that’s not a moral failing, by the way.

    Nonsense. America became a global power on the backs of the absolute dregs of the European genetic barrel. “Mental acuity” has nothing to do with genetics or race, and even if it did, I would imagine the average Central African being several paces ahead of the average 1800s/early 1900s Central European.

    R.: 4) yeah, ‘rarin’. We’d be foolish to accept them – look at America, what happened there. It’s pretty grim.

    That’s cute. Still assuming you have a say in the matter.

    Hey, America isn’t perfect, but at least we have a reasonably high living standard, solid job markets and our workforce will still be around for the next 50-60 years, generously supporting me well into retirement.

    R.: Why do you think Israel is the most right wing democratic country at the moment? The threat of death is keeping them grounded in reality.

    Considering the Israeli government’s general attitude toward child-murder and human rights, I’d say the immigrants are getting off lightly.

  50. Phil: True, albeit with the difference that it’s not voluntary, and it drags in every other species on the planet. The point of the voluntary lottery would be to avoid scenarios like this.

    A solid thermonuclear war followed by societal collapse through loss of supply chains and order would be extremely beneficial to wild nature.

    There was even an Finnish ecologist who called on UNSC to start a body that would be tasked with NBC attacks on large cities.

  51. R.: Thinking about death makes people more anxious to reproduce and keeps politics more sane, e.g. more right wing.

    Not really. What you get with right-wing populism is the dumbest, least productive parts of society railing against economic progress and trying to prevent the introduction of migrants who could keep the economy going. Basically people who are most reliant on the left-wing welfare state and government subsidies, doing their best to tear down the very system keeping them alive.

    Old uneducated peasants who currently form the bulk of right-wing voters in most European democracies won’t be around for much longer. Young right-wingers tend to mostly be shut-in NEETs living in their parents’ basements, addicted to hentai and the posting of angry anti-immigrant diatribes online. The former don’t matter, the latter have zero impact on the reproductive rate.

    So we’re back to what I wrote initially. It’ll boil down to a bunch of decrepit palefaces relying on immigrants for sheer survival. Looks more and more likely with each passing year. Maybe I’ll even get to see some of it myself.

    R.: They banned Turkish funding of Mosques & Imams, instituted state oversight of imam education, expelled the worst offenders, all to the massive squealing from Turkey about ‘repression’.

    Right-wingers repressing other right-wingers by any means necessary is A-O-K in my book.

    R.: The reasons are manifold but basically it boils down to insufficient mental acuity. Being born dim, that’s not a moral failing, by the way.

    Nonsense.

    “Westerners” who oppose immigration the loudest share the exact same traits. Insufficient mental acuity, lack of education and/or marketable skills, less than useless to modern industrial societies. They should be the ones showing solidarity toward the disadvantaged, not calling for them to be expelled.

    Besides, America was built on the backs of the dregs of the European genetic barrel, and went on to substantially surpass every single one of its new citizens’ countries of origin and become a global superpower. The average Central African of today is far more capable of fitting into a modern industrial society than the average Central European from the 1800s / early 1900s.

    R.: 4) yeah, ‘rarin’. We’d be foolish to accept them – look at America, what happened there. It’s pretty grim.

    Come on now. Don’t buy into propaganda spread by angry losers. There are many things wrong with America, but none of them can be blamed specifically on immigration (unless you want to go back to the 1600s or so). Grim or not, life here is still substantially better in every conceivable way to life in any of the right-wing, immigration-restrictive countries.

    R.: Why do you think Israel is the most right wing democratic country at the moment? The threat of death is keeping them grounded in reality.

    Considering the Israeli government’s attitude toward child-murder, genocide and human rights in general, I’d say the immigrants are getting off lightly.

  52. Hugh: My answer is yes. Some of us are starting to value non-human life sufficiently to accept human deaths as collateral / cost of preserving another species.

    Okay. Some heartening (if sparse) examples there, I admit.

    Nestor: Gran: “Why do we need so many tigers?”

    I hope you replied with “Gran, why do we need so many people?” (Make it “old people” for extra points.”

    Nestor: it sounds like you want me to sacrifice myself for the malaria plasmodium.

    Not quite. I’m asking if we have a relevant exchange rate, and if so, what that might be. Asking you to sacrifice yourself for Plasmodium would imply an affirmative to the first question, and a hard value for the second. I’m still playing around with the construction of the equation: you’re complaining about what that equation would spit out if you fed specific parameters into it.

    Nestor: if suffering is the problem, then we should take down the whole biosphere with us, go full Harkonnen!

    I think the antinatalists would argue that on two fronts: 1) sapience implies a degree of existential suffering unknowable to most species, and that’s what they’re really on about, and 2) the V before “Extinction” strands for “Voluntary”. They’re in favor of choosing self-extinction, not imposing it on beings who might have other views.

    I don’t think you have to worry about the antinatalists gunning you down in the street to minimize your suffering.

    Nestor: So why should I care?

    There is no should. You care about your own genes because past organisms who didn’t left fewer behind and got weeded out: we can take the information-persistence drive as axiomatic. As a sentient being, you appreciate productive fractal environments because they’re historically associated with reproductive success (lotsa niches, stability, resources, places to hide); as an intelligent being capable of foresight, you value the persistence of such environments because you recognize them as beneficial to the persistence of your own code. If you’re like me, one of the side effects of this is that you begin to value such systems for their own intrinsic sake.

    These are all positions that ultimately track back to the axiomatic survival urge, and that just is; as St. Herbert pointed out, all proofs ultimately rest upon assumptions which have no proofs. There is no meaning, except that which we make for ourselves.

    I find meaning in complexity. We live in a universe which is degrading, entropically. Everything is falling apart unto heat death. In such a universe, increasing complexity is rare; complexity also increases the lifespan of existence itself, by forcing the firehose of entropy through a shitload of capillary tubes and thus slowing it down a bit. Any little backwater eddy, any little knot of existence that manages to buck the trend and grow more complex over time, is something to be treasured. This allows me to be fond of pigeon brains but still value them less than (more complex) human ones; it allows me to value a network of species over a single node in that network.

    There’s no reason why you should care, about my own perspective, about any perspective at all. So go ahead: stop caring. Empty your mind of any priority save that which can be derived inevitably from first principles.

    I dare you.

  53. Tran Script: Fuck I had no idea, I’m sorry to hear that.

    Don’t be. No one forced those choices on me: I made them myself, and I’ve never regretted them.

    (Although I’ll admit that my own decision to never have a family might have been at least partly informed by gut-level disgust at how fucked-up my parents’ efforts in that regard turned out.)

    Nestor: I have to say I would not take my mom being eaten by a tiger with equanimity.

    I would not be able to say the same about my own mother.

    R.: Drawing a blank here on both accounts. Voluntary extinction movement are useless idiots.

    Hey, don’t knock it ’til you’ve tried it.

    Kindred?

    That’s actually a story I wrote. Came out last year.

    I don’t read environmental literature, it makes me want to do things to environmentalists.

    I take it “listening to them” isn’t one of those things.

    But seriously, if you hate environmentalists so much, what are you doing here? Have you read, like, anything I’ve ever written?

    Phil: The 50 million tallest humans on Earth are likely to be men. Within one generation there would be no one who would need educating.

