Note: This post has been automatically imported from my old blog. Formatting may be incorrect.
Among the rationalist-types I follow on tumblr, there is a regularly expressed sentiment that is best exemplified by the common slogan "FUCK THE NATURAL ORDER". If I understand correctly, a mild form of the sentiment can be stated explicitly as something like:
The world as it currently is (or especially as it was "before the use of technology", if such a time can be said to exist) is not inherently worth preserving in its current state. There are many events that can be considered "natural" that can and should be reduced or eliminated by the use of technology, with sickness and death being primary examples. Any argument that we should value something just because it is "natural" should be rejected out of hand, as should any argument that technological solutions to a given problem should discarded just because they are technological.
I understand the sentiment and why it's valuable, I agree with most of the underlying premises, and I certainly don't fault anyone for holding or expressing it. But it really doesn't work for me1.
In gut-feeling terms, my objection to "FUCK THE NATURAL ORDER" is: "but I live there!". A bit more seriously, I think it comes down to two interrelated ideas:
Now, I don't think that people really believe otherwise2. But framing things in contradiction to those ideas for rhetorical effect gets in the way of me processing/addressing events in the way I'd like. When a loved one dies, I want to be sad at the loss of the value they provided, not thinking about how terrible death is for existing. When I want to help solve a problem stemming from "the natural order", I want to focus on solutions available to me given my current real context, not on a vague idea of overthrowing the natural order of affairs or slaying some evil demon (In this context, the slogan "nature, to be commanded, must be obeyed"3 fits me better). And thinking of unconscious natural forces as agentic makes me want to give them moral consideration and to understand their value hierarchy to leverage it to the outcome I want4. And I don't want to ever reach an emotional state of ruthless joy in the destruction of an agent, no matter how positive the consequences of that destruction, whereas I think that attitude is exactly appropriate toward reshaping natural affairs to our needs.
Ultimately, I'm posting this just to get it out there, both to point out to my friends that there's another way of looking at things and to reinforce to myself the validity and distinction of my chosen perspective. I certainly don't expect anyone to change how they look at things, nor do I want to make this out to be a bigger deal than it is (which is to say, just a minor annoyance of having to switch perspectives).
1: I want to stress this point: This post is about my personal relationship with the sentiment, why it doesn't work for me given my personality and perspective on the world, and is not in any way meant to be commentary on anyone else or their relationship to the sentiment.
2: That being said, I do think some people act like they mostly believe otherwise, often in a way that starts out as an obviously self-aware "this is false but useful/funny/ironic to act like it's true" but morphs into a sort of alief over time.
3: Yes, Bacon's dictum does imply a sort of agency to Nature. I have no idea why this doesn't bother me.
4: I wonder if part of the difference between rationalists and myself is not that they treat unconscious natural events as if they were agents, but that they treat agents as if they were unconscious natural events.