What We Once Knew as Humanism
“Good consists in maintaining, assisting and enhancing life, and to destroy, to harm or to hinder life is evil,” Albert Schweitzer wrote in his 1923 book ‘Civilization and Ethics’. He received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1952 for his body of work centred around his humanist philosophy, which he termed “reverence for life”.
Schweitzer, like all humanists, believed we should celebrate and respect life in all its forms. While his ideas have been influential, over the last 50 years it has become increasingly acceptable to claim mankind is nothing but cancer on the planet. We often hear activists dismiss all of human history as nothing but the systematic destruction of pristine Nature.
One may assume that all people are fighting on the same side in the current battle against COVID-19. Unfortunately, that’s not the case. For instance, contemplate this recent headline by CNN for a moment: There’s an unlikely beneficiary of coronavirus: The planet. There are many others also celebrating the pandemic. And it goes on and on and on. Sure, hundreds of thousands of people may die from the virus, but you could view that as a positive thing if you agree with architect Ian McHarg’s assertion that “man is a blind, witless, low brow, anthropocentric clod who inflicts lesions upon the earth”.
Are We at War with the Planet?
Consider the following statements:
- We are at war with Nature: she is trying to destroy us, and we are fighting back.
- We are destroying beautiful, gentle, innocent Nature through this reprehensible process we call “progress”.
- We are part of Nature; like all other species, we are inseparable from her.
If you think only one of these claims can be correct, think again! This time try to think critically.
The rise of the internet and social media has ensured we are now all living in our very own little echo chambers. It is possible to live our entire lives never being exposed to any opinions different to our own. This tragic reality has contributed to the political polarisation we see in the world today.
True analytical thinking is essential if we are to listen to each other again. We should get into the habit of at least giving some consideration to the validity of worldviews seemingly opposite to our own – and god forbid, perhaps even change our minds every once in a while.
Take a look at the above three statements about our relationship with Nature again. Are you willing to acknowledge that all of them carry an element of truth, but neither is the absolute truth?
Who Is Innocent and Who Is Evil?
In the 18th century, philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau laid down the foundation of what would become the green movement 200 years later. Rousseau romanticised the purity and benevolence of Nature. He also claimed that the ideal stage of human development was the “savage”, who lived in perfect harmony with Nature before civilisation corrupted him. In ‘Discourse on the Origin of Inequality’ (1754), he wrote:
Nothing is so gentle as man in his primitive state, when placed by nature at an equal distance from the stupidity of brutes and the fatal enlightenment of civil man.
I wonder if he would have felt the same way if he had been left to survive on his own in a forest for a month. Flowers and butterflies are beautiful, of course – but no sane man would wish to be lost in Nature after the night has fallen, when everything in the dark is out to kill him.
The French postmodernists of the 1960’s and 70’s owed a lot to Rousseau: they maintained that civilisation was the root of all evil. However, they went even further, following in the footsteps of Karl Marx in claiming there was no such thing as an innate human nature. According to Michel Foucault, human feeling and reason are social constructs, which are shaped by the culture one grows up in. Moreover, cultural norms are determined arbitrarily by powerful men, who use these norms to oppress and enslave the masses. This postmodern philosophy has hugely influenced today’s radical environmentalists.
Humanism may not have completely died in the 70’s, but it has certainly been subjected to cruel assaults ever since then. For instance, the Club of Rome, an elite global think tank whose high-profile members can be best described as apocalypse-fetishists, has declared mankind not only cancer but the very enemy of the planet. Its co-founder, Alexander King clearly does not take kindly to his own species:
In searching for a new enemy to unite us, we came up with the idea that pollution, the threat of global warming, water shortages, famine and the like would fit the bill. All these dangers are caused by human intervention, and it is only through changed attitudes and behavior that they can be overcome. The real enemy then, is humanity itself. (‘The First Global Revolution’, 1991, co-authored with Bertnard Scheneider)
I feel genuinely sorry for the members of the Club Rome. Can you imagine how horrible it must be to not be aroused by anything else but the sight of massive explosions and people dying?
We’re Not Supposed to Have Any Natural Resources Left
Let us keep on indulging in the Club of Rome’s dreadful fixation on mankind’s demise! Below is an incomplete list of dates by which natural resources should have run out, according to this death cult’s 1972 publication, ‘The Limits to Growth’:
1981 – Gold
1985 – Silver
1985 – Mercury
1987 – Tin
1990 – Zinc
1992 – Petroleum
1993 – Copper
1993 – Lead
1994 – Natural gas
2000 – Tungsten
2003 – Aluminium
2006 – Molybdenum
2018 – Manganese
2019 – Platinum group of metals
The same publication also predicted that food production and global industry would decline by 2015, leading to a significant drop in world population. Apparently, the authors desperately wanted us all to die and not have any fun. I don’t envy those of them who are still alive; it must be devastating to wake up every morning and find no one dying on their doorstep.
