The genocide paradox: Would you now prevent the dinosaurs from extinction then?

The genocide paradox is just another version of all the temporal paradoxes (grandfather paradoxes) about any historical event. Would you, in the now, take any action which will prevent something from having happened in the past, then? Knowing that some change to the past could make the present different? In all of these paradoxes, the inconsistency comes when the causal link with the past is broken.

We can only make judgements about the past. But the judgement itself is rooted in the now and cannot be applied to the past. If we, now, could take some action which will prevent the dinosaurs from having been extinguished 65 million years ago, would we? Of course, if the dinosaurs had not become extinct there would have been no room for many mammals or the great apes or humans to have evolved. If we could take actions in the now which will prevent any of the genocides of the past, we inevitably invalidate all that is in the present which is causally linked to that past. And so we have the Genocide Paradox. If we take actions now which will result in the Holocaust never having occurred, then we destroy our own existence and the entire causal chain which lies in our history.

The paradoxes arise because causality and the arrow of time are two sides of the same coin (and this coin may have more than two sides). You could argue that time is causality. We can make judgements today about how bad Hitler or Pol Pot were but their badness itself is an existential foundation for our own existence. In my own case I can make the causal link with Hitler quite easily.

For want of a nail image: grandmasnurseryrhymes

For want of a Hitler, the war was not,
For want of the war, Changi was not,
For want of Changi, an escape was not,
For want of an escape, a marriage was not,
For want of a marriage, a son was not,
For want of a Hitler, I was not.

So I can no more wish Hitler and the Holocaust away than I can wish away my existence.

Would the world be a better place today if all the great genocides through history had not taken place? That the world would be different is without doubt. There would be different people alive today even if the numbers of people alive would not – perhaps – be so different. The genetic mix of the people alive today would be different. But would the world be a better place?

We may regret the past, we may rewrite the past and we may think we would have behaved differently, but we cannot change it and we cannot wish it away.

It has become fashionable to revile figures from the past and their actions, but those figures and their deplorable actions are causal to the existence of those doing the reviling today. Reviling Hitler or Pol Pot or Genghis Khan or the slave traders or the colonists of the past is all the rage. But precisely those people and their despicable actions are our existential foundations of the present.



%d bloggers like this: