"Courage," said the Philosopher, "is the prime philosophical virtue" (by which he meant the moral kind) "lacking which all the others become irrelevancies one has no nerve to bring oneself to put into practice." It is a notion from another time, in accord with which it came to pass that the philosophical cream of my own generation, guided by enlightened self-interest, determined to bring no children into this world. The trouble one saved oneself. The trouble one saved them.
Trouble, of course, there has been. Though after each of our century's dallies with mass death—reserving those ongoing—sobriety has tended to shame frivolity awhile. Sometimes, it has even seemed as if we were about to embrace that modicum of what the wise once called wisdom, if only to preclude the interlocking disasters of a self-administered extinction or the literal conflagration of the world.
Always, the impulse fades. It fades because the absence of evil does not necessarily mean the presence of good. It fades because we cannot see things as they are, which is a necessary component to doing anything at all.
Perhaps now mere pragmatisms, euphemizing the world into market conditions, whereas one might even with the naked eye make out a transoceanic oil spill, the industrial occultation of rain forests, may well succeed where past mass death has failed. Our cycles of certitude spew their virtual...