Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Sunday, June 07, 2009

Well, Good Luck With That

I have the feeling that readers have emailed me about this site a couple times before, and I left it without comment because some topics seem like shooting fish in a barrel for a blog with the tagline "Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive." However there comes a point when fish who choose to live in barrels deserve to come under fire.

Meet the Voluntary Human Extinction Movement.
VHEMT (pronounced vehement) is a movement not an organization. It's a movement advanced by people who care about life on planet Earth. We're not just a bunch of misanthropes and anti-social, Malthusian misfits, taking morbid delight whenever disaster strikes humans. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Voluntary human extinction is the humanitarian alternative to human disasters.

We don't carry on about how the human race has shown itself to be a greedy, amoral parasite on the once-healthy face of this planet. That type of negativity offers no solution to the inexorable horrors which human activity is causing.

Rather, The Movement presents an encouraging alternative to the callous exploitation and wholesale destruction of Earth's ecology.

As VHEMT Volunteers know, the hopeful alternative to the extinction of millions of species of plants and animals is the voluntary extinction of one species: Homo sapiens... us.

Each time another one of us decides to not add another one of us to the burgeoning billions already squatting on this ravaged planet, another ray of hope shines through the gloom.

When every human chooses to stop breeding, Earth's biosphere will be allowed to return to its former glory, and all remaining creatures will be free to live, die, evolve (if they believe in evolution), and will perhaps pass away, as so many of Nature's "experiments" have done throughout the eons.
Now, VHEMT does indeed answer my question of whether their ideas will just die out:
Q: Won’t VHEMT die out when all its members die off?

If an idea lacks enough merit to be passed on without being force-fed from an early age, it probably deserves to be forgotten.

Awareness isn’t passed along in our genes. Every VHEMT Volunteer or Supporter is the result of a breeding couple, and yet we have all decided to stop reproducing. Often, we arrived at this conclusion independently and without support from friends and family.

The concept of voluntary human extinction has a life of its own. It’s an idea whose time has come, though it may be a little late.
I suppose the only way to settle this matter definitively is through a very long term empirical experiment that none of us would live to see the end up, but this strikes me as being in conflict with the basic nature of the human creature. I'm going to intentionally leave any religious angle out of this discussion (from the deeply klutzy attempts on the VHEMT site to justify their position based on all major world religions, it's pretty clear they don't "get" religion to any real degree) and just speak naturalistically -- which for Catholics can be a stand-in for natural law.

Ironically, in an age in which materialism (in the sense of the belief that the physical world is "all there is") is increasingly common, people seem quite often to hold beliefs about the human person which ignore our fundamental nature as a biological species, albeit a aware and rational one. So for instance, VHEMT provides the following FAQ and response:
Q: What about the human instinct to breed?

Humans, like all creatures, have urges which lead to reproduction. Our biological urge is to have sex, not to make babies. Our "instinct to breed" is the same as a squirrel's instinct to plant trees: the urge is to store food, trees are a natural result. If sex is an urge to procreate, then hunger's an urge to defecate.

Culturally-induced desires can be so strong that they seem to be biological, but no evolutionary mechanism for an instinct to breed exists. Why do we stop breeding after we've had as many as we want? If the instinct is to reproduce, how are so many of us able to over ride it? There are too many who have never felt that urge: mutations don't occur in this high a percentage of a population.

Looking to our evolutionary roots, imagine Homo erectus feeling the urge to create a new human. He then has to understand that a cavewoman is needed, sexual intercourse must be engaged in, and they will have to wait nine months.
Um, no. Squirrels and nuts have a symbiotic relationship, but animals do not have a symbiotic relationship with themselves that happens to result in procreation. The entire purpose of a biological species is to perpetuate itself. The reason that we have sexual organs is that this is how we produce descendants. Not only to human beings have a natural urge to reproduce, that is, from a biological point of view, our sole purpose.

One of the fatal problems with this "voluntary extinction" idea from a strictly naturalistic point of view is that it asks humans to do something which no species is meant to do, something which cries out against any species' reason for being. Telling people as a group not a reproduce is like telling people to kill themselves by holding their breath -- it's something we're naturally designed not to do. The idea doesn't just violate our moral notions, it violates the several billion years of evolutions since sexual reproduction first appeared.

As rational creatures with an understanding of the long range implications of our actions, and an appreciation for the beauty of nature, it's appropriate and necessary for us to consider the impact of our civilization on the planet. While other species may have no other option than to follow nature's boom and bust cycle of eating everything available until famine hits and the population dies down to sustainable levels, we rightly seek to make use of our reason to avoid needless destruction and suffering.

However, whether one looks at us from a religious perspective as made in the image and likeness of God, from a philosophical perspective as being unique creatures on the Earth in our capacity to reason, or from a biological perspective as simply another species of large-brained vertebrates, it is the natural purpose of human being to strive to preserve our species and assure it's flourishing -- not in a way that wrecks havoc on the planet (though I think our planet is much more elastic in its ability to survive change than many of its would be protectors give it credit for), both out of an anthropomorphic desire to see other creatures flourish as we do and because we are in the end dependant on the flourishing of our planet, but nonetheless our flourishing as a species is clearly one of our central purposes as a species, and any attempt to act contrary to that is a fundamental denial of what we are. It stems, I suspect, from a tendency to treat human persons as minds, rather than as the full combination of self-aware mind and natural, biological creature. This allows people to think of humans as something which is out of step with the rest of nature -- an alien influence which should voluntarily purge itself so that things can go back to "normal". The thing is, extraordinary though we may be, we are part of Earth's "normal", the result of its history and a species seeking to assure our flourishing just like any other.

3 comments:

CM said...

Wow. I have never heard of this movement, and I don't know whether to laugh or cry or scream. That's crazy. How is it that we use evolution to say that there's only a physical element to the world, so there's no God, so we can do what we want, and then get to the point that we would deny even what evolution CAN tell us, namely that we are made to reproduce. Huh. I can't believe serious people can say that.

cminor said...

They forget that the instinct to have sex leads to the instinct to bond with a mate, which protects the female of the species while vulnerable. Then there are those appealing infantile characteristics and hormone releases that trigger the nurturing instinct. The instinct to breed isn't merely an instinct to have sex, it's a series of behaviors that increase the likelihood of survival of the next generation.

BGCMEOWRRRR said...

Hmmmm...the creator's creation needs someone to cherish it!!! We could stand to pare our numbers through SOME of us choosing not to reproduce. However, ultimately, this movement is just another black & white response to a highly nuanced issue. Odd how the nuances seem to be there in their text but the conclusion they come to is akin to that of the Cathars! There's a covert spiritual nihilism in it despite all the talk of loving nature.
Better that as many of us as possible come to realize that The Creator's work is to be lovingly cared for as C.S. Lewis suggested, rather than used up & worn out like a commodity.