This blog is having an
existential crisis

While I tinker with a new design, I’m also pondering how, what, and why I write here. I don’t know how long that will take, but you’re welcome to email me and see how things are progressing.

Stress-testing the
mind of Christ

Where a recovering ex-atheist rams the Bible into other worldviews to see what breaks (note: Scripture cannot be broken)


exchanges
Misguided compassion for pest animals

An email exchange with a bleeding heart apologist for the moral equivalence of animals and humans.

Here in New Zealand, possums and feral cats are a problem for the native wildlife. They are classified as pest animals; hunters, farmers and the like routinely shoot them, and are right to do so.

Recently I related a tale of a feral cat that raided our house nightly for over a week before I finally cornered and shot it. Below is a response from an anonymous third party:

Albert Schweitzer:
It is man’s sympathy with all creatures that
first makes him truly a man…
Until he extends his circle of compassion to all living things,
man himself will not find peace…

Leonardo da Vinci:
The time will come when men such as I
will look upon the murder of animals
as they now look on the murder of men.

Albert Einstein:
It has become appallingly obvious that
our technology has exceeded our humanity.

Chief Seattle:
For whatever happens to the beasts
soon happens to man. All things are connected.

The Buddha:
All beings tremble before violence.
All fear death, all love life.
See yourself in others.
Then whom can you hurt?
What harm can you do?

Anagarika H. Dharmapala:
The birth of…Jesus in a stable having oxen for his companions…
It is an objective lesson for the people to realize that
he came to stop sacrifice and preach mercy.

Mother Teresa:
The people of God in the Old Testament times offered animals
for their sins—lambs, goats, bulls, and pigeons.
Jesus offered himself as a perfect, final sacrifice so that
the animal sacrifices would not have to be repeated.

Needless to say, I reject monism out of hand as absurd nonsense, so that discounts Seattle and the Buddha (although of course attributing anything to the Buddha is just an exercise in speculation). Dharmapala and Mother Teresa’s quotes are irrelevant since I wasn’t sacrificing the cat. Da Vinci’s quote evinces a basic moral confusion inasmuch as murder is a specifically human category. Schweitzer’s quote would only be relevant if I had no compassion for the cat; since I executed it humanely, obviously I did. And Einstein was not even thinking of animals when he lamented our technology exceeding our humanity.

Notably, these individuals all represent fundamentally opposing worldviews which cannot be reconciled on basic questions like the source and grounds of morality. So even if they were all broadly correct, only one (if any) would actually be right about why. Which makes appealing to them all seem rather self-defeating.

If you cannot see the underlying meaning in these quotes, I feel sorry for you.

Do not try to justify killing by saying you “executed it humanely”
You were not performing “mercy killing” when you shot the animal.

(1)

I didn’t justify killing it by saying I executed it humanely. Being humane was not the justification for killing it. It was merely the evidence that I had compassion for it.

(2)

Moreover, I never suggested I was performing a mercy killing. Mercy is merely one legitimate reason to kill an animal, out of many.

(3)

Apropos (1-2), I justify killing it on the basis of responsible stewardship. If we let predators run wild, the effect on the ecology would be catastrophic. We would lose a vast number of rare species that are worth preserving. This in turn would unbalance the ecology.

(4)

Moreover, I can also justify killing it on the basis of the fact that it was a pest to me personally. Animals do not have a right to life, so there is nothing intrinsically immoral about killing one in the first place. What makes killing an animal immoral is not some deontological law, but the motivation of the one doing the killing. In the case of an amoral action like this, a virtue ethic is required to assess the action in any given case. (Of course, if the animal is property, then property laws become pertinent.)

Why are animals able to get into your house? If there is an opening that they can come through, you could try and fix it.

In response to your arguments:

Is there a greater predator on earth than man?

Is there another species that can messed up earth’s ecology much more than man has done?

People have been polluting the water, land and air for decades.
Many species of animals are extinct and endangered thanks to the homo sapiens.

Who are you to say that “animals do not have a right to life”? You must assume you are more superior than them since you do not think they deserve to live but that you do. This is speciesism.

Where was the Bnonn Tennant who befriended the spider when he pulled the trigger?*

Animals get in because it is hot and I leave the windows open. That’s not something I’m going to “fix”.

is there a greater predator on earth than man?

No. So what? There’s nothing inherently wrong with predation. I didn’t kill the cat because it is a predator. I killed it because it is a pest.

Is there another species that can messed up earth’s ecology much more than man has done?

Needless to say, this backfires and takes out your own position. If it is indeed our responsibility to avoid messing up earth’s ecology, if as I have contended we must be good stewards of the planet, then one of the ways in which we must do that is culling problematic animals to keep ecologies in balance. Our poor stewardship overall is not a reason to be poor stewards in a particular instance—such as when presented the opportunity to kill a pest animal that would otherwise destroy native wildlife.

Many species of animals are extinct and endangered thanks to the homo sapiens.

And many more would be extinct and endangered if we didn’t cull certain introduced predators against whom native wildlife has no defense. Again, your argument backfires on you. Cats are in no danger of extinction. Kiwi, Tui and the like, by contrast, are certain to go extinct if we do nothing to eradicate feral cats, possums, stoats etc.

Who are you to say that “animals do not have a right to life”?

Who are you to say they do? Where do you think rights come from? Who confers them? Let’s answer that question and then we can discover whether he has conferred a right to life on animals.

You must assume you are more superior than them since you do not think they deserve to live but that you do.

