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Related Words, Beliefs, Background for Choice #40

Worldview Theme #204A: Freedom from Limits

Worldview Theme #204B: Limits and Ethics

American exceptionalism–the belief held by many Americans and repeatedly promoted by its leaders, that the USA is a special nation–superior to others because of its unique heritage of throwing off tyranny, liberty, equality before the land, democracy, individualism, etc. Many Americans have historically added a religious dimension to this: "It is our manifest destiny," "God is on our side," "We are God's shining city on a hill," etc.  With this belief comes what some see as a duty: to serve as an example or beacon for other nations to follow. Others see it (sometimes arrogantly) as a right.  As Howard Zinn describes it, the latter believe that "the United States alone has the right, whether by divine sanction or moral obligation, to bring civilization, or democracy, or liberty to the rest of the world, by violence if necessary."   

biodiversity–refers to the biological diversity and genetic variation present in an ecosystem–be it tiny biological community or the whole biosphere.  It can be gauged by counting the number of species the ecosystem contains.  Preserving biodiversity can be important to the stability of the ecosystem, and may have practical benefits in that little studied or unknown species can be sources of new drugs for medical treatments, food crops, inspiration for engineering design, etc.  Besides habitat destruction, and genetic manipulation, humans threaten biodiversity with intentional or unintentional introduction of species not native to an ecosystem (invasive species)–increasingly a problem with growing tourism / globalization.    

bioethics–ethics as applied to medicine and the biological sciences.  A field that lies at the heart of dealing with many dignity and sanctity of life related controversies: doctors, medical insurers, biotechnologists "playing God," "Brave New World" fears about cloning, environmental concerns about genetically engineered plants, animals suffering as medical researchers conduct experiments, etc.    

biosphere–the part of the Earth that supports life.    

catastrophes, manmade global–human actions can bring catastrophe to planet Earth–conceivably the end of all terrestrial living things.  Such human caused catastrophic events include most notably all out nuclear war and environmental disaster.  Based on what could have happened during the Cuban missile crisis at the height of the Cold War in 1962, one concludes that the probability of a future global nuclear catastrophe is not so low as to be negligible.  Possible manmade global environmental disasters of greatest concern in recent years most notably include destruction of the atmospheric ozone layer, which shields Earth from excessive deadly ultraviolet radiation, and global climate change resulting from greenhouse gases that burning of fossil fuel and other human activities put into the atmosphere.  Given the development of modern technology and the potential for accidents or deliberate evil acts, many other candidates for such disasters exist including 1) biological hazards / germ warfare / plague,           2) chemical hazards / poison gas warfare / irreversible pollution, 3) genetic engineering related misadventures,  4) nuclear radiation hazards, etc.

censorship–the practice of restricting communication (written, oral, in creative expression, etc) and access to information by altering, deleting, or suppressing it.  While political or moral concerns are often cited as rationale for censorship, it can result  if someone in a position of authority finds something objectionable for whatever reason

civil liberties–are individual rights typically guaranteed by democratic and sometimes by other governments in constitutions or similar legally binding documents.  Their existence can be traced to efforts to limit the potential for government abuse of power and interference in the lives of individuals.  Examples of particular civil liberties are freedoms of assembly, speech, and religion, and the rights to marry, a fair trial, privacy, and to bear arms.  

civil liberties—ACLU = American Civil Liberties Union—There are three things these people want you to know about them: “1) We protect American values. In many ways, the ACLU is the nation's most conservative organization. Our job is to conserve America's original civic values--the Constitution and the Bill of Rights--and defend the rights of every man, woman and child in this country; 2) We're not anti-anything. The only things we fight are attempts to take away or limit your civil liberties, like your right to practice any religion you want (or none at all);  or to decide in private whether or not to have a child; or to speak out--for or against--anything at all; or to be treated with equality and fairness, no matter who you are; 3) We're there for you. Rich or poor, straight or gay, black or white or brown, urban or rural, pious or atheist, American-born or foreign-born, able-bodied or living with a disability. Every person in this country should have the same basic rights. And since our founding in 1920, we've been working hard to make sure no one takes them away.”  

