Tetrapod Zoology

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If you follow the comments here at Tet Zoo you’ll already have seen the thread that’s been developing on the ‘Giant killers: macropredation in lions’ article (originally posted back in February, and itself a re-post of a ver 1 article from November 2006). If you don’t follow the comments, the following will be new to you. It seems that philosopher David Pearce is honestly proposing that we should feel ethically compelled to eradicate all suffering and cruelty from the natural world in order to create a sort of global vegan paradise where predators don’t exist. Pearce terms this the Abolitionist Project (for more on Pearce and his ideas see this wikipedia article). His plans are, as discussed in depth on his website, theoretically plausible and involve such things as the use of brain implants, behaviour-modifying drugs, and genetic manipulation. Eventually, the lion will, literally, lie down with the lamb, hyaenas will not feel compelled to eat baby elephants alive, and – I presume – ladybirds will not eat aphids, and so on [adjacent image from Catztours].

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I personally feel that the philosophy behind the proposal is completely wrong for many reasons. It imposes sentimental ideas and human moral judgment on other species; it (if carried through to eventuality) would mean an end to a great deal of natural selection; it is fundamentally contrary to the history of life and would result in the ultimate bastardisation of the natural world; and, perhaps most offensive of all, it PROMOTES the extinction and biological modification of thousands (or tens of thousands or more) of species. It would also result in the total collapse of the global ecosystem, but I think that’s a minor detail. I cannot help but feel that these ideas are amoral and utterly, utterly wrong. I might not like the sight of slow, lingering death and of animals being eaten alive by others, but I celebrate such processes as part of the natural world, and as a vivid illustration of evolution and adaptation. Death is part of life; we are surrounded by it. If I were religious I would regard predation, death, brutal selection and so on as part of God’s plan. On that note I initially assumed that Pearce was inspired by some kind of religious fundamentalism; so far as I can tell this is not at all the case – instead he represents a sort of ‘extreme vegan’ movement.

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While considering this issue, my assumption has been that so few people (especially those involved in conservation, wildlife management and field biology in general) will take it seriously that it will never go anywhere – even if it does become theoretically possible – and that those of us who find it ridiculous and/or offensive don’t have to worry or even think about it. Furthermore, by the time we do have the ability to do the sorts of things proposed by the Abolisionist Project, I think we will most likely need our funding, resources and technology for other things. And, sorry for repeating myself, but modifying wild creatures to suit our ideals hardly sounds enlightened or ethical. It reminds me of efforts to expunge homosexuality by way of electric shock therapy, or of attempts to westernise aboriginal people by banning their customs, traditional dress and languages.

However, I’m interested to see how representative my views are, or are not. A few readers have already made comments, but now is the chance to voice your concerns. Sockpuppetry will not be tolerated – yes your behaviour has already been noticed.

Comments

  1. #1 Michael O'Sullivan
    August 28, 2009

    Does the term “abso-bollocking-lutey ridiculous” apply here?

  2. #2 JohnV
    August 28, 2009

    With no predation, won’t population size explode and then massive die offs occur due to starvation? I mean, there’s probably a carrying capacity in any given area for herbivorous animals and we can’t really expect antelopes to ummm start domesticating crops and using fertilizer and the like…

  3. #3 Thoracantha
    August 28, 2009

    What a idiot. Doesn’t he know that the only reason he has food to eat is that there are predators keeping herbivore populations in check? It would be a race between rats and the insects to see who could strip the planet the fastest. But it wouldn’t really matter, the explosion of the mosquito population would drain us dry even before we had a chance to starve to death.

    While I think 99% of the people would see this as inherently a really bad idea, it the 1% that really could cause problems. There has been cases in the past, where animal rights activists have interfered with conservation efforts, like trying to remove invasive mammals from islands, or hunting animals (white tail deer) as a population control measure.

  4. #4 Karen Wester Newton
    August 28, 2009

    It is extreme views like this that lead to sad situations like ultra-vegan parents letting their children suffer malnutrition because they won’t give them anything to eat that doesn’t conform to their “moral” view of what people should eat. People evolved as omnivores, but can get by as vegetarians if they’re careful about proteins. Trying to force carnivores into the same diet is incredibly self-centered.

  5. #5 Christopher Taylor
    August 28, 2009

    JohnV: you’re right. There’s also the point that increased population densities lead to increased disease levels, etc. The effects of ecological change in a habitat are often unpredictable, and often not what one might expect. I can’t remember the details, but haven’t there been cases where the removal or reduction of apex predators has actually lead to a reduction in the population of their prey species?

    Another big issue that occurs to me is that natura truly does vacuo abhoret. Contrary to popular belief, most animals (at least, most vertebrates) are a lot more varied in their diet than they’re often portrayed as being. I know Darren’s written about carnivorous hippos, and I think that carnivorous parrots have been brought up at TetZoo as well. If we somehow did remove all the predatory animals, then all we’d be doing is opening up a massive selective advantage for any other animal that is able to adopt a more predatory diet. Over the long term, I think any removal of predators would be continually undone by recruitment from herbivorous ancestors.

  6. #6 Sigmund
    August 28, 2009

    If you read his website it appears as if their main interest is in human alteration – the animal section isn’t particularly well thought out.
    Its also rather arbitrary – why just vertebrates?
    Why not the invertebrates too?
    Down with spiders!
    Up with flies!
    Making a few lions in captivity vegetarian isn’t that big an issue (won’t big tins of cat food do the job?) but lets see how they propose to create a fully vegan ocean system!

  7. #7 Darren Naish
    August 28, 2009

    Good point Chris (comment 5). I also didn’t mention the fact that suffering and cruelty is not only caused by carnivores. Herbivorous animals can be vindictive bullies or killers or tormentors of conspecifics, they will occasionally kill and eat other animals (as Tet Zoo regulars know, carnivory has been recorded in sheep, cattle, deer, elephants etc.), and will sometimes kill other animals for no apparent reason. I guess all living things need to be modified for Abolitionism to work.

  8. #8 Darren Naish
    August 28, 2009

    If you read his website it appears as if their main interest is in human alteration – the animal section isn’t particularly well thought out.

    OK. When he showed up in the comments here at Tet Zoo, he specifically linked to the ‘Reprogramming carnivores’ section, so that’s the bit I’ve been paying attention to.

    And – before anyone else mentions it – yes I do know about ‘Little Tyke’ the ‘vegetarian’ lion.

  9. #9 Emily
    August 28, 2009

    As I am in agreement with the “What a terrible idea” commentor crowd, I feel like I should comment on one of my biggest pet peeves:

    Vegetarians and vegans do not have to worry about protein. Plants and seeds contain amino acids. If you eat your colors like mommy told you, you will acquire a full complement of amino acids animal-free. Your body can then synthesize proteins from these amino acids. If your vegetarian, you can also pick up proteins from eggs and cheese, although I prefer (but sometimes do) to pass on these sources. As a bonus, veggie-based proteins come free of hormones and antibiotics that are a biological nightmare waiting to happen!

    …So really. Can we cut this protein nonsense out?

    Cue: Regularly scheduled commenting.

  10. #10 Andrew D. Gable
    August 28, 2009

    Wow, I had to comment on this. What an utter boatload of steaming crappy stupidity. I love the kind of ideas people come up with when they don’t think things through completely, or at all. Don’t these people realize what would happen if you totally obliterated the world’s carnivores?

    This is stupidity and short-sightedness on par with the people who advocate racial genocide. Do they realize the human gene pool would stagnate after a while?

  11. #11 J. S. Lopes
    August 28, 2009

    Monty Python, where are you when we need you??????

    ps: let’s teach mosquitoes to suck mangoes and oranges instead of sucking our blood; let’s teach birds to not eat insects and we will live in peace with our beloved friends, the cockroaches… *angel chorus*

  12. #12 Deb
    August 28, 2009

    ‘Eliminate suffering?’ Well what happens if the poor little herbivores fall over. Running is dangerous – they could break a leg! Obviously we would have to protect them from that, maybe some form of cage with a nice smooth floor, like concrete. And weather – there are storms, snow, sunburn! So they need to be inside, possibly in some form of barn arrangement.

    This is a spoof, isn’t it? Please tell me it’s a spoof.

  13. #13 JohnV
    August 28, 2009

    @emily

    “As a bonus, veggie-based proteins come free of hormones”

    Are you suggesting that plants do not have hormones?

  14. #14 Chucky
    August 28, 2009

    This seems to be the natural consequence of the moral standard, “Do no harm”. By that standard, a lion killing and eating its prey really is evil.

  15. #15 falnfenix
    August 28, 2009

    my only response is REALLY??

    people need to stop ignoring how the natural world actually works…or maybe they should start hugging wild bears. the bears will love them back, i’m sure of it.

  16. #16 Ryan McReynolds
    August 28, 2009

    Vegan animal rightist here: this is one of the most batshit ideas I’ve ever heard of. Humans have the ability to choose how we treat other species, and so we ought not harm them if it can be avoided (as with food, etc.). Predators don’t need our moral choices thrust upon them. Human “predation” is wrong because we could do otherwise, not merely because it causes harm. I don’t think wholescale modification of the entire ecosystem is a sane goal by any standard.

  17. #17 ABradford
    August 28, 2009

    From what I’ve seen, transhumanism tends to be poorly thought out fluff based on the premise that through technology we will overcome our very natures. The idea that we could then go on and overcome other species’ natures with no consequence is just as far-fetched as the first premise.

  18. #18 Matt Bille
    August 28, 2009

    “There is nothing so absurd but some philosopher has said it.” – Cicero (106 BC – 43 BC)

  19. #19 chris y
    August 28, 2009

    I’m reminded of an old “Goodies” sketch, where Bill Oddie started a Vegetable Liberation Front and demanded that everybody should eat rocks.

    THe worst part is, they give him money for this stuff.

  20. #20 daedalus2u
    August 28, 2009

    I think the only feasible way to do it would be to sterilize the Earth and start over. Extant organisms have evolved to live in and cope with the world as it exists with competition for resources the primary driving force for evolution. It is conceivably possible to artificially design organisms to have any properties that one wants them to have. We don’t have the technology to do so; and likely won’t for many centuries (if then, the degree of difficulty is extremely high). For the synthetic ecosystem to be stable, it would have to comprise only non-replicating organisms. If organisms had the opportunity to reproduce, then there would be evolution, and that evolution would ultimately lead to competition for resources.

    Which “suffering” is the one to eliminate? The suffering of dying, vs. the suffering of being hungry, vs. the suffering of not having as many offspring as you want, vs. the suffering of observing your offspring suffering, vs. the suffering of observing other organisms suffering? If you are going to eliminate suffering through genetic engineering, eliminate the suffering of observing other organisms suffering and there is no driving force to eliminate any others.

    We already have that. That is what the ARA do to themselves when they threaten researchers with violence. They have labeled researchers who use animals as “the other”, and convinced themselves that the suffering of “the other” doesn’t matter to them. They cause the suffering of researchers who use animals by threatening them with violence and by threatening their children with violence.

    This is how I see this branch of the transhumanist cult, a scheme to label those not in the group as “the other”, where then the suffering of “the other” is less important than the suffering of those in the group, so anything can be done to them even if it causes suffering.

  21. #21 Jared
    August 28, 2009

    “As a bonus, veggie-based proteins come free of hormones and antibiotics that are a biological nightmare waiting to happen!

    …So really. Can we cut this protein nonsense out?”

    Have you been a vegetarian since you were very young? Say, 2-3 years old perhaps and highly limited in lipid and cholesterol intake?

    Here’s a tip, that “biological nightmare waiting to happen” (or so you think in your own mind) is, in fact, a result of one organism consuming another. Eukaryotic or prokaryotic, plant or animal. All organisms have hormones and small chemical signals which will interact with the organism which has consumed them. Flavonoids? Alkaloids? Terpenoids? No, those don’t sound familiar, sorry to have bothered you.

  22. #22 CRM-114
    August 28, 2009

    So, what are they going to call this campaign, Starve the Children?

    Pumas prey on coyotes, coyotes prey on cats, cats prey on mice, mice prey on crickets. Think of the crickets!

  23. #23 Milio
    August 28, 2009

    We happen to be just another generalists. Limiting ourselves for some extreme morals is not something that I find logical, but I tolerate it, as long as nobody goes up to me saying that I am wrong because of my diet of choice. But, people are so used to alienating themselves from nature that they fail to understand it. C’mon, eliminating suffering? From life as a whole? Get out of your bubble, life sucks, but it is better that the alternative. Get through it.

    Plus, I’d call those vegetarians who eat dairy and eggs hypocrites: You may not kill, yet you get nourishment from what was meant to be the food of an offspring, or even an offspring. Killing may make something suffer, but, forceful milking or egg gathering are not innocent. If you don’t like meat, but you like those producs, say it, instead of going ideological about animals not suffering, as a cow will kick you even if you are a vegan. But, that’s my opinion, and, again, I will respect those people as long as they don’t come as if their choice is the best one.

    Again, this idea is idiotic. It is neglecting our nature, alongside the nature of life itself. So, this guy should be left in the woods to survive, to stop thinking and act.

  24. #24 Mike from Ottawa
    August 28, 2009

    Courtesy The Arrogant Worms (video at watch?v=KmK0bZl4ILM on youtube):

    Carrot Juice is Murder

    Carrot Juice Is Murder

    Listen up brothers and sisters come hear my desperate tale
    I speak of our friends of nature trapped in the dirt like a jail
    Vegetables live in oppression, served on our tables each night
    This killing of veggies is madness, I say we take up the fight
    Salads are only for murderers, coleslaw’s a fascist regime
    Don’t think that they don’t have feelings, just cause a radish can’t scream

    Chorus:
    I’ve heard the screams of the vegetables (scream, scream, scream)
    Watching their skins being peeled (having their insides revealed)
    Grated and steamed with no mercy (burning off calories)
    How do you think that feels (bet it hurts really bad)
    Carrot juice constitutes murder (and that’s a real crime)
    Greenhouses prisons for slaves (let my vegetables go)
    It’s time to stop all this gardening (it’s dirty as hell)
    Let’s call a spade a spade (is a spade is a spade is a spade)

    I saw a man eating celery, so I beat him black and blue
    If he ever touches a sprout again, I’ll bite him clean in two
    I’m a political prisoner, trapped in a windowless cage
    Cause I stopped the slaughter of turnips by killing five men in a rage
    I told the judge when he sentenced me, “This is my finest hour,
    I’d kill those farmers again just to save one more cauliflower”

    Chorus

    How low as people do we dare to stoop,
    Making young broccolis bleed in the soup?
    Untie your beans, uncage your tomatoes
    Let potted plants free, don’t mash that potato!

    I’ve heard the screams of the vegetables (scream, scream, scream)
    Watching their skins being peeled (fates in the stir-fry are sealed)
    Grated and steamed with no mercy (you fat gourmet slob)
    How do you think that feels? (leave them out in the field)
    Carrot juice constitutes murder (V8′s genocide)
    Greenhouses prisons for slaves (yes, your composts are graves)
    It’s time to stop all this gardening (take up macrame)
    Let’s call a spade a spade
    (is a spade, is a spade, is a spade, is a spade……)

  25. #25 John H
    August 28, 2009

    He’s a troll. Don’t feed the troll, not even veggies!

    Seriously though, I wouldn’t be surprised if this is all a philosopher’s exercise to examine how people respond to a Phenomenally Stupid Idea in science/policy. But he’s still trolling, whether he’s serious or not. Point, laugh, and move along.

  26. #26 Onychomys
    August 28, 2009

    I don’t think eliminating predators would necessarily lead to a herbivore population explosion. Or at least not eliminating them in the way that this guy advocates. After all, he’s certainly not in favor of killing them off entirely, I’d imagine. Instead, he wants to turn them into herbivores. So there’d be increased competition for food amongst the old and new herbivores, which would keep old herbivore populations down.

    …although the predator population is so much smaller than the prey one that it probably wouldn’t matter much, now that I think about it. Never mind.

  27. #27 (((Billy))) The Atheist
    August 28, 2009

    This is actually a fairly common viewpoint. Or, if not common, at least far more prevalent than it should be.

    I am a National Park Ranger. I work at an historic site, but we have our little bits of nature here. While giving a talk about labour history, a Kestral hit and killed a sparrow in flight (I got blood drops on my Stetson (those hats ain’t cheap)). A visitor immediately asked why we didn’t eliminate the bad bird (this was an adult (and yes, he used the phrase, “bad bird”)) to let the good ones live. I explained that if there were no predators, the balance would be upset and we’d end up with too many of the smaller birds. I then pointed out that sparrows eat insects and asked if he had something against bugs?

    When at Yellowstone (on vacation), we had the joy of watching a grizzly bear eating an elk. We were close enough that (while still in the (relative) safety of our car (minivan, actually)) we could hear the bones snap. I overheard a visitor ask the LEO handling traffic control why they didn’t eliminate the bears to protect the elk. He explained that the NPS tried that with wolves, bear, coyotes, foxes and mountain lions from the 1920s into the 1950s and the herbivore population exploded, they ate all the food, died off due to starvation and disease and then went throught the cycle again. By letting ‘nature’ take its course (including reintroducing wolves (we saw three that day (which is a thrill I will take to my grave))), the population stays stable.

    The visitor then asked if they could at least put up a screen because it was really gross to watch.

  28. #28 Andrea Cau
    August 28, 2009

    That “phylosopher” wants to turn the world back to the PreCambrian.

  29. #29 Omphaloskepsis
    August 28, 2009

    And what does this looney propose to do about parasites?

  30. #30 ellindsey
    August 28, 2009

    Suffering is an unavoidable consequence of biological life. All biological life exists at some cost to other biological life. Biological life suffers from entropy, existing in a continual state of decay.

    Therefore, to eliminate suffering, we must eliminate biological life.

    When our ethically-programmed robot overlords decide to wipe us out (for our own good, of course) we’ll have people like David Pearce to thank.

  31. #31 JW Tan
    August 28, 2009

    I notice that in the link David Pearce mentioned eliminating parasitic tapeworms and cockroaches. Is this even possible? We’ve tried before, with mosquitoes, and failed. Made things worse, even.

  32. #32 Raven Corinn Carluk
    August 28, 2009

    I probably wouldn’t be reading this blog if I didn’t have some love for the animal kingdom. Seeing as I love the animals, I’m left to believe that this guy has no love. He doesn’t even understand how an ecosystem works.

    I’m certainly in the crowd that thinks it is wrong to impose human morals on any animal. Like people who advocate keeping cats inside so they can’t eat birds. Or any of the vegetarian/vegans who try to make their dogs vegetarian.

    Animals behave the way they do because it is how their nature works. To drastically change it is to do a disservice to nature and evolution. (Not that humans aren’t a disservice.)

    Unfortunately, it’s the kooks and the wachjobs that get heard, because they’re so extreme. And while this wouldn’t be feasible, the moderates won’t be heard.

    As a side note about animals varying their diets, specifically carnivorous parrots: my yellow-nape Amazon loves chicken and ground beef. It’s only given to him as a treat, but he would eat meat every day if I allowed it.

  33. #33 Dawn Gilkison
    August 28, 2009

    Is this David Pearce what you call a “nutter”?
    What bothers me most about the extreme vegan stance is
    the holier than thou attitude. As I see it, in life
    there is no free lunch.

  34. #34 Tor Bertin
    August 28, 2009

    I’ve always been astounded by many people’s misguided perception of the natural world… I think a lot of it just has to do with lack of exposure (often times unfortunately attached to a lack of common sense and base intelligence). I went to Yellowstone Natural Park a few years ago, and I was blown away at some of the insane things the tourists would do with the wildlife population. It got to the point that to drive home the point the park rangers would show an hour long video of various tourists getting their ass handed to them by the park’s fauna–thrown into the air, trampled, the works.

  35. #35 johannes
    August 28, 2009

    # 9,

    a distant aquaintance of mine tried to rise her baby without animal products, including mother’s milk. She tried to replace mother’s milk with some stuff made from ground almonds, wich looked vaguely milkish. Needless to say, the baby almost died – the statal authorities, being obviously afraid to risk a conflict with a cult consisting mainly of wealthy and well-connected upper middle class academics, did not dare to intervene – but, mercifully, the grandparents did and saved the bare live of the poor baby (it might have suffered irreversible damage, though).

  36. #36 Anonymous
    August 28, 2009

    Wasn’t there a joke on Futurama that sounded *exactly* like this guy? Something along the lines of…

    “We taught a lion to eat tofu”

  37. #37 KI
    August 28, 2009

    Are these people even aware of what goes on in the insect world? I love observing the numerous species of predator wasps that live in my backyard, can you imagine these nervous nellies’ horror when they realize what’s going on with beetles and aphids being eaten alive from the inside out?

