June 20, 2007

When things start to disappear alarmingly fast

The Strib and the New York Times reported, in a two day period, alarming declines in common birds, hunters and anglers, and arts critics. We have already heard about an alarming decrease in bees. A letter to the editor lamented the loss of all of the most seasoned human interest, general topic columnists at the Strib. Some of these declines have clear explanations. Others are puzzling to everybody.

As I hear such news, from different directions, I think of a line from chapter 46 of the Tao Te Ching: "When the Way rules the world, coach horses fertilize the fields; when the Way does not rule, war horses breed in the parks." (Blackney translation)

There's a tradition in ethics about finding and articulating a Way through life. The capital letters scare off contemporary philosophers, who focus in on smaller stretches of moral territory: what should we do about abortion, genetic engineering, the global economy. But there is this other tradition, which somehow promises to minimize unintended consequences, to be right in all directions, now and forever.

This isn't something we want to discard frivolously. We can land ourselves in deep misery by a string of individual decisions each of which makes some sense, taken by itself. We need information about how to get beyond that piece-by-piece ethics.

Posted by shea0017 at 10:16 AM