And Why is That Desirable?

Kid wants to know: why? why? why?

This is ultimately a post about values. More specifically, it presents a technique by which to get at people’s (or your own) values. Values are important, because they drive much of what we do: they form a sort of bedrock foundation for our actions, even if hidden from sight. When it comes to long-term consequences, some values produce better results than others. Modernity tends to have a fairly destructive set of values, in the end. I hesitate to call them bad. It is easy enough to see their innocent origin, but by consistently serving the more-than-human-world so poorly, they no longer serve humans well, either.

The technique explored here is childishly simple: just keep asking the same question over and over. The recipient of this treatment finds it annoying, partly because it forces them to think more deeply than perhaps they are accustomed to doing. How many repetitions of “why?” from a child do we tolerate before we throw up our hands and have no more answers? Embarrassingly few, typically.

In this case, the repeated question is: “And why is that desirable?” Primarily, I use this as a way to examine the values we ascribe to scientific knowledge. Years ago, I regarded science as an absolute “good.” What could be better? What higher achievement could humans point to than a scientific understanding of our world? In fact, the possible loss of this edifice is what disturbed me the most about the prospect of civilization’s collapse.

Some of that admiration will surely stay with me forever, but when I peel back layers of the onion by following the “why is that desirable” line of questioning, I find that scientific pursuit is often based on a core of human supremacy, or anthropocentrism, more politely. To see this, play the game yourself, or follow the examples below.

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