  38. #38 Ranji
    August 28, 2009

    Yeah, I have to be voice of dissent here. Even with a passionate interest in evolutionary biology and ecology, I agree with David Pearce, 100%. Look, it’s nice to admire natural selection and all the brute facts of nature, just as it’s interesting to study the effects of mortality rates in different populations of human beings. But, just as it’s clearly preferable to reduce those rates in people down to the absolute minimum, so is it ethical to do the same, eventually when we have the ability and wisdom required, to do so with all of sentient life.

    Look, it’s really a philosophical question. Peace is a utilitarian, like Peter Singer. If you disagree with the utilitarian premise that pain and suffering are intrinsically bad things unless they prevent greater pain and suffering, then there’s really no debate to be had. It’s impossible to make a logical argument on ethical first principles.

    Anyway, I enjoy his writings. But, from a utilitarian perspective, it makes sense to take actions which can do the greatest good, so that mostly means small incremental reforms in the human condition, and improvements in animal welfare for the foreseeable future. I hope no well intentioned people disagree with the latter, regardless of where they stand on the phylogeny of Andrewsarchus or whether the BAND folks are nuts or not!

  39. #39 Mu
    August 28, 2009

    As a bonus, veggie-based proteins come free of hormones and antibiotics that are a biological nightmare waiting to happen!

    Emily must have missed the whole “bioidentical hormones” supplement wave, and how antibiotics were originally a fungal product.

  40. #40 Chris M.
    August 28, 2009

    Fascinatingly insane. Clearly there’s no understanding of the general shape of ecology there.

  41. #41 Mike Keesey
    August 28, 2009

    Johannes (#35), that’s awful. There was another, similar case where nobody intervened and the baby actually starved to death: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/18574603/

    Even given vegan ideals, I cannot comprehend why the drinking of mother’s milk would be considered objectionable.

    As for “imposing … human moral judgment on other species”, given all the different moral systems out there, how would we even choose? He has his vegan moral system, but I certainly don’t share it. What about other moral systems? Should we circumcise and baptize the beasts as well, and force them to live in monogamous matrimony?

  42. #42 JohnV
    August 28, 2009

    @38

    Even assuming all living things are sentient (getting in to that will distract us from the easy part) this entire thread is full of us explaining how his idea is not doing “the greatest good”. It would, in fact, do great harm, unless bazillions of starving animals and an obliterated ecosystem fall into some perverse description of good.

  43. #43 Henry
    August 28, 2009

    can you imagine these nervous nellies’ horror when they realize what’s going on with beetles and aphids being eaten alive from the inside out?

    Its also rather arbitrary – why just vertebrates? Why not the invertebrates too? Down with spiders! Up with flies!

    My understanding is that it’s not certain whether insects can feel pain insofar as they do not possess nociceptors as do mammals. Certainly, it seems clear that mammals are capable of feeling pain as humans do and so eliminating their suffering is an obvious ethical imperative from the negative utilitarian stance Pearce takes.

    I guess all living things need to be modified for Abolitionism to work.

    After all, he’s certainly not in favor of killing them off entirely, I’d imagine. Instead, he wants to turn them into herbivores.

    Quite so—Pearce isn’t calling for all animals’ diets to be changed; he is calling for ‘the vertebrate genome to be re-written’, which would eliminate the ability to suffer (as opposed to just suffering) from those species.

    Again, this idea is idiotic. It is neglecting our nature, alongside the nature of life itself. So, this guy should be left in the woods to survive, to stop thinking and act.

    Suggesting someone be ‘left in the woods to survive’ is a rather unpleasant ad hominem attack. What is ‘our nature’, exactly? We’ve altered ourselves and overcome the evolutionary pressures on the human race to such an extent as to have changed our ‘nature’ fundamentally. Just because ‘life itself’ has a ‘nature’ does not mean it is ethically good in some way because it is unaltered. Is it better to let a dying pet suffer rather than to euthanise it because the former is ‘natural’?

  44. #44 Bruce Mohn
    August 28, 2009

    Something like this was tried years ago at the Grand Canyon. Predators were systematically killed in an effort to relieve pressures on prey species (and also to make more available for hunters). Predictably, the prey species exploded and died off.

    Clearly this person has no concept of how natural systems work.

  45. #45 Rev Matt
    August 28, 2009

    At what level do we stop? Microscopic? Cellular? Living things eat and/or kill other living things even inside the cells. Plants prey on one another. What he’s proposing is eliminating life. You might be able to make a compelling argument for that, but call it what it is.

  46. #46 Nemo
    August 28, 2009

    Pearce is insane. But let me put this to you:

    The extinction of large predators would be a great tragedy, and must be prevented. This is absolutely true.

    Yet… The near-eradication of large predators is one of the great historical achievements of the human race. This, also, is absolutely true.

    I expect the latter statement will be controversial, since it doesn’t fit with our modern conservationist ideals. But consider it — there was a time when humans weren’t always at the top of the food chain, when we were subject to predation ourselves. That era is essentially over. There are still incidents now and then, but they’re negligible. And that’s a tremendous achievement.

    Did we go too far? Almost certainly.

    The achievements of the past become the problems of today.

  47. #47 Kris
    August 28, 2009

    Ranji, why would pain and suffering be intrinsically bad? Aren’t they integral parts of existence, just as life and death?
    Or, approaching this from a different angle: without pain and suffering, how could there be joy and happiness? We couldn’t possibly know that anything at all was pleasant and precious if we hadn’t experienced the absence of it.

  48. #48 daedalus2u
    August 28, 2009

    f the baby’s mother was following a mega-strict vegan diet, she may not have had the metabolic resources to supply sufficient milk. That metabolic inability to lactate would then get rationalized as mother’s milk somehow being not suitable for an infant.

    I think that metabolic inability to supply sufficient milk is the generic reason for postpartum depression and when more severe postpartum psychosis which then leads to infanticide. I see most all infanticide by mothers as due to metabolic insufficiency and an evolved “feature” to shed metabolic load until times are better and a pregnancy and newborn can be sustained until the child is weaned.

    I have an extensive blog about that physiology.

    http://daedalus2u.blogspot.com/2007/08/low-nitric-oxide-acute-psychosis.html

  49. #49 Henry
    August 28, 2009

    At what level do we stop? Microscopic? Cellular? Living things eat and/or kill other living things even inside the cells. Plants prey on one another. What he’s proposing is eliminating life.

    The key point here is the ‘abolition of suffering in sentient life’. Plants and cellular components eating one another likely do not feel pain or have awareness of their death.

    Predators were systematically killed in an effort to relieve pressures on prey species (and also to make more available for hunters). Predictably, the prey species exploded and died off. Clearly this person has no concept of how natural systems work.

    What is being proposed is not a systematic culling of predators. Pearce is advocating widespread genetic engineering. Such a task is not feasible at this stage, but some might suggest that a posthuman artificial intelligence would have the capacity to carry it out.

    Lots of the comments here seem to suggest that people are generally not acquainted with Pearce’s philosophy. I’m in no way an advocate of his, but in the interests of informed debate I’d suggest prospective commenters make some attempt to understand what he is suggesting before denouncing his work.

  50. #50 Henry
    August 28, 2009

    Without pain and suffering, how could there be joy and happiness? We couldn’t possibly know that anything at all was pleasant and precious if we hadn’t experienced the absence of it.

    Again, Pearce discusses this in one of his essays.

  51. #51 Liudvikas
    August 28, 2009

    Tada! Tada! Congratulations, it is now officially the dumbest idea I’ve ever heard.

  52. #52 brooks
    August 28, 2009

    besides the obvious negative effects on biological processes worldwide (and the prohibitive cost involved in altering them), i think that Pearce forgets the part that suffering plays in human nature. jeez, hasn’t he ever read Augustine? Nietzsche? Tolstoy? Camus? like it or not, suffering shapes us as surely as any other aspect of human experience. yeesh.

    bad philosopher, bad!

  53. #53 daedalus2u
    August 28, 2009

    It will take a gigantic amount of animal experimentation to achieve the level of understanding necessary to engineer predators into herbivores. A gigantic amount of trial and error generation of genetically engineered sentient organisms until the genetic programming of sentience is understood sufficiently to be able to manipulate it.

    Is that what Pearce is advocating?

  54. #54 Siamang
    August 28, 2009

    Bruce Mohn wrote: “Clearly this person has no concept of how natural systems work.”

    I would further argue that this person has a juvenile impression of what makes nature beautiful.

    I would have LOVED to see the grizzly hunting the elk. Yes, I think it would be disgusting. I might have had to turn away. But I nevertheless take the beauty of nature to be grander than “ooh, pretty docile doe-eyed stuffed animals!”

    It’s not just that these people are idiots about how natural systems work. It’s that they are stone blind to the beauty of the ACTUAL REAL WORLD.

    These people should be pitied for their ignorance and their inability to see beauty.

  55. #55 daedalus2u
    August 28, 2009

    Wow, I just read enough to answer my own question. Yes, Pearce is saying that we should do sufficient experimentation on sentient organisms to be able to manipulate their genomes to achieve the HI that he advocates. He is also saying that the imperative is to start immediately, and that those ends justify essentially any means.

    What this means is that any researcher who can tie what ever animal research they are doing to Pearce’s grand scheme is doing what Pearce thinks is the most moral thing that it is possible to do.

    Since we are many centuries away from understanding how to manipulate the genomes of sentient organisms sufficiently to achieve the kind of absence of suffering that Pearce thinks is necessary, essentially any research that involves organisms and genes is part of the path that gets us there.

    In other words, by delaying the understanding of the genetic basis of sentience, ARA are delaying the implementation of Pearce’s plan, and are prolonging the suffering of all sentient creatures on Earth.

  56. #56 Christie
    August 28, 2009

    Hm… sounds like he’s trying to get us all to eat only veggies and other green pasty things… maybe he’s a troll from Troll 2!

  57. #57 Henry
    August 28, 2009

    i think that Pearce forgets the part that suffering plays in human nature.

    See here to read his personal responses to objections such as the one you raise. I think it’s a valid point, but surely it’s a tradeoff: if we can choose to abolish all human suffering would you choose not to for the sake of literature?

    Unless you’re calling suffering somehow ‘character-building’.

  58. #58 Henry
    August 28, 2009

    It’s not just that these people are idiots about how natural systems work. It’s that they are stone blind to the beauty of the ACTUAL REAL WORLD.

    What does beauty have to do with ethical imperatives? The fact that our brains see something as beautiful has no moral significance—unless you’re towing the line that the ‘yuk factor’ should be a part of our moral decision-making (such as the socially conservative view that we should ban homosexuality because it is disgusting to some people). Something’s beauty or ugliness is not reason to keep or abandon it alone.

  59. #59 Tor Bertin
    August 28, 2009

    I’ve got the feeling Pearce isn’t a Buddhist…

  60. #60 DD
    August 28, 2009

    Venus fly traps should be taught to not eat meat?

  61. #61 JohnV
    August 28, 2009

    or that pitcher plant they just found that eats rats. wonder how you’re going to genetically engineer that out.

  62. #62 Paulino
    August 28, 2009
    I hate half-ass measures! All heterotrophs should be put-down.
  63. #63 Ranji
    August 28, 2009

    Henry’s doing a good job of defending at least some of the premises of Pearce’s views, even if he isn’t entirely a subscriber to them.

    The idea that suffering is just “part of life and death” is precisely the sort of rationalization that utilitarianism is meant to resist. Let’s be clear, every sort of injustice has been justified the same way throughout history. Eventually, it may be in our power to radically extend human life, and already, there are people like Francis Fukuyama who would like to put the brakes to such progress and demand we retain our traditional brief existences.

    As for the idea that we need pain for the sake of art, not to be flip or anything, but – who cares? Maybe art was enriched by the experience of the First World War, does that mean we should fight another war so that we can have great modernist poetry? The pleasure brought about by fine art scarcely begins to rival the suffering brought about through violence.

  64. #64 Sigmund
    August 28, 2009

    Why stop at making them vegetarians, lets just go the whole (vegetarian) hog and also make them learn to sit around the campfire together playing guitar and singing Kum-by-ya.
    How about a self help group for former carnivores (Animal Eaters Anonymous?),knitting lessons for hyenas or maybe turn formerly vicious natures of pack hunters to more positive alternatives, like interpretive dance or yoga.

  65. #65 Paul Barrett
    August 28, 2009

    Vegetarians are just ungrateful. If it wasn’t for the fact that their ancestors ate meat, allowing the evolution of their large brains, they wouldn’t now be dealing with the quasi-philosophical dilemmas they’re now whipping themselves with – they’d have roughly the mental capacity of an australopithicine. Look at your digestive systems people – where’s the caecum, the grinding teeth, the enlarged masseters, the fantastic gut flora or any of the other modifications we’d need if we ate plants? Nothing about our bodies is there for obligate herbivory. You’re an omnivore – deal with it and stop telling the rest of us we’re getting wrong. I find evangelical veganism/vegetarianism in evolutionary biologists particularly perplexing for all of the above-mentioned reasons. And this rant from someone who thinks that herbivory is actually an amniote’s finest achievement (though only where they’re adapted to do so properly).

  66. #66 brooks
    August 28, 2009

    Henry & Ranji:

    yes, yes, i get it.

    but i’m not (merely) saying “what would happen to art?” i’m saying that suffering is a foundational aspect of (vertebrate) animal experience, and therefore of human experience. i’m not simply saying we shouldn’t get rid of it, i’m saying we can’t. it is simply not possible to be a mature organism and not to have suffered to a greater or lesser degree.

  67. #67 Ranji
    August 28, 2009

    Paul, respectfully, what you’re saying is interesting but irrelevant. Vegetarians are ungrateful? To whom, precisely? To none other than a personified, deified Nature, I presume.

    The problem here relates to the “is/ought” controversy in philosophy. How we evolve or how ecosystems function “is” something that occurs. What we “ought” to do ethically is something else entirely. Hurricanes and volcanoes are a natural event, but we derive no ethical conclusions from them, and rightly so.

    The fact that we wouldn’t have evolved from vegetarian ancestors is entirely irrelevant for the debate here. The issue here is ethical, not empirical. We also are descended from primates, that we know from phylogenetic bracketing must have practiced infanticide. Is anyone suggesting here that we should continue to kill the children of rival males?

  68. #68 Chris M
    August 28, 2009

    The major philosophical problem I have with this: Is sentience good? Apparently, it leads to the only suffering worth interfering with.

    If you’re tinkering at the level of massive dietary changes, why not make everything as close to completely non-sentient as possible instead? It’s a hell of a lot easier to limit brain capacity than completely shift the function of an entire ecosystem toward non-predation, and toward non-aggression. That, and death. Seriously, you would have to have active control over every aspect of the ecosystem to eliminate suffering.

    It sounds more like the inexorable result of following this chain of thought to its conclusion is either a perfectly controlled, static ecosystem, or the complete elimination of any form of thought. Possibly both.

    …Okay, personally, I would be interested in seeing this happen, and would welcome the eventual rise of the new invertebrate world order. Our future ant overlords will surely be as merciful as we.

  69. #69 Ranji
    August 28, 2009

    Brooks – the issue of whether suffering can be abolished is important, but it’s a practical matter. We do know that suffering can be dramatically reduced, and that this is one of the dramatic achievements of contemporary civilization. If anyone disagrees with this, then I suppose we should abandon the UN Millenium goals on world poverty, cease all good public health practices, and allow infant mortality to skyrocket back to the bad old days. You know, when everyone had large families, and everyone had lost at least one child. Because “that was just part of life and death”.

  70. #70 brooks
    August 28, 2009

    this just came to me: it’s very do-able, and it takes Pearce’s argument one step further. if we simply eradicate all known forms of life (yes, microbes too– it pays to think ahead, you know), there will we absolutely no chance of any degree of suffering whatsoever – however major or minor – for the foreseeable future!

    the only question that remains: should we do it now? or should we make sure and wait for ET, track him back to his home-world, and wipe out his biosphere, too? now that’s a dilemma!

    and no, this is no straw-man. it’s a reductio ad absurdum. because suffering, or the absence thereof, is worth plenty of consideration, sure; but it is life and all of its extravagances and contradictions that matters in the end.

  71. #71 Chris M
    August 28, 2009

    I really have no problem with the goal of eliminating human suffering at all, Ranji and Henry. It’s a noble goal, and one toward which we can make great strides. We’re talking about the other part of his goals, which is eliminating everything’s suffering.

    Condensed, the idea is to make the natural world a nice automaton for the moral comfort of some group of people. This is morally appalling to me on a very basic level.

    Interfering with the core processes of life for something that cannot choose otherwise seems wrong to me. If perchance another sentient organism were going to evolve, and be capable of making these choices itself, I suspect they would be very angry at us intentionally preventing that from happening. Because, make no mistake, eliminating natural selection for vertebrates would largely halt their evolution. Choosing to halt the major process of life because we find it morally icky… I cannot agree with this, in any way.

  72. #72 cm
    August 28, 2009

    I think I agree with Pearce, but I’d like to read his arguments more. But this is the ethical intuition I’ve held for a long time.

    Reflexively calling him an idiot is not intellectually impressive. This reminds me of all the people who “knew” the answer to the 3 doors problem immediately, argued eye-rollingly for it, and were in the end dead wrong.

    One can argue Pearce’s points, but it is not an open and shut case, as Henry and Ranji are trying to show.

    And one must be clear: the ethical and practical issues are theoretically independent. Pearce is no dummy–he’s an Oxford professor and is aware that creating the natural world he envisions would not be at all easy, and may not even be possible.

  73. #73 Oll
    August 28, 2009

    No predation means greater inter-spesific competition for resources and eventually there’d be a few species that out compete all others either by shear weight of numbers due to high birth rates, being able to better exploit a niche or by just having better claws.

    The eventual result would be a mass extinction as you can bet that a fair few keystone species would be out competed. If that species is partially responsible for the habitat or niche being the way it is in the first place then you’ll see the species that were responsible for its extinction becoming extinct too a few years down the line as the habitat became degraded.

  74. #74 G Felis
    August 28, 2009

    *sigh*

    Another philospher giving my chosen profession a bad name.

    Please, people, don’t tar all philosophers with a brush dipped in David Pearce’s idiocy. Philosophers as a profession are trained in and very devoted to reasoned argumentation – and adhering rigidly to a few badly formulated premises and carrying them out to ridiculous conclusions with no consideration of counter-evidence, counter-arguments, or other plausible foundational premises which might lead to very different conclusions does not constitute reasoned argumentation. (Generally speaking, that sort of thing is the province of theologians, not philosophers.) This guy is to philosophy what Andrew Wakefield is to research medicine or Michael Behe is to biochemistry – an embarrassing exception, not a typical representative of the profession. I’ll admit that philosophy has a higher proportion of such incompetent pseudo-practitioners than medicine or biology, but they are still a tiny minority.

  75. #75 Ranji
    August 28, 2009

    Hey Chris. Honestly, if you agree with the goal of eliminating human suffering, then unfortunately you’re still in the minority. It’s weird, but even that end is seen as extremist by an awful lot of people.

    But, I will say briefly, that I don’t think that reducing or eliminating suffering in other sentient (or if you like pain-capable) beings is entirely different. If we seek to alleviate the human condition, we’re clearly going to make decisions on behalf of children and the mentally disabled. The same principle applies for other species, who are incapable of changing their condition.

    I just don’t see this is being a mere reaction to what’s “icky”, it’s not really an aesthetic matter. On the contrary, retaining suffering because we enjoy the beauty of the natural world comes much closer to an ethics of avoiding “ickiness”.

  76. #76 brooks
    August 28, 2009

    i know, Ranji and Henry are being intellectually honest and trying present Pearce’s argument fairly and accurately. yes, it’s an interesting thought experiment. and of course, i’m not against reducing suffering.

    but to alter our biological nature at it’s very deepest levels… well, it’s one thing to desire an escape from suffering; it’s another to want to escape it so much that we consent to become something irrevocably different from the creature that so desired in the first place.

    while utilitarian aims are admirable, and suffering should obviously be a major consideration in our interaction with fellow animals, it should not be the prime consideration. we should do our best to not conflate more comfortable with better– which, in the end, despite the complexity of the given arguments, hedonistic utilitarians are wont to do.

  77. #77 Mickey Mortimer
    August 28, 2009

    I’m all for transhumanism, but I don’t think this qualifies since it’s not modifying humans. What this plan basically involves is destroying the natural world by making it artificial. I feel that exhibits the same moral problem as the many stories involving changing someone to be more agreeable, but losing their identity and quality as a consequence. Everything may be happier, but at what cost? Surely pleasure and pain are not the most important moral considerations, or else the plan would be to hook all intelligent animals up to machines that pump them full of endorphins constantly. That would incidentally be much cheaper and easier than wholesale genomic restructuring.

