Myths We Live By – Review #2

When I left Mary Midgley half reviewed here, I suggested things were leading to Gaia.

Her final sub-chapter is “What Must We Do ?” and in it she concludes “In the last few decades we have learned a lot of new words, ecosystem, biosphere, Gaia, sustainable development and the rest … words framed to express a cooperative relation with other life forms … which our cuture has since the enlightenment refused to take seriously.”

Her main theme is that there is no single basis for decisions, it’s always a question of balance, lesser evils often, and in such value decisions the individual case must always be balanced with the general principle(s) involved.

After leading with the basic falacies of dualism and objective science, she proceeds through gender biases in culture and language, leading eventually to the moral issues of rights, freedoms and valuing life, any individual life, and the whole of life.

Liked her view of “parsimony” – in complex situations apparent scientific objective views will always be simpler and will tend to be favoured by Occam’s principle, whether they are a valid model of the situation or not. (Beware cutting your own throat with Occam’s razor / Careful with that razor Occam, are two aphorisms I’ve used repeatedly.)

Another feature that has exercised my mind recently is diluted meaning being spread in usage of words – I’ve usually dumped it under the headings of memetics and political correctness. She’s talking about “hunting” being referred to as “culling”, justified by wise-management. She says “the repeated misuse of a word cannot damn a practice … there is scarcely a good practice whose name has not been borrowed at times to guild something disreputable. Hypocrisy is indeed the tribute that vice pays to virtue.” I like that final turn of phrase.

She continues to be dismissive of Buddhism, science and any view of the world as essentially information throughout. Surprising, after dwelling so much on complexity of real-life decisions, that she pays no attention to the scientific views of complexity and chaos, or complex systems theory and emergence views of the world. Pity; I expect she does have views on these.

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