Monday, April 03, 2006

Academic Misanthropy

README: I have received satisfactory proof that the events that this post treats are not supported by facts. Read the updates at the bottom first. I'm leaving the post up as a standing caution to myself and like-minded passersby. Thanks to commenter The Polite Liberal for the links. What a waste of perfectly serviceable purple prose...

Second-hand word of mouth, aka this fine piece of improptu citizen journalism, has it that a prominent scientist wished for the extermination of most of humanity by means of the Ebola virus.

There's certainly no law against getting old and sour and disaffected. It happens all the time--look at Mark Twain, or Kurt Vonnegut, in our own time. Some people can turn this sort of attitude into a well-compensated, influential, but mostly harmless career, of course. Like H. L. Mencken:

The existence of most human beings is of absolutely no significance to history or to human progress. They live and die as anonymously and as nearly uselessly as so many bullfrogs or houseflies. They are, at best, undifferentiated slaves upon an endless assembly line, and at worse they are robots who leave their mark upon time only by occasionally falling into the machinery, and so incommodint their betters.

And Dr. Pianka may be harmless, too. I do not know what kind of clout he wields in the greater scheme of things. This fellow thinks Dr. Pianka may be another Charles Manson, but don't ask me.

Much could be said of middle class intellectuals who do not want the great unwashed to get ahead. They're all for it in the abstract, but just watch when the McMansions and strip malls start going up in their areas. They fall back into the familiar reflex of "there's just enough of me, but way too many of thee." It's when snobbery like that gets coupled to radical environmental politics, like a warhead atop a missile, that the potential for massive grief becomes imminent. Radical politics always devalue human life, because life must be lived in the present, and radicals are usually disinclined to find much of value in the present. Especially radicals who hate their fellow man in the name of the greater good (if that isn't redundant).

There are people who view humanity as hearts and minds, and there are those who view it as mere mouths and stomachs. In some eras this split can fall along the political right/left divide. In the terror societies of High Communism an individual's worth was strictly tied to his or her usefulness to the Party, usually with murderous consequences. In our own day we have eco-grouches, misanthropes for whom humanity is a blight, the sooner eradicated the better. (On the right, we have what used to be called super-patriots, who love their country but hate 90% of the people in it.) The misanthropes who regard people as practically invaders from outer space cannot harbor any genuine love for nature, since they have miscontrued what nature is.

To my mind, one of the most precious things about human life is the given-ness of it. (That's also why I dislike the idea of designer babies.) People are born, they tread out the measure of their days, and then they die. To what purpose? It's for no fellow being to dictate. To have one generation finally appear and be told that their tread is too heavy for the earth, well that's just arrogant. I thought so when I first started hearing this stuff, decades ago, in college. Back then the talk was malthusian warnings, now the doomsayers are actively wishing for a malthusian finish. Whether it stems of misanthropy, or nihilism, or what have you, such a creeping death wish needs to be resisted.

Resisted how? Well, how about with the Christian faith?

The Jews would not willingly tread upon the smallest piece of paper in their way, but took it up; for possibly, said they, the name of God may be on it. Though there was a little superstition in this, yet truly there is nothing but good religion in it, if we apply it to men. Trample not on any; there may be some work of grace there, that thou knowest not of. The name of God may be written upon that soul thou treadest on; it may be a soul that Christ thought so much of, as to give His precious blood for it; therefore despise it not.
-- Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Aids to Reflection

H/T The Acton Institute

UPDATE: Commenter The Polite Liberal says I've been had by an Intelligent Design activist's hatchet job, and directs me to the text of Dr. Pianka's talk, here. Well, if that's so then it certainly makes applesauce out of this post. Long-time readers of Atlanta ROFTERS know that I adamantly oppose Intelligent Design. But I don't immediately see an ID connection to Citizen Scientist. I'll look further and update. Right or wrong, I'll leave this post up, as an example of the self-correcting power of the blogosphere.


  1. Errrm...

    "This fine piece" of impromptu citizen journalism is nonsense. Dr. Pianka was warning of the danger that an outbreak of a sufficiently deadly disase could wipe out 90% of the world's population, not advocating this as a good thing.

    Whether you think this danger is overblown is a reasonable point of disagreement. Claiming that he's advocating bioterrorism isn't.

    I'll never understand why the right-wing blogosphere, on the unsupported word of an ID proponent, is so very willing to launch into character assassination.

    You can read on his Web site what he was actually saying, if you're so inclined. Alternately, you could just keep insisting that he's calling for an Ebola outbreak, because you heard it on the Web and it must be true.

  2. I've updated the post with this information, thanks.

  3. Panda's Thumb has an article up on the spread of the original claim.

    Forrest Mims is an interesting case. He's an electronics guy (he wrote that "Engineer's Mini-notebook" that you can buy at Radio Shack). He's also a fellow at the Discovery Institute. The last time he was in the news, it was over Scientific American's refusal to hire him to write the "Amateur Scientist" column, because of his views on biology.

    His article is so far the only evidence agaist Dr. Pianka. Dembski then took up the charge, which was then picked up by Drudge, and from there to everywhere.

  4. I did check the Panda's Thumb, but it must have been before they posted that. Thanks! I've further updated, and mea culpa-ed.

  5. "I did check the Panda's Thumb, but it must have been before they posted that. Thanks! I've further updated, and mea culpa-ed."

    Kudos to you sir. That takes courage and integrity.

  6. It's always hard to admit you've been wrong about something and apologise. Very well done. I hope certain sites display as much integrity as you have.

  7. Thanks for the correction!

    This sort of thing is why I keep coming to this site. We agree on almost nothing, politically (outside of the fundamental problems with ID), but honest, clever opposition is a rare pleasure.

  8. I can well believe that the article on Pianka was biased, but why is the author considered untrustworthy because he believes in ID? G B Shaw said that just because Joan of Arc thought the saints were talking to her didn't make her crazy. It depended on what they said. If they had told her the moon was made of green cheese , she would have been crazy.

  9. P S--Why were the videocams removed from the room? Perhaps he didn't stick to the speech as written.

    I'm agnostic as to whether the account is correct or not.

  10. I'm agnostic as to whether the account is correct or not.

    So am I, now; which is why I feel compelled to climb down from my original post. Believe me, I've no qualms about verbally torpedoing moonbats--but only if I've got positive identification.


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