One vitally important fact is missing from the above list: humans are not the whole of life. With the meta-purpose we have chosen, it is our relationship to life itself that determines “moral” behaviour. Thus, we must carefully examine what this relationship entails.
Humans are just one species, one twig of a giant tree, and this places us in a rather precarious position. As a twig, we are not only beset by the storms and upheavals that continuously affect and change our physical environment, we are further subjected to the demands that the tree itself places upon us.
Life is our father and mother. Life produced us. It nurtures us, and it will absorb us once we die. Life creates and maintains our support system, and structures much of our playground. Life itself is the totality to which we owe allegiance, and to which we should be paying most attention. Living life—not some imaginary after-death life—is our true supersystem.
To my way of thinking, the following statements are self-evident in the context of the supersystem “Life.” (The word “Life,” although from our perspective is currently constrained to that which exists on our planet, has been capitalized in several places throughout the remainder of the book to signify that the context applies wherever life exists.)
- Subsystems (including humans) will be tolerated by their encompassing supersystem (Life) as long as they do not hinder its continuance. (For instance, plants will provide oxygen and convert sunlight into energy forms that we and other living entities can consume—as long as we do not eliminate them.)
- Life “punishes” entities that disrupt its existence or growth. (For instance, discharging pollutants diminishes the abundance and variety of food producers, eventually creating a future that becomes one of subsisting rather than of plenty.)
- Life “rewards” entities that foster its spread and development. (For instance, enlarging rain forest acreage increases the abundance and variety of food and other resources that it supplies.)
(To best appreciate these points, think of the long-term implications of any endeavour, human or otherwise, that impacts upon some part of the ecosystem, then imagine what might happen if the scope and depth of this impact were to be greatly increased. Projecting to the limit often clarifies what may well be happening, unnoticed, on a smaller scale or behind the scenes.)
There are likely several other truths about the relationship between humans (or any species) and our supersystem that deserve to be uncovered and discussed, but those stated above are sufficient to move to the next step.
- James Lovelock, in The Ages of Gaia: A Biography of Our Living Earth (New York: Bantam Books, 1990) shows that life modifies its environment, eventually reaching a state of equilibrium when energy consumption balances waste disposal. This results in an interdependency that can be considered to act as a single entity. Eventually, one supposes, this interdependency between living and non-living might encompass the whole of the universe.
- See Gödel’s Theorem, General Systems Theory, and The Conservation Laws for a background discussion of terms such as subsystem and supersystem.
- Forgive my personifying life by saying that it will “reward” and “punish” behaviours (here and in later sections). Doing so makes various points easier to express.