climate change–refers to regional / global changes in climate over the last few decades and, more importantly, in the future.  Generally the world is warming–a trend that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) feels is (with 90 to 95% certainty) likely to have (in some part) been caused by human activities: most notably the combustion of fossil fuels leading to an enhanced greenhouse effect.  Climate change is most evident in the Arctic, where polar ice, glaciers, and permafrost are melting.  Computer model projections call for both steadily increasing temperatures and changes / greater variability in regional weather patterns.  While humans may be able to adapt to climate change, ecologists are particularly concerned about the ability of many living things to do so. They note that the time scales needed for evolutionary adaptations for larger life forms are much longer than the decades / centuries over which this climate change is predicted to over.  The result could be widespread ecosystem disruption, extinction of many species, and loss of biodiversity.  

climate movement--There is widespread concern that current human actions (chiefly use of fossil fuel), unless changed, will lead to catastrophic climate change, While many see the resulting climate movement as a subset of the environmental movement, given its strength and focus many see it as a whole separate social movement.

colonizing space—some think of this as a “Plan B” / eventual solution to an overcrowded, heavily polluted, unlivable due to climate change Earth.  And accordingly dismiss the need for immediate climate action--despite climate scientists telling us that, unless business as usual changes, we have at most one century before Earth becomes overheated to the point of being a much more challenging place to live than it currently is.  In actuality the challenge of lots of people living on a much hotter future Earth would be nothing compared to their living on Mars: where there is no air to breath,  essentially all the time cold Antarctic type temperatures, no soil with organic material suitable to grow things, almost no atmosphere / magnetic field to protect against solar radiation /flares, etc.  And think of the cost / energy challenge of  moving even a tiny fraction of the world’s  population to Mars? We quantitatively illustrate this with a back of the envelope type calculation using rounded off numbers:   8 billion people with cumulative weight of (at 50 kg / person)  roughly 400 billion kilograms moved first into Earth orbit. While Space X has dropped the costs—roughly by a factor of 20 over USA Space Shuttle costs—they are still high at over $ 2500 per kilogram. In multiplying 400 billion kilograms x $ 2500 per kilogram and  dividing by 100 one calculates a cost of $10,000 billion or $10 trillion to move 1% of the human population into low Earth orbit. Not too bad…but then we have the real costs: transporting them to Mars and providing extensive infrastructure / life support for them live on its surface—they are astronomically more.  Example: in 2015 retired NASA engineers Glenn Smith and Paul Spudis estimated the cost of sending 9 crews (assume total of 50 people) to Mars  in the 2035 era at $1.5 trillion.  Dividing $1.5 trillion by 50 people gives $30 billion / person. Multiplying by 80 million (which is 1% of 8 billion) and dividing by a “learning how to do this more cheaply and negating the extra cost to bring them back to Earth ” generous (and probably overoptimistic?) factor of 10 yields a total cost —to transport 80 million people representing just 1% of the human population—of $240,000 trillion  This is roughly 3000 times greater than the total global GDP ($240, 000 trillion / $80 trillion.)

common good, the–can be defined in various ways depending on one's perspective.  Some define it narrowly as that which is good for every member of the community; others broaden the community here to include all human beings.  While libertarians argue it is a meaningless concept, utilitarians equate it with "the greatest good for the greatest  number of individuals."

conflict of interest—professional ethics related term. Writing in 1993 in The New England Journal of Medicine, Dennis F. Thompson defined it as, “a set of conditions in which professional judgment concerning a primary interest (such as a patient’s welfare or the validity of research) tends to be unduly influenced by a secondary interest (such an financial gain).” He goes on to identify the need for professional ethics guidelines that “regulate the disclosure and avoidance of these conditions.”

