Wednesday, December 05, 2012

Philodor's parable

May a nation of a million beings destroy a creature who otherwise will infect all with a fatal disease? Yes, you will say. Once more: ten starving beasts hunt you, that they may eat. Will you kill them to save your life? Yes, you will say again, though here you destroy more than you save. Once more: a man inhabits a hut in a lonely valley. A hundred spaceships descend from the sky and attempt to destroy him. May he destroy these ships in self-defense, even though he is one and they are a hundred thousand? Perhaps you say yes. What then if a whole world, a whole race of beings, pits itself against this single man? May he kill all? What if the attackers are as human as himself? What if he were the creature of the first instance, who otherwise will infect a world with disease? You see, there is no area where a simple touchstone avails. We have searched and found none. Hence, at the risk of sinning against Survival, we — I at least; I can only speak for myself — have chosen a morality which at least allows me calm. I kill — nothing. I destroy — nothing. (ch. 2)

Jack Vance, The Last Castle, Spatterlight, 2012 [1965], Kindle Edition.

1 comment:

  1. I think all of our ethical dilemmas arise out of our unique ability to preserve. The ability to kill and eat later, the inclination to save, to hoard; those things give rise to an imbalance between us and nature, and thus between man and man.

    Even in the case of a corporation or business, it's inefficient and not cost effective to hold more inventory than you need for the day. That's why corporations are more and more moving to a "just-in-time" manufacturing scheme. It's not only more cost effective not to hold all those assets, but it's more intuitive and creates natural balance.

    These ethical questions that Jack raises only make sense in a hoarder style consumer economy where the preservation of goods exists creating decisions about who gets them. Outside of that, Darwin decides who lives and dies.

    I think a great starting question for any discussion on ethics is; how much chicken can you freeze before you become so morally detached with nature that it starts inducing in one the natural tendency to ask themselves the question, "Have we gone to far?" Preservation has created the illusion that it's not nature we're living off of - which again gives us time to ponder questions we'd find useless otherwise.


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