The Viral Vasectomy: Covid’s Silver Lining.

“May we live long and die out.”
—Motto of the Voluntary Extinction Movement

We begin the new year with a glimmer of hope: Covid remains ascendant, and it might have ecological impacts far beyond what we first thought.

I’m not talking about the obvious drop in carbon emissions. That was nothing, a mere blip: it didn’t stop 2020 from ending up as the hottest year in recorded history (technically tied with 2016, but 2020 pulled it off without getting a boost from El Niño).

Nor am I talking about crass mortality: C19 in all its many gloried forms still only kills about 2% of its victims. It could infect everyone on the planet and there’d still be over 7.7 billion of us standing when the dust had cleared.

I’m not even talking about the quantum leap in RNA-vaccine tech that Covid singlehandedly kickstarted: an approach that could immunize against a whole trunkload of viral infections from HIV to your garden-variety annual flu (and a whole range of those simultaneously, with a single shot). If you’re any kind of human supremacist that is very good news indeed, especially in light of the fact that we’re just at the start of a whole cascade of pandemics waiting in the wings. Still—it’s not what I’m talking about here.

I’m talking about reproductive rate.

For starters, Covid-19 seems to have boosted the (admitted still minuscule) number of people who’ve decided not have kids; not only has there been a recent spike in people deciding to postpone (or even better, entirely avoid) procreation, but the social stigma traditionally associated with childlessness (not to mention the odious and paternalistic taboos thrown up within the medical profession) look increasingly idiotic. It’s kind of hard to argue for more children in a world that’s already falling down around your ears, facing a future in which today’s children will probably end up dying of violence or heat stroke. (Not that people aren’t still doing that, of course, but the Emma Teitels of the world look more shrill and irrelevant with each passing day.)

Anything that edges us, philosophically, even slightly closer to the Voluntary Extinction movement is not a bad thing in my book. But Covid may well have a far more direct impact: it may cause male sterility.[1]

From Seymen 2020.

There’s this enzyme, ACE-2 (Angiotensin-converting-enzyme), recently discovered; like its better-known homolog ACE, it plays a role in regulating blood pressure (specifically via vasodilation of blood vessels). ACE-2 interacts with the body’s cells via receptor sites on the cell membrane; your standard docking-hatch arrangement by which cargo gets hooked out of the bloodstream and brought into the cytoplasm.

As chance (and natural selection) would have it, Covid latches onto those same ACE-2 receptors to get inside.

To quote Seymen 2020[2] directly:

“…SARS coronaviruses damage multiple organs, including testis, and generally cause leukocyte infiltration, impaired spermatogenesis, widespread germ cell destruction with very few or no spermatozoa in the seminiferous tubules, thickened basement membrane, and macrophage (+) stainings in the testis.”

Of course, ACE-2 receptors aren’t limited to the reproductive tract: they show up in a variety of tissues, prominently in the lungs and the brain (which fits nicely with Covid’s diffuse array of respiratory and other symptoms). But they seem especially fond of gonadal tissue for some reason—and Seymen speculates that the ACE-2 receptors in the brain also have a role to play in compromising fertility, insofar as the hypothalamus and pituitary exert hormonal control over the reproductive system:

“A low level of [Gonadotropin-releasing hormone] causes a decrease in [Follicle-stimulating hormone] and [luteinizing hormone], resulting in impaired function of the Sertoli and Leydig cells. Ma et al. showed that COVID-19 patients had significantly higher serum LH levels but decreased testosterone/LH and FSH levels than healthy men, suggesting potential hypogonadism.”

Note the use of the word “suggesting”. The whole paper is based on preliminary studies, and as such is speculative; its predictions are founded as much on extrapolations based on basic cellular mechanics as on field data. Still,

“…all preliminary findings mentioned above suggest that the COVID-19 pandemic affects the male genital system in direct or indirect ways and shows a negative impact on male reproductive health, inducing spermatogenic failure.”

Let’s take a moment to zoom back and review the big picture. We are dealing with a semi-stealth virus that is highly infectious and growing more so (the UK variant is apparently 40-70% more contagious than previous strains; I don’t know R for the South African strain but apparently it accounts for 90% of the new cases in that country so it’s obviously kicking the baseline’s ass). Asymptomatic cases account for anywhere between 20-45% of the total; only 14% of cases exhibit “severe” symptoms; global mortality is a minuscule 2.1%. It may be overwhelming health-care capacity around the world but a lot of us just don’t give a shit about that; why should we stay inside and wear a fucking mask over a bug which, even if we get it, will probably let us off with a few sniffles?

So we’re talking about a disease that spreads like wildfire, largely under the radar, and which confounds our attempts at containment because people simply refuse take it seriously. (I’ve lost count of the politicians, just here in Canada, who told everyone to stay home for Christmas and then snuck off to spend their holidays on Maui.) The Covid World Tour has already been going on for a year and it’s only picking up steam; at this rate, how long before most of the humans on the planet have been exposed?

If Cemile Seymen is right, a huge chunk of those infectees won’t even know they’ve been hit until, to their surprise and dismay, they find they can’t have kids any more. It’s like Zika only better, because it doesn’t rely on scaring people into reforming their behavior. It’s like “The Screwfly Solution” without the femicidal misogyny. It’s like “Children of Men” without the Hollywood cop-out ending.

It’s stealth sterilization by our own hand.

The human population is supposed to start collapsing by the back half of this century anyway. Why not start now, and avoid the rush?


  1. Thanks to Clare Wall for the link.

  2. To answer the obvious question: no, that name does not appear to be a joke. At least, it’s associated with a number of other non-testes-related papers as well as this one.



This entry was posted on Monday, January 18th, 2021 at 11:16 am and is filed under biology, In praise of biocide. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

84 Responses to “The Viral Vasectomy: Covid’s Silver Lining.”

  1. Rob Mielcarski

    Best news I’ve heard in a long time.
    Keep up the good work and cheers from another angry aware Canadian.

    https://un-denial.com/2020/10/23/the-un-denial-decision-tree/

    https://un-denial.com/2018/10/30/by-peter-watts-the-adorable-optimism-of-the-ipcc/

  2. sirenensang

    Now this is the Malthusian kind of argument that was never true and never will be true. If this is good news for you, you might be disappointed to learn that one billion africans have far less of an impact on this world’s destruction than 250 million US americans.
    You want rich people to become sterile, Peter. With everyone else, it only enlarges the misery in the world.

  3. Ross

    Dr. “Seymen” is now added to the list of medical professionals with appropriate names.

  4. Fatman

    Peter Watts: I am starting to think, though, that some people use the word “Malthusian” the way others use the world “Socialist”.

    They probably think it’s a portmanteau of “malt enthusiast” and that you’re posting while drinking whisky.

  5. ItReachesOut

    “The purpose of Janus is to sterilize… the purpose of Janus is to sterilize the entire human race.”

    That said I’m pretty confident individual resource consumption and exponential distribution of consumption by wealth could just skyrocket even if the population declines. Or as a side effect – all that wstablished infrastructure needs to keep making money after all.

  6. Peter Watts

    sirenensang:
    Now this is the Malthusian kind of argument that was never true and never will be true.

    I’m not seeing anything “Malthusian” about this post. I don’t mention resource shortages or exponential growth once, for example. I’m simply outlining a novel mechanism by which Covid could reduce the human population.

    I am starting to think, though, that some people use the word “Malthusian” the way others use the world “Socialist”.

    If this is good news for you, you might be disappointed to learn that one billion africans have far less of an impact on this world’s destruction than 250 million US americans.

    Thanks for the newsflash, but it’s a bit late in arriving. Not only have I long been aware of the relative environmental impacts of developing vs. first-world nations (as, frankly, everyone should be by now), but I’ve delivered public lectures hammering home that very point, with nifty slides and everything. My novels have been making that explicit point since the turn of the century. More recently, I even wrote a hopepunk story for the XPrize people in which us rich folk are nudged into committing mass suicide via a hack of the Neuralink EBS.

    All that said, recognition of the fact that our high standard of living more than compensates for the greater number of (much smaller) per-capita footprints in poorer parts of the world does eliminate a central follow-up argument: namely, that the solution to high birth rates is to raise living standards. Your own observation that first-world environmental bootprints are disproportionately large means that environmentally, such a cure would be worse than the disease.

    You want rich people to become sterile, Peter.

    Hey, I wouldn’t ask you to do anything I wouldn’t do myself…

    With everyone else, it only enlarges the misery in the world.

    I’d argue that if you were truly interested in minimizing suffering, a good place to start might be by taking out the one species that’s responsible for wiping out anywhere between 70,000 and 130,000 other species every year. That’s a metric fucktonne of suffering right there.

    Or is it only the misery of your own kind that matters?

  7. [LESETIPPS]: Lasset uns lesen … - JOHN AYSA

    […] Peter Watts, der von mir sehr geschätzte SF-Autor ↗ (und Meeresbiologe) erwähnt eine bisher für mich neue Nebenwirkung von Covid – die […]

  8. JPTS

    I can already hear the conspiracy theorists claiming this was the plan of the “globalist agenda”.

    This would be a great lesson for those who ignored the risks and thought this was just a “small flu”.

  9. Patrick S. Tomlinson

    Peter, cheering for extermination of young urbanites – the only chance this country has to become truly progressive – and South African BIPOCs isn’t a good look.
    Try to do better.

  10. Nestor

    WTF I want to catch covid now.

    Well not really, the side effects are too unpredictable.

    But what real effect would it have on birth rates? It would have to knock a serious percentage of men out of the game, and even then wouldn’t the remainder step up? With donations, infidelity, serial monogamy, etc I think the effect wouldn’t be that profound – women who want to be mothers will find a way, like those velociraptors in Jurassic park. Whole generations of young males were wiped out in WWI and to a lesser degree WWII, didn’t really hinder the birth rate.

    Now if it were stealth sterilizing women, that would knock us back (& not up) for a generation or two. But I’m not seeing any references to that.

    Perhaps the next pandemic will have better aim.

  11. Whoever

    Ross:
    Dr. “Seymen” is now added to the list of medical professionals with appropriate names.

    We are trolled by Reality and Chance once again.

  12. Peter Watts

    Nestor: But what real effect would it have on birth rates? It would have to knock a serious percentage of men out of the game, and even then wouldn’t the remainder step up?

    Yeah, that’s a really good point: male mammals are by far the more disposable sex, insofar as a single male can inseminate countless females in the time it takes a female to bring a single pregnancy to term. Sterilizing half the women on the planet would put a serious dent in our reproductive rate; sterilizing half the males would probably just give us a moral justification for greater infidelity.

    Still, it’s something. And apparently Covid doesn’t impact the female repro tract nearly as hard as it hits the male’s.

    Patrick S. Tomlinson:
    Peter, cheering for extermination of young urbanites – the only chance this country has to become truly progressive – and South African BIPOCs isn’t a good look.
    Try to do better.

    While I applaud your defense of young urbanites (if there’s a group more in need of advocacy than the twenty-first century’s answer to the Yuppie, I certainly don’t know what it is), I’m utterly mystified by your “South African BIPOCs” comment. I never even mentioned South Africa as such; I merely reported an R for a new strain of Covid that hails from there. And where does “BIPOC”—hell, where does any reference to any Human ethnicity— appear in this post? It doesn’t.

    Yours is almost the kind of comment I’d expect from someone trying to enhance their in-group social status by publicly decrying a perceived racist element where one didn’t exist. If that’s the case, you might have better luck accusing me of misogyny: I actually did mention “The Screwfly Solution” after all, which you could always twist into an implicit endorsement of global femicide.

    I guess what I’m saying is, try to do better.

