Extinction is normal

Living things evolve, dead things can be remembered but extinction is normal.

I have no objection to expressions of regret, but I find the hand-wringing and sanctimonious claptrap about the extinction of species, languages and cultures illogical and without thought. I don’t miss the dodo or any of the dinosaurs. I don’t miss Latin or Sanskrit (even though I had to sit through boring lessons in both). It is only a natural course of development that isolated Amazonian tribes have disappeared as their members have joined the rest of the world. I don’t miss the cannibalistic cultures which have disappeared. The recent splurge of nonsense about the “death of the last known male, northern white rhino” was a case in point. It may be a matter of some regret that this particular individual died a natural death, but the end of an unfit sub-species of rhino is not an event requiring the mawkish sentimentality that flooded the media.

Extinction is normal.

Species evolve to survive or they go extinct. Languages evolve and they die when they are of no use to anyone anymore. Cultures evolve and merge with other cultures or they try to remain separate as a distinct, (often racial) identity by isolation and inevitably they die out. The cultures that disappear don’t survive because they are not viable in the world they live in. Regret is one thing, but trying to artificially protect non-viable species, languages or cultures or peoples by putting them in a “zoo” is mawkish and irrational and, ultimately, unethical. Keeping backward tribes isolated to “preserve” their cultures and freezing them into backwardness (by preventing them from merging or being absorbed by the world) is immoral. Freezing individuals from unfit species in a zoo, and neither helping them to evolve nor allowing the species to go extinct, is immoral. Preserving dead languages is of academic interest and does not prevent the extinction of languages which no longer serve a useful purpose.

To the best of our knowledge there are about 7,000 languages recognised today. Depending upon when language began (between 50,000 and 200,000 years ago) between 90 and 99% of all languages are now extinct. Written languages are much younger of course. An extinct language is a matter of history. Some languages evolved and produced versions still in use today. Others did not. We know about some of these because they developed writing and left some records which have survived. Languages die a natural death when they stop being used. Of course there is nothing wrong in speakers of dying languages trying to revitalise them. Governments have sometimes tried to promote particular languages (French, Hindi), and sometimes to suppress some (Welsh, Sami). Languages have been invented (Esperanto or Klingon). Most of these attempts of artificially creating, protecting or suppressing language are futile. The ultimate arbiter of language (and of grammar and of spelling) is usage.  The real question should not be whether a language is “endangered” and should be protected but whether a language serves any useful purpose. If it does, it will survive. If it does not, it should not survive. Endangered languages should be recorded for history and allowed to die in peace.

We don’t know how many species are alive today. Estimates have ranged from 10 million to 14 million, of which over 86 percent have not yet been described. A 2016 study even concludes that Earth currently has 1 trillion species. Whatever the actual number, what is known is that over 99% of all species that ever existed are now extinct. By the time a failing species is formally considered to be endangered, it is almost irrelevant to the ecological system it is embedded in. Tigers, as an example, are restricted only to areas of captivity (whether zoos or reserves). Even in some reserves where they are nominally free, the species is of no great significance to the bio-system. A species may well be going extinct because it is losing habitat to humans, but that in itself is a failure of that species. Some species are adapting to man, but where conservationists intervene to “protect” species they always do so by freezing the species into some form of captivity. They never try to help that species to adapt genetically to survive in its new environment. This form of conservation may be emotionally satisfying for humans but is of little consequence in the sustainable survival of the endangered species. Evolution produces far more failed species than successful ones. The detritus of evolution needs to be cleaned out from time to time. A mass extinction is one way to muck out the evolutionary stables. Currently there are too many species surviving and around 30% probably need to be washed away into extinction.

As with language and species there is much energy and misguided thinking expended in the protection of “indigenous peoples” and outdated, non-viable cultures. Much of this “protection” is about “freezing” these humans and their cultures into unsustainable conditions in what are effectively human zoos or reserves.

There are approximately 370 million Indigenous people in the world, belonging to 5,000 different groups, in 90 countries worldwide. Indigenous people live in every region of the world, but about 70% of them live in Asia.

The long term survival of tribes and indigenous peoples is by them joining or being absorbed by the mainstream or of reaching a critical mass such that they can have an autonomous survival. Genetic isolation (or genetic purity as practiced by some groups) is not sustainable in the long term. The Sentinelese are still apparently in the “stone-age” and both isolated and captive. Is it better (for whom?) to allow them to remain isolated and doomed or to bring them into the mainstream which would effectively eliminate them as a separate but backward culture?

Extinction is normal for peoples, languages, cultures and for species. To struggle against extinction is just a part of survival and also normal. But when extinction does occur, it may be a matter of regret and even of sorrow, but it is normal and morally neutral. But “conservation” by freezing language or culture or species or peoples into a “failed” condition is immoral.


Related:

Evolution is indifferent to species survival

Conservation denies tigers a future as a species

There was no biodiversity to begin with


 

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