    On second thought, maybe we’d need to stratify that sample…

    Tran Script: Tall people should be killed first because they will die from overheating anyway due to their lower surface/volume ratios trapping more heat in a warming world.

    Then why waste valuable effort/energy killing them, if they’re going to die on their own anyway?

    Also, while we’re at it, can we also kill off megafauna like elephants, dolphins, primates etc. just to make sure none of them ever evolve to be smart enough to start mining coal?

    That’s assuming there’s going to be any coal left to mine by the time we’re through.

  54. Fatman: R.: The trick to having a reasonable birthrate is enough threat projection from your neighbors to keep the people sane.

    Threat projection from neighbors to drive birth rates downward? Haven’t heard that one before. Could be worthwhile. Links?

    I too would be interested in links. I can’t speak to our species in particular, but in general species living in dangerous environments tend to have higher reproductive rates to keep up with the elevated mortality. And after all, isn’t that the whole basis of the “make them more affluent, give them more control and birth rates will drop” argument?

    R.: basically it boils down to insufficient mental acuity. Being born dim, that’s not a moral failing, by the way. This is:

    https://money.cnn.com/2018/02/27/investing/wells-fargo-sacramento-lawsuit-discriminatory-lending/index.html

    I don’t think that story says what you think it says.

    It contains no evidence, nor any assertion, that certain ethnotypes are being targeted for exploitation because they’re “born dim”. The only causal factor even mentioned is the language barrier. I’d also suspect simple ignorance on the part of the targets (if I moved to Germany I bet my knowledge of the local real-estate landscape would be well below average), and bias on the part of the predators (who, believing Mexicans to be Born Dim, preferentially target them for more usurious rates even though us white folks might be every bit as susceptible if they bothered to target us).

    Are you other arguments equally well-founded?

    R.: Trying to imagine the drama and hysterics if People’s Liberation Army Navy sailed a carrier battlegroup off the coast of Texas to assure say, Cuba, of PRC’s support for their independence. You know, the way US regularly does for Taiwan.

    I, for one, would love to see that happen.

  55. Peter Watts: and bias on the part of the predators (who, believing Mexicans to be Born Dim, preferentially target them for more usurious rates even though us white folks might be every bit as susceptible if they bothered to target us).

    “Might be”?

    People of all ethnic, racial and economic backgrounds are equally susceptible to predatory lending practices. For evidence, look no further than the housing crisis of 2008. America was hit the hardest, but they didn’t fare much better in Europe.

  56. Peter Watts: I find meaning in complexity. We live in a universe which is degrading, entropically. Everything is falling apart unto heat death. In such a universe, increasing complexity is rare;

    I mean, how do you define complexity? Like, sure there’s an extreme complexity in living organisms, from the level of molecules to cells to whole organisms to ecosystems etc., but pretty sure there’s also like complexity in like, the sun.

    Peter Watts: complexity also increases the lifespan of existence itself, by forcing the firehose of entropy through a shitload of capillary tubes and thus slowing it down a bit

    I think it’s the opposite. Complexity needs to process large amounts of energy to sustain itself, thus increasing the entropy of the universe even faster. It’s probably why life even exists to begin with; i.e. it’s very entropically favorable and increasing entropy is God’s favorite pastime.

  57. Fatman: As discussed before, populist bandits and their troglodyte supporters are not offering a solution by repressing emancipation movements, environmentalists, etc. The reason why populations in their fiefdoms are free-falling is because their thieving, gross mismanagement and abuse have eroded people’s trust in a better future, making it less attractive to reproduce.

    Well, they offer temporary solution for people who want to continue live as if nothing happened. They offer to people a belief that if they wait a bit longer, there will be a random magical chance for someone to come and save them – give them a better life standards or something. But what actually happens as by modern political system is the major scandal, a wave of protest and replacement of some officials – everything else stays on the same course. The cycle is complete.

    Fatman: The alleged right-wing upswing in European politics is something of a mirage. People still vote stolidly middle-of-the-road. Witness how the neo-Nazi scene in Austria imploded (at least its political wing), and who the conservatives are in coalition now.

    Or so the EU bureaucracy wants you to believe. Many people probably don’t notice it too much, but with UK decoupling Europe has moved one step closer to being 4th (or rather, 5th) Reich, because economic and national background here did not really change that much over the last century despite huge cataclysms and wars. This is the lesson to the future generations – liberals don’t learn from history. They did not learn from WWI, and they have all the intention to completely forget about the Second War as well. It is better than to admit its own failings.

    This is the result of mismanagement, that is not really affiliated with any particular movement – everybody wants to blame the other side. Eventually they will find some 3rd party to blame everything on it and then they will agree how to better use their resources to burn, kill and plunder. The signs are very bright and appalling but people refuse use their own eyes and prefer to stick to the imaginary problems which will be forgotten the instant the opportunity will be presented. Like some sunspots science before the war breakout, when people suggested that they influence climate, economy and some other occult bullshit.

    The recent Auschwitz “celebration” indicates this much. Dehumanization isn’t the first stage of preparation to a total war, it is the last stage.

  58. listedproxyname: with UK decoupling Europe has moved one step closer to being 4th (or rather, 5th) Reich, because economic and national background here did not really change that much over the last century despite huge cataclysms and wars.

    I’m not sure I disagree with you much. A lot of the shit happening there recently is downright scary.

    My only (questionable) consolation is that the demographic picture is different today than it was back then. WWI and WWII were fueled by burgeoning populations and demand for more resources and living room. Now the populations are in decline and resources are not an issue in most cases. Even with runaway climate change, temperate zones will probably avoid the worst of the impact.

    Unlike the fascism of old, which was fueled by conquest and expansionism, modern fascism is more about closing borders and keeping people out. It’s a model predestined to fail, IMO, due to the decrepit-paleface conundrum I tried to explain above. Maybe I’m just being naively optimistic.

  59. I’d love to see you start to incorporate bright, interactive graphics like these http://worrydream.com/TenBrighterIdeas/ into your extinction/genocide calculations.

    I came across that on Dominic Cummings blog (yes, I know he’s a prick) but it’s actually a pretty cool way to try and illustrate data models to the mathematically challenged, myself included. With a little bit of Javascript your bleak-ass deductions would look so much more cheery.

  60. Tran Script: I think it’s the opposite. Complexity needs to process large amounts of energy to sustain itself, thus increasing the entropy of the universe even faster.

    Life can’t pull more energy out of the sun than it sends out, consider Mars. Sunlight falls on bare rock and sand, is reflected as randomized energy. Bam, entropy increases. In contrast, the same surface on earth captures the solar energy in plants, then animals, then maybe sequesters it for a few tens of millions of years, then maybe a combustion engine – the same energy input can keep things rolling for a long time.

    Phil: For a true eden with no suffering, I’d have to join in recommending “The People of Sand and Slag” mentioned above. It’s a truly heartwarming read.

    Hah, yeah. I found it on the author’s website. It’s like the he looked at the protagonists of the average playstation shooter (Say Gears of War) and taking them at their face value game mechanics wise, as people who can take a shotgun blast to the face and just walk it off. And then wondered how they’d go about their daily life. You are right, it is a kind of utopia. These people don’t suffer and seem to be having a good time, and unlike other gray goo, Dyson swarm post biological scenarios, they’re still recognizably human.