conscience, global environmental–while a few environmentally concerned individuals may build this into their conscience, futurists have imagined a human collective consciousness/global brain that automatically makes individuals aware of planetary well being and encourages them to factor it into their behavior. The book Coming of Age in the Global Village provided one example of this (called GAIA).    

cultural imperialism–the rapid spread of one culture to the detriment of another.  Often a politically / economically dominant culture is imposed by newcomers–weakening or destroying the existing culture

culture wara cultural battle for dominance between social groups with highly divergent worldviews: different beliefs, values, practices, sources of information, etc. The term was first used in the USA in the early 1990s to describe the cultural divide / widespread societal disagreement between traditional conservative and progressive liberal camps with hot button issues such as abortion, same sex marriage, separation of church and state, gun laws, immigration, multiculturalism, etc. Increasingly the battle lines are between those who cynically don't believe the mainstream media,  buy into charges of "fake news" and "a rigged system," embrace certain (mostly fictional) conspiracy theories to some extent, resent experts and the elite, etc. pitted against  those (many with more idealistic, less cynical outlooks) who are comfortable with a society based on facts, science, professionalism, competence, meritocracy, etc where people compete on a playing field based on these things.   

defamation / libel / slander –are different names for essentially the same act of making a false written or oral statement about another which unfairly harms the victim’s reputation.  While legal jurisdictions can judge these acts differently, most typically  (and in the USA) the false defaming / libeling / slanderous statement must be made to someone other than the victim and is considered a crime

dominion over–a phrase from the Bible's book of Genesis used in God's instructions to man: "Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over...every living thing."  Supposedly the original Hebrew this was written in communicates a gentleness and familiarity that is less like subjugation and more like stewardship than the meaning communicated in the English translation above

ecological conscience–a term popularized by Aldo Leopold who connected it with treating the land right–in accordance with his land ethic.  More generally it involves feeling obligated to treat the natural habitat where one lives right: 1) not making a mess of it, and  2) not incurring ecological debt.  

ecological footprint –a difficult to quantify measure of one’s overall impact on Earth’s life supporting ecosystems due to one's purchases, resource consumption, fossil fuel energy use (which releases CO2 as a byproduct of combustion), land use and other relevant environmental impacts.

Ecosharing–an environmental ethic for people to live by: their own impact on the Earth’s biosphere should be limited to no more than their fair ecoshare.  An ecoshare is determined by assessment of human impact on the biosphere, computer models of its future condition, and necessary limits imposed by sustainability criteria.  The 1990 book Coming of Age in the Global Village  sought to quantify an "ecoshare" by linking it to average world per capita income and energy use

egocentric–the selfish, self-centered viewpoint that narrowly limits a person’s outlook to focus on his or her own feelings, needs, concerns, problems and activities.    

egoism–the belief that individual self interest is the basis for all human behavior and that this is how it ought to be.     

energy balance—the Law of Conservation of Energy—roughly speaking that, for a closed system, the system’s total energy stays the same since it cannot be created or destroyed, only changed from one form to another, serves as a starting point for understanding certain systems in terms of energy balance.   To simplify things, imagine the systems are closed except for a single energy input. The systems of interest are 1) the Earth, and 2) a human body, and the energy inputs are from solar energy and food intake respectively.  As a first approximation, we imagine that for 1) the Earth’s temperature will stay constant if the energy received from the Sun is matched by energy lost to space, and 2) the human body’s weight will stay constant if the calorie intake supplied as the food is converted to energy is matched by the calories burned by the body as it carries out its activities (which for some may include strenuous exercise.)  Both of these approximations, while good starting points for approaching two problems of interest—global warming and a person’s dieting to avoid weight gain-- need comment.  First, if solar energy received by Earth exceeds what escapes to space the temperature increases. This is what is happening the due to the “enhanced greenhouse effect” as more greenhouse gas--most notably carbon dioxide from humans burning fossil fuel—traps heat energy that otherwise would escape to space.  The increase in land temperatures has been slowed given that the oceans are where some of this excess heat ends up—and their temperature is slow to increase given their tremendous mass and capacity for storing heat. Second, if the human body calorie in = calorie out balance is maintained over the long term weight will stay constant, there can be short-term fluctuations. The “calorie out” side of this will be more difficult for dieters to assess given human body metabolism variations (both in the rate and efficiency of mechanisms involved that are unique to the particular person.) and differences in energy storage “sinks” (èweight gain locations.)                  



