Am I All About Me?

Larry Arnhart, that rare student of political philosophy who claims to be Darwinian all the way down, criticizes me for saying Darwin is only partly right:

Of course, many people deny this Darwinian explanation of human behavior.  As I have noted in some previous posts, existentialist conservatives like Peter Lawler argue that Darwinism is only partly true, because while it explains our animal sociality, it cannot explain our deepest existential longings for love and meaning in our lives and our fear of death.  We cannot live with the Darwinian teaching that we are just very smart social mammals who live for a time and then die, in a universe that does not care for or about us.  We are moved by transcendent longings for a universe in which we are the center of attention:  It's all about me!

By saying Darwin is half right, of course, what I mean is that he’s right that we are “eusocial” animals.  But we’re more than that.  We’re personal and relational beings.  We retain our personal identities while in love with others.  And polymorphous human eros is much more than the desires given to other animals to max out on reproductive fitness.  The self-conscious, relational, and truthful character of our longings transforms, in some measure, all our erotic activities.  Birds do it, bees do it, and we do it, but our doing it carries a lot more baggage.

So I’m no existentialist.  It’s the transhumanists who say it’s all about me, who won’t rest content with being born to love and die.  I actually join Larry in mocking their hopes, as well as wondering about what their efforts do to the relational life which really the source of most human happiness.

Larry also seems way existential to me.

He has to live with his knowledge that his love for his wife is merely “animal sociality.” 

Larry really can’t deny, as a matter of cold, hard empirical fact, that members of our species alone have been “moved by transcendent longings.”  All he can say is those longings are unreasonable, because  they can’t possibly be satisfied.  Maybe he can add that Darwin has cured him of them.  But the other mammals don’t need such a scientific or philosophic remedy.  Maybe he thinks Darwin can cure us all, and that his teaching is the last and best self-help program we’ll ever need.  That seems to be why Larry is such an evangelical Darwinian, spreading the good news that can cure us of our homelessness.

But as a matter of cold, hard empirical fact, the Darwinian wisdom of our time hasn’t caused flaky spirituality and transhumanist hopes of all sorts to wither away.

Larry criticizes me and other members of our species for being “unable to live with the Darwinian teaching.”  That sounds pretty Nietzschean to me:  A real man has the courage to live with the terrible truth.  What dolphin has to do THAT?

What other animal has to live in the truth?  What other animal can find the truth either joyful or terrible?

Other animals may fear death.  But what other animal looks for and comes up with techno-remedies in response to that fear?

What other animal can feel anxiety in the face of nothing?  And the truth is it’s that anxiety that seems to be the prelude to genuine wonder about who we are and what we’re supposed to do.  Darwinian science shouldn’t really be confused with philosophy.

A still from the film "We Became Fragments" by Luisa Conlon , Lacy Roberts and Hanna Miller, part of the Global Oneness Project library.

Photo: Luisa Conlon , Lacy Roberts and Hanna Miller / Global Oneness Project
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It looks like a busy hurricane season ahead. Probably.

Image source: Shashank Sahay/unsplash
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  • Before the hurricane season even started in 2020, Arthur and Bertha had already blown through, and Cristobal may be brewing right now.
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Welcome to Hurricane Season 2020. 2020, of course, scoffs at this calendric event much as it has everything else that's normal — meteorologists have already used up the year's A and B storm names before we even got here. And while early storms don't necessarily mean a bruising season ahead, forecasters expect an active season this year. Maybe storms will blow away the murder hornets and 13-year locusts we had planned.

NOAA expects a busy season

According to NOAA's Climate Prediction Center, an agency of the National Weather Service, there's a 60 percent chance that we're embarking upon a season with more storms than normal. There does, however, remain a 30 percent it'll be normal. Better than usual? Unlikely: Just a 10 percent chance.

Where a normal hurricane season has an average of 12 named storms, 6 of which become hurricanes and 3 of which are major hurricanes, the Climate Prediction Center reckons we're on track for 13 to 29 storms, 6 to 10 of which will become hurricanes, and 3 to 6 of these will be category 3, 4, or 5, packing winds of 111 mph or higher.

What has forecasters concerned are two factors in particular.

This year's El Niño ("Little Boy") looks to be more of a La Niña ("Little Girl"). The two conditions are part of what's called the El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) cycle, which describes temperature fluctuations between the ocean and atmosphere in the east-central Equatorial Pacific. With an El Niño, waters in the Pacific are unusually warm, whereas a La Niña means unusually cool waters. NOAA says that an El Niño can suppress hurricane formation in the Atlantic, and this year that mitigating effect is unlikely to be present.

Second, current conditions in the Atlantic and Caribbean suggest a fertile hurricane environment:

  • The ocean there is warmer than usual.
  • There's reduced vertical wind shear.
  • Atlantic tropical trade winds are weak.
  • There have been strong West African monsoons this year.

Here's NOAA's video laying out their forecast:

But wait.

ArsTechnica spoke to hurricane scientist Phil Klotzbach, who agrees generally with NOAA, saying, "All in all, signs are certainly pointing towards an active season." Still, he notes a couple of signals that contradict that worrying outlook.

First off, Klotzbach notes that the surest sign of a rough hurricane season is when its earliest storms form in the deep tropics south of 25°N and east of the Lesser Antilles. "When you get storm formations here prior to June 1, it's typically a harbinger of an extremely active season." Fortunately, this year's hurricanes Arthur and Bertha, as well as the maybe-imminent Cristobal, formed outside this region. So there's that.

Second, Klotzbach notes that the correlation between early storm activity and a season's number of storms and intensities, is actually slightly negative. So while statistical connections aren't strongly predictive, there's at least some reason to think these early storms may augur an easy season ahead.

Image source: NOAA

Batten down the hatches early

If 2020's taught us anything, it's how to juggle multiple crises at once, and layering an active hurricane season on top of SARS-CoV-2 — not to mention everything else — poses a special challenge. Warns Treasury Secretary Wilbur Ross, "As Americans focus their attention on a safe and healthy reopening of our country, it remains critically important that we also remember to make the necessary preparations for the upcoming hurricane season." If, as many medical experts expect, we're forced back into quarantine by additional coronavirus waves, the oceanic waves slamming against our shores will best be met by storm preparations put in place in a less last-minute fashion than usual.

Ross adds, "Just as in years past, NOAA experts will stay ahead of developing hurricanes and tropical storms and provide the forecasts and warnings we depend on to stay safe."

Let's hope this, at least, can be counted on in this crazy year.

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