The Battle for Compassion: Ethics in an Apathetic Universe

The Battle for Compassion: Ethics in an Apathetic Universe

The Battle for Compassion: Ethics in an Apathetic Universe

The Battle for Compassion: Ethics in an Apathetic Universe

Excerpt

We are living in an unprecedented, uniquely critical sliver of time in the Earth’s existence, possibly even in that of the universe. Sir Martin Rees, a recent president of the Royal Society and an influential voice among the world’s scientists, has estimated the chance of our civilization surviving this century at no greater than 50%. An accumulation of distinct threats stemming from human activity, runaway or malevolently used technology and the forces of nature risk turning all the sublime beauty we are capable of experiencing into a short-lived blip of intense meaning in the workings of a vast, inanimate cosmos. While the precise figure cited can obviously be debated, the profound significance of a catastrophe that destroys humanity, and the rarity with which this issue has been so bluntly confronted, are indicative of our broader inability to scale up our level of concern with the challenges we face.

Yet once we stop to contemplate deeply the threats to our existence and what they mean, we are obliged to turn our attention to the present and reflect on what it is that we really care about preserving, and why. The beauty many of us experience often comes at a terrible price. Massive, intense suffering continues to occur in countless places on our planet, often out of view to those of us living comfortable lives, but as real as anything else that exists in this universe. Much of it is potentially preventable. The poverty, malnutrition and disease that continue to plague the developing world. The precarious existence of huge numbers of marginalized shantytown dwell-

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