  78. #78 cm
    August 28, 2009

    Responding to Darren’s post:

    It imposes sentimental ideas and human moral judgment on other species; it (if carried through to eventuality) would mean an end to a great deal of natural selection; it is fundamentally contrary to the history of life and would result in the ultimate bastardisation of the natural world; and, perhaps most offensive of all, it PROMOTES the extinction and biological modification of thousands (or tens of thousands or more) of species.

    So? You just state these things without giving a reason why these are bad. The fourth one is in fact a massive “begging the question” fallacy–you are trying to refute Pearce by just re-stating Pearce’s plan. I cannot see a necessary harm in any of these points.

    I cannot help but feel that these ideas are amoral and utterly, utterly wrong.

    I think that’s because it is such a rare idea, one that is so outside of what you are accustomed to think in terms of. This may have been how some people thought about interacial marriage, abolition of slavery, etc.–it was just “the way things were” until it wasn’t.

    I might not like the sight of slow, lingering death and of animals being eaten alive by others, but I celebrate such processes as part of the natural world, and as a vivid illustration of evolution and adaptation. Death is part of life; we are surrounded by it.

    I could as easily say, “I might not like the sight of slow, lingering death and of humans being tortured alive by others, but I celebrate such processes as part of the social world, and as a vivid illustration of civilization and victimization. Cruelty is part of society; we are surrounded by it.”

    So this is the argument from “that’s just the way it is”. It’s the conservative view. It’s tradition.

    Screw tradition.

  79. #79 daedalus2u
    August 28, 2009

    It seems like Pearce is advocating what was described in the Hitchhikers guide to the galaxy; genetically engineer sentient organisms so that they want to be eaten. There is no suffering when an organism that wants to be eaten is eaten.

    That would be a lot easier to do than mess around with physiology so that carnivores don’t need to eat meat, just rearrange the neural connections so that what ever neural signaling now causes pain and suffering instead leads to joy and euphoria. You would only need to engineer a few prey species and then they could be eaten by all carnivores.

  80. #80 natural cynic
    August 28, 2009

    What happens to all of the animals that die of disease, injury or old age? This scheme needs scavengers. Then, to minimize suffering, how are the animals with mortal injuries or cancers or mortal infections euthanized to minimize their suffering? Many of the carnivorous megafauna act as scavengers. Do we just allow some of them to live on, but only eat carrion? Dead zebra=good; live zebra=bad. But what about almost dead zebra? To minimize suffering, animal diseases need to be conquered.

    And then what happens when the zebras don’t have to have to escape lions, panthers and hyenas? Are they going to laze around with the zebra equivalent of couch potatoes and thereby get diseases related to obesity? If he solves the old problem of carnivory, new problems will arise.

  81. #81 cm
    August 28, 2009

    G Felis said:

    Please, people, don’t tar all philosophers with a brush dipped in David Pearce’s idiocy. Philosophers as a profession are trained in and very devoted to reasoned argumentation – and adhering rigidly to a few badly formulated premises and carrying them out to ridiculous conclusions with no consideration of counter-evidence, counter-arguments, or other plausible foundational premises which might lead to very different conclusions does not constitute reasoned argumentation.

    This isn’t a convincing demonstration of why Pearce’s premises or conclusions are bad ones; you’re merely asserting that they are. I’ll need more than that to believe you, if you are up for providing it.

  82. #82 kermit
    August 28, 2009

    Ranji – if (most species of) carnivores were changed so much that they were no longer carnivores, they wouldn’t be anything like their parents. How could an herbivorous puma compete with elk? What would the point be to having a cat give birth to an inferior rabbit? May as well simply exterminate them, and be done with it. It would be kinder, and less disturbing.

    Without predators, the herbivores would suffer terribly. One in ten deer being killed quickly, in a few moments of terror, or all of them starving to death: which produces more pain? And in their starving, they would ravage several species of plants that would ordinarily not have trouble, leading to cascades of extinctions and suffering of numerous species.

    If we do not have the capacity to suffer, we do not have the ability to feel joy.

    Your naive desire (and Pearce, and maybe Henry, et al) to make everything living happy would lead to a sickly world still dominated by ruthless competition.

    Your naive tyranny of squeamishness is not born of love for life, but from a self-centered desire to minimize your *own discomfort.

    As for the UN attempts to reduce suffering, they had better address population control, or they will only succeed in passing the suffering on to the more numerous children not yet born. Suffering should be reduced, yes. But as long as you think it can be eliminated (rather than minimized), you will not accomplish what you hope, and will only make it worse to the degree you accomplish anything.

  83. #83 cm
    August 28, 2009

    Brooks said:

    but to alter our biological nature at it’s very deepest levels… well, it’s one thing to desire an escape from suffering; it’s another to want to escape it so much that we consent to become something irrevocably different from the creature that so desired in the first place.

    Yeah, it’s surely another thing, but why is it a thing that one ought to ethically reject?

    People here seem to have this view that The Way Things Are is somehow sancrosanct and it is wrong to alter The Way Things Are. Because, then, after all they would no longer be The Way Things Are.

    I don’t see the necessary ethical connection.

  84. #84 cm
    August 28, 2009

    kermit and many others get a flag on the play for mixing the notion of what is currently practicable with what is ethically called for and ultimately to be scientifically pursued.

    Hypothetical: Genie tells you he’d eliminate all animal suffering by making somehow enacting something like Pearce’s plan, with a little magic help. It’d result in a rather different natural world, but one with diversity. Would you give him the go ahead?

  85. #85 Chris M
    August 28, 2009

    Hah, daedalus clearly has the idea. There’s also the point that we shouldn’t stop there. Why shouldn’t everything be cranked up to the maximum possible joy and euphoria, all the time?

    @Ranji, I utterly fail to see your point about mental limitations. We make those choices now, because we don’t have other options. If we can accomplish what Pearce has proposed, that will not be a problem.

    As for suffering: Personally, I am a mentally-balanced individual, and enjoy the range of experience. I enjoy challenge. This is, in part, why we do not perfectly shelter children. These are basic elements of the human experience. We experience heartbreak as physical pain; despair as crushing as a chronic disease.

    Eliminating any potential mental and physical distress… I am not convinced that this is automatically a worthy goal. What is a worthy goal is allowing people to make that choice for themselves. Learning requires bad choices. I suppose we could alter ourselves to not care about learning or any form of progress, personally or as a society, but I would not make that choice myself, and I would prefer that someone did not make it for me.

    I am even more extremely unconvinced that we should as a species make that choice for everything, ever. Assuming time travel happened, for instance. The suffering of the eons before us was suffering as well; should we ignore it only because it was past? To reiterate an earlier point, the only existence we are aware of that is without suffering is that without life.

  86. #86 jck
    August 28, 2009

    Sounds like Pearce has seen too many Disney movies and thinks everything should be cute and fuzzy.

  87. #87 Chris M
    August 28, 2009

    @cm: If the genie is willing to resolve basic philosophical contradictions as well, which I suppose a magical genie could do, I’d be interested in hearing it.

    We don’t have a genie. Working toward one, that’s a worthy goal, but I’m going to go out on a limb and say that’s unlikely to happen.

  88. #88 cm
    August 28, 2009

    Chris M asked:

    Why shouldn’t everything be cranked up to the maximum possible joy and euphoria, all the time?

    It should. You tell me why it shouldn’t. Remember, you said maximum possible.

    Assuming time travel happened, for instance. The suffering of the eons before us was suffering as well; should we ignore it only because it was past?

    Obviously we shouldn’t ignore it if we can in fact do something about it, provided we our computer assured us that the future timeline would not be even worse due to the alterations. (If you can hypothesize the time machine, I can hypothesize the computer)

  89. #89 Tor Bertin
    August 28, 2009

    cm–

    Without nature working under its own rules (at its core–population management aside), we may as well be living in a dream world. There is no Planet Earth. It’d an amusement park, biology style. EcoDisney.

    Imagine having to teach future generations that at one point in time, life existed under life’s rules and not our own preconceptions.

  90. #90 cm
    August 28, 2009

    Chris #87,

    If the genie is willing to resolve basic philosophical contradictions as well, which I suppose a magical genie could do, I’d be interested in hearing it.

    What basic philosophical contradictions? It sounds to me like you didn’t actually have any in mind when you wrote that.

    We don’t have a genie. Working toward one, that’s a worthy goal, but I’m going to go out on a limb and say that’s unlikely to happen.

    I find it disappointing when people can’t or won’t entertain a hypothetical.

  91. #91 Chris M
    August 28, 2009

    (Clearly, the computer is fine.)

    What I’m saying is that in general, if you can make any choice, some option will be worse. From there the rest of this argument stems.

    Personally, I like making choices. If you’d like to posit some future overmind for the brain that allows us to know the better choice every time, then in the Pearce formulation, we are obligated by avoiding suffering to make that better choice, every time.

  92. #92 AD
    August 28, 2009

    A point of clarification- in his manifesto Pearce advocates weaning the predators onto cultured meat, I think. Making them vegetarians is only a more absurd version, although this is all so “absurdium” to begin with it’s hard to reducto it any more- the distinction is academic.

    Since debunking the philosophical dimensions requires probably a more subtle or thoughtful argument than the manifesto itself is, since there are so many notions tangled in there, I will just stick to the practicalities.

    To do this: you would have to perform birth control on every single herbivore on earth, including those that live in the average-12,000-foot-deep ocean.
    You would have to cure every disease.
    You would have to somehow re-engineer all the predators with all their diverse nutritionary requirements etc all over the world and in the on-average 12,000 foot deep ocean.

    Wait, hold on, something occurred to me. People are bringing up ethics and utilitarianism, as if they are real concepts that have existence outside of human emotion and discourse. In fact, our morals and values are only the product of our particular evolutionary history, and are not the only possible set that could have evolved. Leaving aside the numerous disagreements within human philosophy and morals and instead focussing on commonalities, it is nevertheless chauvinistic to assume that our particular moral view of the world is inherently right, and that imposing it on all other known species is also a moral decision with good or bad hovering over either side of the scale. Other species may have different values systems.
    ok enough effort devoted to this story.

  93. #93 cm
    August 28, 2009

    Tor said:

    Without nature working under its own rules (at its core–population management aside), we may as well be living in a dream world. There is no Planet Earth. It’d an amusement park, biology style. EcoDisney.

    Again, subbing a human form of this thought: “Without society working under its historical patterns (wars, atrocities, etc.), we may as well be living in a dream world. There is no humankind. It’d be a utopia.”

    So? By calling it cheesy names like EcoDisney you are just denigrating it without arguing the ethical wrong. Will somebody argue the ethical wrong, please?

    Imagine having to teach future generations that at one point in time, life existed under life’s rules and not our own preconceptions.

    Ok, I’m imagining it…and…what is supposed to happen?

    (By the way, your name is an anagram for “born trite”. Don’t worry, mine are worse)

  94. #94 A Nonny Mouse
    August 28, 2009

    Well, I think this article and associated comments nicely demonstrate that philosophers are not very good biologists but also that biologists are not good philosophers either. The whole point of philosophy is to consistently follow your line of argument, even if it takes you seemingly unacceptable conclusions. *If* you accept Pearce’s flavour of utilitarianism – in this case, it would be something like ‘the greatest happiness to the greatest number of organisms capable of happiness’, which would rule out single-celled organisms, plants and possibly also invertebrates -, then it’s almost inevitable that you end up taking David Pearce’s arguments seriously. Counter-arguments along the lines of ‘it’s imposing human morality on nature’, ‘it’s contrary to the history of life’, ‘it will stop natural selection’ or ‘it’s too difficult’ that Darren and others have suggested are irrelevant. The easy way out is simply to point out that most people are not pure utilitarians in the way that Pearce is, in the same way that most people do not accept Peter Singer’s argument that it is OK to kill mentally disabled babies. If we accept Pearce’s starting premise, then his conclusions are sound, but the point is we (or most of us) *do not* accept it, at least by itself – there are other factors in play. Now, can we *please* get back to the Palaeogene mammals?

  95. #95 Zach Miller
    August 28, 2009

    Why are we talking about human morality like it’s some universal constant? It’s not at all. Human morality has changed throughout the centuries and differs considerably between cultures. And morality is a choice that we place upon ourselves–it’s entirely a luxury. Morality is not necessary for the proliferation of our species: non-human animals get along just fine without a concept of murder, cruelty, etc.

    It’s a path by which cultures are established and values enforced. These are human inventions. Enforcing our moral choices on the natural world would be like trying to train your dog to mow the law. There’s no concept of a lawn or a lawnmower in nature. Genetically modifying your dog to mow the lawn is an unnatural blight on the world. Your dog cease to be a dog. It’s something else, something that serves your selfish purpose. Asking lions to stop eating wildabeest is asking nature to bow down to your selfish whims. YOU don’t like blood and guts and what you consider “cruelty” (not YOU personally, dear reader, but this Pearce nutjob). Would anyone let the entire natural world be bent to another’s whim? I would hope not. Whether you think this idea has merrit or not, I would hope, PRAY, that you not doom an entire planetary ecosystem that’s been running JUST FINE for 4 billion years because you happen to have a certain idea of what morality is.

    Morality is a luxary we impose upon ourselves for whatever reason. We shouldn’t go imposing morals on animals that don’t HAVE morals, or a concept of what morals ARE.

  96. #96 Zach Miller
    August 28, 2009

    To briefly add to my previous post (#95): Who the fuck put US in charge?

  97. #97 cm
    August 28, 2009

    Chris M:

    Personally, I like making choices. If you’d like to posit some future overmind for the brain that allows us to know the better choice every time, then in the Pearce formulation, we are obligated by avoiding suffering to make that better choice, every time.

    Yes, it’s pretty simple: choose less suffering. You want to retain the right to choose otherwise? I personally don’t value that right. I always try to choose what will make me most pleased–doesn’t almost everyone?–and if I could have a robot valet do that for me, fine–I’ll be off enjoying my life, choice free. Maybe choice only seems inherently valuable because we are used to associating choice with plenty, like a kid in a candy store.

  98. #98 daedalus2u
    August 28, 2009

    The implementation of any plan like this necessarily puts a value judgment on the particular type of suffering by particular organisms, even if only to eliminate that suffering first.

    Killing an organism quickly is to prevent the suffering of a lingering death. Sterilizing an organism prevents it from experiencing suffering during childbirth and from watching its offspring die of starvation. Is it better to kill one big organism so that 100 little ones don’t starve? Kill one dumb organism so that 100 smart ones don’t starve? Pearce’s plan requires that such decisions be made and implemented.

    If the plan is to wait until there are infinite resources to implement this (i.e. magic), then lets wait until those infinite resources are available to use to determine if this is a wise course of action or not (my intuition tells me this is a very bad idea).

    If you have infinite resources available, then the followers of Pearce can implement their idea of utopia some place else while leaving the Earth as intact as it is. If the Pearce plan works, and is such an obviously good idea, then people will voluntarily implement it themselves.

  99. #99 Tor Bertin
    August 28, 2009

    If you really want to get to the core of things, there is no such thing as right or wrong. You can phrase it however you like, but in the end there’s nothing but ‘what I believe to be right’ and ‘what you believe to be right’. Sometimes this extends to ‘we’. Sometimes it doesn’t.

    At the end of the day, we’re debating the pros and cons of abstractions.

    What is the meaning life?

    ____

    It just is. There is no other answer past that. The meaning of life to one’s own mind? That’s another matter. But life as an entity has no meaning past its own existence.

  100. #100 Chris M
    August 28, 2009

    Lovely then, we’re agreed. As long as you don’t have a magic genie.

  101. #101 Tor Bertin
    August 28, 2009

    Enough philosophy from me for one day. I study paleontology because I find life, the world, and all its history fascinating and I hope we can preserve that until the universe’s inevitable end (though more likely ours will come well before that).

  102. #102 cm
    August 28, 2009

    Zach #95:

    Enforcing our moral choices on the natural world would be like trying to train your dog to mow the law.

    Your dog, which is of course, a wild animal, and not living on Milkbones, right? :D

    We humans can’t do much of anything without imposing our will on the natural world. So own up to that responsibility, and make active ethical choices. Don’t feign laissez faire on nature–it’s a false posture.

  103. #103 My Head Asploded
    August 28, 2009

    “Wasn’t there a joke on Futurama that sounded *exactly* like this guy? Something along the lines of, ‘We taught a lion to eat tofu!’”

    That’s the very first thing I thought of too. And they immediately cut to an emaciated, wheezing lion visibly begging to be put out of his misery. (While we’re quoting, “You really don’t GET nature, do you?”)

    As many others have already said, this guy is completely balls-out insane. Yet he’s also weirdly endearing. His mind set seems to be, “Gosh, it sucks that we feel pain and fear. The world is such a terrible place! The world should be made of cotton batting and bubble wrap and candy, so nobody would ever get hurt and we could all eat candy instead of each other! Yay!!!” I’ve heard four-year-olds say things like that.

    You almost want to pat him on the head and say, “there, there…” The go home and have a beer with steak.

  104. #104 cm
    August 28, 2009

    My Head Asploded said:

    As many others have already said, this guy is completely balls-out insane.

    That dismissal of an Oxford philosophy professor also reminds me of when my friend in undergraduate physics class heard about Einsteinian length contraction and time dilation, core features of relativity. She just said, “That’s not true. That’s crazy.”

    The cotten batting was a particularly nice example of argument ad absurdum. Thanks.

  105. #105 Sebastian Marquez
    August 28, 2009

    Paulino #62. Indeed.

    Why does this abolitionist project limit itself to eliminating just suffering? Why not abolish all emotion?!! That way when I see a grizzly eating an elk; the grizzly, the elk and I are all shrugging our collective shoulders and saying one thing beautifully and harmoniously: “Meh.”

    This is ridiculous. Can I shout “1 + 1 = 3!!” as well? Cutting through all the dressing and fluff, doesn’t Mr. Pearce realize that suffering is subjective? I am all for progress and pushing the boundary, but you cannot fight against an idea and expect some sort of final answer.

    Its a bad idea to begin with and he wants to apply it to animals? Unbelievable.

  106. #106 kermit
    August 28, 2009

    When I was a medic in the army, we had an ethics class. One week the subject was “Assuming that some medical expenses are so expensive that we can’t pay for all of them, how do we decide to ration treatments?” To the astonishment and dismay of the rest of us, about one third of the class refused to accept the *theoretical premiss* of the class. They denied that medical treatments could be so expensive that we couldn’t give all needed treatment to everybody. This emotional unwillingness to deal with unpleasant realities would lead to *more pain and death in patients. Rationing will happen, one way of the other. These same students did fare well when the subject of triage was discussed either, for the the same reasons.

    Morality by squeamishness does not impress me.

    If there is one thing we should have learned from humanity’s various interactions with nature, it is the hubris that leads people (sometimes even scientists) to think that they can make major changes without unexpected and unwelcome consequences. (Scientists at least have learned from these lessons.)

    Do I think that a future technology could produce a sanitized world? Yes, in the distant future. But it wouldn’t be life like anything we know now. Even trees produce poisons to kill or discourage competition. The competition of herbivores for food, sex, and space can be as fierce as any cougar leaping on an elk. If we engineered all herbivores to be passive consumers, we would soon get to watch herds of gentle beasts starve, forests die when the bark is stripped, whole ecosystems filled with the stench of death and the sights of desperate animals.

    If we have biological creatures that eat energy in some form in the environment, and which reproduce with errors, then a life and death struggle is inevitable.

    Thinking we can control all of this without it rapidly going bad shows a staggering unawareness of how nature works. And the motive is to avoid feeling yucky or sad. It will not help the animals.

    If I am ever in a mass disaster like a plane crash, and I am near death, give me dispassionate and knowledgeable medics and doctors and nurses, not someone who will weep in dismay while I bleed to death.

    I hope to see a future healthy Earth in which we make occasional tweaks and help things along, and encourage diversity, (maybe even make some new species) but work with natural laws. It works OK for my garden, and maybe we can someday do it for the whole planet. But arrogance + ignorance is a recipe for disaster, even if the motive is love and harmony.

  107. #107 My Head Asplode
    August 28, 2009

    ^^ The guy’s an Oxford Professor? Ernnnngh *BOOOOOM!!!* (Head explodes again.)

    Anyway, feels appropriate to link to the appropriate trope page.

  108. #108 Zach Miller
    August 28, 2009

    Way to miss the godddamed point, cm.

    Let’s replace “dog” with “Bald Eagle.” Better? Jeezus…

  109. #109 Gloria
    August 28, 2009

    Can’t help but giggle at defining “extreme veganism” as transhumanism, two totally different subjects.

