Wednesday, April 21, 2010
It's true, you're not going to save the planet by choosing pleather jackets over leather ones, beer over wine, or MP3s over CDs. But each time we stage one of these cage matches, we're forced to consider just how complicated the idea of "eco-friendliness" can be. It doesn't just come down to greenhouse gas emissions or energy usage--though those are the two metrics people seem most interested in these days. A complete analysis would also weigh the potential effects of each choice on water pollution, land use, and biodiversity, among many other issues. Plus, studying life cycle analyses--no matter what answers they ultimately provide or how trivial the initial question--reminds us that the products we buy tend to have intricate back stories. [minor edits, bold added]I vaguely recall, about twenty years ago, when forced recycling was first being crammed down our throats, an intellectual (possibly an Objectivist), noting that we were being told to "hoard garbage as if it were gold."
The above passage, back then, would have seemed like a poor, over-the-top attempt at a farce, with its implicit demand that we become experts about the entire world economy down to the point that we can deduce the detailed history of any item we might think about purchasing. If that passage isn't enough, read the whole article. It amazes me what some people spend their lives thinking about, but I can see why so many people happily (albeit wrongly) defer to authority out of sheer mental exhaustion.
What passage does this remind me of and why?
The subject is not the only attribute of art, but it is the fundamental one, it is the end to which all the others are the means. In most esthetic theories, however, the end--the subject--is omitted from consideration, and only the means are regarded as esthetically relevant. Such theories set up a false dichotomy and claim that a slob portrayed by the technical means of a genius is preferable to a goddess portrayed by the technique of an amateur. I hold that both are esthetically offensive; but while the second is merely esthetic incompetence, the first is an esthetic crime.This pathetic nit-picking about the detailed lineage of one doo-dad versus another by otherwise educated adults from an advanced civilization is the epistemological equivalent of the aesthetic crime described in that last paragraph. It is a subordination of the investigative and integrative powers of the human mind to the arbitrary dictum that we must not change anything in nature, rather than to its proper end: human survival.
There is no dichotomy, no necessary conflict between ends and means. The end does not justify the means--neither in ethics nor in esthetics. And neither do the means justify the end: there is no esthetic justification for the spectacle of Rembrandt’s great artistic skill employed to portray a side of beef. ("The Goal of My Writing," in The Romantic Manifesto, p. 166.)
It's too bad that people are too busy worrying about "the potential effects of each choice on water pollution, land use, ... biodiversity," blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. Otherwise, they might have time to notice the ethical lapse they're committing with all this feel-good busywork, as well as its consequences:
The only way to leave no "footprint" would be to die--a conclusion that is not lost on many green ideologues. Consider the premise of the nonfiction bestseller titled The World Without Us, which fantasizes about how the earth would "recover" if all humanity suddenly became extinct. Or consider the chilling, anti-human conclusion of an op-ed discussing cloth versus disposable diapers: "From the earth’s point of view, it’s not all that important which kind of diapers you use. The important decision was having the baby." [minor edits]Tomorrow, I won't be thinking about my "footprint." I'll celebrate my life and the reasoning mind that makes that life possible. And how does that happy result of natural evolution, the human mind, make my life possible? By making me able to exploit the earth, as Craig Biddle explains:
Exploiting the Earth--using the raw materials of nature for one’s life-serving purposes--is a basic requirement of human life. Either man takes the Earth’s raw materials--such as trees, petroleum, aluminum, and atoms--and transforms them into the requirements of his life, or he dies. To live, man must produce the goods on which his life depends; he must produce homes, automobiles, computers, electricity, and the like; he must seize nature and use it to his advantage. There is no escaping this fact. Even the allegedly "noble" savage must pick or perish. Indeed, even if a person produces nothing, insofar as he remains alive he indirectly exploits the Earth by parasitically surviving off the exploitative efforts of others. [minor edits]In their outlandish attempts to catalog every minutia about every item they consider purchasing, the greens may feel like they are keeping the big picture in mind, but they are wrong, because their whole altruistic, self-sacrificial premise is wrong.
But they're too busy examining every tree with a magnifying glass to see that forest.