ethics–the study of right and wrong in matters of conduct.  A basic division is between metaethics and normative ethics. A goal of metaethics is understanding gained by considering questions like “What is the meaning and nature of moral judgments?” and  How are they defended and supported?” and  “ In what way or ways are they actually used?  A goal of normative ethics involves identifying universal rules (or norms) to guide human behavior with respect to the key question, “How should one act or behave?” Normative ethics can be broken up into (most notably), consequentialist ethics, deontological ethics, utilitarianism, and egoism.

freedom of the press & speech–something a government can grant its citizens and news / media organizations–believed to be a prerequisite for democracy.  Thomas Jefferson underscored the importance of a free press by saying, "Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter."  More recently the United Nations enshrined this–along with freedom of speech–as a basic human right, proclaiming, "Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference, and impart information and ideas through any media regardless of frontiers."  This language, from The UN Universal Declaration  of Human Rights, has been amended to include that exercising this right carries “special duties and responsibilities” and “may therefore be subject to certain restrictions…[f]or respect of the rights or reputation of others…or the protection of national security or of public order…or of public health or morals.”  Thus making a false statement such as yelling "Fire!" in a crowded movie theatre solely to create a disruption is not permitted speech. 

geoengineering / climate/ planetary engineering–humans use technology to massively alter the global environment of Earth or another planet.  To combat Earth's manmade enhanced greenhouse effect induced global warming, here are four geoengineering proposals: 1) using space-based mirrors to reflect unwanted solar radiation back into space, 2) adding iron to the oceans to feed plankton and increase carbon dioxide absorption, and 3) adding sulfates to the atmosphere by carrying sulfur into the stratosphere on balloons, using artillery guns to release it.  The reflective particles could remain for up to two years  to create haze blocking solar radiation.  4) simply painting roofs white to reflect visible sunlight  At a 2007 USA conference meeting in Cambridge, MA.,  David Keith, conference organizer and University of Calgary researcher, expressed his opinion that  200 years from now the earth will be "an artifact," a product of human design. In the distant future, one can imagine similar (more massive) efforts to transform planets like Mars and Venus to make them habitable.                             

geoengineering related problems and risks—there are at least three areas of concern: 1) given all the uncertainties in our understanding of how the natural world works—even the physics and chemistry aspects of climate models have many areas of uncertainty—there is a real possibility that our attempt to intervene may not work as we assumed it would.  And, since we only have one Earth,  the unintended result of “our climate engineering experiment” could be irreversible disaster we can not escape from!;   2) if a large part of the population believes there is a “Plan B” geoengineering alternative to limiting fossil fuel burning and related greenhouse gas emissions, this could create a moral hazard è leading to their throwing caution aside and even more massively engaging in greenhouse gas producing behavior; 3) seems all the Earth’s people would need to be in agreement before anyone (single nation, large multinational corporation, single very very wealthy individual, etc) subjected the planet to massive climate engineering experimentation.  Even if prospects for success—say stabilizing average Earth temperatures back at pre-industrial levels—were great, certain people might object. For example, although the time scale over which their ecosystems are changing is incredibly short by natural standards and threatens ecological collapse, one can argue that from a human-centered viewpoint cold / frozen parts of the world like Siberia, Greenland, and northern Canada, northern Scandinavia, etc  will benefit from a warmer future.       

