Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Mims defended

This is an article defending Mims against the charge of misrepresentation. But it doesn't look as if Pianka advocated setting the ebola virus loose. His claim is, I think, that we have to control the population before viruses do it for us. So he supports something like the forced abortion one-child policy they have in China.

However, if you believe that there is no intrinsic value to human life as opposed to other life, and you think that what does have intrinsic value is biodiversity, you think that human population needs to drop a few billion people in order to insure the best chance for biodiversity, you have the power to launch the ebola virus in order to achieve this biodiversity goal, do you then have any reason not to do so? Suppose you were in a room with Pianka*, someone who has adopted Pianka's ideas and pushed them to this logical conclusion. It reminds me a little of Alfred Hitchcock's Rope, a movie in which a philosophy professor is shocked to discover that two of his students have used his nihilistic philosophical ideas as a pretext for murder.

I'm more concerned about the underlying ethical convictions behind what Pianka said than I am with the question of whether he said "Yes, we ought to go do this." Ideas have consequences, and these ideas have scary consequences, whether Pianka has drawn those consequences or not.


Steven Carr said...

This does remind me of what the Archbishop of Canterbury said , that there must be a complete change of attitude, or else millions, possibly billions of people will die.

Staircaseghost said...

This is very, very, very simple. I'm dismayed (but not surprised) that this sordid affair is still dragging on.

1) Did Mims represent Pianka as advocating the murder of 6 billion people by ebola?

2) Did Pianka, in fact, advocate this?

If your answer to the first question is 'yes', and your answer to the second question is 'no', then Mims misrepresented Pianka, and therefore any attempt to defend Mims on this point is willfully, maliciously dishonest. Trying to quickly change the subject to "well, what about abortion?" or "what is the foundation of a nontheistic metaethics" -- both of which are legitimate and interesting topics in their own right -- as though this is what the conversation has "really been about" the whole time is at best to be complicit in a post hoc justification of Mims's hysterical lies, and at worst to be a participant.

I'd really appreciate some moral clarity on this issue, preferably before embarking on a debate on which set of moral foundations are of higher repute, lest the conversation become yet another datum to be ironically employed.

Victor Reppert said...

Unless it is possible for Mims to have thought that Pianka was advocating murder, but had misunderstood him. According to some reports by students of what Pianka has said in class, it looks as if they believe that Pianka advocated killing all these people, or at least looks favorably on the prospect of so many people being killed in this way, even if it turns out that he doesn't really say this.

We all know how difficult it is for someone to interpret someone correctly who is saying things you REALLY don't like.

Was Pianka so clear that no sane, honest person could get the impression that he was advocating mass murder? I have some pretty serious doubts on that score.

Anyway, my point is that it is some relief, but not much of one, to find out that he really wasn't advocating mass murder. And I don't think I even brought up the subject of a theistic foundation for ethics.

Victor Reppert said...

The difference between Pianka and the Archbishop is that the Archbishop never denied that human beings are intrinsically valuable, as Pianka has done. The archbishop is firmly convinced that the loss of billions of human lives would be a bad thing. I can't tell for sure with Pianka. Apparently not.

Lippard said...

What Pianka really thinks.

Victor Reppert said...

All of these claims may be what he thinks. But what is upsetting to me is the claims his denial, or apparent denial of the intrinsic value of human life. I mean, if you make all these Malthusian predictions and then you say that human life is not valuable but biodiversity is, then you provide the underpinnings for an argument in favor of "rooting for viruses," if not turning them loose, even if you do not draw the conclusions yourself.

I conclude, therefore, that the responses of Mims and Carlson are understandable and based on something. Pianka does say things like "What good are you?" and "We're no better than bacteria." I can imagine things he might mean by it that would not lead to the sorts of dreadful results that come out of all of this, but perhaps all he is guilty of is a regrettable lack of clarity.