Robert Meeropol

Robby, Abel, Michael and trains

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"Robby & Elli" 1968

Robby speaking at the re-launch of the Mary Pitawanakwat Fund in Toronto

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Why Not Have Fun and Tear it Up?

April 3, 2014

Tags: Environment & Religion

Recently I read the following quote attributed to a leading environmental economist: “Why one cares about anything is fundamentally a religious question. If the world and its inhabitants are merely ephemeral random improbabilities realized over billions of years of atoms in motion, somehow followed by struggles for reproductive success by randomly emergent organisms, and values are nothing but survival-selected strategies of our selfish genes to reproduce, etc. etc, then why care? If the world is not a Creation but only a temporary ‘Randomdom’, why not have fun and tear it up?”

Hopefully, this is not all he means to say, because I find this quote appalling.

Since I don’t think there was any sort of self-conscious “Creation,” the quote apparently was addressed to people like me.

Despite my lack of belief, I’ve felt a profound connection to the earth and its inhabitants for as long as I can remember. That is why I was so strongly attracted in 1969 to the beginnings of the environmental movement, even though the leftist political tradition I grew up in did not take it seriously. My concern about the destruction of our planet increased exponentially with the birth of my first grandchild six years ago. If we don’t change course, the second half of her and her younger brother’s lives will be hellish, and I want to prevent that from happening. Perhaps, this is just proves the above-quoted description of values as “nothing but survival-selected strategies of our selfish genes to reproduce…”

Beyond that, and perhaps even somewhat contradictorily, I now view the survival of our biosphere as a whole as more important than our species continued planetary domination. We are just one aspect of an almost unimaginably complex web of life. I hope we never have to choose between humanity and the biosphere, I hope instead that we will adjust our behavior to find a non-destructive place within it. This is our species greatest challenge. It is one that we may not be up to, but it is critical to our survival.

My sense that I am a part of a greater whole is not religious. And I don’t see my belief that there was no plan behind our evolution into self-conscious, tool-making entities as a justification for maximizing my fun at the expense of the planet’s other inhabitants. I see the attitude expressed in the quote above as a core problem: it is the heartless extension of neo-liberal capitalism. It views all life as disconnected atoms driven by self-interest and competition. This is the latest incarnation of the view that the dominant society’s values embody natural law so we can’t change them. I just don’t accept that.

Even without a plan or a purpose, the earth and its inhabitants are still fabulous. And anyway, why tear it up, when it is such a joyful experience to preserve and enjoy it.

Selected Works

"Bravery is rare. Tyranny is commonplace. Both define the life of Robert Meeropol, son of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg. In his heart-wrenching, honest memoir, Meeropol recounts the emotional terrors of his childhood, the kindness of Abel and Anne Meeropol-who adopted him and his older brother after their parents' execution-his struggle to vindicate his parents, and his own political activism, culminating in the creation of the Rosenberg Fund for Children, which he now directs."
Publisher's Weekly
"one of those rare books everyone should read"
–Joyce Carol Oates

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