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11.10.05

The Morality Of History

Take a look at this graph of world oil consumption. Throughout the industrial era, we've been continuing to use more and more oil. Clearly, then it is morally imperative that the trend continue. We have a duty to use more oil.

I'm sure you're thinking "that's a dumb argument. Just because something has been happening in the past, and our current trajectory suggests that it will continue, doesn't mean that it's right." And I agree. So why do people insist that the historical trend (at least since the Enlightenment) of extending moral consideration to more and more beings is some sort of proof of the moral rightness of deep ecology? Sure, I'm glad we've extended the bounds of moral consideration from rich white men to the poor, women, and non-whites. I even lean toward granting moral status to the more sentient animals like monkeys and whales (and perhaps also dogs, cats, pigs, and crows). But those steps are all justified by moral reasons, not by the progress of history. (Likewise, I'm glad for at least some of our oil use -- for plastics, and for fuel up until perhaps the 1970s, since that oil use laid the foundations in terms of wealth and technology for developing alternative energy. But there's no contradiction between that and wanting to get rid of SUVs and oil-fired power plants today.)

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