The Moral Neutrality of Mother Nature

By Jin-yeong Yi

CNN presents some grave news about the Earth’s oceans:

Many marine scientists consider overfishing to be the greatest of these threats. The Census of Marine Life, a decade-long international survey of ocean life completed in 2010, estimated that 90% of the big fish had disappeared from the world’s oceans, victims primarily of overfishing.

Upwards of one million sea turtles were estimated to have been killed as by catch during the period 1990-2008, according to a report published in Conservation Letters in 2010, and many of the species are on the IUCN’s list of threatened species.

The ocean has become 30% more acidic since the start of The Industrial Revolution in the 18th century and is predicted to be 150% more acidic by the end of this century, according to a UNESCO report published last year.


One morning while I was sitting in church, contemplating the dinosaurs, something occurred to me about their fate and the future of humanity: in spite of the fact that they were far better stewards of the Earth than humans will probably ever be, they still became extinct.

It has been noted how the rhetoric of radical environmentalists resembles that of religious apocalypticists, full of threats that the Almighty will sooner or later “judge” and “punish” the human race for its “sins.”

Since dinosaurs didn’t have houses, fences, fast food restaurants, factories, cars, roads, airplanes, nuclear missiles, etc., they were incomparably more environmentally friendly than all radical environmentalists and conservationists combined.

The supreme irony was that, as we all know, they were still mercilessly wiped off the face of the planet. Funny how life works out sometimes, eh? It wasn’t divine judgment, just an unfortunate accident. They didn’t get so much as a “whoops” or a shrug. Their spotless 225 million year environmental record counted for nothing in that they didn’t receive any special reward for it. Their only “reward” was to survive as long as they did.

From PBS:

Hypothesis: Asteroid Impact

Did a collision with a giant asteroid or comet change the shape of life on Earth forever?

It is widely agreed that such an object — 10 kilometers across — struck just off the coast of the Yucatan peninsula 65 million years ago.

According to scientists who maintain that dinosaur extinction came quickly, the impact must have spelled the cataclysmic end.

For months, scientists conclude, dense clouds of dust blocked the sun’s rays, darkening and chilling Earth to deadly levels for most plants and, in turn, many animals. Then, when the dust finally settled, greenhouse gases created by the impact caused temperatures to skyrocket above pre-impact levels.

In just a few years, according to this hypothesis, these frigid and sweltering climatic extremes caused the extinction of not just the dinosaurs, but of up to 70 percent of all plants and animals living at the time.

Nature simply doesn’t give a damn. Never did, never will. And I see little reason to think that it will be any different for Homo sapiens.

Of course, this isn’t an excuse to sit back and continue on in the current direction; it’s merely a reminder that whatever we end up doing, Mother Nature won’t be paying attention; she will be, as always, too busy creating and destroying.

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Onward to World War III

By Jin-yeong Yi

World War III

“[War is] life itself…. We must eat and be eaten so that the world might live.

—Émile Zola

“Those who want to live, let them fight, and those who do not want to fight in this world of eternal struggle do not deserve to live.”

—Adolf Hitler

“War is sweet to those who have no experience of it, but the experienced man trembles exceedingly at heart on its approach.

—Pindar

“Dear predatory birds, prepare for war, prepare your children and all that you can reach, for how can a nation or a kindred without war become that ‘bright particular star’ of Shakespeare, that lit the roads in boyhood? Test art, morality, custom, thought, by Thermopylae; make rich and poor act so to one another that they can stand together there. Love war because of its horror, that belief may be changed, civilisation renewed. … Belief comes from shock…. Belief is renewed continually in the ordeal of death.”

—W. B. Yeats

Are we approaching the Third World War? It doesn’t seem to be an uncommon opinion. The fuse seems to have been lit long ago. Either way, if war really is an immutable part of the human condition, I expect it to come sooner or later. The question is, where will the battle lines be drawn? Will it be a war among religions? Will it be a war among races? Will it be a war between the first world and the third world? Will it be all of the above? Only time will tell.

Observes Baron d’Holbach:

“[T]he condition of the human species, as well as that of each of its individuals, every instant depends on insensible causes, to which circumstances, frequently fugitive, give birth; that opportunity developes, that convenience puts in action: man attributes their effects to chance, whilst these causes operate necessarily, act according to fixed rules: he has frequently neither the sagacity nor the honesty to recur to their true principles; he regards such feeble motives with contempt, because he has been taught to consider them as incapable of producing such stupendous events. They are, however, these motives, weak as they may appear to be, these springs, so pitiful in his eyes, is which according to her necessary laws, suffice in the hands of Nature to move the universe. The conquests of a Gengis-Khan have nothing in them that is more strange to the eye of a philosopher than the explosion of a mine, caused in its principle by a feeble spark, which commences with setting fire to a single grain of powder; this presently communicates itself to many millions of other contiguous grains, of which the united force, the multiplied powers, terminate by blowing up mountains, overthrowing fortifications, or converting populous, well-built cities, into heaps of ruins.”

Opines H. L. Mencken:

“War will never cease until babies begin to come into the world with larger cerebrums and smaller adrenal glands.”

Proclaims Winston Churchill:

“The story of the human race is war. Except for brief and precarious interludes there has never been peace in the world; and long before history began murderous strife was universal and unending.”

Asserts Sven Atle “Silenoz” Kopperud:

“Peace means reloading your guns”

Declares George Santayana:

“Only the dead have seen the end of war.”

I am inclined to agree with these gentlemen, while hoping they are wrong.

What dreadful and hideous mechanisms by which Nature operates! The thought that the horrors of Nature are an innate, eternal, and inescapable part of life is almost enough to drive one to terminate one’s existence so as to no longer be a part of it. Is there no way of rising above the logic of Nature? I may find out if I live long enough. For the time being, I take hope in these words of Joseph McCabe, written over 100 years ago:

“The future of humanity cannot be seen even darkly, as in a glass. No forecast that aspires beyond the immediate future is worth considering seriously. If it be a forecast of material progress, it is rendered worthless by the obvious consideration that if we knew what the future will do, we would do it ourselves. If it is a forecast of intellectual and social evolution, it is inevitably coloured by the intellectual or social convictions of the prophet. I therefore abstain wholly from carrying the story of evolution beyond realities. But I would add two general considerations which may enable a reflective reader to answer certain questions that will arise in his mind at the close of this survey of the story of evolution.

Are we evolving to-day? Is man the last word of evolution? These are amongst the commonest questions put to me. Whether man is or is not the last word of evolution is merely a verbal quibble. Now that language is invented, and things have names, one may say that the name ‘man’ will cling to the highest and most progressive animal on earth, no matter how much he may rise above the man of to-day. But if the question is whether he WILL rise far above the civilisation of to-day, we can, in my opinion, give a confident answer. There is no law of evolution, but there is a fact of evolution. Ten million years ago the highest animal on the earth was a reptile, or, at the most, a low, rat-like marsupial. The authorities tell us that, unless some cosmic accident intervene, the earth will remain habitable by man for at least ten million years. It is safe to conclude that the man of that remote age will be lifted above the man of to-day as much as we transcend the reptile in intelligence and emotion. It is most probable that this is a quite inadequate expression of the future advance. We are not only evolving, but evolving more rapidly than living thing ever did before. The pace increases every century. A calm and critical review of our development inspires a conviction that a few centuries will bring about the realisation of the highest dream that ever haunted the mind of the prophet. What splendours lie beyond that, the most soaring imagination cannot have the dimmest perception.

And the last word must meet an anxiety that arises out of this very confidence. Darwin was right. It is—not exclusively, but mainly—the struggle for life that has begotten higher types. Must every step of future progress be won by fresh and sustained struggle? At least we may say that the notion that progress in the future depends, as in the past, upon the pitting of flesh against flesh, and tooth against tooth, is a deplorable illusion. Such physical struggle is indeed necessary to evolve and maintain a type fit for the struggle. But a new thing has come into the story of the earth—wisdom and fine emotion. The processes which begot animal types in the past may be superseded; perhaps must be superseded. The battle of the future lies between wit and wit, art and art, generosity and generosity; and a great struggle and rivalry may proceed that will carry the distinctive powers of man to undreamed-of heights, yet be wholly innocent of the passion-lit, blood-stained conflict that has hitherto been the instrument of progress.”[1]

Notes

[1] The Story of Evolution

The Circularity of Civilization

By Jin-yeong Yi

North Korean propaganda poster

Since North Korea is bigger news than it has ever been (which is saying something, because I don’t remember the last time it wasn’t in the news), I thought I would comment on the American Nihilist Underground Society’s remarks on the passing of Kim Jong-il:

Here at ANUS, we love all dictators.

They understand a divine wisdom: humanity is a means to an end.

Humanity as an end in itself is an unterminated question. It asks itself perpetually in tautological form what it wants to do. It doesn’t know. So it manufactures internal drama and the cycle goes on, circular logic ad infinitum.

Genius minds like Josef Stalin recognized that people were like clay to be molded into greater things. And if you trimmed some extra clay, so what? The normal person does nothing that particularly binds them to this life. “Not wanting to die is your (only) reason to live.”

King Jong-Il was another spectacular dictator. Like other critics of the society of humans-as-the-goal-of-humanity, such as school shooters, Ted Kaczynski, Pentti Linkola, Friedrich Nietzsche and others who truly saw that society was a massive failure, Kim Jong-Il shaped his people like clay. He made an empire where none was before. And if they starve? The piercing pains are just that much more meaning to life, much more than they would find while sitting in a Brooklyn apartment getting obese on fast food and imported wine between scintillating stints at their day jobs as designers or press release supervisors or whatever make-work crap passes for important in capitalism these days.

We will miss you, Kim Jong-Il. You were one of the few who understood. We must oppress ourselves or we degenerate. In this way alone, all dictators are closer to heaven than the average human could ever dream of being.[1]

The problem here is that civilization itself is arguably a circular goal. It’s definitely not for the sake of Nature. It’s clear that Nature is more than capable of taking care of herself. Nature has absolutely no use for art, music, literature, architecture, science, or even religion. She is perfectly content with her picturesque landscapes, her musical birdsong and babbling brooks, her poetic change of seasons, her finely crafted mountains and trees, her profound seas of space.

In other words, as far as this planet is concerned, only humans can appreciate and enjoy the fruits of human ambition.

At the end of the day, is not the collective as anthropocentric as the individual? If humans aren’t the “goal” of humanity, what is?

Notes

[1] See “A great man fallen.”

The Perfect Dream

By Jin-yeong Yi

“Who lives longer: the man who takes heroin for two years and dies, or the man who lives on roast beef, water, and potatoes till ninety-five? One passes his twenty-four months in eternity. All the years of the beef eater are lived only in time.”

—Aldous Huxley

On the night before New Year’s Eve, before going to bed, I watched Galaxy Express 999 for what was probably the sixth time. I’d planned to do this before the arrival of the new year, and how wonderful it was to see this movie again and be reminded why exactly I cherished it. This viewing, however, was especially different. This time I understood what the movie actually meant to me.

Summarizing a 113-episode anime series clocking in over 37 hours in a 2 hour feature film naturally entails a great deal of simplification, and no doubt this makes the movie “inferior” to the original series in many ways. But it was precisely that brevity which helped me to realize a few things about the movie as well as fiction itself. What occurred to me for the first time that night was that Galaxy Express 999 was the perfect dream, the kind of dream that I had always wanted to have. I think the movie describes something that many of us have longed for at some point in our lives: an epic poem that is not read but lived, with oneself as the hero.

The narrative of Galaxy Express 999 is an epic poem lived within a dream. It would be impossible for me to make sense of the movie by looking at it in any other way. It would be impossible for me to get around the tremendous implausibility of it all: a homeless teenager accompanied by an immortal princess from another planet, traveling to different worlds on a space train, meeting space pirates, infiltrating a castle (complete with human skulls decorating the stairs) and killing the cyborg who murdered his mother and kept her body as a trophy, and almost single-handedly annihilating an entire planet and surviving to tell the tale with nothing but a few bruises at most. It’s a dream that has a sense of completeness, containing heroes and villains,  joy and sorrow, pleasure and pain, glory and dishonor, love and hatred, beauty and ugliness.

Needless to say, plausibility doesn’t matter in the dream world. After all, what makes the dream world great is precisely what makes it different from the real world–not being bound by rules. The moment you step into the universe of your mind, the laws of nature no longer apply. This strange world needs no apology for absurdities. Things happen, and you don’t question any of it. You just go with it. Because it’s all about experience. It’s about living life without limitations. Living life to the full.

The Transcendental Longing

By Jin-yeong Yi

“You’ve felt it your entire life, that there’s something wrong with the world. You don’t know what it is, but it’s there, like a splinter in your mind, driving you mad.”

—Morpheus, The Matrix

“Our truest life is when we are in dreams awake.”

—Henry David Thoreau

“Calm, lasting beauty comes only in a dream, and this solace the world had thrown away when in its worship of the real it threw away the secrets of childhood and innocence.”

