gulfstream, silly ethics--and dialectics?

Ben Courtice benj at CONNEXUS.NET.AU
Fri Dec 6 20:43:00 MST 2002

Mark Jones wrote:
The question is this. What should the world
socialist government do? Should it save the lives of hundreds of millions of
Europeans, or should it sacrifice them in order to complete ensure the
safety of the planet, of the whole biosphere? What do you think?

James Daly wrote:
Serves me right, Mark, for speaking of evasion. My first answer to your
question is that hard cases make bad laws. The liferaft scenario is an
example. In my opinion, someone on a small liferaft does not have the right
to kill (push back into the water) others who try to get aboard. The first
comer's right to life includes the right to kill in self-defence an
aggressor who is currently attempting to take his or her life, but it does
not include the right to kill the innocent, such as those who are only
trying to stay alive by getting on the raft. If everyone dies, that is
tragic, but there are worse things -- such as surviving by being a murderer.
Utilitarians would make laws for such cases based on the number of
survivors, a foregone conclusion in this case of one or none.

Ben says:
Unfortunately I haven't been following the whole climate change/technology thread
exhaustively. But here's my 2 cents worth.

First, re the above quotes: behind the diametriclly opposed principles (apparently
utilitarianism vs conscience or something like that) I think the examples are silly. In a
life-threatening situation, people do horrible things (like the submarine captain) and may
not be happy about it, but wouldn't they feel even worse if they let *everyone* die?

As for letting the northern European population freeze to death, don't you think those
people would have something to say about it themselves? Don't you think they might do
something to survive (after all people do live in Alaska and Siberia) and/or emigrate?
Don't you think a democratically planned socialist economy might be able to work out a
plan to deal with it? Not a perfect one of course, but it's a bit different to washing
one's hands and using Mark's pretend-hard-headed can't-make-omelette-without-breaking-eggs
line. The (bureaucratically!) planned Soviet government was able to relocate Soviet
industry in the face of the Wehrmacht advance. Think in those terms: it wasn't perfect,
there was suffering, but it's not like they just said "oh well we'll just have to give it

I've appreciated a lot of Mark's information. For example, the limitations of
photovoltaics, wind power etc. But it strikes me (unless it was in one of the posts I
didn't read) that a number of factors have been left out. In fact, Mark seems to be
presenting matters in a very static manner (as with the hypothetical fate of the Northern
European population). While *at present* these renewable energy sources may not be enough
(even if we reduce wasteful consumption). But consider the research that is invested in
them compared with, say, new cars or military hardware. Free up all that research power
for something useful and what could happen? I'm not saying everything is possible, I do
understand the concept of physical limits to processes, but odds are we can come up with
more efficient renewable energy power generation than we currently do.

I get the impression that Mark's harping on the need to accept the deaths of millions
means we should start preparing ourselves for it now? I'd rather keep fighting to ensure
it doesn't happen.

Ben Courtice

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