Pondering a research project

Earthstonestation got me thinking…An upside-down world: the symbol of the Voluntary Human Extinction Movement

I have no grandchildren. I have no children. I’m a proud member of VHEMT.

I often wonder why I’m even interested in the concept of humanity surviving. There seems to be nothing at all in it for me. My genes aren’t going to live on after I’ve shuffled off this mortal coil — some[1] might even say that’s just as well ;).

Why shouldn’t I just carpe diem and sod the future, in the same way that, so it often seems, everyone else does? — especially those who do have loinfruit and thus should, in theory, be taking a longer-term view for the sake of their sprogs.

The only answer I’ve been able to come up with that makes any kind of sense is that, presumably, the urge to protect ‘my own’ is still just as strong for me as it is for anyone else, but in my case that urge has no narrow — shortsighted — focus.

It seems clear to me that the reason we continue to have wars is because of our tendency to act to protect ourselves first (generally), then those closest to us (family, friends), and on upwards, through village, tribe and nation. The only possible way we’ll ever act together is if we’re invaded by aliens.[2]

And because, in the ‘civilised’ world, the nation-states have become so powerful, any attempt to get nations to act in a less parochial fashion cannot succeed. All we ever get is lip-service to international cooperation, because the members of a nation-state will always only ever act in a way that best serves the local tribe.

Our neighbours are having a hard time? Sod them, I need to worry about my own patch of turf. People in some far-off land are starving to death, or dying of some easily-curable disease? Bugger that: it’s far more important that the cricket ground on the village green is properly tended, and that that new bypass is built — or not built, depending upon how it would impact my own life…

If I knew anything about surveys (I don’t, not really, beyond the basic understanding that it involves going out and talking to lots of people) I’d be tempted to conduct one. The aim of the survey I have in mind would be to try to determine the difference in attitudes towards survival of self/ family/ nation by those with children, and those (like me) without.No entry sign, green in colour, over a symbol of a child in a pram

Is my concern about the Fate of the World unusual, given that there’s not a lot left of my allotment of three-score-and-ten, and my genes won’t continue? Or would my survey discover that, in fact, I’m not so strange after all?[3]

Hmm… maybe I should have a word with Lisa Hymas at GINK think

[1] including me
[2] It could be argued that we already have been: but we haven’t noticed because they look human, smell human, act human and, oh, wait, shit, they are human…
[3] I think I already know the answer to that: one word, ‘unlikely’ 🙂


About pendantry

Phlyarologist (part-time) and pendant. Campaigner for action against anthropogenic global warming (AGW) and injustice in all its forms. Humanist, atheist, notoftenpist. Wannabe poet, writer and astronaut.
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18 Responses to Pondering a research project

  1. Martin Lack says:

    Personally, I struggle with the point of our existence if we are all just products of a blind, purposeless, cosmic accident (but may be I just need a job – being unemployed and not getting interviews is doing my head in)…

    Presumably, Colin, you have read Richard Dawkins’ The Selfish Gene?

    Despite all his critics, I still think Michael Denton made a valid point in Evolution: A Theory in Crisis because the apparent reality of evolution is not easily explained.

    • pendantry says:

      Yes, I’ve read The Selfish Gene, some time ago. I don’t understand your point about the ‘apparent reality of evolution is not easily explained’. The Wikipedia link you offer sheds no light, and though I could easily be accused of bias in my selection, I’m drawn to the comments reported there made by some bod called Philip Spieth, suggesting that Michael Denton is not worthy of much attention. By all means, feel free to elucidate 🙂

      As for your comment about us being just accidents, I don’t see how you’ve read that into what I wrote. My own view is aligned with that of Carl Sagan, who once said “we are a way for the cosmos to know itself” — I believe this to be sufficient explanation of our purpose. Beauty that cannot be experienced isn’t just wasted, it’s totally, utterly, absolutely pointless.

      Whether or not zero or more deities are involved, and whatever the mechanism that drives us, there’s no denying the desire to survive and prosper on the part of humans, or any animals (or plants, come to that). I feel there are several levels of irony in what appears to me to be an inverse relationship between progeny and foresight. Those who have kids have a focus that is ‘naturally’ centred on them (which creates daft situations such as ‘but I have to drive my children to school — because the roads are so dangerous‘). I’m intrigued by the question whether those who have no offspring might actually tend to be more concerned about the bigger picture than those who have them — despite ‘common sense’ suggesting that there’s no reason for me to be anything other than selfish, since I won’t be around long enough to feel the full brunt of the damage we humans are inflicting on our home.