    But in the event that you honestly just misread the post, let me clarify: what I’m really cheering here is the underdog. I’m cheering all those species and ecosystems and biomes that Humanity is currently kicking the shit out of. I’m cheering for their survival in the face of extinction, even if that looks increasingly unlikely.

    If the only way to achieve that involves culling the pest species responsible for all that destruction— and let’s face it, Pat, your savior urbanites notwithstanding we are trending in the entirely the wrong direction— well, not really an indictment of my attitude. That’s an indictment of our whole damn species.

    You might want to rethink the whole Human Supremacy thing…

  13. Fatman

    Patrick S. Tomlinson: Peter, cheering for extermination of young urbanites – the only chance this country has to become truly progressive – and South African BIPOCs isn’t a good look.

    Peter Watts: let’s face it, Pat, your savior urbanites notwithstanding we are trending in the entirely the wrong direction

    I sort of have mixed feelings about this. Yes, lower human reproduction rates are something to be applauded, either as a result of lower fertility, or personal choice.

    But this decrease disproportionately affects intelligent, educated young people, i.e. the ones with potential for actual paying jobs and commensurate social security contributions (a.k.a. pensions and investment returns for the aging) down the line.

    Meanwhile, the stupids continue to multiply at alarming rates, hastening our spiral into idiocracy. Opiate addiction, morbid obesity and suicide are barely making a dent in those numbers. Poor life choices also mean that they start reproducing at younger ages. Not sure how age correlates with COVID-19-related infertility.

    Bottom line? We may be heading for a smaller human population, but a shittier situation in general, possibly with no proportional reduction in overall human footprint.

  14. listedproxyname

    I have observed that at least in my country, RNA vaccines and a lot of other effective COVID suppression measures did not materialize out of thin air just because of medical industry development(it isn’t even ranked high on the preparedness level, if these rankings amount to something). Rather it is the fact that US has been seeding military biotech laboratories through the world for decades, looking for opportunities. This has been very concerning, and not in typical American way of “concern”. It would be a very devilish idea to deprive your rivals of procreation before defeating them through many other more regular means. The kind of idea that insane global corporation may come up with.

    Peter Watts: Your own observation that first-world environmental bootprints are disproportionately large means that environmentally, such a cure would be worse than the disease.

    This model does not include the observation that the first world is harming ecology at large precisely because of the relentless exploitation of the rest of the world, them having a hard time keeping up with demands. And the answer to this problem is the same as ever – more exploitation and more demands, only this time branded as “environment-friendly”.

    So what is this argument about? Would you suggest that the demographic transition isn’t necessary (or not inevitable) if we can jump from environmental irresponsibility straight to strategically applied h_l_caust? If rising standards of living for population isn’t going to return the investments… Well, back to the pillaging it is, I suppose – this time unhindered by moral implications, because environment is important, and humans are not. Once again here’s the outlet for cynical self-interest to not do anything to fix the situation and to promote misanthropy instead, reasoning that what is happening is good enough.

    Peter Watts: Or is it only the misery of your own kind that matters?

    Ecology may broaden the definition of suffering by including less developed life forms in its TOS, but there is still a limit to this – I hardly imagine that that rocks themselves can suffer, the suffering is produced in human soul for their fate. However, complete extinction of your own kind would be worst kind of misery. This is an onion model of human priorities, and we will again return to the beginning even if we try to avoid it. Anyway, this may as well be what is happening right now just as it happened with my people before.

  15. Tran Script

    Wouldn’t the main issue with this argument be that the virus predominantly affects geriatrics? Like, the young people who are reproducing wouldn’t have a problem at all even if they’re asymptomatic carriers, otherwise they wouldn’t be asymptomatic.

  16. blarn

    So are we going full antinatalist right now or what? I feel like you are relishing in every moment you spend skirting that line but are too afraid to actually commit to the label. Or maybe I’m just making shit up because I’m bored. Either way the rhetoric I see in these blog posts comes off as laughably edgy and tryhard.

    So on the off chance that I’m not completely strawmanning your worldview, allow me to give a brief rundown as to why I think it’s stupid and dumb. (and yes, it is both)

    Hell, even if I am misrepresenting you, I know we’ve got some card carrying antinatalists reading your blog anyway that get empowered by reading your posts, so they can feel free to take offence to the following in your stead.

    I think it’s trivially easy to extend the antinatalist/human extinction worldview to every other lifeform on the planet. How can you look at nature and not be horrified at what other creatures do to each other? So if we fling ourselves down the consequentialist spiral that is antinatalism, how can you argue that the extinctions happening right now are a bad thing? Maybe keeping humans around is actually a good thing because it hastens the annihilation of ALL living things, which would end ALL suffering. There’s a pro-human argument even YOU can get behind.

    Even without humans, life is hell for pretty much every sentient species on the planet. And as for all the non-sentient species out there? Well, why the fuck should we factor them in to the equation anyway? They don’t even have the capacity to suffer.

    But I’m not a smarty philosophy guy, nor am I a smarty science guy, so maybe I am just a big dummy dumbface for thinking this is a decent rebuke of the general mood I find here.

    As for what I think, I think that humans breeding less is a good thing because it will allow our species, and others, to live longer and healthier and we can continue to do the cool shit that only we are can do. The way I see it humans are the only ones capable of doing anything worthwhile (or, dare I say it, good) with this planet if we really wanted to.

    Interesting read none the less, as always.

    And for the love of god, finish Omniscience already.

  17. Peter Watts

    listedproxyname: It would be a very devilish idea to deprive your rivals of procreation before defeating them through many other more regular means. The kind of idea that insane global corporation may come up with.

    It is. Although it’s a pretty long-term plan, and implementation time is running short.

    What is your country, if I may ask?

    This model does not include the observation that the first world is harming ecology at large precisely because of the relentless exploitation of the rest of the world, them having a hard time keeping up with demands. And the answer to this problem is the same as ever – more exploitation and more demands, only this time branded as “environment-friendly”.

    Yeah, excellent point. Although I’d argue there is another answer than the one you cite: less exploitation and fewer demands, also branded as “environment-friendly”. The catch, of course, is that it means us rich people get less Stuff. You ask me it’s a small price to pay, but it’s a hard sell in a capitalistic society.

    Ecology may broaden the definition of suffering by including less developed life forms in its TOS, but there is still a limit to this – I hardly imagine that that rocks themselves can suffer,

    There are some physical panpsychics who would beg to differ…

    However, complete extinction of your own kind would be worst kind of misery.

    I honestly don’t see how. Our extinction would not only limit eliminate the misery we inflict on others, it eliminates human misery by tautological definition. (Although see blarn’s remarks above, and my follow-up below.)

    Once again here’s the outlet for cynical self-interest to not do anything to fix the situation and to promote misanthropy instead, reasoning that what is happening is good enough.

    If that’s your interpretation of my view, I’m not making myself clear. I make no bones about being misanthropic, but my distaste for our kind is because I believe we can be so much better and we just aren’t. I’m angry that we keep falling so short of our potential.

    I mean, I’m a science fiction writer, for Chrissakes. I revel in the thought of Humanity reaching for the stars, I’ve been building planetariums in my bedroom since I was eight years old. I would love to see us bootstrap into something better, to see up jump up the well and go exploring for the sheer giddy joy of exploring the unknown. It pisses me off mightily that I’ll live and die on the same damn planet, that in all likelihood I’ll go to my grave without even experiencing the damp claustrophobic joy of life in an undersea habitat. We could do all that, I know it. We could be glorious.

    But we’re just not on that trajectory, are we? Democracy is receding around the world; brainstem populism is on the rise. We’ve known what we were doing to the place for over half a century now and we haven’t even started to bend the curves of all the environmental doom trajectories we’re on. Hell, just today the USA replaced a leader who openly scorned environmental issues with another leader who embraces them rhetorically, and will— if history is any guide— join into all sorts of grandiose deals with far-off goals that will continue to go unmet. And this is almost universally regarded as a great triumph.

    I’m also leery of your use of the word “cynical”. I see such words a lot. We’re delusionally optimistic as a species, to the point where we label people who are empirically more objective than the norm as victims of a pathology. And when someone deviates from that baseline— refuses to treat Human life as any kind of sacred exception in the firmament, insists on pointing out that we’re just another species, with brains stems like any other— the common reaction is to dismiss them as “cynical”. We don’t really mean it; we’re just saying it to be contrarian. We’re just saying it for shock value.

    But it’s not cynicism, it’s anger. And I’m not arguing the we “shouldn’t do anything to fix the situation”, I’m raging because we’re not doing that and we had all the time in the world and now it’s probably too late.

    And I think you should be raging too.

    Tran Script:
    Wouldn’t the main issue with this argument be that the virus predominantly affects geriatrics? Like, the young people who are reproducing wouldn’t have a problem at all even if they’re asymptomatic carriers, otherwise they wouldn’t be asymptomatic.

    The virus predominantly kills geriatrics. As far as I understand, it infects pretty much every age group, but its lethality increases with host age. This paper doesn’t dispute that: it just suggests that one of the impacts that hasn’t been considered is sterility among reproductive-age males. Maybe a lot of the “asymptomatic” cases have symptoms after all, it’s just that sterility isn’t a symptom that’s immediately obvious unless you’re going out of your way to look for it.

    It’s only been a year. Time will tell.

  18. Peter Watts

    blarn:
    So are we going full antinatalist right now or what? I feel like you are relishing in every moment you spend skirting that line but are too afraid to actually commit to the label.

    Oh, I don’t deny a certain vindictive glee as the birds come home to roost. People have been trying to raise the alarm as long as I can remember, and if they weren’t ignored outright they were ridiculed and dismissed and in some cases killed. I’m not going to pretend it doesn’t give me some childish satisfaction to see the bill coming due. It does piss me off that the people most responsible for this mess will, under current circumstances, end up paying the least, but I’m hopeful that might change. I’ve even written feel-good stories about it.

    So on the off chance that I’m not completely strawmanning your worldview, allow me to give a brief rundown as to why I think it’s stupid and dumb. (and yes, it is both) … I think it’s trivially easy to extend the antinatalist/human extinction worldview to every other lifeform on the planet. How can you look at nature and not be horrified at what other creatures do to each other? So if we fling ourselves down the consequentialist spiral that is antinatalism, how can you argue that the extinctions happening right now are a bad thing? Maybe keeping humans around is actually a good thing because it hastens the annihilation of ALL living things, which would end ALL suffering. There’s a pro-human argument even YOU can get behind. … But I’m not a smarty philosophy guy, nor am I a smarty science guy, so maybe I am just a big dummy dumbface for thinking this is a decent rebuke of the general mood I find here.

    No, you’re no dumby dumbface; I suspect the antinatalists might talk about degrees of suffering, and ethical responsibility to the biosphere, but in its essentials I think your argument’s pretty much unassailable (although I think maybe you didn’t take it far enough). If you start with the axiom that Suffering Is Bad, and the only universal good is to minimize it, then ending the existence of sentient life in all its forms (or at least, sentient life that still abides by basic Darwinian principles) can only be a good thing.

    But it’s also not exactly news in these parts. I wrote a story a couple years back (“Kindred”) that takes that argument to its logical conclusion. Around the same time I gave a talk in Beijing that argued the best way to accomplish interstellar dispersal would be by deliberately weeding certain Darwinian elements out of ourselves (in a nutshell: the closest one can get to observing reality with objective eyes is to not care whether you live or die, and this ironically might be our best chance of colonizing the galaxy). And I’m not even saying anything especially new: hell, Dr. Manhattan made a similar comment about how the universe was better off without life back in the original Watchmen.

    The difference is, you cite that argument as a Reductio ad absurdum, and I just run with it. Matter of fact, one of the endings I’m considering for Omniscience involves the Bicamerals reweaving certain physical constants so that life itself becomes impossible throughout the cosmos (kind of a vacuum-inflation thing). That’s why I introduced the concept of thanoparorasis in Echopraxia: I figured the only beings that would pull such a nihilistic stunt would have to be utterly indifferent to the prospect of their own extinction.