    Not sure what you mean in your comment about sockpuppetry or what it was trying to imply.

    Karen Wester Newton: “sad situations like ultra-vegan parents letting their children suffer malnutrition because they won’t give them anything to eat that doesn’t conform to their “moral” view of what people should eat.”

    Back the truck up one minute. The American Dietetic Association just said that veganism is a healthy diet for anyone of any age. Because one vegan person starved their kid doesn’t mean anything for any other vegan parents, anymore than I would cast judgment on a carnivore because of all the thousands of carnivores starving their kids. I’m sure I could find hundreds of times the examples of carnivores starving their kids than vegans.

    Andrew D. Gable: “Do they realize the human gene pool would stagnate after a while?”

    How exactly would this happen?

    J.S. Lopes: “ps: let’s teach mosquitoes to suck mangoes and oranges instead of sucking our blood;” Why not? We’d be rid of malaria for the most part, along with a major pet peeve of mine.

    Ravinn Corinn Carluk: “I’m certainly in the crowd that thinks it is wrong to impose human morals on any animal…Or any of the vegetarian/vegans who try to make their dogs vegetarian.”

    Do you eat animals? Then you are imposing your moral values on that animal’s right to live its own life. Everyone here is astonished at the idea that predators should be made extinct, but most seem to be carnivores themselves and therefore contribute to the problem of killing many species, especially fish species.

    My dogs are vegetarian because if they weren’t, they’d be eating corpses of hens from dumpsters who can’t lay eggs anymore or some other such nonsense. Isn’t that imposing a moral value on hens (that we give them no moral value?) If left to their own devices, dogs are omnivores and will eat what they can find. My 7-pound chihuahuas would not be naturally eating many lambs, turkeys, pigs, cows or even chickens for that matter.

    brooks: “like it or not, suffering shapes us as surely as any other aspect of human experience. yeesh. ”

    Let’s say that suffering had never existed, and someone was proposing that it should be created and humans and animals would experience it. I think you’d say they were crazy and that you were just fine without suffering.

  110. #110 Gruesome Rob
    August 28, 2009

    When I was a medic in the army, we had an ethics class. One week the subject was “Assuming that some medical expenses are so expensive that we can’t pay for all of them, how do we decide to ration treatments?” To the astonishment and dismay of the rest of us, about one third of the class refused to accept the *theoretical premiss* of the class.

    How the heck is that a theoretical premise? That sounds like reality to me. We *don’t* have the money to give all possible treatment to everyone.

  111. #111 Henry
    August 28, 2009

    this just came to me: it’s very do-able, and it takes Pearce’s argument one step further. if we simply eradicate all known forms of life (yes, microbes too– it pays to think ahead, you know), there will we absolutely no chance of any degree of suffering whatsoever – however major or minor – for the foreseeable future!

    I think what you’re getting at is the Pinprick Argument, and the point you raise is quite valid. If you’re a negative utilitarian, as Pearce is, then you value the abolition of suffering above all else. Hence, you might advocate eradicating all sentient life as it would certainly eradicate suffering.

    However, this isn’t feasible: even thinking of doing such a thing causes some amount of suffering, and to slaughter every living thing on the planet forever more would undoubtedly cause mass suffering.

    The Pinprick Argument asks if someone suffering only a pinprick of suffering in their lifetime makes it not worthwhile, or is a pinprick just trivial? If so, then what’s the cut-off of triviality here? I’m not at all well-versed here, so I’ll have to hand you off to one more informed than I.

  112. #112 Henry
    August 28, 2009

    Thinking we can control all of this without it rapidly going bad shows a staggering unawareness of how nature works. And the motive is to avoid feeling yucky or sad. It will not help the animals.

    By all means critique the argument on technical grounds: that it isn’t feasible (and maybe will never be feasible, though with future technology—vastly more powerful and cheaper computing, genomics, nanotechnology, metamaterials and so on—it looks more promising, but don’t say that the motive of Pearce’s ethical stance is ‘to avoid feeling sad’.

    Do you think reducing human suffering by alleviating poverty, using pain medication, anaesthesia and so on is just done to placate people who would otherwise feel ‘yucky’? If animals do indeed suffer physical pain as humans do, are you not merely asserting that this ‘will not help them’?

  113. #113 Henry
    August 28, 2009

    Is it better to kill one big organism so that 100 little ones don’t starve? Kill one dumb organism so that 100 smart ones don’t starve? Pearce’s plan requires that such decisions be made and implemented.

    This is, I suppose, the classical flaw in utilitarianism: the requirement to perform a perfect ‘felicific calculus’ to work out the options which bring the most utility. Of course, we lack the ability to determine the utility function of the suffering of a small organism or a smart organism and so are unable to make these utilitarian calculations. As a suggestion, maybe we’ll be better able to quantify suffering in the future given our improving ability to peer into the brains of humans with fMRI and related technologies.

  114. #114 Henry
    August 28, 2009
    I cannot help but feel that these ideas are amoral and utterly, utterly wrong.

    I think that’s because it is such a rare idea, one that is so outside of what you are accustomed to think in terms of. This may have been how some people thought about interacial marriage, abolition of slavery, etc.–it was just “the way things were” until it wasn’t.

    Quite so. If you told a citizen of the seventeenth century that we would someday be able to develop gases which, when inhaled, would make you invulnerable to physical pain, would they believe you? Perhaps the early arguments against the use of anaesthesia are an example of people having an instinctive ‘yuck reaction’ to such technologies and being against their use (as we’ve seen in Britain with ministers defending the ‘yuck reaction’ as a valid arbiter of morality in the use of new techniques in embryology).

  115. #115 Bradley Fierstine
    August 28, 2009

    (By the way, your name is an anagram for “born trite”. Don’t worry, mine are worse)

    [comment 93]

    At least that person had the decency to provide their name.

  116. #116 cm
    August 28, 2009

    Zach said:

    Way to miss the godddamed point, cm. Let’s replace “dog” with “Bald Eagle.” Better? Jeezus…

    What–did I make you upset with my emoticon?

    I’m not missing the point–you are. You used the laughable example of modifying a dog as as example of what humans ought not to do. You picked one of the most human-modified animals on Earth. It would have been criminally irresponsible for me not to make fun of you for this as I lead into a more general refutation of the idea that somehow we can live as humans without imposing our morals on animals. We already have, we do every day, we will in the future. The question is: in what way. That is up for debate. Whether we do it is not.

  117. #117 cm
    August 28, 2009

    Bradley Fierstine:

    At least you could have the decency to have a name that is easily made into an anagram! The Internet Anagram Server came up blank on yours–a first.

  118. #118 Zach Miller
    August 28, 2009

    Fine. Address the bald eagle proposal. Would it be moral, ethical, or desirable to genetically manipulate a bald eagle to mow your lawn? Doing so is still the result of your own selfish motivations. The bald eagle doesn’t give two craps about your lawn. But YOU think it SHOULD be mowing your lawn.

    Same argument applies against Pearce’s idea. Bald eagles don’t have any concept of “cruelty,” so they don’t care about it. Is it cruel to steal a fish from another bald eagle? We might think so, as we can go ahead and imagine all the horrible things that will happen to the robbed eagle (it’ll starve, its chicks will starve, etc.), but the thieving eagle’s primary motivation is feeding itself. That’s not cruel, it’s practical.

    And again, who the frack put us in charge? We’re a product of the same evolutionary processes as everything else. Why should we suddenly start controlling other organisms because we developed our own morality?

  119. #119 Gloria
    August 28, 2009

    Amazing that the three most lucid and intellectual commenters are all on Pearce’s side. I’ve counted a grand total of 2 (out of more than 100) comments agreeing with Darren Naish that are not on the level of the kneejerk anti-Einstein reaction that CM describes in his post #104. (basically, it doesn’t exist today, so it’s bad, similar to the healthcare reform debate in America right now)

    Re “Save the Sprouts” in the original blog post — plants don’t feel pain. Sorry, but you missed the entire central thesis. Animals are sentient and feel pain.

    Daedelus2 (#48): “f the baby’s mother was following a mega-strict vegan diet, she may not have had the metabolic resources to supply sufficient milk.”

    The onus is on you to provide proof of that, please. I am not a full vegan but there is absolutely no reason that someone following a “mega-strict” healthy vegan diet would not be able to breastfeed that would be related to veganism itself, and they would certainly be better able to provide nutrients compared to a mother who ate less healthy foods than are usually part of a plant-based diet.

    Paul Barrett (#65): “Vegetarians are just ungrateful. If it wasn’t for the fact that their ancestors ate meat, allowing the evolution of their large brains…”

    If it weren’t for some of my ancestors raping women and possibly murdering competitors to be able to rape those women, maybe I wouldn’t be around. I guess that means I’m “ungrateful” because I choose not to rape and murder? I guess I should face up to the fact that my ancestors were deceitful an treacherous and I should get on with the business of acting the same way? If our ancestors did it, according to you it must be good.

    Brooks (#66): “i’m saying that suffering is a foundational aspect of (vertebrate) animal experience, and therefore of human experience. i’m not simply saying we shouldn’t get rid of it, i’m saying we can’t. it is simply not possible to be a mature organism and not to have suffered to a greater or lesser degree.”

    What about diseases? So far, it has been impossible to be human and not suffer from diseases, yet scientists try every day to get rid of them. How is suffering part of our human experience in a way that diseases aren’t? I don’t think people were too upset at eradicating the “human experience” of polio.

    G Felis (#74): “with no consideration of counter-evidence, counter-arguments, or other plausible foundational premises which might lead to very different conclusions does not constitute reasoned argumentation”

    To be fair, please provide your own website for proper philosophical critiquing. Please also take at least a glance at Pearce’s website, where as Henry has linked in other comments he often writes entire essays on many of the counter-arguments which have been raised here, and in many cases he gives good evidence for his side.

    Mickey Mortimer (#77): “Everything may be happier, but at what cost?”

    This implies that there are no costs with our current system. The question is, would that system be better than what we have now? As seen in the healthcare reform debate, many people want to stay with what they have because they are afraid of change.

    Chris M (#85): “Eliminating any potential mental and physical distress… I am not convinced that this is automatically a worthy goal. What is a worthy goal is allowing people to make that choice for themselves.”

    Try telling a person in a deep depressive state that they should just make the choice for themselves to be happy, and it will all be OK, and see how that works. Ask a person who has been depressed every single day for years and years if suffering should be ended, and they may have a different point of view than some who naturally have a higher level of happiness.

    Zach Miller (#95): “Genetically modifying your dog to mow the lawn is an unnatural blight on the world. Your dog cease to be a dog… ecosystem that’s been running JUST FINE for 4 billion years because you happen to have a certain idea of what morality is.”

    The ecosystem has no problems with it and has always been fine? I have read the work of many scientists who think differently. I assume you do not want to change anything in this world, because it’s been “running JUST FINE.” I assume you have no political, scientific, or social goals to achieve for humans or the world at large, judging from your argument. The world has been “JUST FINE” and it will continue to be “JUST FINE.” What does such a statement even mean?

  120. #120 Christian S.
    August 28, 2009

    I don’t know what to find more disturbing: that such ridiculous ideas as those promoted by Pearce are even mentioned publicly or seeing so many people here actually defending them. Every time I think human phantasms couldn’t get more ridiculous I am proven wrong. It’s really unbelievable what I had to read here today…

  121. #121 cm
    August 28, 2009

    Fine. Address the bald eagle proposal. Would it be moral, ethical, or desirable to genetically manipulate a bald eagle to mow your lawn? Doing so is still the result of your own selfish motivations.

    That’s a fun image to imagine, first of all.

    It doesn’t strike me as ethically positive, that is, improving the world, to do that, but only because that purposing seems so inefficient–there are more apt alterations of nature that would improve things. I easily could imagine altering rice to produce more protein or survive floods, altering cattle to be beefier, or altering anapholes mosquitoes to not transmit malaria.

    Is genetic engineering crucial to your point? Because, if it is not and you are willing to include any human “meddling” in animal affairs due to our moral sentiments or selfish wishes, bald eagles already enjoy special human-conferred status because of their status as the U.S. mascot. There is a federal 1940 Bald Eagle Protection Act that imposes fines and prison terms for harming them. Other raptors might have benefited from such protections, but they were not on the dollar bill.

    The bald eagle doesn’t give two craps about your lawn. But YOU think it SHOULD be mowing your lawn.

    Same argument applies against Pearce’s idea. Bald eagles don’t have any concept of “cruelty,” so they don’t care about it. Is it cruel to steal a fish from another bald eagle? We might think so, as we can go ahead and imagine all the horrible things that will happen to the robbed eagle (it’ll starve, its chicks will starve, etc.), but the thieving eagle’s primary motivation is feeding itself. That’s not cruel, it’s practical.

    I don’t think eagles or most animals are cruel. I think that animals routinely inflict suffering and that is what Pearce and I and others are concerned about.

    And again, who the frack put us in charge? We’re a product of the same evolutionary processes as everything else. Why should we suddenly start controlling other organisms because we developed our own morality?

    Why not?

    First, This point about “who put us in charge?” is incoherent–what does that even mean? The facts are: We act. We impinge on animals. They impinge on us. They impinge on each other. There is no Authority to speak of. To speak of our lack of “charge” is to shift the responsibility into the ether, when in fact we kill, farm, shear, protect, nurture, hunt, abuse, game, wear, train, wipe out, etc., animals every day.

    Instead, a simpler and more apt formulation is this: when agents can do something that affects the suffering of others, an ethical opportunity is presented.

  122. #122 ad
    August 28, 2009

    GLoria, perhaps it is that some (I) don’t really care enough to really give it that much thought, because it is pretty patently absurd.

    Don’t confuse extremism with lucidity. It’s relatively easy to argue something that is self-consistent but ignores the complexity of reality. I think that is important to keep in mind.

    By the way, you still have not answered how utilitarianism etc are concrete, real things, not products of our evolutionary heritage of morals, our worldview. Morality is situational- the lion takes care of the baby antelope, but only because the maternal instinct/mindset is triggered. It feels right for the lion because it is the right response for a maternal situation, something it evolved. Not some all consuming notion of right or wrong, although it may feel like the lion is doing “right” to the viewer- who is in turn viewing it through the lense of how we evolved as highly social, group-living creatures (I recommend reading “Science of Good and Evil” by Shermer and “Darwin’s Cathedral” by DS Wilson.

    The way we operate now is simply, live and let live as we were “created” (evolved), as every other creature on earth does. To suddenly decide for the lions that the way they have evolved is incorrect, is chauvinistic and “worldview imperialism”. Did you happen to ask the big cats what they think about morality?

    Did the communist aliens do the same for us before they instituted forced collectivisation on us that killed millions? Or, perhaps they just decide we are too immoral to be salvaged- just kill us all off (wasn’t there a movie recently…)

  123. #123 Zach Miller
    August 28, 2009

    @ Gloria (#119): Tyrannosaurus was killing Triceratops 65 million years before this conversation started. Perhaps I should be more specific: Nature was operating just fine before we evolved morality and started messing with things.

    @cm (#121): I paraphrase Ian Malcolm: “Your philosophers were so concerned with whether or not they could do something they didn’t stop and think about whether they should.

    We act, sure, but why should we mess with nature any more than we already do? If you want to lessen suffering in the animal world, why not nuke the human species? Deforestry, farming, pollution, etc. are all giant freaking negative effects on the natural world that our caused by us. We act, yeah, but clearly NOT with the rest of the planet in mind.

  124. #124 ad
    August 28, 2009

    @Zach- I think I disagree with the second quote, this is not something that is feasible, unless we simply wiped out millions of organisms. But maybe that’s Malcolm’s point: we think we can, but we can’t really, not the way we envision it- so we shouldn’t.

  125. #125 David
    August 28, 2009

    I realise I am out of my intellectual depth here but, the entire idea just seems morally wrong to me. Leaving veganism, animal rights and the morality of suffering aside for a second…

    What would entitle us to decide what life on this planet should be like? How could an abstract notion held by a particular group of humans be justifiably enforced on all other living things? And before you answer, there is a difference between exterminating predators because they kill our sheep and deciding that the very concept of a “predator” is morally wrong.

    Secondly, assuming it could be justified, how do we know that Utillitarianism is the “right” approach? After all, the notion arose in a very specific context (eighteenth century Europe) and hasn’t always proved successful in practice. Especially when it comes to deciding who should be included in the “Greater Good”.

    While I can appreciate the reasoning behind the idea, it just seems somewhat arrogant to me.

  126. #126 JohnV
    August 28, 2009

    @gloria

    why have none of the pro-abolitionist(?) people commented on the responses several of us have made regarding what happens to an ecosystem when predation is removed?

    as a refresher, without predation to keep numbers down, the prey species populations will explode. this will result in mass starvation, disease spread and ecological disaster. even if the predators are taught to eat plant life, they’ll just contribute to the problem, except as noted earlier they’ll be really uncompetitive with the species that have had millions of years to work out the kinks in herbivory.

    remind me again how that’s less suffering?

  127. #127 david
    August 28, 2009

    I didn’t read each and every single one of the comments, but, thanks, cm! go on!

  128. #128 Alan Kellogg
    August 28, 2009

    Darren, #8

    Is Little Tyke, by any chance, blind? If not, then his owners are cheating.

  129. #129 K. Signal Eingang
    August 28, 2009

    This is probably one of the more interesting comment threads I’ve read in a while.

    I think Comment 94, if that is its real name, has the right of it. Philosophically, Pearce’s argument is sound – if we could do this, then we should – but there’s a vast, galaxy-wide gulf between where we are right now in the real world and where we’d have to be to make his vision come true. And furthermore, even baby steps in the direction he wants us to take would have every likelihood of failure or worse. It seems to me it would be easier to build an ecosystem from scratch than to try to engineer suffering out of our current one.

    It also seems to me that there is no way to eliminate the possibility of cruelty or suffering without also eliminating freedom of choice – while cm may see this as a worthwhile tradeoff, I’m not so sure – I for one *do* associate liberty with happiness, and don’t think they can be easily separated.

    In any case I certainly don’t agree with the idea that Pearce’s ends are so obviously good that they justify any and all means to obtain them. The conclusion seems to me to spring from an insistence that the world is not complex, that all problems are solvable, and that perfection must be the goal – premises that do not long survive contact with actual problem-solving in any aspect of the real world. Perhaps the lesson here is that quests for the ultimate good tend to lead to incoherence, and that as a general rule we ought to focus our attentions on the, shall we say, proximate good – those better choices that are actually available to us now or in the foreseeable future. A compromise that can be put into place immediately with minimal impact will do more good in the end than any utopian scheme. I’d argue that Temple Grandin has done more to lower the actual quotient of suffering in the world than Pearce and Singer put together, for example.

  130. #130 Gloria
    August 28, 2009

    Christian S. #120: “It’s really unbelievable what I had to read here today…”

    I agree, but in reaction to arguments against the idea rather than for it. The “arguments” presented against it have consisted of “Change? Change is bad and you are stupid/insane/crazy/dumb/idiotic if you advocate for change. Humans have no right to change anything and have never done so before, and the world is great as a result of no change.” If it really is as bad an idea as some of you seem to believe, I would think better arguments could be had that actually make sense.

    Personally, I’m not totally sure what I think about the idea, but the arguments put forth against it here have been paltry at best, often accompanied by unnecessary insults which show the type of person making the argument (maybe I’m old-fashioned, but I don’t say anything to anyone on the Internet I wouldn’t say if they were standing right in front of me, obviously other people don’t follow that line of thinking), and haven’t given me any reason to go against the idea, along with really lame attempts to make arguments against vegans/vegetarians/philosophers or other various groups that don’t have much to do with the argument itself.

  131. #131 ogunsiron
    August 28, 2009

    henry said in #111:

    I think what you’re getting at is the Pinprick Argument, and the point you raise is quite valid. If you’re a negative utilitarian, as Pearce is, then you value the abolition of suffering above all else. Hence, you might advocate eradicating all sentient life as it would certainly eradicate suffering.

    However, this isn’t feasible: even thinking of doing such a thing causes some amount of suffering, and to slaughter every living thing on the planet forever more would undoubtedly cause mass suffering.
    —–
    You think the eradication of all sentient life is more infeasible than what Pearce is advocating ? It doesn’t in an obvious way seem more difficult. If we don’t have right now the technology to create a sentient life annihilator, then we have a *moral imperative* to put * all possible ressources* towards the designing of such a device or technology, don’t we ?

    You say that such a project would create suffering in the minds of those working on it ? Why not staff the teams with psycopaths or other low empathy type of people. They’re out there so we have a *moral obligation* to persuade them to work on this. No ressources should be spared since this is a *moral imperative* , right ? We might even find some way, any way , to drug the world’s top scientists to temporarily dull their empathy while they’re working on this project, so they don’t suffer.