individualism–a social philosophy / belief system that places individual interests and rights above those of society, and individual freedom, self-reliance and independence above any social contract obligations

land ethic–as formulated by Aldo Leopold in his 1949 classic A Sand County Almanac, "a thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability and beauty of the biotic community.  It is wrong when it tends otherwise."

libertarian–one who supports individual freedom and government policies which promote it, limiting the power of government so that individual liberty is maximized, having complete control over and accepting personal responsibility for how one's body or personal property is used, and the non-aggression principle.  

misinformation vs. disinformation—both refer to false  information, use of the latter term means that the false information is being knowingly spread to deceive others

moral hazard–results when a person,  institution, or large group of people is partly shielded from risk (due to insurance, prospects of government bailout, safety features, etc.) and acts differently (is less careful creating a hazard.)  Examples: 1) drivers with airbags drive more recklessly, confident that if they crash the airbags will protect them; 2) a person wearing a face mask mingles more closely and more often with people during a pandemic like corona virus than he or she would without the face mask; 3) an investor buys non-investment grade (junk) corporate bonds because of the perception that the company is “too big to fail” and the government will come to the rescue, if need be, to prevent that from happening

non-aggression principle–the idea, as expressed by Ayn Rand, that coercive physical force or the threat of such force against person or property should never be used first, and that its only legitimate use is for defensive purposes by individuals or by governments to punish law-breakers.    

objectivism and the virtue of selfishness–as popularized in the 1950s and 60s by Ayn Rand, objectivism values rational selfishness and views altruism as contrary to human nature. It sees the central purpose of a rational person’s life as productive work, and trade (which it links with justice) as "the only rational ethical principle for all human relationships."  Not surprisingly, this philosophy embraces laissez faire capitalism.  Socially, objectivist ethics places the highest value on an individual’s happiness, and denigrates his or her putting aside self interest and sacrificing for others–singling out as mistaken the belief that one person’s happiness necessarily leads to others’ misery.  Politically, its basic principle is "no man may initiate the use of physical force against others."  Rand’s philosophy is embraced by many libertarians and many who rail against "the social welfare state," "the common good," "progressive income tax structures," etc.    

population growth concerns–reportedly since the days of the Babylonians in 1600 BCE–when the human population was thirty-five million–people have worried about the possibility of a growing population exceeding the capability to feed it. Typically the former grows exponentially (1, 2, 4, 8, etc) while the latter increases but arithmetically (1,2,3,4, etc)–as Thomas Malthus pointed out in 1798.  A few years later in 1804 the human population reached one billion; by 1927 it had doubled to two billion.  The doubling time of 123 years is consistent with an average annual growth rate of around 0.6 % per year.  The next doubling to four billion took roughly 47 years, consistent with an average annual growth rate of around 1.5 % per year.  The growth rate peaked around 1970 at 2.1 % per year.  By 2020 it had fallen to 1.1 % per year, and the human population stood at 7.7 billion people.  UN Population Division projections suggest that by 2100 there will be 11.2 billion people. How many people can the planet support?  Answers vary.  Many environmentalists feel that the current population is excessive and that human activities are altering the global climate and causing dangerous disruptions of natural cycles.  Currently enough grain is grown to feed ten billion people a vegetarian diet

population and family planning–refers to efforts to limit the number of children in a family.  The goal of such planning is to insure that all children born 1) are truly wanted, and 2) can be adequately supported and raised to adulthood given the resources available. While implemented at the individual family level, policies can be formulated at the national government level. This has most notably occurred in China, where the "One Child Policy" was adopted in 1979 to address population growth concerns.  (This was rescinded in 2015 with reversion to a two child limit.) Family planning services typically focus on promoting and providing access to birth control devices (contraceptive pills, condoms, etc).  Where those fail, counseling as to whether to use an abortion clinic's services may be provided.  More draconian options include forced sterilization–which has been used in the United States to prevent mentally deficient people from reproducing.