—H. P. Lovecraft, “The Silver Key”

“‘The person has two states: this one and the state of the other world. The third, intermediate, state is that of dreaming sleep. When he rests in the intermediate state, he sees both states: this one and the state of the other world. When he has gone by whatever way it is that one gains the state of the other world, he sees both evils and joys. When he falls asleep, he takes with him the material of this all-containing world, himself breaks it up, himself re-makes it. He sleeps by his own radiance, his own light. Here the person becomes lit by his own light.
‘There are no chariots, nor chariot-horses, nor roads there, but he creates chariots, chariot-horses and roads. There are no pleasures, nor enjoyments, nor delights there, but he creates pleasures, enjoyments and delights. There are no ponds, nor lotus-pools, nor rivers there, but he creates ponds, lotus-pools and rivers. For he is a maker.’”

The Upanishads

As I mentioned in a previous entry, one of the biggest discoveries of my life was that freedom doesn’t exist in this world. And never have I felt so strongly about this as I have this December, the month that is supposed to be my favorite time of the year. Perhaps that’s because I’ve never felt so aware of how much of a slave I am to reality.

I am a superlatively greedy person. Believe it. No amount of material possessions or even positive experiences could ever satiate me, because my desires are infinite. I am so greedy, in fact, that not even the entire universe, to say nothing of the entire world, would be able to satisfy me. If there is something that would be able to satisfy me, it would be something that perhaps will forever be beyond my reach: unlimited freedom, the state of being bound by nothing except the limits of my imagination.

The situation of my niece, who is in her final year as a toddler, illustrates the point for me. On Christmas Eve, while I was sitting in the kitchen having dinner, I heard her and her father (my brother-in-law) in the other room arguing for the hundredth time. She was throwing a tantrum because she didn’t want to dress for Christmas dinner. As her father was an attorney and a lover of literature equipped a strong command of the English language, she was naturally losing the contest of wills. As I listened to her miserable, defeated wails, I thought about how the world made so much more sense if I looked at the whole of it as a prison. My adventurous niece, so full of vitality and curiosity, was only beginning to discover just how limited her freedom really was.

In my view, the real trouble with the human condition actually has nothing to do with economics, politics, law, race, religion, science, art, culture, or the 1,001 other issues that we discuss and debate ad infinitum. The trouble is a vast conspiracy. Not a conspiracy of man, but a conspiracy of nature. It is what placed each and every one of us in a prison that we cannot see, hear, taste, smell, or touch. This prison is not a particular society, or a country, or even a planet. It’s not the “Matrix.” It’s the real world itself. It’s a place where we’re trapped in vessels of crude matter that are always at the mercy of forces that are pitiless, capricious, and indifferent. It’s a place where we are forced to waste decades of our lives struggling to collect pieces of fancy paper and metal tokens; where we are forced to push and shove each other out of the way for that job, that house, that girl/guy, or that parking spot. It’s a place where we are forced to wait in long lines. It’s a place where we’re always being dragged down by the needs and expectations of others. It’s a place where we are forever slaves to time, always having to be at a certain place at a certain point on a sequence-cycle of numbers. It’s a place where we are forced to live in constant anxiety and fear. It’s a place that refuses to bend to our wills, to be moved by our desires. It’s a place where we know how to fly, but were never given wings. It’s a place that promises so much and makes good on so little of it, perpetually setting us up for frustration, failure, disappointment, and regret.

This is why I think that it is meaningless to complain or be bitter that my life in the real world is not what I’d hoped it would be, because it would be like an inmate complaining or being bitter that his life in prison is not what he’d hoped it would be. In both cases, it is silly to have had expectations. There are redeeming things about the real world, of course, in the same way there are redeeming things about prison, but that doesn’t change the nature of the place. The real world is a prison. Not just this society or even this planet as a whole—this entire universe is a prison. And all of us are inmates.

The real world is beyond help. It has always been, and always shall be. No ideology, no religion, no politics, no science, no art, no music, or any other form of human ingenuity can ever save this place, because to save it would mean to change the fundamental nature of it. The only option, if one exists, is to escape.

Personally, the knowledge of my situation gives me hope. If I didn’t know that I was in prison, I would never have thought to look for a way out. I look at the lifeless stone walls around me, and my mind whispers that I just might be able to escape. I look up at the starry heavens through barred windows, and my spirit shouts out that one day, I will.