In the last couple of centuries, numerous other scholars have also issued warnings that we were running out of essential resources and the collapse of civilisation was imminent. Perhaps the most notable of them was English economist Thomas Malthus, who is revered like a prophet by the Club of Rome.
Malthus was the first renowned author to formulate the theory that food production would not be able to keep up with population growth beyond a certain point. His proposed solution to the problem was straightforward and as anti-humanist as it could possibly get. He advocated for doing whatever necessary to raise the death rate among the poor, so they starve to death and do not reproduce:
All the children born, beyond what would be required to keep up the population to this level, must necessarily perish, unless room be made for them by the deaths of grown persons. (…) To act consistently therefore, we should facilitate, instead of foolishly and vainly endeavouring to impede, the operations of nature in producing this mortality; and if we dread the too frequent visitation of the horrid form of famine, we should sedulously encourage the other forms of destruction, which we compel nature to use. Instead of recommending cleanliness to the poor, we should encourage contrary habits. In our towns we should make the streets narrower, crowd more people into the houses, and court the return of the plague. In the country, we should build our villages near stagnant pools, and particularly encourage settlements in all marshy and unwholesome situations. But above all, we should reprobate specific remedies for ravaging diseases; and those benevolent, but much mistaken men, who have thought they were doing a service to mankind by projecting schemes for the total extirpation of particular disorders. (‘An Essay on the Principle of Population’, 1798)
Are THere Too Many of Us?
A lot of people say yes, including the most famous environmentalist of all time, Adolf Hitler:
Assuredly at a certain time the whole of humanity will be compelled, in consequence of the impossibility of making the fertility of the soil keep pace with the continuous increase in population, to halt the increase of the human race and either let Nature again decide or, by self-help if possible, create the necessary balance. (Mein Kampf, 1925)
Fortunately, there are plenty of alternate sources to refer to, backed by historical data, if one disagrees with the views of Malthus, Hitler and the Club of Rome. For example, American aerospace engineer Robert Zubrin has done a lot of thorough research on the relationship between population growth and the amount of available resources. He found that the more people there are, the more resources everyone has access to, on average. The reason for this is that humans are not mindless consumers, but cultivators. We create resources by constantly developing new technologies, and the more people there are, the greater our collective potential for creative innovation. “Every human mouth comes not just with a pair of hands, but with a brain,” Zubrin explains in ‘Merchants of Despair’ (2012). Parallel to the increase in the world’s population, the standard of living has also risen.
In 1891, half of the 4 billion people in the world lived in poverty. The population has nearly doubled since then, but only one in four are currently living in poverty, according to data presented by the World Bank. That is still way too many, but this trend indicates that our grandchildren will live in a wealthier world than us, and their grandchildren will be even better off, and so on.
Regardless of how badly the Club of Rome wants the opposite to be the case, GDP per capita is directly proportional to the increase in population. Therefore, it seems that humanity is not the enemy of Mother Earth, but rather the enemy of the Club of Rome. Perhaps its members should stop reading Malthus’s outdated and thousand times debunked essays, and learn from American economist Henry George instead, who beautifully reasoned:
Here is the difference between the animal and the man. Both the jay-hawk and the man eat chickens, but the more jay-hawks, the fewer chickens, while the more men, the more chickens. (‘Progress and Poverty, 1879)
We are, indeed, different from animals in many-many ways. That is not to say that we are better or worse than them – we are just different. All forms of life can and should be respected, despite the various differences among them, which make this planet such a magical place.
So Would the Earth Not Be Better Off Without Humans?
It is way too arrogant for us to assume that Nature cares about us, whether in a benevolent or malevolent sense. I briefly addressed this subject in a previous post.
Deforestation, air pollution and our contribution to climate change are indeed despicable. However, we do not automatically deserve to go extinct because of that.
Yes, we are the only species that has significantly altered the planet’s ecosystem, often for the worse. But we also happen to be the only species that cares about the environment and has made concerted efforts to reverse the destruction it has caused. Indeed, in the large scheme of things, we are constantly trying to make things right, despite all our limitations.
I am by no means an ardent supporter of all things human. However, I do believe our species deserves at least a little bit of sympathy, in the face of the tragedy we collectively know as life.
But please do not feel compelled to agree with me! You can listen instead to James Lovelock, the father of the Gaia theory, who believes “if there were a nuclear war, and humanity were wiped out, the Earth would breathe a sigh of relief”. If you find this kind of thinking inspiring, I would suggest you give the Samaritans a call. I believe each life, animal or human, is an uncanny miracle worthy of reverence – even the life of a radical environmentalist who wishes he had never been born.