    While it might be a challenge to engineer a way to kill without pain, It doesn’t strike me as impossible. Imagine that some aliens used some kind of technology to make our sun explode/expand now, rather than 5 billion years from now. Would we suffer much ? I imagine that we’d all be annihilated much faster than the time it takes for pain signals to travel up to our brains.

    So really what’s so infeasible about the painless annihilation of sentient life ?
    Another advantage of permanent life eradication over this carnivore modfication project is obvious : People in the future could always choose to re-introduce suffering while permanent life eradication precludes that. Isn’t eradication the only morally defensible position then :)

    In any case, it makes sense to me that if you accept the basic premise that there are these moral imperatives out there and that eradicating suffering is one of them, then there’s nothing illogical about reaching the carnivore modification , the life eradication or the anti-natalist conclusion. As for myself, i don’t buy the whole moral imperative thing in the first place. Also , the hedonistic imperative thing simply doesn’t speak to me at all. It seems totally obvious to someone like cm that perpetual, eternal bliss is what is moral and right but it just doesn’t seem so obvious to me.

  132. #132 Alan Kellogg
    August 28, 2009

    I have a question for cm and others. Is it me, or do you live sheltered lives?

  133. #133 ohman
    August 28, 2009

    It’s a shame that you used this opportunity to bash veganism instead of utilitarian transhumanism (which is, for some people, a pseudo-religion, though I can’t say whether it is for Pearce).

    David Pearce has some interesting ideas, and some scary ones (see his notes on Brave New World), but all of them come from his transhumanism. His veganism is a result of that, not the drive behind it.

    Everyone in this thread who is using this as an opportunity to bash vegans is a shameless opportunist, not to mention a lazy reader. Go to one of Pearce’s hundreds of websites and look around, and then ask yourself if this comes from veganism or something else.

    You really put the cart before the vegan horse. ;)

  134. #134 Alan Kellogg
    August 28, 2009

    Gloria, #130

    How loudly do you scream when you see a cockroach?

  135. #135 JohnV
    August 28, 2009

    “If it really is as bad an idea as some of you seem to believe, I would think better arguments could be had that actually make sense.”

    Some of us are, amazingly enough we’re being ignored (comments 2, 5, 42 and 126). Introducing biology into a philosophy discussion might be on the cusp of non-sensical but if the position is so strong its defenders ought to be able to respond to it.

  136. #136 cm
    August 28, 2009

    Gloria, perhaps your bush-beating seems to have loosed some more reasonable thinking, as the comments have taken an upturn since about the high 120s. I’d like to take a shot at addressing some…

  137. #137 cm
    August 28, 2009

    Alan Kellogg asked:

    I have a question for cm and others. Is it me, or do you live sheltered lives?

    You’d have to define that for me and then I’ll try to answer it. But I am curious what the connection in your mind is between a sheltered life and my and others’ ability to be coherent.

  138. #138 Tsu Dho Nimh
    August 28, 2009

    I saw a lot of this emotional “horrible cruel sneaky nasty carnivore” rhetoric in the anti-wolf material being published in and around the areas where wolves are being introduced.

    they made them sound as bad as atheist pedophile socialists.

  139. #139 Christian S.
    August 28, 2009

    “”It’s really unbelievable what I had to read here today…”

    I agree, but in reaction to arguments against the idea rather than for it. The “arguments” presented against it have consisted of “Change? Change is bad and you are stupid/insane/crazy/dumb/idiotic if you advocate for change. Humans have no right to change anything and have never done so before, and the world is great as a result of no change.” If it really is as bad an idea as some of you seem to believe, I would think better arguments could be had that actually make sense.”

    No, you are the ones who are not listening. The right arguments were brought already, but, as with Creationism, they are discredited and overheard/-read. It was made clear that
    1. we don’t have the tight to extrapolate narrowminded opinions of a few persons to entire humanity
    2. we don’t have the right to extrapolate the same narrowminded opinions to the entire animal world and
    3. that, even if we COULD do it, the ecological consequences would be catastrophic.
    This very last point is the one that seems to be overlooked by all the Pearce fans. Every ecologist will tell you that a world without predation is not possible. This IS an argument, and it has nothing to do with being against a radical new idea. Even the comparison of this idea (I am not inclined to elevate it on any phylosophical level) relative to the widely accepted concepts of ecology with the ideas of Einstein relative to the then actual physical theories makes me sick. We should, of course, care about ourselves. Noone wrote about letting human life, or societies, follow the rules of nature as in Ancient times. We are far from our roots today. Applying our ethical concepts on our lives and our societies may be our right. But it isn’t our right to appy the same concepts on other lifeforms. But all this was said before, and I see no use in repeating it. People have given you three arguments against this idea – writing that WE didn’t and only Pearce’ supporters DID is simply not true.

  140. #140 brooks
    August 28, 2009

    personally, i congratulate cm, et al, for sticking to their guns. if you’re strictly a rationalist, you’re duty-bound to stick with an argument until someone either knocks down one or more premises, or shows how said premises don’t lead to the described conclusion.

    but given the badness of suffering, then, i just don’t see why total, pain-free annihilation of all sentient life couldn’t work as an extension of Pearce’s argument. no life = no suffering. doesn’t that follow? and i agree with ogunsiron– if that seems unfeasible, i don’t see how it’s any more so than Pearce’s suggestions.

  141. #141 Blue Frackle
    August 28, 2009

    OK, lets imagine that our technology is limitless and we can create a “perfect world” where there are no predators. Where platypi and frogs feed on aquatic plants, spiders suck nectar and the ecosystems work just fine with everything being plant-eating, soil-eating and/or carrion-eating. I can imagine that. What I cannot imagine is: WHAT FOR?! What are the benefits of bio engineering the world to create this no-predators scenario?

    C’mon, suffering would not end. Creatures would still die from illness, poisonous plants, accidents, starvation. Natural selection would still occur (and new predatory organisms would soon evolve unless we prevent it).

    So why doing this? Just because David Pearce and cm would feel less disturbed when watching Animal Planet?

    I’m being serious. If you agree with Pearce’s ideas, please explain me, from a logic point of view, why we should do it if we could?

  142. #142 cm
    August 28, 2009

    JohnV #126 said:

    why have none of the pro-abolitionist(?) people commented on the responses several of us have made regarding what happens to an ecosystem when predation is removed?

    I thought I answered it in #72 by way of a blanket statement that Pearce must think that eco-engineering is not easy or maybe not possible.

    as a refresher, without predation to keep numbers down, the prey species populations will explode. this will result in mass starvation, disease spread and ecological disaster. even if the predators are taught to eat plant life, they’ll just contribute to the problem, except as noted earlier they’ll be really uncompetitive with the species that have had millions of years to work out the kinks in herbivory.

    remind me again how that’s less suffering?

    Pearce, or anyone here who is in part defending his ideas–at least for consideration–is surely not so obtuse to have overlooked a feature of ecology that intelligent people typically become aware of in their teenage years. Yes, if one were to just eliminate all predators without any planning or new approaches, prey species populations would increase, with likely dire consequences for the ecosystem. But that is thinking in terms of methods available to humanity from about 5,000 B.C. to about 1980. Any serious consideration of Pearce’s project, even in a partially contained “test ecosystem” would require highly-managed bioengineering. I haven’t read Pearce’s proposals, but since he is a transhumanist I can imagine that he brings to bear a large arsenal of bioengineering techniques that are relatively new to human ken.

    So, to answer your question: whether creating some kind of low-suffering animal kingdom is possible is an open scientific question. It would certainly be a project of almost incomprehensible magnitude and scope–but humans tend to accomplish things now and again that are nonplussing in their magnitude. But calling attention to what amounts to a junior high school level understanding of ecology, coupling it with a lack of acknowledgment of modern bioscience, and therefore declaring the project a non-starter strikes me as the arrogance of the largely uninformed.

    For my part, I have been more interested in the ethical issues of whether we should do it if we could (contrary to Zach’s Ian Malcolm quote, which gets my position precisely wrong), because I am fascinated by the prevalence here of what appears to be a reflex reaction whereby the status quo–What Always Has Been–is automatically considered What Ought to Be, and also wanted to argue against it. I argue against it not just for kicks, but because this impulse to mindlessly defend what we have always known merely because we have always known it strikes me as a great hindrance to human progress.

  143. #143 brooks
    August 28, 2009

    #142: i agree, cm. which is why i need you to tell us why we shouldn’t just euthanize the whole damn planet.

  144. #144 cm
    August 28, 2009

    Blue Frackle said:

    OK, lets imagine that our technology is limitless and we can create a “perfect world” where there are no predators….What I cannot imagine is: WHAT FOR?! What are the benefits of bio engineering the world to create this no-predators scenario?

    C’mon, suffering would not end. Creatures would still die from illness, poisonous plants, accidents, starvation.

    Your argument fits the shape of this argument:

    “Why should we have a police force in New York City? Even if we prevented all crime, people would still die from illness and accidents. There would still be suffering even without crime.”

    Of course, we police New York to reduce suffering (by way of crime), not with the hope of entirely eliminating it.

    When we take any ethically good action, we know we are not taking the Ultimate Ethically Good Action, and yet often take it anyway, because we do what we can. Would you not walk a little old lady across the street because you could never walk all little old ladies across all streets?

    Natural selection would still occur (and new predatory organisms would soon evolve unless we prevent it).

    This a priori denies the possibility of mostly stable bioengineering and active maintenance/adjustments. You can’t know that in 2009.

    So why doing this? Just because David Pearce and cm would feel less disturbed when watching Animal Planet?

    This sentiment, which has been expressed above in a number of different ways (like using the word “icky”) seems ethically bankrupt and coldhearted to me. What Pearce and others are observing is not a delusion; from the best of our understanding of vertebrate nervous systems, animals really do suffer in nature. It is not an psychological problem that he and I share, it is an ethical one that negative utilitarians share. Would you also say this?:

    “So why doing this? [sic] Just because David Pearce and cm would feel less disturbed when watching a Frontline documentary on the genocide in Rwanda?”

    I would hope you would find that objectionable. Aside from the undeniable feeling of kinship with other people that you, me, and most people have for other humans over animals, what is the difference in ethical structure between that situation and animals’ suffering? Well, you might say, the difference for animal suffering is “It’s only natural”, or “It’s always been this way”. As I have stated above, I don’t see the ethical connection between history, even natural history, and ethics.

    My ethical connector, like any negative utilitarian, is suffering.

  145. #145 Julie Stahlhut
    August 28, 2009

    The ethics of choosing a vegetarian diet are irrelevant when applied to non-humans. Humans can choose to live without eating meat or (certainly in the case of adults) without eating other animal products, and human vegetarians and vegans generally do just fine. Yes, that’s a morally consistent decision if you’re opposed to killing or exploiting animals, but the reason we can make that decision depends on something besides our ability to think flexibly and make ethical choices. It depends equally on our biology. We’re omnivores, but not obligate meat-eaters. If we could suddenly and miraculously endow a tiger or a spider with a human-like mind, it might decide to become a vegetarian, but it wouldn’t thrive, since those animals are not physiologically adapted to live on a plant diet.

    I’m trying to imagine how drugging wild animals, subjecting them to prolonged genetic experimentation, or surgically modifying their brains are means by which we can minimize suffering, but my own head is hurting too much already.

  146. #146 brooks
    August 28, 2009

    cm, i suffer when you ignore me. sadist.

  147. #147 I am a mysterious being
    August 28, 2009

    “We must bring all suffering to an end.

    KILL THE CARNOVORES!”

    Why can’t Pearce and his insane fallowers see the hypocrisy there?????

    Cause suffering for the sake of ending suffering.

    Bull. Crap.

    There is something seriously wrong with thse idiots. WAKE UP! IT IS HOW MOTHER NATURE FREAKING WORKS. GET USED TO IT.

    I don’t like to see anything suffer either, but goodness, these people are PSYCHO. They are actually wanting to change the way this world has worked for the last 4.5 billlion years or so, just so the cute fluffy little mice won’t be eaten by the nasty mean pussy cats.

    This is just so freaking batsh*t insane it actually burns my skin.

  148. #148 cm
    August 28, 2009

    brooks, I’m not ignoring you, I’m thinking…hang on…

  149. #149 Chris M
    August 28, 2009

    I have attempted to restrain myself from posting this for the last sixty comments. I have clearly failed.

    “Conan! What is best in life?”
    “To crush your enemies, see them driven before you, and to hear the lamentation of their women.”

  150. #150 Turdus
    August 28, 2009

    Love the lol cat.

  151. #151 cm
    August 28, 2009

    …and, from nowhere, commenter known as I am a mysterious being #147 pulls into the lead for best example of what Gloria was describing in #119.

  152. #152 Alan Dawrst
    August 28, 2009

    I agree with cm’s point that we need to distinguish between what’s theoretically desirable and what’s practically possible. It may be true in practice that naively eliminating predators is a bad idea because doing so would lead to herbivore overpopulation and perhaps even more suffering than exists now. But that doesn’t mean it wouldn’t be desirable to reduce the suffering that prey endure as a result of predation if we could do so without unintended consequences.

    I don’t understand the celebration of natural selection that Darren’s original post proposed. Why not extend that principle to humans? But in that case, we may as well do away with those pesky medical interventions we use to help the sick and disabled, right? In my view, suffering is suffering, and it makes no difference whether it’s experienced by humans or non-human animals.

    As far as Westernizing aboriginals, does the principle of letting them retain their customs extend to, say, human sacrifice or torture? That would seem the relevant analogy with suffering in the natural world.

    Let me make the following recommendation to Dave himself. It may be best not to mention the idea of “eliminating predation” in your discussion of wild-animal suffering, because doing so leads to the criticism that you’re ignorant of ecology. (Or, if you do mention it, make sure to emphasize that it would be accompanied by some sort of program to prevent overpopulation by prey.) What’s really important here is to eliminate the pain involved in predation, which suggests to me that the best approach would be to extend to all animals your idea of reengineering the neural substrates of pain and pleasure such that things we now feel to be painful merely become “less pleasurable” than things we now consider pleasurable. If this preserves existing motivational systems, then ecology could continue just as it always has, except that organisms would now experience a generally elevated hedonic level.

    I think the only valid criticism of such an approach is that it may not possible; I can’t understand why anyone would suggest that it would be undesirable in principle. Of course, I’m sure there would still be opponents, but this would separate those opposed on practical ecological grounds from those opposed purely as a matter of a notion that “intervention in nature is inherently wrong.”

  153. #153 Mickey Mortimer
    August 28, 2009

    Gloria wrote-

    “Mickey Mortimer (#77): “Everything may be happier, but at what cost?”

    This implies that there are no costs with our current system. The question is, would that system be better than what we have now? As seen in the healthcare reform debate, many people want to stay with what they have because they are afraid of change.”

    It does not imply there are no costs, just that the current costs are less in my opinion. Suffering is indeed bad, but in my opinion destroying the natural world is worse. It’s much like the classic thought experiment where you can choose to live in a virtual world where things are always perfect for you, as long as you agree to forget your real life and never leave. I would not agree to that proposal, since I value things like truth more than I value happiness. Similarly, I value the existance of a naturally developed biosphere* more than I value the decrease in suffering that would come from reengineering it.

    Don’t mistake my views as those of someone who is unwilling to change the status quo. I’m very much a transhumanist- I think we should modify ourselves to be better in any conceivable way, and support modifying our pets and food animals as well. I’m all for creating our own biospheres on new planets, space habitats, outer space itself, whatever. Make those lack suffering if you want. I simply value the existance of a naturally evolved biosphere in addition to whatever we end up creating.

    * And yes, I’m aware the present biosphere has changed due to human interaction, but it’s still largely natural and I support limiting our affect on it.

  154. #154 James
    August 28, 2009

    Another supporter of the eradication of suffering here. Glad to see the debate is in full swing. I’m quite happy to see how well our side is holding against the onslaught of attacks. Although everyone here isn’t against suffering, you sure gave me some enjoyment tonight. Now let’s get down to business.

    @131/143 One common criticism – an attempt to turn negative utilitarianism on its head – claims that we would be forced to destroy the Earth if we want to eradicate suffering. I don’t want to get into a debate on future advances in nanotechnology. But I believe they will come. However, if we were to destroy the Earth, how could we be sure that another life supporting planet wouldn’t come into existence again? This Earth would have suffering on it for many millions of years before a species became intelligent enough to face the choice that we now face. Given that the universe has a long life expectancy and is rather large, it’s quite possible that this could happen. And yes, I would argue that suffering should be avoided anywhere, whether it be on Earth or distant planets.

    @147 You say that the world worked for 4.5 billion years with predators and whatnot, but it also “worked” for that long without electricity. Why develop such things as global information networks, etc. What gives us the right to manipulate electrons and photons? We do it because we can, and it makes life better for all of us.

    @126 The idea that prey populations will explode falls apart when confronted with the notion of wildlife contraception. It is in place and will continue to be used more widely in the future. Check this URL for more information: http://www.conservationmagazine.org/articles/v8n4/wildlife-contraception/

  155. #155 Gloria
    August 28, 2009

    David (#125): “What would entitle us to decide what life on this planet should be like?”

    What entitled genes or DNA to decide what we are like? We obviously evolved for purposes of replication, not happiness, yet virtually every human would say that the purpose of their life is achieving happiness. That is kind of a problem for people who actually want to be happy.

    K. Signal Eingang (#129) “I’d argue that Temple Grandin has done more to lower the actual quotient of suffering in the world than Pearce and Singer put together, for example.”

    I’d argue that this is clearly not correct, especially considering that many of the people responsible for animal welfare reforms of recent years were inspired by Peter Singer’s Animal Liberation. In the long run, by making cows and pigs less afraid to go to slaughter, Temple Grandin might cause a lot more suffering because this allows people to think a slaughterhouse is a thing that is not as horrendous as it is, and allows the practice to go on.

    Those animal rights activists working on better practices for egg-laying hens (such as Compassion over Killing) are probably actually releasing a lot more animals than Temple Grandin from suffering, because Grandin mostly works with cattle and the numbers of cattle slaughtered per year is not comparable compared to the number of hens stuffed in battery cages for eggs or the number of chickens slaughtered (a fact Temple Grandin herself states). Many of these activists were probably inspired by Singer, or someone inspired by him, and have found success with campaigns getting companies to use millions of fewer eggs, thereby preventing a great deal of suffering on the part of these hens.

    Reverting to the original post, “If I were religious I would regard predation, death, brutal selection and so on as part of God’s plan.”

    Assuming from this you are not religious at all rather than just spiritual or something along those lines: Why would one make an argument for something from a point of view that they personally believe is wrong? Apparently you are not religious. Thus, making an argument that something is part of “God’s plan” should be ridiculous to not only yourself but your readers. You apparently don’t think God created everything, yet when rejecting this other idea you give the argument that God might have made everything. Odd to say the least.

    I Am a Mysterious Being (#147): “‘We must bring all suffering to an end.
    KILL THE CARNOVORES!’
    Why can’t Pearce and his insane fallowers see the hypocrisy there?????
    Cause suffering for the sake of ending suffering.”

    Perhaps that’s because no one has actually mentioned that as a possibility. In vitro meat could be used to replace meat currently gotten from a prey species, and wildlife birth control, as is currently often used, could be used to prevent a population explosion. These things are stated in the essay if you and your “followers” would actually read it rather than using a simple line of argument that has already been addressed within it.

    Julie Stahlihut (#145): “but it wouldn’t thrive, since those animals are not physiologically adapted to live on a plant diet”

    Please see above response on actually identifying what you are arguing against prior to trying to mount an argument against it. In vitro meat, made from the cells of an animal and tasting/feeling/being just like regular meat, could be substituted. No vegetarians need be made or modified. No surgical modification has been suggested or would be needed. Genes, maybe.

  156. #156 James
    August 28, 2009

    @153 Very interesting argument. What is it that makes you value a naturally evolved ecosystem? We often make a distinction between human activity and “mother nature”, but we were created by nature and continue to be driven by its fundamental forces of biology, etc. So in a sense, only the natural can exist. If we are to modify the ecosystem, it will be done by harnessing the laws of physics. These laws cannot be violated. If the decision is made, it will be made for thoroughly “human” reasons, inside of human brains – all products of evolution. So this new ecosystem will be on the continuum of what has evolved over the billions of years. Only now it is beginning to change through a new layer of complexity in the system – that is, homo sapien activity.

