It is time to stop quivering in our boots in pointless fear of the future and just roll up our sleeves and build it.
- Ray Pierrehumbert

Sunday, May 6, 2007

What I'm complaining about

This way of thinking seems literally insane to me.

These numbers mean pretty much nothing. There is no purpose to arguing whose numbers are right. The problem is what is at risk, and how much it is at risk. People. Places. Beauty. Culture. Safety. Stability. Sanity. Peace.

Quantifying it in GDP gained or lost is so thoroughly senseless that I am rendered speechless. (Well, maybe only for a minute or two. It does make me shake my head a whole lot, though.)


Dano said...


The ideology that finds this Reason argumentation compelling is more self-regarding than other-regarding.

Therefore, the 'beauty, culture, people' part of your post doesn't register. Rugged individualism as part of the American ethos is at work, and a fraction of our populace finds that and the possessive individualism part of the ideology compelling and galvanizing.



Michael Tobis said...

Dano, maybe so, but that isn't exactly what I'm saying. What I'm saying is that this sort of thing doesn't even make sense in its own terms.

GDP is a valid short-term measure of the well-being of a specific society under non-volatile circumstances. On time scales of a century it tells us essentially nothing about how well-off we are.

This is because it measures marginal activity and doesn't measure informal capital. Things like, say, having a biosphere or an atmosphere. These may be neglected in short-term reasoning, but neglecting them in long-term reasoning is a very stupid, worse than useless, measure of utility.

There are no technical limitations preventing ourselves from having not just comparable utility but dramatically more utility in a sustainable world.

The fact that we seem to be rushing headlong for a totally avoidable disaster is bad enough. That we're doing it in service to what amounts to a poorly thought out model is just so sad and stupid.

That doesn't make it implausible. We have a precedent; the Easter Islanders show us such stupidity is well within the capacity of humans.

Dano said...

I agree Michael. But the fact that the model serves the ideology and its narrow constructs quite well.

You are trying to think of a way to widen the narrow construct and I'm saying the construct, in and of itself, is complete for its purposes. Your job (mine too, in a different way, on the ground) is to widen the scope and find new purposes - other-regarding purposes for a self-regarding philosophy.

I struggle with it all the time too, which is why I enjoy your thinking it through.