Idle dreaming

Heard the harp this morning, on the heels of a strange and intricate dream involving a visit with Eric Idle at his English country estate, which was somehow laid out on a pattern based on his Galaxy Song [2012].

I don’t usually place much stock in dreams but this one was fairly vivid. But, a quick search turns up nothing about an English estate. He lives in LA. His auto-biography  is interesting, though.

Not sure that was worth getting up to report. Now for something completely different…

More good midterm reports yesterday, from Evan on Performance Enhancing Drugs in sports, Celecita on happiness, Sean on Batman the fatalist-deontologist, and Andrew on free will. All helped me think more about how to respond to the implied (yet good-natured) misanthropy of Vincent’s report the day before, the one he introduced with this image:

save planet

I’ll bet she’s fun at a party.

It’s true enough that too many people tread the earth too heavily, and that we’d all be better off with a lighter collective footprint. If we’re talking about culling the excess, I have a list of names I’d like to start with. Many live (part-time) and “work” in the District of Columbia.  I don’t think they’ll report voluntarily to Vincent’s euthanasia chamber. (Captain Kirk explained the trouble with those back in the future of my childhood.)

But much as we’re a problem, we humans are also the only likely bearers of a solution in sight. If saving the planet means exterminating the humans, count me out. I love horses and whales but I’m finally still a humanist, maybe even a bit of a speciesist. I think we can do better.

[Einstein was a humanist. But so is Seth MacFarlane, named Harvard’s Humanist of the Year in 2011. He’s behind Neil Tyson’s new Cosmos, too. Guess there’s more to him than vulgar bears and stupid boob songs.]

I’ve always assumed that choosing to “do better” implied a robust affirmation of free will, and I still think my own motivational psychology requires something like that. But Andrew gave the best succinct answer I’ve heard to the classic pragmatic question on this interminably insoluble issue: What practical difference does  it make to any of us, whether we possess free will or not?

The difference is one of focus: instead of appealing to each individual to do better, to pull him- or herself up by his or her own moral bootstraps, an enlightened-but-determined society would concentrate its efforts on improving the psycho-social-material environment. With better “inputs,” Andrew said, we’ll all do better.

I agree. Let’s not “throw the moral business overboard,” in William James’s memorable phrase. Let’s not give up on one another.

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