  157. #157 David
    August 28, 2009

    This whole argument has become pointless. And far from being the “intellectual” side, Pearce’s supporters simply ignore or brush off valid criticism by saying that “Just because ecosystems will collapse if we do this now, doesn’t mean we wouldn’t be able to do it in the future.” or “If you believe in leaving the natural world the way it is then obviously you should also believe that people shouldn’t use technology.” or “If you don’t care about the suffering of an elk then obviously you don’t care about people’s suffering either.”

  158. #158 David
    August 28, 2009

    @ #155 Congratulations! You adroitly sidestepped my point.

  159. #159 Gloria
    August 28, 2009

    If the arguments made have been along those lines, perhaps that’s because no one else has made any argument more complex than “Nature has always been this way”, etc.

    No one said an ecosystem would collapse, in fact, a few comments ago I gave some good reasons why this would not happen.

  160. #160 Still a being, still mysterious
    August 28, 2009

    Why don’t Pearce fetishists understand that 1) there’s really no way I can think of to give rats contraceptives, and so if we get rid of or reprogram snakes, raptors and other rodent predators it’s the plague all over again, and 2) how the heck would you “reprogram” a snake? How could a rattlesnake feed on vegetation with its specialized fangs? Of course, we could just kill them, as David Pearce suggests – contrary to what Gloria claims (“no one has actually mentioned that as a possibility”), David Pearce has indeed suggested we “phase out” (i.e. kill) snakes and crocodiles on his site. Why can’t these folks understand that saying “I want to end suffering, kill the carnivorous animals” is a contridiction of terms????

  161. #161 Sebastian Marquez
    August 28, 2009

    CM, I always glad to have different viewpoints brought to light, but you shouldn’t be surprised to see the thoughts given here when its blog that looks at a lot of reconstructive zoology of the past.

    Its not a defense of status quo. It seems that we are debating what are the fundamental laws of nature. And besides that, I guess the point (correct me if I’m wrong) that you, Gloria and others are trying to make is that can we do better than nature? Make no mistake, it is an interesting one.

    I know people will vehemently disagree with me, but I still find the constraints absurd. The end of suffering, what exactly is that? Every definition I’ve seen of suffering is intricately related to pain and I do not see the need to eliminate that. Now, if every organism lived in the exact same manner, then you might have a point. But that is not how it works. As I said before in my previous comment, it’s subjective.

    There are hot springs in Yellowstone that would scald us the instant we touch it, yet there is life there. There is the Southern Ocean a place, where with the barely above freezing water we wouldn’t survive more than a few minutes, yet it is one of the most productive ecosystems on the planet. And conversely, we have electronic dog repellents that do not bother us at all yet are painful to canines.

    I love coming here to tetrapod zoology to learn about how different organisms not only deal with the constraints that nature has place before them but have thrived. I think the spectrum of perception, pain and suffering included, play an integral role in allow life to exploit all the niches it has so far.

    So can we do better than nature and end all suffering? I suppose, but I don’t see the point.

  162. #162 Richard
    August 28, 2009

    Not reading all the comments (I’m a pedestrian in a hurry), I’ll just assert that existence is arbitrary so it’s not wrong to rewrite the direction of history to something arbitrary and pointless.

    It’s sad, though. At some point, there’ll probably be no natural vegetation or habitats on the planet, they’ll all have been redesigned by humans, and perhaps repopulated with designer species. That’s where I’m betting my future dollars in. Or yuan.

  163. #163 cm
    August 28, 2009

    brooks said:

    #142: i agree, cm. which is why i need you to tell us why we shouldn’t just euthanize the whole damn planet.

    This is an interesting rejoinder. I’ll give it a shot. Buckle up.

    First, maybe we should. That will probably read, to any non-suicidal hunk of biomatter which can consider it, as outlandish, because it is a common instinct to survive, and in group-proud species like humans, to have the group survive. But instinct is not necessarily correct. Depending on how one weights things in one’s ethical calculus, and the conditions on the ground, total annihilation really might be the most preferable outcome.

    Let’s explore that. (You just thought, Oh good, didn’t you?)

    Imagine there were a literal Hell, that followed the popular Christian image of it. Millions or billions of damned souls would be there, guaranteed by Divine Law to suffer unimaginably for all eternity. All they would do would be to suffer unceasingly. Now let’s imagine that somehow I found a way to end it–I discovered a kind of Holy Thermonuclear Device that could blow Hell into nothingness. All souls would be destroyed. All suffering would end, permanently, but so would all sentience, all experience, all (after) life. Would I detonate it? I probably would. I only hesitate to commit to it because of the irreversibility of that decision and self-doubt that I might have the situation wrong. But, if I could be assured that it was as I have described, I would feel it better that these souls not exist at all than to exist only to suffer in unutterable misery for trillions upon trillions of centuries just as a warm-up. I would be doing them an enormous kindness. I think mine would be not that uncommon of an ethical decision in such a case.

    Now let’s imagine I visited Heaven, packing a similar thermonuclear device capable of nuking Heaven out of existence, too. But in Heaven there was no suffering. Enthralled, I hung around a bit and one day was aghast to find that suffering had somehow taken hold in Heaven in the form of an ingrown toenail of one of the blessed deceased. He was in some real pain, perhaps a 5 on a scale of 1-10. God assured him that the problem would resolve with some epsom salts and patience, but my mission was to guarantee zero suffering. I reached for the detonator…

    But no. I would not nuke Heaven just for the minor and temporary suffering of one person. Why? Because, although I do put a great premium on suffering, it is not the only thing in my weighting function. I also have the ethical intuition that happiness and personal preference have some weighting, too. Heaven was 99.9999…% joyous, and so that would greatly outweigh the lone painful toenail.

    So… Earth is somewhere in between those two extremes: many animals and people of the Earth experience pleasure and have preferences met; many suffer. The question then becomes: what is the cutoff line? Given a certain presence of happiness, how much is nuke-worthy?

    I do not know the answer to that other than it is somewhere between Hell and Heaven. There may be an ethical calculus that could theoretically be done which could produce a cut-off, but the confidence one could have in that number must be tempered first with the total and irreversible nature of the project (i.e. one had better get it 100% right, because there is no going back), and the great degree of uncertainty that attends any ethical debate.

    Because of these two reasons, I strongly doubt that euthanizing the Earth is recommendable, though it might be worth discussing as a philosophical position. But I don’t think that then negates my point that Pearce’s project is at least worthy of consideration, because that project is potentially partially or fully reversible, piecemeal, and can preserve the ethical goods of happiness, preference, and survival–whereas the nuke Earth scenario preserves none of these.

    I am not entirely convinced Pearce or my ethical intuitions are right. I am just frustrated by those who are so instantly certain that their position is airtight and that Pearce is not just wrong, but “batshit”, “ridiculous and/or offensive”, “ridiculous”, pushing “an utter boatload of steaming crappy stupidity”, “”abso-bollocking-lutey ridiculous”, “completely balls-out insane”, and other such choice descriptions.

    It is, again, the arrogance of the unconsidered.

  164. #164 Gloria
    August 28, 2009

    #160- Can you give rats poisons? Then you can give them contraceptives. Rattlesnakes could eat in vitro meat, the same as I suggested in my last few comments. Biotech would be so sophisticated if we attempted any of these things that I really don’t think the plague would be a problem. Humans have conquered far worse problems in the past.

    I was referring to the poster’s original point implying that this essay was all about killing carnivorous animals, when it is about ending their suffering, not killing them.

  165. #165 brooks
    August 28, 2009

    HAY GAIZ–

    they done sprung a philosophical question on us-here biology types!

    really though. this is philosophy. ethics, specifically. your standard ethical argument doesn’t take “it’s always been so” or “nature is as nature does” as a solid premise. a field of scientific enquiry can be usefully viewed as a sort of fossilized philosophical system: in empirical inquiry, because it’s object is the observable, physical world, there are strict rules for what is allowed to count for evidence, how we weigh truth-claims, etc. they are givens in science. philosophy, in turn, asks What’s natural? and Does this matter? Why? Can descriptive science even give us prescriptive guidelines? science is an incredibly useful tool, but it is NOT a metaphysical system.

    so, i mean look: these aren’t (all) morally bankrupt intellectuals playing mind-games. these are smart people looking for answers. philosophers feel obligated to follow the syllogism wherever it leads them, whether they personally prefer the conclusion it points to or not. there’s some nobility to that.

    in other words, it is about trying to poke holes in the argument, not, “well that’s a stupid argument!” (which is also your right, of course– just don’t mistake it for a logically valid argument, getting angry when the Other Guy doesn’t “get it”.)

    not that i like this particular argument. there’s at least one hidden premise that i simply don’t buy – i.e., it is better to not exist than to exist and suffer – and the premises that AREN’T hidden are highly theoretical, and obviously ignorant of any salient context outside of the neurochemical.

    so yeah.

  166. #166 Pablo Stafforini
    August 28, 2009

    Darren writes:

    I personally feel that the philosophy behind the proposal is completely wrong for many reasons.

    Let’s briefly consider these reasons one by one.

    It imposes sentimental ideas and human moral judgment on other species;

    The moral views underlying Dave’s proposal are not accurately described as “sentimental ideas”. A sentimentalist would be concerned with the suffering of only those species with whose plight we can most easily empathize. By contrast, the abolitionist project advocates the elimination of all pain, regardless of how emotionally close we may feel to the various creature who suffer.

    it (if carried through to eventuality) would mean an end to a great deal of natural selection;

    It is not clear why this would be a bad thing. As the great T. H. Huxley remarked, “the ethical progress of society depends, not on imitating the cosmic process, still less in running away from it, but in combating it.”

    it is fundamentally contrary to the history of life and would result in the ultimate bastardisation of the natural world;

    As others have already pointed out, innumerable human interventions are contrary to the history of life, yet no sane person would think of opposing, say, modern medicine on the grounds that disease has existed as long as there have been living organisms.

    and, perhaps most offensive of all, it PROMOTES the extinction and biological modification of thousands (or tens of thousands or more) of species.

    Again, it is unclear why intentional extinction of a species is morally objectionable. If the species had never evolved in the first place, would we have a moral obligation to create it? If not, why do we have an obligation not to destroy it once it exists?

  167. #167 brooks
    August 29, 2009

    well put, cm. i disagree with you on Pearce, but well said.

    my own moral calculus would consider suffering as a factor but not privilege it so. and given the practical concerns of widespread biological re-engineering, we would have to have nearly god-like wisdom to foresee the sheer number of indirect problems– epidemiological, nutritional, etc, etc, this could cause.

    perhaps Pearce’s ideas are worthy of consideration. perhaps. but i see a plan fraught with problems.

  168. #168 Alpha
    August 29, 2009

    Hmm, I’ve read every single comment so far, and it looks like it’s going nowhere. I have a few question for Pearce defenders though:

    1) The whole argument is based on the idea that animals are sentient, that they really feel pain and that their behavior is not just the effect of laws of physics and chemistry. Does anyone have a proof of this?
    Note that I do believe (but I don’t know for sure) that most animals are sentient, this question is just for fun.

    2) Now assuming that you can make that “perfect” world, but that it’s still painful to die. If this world goes on for a while, then an unlimited number of animals will die of age. This would then mean an unlimited amount of suffering.

    3) Being hungry is a kind of pain, so you must remake those animals so that they can’t be hungry. How will they then feel compelled to eat? In the same way, pain is the pillar under self-conservation (and learning by making mistakes) in sentient being. How do you remove pain while keeping self conservation working?
    Without pain, you’ll need to somehow “program” them to stay alive, like lower beings are programmed through their DNA, do they then still deserve to be called sentient beings?

    I’ve also reached the conclusion that the only way to get rid of pain, is by getting rid of life itself.
    Destroying our planet in an instant is definitely possible, it just takes a bomb big enough, or just put Mars on a collision course with our planet. It will just take a while.

  169. #169 brooks
    August 29, 2009

    safe, first-term abortions for everyone!

    i mean, given that the present we live in is vast compared to all other known species, it makes some sense to claim that we also have a greater capacity to suffer (not just to feel pain, but to actually suffer. so why not just nip that in the bud right now, eh?

  170. #170 The mysterious being is here once more
    August 29, 2009

    “Rattlesnakes could eat in vitro meat”

    Yeah! We’ll just walk around the Americas giving each and every wild rattlesnake a cute little meal of vitro meat! That’s so freaking possible and practical!

  171. #171 The mysterious being is here once more
    August 29, 2009

    “Rattlesnakes could eat in vitro meat”

    Yeah! We’ll just walk around the Americas giving each and every wild rattlesnake a cute little meal of in vitro meat! That’s so freaking possible and practical!

  172. #172 Gloria
    August 29, 2009

    Alpha (#168) — As Temple Grandin outlines in her books, studies have been done on chickens, fish, and many species which show that they display the same reactions humans do when in pain.

    I just saw Alan Kellogg #130 – “Gloria — How loudly do you scream when you see a cockroach?” I don’t, and I’m wondering why I’m the only commenter asked this question.

    #170/171 – “That’s so freaking possible and practical!”

    More practical than world peace, but we still dream high and work for it, right?

  173. #173 Mickey Mortimer
    August 29, 2009

    @156

    “What is it that makes you value a naturally evolved ecosystem? We often make a distinction between human activity and “mother nature”, but we were created by nature and continue to be driven by its fundamental forces of biology, etc. So in a sense, only the natural can exist.”

    Obviously humanity and thus its projects are derived from nature, but if you go that route the term “artificial” becomes meaningless. In my view, what exists in the universe without the input from sentient beings has value because it provides more knowledge about the universe (which I find intrinsically valuable- if you don’t, there’s not much more I can say). Once we put data into a system, it makes it less valuable since we chose the data and thus we’re not learning it. We’re relearning it, or at best discovering the consequences of what we chose. So if you reengineer intelligent animals to be herbivores, kill painlessly, like being eaten, whatever, you’re putting information into the system and thus decreasing its value. Liken it to the value I place in knowing how the universe works vs. knowing how a videogame works. The videogame’s physics, rules, etc. are ultimately derived from the natural world, but since we made it, the knowledge is mostly empty. It’s why I’m a natural scientist and not an archaeologist, linguist, historian, sociologist, etc.. Plus in this case we have to destroy data (how the world is naturally), making it forever unknowable. Since one of my prime values is knowledge of the universe, this is obviously an incredibly bad thing to me.

    What if we waited until we knew everything about the biosphere before changing it? Then I would say we’re depriving ourselves of future knowledge, since it will continue to evolve, and I’d still be against it. I’d be okay with the proposal if we had not only learned everything about the biosphere, but also modeled its entire future in complete and accurate detail. But the simulated animals would have to be modeled so accurately that they would be AIs themseles and thus have the ability to suffer, which would ironically not help the problem at all. In fact, it would compound it by creating twice the amount of suffering. I guess you can only learn fully about the natural world by allowing suffering.

  174. #174 Sebastian Marquez
    August 29, 2009

    I’m going to call it a night. But it has been very interesting reading all the comments. I fleshed it out a bit in comment #161, but I’ll ask again: why eliminate suffering?

  175. #175 Nathan Myers
    August 29, 2009

    Like Gloria, I’m disappointed at some of the reactions from people posted here. Unlike her, I think the whole idea is trivially daft, and doesn’t deserve a respectful hearing, Oxford don or no. Nonetheless, if you think it’s daft, and care to say so, there’s no reason not to say so respectfully and logically.

    In particular, there’s no need to tar vegetarians. Vegetarians, like everyone on Earth who is not starving, make choices about what to eat. Some people eat beef and avoid pork, some the reverse. My wife doesn’t eat dark plums; I don’t eat onions because they make my sinuses bleed. Many American vegetarians, in particular, have reasons that may not be apparent in places that have less (or differently) insane agricultural policies.

    Most American meat is laced with appalling amounts of antibiotics and other drugs, including synthetic hormones, and also pesticides derived from their diet, many of which have never been tested with any rigor. As with everything, amounts matter. Everything we eat contains hormones or hormone-analogs, but American industrial food is simply over-the-top. Some of us avoid it for that reason, and are not insane. Others have other reasons, but very few try to impose their preferences on anybody else, so even if the reasons are or seem insane, it’s their business.

  176. #176 cm
    August 29, 2009

    brooks said:

    Thanks. I’ve enjoyed your contributions.

    my own moral calculus would consider suffering as a factor but not privilege it so.

    That’s fine, but there are interesting arguments that favor privileging suffering. As I understand it, the view of negative utilitarianism grew out of dissatisfaction with the classic utilitarianism of J.S. Mill, because of the fairly common ethical intuition that decreasing suffering puts an ethical onus on us that increasing happiness just does not. If one could improve the wretched lives of two people for a year or provide a nation of people with a year’s subscription to their favorite magazine, because of the numbers, the total happiness delta might be the same, but only the former seems like the right choice–at least for many people.

    and given the practical concerns of widespread biological re-engineering, we would have to have nearly god-like wisdom to foresee the sheer number of indirect problems– epidemiological, nutritional, etc, etc, this could cause.

    Complex, yes; really godlike, maybe not. One has to be very chary with predicting the future of technology. As Henry #114 pointed out, people of earlier times might consider our modern world “godlike”. That said, yes, the project in full would be baffling in its magnitude. It is only reasonable to harbor serious doubts about its being ever able to be done, either for economic, social, or scientific reasons. For what it’s worth, I do, too. But, betting on the argument from personal incredulity–”It can’t happen because I can’t imagine it happening”–would have been the wrong bet for a long time in the arc of human progress.

  177. #177 Chris M
    August 29, 2009

    I think that it can be safely agreed by most participants, after a full reread of the comments here, that we won’t have to worry about the basic alteration of existing ecosystems in a well-controlled way for a hundred years, call that a minimum. I’m pretty convinced that until we can do so, we shouldn’t mess with it. Therefore I’m not personally worrying about the actual possibility that much.

    Thinking about it has relatively concrete implications, though. I’m of the firm opinion that we should not attempt to dictate all significant choices in order to minimize suffering, which is what full “abolition” (as someone called it above) would require. This is part of the same ethical code that leads me to being a conservationist, and to the goal of minimizing the impact of human processes on existing natural systems. This train of thought parallels the conclusions of Mickey Mortimer above, although for slightly different reasons.

    Anyway, I like evolution. It does cool things, and has proven to be a remarkably effective method of generating novelty. I’d rather not rely solely on human ingenuity for any changes to natural systems, because they will be inherently biased. If another, call it introspective, sentient species arises, I’d like their point of view on things to be arrived at without our active intervention.

  178. #178 cm
    August 29, 2009

    Sebastian Marquez said:

    Its not a defense of status quo. It seems that we are debating what are the fundamental laws of nature. And besides that, I guess the point (correct me if I’m wrong) that you, Gloria and others are trying to make is that can we do better than nature? Make no mistake, it is an interesting one.

    What do you mean “do better than nature” here? I’ll assume you mean that we can create no better ethical conditions than nature provides averaged across the world’s ecosystems. If so, then, yes, in theory, we should be able to best nature, because while nature is only guided by evolution, we can be guided by a moral sense, one that requires the massive forebrain that we have but “nature” as a concept doesn’t. When nature gets something ethically desirable it’s chance; when we get something ethically desirable, it’s because we wished it to be so.

    I know people will vehemently disagree with me, but I still find the constraints absurd. The end of suffering, what exactly is that? Every definition I’ve seen of suffering is intricately related to pain and I do not see the need to eliminate that.

    I at least am not talking about eliminating suffering or pain, but reducing it, especially the most egregious cases.

    Now, if every organism lived in the exact same manner, then you might have a point. But that is not how it works. As I said before in my previous comment, it’s subjective.

    There are hot springs in Yellowstone that would scald us the instant we touch it, yet there is life there. There is the Southern Ocean…

    No, this is not what subjective means. This just means that biology is diverse, and that nervous systems transduce heat at different thresholds of pain. We have a reasonable understanding of what pain and suffering is–it is not like it is so mysterious. You know this. You know many ways to make a mammal be in pain. This posture is feigning ignorance and it is obscuring the point. Just because we don’t understand everything about all pain transduction in all biological systems that do it doesn’t mean that pain and suffering are somehow beyond our grasp, “subjective”, and therefore can be conveniently forgotten about. Fork Fido in the eye, it hurts. But so does a raptor tearing apart its catch.

  179. #179 cm
    August 29, 2009

    Nathan Myers said:

    Like Gloria, I’m disappointed at some of the reactions from people posted here.

    Starting strong…

    Unlike her, I think the whole idea is trivially daft, and doesn’t deserve a respectful hearing

    …and no. Thanks for playing.

  180. #180 DVMKurmes
    August 29, 2009

    @ Gloria;

    That you seem to think feeding all rattlesnakes in vitro meat (and therefore implying feeding all carnivores such) is more practical than world peace demonstrates a surprising ignorance of biology, ecology and indeed even rattlesnakes.
    The idea of reducing suffering is admirable, trying to eliminate it is fraught with known and unknown dangers. To quote Aldo Leopold “We all strive for safety, prosperity, comfort, long life, and dullness…A measure of success in this is all well enough and perhaps is requisite to objective thinking, but too much safety seems to yield only danger in the long run.”