    (Spoilers)

    Bacigalupi cheats, of course, there’s no way a transition like this would leave behind our companion animals, a society like this would enhance dogs and cats and a few other pet species at the very least. But making the animal a dog allows him to play with its familiarity to us, to tug at the heart strings.

    It’s a good illustration of the argument we’re having, an edge of survival society can’t spend resources on anything beyond survival, but a low scarcity situation doesn’t mean a lack of constraints. Chen likes the dog, in a vague way, he would like to keep it. But even though he could afford to, it’s a burden. inconvenience wins out.

    Peter Watts: There’s no reason why you should care, about my own perspective, about any perspective at all. So go ahead: stop caring. Empty your mind of any priority save that which can be derived inevitably from first principles.

    I’ll let Ford Prefect reply:

    The point is,” he said, “that people like you and me, Slartibartfast, and Arthur — particularly and especially Arthur — are just dilletantes, eccentrics, layabouts, fartarounds if you like.”

    Slartibartfast frowned, partly in puzzlement and partly in umbrage. He started to speak.

    “— …” is as far as he got.

    “We’re not obsessed by anything, you see,” insisted Ford.

    “…”

    “And that’s the deciding factor. We can’t win against obsession. They care, we don’t. They win.”

    “I care about lots of things,” said Slartibartfast, his voice trembling partly with annoyance, but partly also with uncertainty.

    “Such as?”

    “Well,” said the old man, “life, the Universe. Everything, really. Fjords.”

    “Would you die for them?”

    “Fjords?” blinked Slartibartfast in surprise. “No.”

    “Well then.”
    .

    Tag urself, like the tumblr kids would say. I’m Arthur.

    It’s not the absence of care, but the quality of it. To get back to Tigers, reading that article I can balance the intellectual appreciation of the tiger in it’s ecosystem, and the gut empathy of imagining myself as a parent (I don’t have kids but the circuitry is there, in potentia) scrambling to find my children while a maneater stalks my village, defenseless because a bunch of latte sipping wankers on the other side of the planet think tigers are neat and have shamed my government into abandoning me.

    I don’t recall what I told my gran, it was over 20 years ago, I think I may have unconvincingly said something about what good are humans, but she was a practicing catholic with very clear ideas on what the world was for, and I was made acutely aware that I had no good arguments that would make her see what the fuss with all the tigers was about. One Thousand Tigers. That is an awful lot of tigers!! Imagine the size of the circus!

    It’s not as if tigers in particular are in any risk of extinction. There’s tons of ’em all over Texas, privately owned. Apparently they’re not even that expensive, couple thousand bucks will get you your own tiger.
    Now, remember we don’t care about the tiger’s opinion, he’s nonsentient. Hell, he’s probably happier as a pet. He might get to fuck a lion if someone wants to make a Tigon.

    So we’re back to caring about the tiger as crucial part of an ecosystem. Jungles, forests, lakes.

    Fjords. Would you die for them?

    The good news is that Greta and her movement have appeared on stage, and they DO care, they’re making it about the survival of your children, and those seem to be the right strings to pull. We’ll see how it plays out.

  61. Nestor: Life can’t pull more energy out of the sun than it sends out, consider Mars. Sunlight falls on bare rock and sand, is reflected as randomized energy. Bam, entropy increases. In contrast, the same surface on earth captures the solar energy in plants, then animals, then maybe sequesters it for a few tens of millions of years, then maybe a combustion engine – the same energy input can keep things rolling for a long time.

    What actually happens though is that a beam that would get reflected by Mars’ surface gets all its energy sucked out on Earth, i.e. the change in energy is greater on Earth which means the increase in entropy is also greater.

  62. Coming a bit late, but well..i know, with my rational mind, that eating animals is unethical, and that i cause much suffering. But my gut couldnt care less. Just as i am not as sad about, say, a million earthquake victims in India compared to the death of my dog.

    Now then, if we really are just slightly smarter apes that still mostly follow our hardwired directives (which i personally believe), how ethically culpable am i then?

    Besides, anyone can see we are going down the shitter regardless of what we do now, might as well enjoy the good life while it lasts. Nature is cruel, unforgiving, and a living hellscape for most of its inhabitants anyway, so i find it really hard to care to see it all go, my own and the people next to me wellbeings aside.

  63. I’m no physicist but I think there’s a confusion here. Sure light from the sun is our lowest entropy source of energy, but at the same time energy spreading in a bubble across space at the speed of light is increasing it’s entropy at the highest rate possible. Energy stored as hydrocarbons for millions of years is clearly “spending” it’s entropy slower than light zipping across the galaxy

    RIP Homero Gomez Gonzalez – Some people are laying down their lives to protect ecosystems, and I don’t mean to imply that I don’t respect them.

  64. Fatman: “Might be”?

    The language of science always tends toward conservatism.

    Tran Script: I mean, how do you define complexity?

    In this context, structurally.

    Like, sure there’s an extreme complexity in living organisms, from the level of molecules to cells to whole organisms to ecosystems etc., but pretty sure there’s also like complexity in like, the sun.

    Eh. I mean, sure, roiling balls of gas/plasma what have you are more “complex” in the sense that it requires more information to describe the position of every particle, but that’s trivial: maximum randomness produces the highest level of “complexity” by that definition. But it’s not organized. Organized is what I’m talking about, because it locks up energy and entropy into structures that take time to fall apart.

    I think it’s the opposite. Complexity needs to process large amounts of energy to sustain itself, thus increasing the entropy of the universe even faster. It’s probably why life even exists to begin with; i.e. it’s very entropically favorable and increasing entropy is God’s favorite pastime.

    Yeah, of course. Our little backwater eddies of complexity are powered by increasing entropy in the larger system (which is one reason the creationists are being idiots when they claim that evolution violates the Second Law). I was thinking the entropy locked up into structure would act as an entropic brake on the matter/information within said structure, but I never really thought to balance it against the initial cost of construction.

    You’re probably right. I should rethink that.

    Jake Ashdown: With a little bit of Javascript your bleak-ass deductions would look so much more cheery.

    Dude, I’m still trying to figure out why my local network shares keep resetting in Ubuntu. I haven’t touched javascript in ten years, except to tweak other people’s code (generally to bad effect). You know not what you ask.

    Nestor: Fjords. Would you die for them?

    Good question. Honestly, I don’t know.

    But if I had the power, I might well kill for them.

    The K: Now then, if we really are just slightly smarter apes that still mostly follow our hardwired directives (which i personally believe), how ethically culpable am i then?

    This, I think, circles in on the crux of it. It’s the standard response to “How come it’s okay for bears and tigers to rend and kill and make things suffer while eating them alive, but it’s not okay for us to do that?” And the standard response is “Because they are not moral agents, and you, by virtue of your sapient birthright, are.”

    Putting aside the whole morals/ethics thing for a moment and just accepting that rejoinder for the sake of argument, let’s apply it to if I’m just a slightly smarter ape then how ethically culpable am I? And I would say, Not so much. But in downgrading yourself thus (correctly, IMO), you’re also waiving the privileges of Moral Agent. You’re just another beast of the field, albeit one who’s able to grasp nuclear physics. Your life is not sacred. It’s not even special; in fact it’s now a net negative, given the actual carrying capacity of this planet for humans. Accepting that you are behaving like any other animal, you can no longer object if you are treated as such. You are a member of a pest species. Culling is on the table.

