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December 30, 2016 / compassioninpolitics

Survival outweighs/ Extinction comes first–Schell 1982

Extinction comes first – Humanity is the source of all values and rights, justifying extinction is the death of not just our biological entities but of everything we have ever hoped to achieve and must be stopped whatever the cost.

Schell 82 (Jonathan Schell, Scholar and Visiting Fellow at Yale University. “The Fate of the Earth” page 136)

Implicit in everything that I have said so far about the nuclear predicament there has been a perplexity that I would now like to take up explicitly, for it leads, I believe, into the very heart of our response-or, rather, our lack of response-to the predicament. I have pointed out that our species is the most important of all the things that, as inhabitants of a common world, we inherit from the past generationsbut it does not go far enough to point out this superior importance, as though in making our decision about extinction we were being asked to choose between, say, liberty, on the one hand, and the survival of the species, on the otherFor the species not only overarches but contains all the benefits of life in the common world, and to speak of sacrificing the species for the sake of one of these benefits involves one in the absurdity of wanting to destroy something in order to preserve one of its partsas if one were to burn down a house in an attempt to redecorate the living room, or to kill someone to improve his character, but even to point out this absurdity fails to take the full measure of the peril of extinctionfor mankind is not some invaluable object that lies outside us and that we must protect so that we can go on benefiting from it; rather, it is we ourselves, without whom everything there is loses its value. To say this is another way of saying that extinction is unique not because it destroys mankind as an object but because it destroys mankind as the source of all possible human subjects, and this, in turn, is another way of saying that extinction is a second death, for one’s own individual death is the end not of any object in life but of the subject that experiences all objects. Death, however, places the mind in a quandary. One of-the confounding characteristics of death-“tomorrow’s zero,” in Dostoevski’s phrase-is that, precisely because it removes the person himself rather than something in his life, it seems to offer the mind nothing to take hold of. One even feels it inappropriate, in a way, to try to speak “about” death at all, as though death were a thing situated somewhere outside us and available for objective inspection, when the  fact is that it is within us is, indeed, an essential part of what we are. It would be more appropriate, perhaps, to say that death, as a fundamental element of our being, “thinks” in us and through us about whatever we think about, coloring our thoughts and moods with its presence throughout our lives.


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