Of course I am superior to them. If a dog and a child are both drowning in a pool, and I can only save one, I will save the child every time. That’s not even in question to anyone whose moral compass points even remotely north. You would have to be a sociopath to think an animal is on equal footing with a human being.

This is speciesism.

No, speciesism is typically characterized by the belief that because animals are inferior to humans, they may be exploited regardless of their suffering. I have already repudiated such a notion, however, both in terms of our deontological obligations to steward the planet responsibly, and in terms of virtue ethics.

Where was the Bnonn Tennant who befriended the spider when he pulled the trigger?

You seem to think that being an animal lover is mutually exclusive with being a hunter. Why? I have killed many spiders. If that spider had been a problem, I would have killed it without qualm; indeed, I wouldn’t even have thought about it. Why think that’s a problem?

If you have a netting or something over the windows, they cannot get in.

Read your own argument:

I justify killing it on the basis of responsible stewardship. If we let predators run wild, the effect on the ecology would be catastrophic. We would lose a vast number of rare species that are worth preserving. This in turn would unbalance the ecology

My response is based on your own argument that it’s ok to kill predators.

Based on your argument, it would then be ok to kill human-hunters and meat eaters since man is the biggest predator. That’s the point I was making to show that your reasoning is not valid.

The same goes for the ecology issue. We do not shoot those who are contributing to global warming, pollution and so on. We try to find solutions.

Killing is not a solution.

Your “compassion” is very selective and very limited.

Your solution is absurd and impractical. I am not putting netting over all my windows.

Based on your argument, it would then be ok to kill human-hunters and meat eaters since man is the biggest predator.

That’s not based on my argument. That’s based on your sociopathic lack of moral discernment between the worth of a human being and the worth of an animal. Suffice to say, anyone without a wildly spinning moral compass recognizes that killing people is a capital crime, and killing animals is not. Your “response” trades on imputing your own depraved position to me, and then combining it with my argument for stewardship. Constructing a strawman by begging the question. Not exactly an award-winning reasoning process.

Killing is not a solution.

Not in the case of people. But killing animals clearly is a solution which has worked quite effectively in New Zealand. Possums have even been eradicated from certain areas—much to the benefit of native wildlife.

Moreover, your position is absurdly unrealistic. The kind of theoretical position only a coddled liberal could take, insulated from the natural world by layers of civilization and technology. You can afford to pontificate on the evils of killing animals because it costs you nothing. You don’t need to actually put your money where your mouth is, because you’re living off the borrowed capital of the people who already tamed the location in which you live.

But the moment you actually had to stress-test your views—say if you were stranded after dark in a remote area, and had to defend yourself or your family from coyotes or wolves—all your ridiculous sentiment would vanish. You would discover the obvious moral difference between shooting wolves, and letting them eat people.

You’re like yuppies who pontificate about the virtues of pacifism. Easy to say when you live in a peaceful society. But try spending a month or two in the Congo and just getting along with everyone.

Your “compassion” is very selective and very limited.

That’s because I attenuate my compassion to the actual circumstances I’m put in. The world is a rough place. Nature is red in tooth and claw. I work with what I have, rather than with some starry-eyed ideal. So I’m not horrified when the starry-eyed ideal fails to eventuate, and I have to settle for shooting pests instead.

Furthermore, I don’t make the mistake of anthropomorphizing animals. A cat is not just a furry human being. A cat does not have the ability to reflect on its circumstances. When I shoot it, it doesn’t lie there regretting its decisions as it dies, or lamenting the pain it is in. A cat is not due—and is incapable of receiving—the compassion owed to a human being. Mistaking instinctual behavior for emotions is a common error of children; but it does not become clear-thinking adults who wish to base their views on reality.

* A reference to a previous tale I related about a large but harmless spider in my office.

5 comments

  1. Kirk Skeptic

    Is your antagonist a Darwinian? If so, then he is even more absurd, since death is what fuels the engine of natural selection. Many species have become extinct, and the true Darwinian should applaud it. Of course, death often means killing, so killing is justified by evolutionary morality. Feral cats are lousy marksmen – oh well…

  2. Andrew

    Following on from Kirk’s comment…

    A trend I have noticed is to treat any form of environmental change from the current, specifically including extinction of species, as bad. And yet the Darwinian history of the world assumes massive changes and frequent extinctions. That the current state is somehow optimal and must be preserved is always assumed, never argued. Usually without any awareness that this is being done.

    The true debater welcomes the pulling back of the curtain, to reveal what is underneath, for that is often more interesting than what sits above. Too often, the modern response is to abuse the one who does so. Are we ready to have the foundations of our house examined, or do we lash out in violence because we fear what flaws may be revealed?

  3. Kirk Skeptic

    @Andrew: it’s not a debate, but, like with the homosexuals, a grand exercise in power politics. Neither of those give a rip about opposing evidence, because both are essentially religious conflicts and the winner takes all.

  4. steve hays

    By Darwinian standards, humans are the alpha predator. Alpha predators don’t defer to weaker animals.

  5. steve hays

    I once saw a special about Darwin, Australia. When it was originally settled, it was infested with salt water crocodiles. Along with Nile crocodiles, these are the most dangerous crocodiles in the world. But the settlers simply shot so many crocs that the remaining ones posed far less threat to the humans. In addition, Darwin had a small human population back then.

    But thanks to animal rights activists, the crocs have repopulated the area. In addition, there are far more human residents. That makes tragic encounters inevitable.

    Of course, this is avoidable by shooting more crocs.

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