    Just for the record, I’m comfortable with this line of reasoning.

  65. I rather care about my personal satisfaction and leave the rest to the cumulative activities of humans of whom I have no say on their behavior. Really based on what you say you should be glad this life will survive in maybe decent condition after giving rise to something as dangerous as a semi intelligent species that could organize itself in such massive numbers. The crux of the issue is evolution has no foresight and people as a group of 7 billion has no foresight either.

    Also if people are gone life will be no different than any rock in space since we are the only ones who think its anything more than that. Even the distinction is something we came up with. Barren Earth and thriving Earth only matters to human brains who are in a position to care. The life doesn’t care. So its a matter of people who do care against the people who don’t care very much. Is this any different than any other ideology?

  66. Dude, I’m still trying to figure out why my local network shares keep resetting in Ubuntu. I haven’t touched javascript in ten years, except to tweak other people’s code (generally to bad effect). You know not what you ask.

    I’ll write little demo when i get a chance, see how it turns out

  67. Culling humandkind DOES sound like a great plan to keep Earth inhabitable. But somehow i see even the staunchest proponent of it flinch when it comes to himself and/or his family and loved ones. The only ones who would actually able to do it would be utter psychopaths, i guess.

    Also, if my life is not sacred and special (which it absolutely isnt) it all comes down to who has power. We have it (currently), other animals do not. And if we fuck up and render the Earth a wasteland for a few million years or so, well, thats Evolution in action. I somehow just find it hard to REALLY care, my own wellbeing aside. Either all life is sacred and special, or none of it is.

    That aside, i just read Bacigulapis “People of Sand Slag” that someone further up mentioned, and goddamn, would i love to have an immortal body. The whole thing is surely meant as a warning against humanity disentagling itself from nature through technology, but i would trade in my current piece of hardware in a hot second, even if it meant living in a wasteland.

  68. Nestor: I’m no physicist but I think there’s a confusion here. Sure light from the sun is our lowest entropy source of energy, but at the same time energy spreading in a bubble across space at the speed of light is increasing it’s entropy at the highest rate possible. Energy stored as hydrocarbons for millions of years is clearly “spending” it’s entropy slower than light zipping across the galaxy

    I’m also not a physicist and my thermodynamics is hazy (and was never particularly good to begin with) but what you’re neglecting here is the entropic cost of making those hydrocarbons in the first place.
    The way I see it, the change in free energy (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thermodynamic_free_energy) will be greater for photons hitting earth and powering chemical reactions than they will for photons hitting nothing and retaining their potential, and this quantity is related to the entropy.

    Also, I just read that stupid People of Sand Slag story and while I appreciate the message, it also stinks distinctly of human exceptionalism and transhumanist fantasies.
    There’s never going to be some kind of magical nano-tech-thingy that makes humans immortal and invincible. In fact, nano machines already exist, they’re called proteins and they’re highly advanced already, be grateful that you have them.
    I did like though that IIRC the trees in Eriophora had some DNA analogue that was more stable to radiation, I think Peter called it TNA or something? That was brilliant.

  69. While i too doubt that we will ever be THAT immortal and invincible, being “grateful” for proteins is just as, well, stupid. There is plenty to improve about the human body, i just need to look at the fucked up genetics of my family. Who knows what is possible and what isnt in regards to genetic tinkering? Now the notion that every shlup is getting a magical upgrade, now that is pure utopian wishlisting.

    Also, humans are exceptional as tool users. If we werent, we would not be able to even argue about this, and we would not also heading toward climate doomsday. Humans are not some divinely ordained crown of creation either, though. We are apes with way too much power, but we DO have that power, for now at least.

  70. Fatman: “Westerners” who oppose immigration the loudest share the exact same traits. Insufficient mental acuity, lack of education and/or marketable skills, less than useless to modern industrial societies.

    It’s not the 1980s, old man. Have you seen Flemish nationalists ? The ones who tore down the EU flag. They all looked like yuppie fucking lawyers. Not a skinhead in sight.
    GIs get called ‘hipster right’ because they are mostly middle class kids. Well apart from to the violent football fan demographic that made up the BNP, etc. And were the BNP types actually wrong ? And you think everybody is so fucking blind that they can’t see what is going on? Nobody remembers Yugoslavia ? Or Lebanon civil war? Or just you know, the history of Lebanon? You live in the past.

    Peter Watts: It contains no evidence, nor any assertion, that certain ethnotypes are being targeted for exploitation because they’re “born dim”.

    That’s a bit further from there. I assume that the trends in polygenic scores on intelligence (well, educational attainment) that are being discovered right now are going to vindicate the old observation in regards to black-white IQ gap. Everything points towards that. Those mega-studies usually get published in Nature. At moment they can account for 30% of variance in whites iirc.

    People with lower IQs are easier to exploit. Do you need a peer reviewed article proving that ? Governments facilitated this exploitation by mandating more lending to minorities despite bad credit scores.

    https://www.nytimes.com/2008/12/21/business/21admin.html

    If you don’t get it, remember that riskier borrower means higher interest rate.
    And that the new financial instruments allowed to covertly transfer the risks onto unsuspecting buyers of financial instruments. Meaning that people who made all that shit up made a killing on fees, everyone else ended up at a loss. Possibly homeless.

    Peter Watts: I take it “listening to them” isn’t one of those things.

    What’s the point ? That makes as much sense as listening to the bearded priestly fuckwits you can see on Arabic TV.

    If environmentalists were rational, and not a bunch of naive hippies or worse, cultist idiots, well sprinkled with fans of planned economy and putting people up against walls, I’d listen.

    Their universal fucking opposition to about the only sane way of generating electricity we have left makes me want to do things to them.

    For Pete’s sake there’s actually solid if not well known evidence mild radiation exposure benefits health! (1)

    The worst reactor accident ever, the kind that could never happen in the West, killed less people ever than air pollution in a fucking day!

    But everybody insists it was ‘tens of thousands’ because everybody is so bloody retarded they cannot comprehend that the LINEAR NO THRESHOLD model of radiation harm is a political compromise that is completely made up for low doses. They don’t even care.

    (1) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2477708/

    The only way we can ever ‘lessen’ our impact on nature is to use very highly concentrated low pollution power sources like nuclear, urbanize food production in artificial structures , etc. All that requires lots of energy. None of that is anything near what environmentalists are talking about. They are lots of them who advocate return to subsistence farming or not using artificial fertilizers ?

    Yeah, sure, you want Mad Max hellscape & megadeaths, go right ahead.

  71. R.: It’s not the 1980s, old man. Have you seen Flemish nationalists ? The ones who tore down the EU flag.

    Hey, that’s precisely why I included incel NEETs in my comment.

    I agree that violent football-hooligan Nazis are a thing of the past. But the fact that the angry losers of today don’t look like the angry losers of yesterday doesn’t make them any less… angry losers.

    R.: Governments facilitated this exploitation by mandating more lending to minorities despite bad credit scores.

