“Biodiversity vs. Bioengineering?”
This is a class assignment to critique Huber’s article “Biodiversity vs. Bioengineering?” solely on the issue of whether the use of deception was sound argumentation technique. Huber’s short but fascinating article appears in The Environmental Predicament, shown to the left.
From the article, I quote the most personally relevant portions:
[T]here are still transcendentally important esthetic reasons for treating life here on earth with gentle respect…. We should revere life on earth not because we expect it will profit us economically, nor because it is very likely to cure cancer, but because life is a good that requires no further justification….
When the economic case for biodiversity collapses, … the more fundamental truth about the beauty and spiritual qualities of nature may be swept away as well.
— Peter Huber, “Biodiversity vs. Bioengineering?“
The issue addressed by Peter Huber in his essay “Biodiversity vs. Bioengineering?” is whether or not we should lie to achieve a greater good. It is his, and my, belief the answer is no.
In this case he refers to the question of whether we should lie about the economic advantages of biodiversity. One might say the ends justifies the means, and in order to gain the support of the masses one must use a reason they are interested in. However, as Mr. Huber plainly says, “When the economic case for biodiversity collapses, … the more fundamental truth about the beauty and spiritual qualities of nature may be swept away as well.”
In other words, if we lie about the economic uses of biodiversity, and the lie is discovered, our credibility will be non-existent, and people might then believe biodiversity is of no use to us whatsoever. After all, why should they believe our assertion that we can gain from biodiversity, when we’ve lied about its applicability?
To be caught in such a lie means most people will not look past that discovered lie to any possible deeper truths. They would therefore miss the emotional and spiritual gains biodiversity could offer us. If people believe biodiversity is a waste of time and effort, they will not attempt to maintain it, and a priceless and irreplaceable treasure will be forever lost to us.
It is true a lie might for a while influence people to act in a manner we believe is beneficial. There are, however, several problems with using lies to achieve laudable goals.
Firstly, no one likes being lied to. They tend to react with anger and rejection. Therefore, if we lie, we do not only risk losing all the benefits we have accomplished to date. We will also create in people a distrust in any future statements we may make.
Secondly, if we assume it is okay to lie, we should not be surprised if lies are used on us. Nor should we be dismayed by finding we are being manipulated into doing things we may not agree with. After all, it was our initial lies about economic uses of biodiversity which established the premise that lying was acceptable behavior to get what we want; that the ends justifies the means.
The solution is simple — don’t lie. Once we have established a habit of truth, people will be more willing to listen to us the next time we issue a warning or statement. Furthermore, the truth will perhaps cause far less fanfare, but its effects will be longer lasting and hopefully more beneficial to us all. Mr. Huber states this eloquently in his essay.
Ah, I see. Thank you. That’s a very interesting conundrum. Does the end justify the means, even when the end is quite noble? Does that distill the argument properly? I suppose that it could be argued that most environmentalists don’t argue that a cure for cancer will be found, merely that it could be found, but we’ll never know if all the rain forests are replaced with housing developments. I often find myself on the fence about some of these issues. Yes, we need to be conservative with the environment, but at what point did man cease to be part of Nature?
And no, your post on honesty didn’t scare me away, I just couldn’t think of anything cogent to add. :-)
I am a bit confused by the premise of the initial argument. How has bioengineering been misrepresented, and how does it threaten biodiversity?
Hi there! Nice to see you again — I thought my excessively long and rambling Firestarter on honesty had scared you off! I really want to re-visit that one with an editor’s eye… ;)
Anyway. I wrote the paper in the late 1990’s, so to the best of my memory the initial argument re biodiversity vs. bioengineering ran something like this:
The author of the article I mention is pointing out that even if environmentalists accomplish a worthwhile goal in the short-term by lying (i.e. stopping the destruction of biodiversity) — in the long-term, when cancer is not miraculously cured by the existence of biodiversity… the cause of environmentalism in general, and biodiversity in particular, will have lost credibility, i.e. “Why should we listen to them at all? If they lied to us about curing cancer, are they lying about the importance of biodiversity as well?”