Thursday, October 16, 2008

My Belief System: Life

Lets see if I can get this into one post. I've spent a large part of my short life trying to figure out what I believe in, and it looks like I have finally been able to collect enough thoughts to put together a relatively coherent version of that.

Most of my core beliefs are based on five principles: a love for Life, a abhorrence for waste, an obsession with questions, a distaste for radicalism, and an extremely long timescale. Lets go through these one by one. And no, there's no way this is going to fit in one post.

The love of Life is a love of all life - plants, animals, fungi, microbes, and people. As the product of 4 billion years of biological evolution, its only fitting that Life itself is at the core of my belief system. I believe there is a fundamental choice behind almost every decision we make: we can either respect, love, and further the systems that produced us, or we can destroy them. The most obvious product of a life - centered philosophy is of course, environmentalism.

I've basically always been an environmentalist. I've seen everything from enormous roadside dumps in Mexico to rivers of sewage in India to enormous rivers of concrete in California, and all of these things disturbed me greatly as I was growing up. There's plenty of writing about the environment out there, so I won't get into it too much, but I will say this: environmentalists have been pessimistic to the point of hopelessness. As a movement, we need to start focusing on solutions rather than problems, to start playing offense rather than defense.* No, we can't get that old-growth forest back in our lifetimes, but we can plant something that will someday resemble it.

If environmentalism is obvious, there are other results of this focus on life that might not be. The first of these is my very non-supernatural version of an afterlife. We live on through our children and through the ideas we pass on to others. In the ancient past, of course, it was only through our children that we could live on by passing our genes to the next generation. For a long time, however, probably since right before the first mammals, we've been passing on memes; ideas and behaviours that complement our genes and allow us to essentially skip thousands of generations with a single step. In fact, if you're reading this right now, I believe that a part of me is now in you! Scary thought huh?

The second, non-obvious result of basing a whole set of life principles on life itself is the desire to replicate it. I'm not just talking about having kids, or even restoring life on disturbed ecosystems... I'm talking about replicating the entire biosphere on other planets. You may be thinking this is a ways off, but the fact is that we are the only species on this planet capable of bringing life to lifeless worlds. We're less than half a century away from putting people on Mars, and I hope that we can bring more than people with us to that new world. This is where life-centered environmentalism parts with landscape or wilderness-centered environmentalism. Whereas many traditional environmentalists might say that we should leave other planets in their natural state, life-centered environmentalism essentially requires that we adapt life to live on these worlds and adapt these worlds to life. If you want a three-novel exploration of these ideas, check out The Mars Trilogy by Kim Stanley Robinson

Anyway, thats about as much as I can get out right now. Look forward (or beware) of at least four more posts on this as I try and get my belief system down on paper. And down on paper I mean out on the internets...

*For more information about ecological restoration and my personal journey through it, see my other blog at

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