      PS Sorry to hear that your job-hunting is still not bearing fruit for you 😦

      • Martin Lack says:

        10 years ago, I would have defended Denton vigorously. Today, I merely offer his book as an example of someone willing to be honest and admit that we don’t really understand how evolution works but it clearly has worked; because we are here to investigate it.

        I did not read anything into what you wrote, I was merely expressing how I often feel… However, I do find it hard to see beauty in a Universe that has no ultimate purpose. This is why I try to cling on to the idea that, since I find infinity and eternity so hard to to understand, there is no reason why I should have any hope of finding the concept of God easy to understand. Therefore, it is extremely arrogant and intellectually dishonest for anyone to insist that belief in God is irrational – how could they possibly know!

        • pendantry says:

          I certainly wouldn’t wish to prevent you from expressing how you feel. As for me, I feel we’re talking past each other, here. I find beauty in the infinite (for instance, the mandelbrot fractal, an example of which appears on my illusion of free will post a few weeks back), whereas I understand you to be saying that you cannot see beauty unless it’s associated with some ‘ultimate purpose’; to me, the purpose is, quite simply, to be.

          But none of this touches on the point I was trying to make about childlessness versus child, er, fullness, so my ultimate feeling is currently one of frustration 🙂

      • jpgreenword says:

        “I’m intrigued by the question whether those who have no offspring might actually tend to be more concerned about the bigger picture than those who have them”

        That is a very interesting idea and would (at least partially) explain my personal concerns for the future health of our planet. It could be an interesting “chicken or egg” debate. Is it that people who, as part of their personality, think about “the big picture” decide not to have children because they realize the benefits of a smaller population? Or is it BECAUSE they do not have children that they are able to think about “the big picture”? (Or am I thinking too hard?)

        I also have no children (and have no plans to have any) and so I do not worry about the life they may live. But I simply do not want to see the world go to waste. Especially not at the hands of greed and irresponsibility.

        • pendantry says:

          I don’t think you’re thinking too hard. Yes, very chicken-and-egg, but for me, I feel it’s the latter (I believe I am able to focus on the bigger picture because I have no children to constantly bring my thoughts back to the here-and-now). However, my reasons for being childless are complicated. I certainly can’t claim that I am now a ‘GINK‘ as a result of a conscious choice to do my bit for the environment, although knowing that each child adds an estimated 9,441 metric tons of CO2 to a parent’s carbon legacy has definitely influenced my decision to remain childless for good. (If it made sense, some years ago, for me to choose to abstain from air travel to reduce my carbon footprint, becoming a member of VHEMT is now a no-brainer.)

          Like you, I don’t want to see the world go (literally) to waste. And I feel responsible because I am living through the last days of the time when something can still be done. To not even try would be unconscionable. That sounds melodramatic — but will it still seem so, in retrospect? Would that I could be The Matrix’s Cypher, and forget what I know… ‘ignorance is bliss,’ indeed.

          • jpgreenword says:

            I do not think that “sounds melodramatic” at all.

            Being a teacher, I like to create analogies to help students understand more complex concepts and I’ve been thinking about some for climate change. The latest one that popped into my mind is WW2 (I think Al Gore once said something similar…). Although the analogy in my head is more detailed, it basically comes down to the fact that our inaction (or very limited action) on climate change is like “the west” not taking up arms to fight the Germans (and Italians and Japanese). At the time, we adapted our factories, nearly overnight, to begin building bombs, planes and tanks. Why not do the same for wind turbines and solar panels?

            Just as in the case of the Second World War, “to not even try would be unconscionable”.

        • pendantry says:

          I think the WW2 analogy is very apt (though it skirts dangerously with Godwin’s Law). The difference — the problem — is that the enemy at the gates is far too well concealed; and its agents (such as Heartland) are nefarious, cunning, and — due to the inertia in our current economic, political and social systems — able to effectively lay claim to the high ground.

          • jpgreenword says:

            I had never heard of Godwin’s Law. Very interesting concept. And so very true, especially on certain website where comments are so far removed from reality!