Protestant work ethic -- an ethic based on self reliance, hard work and frugality being the path to salvation that has been important in shaping post Reformation western (especially American) society of the last five hundred years. Thus, ingrained in my people’s heads, since their earliest childhood, were sayings like “God helps those who help themselves”, “Idle hands are the devil’s workshop”, “A penny saved is a penny earned”, etc. Only recently has a consumption ethic begun to seriously compete with, some would say replace, this work ethic.

religion, social function of–according to Michael Shermer, in his book The Science of Good and Evil, religion is "a social institution that evolved as an integral mechanism of human culture to encourage altruism and reciprocal altruism, to discourage selfishness and greed, and to reveal the level of commitment to cooperate and reciprocate among members of the community."   

social justice—refers to 1) a relationship between individuals and society in which people have what is just, defined in various ways as being reasonable, proper, lawful, right, fair, deserved, merited, etc; 2) if the condition described above does not exist, then taking steps to make it so. In practice, in affluent Western societies, seeking social justice is concerned with seeking a fairer distribution of wealth and privilege, equal opportunity for all, ending unfair discrimination or exclusion, and providing a safety net for the especially vulnerable. It can also involve recognizing / rewarding those who contribute to the common good more than those who behave in more self-serving fashion.    

stewardship–responsible, caring management of something (perhaps natural resources, a piece of land, etc.) that is entrusted to a person, organization, or people

sustainable development–a type of development that hopefully allows future generations’ standard of living and quality of life to be at least as good as the present generation

tragedy of the commons–a term popularized by Garrett Hardin in a 1968 article, refers to users of a common resource–like air, the oceans, grazing land, etc.–selfishly polluting or overusing it, and thus degrading its capability to serve the common good.  Hardin felt the problem was that since no one privately owned the common resource, no one felt a corresponding responsibility to protect it, and that even if nearly everyone could be persuaded to restrain themselves, a small number of exploiters could ruin the commons for everyone else.    

utilitarianism–the belief that the moral value of actions and associated outcomes should be judged according to the degree to which they are useful and benefit those affected.  Utilitarians evaluate the moral rightness of actions by  the extent to which they produce the greatest benefit to all concerned.  Utilitarianism has two aspects: 1) it links evaluating consequences of actions to human welfare, and accordingly, 2) how it ranks values (value theory) and ties them to human welfare.  The latter involves all the complexities of arguments over what gives individuals pleasure or happiness, conflicts between individual choice and societal preference, what benefits society in the long run, etc.  And it recognizes that assigning value is not merely done by adding benefits, since what is beneficial to some may be detrimental to others, and both the benefits and risks of possible actions must be weighed

victimless crimes -- certain behaviors that most societies frown on, and many have restricted or made illegal, but nonetheless seemingly involve only consenting adults and have no immediately obvious victims. Examples include gambling and prostitution.

wise use movement–a movement led by people who feel that the government has no right dictating what private landowners can and can not do with their land.  The movement, linked to the "Sagebrush Rebellion" in the western U.S.–which also involves public land management concerns, grew out of increasing frustration with laws containing environmental restrictions, protecting endangered species, limiting development, etc.  "Wise use" refers to a philosophy about how land should be developed, a philosophy supposedly based on common sense.   

wise use movement philosophy “articles of faith”—Here are what are perhaps the five key ones that the philosophy is based on:   1) Humans, like all organisms,  must use natural resources to survive; 2) The Earth and its life are tough and resilient, not fragile and delicate;   3) We only learn about the world through trial and error;  4)  Our limitless imaginations can break through natural limits to make earthly goods and carrying capacity virtually infinite;    5) Humanity's reworking of the Earth is revolutionary, problematic and ultimately benevolent. (excerpted from "Overcoming Ideology,"  by Ron Arnold) 


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