    The reason I haven’t settled on that ending is because it seems a bit too obvious, too over-the-top. But I haven’t ruled it out entirely.

    As for what I think, I think that humans breeding less is a good thing because it will allow our species, and others, to live longer and healthier and we can continue to do the cool shit that only we are can do.

    See my rant about anger and cynicism to listedproxybyname; we’re kind of on the same page here.

    But the problem is, we’re not doing the cool shit, are we? We’re still shitting where we eat, we’re still fucking things up. And the cool stuff that we do manage to fit in around the edges of our grand crusade to fuck the biosphere— well, that stuff requires a lot of infrastructure, doesn’t it? And how long is that gonna last at this rate?

    And for the love of god, finish Omniscience already.

    Dude, I’ve just started Omniscience.

    But at least you know how it might end now.

  19. Tran Script

    I think that humans will endure, even in the scorched trash filled and polluted wasteland of tomorrow. Probably not baseline humans though. I’ll hold on to hope that somebody (maybe the Chinese) will start genetically modifying their offspring with alleles correlated to higher intelligence (and also some heat adaptation please) and we will persist. Sad to think of the cost of it all though.

    Peter Watts: The virus predominantly kills geriatrics. As far as I understand, it infects pretty much every age group, but its lethality increases with host age. This paper doesn’t dispute that: it just suggests that one of the impacts that hasn’t been considered is sterility among reproductive-age males. Maybe a lot of the “asymptomatic” cases have symptoms after all, it’s just that sterility isn’t a symptom that’s immediately obvious unless you’re going out of your way to look for it.

    Wouldn’t having a virus run rampant in your balls present symptoms though? Like, the immune system would react to it. Also from briefly skimming the article it seemed like most of the testes they studied were postmortem from covid 19 patients, i.e. probably people who were in an age group with higher risk. Could have missed something though as I only briefly skipped through the page.

  20. G M

    While I agree with almost everything in the original post – I’d be sipping a nice dram of Bunnahabhain if a good portion of the population went sterile (which is a malt you should definitely try if you haven’t, Peter) – I find the notion that humanity increases the net amount of suffering on the planet pretty suspect. Nature, fond as I am of it, is fucking horrific in a way that most people just haven’t come to terms with. For instance: I’m not all that fond of recreational hunting, but every time I hear someone moaning on and on about the suffering and death of these poor animals I think, ‘How else did you expect that animal to go?’ Starvation is an ugly death. So is being lazily gnawed on by a predator who just gives no shits that you are screaming in agony. Every hunter I know makes an honest effort to limit the suffering of the animals he kills. No other predator does, and many do the opposite, as squeeling scrambling prey trigger some satisfying endorphin releases in many species. Those squeeky toys your cats and dogs love so much aren’t simulating a quick kill.

    Humans can be – are – myopic, selfish assholes. But if one cares about any sort of grounded ethics or morality, we are literally the only game in town until such time until we encounter ET, and then we’ll have to see, won’t we? Abstractly valuing the well-being of other species in the face of human extinction is just mawkish emotionalism, and, ironically, is something only a human would do (yes, I’m aware of the documentation of cross-species empathy edge-cases, but they are exceptions that prove the rule).

    I’ve not quite reached David Deutsch’s ‘Nature is an Abusive Mother’ in my personal philosophy, but it’s probably more true than any Romantic worldview about nature. I love hiking. I love camping. I love (many) animals. And I care about the welfare of Nature. But aside from some people and some dogs I know, none of it cares about me. And the dogs don’t care about the value of my life abstractly. Humans, shits though they are, are the best thing about the world.

  21. listedproxyname

    Peter Watts: If that’s your interpretation of my view, I’m not making myself clear. I make no bones about being misanthropic, but my distaste for our kind is because I believe we can be so much better and we just aren’t. I’m angry that we keep falling so short of our potential.

    There, I’m sorry if I made myself vague about this point, I do not necessary insist that I describe your personal point of view – I am talking about more general idea among first world population. Besides, there are shades of disappointment in humanity and intelligence that I do not share entirely.

    I am, however, very aware that there are others who will take the idea closer to the heart, and will insist that we can bring ourself closer to salvation if we just start to get rid of “useless” population that does not agree to some perfect view of the world and thus becomes outlaws. Like mr. Fatman over here who seem insist we know how to reliably separate the smart wheat from the stupid chaff for the betterment of everybody (everybody who survived, that is).

    Peter Watts: What is your country, if I may ask?

    Russia, that is, but may as well be China to the same effect.

    Though there’s a subtle difference. We lived through some interesting times very recently, the time when one of the very developed and advanced societies suffered unexpected crash of ideals, loss of faith into future, rapid downsizing and de-industrialization, and so on. So I have had front row to witness the resemblance of that may come into effect in next several decades for the rest of the world. Too bad that, perhaps, a lot of these events are not studied well enough, or studied at all.

    Further still, brightest minds of “capitalism” still suffer from cognitive dissonance observing that the nation that should have faded out of significance two decades ago somehow still maintains integrity and sovereignty, and even rebuilds something back on greater scale. For me, at least, it means that there’s a way out of this spiral of grief and self-loathing, maybe just not the way everybody expect it (I mean, how would they know until they go through all the stages in the first place?).

  22. superkuh

    I get that you’re playing around a bit here but there’s a lot of misinformation about sars-cov-2 and covid-19 disease and it’s unsettling to see *you* highlighting this single author meta-study as a true thing.

    Sure the testes have tissues that have high expression of ACE2 and the proteases needed to cut the spike protein for cell fusion, but so do a lot of other tissues. In the paper they end one paragraph by saying, “Well, it could all just be from increased body temperature and general inflammation.” and that seems the more reasonable conclusion. Especially since the sperm sars-cov-2 PCR surveys were so inconsistent. As for the hypogonadism connection, that’s even weaker. If you want to scaremonger about something like that then look at the effect of chronic use of generalized COX inhibitors like ibuprofen.

    It’s plausible given the tissue damage severe covid-19 disease causes throughout the body but I’d need to see specific studies on it. But suggesting it might happen in the 3/4th asymptomatic cases is silly and alarmist.

  23. Tran Script

    G M: I find the notion that humanity increases the net amount of suffering on the planet pretty suspect.

    Doesn’t the massive decline of like almost every animal count as suffering? Or do you only include suffering caused by voluntary actions of a predator in your definition of suffering?

    I don’t give a fuck about a baby deer being torn apart. Hell, I’d gladly eat one alive in front of its mother myself. It’s the complete carelessness and disregard for the environment and the future (without any malicious intent, even) of the average human being that makes me truly sad.
    You can be evil without wanting to be.

  24. The K

    You know Dr. Watts, this skirts, if not outright reaches, full-on anti-natalist levels. I mean, fine. I can understand where you are coming from. For the record, i am not planning on having children myself, for a smorgasbrod of reasons.

    But somehow it sits wrong with me when the rich elite (and yes, i am meaning you and me, compared to a vast majority of the world we ARE the rich elite) sits smugly in our warm, safe house and cheers for the death and/or grief ot other people. It feels a lot like kicking down.

    I also dislike the whole “Human Supremacist” angle. You can bet your ass that i value my own and my loved ones wellbeing over anything else (including other species) in the world. And i bet so do you. It is pretty easy to be happy that humans are dieing off, as long as its other humans and noone you actually care about, i guess.

    As for our species going the way of the dodo, yeah its happening, and it will be good for the biodiversity of our planet. But i rather dislike the whole “Oh great, nature can finally restore itself” angle. Nature doesnt give a fuck. If we get hit by a big comet tomorrow that makes the Chixculub impact look like a firecracker and Earth turns into a lava-wasteland, well, what was all the whinging about?

    Sorry, that got a lot more rambling and incoherent that i wanted. Perhaps that outright glee at the coming extinction of our race is just your way of coping with the depressing reality.

  25. Fatman

    blarn: As for what I think, I think that humans breeding less is a good thing because it will allow our species, and others, to live longer and healthier and we can continue to do the cool shit that only we are can do

    G M: Abstractly valuing the well-being of other species in the face of human extinction is just mawkish emotionalism

    I think we’re making the jump from “humans breeding less” to “human extinction” rather arbitrarily. If there is a drop (still not convinced that a meaningful one is happening), human numbers will most likely eventually stabilize at levels that are sustainable and less harmful for the environment. No apocalyptic scenarios needed.

    The K: And i bet so do you. It is pretty easy to be happy that humans are dieing off, as long as its other humans and noone you actually care about, i guess.

    When did we move on to “kill all humans”? People who are not born, therefore do not exist, are not “someone I actually care about”, nor can they feel suffering.

    listedproxyname:nation that should have faded out of significance two decades ago somehow still maintains integrity and sovereignty, and even rebuilds something back on greater scale

    I don’t like the concept of “national significance”, because all nations are significant. Russia is no longer a global superpower (it is definitely a regional one, like Turkey or Saudi Arabia), but that’s IMO a good thing for the Russians.

    Nationalist posturing, even ineffective and sad, may cheer up jingoistic trogs, but doesn’t buy groceries. It is a lesson the US has learned with great reluctance, and we’re only recently starting to realize the enormity of the cost.

    But Russia is relevant to this particular discussion, in the sense that its current government has the fertility issue all figured out. Declining population growth, combined with a life expectancy of around 70, and you never have to worry about overpopulation again.

    Plus, Vlad recently bumped up the retirement age to 65. I shudder at the thought of living standards of Russian pensioners, but at least their social security system will outlast ours.

  26. Tran Script

    Peter Watts: The difference is, you cite that argument as a Reductio ad absurdum, and I just run with it. Matter of fact, one of the endings I’m considering for Omniscience involves the Bicamerals reweaving certain physical constants so that life itself becomes impossible throughout the cosmos (kind of a vacuum-inflation thing). That’s why I introduced the concept of thanoparorasis in Echopraxia: I figured the only beings that would pull such a nihilistic stunt would have to be utterly indifferent to the prospect of their own extinction.

    Wait why would the bicamerals do this though? What’s the loss function they’re trying to minimize?

  27. Peter Watts

    Tran Script: I’ll hold on to hope that somebody (maybe the Chinese) will start genetically modifying their offspring with alleles correlated to higher intelligence (and also some heat adaptation please) and we will persist.

    I dunno, I’m no expert but my understanding is that the heritable component of intelligence is hugely polygenic. I don’t know if even the Chinese have cracked that nut yet.

    Wouldn’t having a virus run rampant in your balls present symptoms though? Like, the immune system would react to it.

    Maybe not. I keep seeing mentions of weird immune suppression in the balls, e.g., Kharbach and Khallouk: “the male reproductive system has an immunosuppressive environment due to the blood–testis barrier which might protect seminal viruses from immune surveillance”

    Also from briefly skimming the article it seemed like most of the testes they studied were postmortem from covid 19 patients, i.e. probably people who were in an age group with higher risk

    I’m seeing a bunch of studies based on everything from 6 postmortem samples to massive online genetics databases to a hormonal study of 81 infected vs 100 uninfected males (the infectees in that one had a median age of 38, ranging from 20-54). I’m not being comprehensive by any means, but I’m not seeing any suggestion that potential urogenital issues are limited to the geriatric set.

    I mean, it’s all preliminary at this point. A lot of these results haven’t even been peer-reviewed yet, they may not pan out. I’m just running with a scenario that assumes they do.

    G M: I find the notion that humanity increases the net amount of suffering on the planet pretty suspect. Nature, fond as I am of it, is fucking horrific in a way that most people just haven’t come to terms with.