  181. #181 cm
    August 29, 2009

    A thought experiment for the status quo supporters:

    Imagine if you were a bioengineer on a different planet, one that never had any animal-caused or plant-caused animal suffering. No predators, no parasites, and the people were vegans. Unlike our rabbits, the fauna of this world–call them the grazers–reproduced slowly, and due to metabolic tricks maintained an equilibrium with their vegetation fodder. They had pain and suffering as capabilities, to avoid injuries, but rarely needed it. It was a happy planet indeed.

    Then one day, a colleague at your lab proposed developing a new animal, a predator, purely for the purpose of how interesting–entertaining, even–it would be to see this little space Tasmanian devil chase down the hapless herbivores. This new beast would rend the native animals end to end, eat them alive, etc–with a guarantee of great terror and unbearable pain for the grazers. Calculations verified that the planet could sustain the introduction of this species if a modest bioengineering tweak was provided via viral vector to increase the metabolism of the grazers, and your colleague had planned to do that as well.

    Would you approve the project? If he attempted to carry out his project, would you attempt to thwart him? If so, why?

    If your ethical intuition was that this would be wrong, even so much that you would take action against your colleague, and yet you still think if we had the capability to non-catastrophically alter Earth’s creatures to have reduced suffering we shouldn’t do it, then you seem to be inconsistent other than in one way: you support what already is. If your ethical intuition is that this would be permissible, you must admit that you do not care that the grazers are suffering.

  182. #182 Gloria
    August 29, 2009

    For sure, it could not be done tomorrow. Yet, world peace could not be accomplished tomorrow, either, and yet I and a lot of other people have identified that as something that would be good and steps should be taken towards that goal, such as minimizing the military industrial complex, etc. An argument could be made by some people that world peace may have some ill side effects, but overall, I think it would be good to have and most people seem to also agree.

    On the same level, I think minimizing suffering is a worthy goal that we should also take steps towards. I am not saying, tomorrow let’s start feeding all rattlesnakes in vitro meat. Neither is David Pearce. Identifying something as a worthy goal and theorizing how it could be done is separate from taking immediate steps toward that goal (and David Pearce and I are both doing that as well by not eating meat). Many of the people here defending rattlesnakes’ and other carnivores’ existence very likely have not stopped eating beef or shrimp when recent ecological and environmental news from the UN and other such groups showed that these are both highly detrimental to the environment (cows taking up 1/4 of the world’s land for grazing and eating grain that could be going to starving humans, shrimp becoming virtually extinct within a few decades).

    How many of you defending the existence of rattlesnakes and crocodiles eat shrimp or beef, and is there cognitive dissonance involved with that?

  183. #183 cm
    August 29, 2009

    Mickey Mortimer #173 and Chris M. #177.

    Interesting points about knowledge being more important than suffering, in particular Mickey’s point about studying a (somewhat) “intact specimen”, so to speak. From purely a knowledge-seeking point of view, that’s valid. I too love knowledge and science, and I would hate to lose opportunities to study nature as-is (which is in part why destruction of the Amazon rainforest, e.g., is so upsetting), but if there were anything that could tip the scales against knowledge, it wouldn’t be aesthetics, probably, and it wouldn’t be favoritism, and it wouldn’t be whim. But if anything could tip the scale the other way, it might be ethics.

    When The Universe says, “I can show you something so interesting, but this little furry bastard here is really gonna hurt, OK?” I have to say, “Darn, I would have enjoyed what you would have taught me, but I can’t do that to this being.”

    —————–

    Out of cogitons for the night. Had a great time discussing all this with you all. I think we jacked the level of discourse up a lot.

  184. #184 brooks
    August 29, 2009

    i began my undergraduate training in bio, but finished in philosophy. so i think i get where both the ethical and the naturalistic arguments are coming from.

    what the ethicists wrestle with here is the ‘is-ought’ problem that david hume described– how do we argue for what is without simply making an argument from tradition (“it’s always been that way”)?

    of course a pure utilitarianism will provoke problems here at TetZoo – or anywhere practicing biologists take their niche seriously – because to be in the field and get anything done, you have to accept that biodiversity or, if you like, life, in it’s raw sense, has some value unto itself (suffering or no). that is the hidden premise where the biologists here are concerned.

    i do think there are valid logical routes yo arguing contra utilitarianism. i do. but it’s certainly a toughie. and i’m tired.

    but thank you all for the food for thought, regardless.

    darren, intriguing topic. i’d love to see this crowd arguing for/against “Pleistocene Rewilding” or some similar model of ecosystem restoration. oh, the excitement! :)

  185. #185 Chris M
    August 29, 2009

    Gloria, I’ve mostly stopped eating shrimp, and cut back significantly on the beef and pork. Chicken’s filling the gap a little, in part because of the much smaller footprint per pound.

    cm, It just bothers me to eliminate the possibility of future decisions by something like (or unlike) ourselves. It seems oddly selfish, despite being motivated pretty clearly by unselfish goals.

  186. #186 Mickey Mortimer
    August 29, 2009

    @ cm #83

    “When The Universe says, “I can show you something so interesting, but this little furry bastard here is really gonna hurt, OK?” I have to say, “Darn, I would have enjoyed what you would have taught me, but I can’t do that to this being.””

    I can certainly understand that position. If we found another planet where the intelligent organisms were naturally in a state of constant terrible agony, I’d no doubt have problems coldly studying it and saying “don’t help them, that’s how it evolved.” I do think your quote is misleading in that I wouldn’t support actively hurting intelligent animals past a certain point for knowledge of a certain worth, as opposed to passively letting them be harmed due to natural causes. That’s why I support ethical guidelines for animal testing. The basic point stands though- it’s all a balancing act between knowledge and suffering, and our ethical scales are calibrated a bit differently. Nothing wrong with that, nor anything either of us can say to change the other’s view.

  187. #187 Ichthyic
    August 29, 2009

    @Henry:

    My understanding is that it’s not certain whether insects can feel pain insofar as they do not possess nociceptors as do mammals. Certainly, it seems clear that mammals are capable of feeling pain as humans do and so eliminating their suffering is an obvious ethical imperative from the negative utilitarian stance Pearce takes.

    followed by:

    Quite so—Pearce isn’t calling for all animals’ diets to be changed; he is calling for ‘the vertebrate genome to be re-written’, which would eliminate the ability to suffer (as opposed to just suffering) from those species.

    with this logic, why not rewrite the genome to eliminate pain receptors all together?

    It’s stupid on a grandiose scale.

    It’s stupid that burns like the sun.

    It’s stupid like turtles, all the way down.

    No, your implication is that there’s an argument worth having somewhere in there.

    there really isn’t.

  188. #188 Allen Hazen
    August 29, 2009

    So, Pearce is supposedly following out the consequences of a Utilitarian idea, like the (better-known) Peter Singer(*) mentioned in post #38.

    What offends me, as a professional philosopher, is the crudity of the reasoning. It starts by taking the notion of suffering as an unanalyzed given: people suffer, animals suffer, their suffering is the same kind of stuff, it makes sense to talk about the amount of suffering there is in the world: people and animals contain hydrogen, and it makes sense to ask about how much hydrogen there is in the world, but the idea of suffering is just not like the idea of hydrogen: it’s not the idea of a substance that comes in measurable quantities!

    Pearce and Singer are philosophical throwbacks, using a conceptual scheme more reminiscent of the 18th Century than of the present. Have they never read Wittgenstein? Suffering (and sentience and…) are complicated ideas, and they are inextricably linked to other ideas about the mind, about thinking, about behavior… But they treat them as if they were simple straightforward and empirical!

    (*) Peter Singer: Australian philosopher, now professor of bioethics at Princeton: proponent of vegetarianism and animal liberation. Actually a very nice guy in person, and by no means stupid, but the arguments that have made him famous are appalling.

  189. #189 Ichthyic
    August 29, 2009

    Imagine if you were a bioengineer on a different planet,

    oooh, can I make monkeys that fly out of my butt, too?

  190. #190 Lord Rybec
    August 29, 2009

    Ok, so how to eliminate all suffering and create a world of permanent euphoria for all creatures? Let’s legalize marijuana. Then let’s require everyone to grow a specific quota and take it and store it. Once we have enough to permeate the entire atmosphere with pot smoke, make a device that will burn the entirety of the stored pot and pump the smoke out into the atmosphere. Maybe we should also make machines that will continue to grow and smoke more pot for us. That would reduce suffering to nothing quite effectively. We might have to find some way of putting the smoke into the ocean, to ‘help’ the fish be happy as well.

    Am I serious? Make your own judgment. Just remember, my plan would be much cheaper than the other guy’s, and I am against legalizing marijuana.

    Lord Rybec

  191. #191 Austin
    August 29, 2009

    Amazing. Many religious people believe that there was no suffering or death in the Garden of Eden, but that is actually never stated in the Bible. Whether you believe in creation or not, there’s no foundation for this “no death” line of thought.

  192. #192 Ranji
    August 29, 2009

    It looks like there was eventually a lively, civilized debate about this. Cool.

    But, with regards to Allen Hazen, I have to say we’re dealing here with a bit of old fashioned academic snobbery. Yeah, utilitarianism is looked down upon by some philosophers. Just like continental philosophy was looked down upon by analytic philosophers for so long and why Carnap poked fun at Heidegger, and vice versa. Yeah, utilitarianism is an 18th century philosophy, big deal. Most of our political ideologies are of similar vintage.

    Saying suffering is difficult to define isn’t an argument against ameliorating it, just a point of caution in terms of how we do it. I hope eventually, the notion of utility becomes such an article of common sense that we need scarcely ever use the term. Frankly, I think we’re halfway there already.

  193. #193 Tim Morris
    August 29, 2009

    You’re all nuts. Why anyone would waste their time discussing this sort of thing, when it’s clearly a load of rubbish, is beyond me.

    And those who were talking about the precabrian? there were filter feeders back then… OH GOD THINK OF THE POOR PLANKTON!!

  194. #194 DD
    August 29, 2009

    @ 61 – rat eating pitcher plant? I was thinking of the late Cretaceous saliva-spitting saber-toothed Martian Azhdarchid trap Orchid, but yeah, that pitcher plant too, they’re all evil with no conscience (as far as we know!).

  195. #195 Jerzy
    August 29, 2009

    That’s why I am very suspicious about vegetarians and so-called animal rights believers.

    Because, taken to their logical conclusion, rights for animals would result in euthanising all animals (the only way of ensuring that they don’t suffer and are not dominated or manipulated by humans) and converting all the Earth’s forests and meadows into the endless fields of soybean and other edible plants.

    BTW – slightly less New Brave World scenario exists, where humans, to stop harming the biodiversity, decide to die out themselves. Unfortunately, it is not ethical. Human who is not helping a kitten which fallen into the hole is not ethical, and humans abandoning the Earth animals to their natural suffering from predators, parasites and competitors are not acting ethically.

  196. #196 Christian S.
    August 29, 2009

    I graduall had to change my opinion on this topic. In the beginning, I found this idea to be too ridiculous to be worth a discussion at all. And then I read most of the comments…
    Now, I am disgusted and scared away. I am disgusted by the level of arrogance and the lack of self-reflection of Pearce et al.. I actually shivered in horrors while flying over Pearce’s ideas and when reading some of the comments.

    Without even blinking an eye (obviously), they claim that the end of all suffering has to be the highest good in the world. What if it isn’t? Who are you to decide this for me? Or for others? They decide it has to be applied (in the longterm) to all mankind and to the whole nature. Who are you to make this decision for other lifeforms? Denying the right to be (like they evolved) to other lifeforms is so incredibly arrogant and self-centric that it actually blows my mind. There aren’t words to express my disgust and disrespect of such personalities – because if they don’t respect my lifestyle, and my right of existence, and the right of existence of other life (without denying its very traits), they don’t deserve my respect. Our species increasingly turns out to be the worst evolutionary sidearm that nature has ever produced.
    I have to repeat myself: it’s just unbelievable what I had to read here.

  197. #197 Henry
    August 29, 2009

    What offends me, as a professional philosopher, is the crudity of the reasoning. It starts by taking the notion of suffering as an unanalyzed given: people suffer, animals suffer, their suffering is the same kind of stuff, it makes sense to talk about the amount of suffering there is in the world: people and animals contain hydrogen, and it makes sense to ask about how much hydrogen there is in the world, but the idea of suffering is just not like the idea of hydrogen: it’s not the idea of a substance that comes in measurable quantities!

    Some kinds of suffering certainly are ‘simple’ insofar as they have easily-defined chemical natures. Physical pain is generated by stimuli from certain pain receptors or nociceptors. We know this; we know the genes that code for those receptors. Mammals have the same receptors. We can peer into the human brain with fMRI and map the physical nature of pain.

    It is almost without doubt that at least mammals (and maybe other animals) do feel physical pain in a similar way to humans’ feelings of pain given their similar makeup. As physical pain likely originates in the more primal limbic part of the brain which is shared with less-evolved mammals, the quality of the pain they feel is probably quite similar to ours.

    Suffering (and sentience and…) are complicated ideas, and they are inextricably linked to other ideas about the mind, about thinking, about behavior… But they treat them as if they were simple straightforward and empirical!

    Of course, and this is the more nuanced notion of ‘mental pain’ rather than physical pain. Engineering such suffering from humanity is more difficult, though we have some capacity to do it now: people who take MDMA report being unencumbered by depressive thoughts, more open to introspection, more motivated, more empathic and so on. Some people are born with a more positive than average mood, so called ‘hyperthymics’. Might future drug or gene therapies confer some of these benefits at a fraction of the intensity?

  198. #198 johannes
    August 29, 2009

    The claim, by cm, gloria and others that people reject the “predation/predators are bad” argument because it’s a breakthrough innoviation like Einstein’s or Planck’s theories and average minds are unable to understand it is, plainly, nonsense. The idea that “predators are evil” comes straight from the mind of the medieval peasant. I come from a small, half rural, half suburban community, and I remember that those in the town who wanted to shoot all the kestrels and kites because those birds were “evil” were invariably the village dolts (and usually drunken). It’s the other way around: The insight that predation plays an useful, even vital role in an ecosystem is (relatively) new and a breakthrough. BTW, even within the logic of utalitarianism, the idea that suffering from illness or starving is somehow better than suffering from predation makes no sense.

  199. #199 Henry
    August 29, 2009

    Without even blinking an eye (obviously), they claim that the end of all suffering has to be the highest good in the world. What if it isn’t? Who are you to decide this for me? Or for others? They decide it has to be applied (in the longterm) to all mankind and to the whole nature. Who are you to make this decision for other lifeforms? Denying the right to be (like they evolved) to other lifeforms is so incredibly arrogant and self-centric that it actually blows my mind. There aren’t words to express my disgust and disrespect of such personalities – because if they don’t respect my lifestyle, and my right of existence, and the right of existence of other life (without denying its very traits), they don’t deserve my respect.

    With utmost respect to you, we’re just having a chat here. We aren’t actually undertaking steps to terraform Earth and re-write the collective genome starting Monday, 6pm EST. We’re having a discussion about some very challenging but interesting ideas.

    As for arrogance, I think you’re right. Imposing one’s morality on others is arrogant. There’s certainly an argument that says we should pause for thought, or maybe if we can’t be certain we’re doing the right thing then it’s better not to act at all, but most people have no problem imposing their morality on other cultures (as has been discussed here earlier).

    When I hear about Ethiopian tribes performing ritual circumcision and infibulation, I find it abhorrent and think that my ethical framework is more sophisticated than theirs and so overrides theirs. Maybe that’s not a popular view, I don’t know. I’m not a cultural relativist. Maybe this whole argument is an extension of that.

  200. #200 Anomalocaris
    August 29, 2009

    There is one fatal flaw in this grand plan that seemingly hasn’t been mentioned: it is a futile effort. Even if we wasted immense amounts of time and money and somehow managed to eradicate all carnivorous behaviour, it would just come back after a while, that’s how evolution works. If there is a steady supply of easy food (like all the slow, stupid herbivores this plan would result in), something will evolve to eat it. Life finds a way.

  201. #201 Darren Naish
    August 29, 2009

    Well, a lot happened while I was asleep. Thank you all for holding an interesting and (mostly) civil debate.

    My point of view remains the same: I feel it is morally objectionable to want to impose our views on what is right and what is wrong on other species, and I strongly agree with those who see the importance of trying to maintain nature as it is, as much as possible. I am offended by the idea that we should ‘phase out’ offensive predators, or should seek to modify them. You might say that the idea makes me suffer a great deal.

    But, yes, I am definitely no philosopher (see Ro- – A Nonny Mouse’s comment 94): I am fascinated by the living world as it is and as it has been, and I hope that it will continue to work in the way that it always has. Making platitudes about slavery and interracial marriage within human cultures (cm, comment 78) don’t appear to me to be in the same ball park: we can and should act when things within our own society are wrong, but I cannot take seriously the idea that we must be right in extending our moral judgements to other species.

    I note that a handful of pro-Abolitionism/pro-Pearce individuals have done a good job of arguing his case in the comments. That’s understandable: I’m not criticising, but please note that they have posted more than their fair share of comments and hence have perhaps made it seem that things are more pro-Abolitionism than they really are. Tetrapod Zoology is mostly visited by people interested in the natural world, and in how it was in the past, so I fully expect the majority of readers to feel that a proposed wholesale modification of the natural world is objectionable to say the very least.

    And I’m planning to CLOSE THE COMMENTS ON THIS ARTICLE within the next few hours. This is your last chance to produce a conclusive closing statement.

  202. #202 Darren Naish
    August 29, 2009

    And for those who want to see how ALL of this started (David Pearce left a comment on an old article), here is Pearce’s initial message…

    Do we want to preserve a living world where lions eat young elephants alive? Or should our wildlife parks be run humanely?
    http://www.abolitionist.com/reprogramming/index.html

    It’s from here.

  203. #203 Allen Hazen
    August 29, 2009

    Darren–
    Fine for closing comments– they’ve gotten pretty far from the topic of tetrapod zoology. Ranji (#192) and Henry (#197) have particularly commented on my (#188) remarks, and I would be happy to reply to them if they contact me off-board:
    allenph (atsign) unimelb (dot) edu (dot) au

  204. #204 cfrost
    August 29, 2009

    I think it’s a great idea. I’m going to graft a rabbit’s digestive tract into my cat this afternoon.

    http://www.cartoonbank.com/product_details.asp?mscssid=1DDXAELMDS199ME3FQ2AT80RFP4N85W5&sitetype=1&sid=66641

  205. #205 zayzayem
    August 29, 2009

    The stupidity of this idea just started wildfires in California.

  206. #206 wibbly
    August 29, 2009

    59.162.215.105

  207. #207 C. Koseman
    August 29, 2009

    The pain and suffering you’d bring upon all life to pull off such a batshit-crazy scheme will doubtlessly overshadow any “joy” the future generations might take.

    There is only one, very hazy and uncertain way you might pull something like this off.
    Study the hell out of life, biology and genetics. Then maybe, just maybe, you might be able to tailor your own animals, plants and teddy-bear ecologies. From then on, you can rebuild the entire world’s biosphere in your sickening, “politically correct” vision.

    After then on, the only question would be whether you’d be willing to “phase out” a large percentage of all life on earth for a pamby-namby vision of cute animals peacefully eating dead bodies and protein-mimicking algae from ponds.

  208. #208 Gloria
    August 29, 2009

    Christian S. (#196): I assume if anyone around you takes birth control that you encourage them not to, because that is not the way they evolved? You claim to have read the comments, yet your restating of what they purportedly are displays little understanding of their actual content. Many were arguing simply for a consideration of the ideas. What do you currently think is the highest good in the world?

    Johannes #198: “idea that suffering from illness or starving is somehow better than suffering from predation makes no sense.”

    A world that would be able to be engineered to reduce or eliminate predation would not have a problem with producing food. In many cases, that is reduced today by predation of one species, namely humans using much of the world’s grain to feed ourselves.

    Anomalocaris #200: “(like all the slow, stupid herbivores this plan would result in)”

    1.) What’s wrong with being slow in a world without predators? 2.) Why would being an herbivore make one stupider than being a carnivore?

    Darren Naish #201: “I feel it is morally objectionable to want to impose our views on what is right and what is wrong on other species, and I strongly agree with those who see the importance of trying to maintain nature as it is, as much as possible.”

