April 01, 2006

Feel guilty with David Orr

Garrett Hardin wrote in "The tragedy of the commons":
"A bad conscience," said Nietzsche, "is a kind of illness."

To conjure up a conscience in others is tempting to anyone who wishes to extend his control beyond the legal limits. [...] The rhetoric used on such occasions is designed to produce feelings of guilt in noncooperators.

Paul Goodman speaks from the modern point of view when he says: "No good has ever come from feeling guilty, neither intelligence, policy, nor compassion. The guilty do not pay attention to the object but only to themselves, and not even to their own interests, which might make sense, but to their anxieties.''
David W. Orr writes in Conservation Biology about sustainability and our responsibility towards future generations, but actually he devotes most of his essay to discussing Abraham Lincoln's position regarding slavery. This is entirely appropriate because
Relative to the large issues of sustainability, we are virtually everywhere roughly where the United States was, say, in the year 1850 on the matter of slavery.
Later he says:
The issues of sustainability are primarily ones of fairness and intergenerational rights, not ones of technology or economics, as important as these may be. Lincoln regarded slavery as wrong because no human had the right to hold property in the form of another human being, period, not because it was economically inefficient. This was the magnetic north by which he oriented his politics. By a similar logic, ours is in the principle that no human has the right to diminish the life and well-being of another and no generation has the right to inflict harm on generations to come. Lincoln did not equivocate on the issue of slavery, nor should we on the tyranny one generation can now impose on another by leaving it ecologically impoverished. Climate change and biotic impoverishment are prime examples of intergenerational remote tyranny and as such constitute a great and permanent wrong and we should say so.
Orr apparently believes that a person in Chad cooking her food with unsustainably harvested firewood is doing "a great and permanent wrong and we should say so."

I believe that sustainability is about technology and economics, not about fairness and intergenerational rights.

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