    Fair enough. I can get sloppy sometimes, and confuse my visceral rage at Human hypocrisy with more empirical, ecological concerns. It’s incontestable that suffering is ubiquitous on the planet; evolution doesn’t care if you’re happy so long as you reproduce (hence blarn’s argument about reducing suffering by wiping out all life on the planet). But that’s just the baseline, absent human involvement. The fact that life is a charnel house right out of the gate doesn’t mean that we as a species aren’t adding to the carnage. Look at the aftermath of any oil spill, at the body count wracked up by abandoned drift nets, and you’ll see what I mean—and those things are insignificant next to the impact of habitat fragmentation and climate change.

    I like complexity. I like it because the universe at large is gas and chaos and increasing entropy, and I like it when little knots of stable complexity emerge in the backwaters. And when some of that complexity starts to think and observe and feel, I find that amazing because while we have a really good idea of how matter can turn into meat, we have no fucking clue how meat can wake up and start to experience things subjectively. I’m not just talking about us, here: I’m talking about sentient beings in general. We are all miraculous.

    It’s admittedly an axiom (everything is, ultimately) but I value complex, healthy ecosystems with a lot of diversity and built-in redundancy. And if the thing you value most is a healthy biosphere, there’s no denying that we are a pestilence. Ecologically, the world would be way better off without us. Next to us, smallpox was a goddamned saint: it didn’t even succeed in wiping our a single species, and we’re taking out thousands.

    Abstractly valuing the well-being of other species in the face of human extinction is just mawkish emotionalism,

    I profoundly disagree. We’re just one species among millions; valuing ourselves above all others is perfectly natural and entirely understandable, but those are the priorities of brute self-interest. The mere fact that we want to survive doesn’t mean that we’re intrinsically the most valuable entities in the universe; it just means we’ve got the same selfish instincts as everything else on the planet Valuing the well-being of other species isn’t mawkish sentimentality: it’s adopting a worldview that doesn’t put us at the center of the universe. It’s continuing a process started by Galileo and Copernicus and Darwin.

    and, ironically, is something only a human would do (yes, I’m aware of the documentation of cross-species empathy edge-cases, but they are exceptions that prove the rule).

    I don’t know how many exceptions you need before you stop calling them that, but we’ve got at least behavioral evidence for empathy in mammals from rodents on up. And while I don’t know of any explicit studies on birds, given the smarts of covids and parrots I’d be hugely surprised if the same wasn’t true for avians.

    You may be right about ours being the only species that can abstractly put the welfare of other species ahead of its own, I’ll admit. And I’ll agree that makes us special. But your next step seems to be to dismiss the very thing that sets us apart as mawkish sentimentality, something to be derided. We have this unique ability to move our perspective away from the little self-centered bubble that characterizes almost all life on the planet, and to look at systems from the top down; and you seem to be citing that very ability to argue that we shouldn’t use it, that we should just behave like everything else out there. We are unique, so we should act the same. You don’t see a problem there?

    To me it’s not a question of whether we behave “naturally”. Of course we do. That’s the problem. When you have a species driven by “natural” instincts and equip it with world-changing technology, you get—well, you get the mess we’re in now. I’ve said it before: if we want to survive, we better start behaving unnaturally pretty damn fast.

    Problem is, I think we may be out of time.

    listedproxyname: I am, however, very aware that there are others who will take the idea closer to the heart, and will insist that we can bring ourself closer to salvation if we just start to get rid of “useless” population that does not agree to some perfect view of the world and thus becomes outlaws.

    You’re talking about the so-called “ecofascists” (I can’t speak for Fatman, although I don’t get the sense he falls into that camp). And while I appreciate the danger of allowing fundamentally racist agendas to misuse biology yet again, I’m also alarmed by how easily that term is getting thrown around to describe people whose only crime is to point out that there are too many of us for the world to sustain, and that we will eventually live within our means—either because we clean up our act, or because Nature finally kicks it to correct the overshoot.

    Whenever you say this, you can always count on some doofus to point out that rich first-worlders have a far greater ecological impact than your typical African—even though nobody said otherwise, even though we’re explicitly talking inclusively about Humanity as a species, even though we might actually have a decent record of publications both fictive and non about the need to explicitly target the demographic with the biggest bootprint.

    Why, you might even find such people on this very thread.

  28. Peter Watts

    superkuh:
    I get that you’re playing around a bit here but …
    … suggesting it might happen in the 3/4th asymptomatic cases is silly and alarmist.

    Dude, if you’re going to object to content you should at least pick a target and stick with it. I can’t be scaremongering and just playing around at the same time.

    it’s unsettling to see *you* highlighting this single author meta-study as a true thing.

    I did no such thing. Really. I stated explicitly that these were preliminary results. I drew attention to the conditionals, described the paper’s conclusions as “speculative”. I ran with a what-if scenario—which, really, is kind of what I do here.

    Sure the testes have tissues that have high expression of ACE2 and the proteases needed to cut the spike protein for cell fusion, but so do a lot of other tissues.

    Sure. The lungs. The kidneys. The brain. I said this already; weren’t you paying attention?

    But with those caveats out of the way, it’s looking like the the male urogenital tract is especially susceptible. At least, that’s my understanding of phrases like “male genital system presents high ACE2 expression” and “ACE2 receptors are much more abundant in the male reproductive system than the female reproductive system” and “Shen et al. [16] found high ACE2 expression in testis (both germ cells and somatic cells) suggesting potential tropism of SARS-CoV-2 to testicular tissues“.

    Especially since the sperm sars-cov-2 PCR surveys were so inconsistent.

    Again, dude: “preliminary”. “Speculative.” What part of these explicit caveats do you not understand?

    As for the hypogonadism connection, that’s even weaker.

    I dunno. They did find some statistically significant results with a hormonal study involving 81 infected males. We may not be talking r2s in the .9s, but the relationship appears to be real.

    It’s plausible given the tissue damage severe covid-19 disease causes throughout the body but I’d need to see specific studies on it.

    Wait, what? You say it’s plausible, but we need more data?
    So it turns out that we actually agree.

    suggesting it might happen in the 3/4th asymptomatic cases is silly and alarmist.

    Why silly? We have reports of both Covid-19 tropism toward the repro system, and evidence of immunosuppression in the testes (hence, reduced symptoms). It might turn out to be wrong, but it’s not silly.

    The K:
    You know Dr. Watts, this skirts, if not outright reaches, full-on anti-natalist levels.

    Yes. Absolutely.

    But somehow it sits wrong with me when the rich elite (and yes, i am meaning you and me, compared to a vast majority of the world we ARE the rich elite) sits smugly in our warm, safe house and cheers for the death and/or grief ot other people. It feels a lot like kicking down.

    Might be an idea to consider whether it actually is kicking down, as opposed to simply accepting the feels at face value. My rage has always been targeted at the rich—and as for my smugness and my comfy home, for the most part I lived in a series of one-bedroom apartments until I was 52. When I finally got married and moved into my wife’s house, I shared it with three other people.

    Yes, I’m comfy now. For the moment. But I don’t expect to stay this way. To quote myself from a recent collection of essays, I do not expect to die peacefully, and I do not expect to die in a stable jurisdiction. I’m not bearing anywhere near the brunt of our short-sightedness yet—certainly not as much as those poor bastards in Tuvalu, for example—but I think it’s only a matter of time. Smug is not the word you’re looking for.

    “Chronic stomach-churning anxiety”, maybe.

    I also dislike the whole “Human Supremacist” angle. You can bet your ass that i value my own and my loved ones wellbeing over anything else (including other species) in the world. And i bet so do you. It is pretty easy to be happy that humans are dieing off, as long as its other humans and noone you actually care about, i guess.

    You might want to examine why exactly the “Human Supremacist angle” sticks in your craw, especially when you’ve just explicitly admitted to—hell, boasted about—being one. As for valuing my own life and those of my loved ones, of course I do. Just like you. But the fact that we have certain feels wired into us over the course of a few billion years doesn’t make those feelings any kind of arbiter of empirical truth: they’re just strategies to maximize short-term reproductive fitness.

    Check out my response to GM, upstream. It deals with some of what you’re going on about. tl;dr is: I don’t care how natural or universal our feelings are. They may have kept us alive millennia ago but right now they’re killing us. Stop telling me how much you value your family and start thinking about why that is, and what it entails, and where these gut feelings are taking us.

    Sorry, that got a lot more rambling and incoherent that i wanted.

    No worries. I do that myself more than I’d like to admit.

  29. Lars

    “…given the smarts of covids and parrots…”

    A bit of taxonomic confusion here.

  30. Peter Watts

    Arrrrrgh.

    You know, I’m going to leave it that way. Sign of the timers.

  31. The K

    @Peter Watts: After writing another long, rambling response i decided to cut it, since most of what i would have said has been adressed by you anyway.

    Just this one:

    I really dislike the whole “Human Supremacist” sthick because it implies a higher moral ground that i feel noone could rightfully occupy. As i said, by your definition i am a human supremacist, as are you. Anyone except some buddhist saint that brushes away insects lest he steps on them, probably is in some way or another. I am not saying that this is a GOOD thing, mind you, but what exactly is that accusation going to accomplish?

    For me that smacks a bit too much of the good ole christian hellfire rhetoric, “We are ALL Sinners, repent, etc etc.”

    Unless we begin to rewire ourselves into something entirely different, something we cannot do yet, we will all be human supremacists. Might as well call us out for breathing.

    Also i want to apologize if i mistook your anxiety for, well, smug glibness. Sometimes you come across as a bit too gleeful about the whole imminent end of the world thing. Altough i am no native speaker, so perhaps that is just me. I certainly can relate to the anxiety bit even if im hoping that the house of cards will hold together for a few decades more.

    Fatman: When did we move on to “kill all humans”? People who are not born, therefore do not exist, are not “someone I actually care about”, nor can they feel suffering.

    I think it is a pretty slippery slope from “Humans shouldnt exist in the future because they are bad” to “Maybe, just maybe we should speed that along”. And somehow i think the “great sacrifices” that have to be made for that will not be made by the one who are making those statements.

  32. G M

    Re: complexity. I buy all that. I value complexity, too. But in response to your valuing of complexity I simply offer:

    1. Humans can value complexity. Nothing else that we know of can.

    2. Complexity, like colour and beauty, only exists in the heads of the people thinking about complexity, and thus it disappears when those things disappear.

    3. The complexity we value on Earth is an engine by which the total entropy of the universe is being increased; this seems analogous to way that the greater complexity of, say, a Lexus or a personal computer represents increased complexity at the expense of its greater environment.

    4. Bunnahabhain really is a great Scotch and you should try it.

    Also, while the things I value are certainly derived from my species, I don’t value humanity instrinsically. If something else that better embodies empathy, reason, etc wants to step up and take our place, I’m more than happy to cede them our position in the universe. I hope they make us pets, though, and let us drink Scotch, play video games, and argue on blogs.

  33. Nestor

    We had this same discussion almost exactly a year ago, I recalled asking Peter if he was willing to die for the Fjords (Incidentally the internal blog search is useless if it can’t pinpoint a word as unique as “Fjord”) so the thread was easy to find.

    I too came to the conclusion that the human extinctionists lack scope, that Bicameral plan does sound about right.

    Amusingly there’s a Justice League movie where evil nihilist Batman tries to destroy all life for pretty much the same reasons.

  34. The K

    Nestor,

    Heh, you are right. Well, the old “We must kill everything to stop suffering” is an age-old movie villain trope, after all. One that i still feel is lacking something quite essential, but i cannot put the finger on it nor articulate myself well enough to pinpoint it.

    Perhaps its only the notion that all the splendour of the cosmos is wasted on unfeeling hydrogen, but then again, thats what my instincts want me to say, isnt it?