    Again, that fails to prove anything about racial/ethnic minorities having lower IQ scores.

    All it shows is that stagnating real incomes coupled with skyrocketing housing prices will sooner or later lead to a market crash. Poorer people with worse credit scores are riskier borrowers, and also less likely to possess good financial planning skills. Unfortunate, but hardly earth-shattering.

  72. Tran Script: The way I see it, the change in free energy (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thermodynamic_free_energy) will be greater for photons hitting earth and powering chemical reactions than they will for photons hitting nothing and retaining their potential, and this quantity is related to the entropy.

    Yes I get that, and I guess I didn’t get my point across. This sub-argument is actually like an echo of the main argument itself, imho. We keep getting bogged down on a god’s eye view and are unable to climb back down to our modest monkey-with shoes level where we actually exist.

    Let me try again. Photons from the sun are our best and brightest source of energy for the biosphere. AAA+ would interact again. A photon reaching our planet and bouncing back off a particularly shiny cloud is, yes, still as good and energetic and full of potential as it was a microsecond before when it was about to reach us. It has not interacted with a grubby lump of photosynthesizing goop and is flying through the sky at lightspeed instead of being mired in our unpleasantly sticky machinations.

    But then what? It’s fucking off to interstellar space. At the speed of light in a vacuum, the speed limit of the universe. An expanding shell of light has to be the fastest way of losing potential to do work in this universe. Two months later that photon that got turned into carbohydrates is busy being transformed into ATP in a mouse, meanwhile your photon is well into the Oort cloud. Good luck getting any work out of that.

  73. Anonymous: But then what? It’s fucking off to interstellar space. At the speed of light in a vacuum, the speed limit of the universe. An expanding shell of light has to be the fastest way of losing potential to do work in this universe.

    But it’s literally not.

    Anonymous: Two months later that photon that got turned into carbohydrates is busy being transformed into ATP in a mouse, meanwhile your photon is well into the Oort cloud. Good luck getting any work out of that.

    That’s exactly my point. That photon will get less work done, resulting in LESS entropy.

  74. Peter Watts:(Although I’ll admit that my own decision to never have a family might have been at least partly informed by gut-level disgust at how fucked-up my parents’ efforts in that regard turned out.)

    There we go, thanks. I suspected as much, and was wondering when we’d get to that. Throws a lot of shade, Dr. Watts, on your motivations in general. My wife is a psychologist for college-aged affluent children in the American Midwest, and she says anecdotally after 30yrs of practice that fucked-up parenting ruins children. For life. No real fix regardless of wealth, therapy, or success.

  75. B. Traven: Throws a lot of shade, Dr. Watts, on your motivations in general. My wife is a psychologist for college-aged affluent children in the American Midwest, and she says anecdotally after 30yrs of practice that fucked-up parenting ruins children.

    Riiiiight.

    No need to deal with any actual arguments. No need to deal with facts, and links, and data. What a relief: none of my opinions are valid because I had an unhappy childhood.

    And all those peer-reviewed studies I’ve cited over the years to back me up? All those people who collected and analysed all those data, the reviewers and editors who judged those studies and published them in peer-reviewed journals? I guess they were all just products of unhappy childhoods too. We can ignore their findings about extinction rates and carbon impacts and the political biology of conformist behavior—just dismiss everything they’ve reported about any of the things I’ve cited them for. Amazing, how bad parenting leads so consistently to such widespread and undetectable falsification of data. Who knows: maybe the whole replication crisis comes down to too much spanking and not enough hugs.

    Why engage with actual arguments when you can impugn motives instead?

    Perhaps your psychologist wife can explain the term ad hominem to you.

  76. Peter Watts: Perhaps your psychologist wife can explain the term ad hominem to you.

    Also, maybe, the phrase “throwing shade”.

  77. For what its worth,i dont think @B.Traven actually disagrees with your factual arguments, Dr. Watts. But one still wonders if you were so vehemently against having children if your own childhood had been happier.

    Intellectually, i know it would be a horrible, horrible idea for me to have children, with the extinction looming right ahead. But my gut still screams at me that children are cute, and wonderful, and i should make some ASAP. Now if my childhood had been supbar instead of wonderful, it probably would be much easier for me to convince myself that having children is a bad idea.

    We are, after all, only the sum of our experience and genes, with a lot of hardwired stuff, and neither you nor i are an exception. Sorry for rambling.

  78. Anonymous:
    For what its worth,i dont think @B.Traven actually disagrees with your factual arguments, Dr. Watts. But one still wonders if you were so vehemently against having children if your own childhood had been happier.

    Oh, no doubt at all. I think of it as a kind of lucky behavioral mutation: the familial mutagens produced someone who found it easier to make the right decision. And I fully recognize that most “normal” people would have a much, much harder time making the same decision and sticking to it. (This has led to some interesting-if-heated discussions with certain step-pones, who against all odds I love a lot.) In this context, I am very fortunate to be the product of such incompetent parenting.

    But. The fact that I find it easier to make the right decision does not make it the wrong decision. It only means that less-fortunate others who make the right decision should be more highly commended than I, because they had to fight against wetwired imperatives I never had to face.

    As for this Traven character, the wording of the comment leads me to suspect that they’re familiar with my position (“I … was wondering when we’d get to that”), although they’ve never previously posted here (at least, not under that name). But when they finally did delurk it wasn’t to make any factual counter-arguments. It was only to take a cheap shot at my “motives”.

    This suggests that they do, in fact, disagree with my arguments— down in the gut they just know I’m wrong, even if if they lack the capacity to articulate why. They only know that “facts” have nothing to do with it.

    We’ve seen that attitude before. We know where it leads.

  79. Away from the inter-tribal banter for the moment, this is your sort of thing if you haven’t seen it yet — the first MRI of a squid was just done.

    ‘Toward an MRI-Based Mesoscale Connectome of the Squid Brain’

    https://doi.org/10.1016/j.isci.2019.100816

  80. Some people also sequenced the giant squid genome
    https://academic.oup.com/gigascience/article/9/1/giz152/5697198

  81. And not one of you, including Peter Watts, came up with a viable solution. Not one. First solution is- to refuse the conditions of the problem. To use those giant brains you have to ensure that everyone gets through, or as many as possible. You do not fold up and accept defeat, Bob’s yer uncle. We may be animals, but we have a nifty superpower: we can strategize like no one else. As for animals, there’s thing called a gene bank. In lieu of a power source to keep things cool, there are chemicals that can do the job of cooking. There’s always a way. We are remarkably adaptable creatures.

    And if there really is no choice, a death lottery is your solution? Exactly how are you going to enforce that without triggering the survival instinct and causing life and death struggles? Oh, people are just going to accept a death lottery and walk into the ovens? No. You do it, if there’s no other way, by taking out the terminal, the immune compromised, then maybe the old men and women. And first, learn any skills they have to offer. The women and children, for obvious reasons, they stay.

    The movie, Alive!, based on a real life incident, the people, trapped on a mountain with little to no hope of rescue, only ate those that succumbed to the cold or had died in the crash. At least at first, as far as I recall. You see how it works?

