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Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Thus spake some dude: we should get rid of all predators

OK, this is a bit of a detour, but sometimes a man just runs across something that is so crazy that he has to address it on his organization's blog. 

Over at the New York Times, a professional philosopher has written a piece so ridiculous - nay, ridonculous - that it pretty much defies explanation or analysis. The gist of it:  "Suffering is bad and we should prevent it whenever we can.  Predators cause pain, which equals suffering.  Hence, we should make predators go extinct."

I jape you not.

 Like a dog staring at a remote controlled car, I am not sure what to make of this thing. Partly that is because it is quite wordy - it is 2,900 words long, with simple ideas shrouded in esoteric language - or, as a cousin of mine put it, it's like the author "swallowed and regurgitated a thesaurus".

I also have a hard time dealing with the numerous hair-pin twists of logic, assumptions that soar like the mighty eagle, and general tone of comfortable moral entitlement. It goes without saying that the argument certainly makes no sense from an ecological or biological perspective (for example: he is clearly thinking only of terrestrial ecosystems; if you removed all predators from the oceans, you wouldn't be left with much. And also - how do you decide what's a predator? Cows eat ants unintentionally...are they a predator? And another thing...some of the animals that are most able and willing to dish out suffering are 'herbivores' - elephants, rhinos, cape buffalo, moose, bull we get rid of them too? OK, I'll stop). 

But my real problem with this piece is: who the hell is this guy to pass judgment? Sure, he's a professional philosopher. His C.V. is freely available online, and it seems apparent that he's been on the Ivory Tower Express from his undergrad days onward. While he certainly does get high praise for previous works, including a book entitled "Killing in War", his philosophy, no matter how carefully crafted, ultimately is a product of his personal experience. And when it comes to philosophy that deals so directly with the non-human world, I believe that it is better to turn to those who have extensive experience with it - those who have, to borrow Aldo Leopold's quote for my own use, "a wealth of detail denied to those who spend the weekend in town astride a radiator."

Now, there's nothing that philosophers love more than being attacked by the mob - it validates them. They enjoy feeling like they are one step away from having to drink the hemlock themselves. So, I'm not going to do it myself because I would just appear to be one of the yapping horde. Instead, we're gonna have a philosophical smack-down between the predator-hating author of the NY Times piece and an iconic and controversial Canadian writer who has seen his share of suffering - both human and animal. Who has a better handle on the nature of suffering? Who has a better handle on the nature of, well, nature? And what is their philosophical disposition towards extinction of species? It's thinker v. thinker, but this time, it's quantitative. May the best bearded druid win!

So, there you have it - based on this flawless quantitative analysis, Mowatt pitches a perfect game and crushes the upstart philosopher, 5-0. So the question is settled: not only should predators NOT be killed off, but this guy shouldn't write about it anymore.


  1. What doesn't kill ya just makes ya stronger.

  2. I agree, what a load of old codswallop, and judging from the TWENTY-THREE PAGES of comments on the NYT site so far, we're not alone. Of course, by engaging in that much discussion, you give a philosopher exactly what he wants. He's probably rolling around in his leather wingback, practically orgasmic with joy over the fuss his "deep insights" have created.

    I would have prefered if NYT had just put the one comment from someone who simply said "You need to take a basic course in ecology."

  3. Yep, criticizing a philosopher is like calling your mom on mother's day. It makes their day. I wish there was a way to call this guy on his ridiculousness without feeding his ego. Unfortunately, I lack the academic vocabulary necessary to hit a philosopher where it hurts.