  35. joukahainen

    The K:
    @Peter Watts: After writing another long, rambling response i decided to cut it, since most of what i would have said has been adressed by you anyway.

    Just this one:

    I really dislike the whole “Human Supremacist” sthick because it implies a higher moral ground that i feel noone could rightfully occupy. As i said, by your definition i am a human supremacist, as are you. Anyone except some buddhist saint that brushes away insects lest he steps on them, probably is in some way or another. I am not saying that this is a GOOD thing, mind you, but what exactly is that accusation going to accomplish?

    For me that smacks a bit too much of the good ole christian hellfire rhetoric, “We are ALL Sinners, repent, etc etc.”

    Unless we begin to rewire ourselves into something entirely different, something we cannot do yet, we will all be human supremacists. Might as well call us out for breathing.

    Also i want to apologize if i mistook your anxiety for, well, smug glibness. Sometimes you come across as a bit too gleeful about the whole imminent end of the world thing. Altough i am no native speaker, so perhaps that is just me. I certainly can relate to the anxiety bit even if im hoping that the house of cards will hold together for a few decades more.

    I think it is a pretty slippery slope from “Humans shouldnt exist in the future because they are bad” to “Maybe, just maybe we should speed that along”. And somehow i think the “great sacrifices” that have to be made for that will not be made by the one who are making those statements.

    Recognizing our inborn bias allows us to recognize bias in our reasoning. We will never be able to function in a sustainable manner if we don’t overcome the burdens evolution has placed on our instincts and emotions. In the future, we may be able to engineer much of this out, but who knows how long that will be, if it’s even possible at all? For now, all we can do is draw attention to the issue of our destructive behaviors with rhetoric like “human supremacy”, and use rigorous logic to prevent bias from impairing rationality.

    I can’t really call your fears of people using antinatalism as a basis for violence as unfounded, as I can easily imagine some unhinged whackjob committing some nihilistic terrorism. I don’t think any country-scale organization would ever promote it though, as economics are too predicated on growth for any anti-breeding program to be considered. Nuclear suicide isn’t any worse than other extinction events though, on the contrary, it should kill most of us quite quickly.

  36. Peter Watts

    The K: Unless we begin to rewire ourselves into something entirely different, something we cannot do yet, we will all be human supremacists. Might as well call us out for breathing.

    I’d be more inclined to buy that argument were it not for our rampant hypocrisy. Our whole species is addicted to Human Exceptionalism—even those who’ve rejected the Created in the Image of God shtick will point out how we’re the only species on the planet that can Value Complexity or Wonder About Our Place In The Universe or Transcend Our Animal Instincts. (They also used to cite Tool Use and Empathy, but have recently had to do some serious backpeddling on that score.) And yet, the moment anyone shines a light on our short-sighted self-interest, our inability to internalize the consequences of our actions, our insistence upon placing ourselves at the pinnacle of creation, what’s the response? What do you expect? Every species does that. Why should we be any different?

    If the Trumps and Johnsons and Orbáns of the world said Yeah, we’re just like any other mammal, we don’t give a shit about anything but our own short-term interests and fuck anyone who isn’t kin—well, I wouldn’t like it much, but at least there’d be a refreshing element of honesty there. At least actions and rhetoric would be in accord. But no: we act like everything else, but we pretend we’re different. We’re not fighting over resources, we’re spreading democracy. We’re not oppressing our women for mate-guarding purposes, we’re obeying God’s Laws. It always comes down to some flavor of Manifest Destiny.

    Fuck that noise.

    G M: 1. Humans can value complexity. Nothing else that we know of can.

    I suppose it depends on what you mean by “value”. Your average bullfrog is unlikely to spend much time ruminating on the trophic webwork of the local pond, but he’s going to be seriously pissed off when that complexity is disrupted by the bulldozers from Acme Development. (In that sense bullfrogs aren’t that much different from us; don’t most of us just cruise through life taking our good fortune for granted until things fall apart, at which point we start in with the wailing and moaning?) Other species may not cognitively ruminate on complexity in the abstract, but they have positive reactions to healthy habitats and aversive reactions to sick ones. The same chemicals that make us happy or sad course though their brains. In that sense, at least, I think you can say they appreciate complexity at least.

    2. Complexity, like colour and beauty, only exists in the heads of the people thinking about complexity, and thus it disappears when those things disappear.

    Disagree. Color and beauty, granted, are in the eye of the beholder—a subjective way of interpreting the environment. Complexity is empirical. Circuits and trophic webs and galactic superclusters exist, whether someone’s aware of them or not. (Unless you think you might be some kind of Boltzmann Brain, in which case, fair enough.)

    3. The complexity we value on Earth is an engine by which the total entropy of the universe is being increased; this seems analogous to way that the greater complexity of, say, a Lexus or a personal computer represents increased complexity at the expense of its greater environment.

    I take your larger point, but you might want to pick a different analogy. No matter how many moving parts a Lexus might have, I’m willing to bet its structural and energetic complexity is a lot lower than that of the ecological communities that once existed in the places where the factories and highways and gas stations now stand.

    4. Bunnahabhain really is a great Scotch and you should try it.

    Okay, fine. I’ve searched the LCBO website and the nearest bottle is way the fuck down on Queen & Coxwell, but I’ll pick it up the next time I’m down there.

    The BUG should like it, at least. Not only is she a big scotch fan, but “Bunnahabhain” sounds like it has something to do with rabbits.

    Nestor: Amusingly there’s a Justice League movie where evil nihilist Batman tries to destroy all life for pretty much the same reasons.

    I had no idea this existed. (I also had no idea that Justice League cartoons dealt with such cerebral issues.) But I don’t think this really applies to the current argument: the idea that the world would be better off without us doesn’t hinge on any multiverse handwaving.

    However, for a very cool treatment of Owlman’s basic arguments, you might want to check out Ted Chiang’s latest collection. “Anxiety is the Dizziness of Freedom” might just win the Worst Story Title of Year award for 2019, but it deals with the whole personal-responsibility-and-meaning-in-a-multiverse thing the way only Chiang can do it.

  37. Andrew

    Our best solution would be to genetically engineer a human with a super brain while somehow figuring out how to also program/nurture compassion so that it hopefully doesn’t end up like one of your fucking vampires.

    Better yet, hope that the genetically engineered human HIMSELF conceives of an even more refined engineered human squared and so on until we basically create a benevolent god/dictator in our own image.

    Or just start spiking the water supply with MDMA. Let’s get creative here ffs.

  38. G M

    Complexity is empirical. Yeah. I mean, I agree. So is colour and love, inasmuch as every identifiable phenomena that isn’t a class error is empirical. Laplace’s Demon could publish a Nature paper about beauty, and if the Demon disappeared, the things he wrote about would still be there. But the disappearance of anything that might give a fuck calls into question whether the categories still exist in any meaningful way after Those Capable of Caring disappear, in much the same way as scientists debate whether time exists after the heat death of the universe. If nothing ever happens to anything, how can you say there’s still time?

    Yes, most of us humans cruise through life and give no fucks, just as most of us are venal assholes. But some > none. Sometimes humans are ethical, sometimes they value things outside of their own tribes, sometimes they use sensory kits and CNSs developed on the African savannah to discover amazing things about the nature of spacetime. We’re shit at all of that, but we’re the only game in town.

    I’m not sure I’m right about the Lexus thing, but I’m not sure I’m wrong. A modern computer chip is an amazing entropy-defying artifact, and a Lexus has a lot of them. And life will eventually speciate and flourish in an (post-)anthropic world. I do think it’s a novel and thought-provoking way to contextualize the FuckYouGotMine attitude of valuing the Earth’s Biosphere even as it speeds along the heat death of the universe, though (I say with no humility).

    ‘Okay, fine. I’ve searched the LCBO website and the nearest bottle is way the fuck down on Queen & Coxwell, but I’ll pick it up the next time I’m down there.

    The BUG should like it, at least. Not only is she a big scotch fan, but “Bunnahabhain” sounds like it has something to do with rabbits.’

    Excellent. My work here is done.

    Actually it isn’t: you and the BUG should give the German SF show ‘Dark’ a try when you need something to watch. It’s legitimately a great science fiction television show. It’s on Netflix.

  39. The K

    Peter Watts,

    Well one could argue that we are even capable of such astounding hypocrisy makes us indeed special. As far as we know we are the only thing in the universe that can couch its base impulses in noble words.

    How much anyone actually believes this shit is another thing entirely, as if anyone with half a brain looks at human history and doesnt see just a bunch of weaponized apes fighting for ressources and mates, at least on a grander scale than everyone else.

    You also have to give it to Trump: He pretty clearly said “Fuck everyone who is not us” and his voters loved him for that.

  40. Hank Roberts

    Why, it’s as if someone was producing an easy to follow recipe!

    https://www.sciencemag.org/news/1999/08/build-your-own-virus

  41. Jack

    I have an off topic question. What are your thoughts on Calhoun’s Idea of a behavioral sink and your observations of current patterns in human behavior?

  42. Peter Watts

    G M: But the disappearance of anything that might give a fuck calls into question whether the categories still exist in any meaningful way after Those Capable of Caring disappear

    I’d argue that all those non-human creatures left behind would care, in the sense that they’d be able to continue to exist in a healthy Human-free environment and do the subsapient equivalent of that whole “pursuit (albeit not necessarily successfully) of happiness” thing. I bet pigeons and mice give serious fucks about whether they live or die.

    G M: you and the BUG should give the German SF show ‘Dark’ a try when you need something to watch. It’s legitimately a great science fiction television show. It’s on Netflix.

    Way ahead of you. Even one of the step-pones watched it and loved it.

    First two seasons, at least. Went a little off the rails in the third. Either that or I just lost track of all the threads…

    The K:
    Peter Watts,

    Well one could argue that we are even capable of such astounding hypocrisy makes us indeed special. As far as we know we are the only thing in the universe that can couch its base impulses in noble words.

    You also have to give it to Trump: He pretty clearly said “Fuck everyone who is not us” and his voters loved him for that.

    Nicely put. Although even Trump felt compelled to wrap his Fuck-you-Jack rhetoric in the American Flag; he pretended he was doing it for the greater good and not his own short-term benefit. (Not that this sets him apart from any other politician, mind you, except for the fact that he was way less convincing than most.)

    But I’m not trying to claim we’re not special in those ways. In terms of pretzel logic and the ability to make CANDU reactors we’re obviously unique on the planet. What I’m saying is that all these high-falutin’ rationales and planet-changing technology end up being used, not in the service of higher ideals or Greater Goods, but in the pursuit of the same old ancient drives shared with every other beast with a backbone. It something I’ve been saying publicly for almost thirty years now (although God willing, you’ll never track down the first time I did so): We have these big honking forebrains that could control our instincts, used instead to make excuses for them. It’s a waste.

  43. Peter Watts

    Jack:
    I have an off topic question. What are your thoughts on Calhoun’s Idea of a behavioral sink and your observations of current patterns in human behavior?

    I’d guess that the initial sixties-era extrapolations from rodents to human society may have been a bit crude, but in big block-letter terms I think it’s probably more right than wrong. I’m no expert, though; I was introduced to the concept via side-door entrances like Desmond Morris’ The Human Zoo and Brunner’s Stand on Zanzibar. Even in grad school— hanging out with people actually doing front-line research on boom-bust cycles in small-mammal populations, when density-dependent feedback loops permeated every other seminar— I don’t know if I ever heard the name “Calhoun”. The concepts were just embedded in the substrate by then.

    (Of course, the idea that “group selection is bullshit” was similarly embedded, and then “multi-level selection” took off, so, you know. Things change. I’m way out of date by now.)

    Not off-topic at all, by the way.