    But no, tall and short people, (if it’s humour, it sucks) and even Peter Watts succumbing to hubris and glee, oh gee, what a lovely problem to mull over. Again, the first is to try every possibility possible first. The second, a last resort, is the way I describe it. And at least ask the terminal and old if they mind, or describe what’s happening, and why, so at least their sacrifice has some dignity. There may be no overall meaning, but we humans can invent meaning with ease.

    Appalled that none of you big giant brains thought of any of that. Including Peter Watts.

  82. Bryce: And not one of you, including Peter Watts, came up with a viable solution. Not one.

    Why, Bryce. You disappoint me; you haven’t been keeping up.

    I’ve proposed a number of solutions over the years. I propose one here, in fact. And over here. I’ve proposed them in lectures given in China, And Canada, and Hungary. If you can’t be bothered to track the sources, the way to save Humanity is to virally rewire us at the brain stem level into something else. The way to save Humanity is to stop being Human.

    We may be animals, but we have a nifty superpower: we can strategize like no one else.

    And we’re unsurpassed at using that superpower to squeeze out a bigger market share, or maximize profits in the short term. Long term? We suck as badly as any other mammal, because—thanks to hyperbolic discounting and about two hundred other cognitive biases— we’re largely incapable of internalizing the true impact of future consequences. As Dan Brooks once said, “The neocortex allows us to imagine our own mortality; the brain stem keeps us from believing it.” Hence the whole rewiring-Human-Nature thing.

    Seriously, Bryce, this must be about the hundredth time I’ve used that quote in public, on the record. You just haven’t been paying attention.

    As for animals, there’s thing called a gene bank. In lieu of a power source to keep things cool, there are chemicals that can do the job of cooking. There’s always a way. We are remarkably adaptable creatures.

    Remarkably inarticulate too, judging by present evidence. I have no idea what points you’re trying to make here. Or further down, when you seem to invoke the movie “Alive” as some kind of aspirational template for population control through cannibalism.

    Seriously, I wouldn’t worry. We agree on one thing: there’s always a solution. If we can’t keep our numbers under control, Nature will do that for us. In fact, if you plot a time-series of epidemiological outbreaks over time across the past few decades, you’ll see she’s already warming up.

    Also, no biggie, but you might want to limit repetition of phrases like “giant brains” in short posts. It’d help you look a little less like a chatbot. Even so, given your flow-vs-semantic-content issues, I have to wonder if you aren’t just some chunk of pasted output courtesy of OpenAI…

  83. Bryce,

    “And at least ask the terminal and old if they mind”

    No, they’d be too stringy, tough, and possibly disease ridden.

    “tall and short people”

    I liked that idea because it would take humans out of the equation completely in one or less generations. Watts apparently is willing to consider stratifying the sample, which would avoid this result. Frankly, my preference, if we want to leave behind some portion of a breeding population, would be to cull those lacking a sense of irony. Unfortunately for me, the focus would more likely be on people who enjoy being a dick.

    This – “The neocortex allows us to imagine our own mortality; the brain stem keeps us from believing it.” – seems to sum up the problem with your argument. Speaking for myself, when a virus with a 20% mortality rate sweeps the planet, I know I’ll have an 80% chance of living, but I’m 100% certain it won’t actually kill me.

  84. Peter Watts,

    “In fact, if you plot a time-series of epidemiological outbreaks over time across the past few decades, you’ll see she’s already warming up.”

    I’ve been wondering about this. Are the outbreaks increasing, or has the detection and reporting of outbreaks become more rigorous? I don’t know enough about how the WHO and CDC collect data to assess this.

    (This question is not in any way questioning the fact that global temperatures are rising, I hasten to add.)

  85. Did some digging about the light/power generation away from the Sun, found a paper on solar panels on probes. It looks to me like every AU out of the sun you lose about half the power generation potential, according to the graph in page 10 of this paper https://www.lpi.usra.edu/opag/nov_2007_meeting/presentations/solar_power.pdf
    (I’m sure everyone here knew that already but it’s cool to find actual figures…)

    So, on a more optimistic note, what utility would we assign our potential for averting extinction level events? Say tomorrow we spot a big rock that will turn the planet into hot soup in 50 years, we launch a couple of big ole ion drives to clamp on it, maybe splat it with some albedo changing paintballs and avert the complete destruction of every single living thing in the known universe.

    That ought to earn us some karma, right? Balances out the whole anthropocene?

    No?

    Oh well.

  86. Well pardon me for not regularly following your august proclamations. And pointing out some editorial mistakes, I made, good job. You can use big words. Look, I’ll clarify something you didn’t get. In a no win situation, no hope of rescue, no tools, pretty dann cold, etc., the people involved refused to just kill each other, and only ate, reluctantly, the dead.

    I am saying that we humans have been faced with no win situations since we started. And we have risen to the occasion. We will again. The old argument, our inventiveness has screwed us, fuck that shit’s defeatist. More than defeatist, it hardwires the brain to fold up shop.

    To be sure, you do have yourself some nice words there. Tall and short? My god man, in actual crisis situations, not theoretical calculations on how many we can ditch to survive, the women and children come first. If you, as a biologist, can’t figure out why, well, I don’t know what to tell you.

    So, how will tall or short be defined? Because you’re going to get into thorny territory there. 5’4″? 4 feet?

    Look, you might understand the fishes, but you sure don’t get human nature.

  87. Ah, made, the oldest Transhumanist solution. “Storm’s acomin’. Big one.”

    “How big?”

    “Oh, just extinction level.”

    “Oh hell. Better virally rewire ourselves starting from the brainstem on up then.”

    “Sign me the fuck up then. I wanna be superman.”

    “Yeah? What about the rhinos then?”

    “Ah shit, I love those guys. Okay, death lottery, and uh, I dunno,restrict the lottery to tall and short people, or maybe fat and skinny people. No wait, fat one shot a porta flesh, could come in useful.”

    “What about breeding population?”

    “Only if they’re the right ones. I prefer specific physical specimens. Fuck skills and shit.”

  88. Should be “fat ones got a lotta flesh. Might want to save those for the larder.”

  89. Randy Newman: “short people got no reason to live.”

  90. Bryce, I fail to see you make a cogent argument except “We did the impossible before, so we can do it again! And again!” Survivorship bias at the finest. The Dinosaurs ruled the Earth for millions of years, until they suddenly didnt.

    Also, if you comment and debate on somebody else`s blog, i think the onus is on you to actually read about your opponents stance and arguments.

    I also like how you take one isolated incident as prove that humans act sensibly, restrained and of course, ethical (as much as possible) in absolute life or death situations. Just take away electricity away in an urban center for, eh, lets say, two weeks, and make sure there are no relief convoys, and watch what happen.

  91. Bryce,

    I wrote: “Unfortunately for me, the focus [of a cull] would more likely be on people who enjoy being a dick.”

    I think it’d be unfortunate for you too, brah, judging by your posts.

  92. Bryce:
    Well pardon me for not regularly following your august proclamations.

    Oh, I pardon you for that just fine. What I don’t pardon you for is acting as though you have, and then making bullshit assertions on the basis of that premise.

    And pointing out some editorial mistakes, I made, good job. You can use big words.

    Honestly, Bryce, I barely noticed the editorial mistakes. They seemed so small and insignificant in the shadow of all your conceptual ones.