    As my closing comment:

    To state that it is “morally objectionable” to impose one’s views on another species, while also eating that species for one’s food, is entirely hypocritical and requires a great deal of cognitive dissonance on one’s own part. A human imposes his or her values on that animal when the human begins the process of eating it, since a human can choose otherwise.

    Furthermore, especially in the case of beef, rainforests in South America are being consumed for fields for growing grain to feed cows at a rate that I probably don’t even care to know. Any elementary science student learns about the biodiversity and huge number of species present in even one square foot of the rainforest. Yet, most of the people feigning outrage at the idea of even contemplating the extinction of a species eat beef with apparently no thought to the ecological damage they are causing by doing so. I therefore do not believe that many of the people making this argument in this thread have any intellectual justification to do so.

  209. #209 bursa evden eve taşıma
    August 29, 2009

    Excellent!.. To be or not to be;)

  210. #210 Christian S.
    August 29, 2009

    @ Gloria and all the others: Obviously, you either don’t want to or cannot understand that it is of no importance what the highest good in the world is. I can choose what it IS for me and I can apply certain ethical principles on my life, but I cannot expect everyone to follow them.
    When I eat another species, I use it. By the way, we don’t just use species by eating them, we also make clothes, paper, fibres etc. of other species. By doing this, I do what nature or culture supposed me to do. I don’t JUDGE about other species, saying that predators are bad and herbivores good. After all, herbivory is also a form of predation. This alone tells me that you simply don’t know what we are talking about.
    So, using other species isn’t the same as denying the principle of predation as a whole. And by repeating the same futile arguments over and over again they don’t get better. It sheds more light on the people advocating them than on the idea as such.
    BTW, radical veganism hasn’t to do anything with the problem; but it doesn’t surprise me that there seems to be some congruency. As with all radical people, there is only room for their own ideas, everything else being wrong. A new idea doesn’t have to be good just because it’s radical. All too often it is perceived as radical for obvious reasons.

  211. #211 Gloria
    August 29, 2009

    “After all, herbivory is also a form of predation. This alone tells me that you simply don’t know what we are talking about.”

    Eating a plant, which is not sentient, is in no way comparable to eating an animal, which is. If one cannot grasp that central point, then it is pointless to even try to grasp the other ideas presented in the essay. There have only been a few people commenting on the “anti” side who have not attempted to argue against a straw man by fabricating arguments that the “pro” side isn’t making at all.

  212. #212 johannes
    August 29, 2009

    > people who take MDMA report being unencumbered by
    > depressive thoughts, more open to introspection, more
    > motivated, more empathic

    I am old enough to remeber the German Love Parade techno rave scene of the nineties, and I do personally know many of the veteran ecstasy-users, now in their thirties and forties. Most of this people spend their times sitting in darkened rooms, watching Sponge Bob and subsisting on the infamous 350 Euro-a-month Hartz IV combined welfare/unemployment benefit. An innocent, child- or eloy-like existence? Maybe. Devoid of suffering? I don’t know. I, for one, would suffer in such a situation. Devoid of depression? Hard to believe. Introspective? Probably yes. Motivated and empathic? Most definitely not.

  213. #213 Gloria
    August 29, 2009

    Johannes, maybe you just hang around with the wrong people? There is a difference between using a drug a few times and using it every day or often. If someone mentioned having a beer occasionally and described its effects, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they are comparable to a group, say, in Alcoholics Anonymous, or a veteran drinker who starts ordering beers before breakfast.

  214. #214 johannes
    August 29, 2009

    > Why would being an herbivore make one stupider than being
    > a carnivore?

    Being a herbivore doesn’t make animals stupid, but eliminating natural selection does.

    > Furthermore, especially in the case of beef, rainforests in
    > South America are being consumed for fields for growing
    > grain to feed cows at a rate that I probably don’t even
    > care to know. Any elementary science student learns about
    > the biodiversity and huge number of species present in even
    > one square foot of the rainforest. Yet, most of the people
    > feigning outrage at the idea of even contemplating the
    > extinction of a species eat beef with apparently no thought
    > to the ecological damage they are causing by doing so.

    Even replacing the whole Amazonian rainforest with Savannah populated by megafauna would just restore the situation that already has existed in the Pleistocene. It would be a catastrophe, but this catastrophe would pale in comparision to the disaster that would happen when somebody would try to reengineer the whole ecosystem of the planet to become predatorless. Back to the Pleistocene is one thing, back to the Ediacaran another.

  215. #215 Onychomys
    August 29, 2009

    You know, something that hasn’t been mentioned yet is that over evolutionary time, predation would almost certainly reappear. Predation is a stunningly successful lifestyle, so much so that I don’t think it’s unreasonable to assume that even if we waved a magic wand and eliminated it all today, it’d re-emerge in fairly short order. How do you fight selection?

  216. #216 kittenzzz
    August 29, 2009

    Chickens bred to produce eggs are usually factory-farmed and kept in tiny cages for their entire (short) lives. Cattle bred to produce milk have such large udders that the udders often break down with age, to the point that the cows actually step on their own udders and injure themselves. Cows have to be bred to bulls in order to produce milk; they then bear both female and male offspring. Where are all the male offspring of those cattle supposed to go, if not to be slaughtered for meat? Do we just retire them to pasture for life? Cattle have a long lifespan and the numbers will add up. All those old cattle and chickens are using resources and producing nothing, and taking up space that formerly housed wildlife. Those are just a few of the reasons why vegetarian idealism is flawed.

    And vegans? Give me a break. OK, so we all switch to a vegan lifestyle. Where are we going to find the space to grow all that food, in the quantity and diversity necessary to support the population that we have now? Reducing the population is an admirable long-term goal but, barring catastrophic war or natural disaster, it’s not going to happen any time in the near future. All of that agriculture on all that land also displaces native plants and animals.

    Humans are omnivorous and we would not have evolved the capacity to even ponder these questions if our ancestors had not become regular consumers of animal protein.

  217. #217 cm
    August 29, 2009

    My attempted “closing remarks”.

    1. For those who are offended (most notably Christian S., who wins the Margaret Dumont Award for being so flustered by a discussion of ideas), I recommend you question your offense. Though you may find the pro-Pearce view impractical, impossible, or even laughably impossible, if you understand the point you must realize it is motivated not by arrogance, or a wish to dominate, or a wish to impose one’s will on other creatures just for the sake of self-aggrandizement, but by compassion. Simple, perhaps one could say child-like, compassion. The same compassion that would be engendered in most people, most of our mothers and sons and nieces and nephews, if witnessing a pride of lions rend a shrieking terrified baby elephant within earshot of its mourning mother. In this view, the pro-Pearce side may be misguided, but I fail to see where there ought be room for offense, disgust, “horrors”, “shivers”, etc. If anything, you should applaud the idealism and compassion while hoping to correct what you perceive as a massive misunderstanding of both ethical consequences of the plan and of biology generally.

    2. Many of you displayed that you were unwilling or incapable of differentiating between the ethical question and the practical question. I for one think it is intellectually interesting to pursue either in a discussion, but that the two issues can be parsed separately.

    3. I agree that this notion should strike anyone as bizarre, because it is counter to all human experience: wild carnivores have never been “de-toothed” as it were. But of course, humans have modified sheep, cows, goats, pigs, dogs, cats, chickens, turkeys, fish, bees, and many other species for our needs and wishes. Was that also “arrogance”? Or was our supposed “need” for their services an override that allows us to alter them without censure? If so, is it just our need that determines what is arrogance? We have bred dogs for coat color–was that arrogance, or are dogs no longer really part of nature? My point is the demarcation between “untampered with” and “tampered with” is pretty tough to make in a world of 7 billion largely industrialized humans. Much in the sense of the Rush song, “If we choose not to decide, we still have made a choice” because, by default, we affect nature. Sure, the Pearce plan is an extreme of tampering, and therefore I don’t blame anyone from being very wary of it. But it lies on one end of a continuum that we already have, that you and I already participate it. Don’t claim that we are “hands off” with regard to nature on Earth.

    There’s probably much more to say but Darren’s closing up shop. Thanks to everyone who was able to have an intellectual discussion without resorting to using inane invectives, hyperbole, character attacks, etc. This topic is a great test case to see who is able to really go the distance in this regard.

  218. #218 johannes
    August 29, 2009

    > Johannes, maybe you just hang around with the wrong people?
    > There is a difference between using a drug a few times and
    > using it every day or often.

    But using the drug every day to reengineer the human mind, not just a few times for recreational purposes, was suggested by commentor # 197.

    As for me hanging around with the wrong sort of people: I don’t think that there was something fundamentally “wrong” with those guys (mercifully few girls among them). Those who were interested in science and technology, the nerdy kids, were targeted as a “market” by the cultural industry, aided by a state that toyed with nationalistic ideas about building an uniquely German popular culture.

  219. #219 Gloria
    August 29, 2009

    I’ve particularly enjoyed your comments, CM. Do you have a website? It took a few hundred comments, but a few people have raised some concerns not addressed in the original article, that’s some progress at least.

    kittenzzz: “OK, so we all switch to a vegan lifestyle. Where are we going to find the space to grow all that food, in the quantity and diversity necessary to support the population that we have now?”

    This implies that growing crops as food would take more space than what we use now for food, but as I’ve pointed out in a few previous comments, the UN has stated that grazing areas for growing livestock (cattle) for beef now currently takes up 1/4 of the world’s land. A large percentage of grains currently produced go to feed cows while many people starve. Finding land to grow crops or growing crops for everyone would not be a problem.

    The grains consumed by cows in America alone are enough to feed five times the American population.
    (Source: http://www.news.cornell.edu/releases/aug97/livestock.hrs.html)

  220. #220 Gloria
    August 29, 2009

    “But using the drug every day to reengineer the human mind, not just a few times for recreational purposes, was suggested by commentor # 197.”

    Not at all. He said that what we know about that drug could lead to “future drug therapies” which impart similar effects. Since MDMA already exists, if he were referring to MDMA in particular he could have said “current drug therapies.”

  221. #221 Turdus
    August 29, 2009

    Closing remark – LOVED the Lolcat!

  222. #222 kittenzzz
    August 29, 2009

    After rereading my comment I realize that it may seem as though I am an advocate of factory farming. I am not; there are far better ways to raise meat animals and chickens. Meat animals can be raised in a way that is humane and respects both the animals and the environment.

    If people choose not to eat meat, that’s their prerogative. But to impose that unnatural restriction upon other species, which have evolved as predators and prey over many millions of years, is playing at being god in the worst way.

  223. #223 Henry
    August 29, 2009

    But using the drug every day to reengineer the human mind, not just a few times for recreational purposes, was suggested by commentor # 197.

    Please don’t caricature what I said. I never advocated daily MDMA use and you lose all credibility by asserting I have said so. My point was that some of the effects of MDMA—its ability to generate empathy, to break down emotional barriers, to provide a sense of wellbeing and connectedness—might be part of future mental health regimens if someone like Pearce has anything to do with it (see his piece on MDMA and its references to ‘superhealth’ and ‘superhappiness’). I was making a broader point—that our brains are capable of amazing heights of happiness and bliss—than just saying we should self-medicate with MDMA.

  224. #224 RickD
    August 29, 2009

    It’s a lot of fun living in a suburbia overrun by deer who have no natural predators left. Not only do the deer wander through human neighborhoods, eating whatever they see, but the main check on their population growth appears to be the four-wheeled gasoline-powered vehicle.

  225. #225 Gloria
    August 29, 2009

    kittenzzz: “If people choose not to eat meat, that’s their prerogative. But to impose that unnatural restriction upon other species”

    Eating meat is imposing an unnatural restriction on another species, the right to just be left alone as one is (and many here have advocated for that right with their typing hand and even said it’s immoral to do otherwise while chomping on a cheeseburger with the other hand, so to speak). I consider eating another species for food when one doesn’t have to as “playing god in the worst way.”

    There’s obviously a dichotomy here in what people are saying and what they are doing.

    I work hard at not imposing my will on any animal. Then, an idea comes along that basically says, maybe animals would be better off this way. Then, people who impose their will on animals every day come in an and say the idea is “immoral” because it is imposing human will on an animal. It just makes no sense.

  226. #226 Henry
    August 29, 2009

    I don’t think there’s much more I can say that hasn’t already be said. I’m not pro-Abolitionist or a David Pearce fanboy, though I can see why I might come across that way—I’ve merely been trying to inject some balance into a discussion which looked for a long while like it would just be idle caricaturing and ad hominem attacks on a philosopher.

    Hopefully those who are deeply against any modification of animals (ignoring the fact that humans have domesticated and otherwise manipulated animals for millennia) will take the time to read some of Pearce’s works. Even if you disagree with everything he says, his thoughts are interesting all the same.

  227. #227 Marc Abian
    August 29, 2009

    antibiotics were originally a fungal product.

    So what? Are you saying that because they’re “natural” we can use them all the time and that it couldn’t possibly hurt to consume them in large quantities?
    Or are you saying that because they come from fungi which vegans/vegetarians can eat that they consume the same amount as carnivores?

  228. #228 --E
    August 29, 2009

    Wow. Just cataloging the varieties of stupid in this idea would take years.

    I hope Mr. Pearce doesn’t have any pets. I imagine he’s the sort who would declaw his cat.

    Just because I’m willing to eat animals and let nature take its course “red in tooth and claw,” does not make it contradictory to say that this scheme is abusive and wrong.

    Animals do what they do. So do humans (never forget that we are animals, too, not some godlike overlords). One could make the argument that humans imposing this “paradise” on reality is just humans doing what they do. By that logic, decrying this silly notion as stupid and undesirable is also just humans doing what they do.

  229. #229 Julie Stahlhut
    August 29, 2009

    If all of us humans stopped eating meat tomorrow, it might well benefit the environment in the long run, simply because we’ve applied so much technological overkill to food production in order to provide more meat to the relatively affluent. But our technological history as meat-producers is very different from our evolutionary history as sometime meat-eaters, and from the evolutionary histories of other omnivores and carnivores.

    As for genetic modification of carnivorous wildlife to “prevent suffering”: Let’s start with a relatively small task. Living on our planet are about 40 species of Felidae (cats.) This is about a tenth the number of shark species and a thousandth the number of spider species. Some of these felids are seriously endangered. Your task is to breed, genetically engineer, or otherwise force these mostly wild carnivores into thriving on a meatless diet, without causing pain to individuals. You are also not allowed to drive any species to extinction, because that will also cause pain to individuals. You are, however, allowed to re-direct human resources to this effort that would otherwise have been spent on practicing veterinary medicine, preserving wildlife habitats, or providing education in zoology, genetics, sustainable farming, or other sciences that can benefit wild or domestic animals.

    As Shel Silverstein once said: I will wait here for you.

  230. #230 Gloria
    August 29, 2009

    ‘Just because I’m willing to eat animals and let nature take its course “red in tooth and claw,” does not make it contradictory to say that this scheme is abusive and wrong.’

    Sure, George W. Bush could give a speech about how he really wants peace in this world, but that doesn’t mean that anyone has to take him seriously when he says that.

  231. #231 brooks
    August 29, 2009

    ::yawns::

    wow, still going? and still no progress?

    i sympathize with the frustration here, but c’mon: the philosophical types aren’t going to convince this zoological crowd that leaving more-or-less functional ecosystems (and their representative species) intact isn’t a Good Thing. and the zoology types will never get an Is–>Ought argument past the philosophers.

    but i’ll leave it to the lot of you, as i wait for darren’s next post….

  232. #232 Blue Frackle
    August 29, 2009

    One day, well-intentioned sapient worms from outer space will come to teach us that eating living things is evil. And they will bio-engineer us. We will not eat vegetables anymore, just dead matter. Sure, one can argue that eating plants is not evil (like some people argue that eating animals is not evil), but it doesn’t matter: the worms say it’s evil, so it is. The worms know what is right and what is wrong. What the worms say is valid for all other species in the universe.

    This is my closing comment. Nice chatting, everybody!

  233. #233 Lee
    August 29, 2009

    So, as I understand it, ‘negative utilitarianism’ at least as it is being argued here is the principle that pain and suffering (and maybe death, but really, pain and suffering) is bad, the greatest bad. This appears to be axiomatic, unexamined – taken as obviously true.

    Hogwash.

    Pain and suffering is often bad, but also often good. We seek it out – look at the face of an ultramarathon runner as s/he approaches the finish after 48 hours of running, or a couple caught up in sex, painful biting and clawing scratches on each others backs and arching away and groaning at the pain and coming closer to each other as they do. Yeah, they may be a little bit batshit crazy, but people seek out that experience in order to transcend it or allow it to transcend them, and therefore become transcendent.

    Create a world in which experience can’t overwhelm me with the entire gamut of human possibility, in which decisions and risks don’t have potential consequences both good and bad – joyful and painful – and I suspect I’d quickly kill myself from utter boredom. It would remove from me and from all of us much of what it means to be human – and strivign to be fundamentally and wholly human to our core strikes me as a pretty damn fine foundation for an ethical system ill in itself.

    Those experiences and many others are terribly, extraordinarily, often painfully **human** experience. You would deny them to me and others, by insisting that pain and suffering are necessarily bad – necessarily the greatest bad – and necessarily to be eliminated. I say, leave my humanity alone, and stop rationalizing that your desires and your reduction of ethics to a single ‘greatest good’ gives you a a superior ethical position and an imperative if you can to control the way I, and all people, and all the rest of the living biosphere, can experience the world.

    From this idea – that pain is the greatest bad – the principle is derived that minimizing pain and suffering is the greatest good. Therefore, this ought to be the primary determining factor in the ethical calculus one uses to determine one’s acts, and even to determine what the world we live in should be like. And as argued by several people in this thread, this principle is so clearly correct that one should seek if possible to require it from and impose it not only on every person on the planet, but on the entire biosphere of the planet.

    Again, hogwash.

    Reducing all ethical decision making to that kind of single controlling factor is absurd, and astoundingly dangerous. It allows one to make – as a reasonable offering – an argument that we can best accomplish this by sterilizing the planet – AND HAVE THAT ARGUMENT TAKEN AS REASONABLE ENOUGH TO NEED RESPONSE. Good god – this is what you offer as an ethical framework? I’ll note that the only way around that argument is to posit another set of things as being also good – good enough to offset your stated imperative to reduce suffering. And therefore yanking the rug out from under the foundation of the entire argument.

  234. #234 Thomas R. Holtz, Jr.
    August 29, 2009

    Didn’t see this thread until its imminent closing. So I’ll just say:

    Without predation we would never have had:
    Tyrannosaurus rex
    Deinonychus antirrhopus
    Panthera tigris
    Carcharodon carcharias

    nor

    Triceratops horridus
    Equus caballus
    Any of the sea horses

    or indeed any of the great diversity of Life on Earth.

    And the universe would be a much more impoverished place.

    Not that we would or could care, because we wouldn’t be around, either.

  235. #235 Raymond Minton
    August 29, 2009

    Pardon my language, but what horseshit! Predatory animals aren’t “bad”, and herbivores aren’t “good”, they’re just filling the roles they evolved to fill, and by and large, predators benefit, rather than hurt, the animals they prey on. (I realize neither you nor the majority of bloggers here need to be told this, but obviously some people haven’t got the message.)

  236. #236 Gloria
    August 29, 2009

    Lee (#233): The examples you give reinforce the point. Marathon runners, overall, gain happiness or some form of reinforcement from running marathons. That’s why they run marathons despite their feet bleeding, etc. But ask one if they would rather their feet bleed or not bleed with the same marathon placement at the end, and I’d pretty much guarantee that given the choice they would prefer them to not bleed. They’ll put up with it for the satisfaction it gives them in the end. But if advances in sneakers or roads are made so that marathon runners could run marathons without bleeding, I can’t imagine there’d be a huge outcry against it as essential to the natural human experience as you seem to portray.

    Raymond Minton (#235): “what horseshit! Predatory animals aren’t “bad”, and herbivores aren’t “good”, they’re just filling the roles they evolved to fill”

    Again, arguing against a straw man. The argument, as CM clarified many comments ago, is not whether anything is bad or good but whether these things suffer.

  237. #237 Lee
    August 29, 2009

    Gloria, if tech makes it possible for an ultramarathon runner to finish without being pushed to the limit – we would find more difficult experience, to find the limit again. THAT is human.
    And I see you ignored most of the meat of my post.

  238. #238 The mysterious being enters with a closing comment
    August 29, 2009

    My closing comment will be this.

    Gloria, cm, etc. don’t seem to be able to grasp the concept of a proposition or idea being plain, old-fashioned, ordinary common bullsh*it. It is just too simple and straightforward a concept for them. They feel the “against” argument must run far deeper and be far more intellectual than that.

    Ta ta.

  239. #239 Darren Naish
    August 29, 2009

    Ok, I’ve had enough. Thank you all.

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