[While I find this article interesting, it is, in the end, a lot of “angels dancing on the head of a pin” speculating because of the basic supposition that the longtermist are making that humanity should be saved. If you’ve been reading his site very long, you know that I do not think that is the case. However, it is an interesting read. Humanity’s ability and even desire to delude themselves into thinking we have a chance of survival or even that we should try is always amusing. Wouldn’t it be deliciously funny if adherence to this doctrine leads to the total annihilation of humanity? ]
It started as a fringe philosophical theory about humanity’s future. It’s now richly funded and increasingly dangerous
But reflect for a moment on how humanity got itself into the current climatic and ecological crisis. Behind the extraction and burning of fossil fuels, decimation of ecosystems and extermination of species has been the notion that nature is something to be controlled, subjugated, exploited, vanquished, plundered, transformed, reconfigured and manipulated. As the technology theorist Langdon Winner writes in Autonomous Technology (1977), since the time of Francis Bacon our view of technology has been ‘inextricably bound to a single conception of the manner in which power is used – the style of absolute mastery, the despotic, one-way control of the master over the slave.’ He adds:
There are seldom any reservations about man’s rightful role in conquering, vanquishing, and subjugating everything natural. This is his power and his glory. What would in other situations seem [to be] rather tawdry and despicable intentions are here the most honourable of virtues. Nature is the universal prey, to manipulate as humans see fit.
This is precisely what we find in Bostrom’s account of existential risks and its associated normative futurology: nature, the entire Universe, our ‘cosmic endowment’ is there for the plundering, to be manipulated, transformed and converted into ‘value-structures, such as sentient beings living worthwhile lives’ in vast computer simulations, quoting Bostrom’s essay ‘Astronomical Waste’ (2003). Yet this Baconian, capitalist view is one of the most fundamental root causes of the unprecedented environmental crisis that now threatens to destroy large regions of the biosphere, Indigenous communities around the world, and perhaps even Western technological civilisation itself. While other longtermists have not been as explicit as Bostrom, there is a clear tendency to see the natural world the way utilitarianism sees people: as means to some abstract, impersonal end, and nothing more. MacAskill and a colleague, for example, write that the EA movement, and by implication longtermism, is ‘tentatively welfarist in that its tentative aim in doing good concerns promoting wellbeing only and not, say, protecting biodiversity or conserving natural beauty for their own sakes.’