    Look, I’ll clarify something you didn’t get. In a no win situation, no hope of rescue, no tools, pretty dann cold, etc., the people involved refused to just kill each other, and only ate, reluctantly, the dead. I am saying that we humans have been faced with no win situations since we started. And we have risen to the occasion. We will again.

    Oh, I got it all right. I just couldn’t believe you were serious. It hasn’t happened before, therefore it never will. A statement that definitively rules out everything from moon landings to nuclear weapons, right up until, well…

    This is the best you can do? Seriously?

    The old argument, our inventiveness has screwed us, fuck that shit’s defeatist. More than defeatist, it hardwires the brain to fold up shop.

    Why Bryce, you’re a hopepunk. I’ll send you on the same quest I send the rest of them: look up “negativity bias”. We’re wired to be more attentive to— and learn more from— bad news than good. To take a concrete example, most people— seeing a boulder rolling down the hill about to crash into their living rooms— would get off their asses and run like hell.

    If you’re saying that your brain, in contrast, would simply “fold up shop” under such dire circumstances, I guess that’s just natural selection in action.

    To be sure, you do have yourself some nice words there.

    That’s the second time you’ve remarked on my use of words. Someone who understood Human Nature might regard that as a symptom of insecurity.

    Tall and short? My god man, in actual crisis situations, not theoretical calculations on how many we can ditch to survive, the women and children come first. If you, as a biologist, can’t figure out why, well, I don’t know what to tell you.

    I know what to tell you. Look up “irony”. Or even “parody”.

    While you’re at it, look up “Dunning-Kruger”.

    Look, you might understand the fishes, but you sure don’t get human nature.

    In your case at least, I’m inclined to agree.

    Bryce: Ah, made, the oldest Transhumanist solution. “Storm’s acomin’. Big…

    (snippage)

    …physical specimens. Fuck skills and shit.”

    Okay. So you are an OpenAI text generator after all.

    That explains the whole “human nature” thing…

  93. Phil: I’ve been wondering about this. Are the outbreaks increasing, or has the detection and reporting of outbreaks become more rigorous? I don’t know enough about how the WHO and CDC collect data to assess this.

    About ten years ago I saw a graph— I think it was in Nature— plotting major epidemiological events over time. You know how a bouncing ball starts out with long arcs that become shorter as it goes, three meters between bounces, then two, then one, kind of a Xeno’s Paradox of bounces so that at the end the ball is hitting the ground as rapid-fire as an automatic weapon?

    The ground was Time. Each bounce was an outbreak. It was one ominous time-series.

    I don’t know what kind of impact increasing detection-rigor might have on that pattern, but we are talking major outbreaks with deaths in the hundreds to thousands at least. It doesn’t take much in the way of advanced tech to notice that many bodies lying around.

  94. Probably if things do not go to complete shit whoever is around in 200 years will probably make some fancy conservation environments and if things go on long enough likely there will be much more life around than this planet holds right now even if it is only a small fraction of what is around. The ecosystems right now are just a short term sacrifice and regardless of the motivations of the people around today they create a system where money can be invested in engineering and science. I think you would label this as being naively opportunistic and I can’t compete with your knowledge of signs of impending disasters but I think people will get their act together if things start getting bad. Maybe for example some increasingly severe taxes and incentives to push companies to find better solutions.

  95. Peter Watts,

    Looking through some of the data on the WHO’s website, I’m finding the more I dig into this the more confusing it becomes. To find out which countries fit into categories such as high income vs low, which WHO uses to represent cause of death, I had to go to the World Bank and download an Excel file. Entering a geographic region on their website, I find I cannot back out. The “home” icon’s top level is that geographical region, not the WHO’s global website. Each region seems to present data differently, as well. If you go to the global home page, then go to “Emergencies” and “Disease outbreaks”, there’s no mention of Covid19, although it’s featured prominently on the homepage itself. They have a focus on Ebola in the “Disease outbreaks”, which is largely a problem in Africa, but if you look at what kills people in lower income countries (which are over-represented in Africa, according to the World Bank) it’s predominantly lower-respiratory diseases, which Covid19 seems like it would fit into. I’m sure there’s logic behind all this somewhere, but I can’t discern it. My take-away is that when something emerges with the potential to seriously destabilize the world order (heath, economy, Hollywood productions…) it won’t be recognized for quite a while, and when it is, our ability to coordinate a response will make very entertaining viewing for that portion of humanity that doesn’t give a fuck, but enjoys a complex, morally ambiguous, fast-moving show.

  96. The old “Gaia will shake us off like a bad cold”, there’s an old 90s anime, Gunbuster where the aliens attacking humanity turn out to be the galaxy’s immune system. The humans rig Jupiter up as a bomb and use it to kill the galactic core. They also incorporated relativistic effects in the story, amid all the teenage panty flashing fanservice. I found it quite inspirational.

    But, I read an article recently that pointed out that infectious diseases are really just a side effect of the constant ongoing battle going on at the microbial level between the microorganisms themselves. We’re just bystanders and casualties in the background of an older ongoing conflict – well I’m sure someone with a hole in his leg from a stray shot in that war doesn’t need me explaining it…

    Corona-chan isn’t going to wipe us out, it’s the flu with x10 the mortality rate, but if we’re optimistic, it may help indirectly. It’s put quite a dent on China’s carbon emissions, for instance. Go worldwide and maybe people will finally start switching to commuting digitally, stop wasting ungodly amounts of fossil fuel to ferry a single ape in a can 80 km a day just to sit in front of a screen when it has the same bloody equipment at home, every day, multiplied by hundreds of millions of us.

    Always a silver lining if you’re an incurable optimist.

  97. The K,

    If you fail to see my argument, that’s your mental block. I’m basing it on Buckminster Fuller’s two books, Utopia Or Oblivion, and The Critical Path in which he uses oh, just some fucking practical science and actual calculations and common sense plans to get us through. It isn’t blind optimism. Defending cynicism and defeatist positions are really weak areas to defend or argue from.

    Question for Watts in which “we have to kill some cause not enough resources,” a typical answer, won’t work: given the obvious that it takes only one human to really fuck up a lot of resources, smokers starting forest fires, Exxon Valdez and many more examples, exactly how in the fuck does killing off a bunch of people ensure our survival?

    To change tone slightly, Death Lottery would make a pretty decent 80’s slasher flick.

  98. Phil,

    Yeah, a voluntary death lottery is a very hard sell, doofus. Not if you’re suicidal.

  99. Phil,

    Disease ridden, is precisely the reason I suggested it. In predator prey situations, it’s generally the weak, diseased and old who get culled. However, as I have stated elsewhere, animals do not create technology capable of destroying large swaths of environment at the hands of one or a few humans. Which negates the very idea of a cull.

  100. Peter Watts,

    Insults…which generally means you don’t have much of an argument. Interesting that I offer arguments refuting your assertions, you know, little pointers like just culling a bunch of people randomly will have no impact whatsoever on the problems we face, hell, that’s been a go to for millennia. You can’t even argue, successfully, to one person, that’s me, how this is in any way an effective form of thinking, or a practical solution to our current set of problems. Best then to belittle, describe anyone who disagrees as being of less than sound mind.