  44. smegmacmahon

    Aint you stewing in your own misery. You’re misanthropic because we could do better and we just aren’t? Well pardon the fuck out of all us humans, for not being up to your bloody standards, your majesty. Helluva dumb ass solution to human misery, according to you – well then, let’s just wipe us all out. Yup, and people jump off bridges everyday. To end their misery. Dive bar intellectual, stuck in 90’s cynicism. You’re the guy who, when others are doing good things, maybe working their ass off, “We can do better!” only you hide behind big words. Backseat driver, sitting in his wee corner, happily calculating the decline of the human race and wishing it would go faster. Mind you, I am never disappointed with your disappointment. It’s quite wonderfully narcissistic. Even better, I could slap your missives into any forum circa ’98 and it would fit very nicely with all the other doomsy bitter types. Shouldn’t be too long now before you’re reduced to a dozen odd sycophants sucking on your every golden word. Maybe I’ll check back in once in awhile and check how your misery is going..

  45. Ocean

    Peter Watts,

    Real drivers of second demographic transition are availability of contraceptives, child mortality rate and modern economy. Modern economy promotes women education (and knowledge about contraceptives among other things) and emancipation (allowing to survive alone, not as pair or network of extended family).
    If climate crysis hit anything of mentioned above we could expect rise of birth rate.
    Also, prolonged existential threat would cause rise of religiosity (https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/world/2020-08-11/religion-giving-god), which in turn will most likely will increase birth rate.

    You are extrapolationg population trends linearly, this is malthusian.

  46. Jack

    I have not read “Stand on Zanzibar”. Thx for the recommendation. Googled it – like the word “muckers” tho – has the right ring to it. I thought at first it was a play on fuckers and a nod to the censors, then read it’s derived from ‘amok.’ For those who are unfamiliar, it means people who go mad in public places, killing as many people as they can.

  47. ads

    No measly virus will do it for us. The only fix for the Human Condition is technologically extinguishing it. And, yes: the problem really is that we’re trying to make a quick buck off it instead.

  48. G M

    Stand on Zanzibar is amazing. Read it a few years back and couldn’t believe it was written decades ago.

    ‘Dark’ Season 3 is, indeed, a step down from the first two seasons. But the first two seasons are so good I forgive it.

  49. Peter Watts

    smegmacmahon: Aint you stewing in your own misery. You’re misanthropic because we could do better and we just aren’t? Well pardon the fuck out of all us humans, for not being up to your bloody standards, your majesty. … Backseat driver, sitting in his wee corner, happily calculating the decline of the human race and wishing it would go faster. [And so on, and so on…]

    Well not always. But whenever I find myself wavering, some spluttering haploid usually comes along to serve as a perfect illustration of why Human Extinction is, in fact, the way to go.

    So thanks for that.

    Ocean:
    Peter Watts,

    Real drivers of second demographic transition are availability of contraceptives, child mortality rate and modern economy. Modern economy promotes women education (and knowledge about contraceptives among other things) and emancipation (allowing to survive alone, not as pair or network of extended family).
    If climate crysis hit anything of mentioned above we could expect rise of birth rate.
    Also, prolonged existential threat would cause rise of religiosity (https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/world/2020-08-11/religion-giving-god), which in turn will most likely will increase birth rate.

    You are extrapolationg population trends linearly, this is malthusian.

    I’m afraid you’re about forty comments behind the curve here. We covered all that back in the headwaters of this very comment stream: the fallacy of equating birth rate with ecological footprint, the almost reflexive invocation of “wealth, emancipation, and birth control” as a solution to the current crisis (you do realize it’s the rich, emancipated, small-family people who make up the bulk of the problem, yes?), even the increasing use of the term “malthusian” as a kind of slur.

    I’d also point out a couple of glitches in your own praises of “modern economy”. As listedproxybyname pointed out, “modern economy” hinges on the ongoing exploitation of cheap third-world labor, which is directly at odds with your whole emancipation/enrichment thing. Also, while you’re doubtless correct that stressful environments engender higher birth rates (and greater religiosity— there’s a whole fascinating field of research on the connection between stress and superstition), you seem to have missed the fact that those same stressful environments cause vastly increased mortality. You have to breed more because your kids keep getting killed off by disease, predators, and heat stroke. This is not a population-growth scenario.

    Jack: I have not read “Stand on Zanzibar”. Thx for the recommendation.

    G M: Stand on Zanzibar is amazing.

    Stand on Zanzibar is a fucking classic. I am in awe of the amount of research Brunner must have performed before he even started writing the damn thing. I found The Sheep Look Up to be even more intense, possibly because of its more limited focus on environmental issues. Brunner predicted acid rain, Ronald Reagan, and the ‘Murrican backlash against environmentalism years before it happened.

    Sheep was one of two books that shaped the course of my adult life.

  50. Anonymous

    Peter Watts: I’m afraid you’re about forty comments behind the curve here. We covered all that back in the headwaters of this very comment stream: the fallacy of equating birth rate with ecological footprint, the almost reflexive invocation of “wealth, emancipation, and birth control” as a solution to the current crisis (you do realize it’s the rich, emancipated, small-family people who make up the bulk of the problem, yes?), even the increasing use of the term “malthusian” as a kind of slur

    Oh, I certainly do not think that “wealth, emancipation, and birth control” is a solution for environmental crysis. In the main post you are gloating about possible sterelization capabilities of C19, implying this as positive factor. My point was to mention main reasons of slowing of population growth across the world and that this process can be stopped or even reversed if climate crysis hits hard enough to cause global poverty and discord.

    Peter Watts: you seem to have missed the fact that those same stressful environments cause vastly increased mortality. You have to breed more because your kids keep getting killed off by disease, predators, and heat stroke. This is not a population-growth scenario

    It depends on severity of climate crysis. I am talking about situation comparable to Great Depression in US or WWII (with Spanish flu) or Chinese Cultural Revolution. Not like “omg, we are simultaneously dying in firestorm, attacked by wild cyberbears and can’t cooperate normally because of super cancerflu”. Maybe I am behind the curve on this too, but I am expecting the former at worse, not the latter.

  51. G M

    If we are praising Brunner, let us not forget The Shockwave Rider, where he invents the idea of a computer virus. That guy, man. That fuckin’ guy.

  52. Jack

    smegmacmahon,

    Speaking of “doomsy bitter” types – catchy name for an IPA. Pull me a pint of of the doomsy and make it a good’un!

  53. Tran Script

    Yeah that’s a terrific name.

  54. Peter Watts

    Anonymous: It depends on severity of climate crysis. I am talking about situation comparable to Great Depression in US or WWII (with Spanish flu) or Chinese Cultural Revolution. Not like “omg, we are simultaneously dying in firestorm, attacked by wild cyberbears and can’t cooperate normally because of super cancerflu”. Maybe I am behind the curve on this too, but I am expecting the former at worse, not the latter.

    In that case you’re in for a bit of a shock. Read “The Uninhabitable Earth”, by David Wallace-Wells. Then get back to me.

    Also, why do you keep spelling crisis “crysis”? Is it some kind of nod to the video game, or are you characterizing us as crybabies, or what?

    G M:
    If we are praising Brunner, let us not forget The Shockwave Rider, where he invents the idea of a computer virus.That guy, man.That fuckin’ guy.

    Died in poverty. Apparently spent his last years hanging around cons begging for gigs.

    We do not live in a just universe.

  55. Ocean

    Peter Watts: In that case you’re in for a bit of a shock. Read “The Uninhabitable Earth”, by David Wallace-Wells. Then get back to me.

    Got it, going to read right after current book.
    But as quick googling shows, he is just one journalist, who is not even an expert on climate (degree in history).
    Unless organizations like IPCC approved his vision as solid and plausible scenario, he would be just another alarmist for me. I have no expertise in this field, so i have to rely on scientific consensus.

    Peter Watts: Also, why do you keep spelling crisis “crysis”? Is it some kind of nod to the video game, or are you characterizing us as crybabies, or what?

    No, my english writing skills just sucks. I am sorry. Dont overthink it.

  56. ErisGuidesMe

    If you’re trapped in a car driven by some fat asshole who insists on driving full speed towards a cliff, might as well laugh and kiss the person next to you, right?

    I don’t think humans are going anywhere, although I’m probably gonna get my balls snipped whenever I find me a wife. Humans are a bunch of hardy fuckers, some remnant of a remnant will survive(and it’s probably not gonna be the preppers).

    And look on the bright side: the doom metal these days is _amazing_ https://poseidondoomband.bandcamp.com/track/omega-2 https://cegvera.bandcamp.com/track/the-sixth-glare https://lowsun.bandcamp.com/track/the-monster-storm

    Peter Watts:
    We do not live in a just universe.

    No, but we do just live in a universe.

  57. Lars

    Peter Watts,

    Brunner was great in his prime, but the last novel of his I read (Children of the Thunder) was, to be honest, not very good. If it hadn’t had his name on it, I wouldn’t have thought that he was the author. It was a real come-down from his Stand on Zanzibar standard.
    I don’t think that this was his fault at all but it was sad to see.

  58. Carl

    Hello, regarding the covid mortality rate, where are you getting this from?

    C19 in all its many gloried forms still only kills about 2% of its victims

    From what I’ve understand, it is way below that.

  59. Peter Watts

    Lars: Brunner was great in his prime, but the last novel of his I read (Children of the Thunder) was, to be honest, not very good.

    I never got that far. I think the latest book of his that I read was The Shockwave Rider, so I never witnessed the terminal decline.

    On the other hand, the man produced a plethora of bread-and-butter potboilers over the years in between masterpieces. I haven’t read either of them, but maybe Children of the Thunder was no worse than, say, Slavers of Space— it’s just that he didn’t follow Thunder up with another classic to make us forget about it.

    Carl: Hello, regarding the covid mortality rate, where are you getting this from?

    Here. Just look at the global supertotals at the top of the page and divide Total Deaths by Total Cases.

    Of course, the counts update throughout the day, so the results are bound to change a little. But I just just rechecked now and it’s still holding at 2%. (Of course, that could be going up soon now that the new variants are taking off.)

  60. Jack

    Peter Watts,

    Speaking of authors dying in poverty – Bezos does not need my money. Any places other than Amazon to buy “Starfish”? Angler fish are cool, hope you have a few lurking in the background. Smart of you to post your short stories on-line. Nice appetizers, tickled my tastebuds for more of your writing.

  61. Jack

    psst…you should anonymously email the orbital surveillance image of the Bicameral Monastery and that amazing twirling vortex to Fox News as a “mysterious” phenomenon identified somewhere in the desert. Tucker has lately been investigating aliens, underwater UFOs and whatnot at the end of his show. I think the vortex is a winner. I was originally going to suggest you send it to OSINT Covert Cabal or Jane’s Intelligence, but I think they’d catch on too quick. It’s worth a try….and make sure you cover your tracks. Blame the hoax on Vlad if they ask.

  62. Tim

    Strong AI, which is predicted by 2030, may arrive sooner than massive effects of men’s sterilization. Not that AI will solve fertility problem, but it will be much more prominent player than anything else. Actually, even the dawn of the strong AI era can make nations and governments rip each other apart.

  63. Anonymous

    Peter Watts,
    “Or is it only the misery of your own kind that matters?“

    Do I get points tor honesty if I say yes? If we could buy insurance for a dozen or more generations and reach a largely stable ecosystem that would support us indefinitely and the cost was the extermination of 100,000 other species would I take that trade? Sure. I wouldn’t be happy but it would be a better deal than we are looking at now.

