Thursday, 6 April 2006

The Fairest Method of Extermination

There has been a curious development in ethics recently, namely, that of making non-discrimination the sine non qua of one’s moral faculties. Consider the following remark, for instance:
I thought he was arrogant and racist but then I learned that he’s just upset at us Homo sapiens and he’s equally predjudiced [sic] to all classes of people. [1]
Or, in other words, while a prejudice or an injustice against some people is a sin, it is not a sin when applied equally to all—as if a sin against a part could be absolved by a sin against the whole! The author bases his moral judgement solely on the pious ideal of non-discrimination, and thus places his moral judgement in this regard below that of a vegetable, whose inability to discriminate would make it positively saintly. Such an ideal bespeaks a pious madness that benumbs the moral faculties, or indicates a lack thereof.
The remark was made by a student in his evaluation of Professor Eric R. Pianka, professor of Zoology at the University of Texas, who has allegedly expressed the hope that ninety percent of the human population of the world will be killed by airborne Ebola. [2] As one of his admirers puts it,

We need to decline in population. A virus is probably the fairest method of extermination (though still not completely fair, I admit) because it’s nondiscriminatory as to whom it targets. [3]

Ah, well, as long as it’s nondiscriminatory . . .
When this ideal of non-discrimination has become the sole or determining basis for a “moral” outlook, piously maintained as a sop to conscience, could it not be that the scope for callousness might be expanded rather than bounded? After all, by this way of thinking, if misfortune exists at all, it is only “fair” that it include all.
It does seem that there is something in the air — a whiff of misanthropic glee, by which our intellectuals might excite their doom-lust. Just yesterday The Independent published a letter, in which the author concerned himself about humanity and its impact on global warming, wishing for “a major pandemic” and wondering whether “bird flu could be the salvation of the human race”. [4]
As Monsieur Pascal noted, “Experience makes us see an enormous difference between piety and goodness”, [5] and we see a stark illustration of that here.

[1] Excerpts from Student Evaluations, 1998-2004, Biology 357: Evolutionary Ecology, University of Texas at Austin. (H/T: Krauze, “The blogger’s guide to Dr. PiankaTelic Thoughts (Weblog), 4th April 2006.)
[2] See, Forrest M. Mims III, “Meeting Doctor Doom”, The Citizen Scientist, 31st March 2006. (H/T: Dan Collins, in the comments at The Daily Ablution, 4th April 2006.) This report of Professor Pianka’s views is corroborated by two student evaluations. (1) “I don’t root for ebola, but maybe a ban on having more than one child. I agree . . . too many people ruining this planet.” (2) “Though I agree that convervation [sic] biology is of utmost importance to the world, I do not think that preaching that 90% of the human population should die of ebola is the most effective means of encouraging conservation awareness.” Excerpts from Student Evaluations, 1998-2004, Biology 357: Evolutionary Ecology, University of Texas at Austin. (H/T: Krauze, “The blogger’s guide to Dr. PiankaTelic Thoughts (Weblog), 4th April 2006.) Update: Partial transcript of Dr Pianka’s speech (HT: MikeGene “A Promise”, Telic Thoughts, 8th April 2006, which does not fully support Mims' account. Thanks to Krauze for pointing this out.)
[3] Brenna, Serenity (Weblog), 9th March 2006. (Original emphasis.)
[4] Bob Harris, Letter to The Independent, 5th April 2006.
[5] Blaise Pascal, Pensées (New York: Dover Publications, 2003), p.136

1 comment:

Raw Carrot said...

"Come friendly virus, and kill a few of us..." ;-)

The obsession with non-discrimination is really rather "sad" - in every sense of the word. At the end of the day, we are on a road to mediocre uniformity - and yet both the supposed "Liberal" Democrats and the Tories both fail to get off their arses and defend us. Is it any wonder the BNP have enjoyed a recent boost? In fact, I seriously question whether such a boost is a bad thing at all.