    Solid hint here: it ain’t the sycophants you need to reach. It’s the naysayers. Oh I know, “what makes you think I’m selling anything to you, trying to convince you,” and so on. If you can’t convince me that your arguments make a lick of sense, then you sure can’t convince me that you have any intelligent arguements on much of anything. Especially trying to sell the concept of a death lottery, which is pretty a hail Mary pass that screams desperation.

    Oh, I have more arguments to refute, but on this particular subject, you are one helluva lousy salesman.

  101. Bryce:
    Insults…

    Says the guy who just called Phil a “doofus”. Beams and eyes, brother.

    which generally means you don’t have much of an argument. … Best then to belittle, describe anyone who disagrees as being of less than sound mind.

    I think the term you’re groping for here is ad hominem. But that’s not what’s going on here. I did, in fact, counter your assertions. I clearly diagnosed your it-hasn’t-happened-therefore-it-won’t-happen fallacy (as did “The K”); I called you out on your “defeatism hardwires the brain to fold up shop” bullshit (you did look up “negativity bias”, didn’t you?); I gently tried to calm you down and wipe the spittle from your lips when you seemed to take my “cull the short people” one-liner as a serious proposal— and yes, I pointed out a few editorial mistakes you made in the heat of your impassioned ineloquence. And these were all actual arguments and counters, not a “doofus” or an “idiot” in the lot.

    Ad hominem is when you say to someone “You’re an idiot (or a privileged white male, or whatever slur happens to be popular that week), therefore I don’t have to engage with your arguments.” I did exactly the opposite: I carefully considered your arguments, and your responses to the various counterarguments that subsequently appeared, and am only now concluding from those data that you may, in fact, be an idiot. See the difference?

    Solid hint here: it ain’t the sycophants you need to reach. It’s the naysayers. Oh I know, “what makes you think I’m selling anything to you, trying to convince you,” and so on.

    Actually, I don’t think you do know. There’s a fair bit of evidence that people of your mindset won’t be convinced no matter how compelling the evidence (I’ve even posted on such themes: here, and here and here. You may find the bit about Xie et al‘s network analysis especially heartening). Empirically, there’s no point in arguing with you if my only goal is to change your mind.

    The value in engaging with people like you is for the benefit of the bystanders. It’s the same reason I’m willing to debate Jehovah’s Witnesses and Climate Change Deniers and Young-Earth Creationists: not so I’ll change their minds, but so others will be able to witness, first-hand, the idiotic assumptions, half-truths, and downright lies on which such ideologies are based. You, Bryce, are an object lesson.

    If you can’t convince me that your arguments make a lick of sense, then you sure can’t convince me that you have any intelligent arguements on much of anything. Especially trying to sell the concept of a death lottery, which is pretty a hail Mary pass that screams desperation.

    Case in point. My original post had nothing to do with any “death lottery”; that subject was broached by Phil in the comments, and on the remote chance that someone might not get the joke, he explicitly described it as tongue-in-cheek. I piled on, equally unseriously, with the suggestion of a short people cull (because I myself am nearly two meters tall). None of this was meant seriously, and when you seemed to take it that way I tried to set you straight in a previous comment. And yet, here you are again. Accusing me of trying to sell the concept of a death lottery.

    You still may not be able to see why I invoked Dunning-Kruger a while back. But everyone else here does, and that’s what matters.

    Oh, I have more arguments to refute, but on this particular subject, you are one helluva lousy salesman.

    But if I do say so myself, I’m a halfway decent ringmaster…

  102. Phil: My take-away is that when something emerges with the potential to seriously destabilize the world order (heath, economy, Hollywood productions…) it won’t be recognized for quite a while, and when it is, our ability to coordinate a response will make very entertaining viewing for that portion of humanity that doesn’t give a fuck, but enjoys a complex, morally ambiguous, fast-moving show.

    It can be, quite surprisingly, entirely opposite – people can be riled up for severe changes in the situation (they call it “market correction”, for one) by bad news alone – provided the information reaches right amount of ears. Current financial globalization has been a basis for continued existence of such organization as WHO, and it is natural that instead of providing guidelines for the international corporations they are now subservient to their corporative interests. This can explain a lot of strange things about their activity, too. Certainly, it is not for the show.

    At last, there’s official statement on ongoing “crisis”. As one may notice, WHO is cooperating with UNWTO because, obviously, severe restrictions on travel will make tourism income drop like a stone in the nearest future.
    https://www.who.int/news-room/detail/27-02-2020-a-joint-statement-on-tourism-and-covid-19—unwto-and-who-call-for-responsibility-and-coordination
    It finally has gone to the point it affected my work schedule because of quarantine imposed on international flights.

    https://www.realclearmarkets.com/articles/2020/02/27/surprise_leads_to_market_corrections_coronavirus_wasnt_a_surprise_485356.html
    Right at this moment, it seems, the global financial cabal is testing their resilience based on these bad news alone (real bad news never come alone). Which is, despite all the shortcomings, a very intelligent and necessary thing to do which will possibly tell them for how long it will be possible to stay within current economic setup. Some people might seriously think that this is the onset of a real catastrophe, complete crash and new long depression, sparkled by a disease outbreak, but it is but a mere illusion. The probability of that is quite low, and it will take another US presidency term to prepare the real mayhem.

    As for myself, I am just anticipating the summer’s exposition of the biggest burning dumpster in the row – Japanese summer Olympics which are coming in the wake of the outbreak, economic stagnation and series of international scandals of Big Sport (and let’s not even start on the whole “discrimination” issue).

  103. Peter Watts,
    I’m unsure if worst case corona-chan will be worse than the flu is today but you have mentioned that diseases will start hollowing out urban cores as temperatures rise. But looking at how things are playing out here do you think as events start getting worse the global economy will slump and reduce carbon emissions. So that it acts like a sort of natural check so if humans damage the environment they rapidly lose the ability to worsen it till carbon emissions drop off reducing further impact.

  104. Anonymous,

    Well, this is quite an interesting question. We can see now that Carbon emissions in china are going down. Of course, this might be just a short time effect. In addition, as soon as the crisis is gone, parts of the industry might go into overdrive to make up lost ground.
    This might not be true for tourism. Here it will take a more time.
    In addition, China will certainly make sure that a crisis like that will not happen again. New hygiene doctrines will be enforced, (wetmarkets etc…) together with mandatory mass vaccination programmes. The regime has the possibility to make this happen and it would in addition be supported by the economic actors, medical science, other nations and even the own population could embrace it.
    To sum it up: I guess it will only leave a dent in worldwide economic growth, soon to be forgotten. In addition, this event will make similar outbreaks, maybe with even higher lethality, much more unlikely.

    https://time.com/5786634/coronavirus-carbon-emissions-china/

  105. Anonymous,
    The ability to ramp up industry in centers normally producing significant airborne pollutants may be somewhat self-limiting because of the already stressed pulmonary systems of the residents. If they are infected with covid-19, it follows that those with a diminished capacity to weather the ravages of the disease would have a much higher mortality rate. This would leave holes in the cadre of trained and experienced workers that support these industries and at least temporarily reduce pollution because of reduced production capability.

  106. The real question is “How many of his fellow believers can a Jew sacrifice to save other species?” (Answer: “Very little.”)