    Of course this is a grotesque hypothetical as there is no indication that such a deal is on the table. But if there were we’d be fools not to take it

  64. Andrew Randrianasulu

    Oh, it sort of sad reading at the middle of the night (but did anyone consider this little strange observation at least some humans become a bit more ..sensitive at night? Might be minority effect ….), and knowing any amount of internet commentary will not change trajectory of The Humanity only makes life worse for me …

    But may be I just comment on now even this speciifc narrow idea of science/intellect actually makes framework more like cagework? People still demand mythical superintelligence, even if narrowly defined intelligence tend to do all those bad things we tend to cry about (to our own future and present …). It nearly looks like persistent eror: we keep talking about ‘intelligence’ like it IS inseparable from some form of empathy – yet ppl run with this weaponlabble exactly for their shortsighted interests ….

    We probably need better imagination, but not of standard variety. More like working imagination of how our social behavior affect (realistically!) our life at large … but no, not in this stupid ‘calculated’ way most assholess tend to abuse today ….

  65. G M
  66. Jack

    Anonymous,

    Tragically humans are solipsistic. We have a hard enough time giving equal consideration to other humans, let alone other life forms. But if you want to try, check out “My Octopus Teacher”. It portrays the development of an intimate relationship between a free diver and an octopus in the kelp forest off the SW tip of Capetown, SA.

  67. Peter Watts

    Ocean: Got it, going to read right after current book.
    But as quick googling shows, he is just one journalist, who is not even an expert on climate (degree in history).
    Unless organizations like IPCC approved his vision as solid and plausible scenario, he would be just another alarmist for me. I have no expertise in this field, so i have to rely on scientific consensus.

    It was actually the other way around. “The Uninhabitable Earth” began as a magazine article, which the Hope Police promptly dumped upon for being too alarmist. Then the 2018 IPCC Report came out and vindicated everything Wallace-Wells had said. Subsequently it turned out that even that report—apocalyptic though it was—was childishly optimistic.

    I gave a sparsely-attended talk a couple of years back at the Institute of Advanced Studies in Hungary: the video is crap (none of the slides show up) and I believe it cuts out before the talk ended, but it summarizes the various credible reports that have come down the pike over the past few years, the prognosis worsening with each one. Bottom line: Wallace-Wells was being conservative, and we are in for a major crash.

    Jack: psst…you should anonymously email the orbital surveillance image of the Bicameral Monastery and that amazing twirling vortex to Fox News as a “mysterious” phenomenon identified somewhere in the desert. Tucker has lately been investigating aliens, underwater UFOs and whatnot at the end of his show.

    I don’t know whether to be impressed by your diabolical mindset, or disappointed that you watch Tucker Carlson…

    Tim: Not that AI will solve fertility problem, but it will be much more prominent player than anything else.

    Legit point. AI is likely to be one of those things that throws every pretty much every prediction about everything out the window.

    Although in the near term at least, I continue to believe that the problem is not so much AI fucking us over as it is people using AI to fuck us over. Whether there’s anything past the near term remains an open question.

    Anonymous: Peter Watts,
    “Or is it only the misery of your own kind that matters?“

    Do I get points tor honesty if I say yes?

    Absolutely you’d get points for honesty. I wish more people would be so honest. But having made that admission, you can’t talk about Human Exceptionalism any more because you’ve admitted we’re no less selfish and short-sighted than any other species on the planet. The only way in which we excel is at coming up with incredibly powerful ways to indulge the same instincts that characterize everything else.

    If we could buy insurance for a dozen or more generations and reach a largely stable ecosystem that would support us indefinitely and the cost was the extermination of 100,000 other species would I take that trade? Sure. I wouldn’t be happy but it would be a better deal than we are looking at now.

    Now that’s a different issue entirely. According to the estimates I’ve seen (which admittedly cover a range, because we don’t even know how many species exist on this planet, much less how many are dying off without us knowing about them), we’ve already exterminated over 100,000 other species. So your question amounts to: If we could just call a halt to the biocide right now and, having already paid the price in species, move forward working towards global ecological stability?. I’d grab that deal myself, in a heartbeat.

    It’s important in this context to note that one of the biggest advantages of a complex and diverse ecosystem is its resilience: starting from a pristine state, you’d expect it to be able to bounce back from a fair amount of damage. As Ian Malcom once remarked, Life Will Find A Way.

    Jack: But if you want to try, check out “My Octopus Teacher”.

    I keep reading good things about that. I guess I’ve avoided it so far because I’m afraid it may turn out to be full of woo.

    Also, admittedly, because the BUG never saw “The Sopranos” when it first aired so we are totally bingeing it now.

    G M:
    Reign of the Aquatic Vampires:

    https://www.theatlantic.com/science/archive/2021/01/orcas-killer-whale-resident-transient/617862/

    Hey, I knew a lot of those folks back in the day! Mike Bigg was on my doctoral committee; he died shortly before I defended. John Ford was working at the Vancouver Aquarium back then, kinda sold out to defend the Aquarium’s captive whale displays.

    If it makes you feel any better, as I recall that when transients and residents did interact (which wasn’t often), the transients tended to get the crap beaten out of them. So you can regard the residents’ decline and the transients ascension as karmic.

  68. Andrew Randrianasulu

    … I returned to add few more lines. This makes me quite sad to think about how all this talk 9here and nearly everywhere) leads to nothing, not even attempts at doing something? But I can’t be only one curious being on Internet, and not all people who use Google actually at the same ultralowend as I … so, may be writing those comments actually can help someone in some small way ….

    I was thinking about all this ‘but humans surely can outwill their instincts” story line …and …isn’t reality quite different? We barely ahve good miracles (surprizes) here, and bad surprizes (schocks) barely teach us effectively ? So, whatever clusterbang we forced to create and suffer from its failure – we will not realize (at action level) how to avoid similar or even same problem again …

    But what exactly may change in our base psyche? If we just symmetrically lower barrier from thinking to action – it will mean we must be MUCH better at teaching those already very hard to teach about things like ‘lets not ruin dudes and dudesses you dislike, yet at the same time be able to stop nicely-looking and smooth talking cryptoasshole”.

    I think whole ‘genetics for the win’ idea completely miss hint from all prev. life history here ..variable behavior surfaced not just for lulz ….. And without paying attn. to this even working genetic manipualtion will be manipulated in the usual wrong direction …..

    And after all – ppl do not need any sci-fi grade euqipment for trying different social models …This is not easy, but may be something like more serious roleplaying can be utilized? Like, as thought/acting experiment ..you ‘just’ need to be honest ..

    if only abstract ‘scient. parctice’a ctually resulted in more honest beings …! But nothing is that simple! Some other (individualzed/) prcatice must be tried ..or with different emphasis (not on making Sickence! at all costs ….). I can’t play whole Earth population, only other humans can try or not try different things when it comes to social relations, family-ish life, etc ….

  69. G M

    I try not to become sentimental about apex predators, but I’m happy at least some of the orcas are doing well. We had a transient pod visit the local bay about two hundred meters from my house (in southern New Zealand) a few days ago; I’m still angry I missed seeing them.

  70. Ocean

    Peter Watts: It was actually the other way around. “The Uninhabitable Earth” began as a magazine article, which the Hope Police promptly dumped upon for being too alarmist. Then the 2018 IPCC Report came out and vindicated everything Wallace-Wells had said. Subsequently it turned out that even that report—apocalyptic though it was—was childishly optimistic.

    I gave a sparsely-attended talk a couple of years back at the Institute of Advanced Studies in Hungary: the video is crap (none of the slides show up) and I believe it cuts out before the talk ended, but it summarizes the various credible reports that have come down the pike over the past few years, the prognosis worsening with each one. Bottom line: Wallace-Wells was being conservative, and we are in for a major crash.

    Yeah. I watched that video few times back then and it was impressive enough to force me to dig into IPCCs reports and video summaries / memorandums. And… I found that your (and Wallace-Wells https://nymag.com/intelligencer/2018/10/un-says-climate-genocide-coming-but-its-worse-than-that.html) interpretations of the data and IPCCs are not matching. They are looking at the same numbers and no deadly firestorms, uber plagues and wars are coming out. No apocalypse before then end of the century, nothing like that.

    I also enjoyed your other talks, about consciousness and big data / privacy / goverments. Usually writers suck at public talks, but you are pretty cool!

  71. Peter Watts

    The following comment is not by Peter Watts, no matter what the heading says. It’s attributed to me because I edited it to take out a big honking blockquote that must have been included by accident; and then when I saved it, it got reposted at the top of the comment stream instead of the bottom where it belonged. (Fucking WordPress has been doing this ever since I gave in to the relentless nagging and upgraded; it fucked up the aspect ratio on a bunch of images too, but fortunately there’s a workaround for that.)

    Anyway, the only way to get the comment back to its rightful place was to copy it from the top, paste it again as a fresh comment on the bottom, and then delete the topmost iteration. Which means that it’s now listed under my byline. Sorry. I’m trying to figure out how to fix this latest glitch.

    And of course, having edited it again I’m going to have to repeat the whole procedure a second time.

    We now return you to our normal comment stream.

    G M,

    Peter Watts: It was actually the other way around. “The Uninhabitable Earth” began as a magazine article, which the Hope Police promptly dumped upon for being too alarmist.

    The Hope Police also ripped Jonathan Frazen a new asshole for his New Yorker piece “What If We Stop Pretending” He was trounced by both the left and right for saying we’ve run out the clock. Real insulting shit too. Called “Woody Allen-esque “ to delusional….even “annoying bird watcher.” That must have hurt. It would make me want to crawl into my bird blind and have a good cry.

  72. Peter Watts

    Andrew Randrianasulu:
    This makes me quite sad to think about how allthis talk 9here and nearly everywhere) leads to nothing, not even attempts at doing something?

    To a large extent there’s nothing we can do as individuals, because the problem is so huge it requires institutional solutions. (One of the industry’s best tricks is to put everything back on us: Recycle! Use LED light bulbs! Be more environmentally-friendly citizens while we keep on raping the biosphere!) I’ve been known to talk now and then about my lack of a vehicle, my ethical childlessness, my mostly-meat-free diet, but all that really does is cover my ass against people who might want to accuse me of hypocrisy when I go off on one of my rants. In terms of global impact it’s bupkus.

    I was thinking about all this ‘but humans surely can outwill their instincts” story line …and …isn’t reality quite different?

    We can. Some people do. Most just don’t bother. That’s what pisses me off.

    But what exactly may change in our base psyche?

    I’ve had some thoughts on that. Even put them into stories now and then. Tl;dr is, we might just be able to save Humanity if we rewire it into something less Human.

    G M: We had a transient pod visit the local bay about two hundred meters from my house (in southern New Zealand) a few days ago; I’m still angry I missed seeing them.

    You live in New Zealand? You lucky bastard.

    Ocean: Yeah. I watched that video few times back then and it was impressive enough to force me to dig into IPCCs reports and video summaries / memorandums. And… I found that your (and Wallace-Wells) interpretations of the data and IPCCs are not matching. They are looking at the same numbers and no deadly firestorms, uber plagues and wars are coming out. No apocalypse before then end of the century, nothing like that.

    I don’t know what to tell you, dude. I’m looking at the 2018 IPCC report right now. Here are just a few choice quotes, some of which I mined for my talks:

    Ch3 p90: Even achieving emission reduction goals consistent with the ambitious goal of 1.5° C under the Paris Agreement will result in the further loss of 90% of reef-building corals compared to today, with 99% of corals being lost under warming of 2 o C or more above the pre-industrial period

    Ch3 p150: At +1.5°C, twice as many megacities as present (such as Lagos, Nigeria, and Shanghai, China) are likely to become heat stressed, potentially exposing more than 350 million more people to deadly heat stress by 2050.