  2. I can’t claim to be either of your acronyms. I just really have never been interested in children, apart from those strange teenagers who always seemed to get a raw deal because they were no longer cute.

    However I will claim to be as green and environmental as I can be, and quite frankly think the less people around the better. What a horrible species we are.

    I do like your examples though. The cricket pitch/by-pass versus global problems and people/animalsenvironments dying. I’d like to blame it on the having-kids thing, but I know perfectly environmentally thinking people who have children too. So I guess you can just put it down to general thoughtlessness and selfishness.

    PS I like ESS’s blog too.

    • pendantry says:

      I do hope that I haven’t left you with the impression that I believe that being environmentally-aware, being a parent, and being considerate are mutually incompatible. I don’t. On the other hand, I do believe that the ‘having kids thing’ is most definitely a problem (see, for instance, ten doublings), one that cannot be dismissed by “we’re not the problem, it’s all those ‘in the third world’ breeding like rabbits who are,” though many people resort to that.

      I do, however, recognise that it’s not a problem that will be solved anytime soon — but that itself is part of the problem, as we’re quite simply running out of time in which to accept that the problem exists and find ways of dealing with it, if we’re ever going to do that before it really begins to bite us in the feeches.

      PS What’s “ESS’s blog”? Google sent me here, is that the one?

      • No, idle me. [ESS=] EarthStoneStation. Sorry for the confusion.

        I do agree with your perspective, but I know that there a few people out there who combine differing values. I didn’t want to leave them out of my comment. That was all. I could rant about children for ever and a day. And their stupid parents who insist on driving them everywhere etc etc.

      • Martin Lack says:

        I think you are right, Colin – we were talking past each other – so I have stopped talking.

        However, if I may respond to the population question: We in the so-called developed world are indeed not the problem. How can we be part of the problem if we have have completed the demographic transition; and have an ageing population? Conversely, people in poor countries – that remain poor precisely because women are poorly educated and/or unable to control their fertility and/or still see children as their only insurance against ill health in old age – are very much the problem. All of this is as per the UN’s own assessment; as published this time last year. If not decimated by climate change, the global population will stabilise by the end of this century; the only question is at what level – and this will depend on the above.

        • pendantry says:

          I have stopped talking.” Really, Martin? I suppose I’ve got to admit that I can’t see your lips moving 😉

          I am very interested in the mis-match between the concept outlined in ten doublings and the UN’s official numbers, the ones that indicate that the global population will magically stabilise. Maybe we’ll have to actively encourage more people — in the third world, naturally, not here, oh no — to starve while we throw away more tonnes of usable food and generally sit on our self-satisfied thumbs while another 30,000 human beings starve to death tomorrow.

          PS the link you offer actually states “Instead of leveling off at around 9 billion by 2050, the population will now reach 10.1 billion people by 2100 and keep growing“. So where’s this alleged stabilisation?

        • Martin Lack says:

          [Post moved where it’s more relevant. Hope you don’t object!]

    • jpgreenword says:

      “What a horrible species we are.”

      The day that we can all admit that what we are doing to the planet is dangerous, that our lifestyle is not sustainable, that we are a “horrible species”, will be the day that real change will begin. Unfortunately, anytime someone even hints at the fact that we are a horrible species, they are labelled as “Anti-American” or “Anti-Canadian” or “Anti-progress” or “Anti-something”. And our collective head goes back in the sand.

      • Well I admitted it!! And you are right, I have been labelled anti-American (I’m British anyway, so goes without saying) and anti-progress and anti-change. Yeah.

        Someone has something wrong and it isn’t me.

        • jpgreenword says:

          Canada (where I am from and still live) is having a national debate about the Alberta Tar Sands and pipelines. And according to our government, the two sides of the debate are, a) those that want to see economic growth and prosperity in Canada, and b) enemies of Canada. (I’m not kidding. That’s the actual language used by the federal government to describe environmental groups opposed to the pipelines).

          The argument I’ve tried to make (and I wrote to our Natural Resources minister to make the argument – I’m sure he hasn’t read my letter) is that those who oppose the pipelines and the tar sands see other ways by which to improve the economy. And we also see the financial risks associated with fossil fuels (spills, water-air-soil pollution, climate change(!))

          So, yeah, someone does have something wrong, and it isn’t you : )

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