    Ch3 p75: This projection is in line with projected fire risks, which indicate that fire frequency would increase over 37.8% of global land areas during 2010-2039 (Moritz et al., 2012), corresponding to a global warming level of approximately 1.2°C

    Ch3 p92: At least 136 mega cities (port cities with a population greater than 1 million in 2005) are at risk from flooding due to SLR

    Ch3 p96: 128.1-139.2 million exposed to sea level rise by 2050;

    All this at a measly +1.5°C, which to all intents and purposes we’ve already passed for terrestrial habitats (the global mean increase is still below 1.5, because it includes temperatures over the oceans).

    Also, don’t forget one of the reasons I describe that report as “childishly optimistic” in the first place: because it doesn’t factor in a lot of other variables that make the reality even worse. For example, its predictions for the impact of sea level rise have been superceded by a more recent paper in Nature reporting that global vulnerability to flooding is three times greater than we’d previously thought. The pandemic riff, the cryptocurrency waste heat, etc all hail from different sources. I don’t remember mentioning water wars, but yeah, they’re coming: at least, that’s what the Pentagon is saying.

    With apologies to Captain Barbosa, “Ye’d best start believing in apocalypses, Miss Turner. You’re in one.”

  73. Peter Watts

    Speaking of the chronic optimism of the IPCC,look what came over the transom just today: turns out that their estimates of sea level rise were too low. The worst-case scenario just got worse. Yet again.

  74. Anonymous

    What do you expect? Stop hoping for competence. The IPCC always lowballs their numbers/projections. It’s their signature move. The report is an intensely political document and politics gets in the way of everything.

  75. Anonymous

    One interesting thing my friend, a geophysicist, pointed out to me recently about sea level rise: for land near ice caps, like northern Eurasia, northern America, Greenland, and Antarctica, melting ice means that the sea level will actually fall, because there is less weight pushing the land down. So *right* as everyone else is dealing with terrible floods, Finland needs to deal with a bunch of new coastal land in the freshly-habitable north. Surely, this will not cause any conflict.

    Another thing that might be interesting: as humans start to die out, it’s quite possible that the redwood forests will return to their previous range. Why: so far it’s unclear if coastal fog will change much, and the combination of wildfires, fog, and torrential winter rain (which northern California and Oregon have been getting for the past few years now) is ideal for redwoods, and their competitors are getting eaten by beetles. So while SoCal, NorMex, Nevada, and Nestle are fighting over the last dregs of the Colorado, the trees could be quietly retaking the burnt-out shells of abandoned mountain towns.

  76. Anonymous

    Anonymous:
    One interesting thing my friend, a geophysicist, pointed out to me recently about sea level rise: for land near ice caps, like northern Eurasia, northern America, Greenland, and Antarctica, melting ice means that the sea level will actually fall, because there is less weight pushing the land down.

    I believe that is called isostatic rebound.

    So *right* as everyone else is dealing with terrible floods, Finland needs to deal with a bunch of new coastal land in the freshly-habitable north. Surely, this will not cause any conflict.

    Another thing that might be interesting: as humans start to die out, it’s quite possible that the redwood forests will return to their previous range. Why: so far it’s unclear if coastal fog will change much, and the combination of wildfires, fog, and torrential winter rain (which northern California and Oregon have been getting for the past few years now) is ideal for redwoods, and their competitors are getting eaten by beetles. So while SoCal, NorMex, Nevada, and Nestle are fighting over the last dregs of the Colorado, the trees could be quietly retaking the burnt-out shells of abandoned mountain towns.

  77. Jack

    Anonymous,

    There is so much ice being lost in Antarctica scientists detected local changes in gravity.

  78. [ZUKUNFT]: Von einem Fachmann … - JOHN AYSA

    […] Brace yourselves. You ain’t seen nothing yet ↗ – oder genauso erfreulich – It’s like “Children of Men” without the Hollywood cop-out ending ↗– hat neuerlich eine “tröstende” Vorschau auf kommende Befindlichkeiten der Welt […]

  79. StellarCat aka JackJack

    To Peter: I disagree in many things. Here’s just some.

    I think you’ll agree that (even if someone thinks otherwise, being trapped in a circular reasoning fallacy) any ethical system actually rests on one or more axiomatic values which we can carry in us due to various factors. Said foundations could be just lists of some norms or networks of connected axiomatic values and their relative priorities. Second important thing is that I hope you’ll also agree that there is no ethical values that are better than others in non-relational sence, i.e. something is good for someone, from the poin of some ethics, not absolutely good – it’s a form of so-called moral relativism. It doesn’t mean, by the way, that I didn’t myself think that something is good and something is bad, moreover, I can be in confrontation with other ethical agents just because we have different axiomatic foundation – we’re being agents with our priorities, good/bad, acceptable/inacceptable, preferable/not preferable and so forth are “doomed” to be ethical beings by our nature as specific systems, have some codes for our actions. Maybe I described it too vague and unclear, in part cause my English skills is not very good, but main point there was that every ethical system is axiomatically based and axiomatic values are not absolute.

    So if someone’s axiom (due to some circumstances) is “human beings are above other beings in all possible conditions” and if their ethics are logically consistent, then you can’t argue with them on logical grounds (there can be another talk about possible logical systems, but let us use classical logic which I and probably you too are valuing as most useful basic instrumentaries for reasoning of all the possible logics). I personally don’t share axiom mentioned above, just saying that you in terms of classical logic can’t overthrow someone in said case.

    My personal values of humans and humanity are woven into ethical system of network kind and are context-related, at least to some degree (there is a problem for many “network-ethics”: their patterns encoded in our brains can be used but we ourself have not enough place in working memory to keep them there as a wholes to analyse them, sad but true, so I’m not entirely certain about my actual ethics in many details). For me personally even though parameters of these values are context-dependent, value of humanity outweights sum of values of other currently known species (maybe someday we will find some beings that would be more valueable in my opinion though). And it’s not or at least not only due to value parameter axiomatically rised so high.

    You’ve said you value complexity. I’m valuing some kind of complexities in some kinds of cases high. Aren’t humanity is a system very complex? And there are chances (no guarantees, of course, but still) that we will spread complexity further in space and will make Earth systems more complex? We still have potential to do that. Dolphins as they are now, for example, can’t build spaceships to explore space now, but we already can do something in that direction. I think we still have chances to make world a better place than now even without transhuman modifications (although I think that many modifications could be cool for us too). And I also think that we have potential to give rise to some beings who would be superior to us.

    Talking about human “exceptionalism” – any species is exceptional in someway, actually, otherwise why would species be units of classification in systematics? We’re exceptional too. Normally we have most complex brains from all known species. We have most complex known social structure. We have some significantly exceptional abilities in terms of intellect, conscious feelings and consciousness in general. We also don’t know for sure will the evolution on Earth give birth to species with comparable abilities at all again. There are good chances, but there is no certainty in that.
    I’m agains anthropocentrism, which doesn’t mean I can’t value humanity as a species higher than other currently known species and many (not all) humans higher then any other known living non-human beings. I can care about extinction of some known species mostly not cause i think it’s bad for itself but because I think it’s bad for humanity in the end (to some degree I value some known species themselves, but not to the point where they weight more than human species). Again, I’m talking now about currently known beings – someday we can meet or create beings that I’d considered superior in terms of ethical value.

    I myself don’t want to have biological offspring. I hate capitalism. I’m against widespread cult of irrational reproduction. Also I don’t want extinction of humanity in our current context.

    Maybe you’ll call me “hopepunk”. I don’t think I’m the one of them – there are catastrophes awaiting us in the future anyway. To some degree it depends on us how severe they would be; I don’t see now certain possibilities to avoid massive negative consequences completely plus I don’t know will we manage to survive, to overthrow capitalism etc. or will we just die pathetically in our own shit, I just think we still have some chances for us to do former and to avoid latter.

    Sorry again if I was too vague and unclear in some formulations and too verbose.

    Also I have interesting question to you: do you value high complexity no matter what context is (I mean – do you think “higher complexity means higher value” or for you it’s not always the case i nany real or imaginary situation)?

  80. Jack

    Congratulations. You are on your way to joining the ranks of Judith Butler. Here is one of her prize winning sentences.

    “the move from a structuralist account in which capital is understood to structure social relations in relatively homologous ways to a view of hegemony in which power relations are subject to repetition, convergence and rearticulation brought the question of temporality into the thinking of structure, and marked a shift from a form of Althusserian theory that takes structural totalities as theoretical objects to one in which the insights into the continent possibility blah blah blah

  81. Jack

    Jack,
    ..oh and K or other asshole hacking my computer/identity/email/iphone if that is you, ie….StellarCat aka JackJack….. seriously go fuck yourself you mindfucking, stalking cunt.

  82. StellarCat aka JackJack

    Jack,

    If you’ve found my comment nonsensical it’s mostly problem on your side, not on mine. I can be often too verbose and using rather bulky language but, assure you, it was not bunch of meaningles word construction.
    Maybe for you many significant, even if, of course, not at all flowless scientific and philosophical works would be mostly nonsence too (for exammple, many Graziano’s, Dennett’s and Metzinger’s works on consciousness, Carnap’s works on philosophy of science, many works in fields of logic, cybernetics, etc.)
    Even if you didn’t understand something it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s some bullshit.
    And yes, I’ve also had situations when it was hard to me to understand something, but I try don’t jump to conclusions so fast.

  83. StellarCat aka JackJack

    Something to add: actually I’d used many too vague, misleading, not strict formulations and there are some big mistakes where I’m talking about “axiomatic ethical values” and my thinking about my ethical values. My bad. Still, much of comment’s content remain valid.

    Indeed there are value or usually values in every consistent ethical system that are just chosen to be true due to some factors as not proven inside system and foundational for said system. And indeed something in our world can have ethical value only for some agent. So in that sense these all ethical values are relative. And we as ourself as specific physical systems indeed can’t have no ethical values, even if someone doesn’t call them so. My ethics would be correct to describe as system with a lot of “if”, “then” and “else”, so to speak, so they are relatively flexible; anyway, of course I have values foundational for my ethics too, values of the kind mentioned above.

    And aside of my mistakes about “ethical axioms” rest of the comment is still valid in its main points.

    I personally value humankind in terms of my ethics higher than the rest of the current Earth’s biosphere. Earlier I gave some examples to explain why I do that. For me there is significantly more to it that preferences due to deeply rooted preferences to our species.
    As I said, I’m not anthropocentrist, neither ethical nor in more global ontological terms. Humanity is not center of the universe, we’re species which are relativly very small part of physical world. and it doesn’t contradict with me valuing it so high; and when we speak about my ethics, I admit that if we for example met some aliens maybe they would be so good in my eyes that I will value them higher than humanity (same might be with some kinds of of posthumans and other beings that might be created in the future by us or by another beings created by us).

    So, as for me value of the humankind outweights value of the rest of the Earth’s biosphere in it’s current state I from my ethical point of view in the situation we have now human extinction praised by Peter would be a very bad thing.

    Don’t think that I didn’t value rest of biosphere on our planet; I do see stuff that I think is cool there (and I said about that before). But as I value humanity more, most of my worries about climate change and wide-spread extinctions of the non-human species here on nowadays Earth is because it’s bad for humanity.

  84. StellarCat

    Jack,

    Jack:
    Jack,
    ..oh and K or other asshole hacking my computer/identity/email/iphone if that is you, ie….StellarCat aka JackJack….. seriously go fuck yourself you mindfucking, stalking cunt.

    What? Don’t know if I understood what are you talking about there correctly. Someone hacked you and you suspect K or me now? I didn’t.

    Maybe you’re about some similarities in our nickname, if you are talking about “identity” and suspect that it could be me who hacked it? I’m confused. “Jack” and “Jack Jack” are one of my internet names for quite long time. Peter himself could prove it; Jack Jack was my previous mail name, you can even find one picture by me among other fanart content published on this site, where that nickname is mentioned in description.
    If that is the source of confusion and you don’t like it I will be just “StellarCat” here then.