Open Thread: Why Protect Wildlife ?

Readers of the blog have expressed interest in a space to explore ‘Why ?’ and ‘How best ?’ wildlife advocacy might happen.  Academics might call this inquiry “Environmental Ethics”. There are many flavors to choose from, as many as there are people talking about it.

This space asks why you value wildlife/the wild, how do you think we ought pursue its protection and why ?         

There have been many comments that get at the question of ‘Why ?’ wildlife advocacy is important.  Understanding ‘why’ can help inform ‘how’ we can best help ensure wolves, bison, entire ecosystems, etc. are protected into the future.  These values judgements are impossible to ignore and different ideas about where the protection should start can have significant bearing on how each of us lean into advocacy.

Jim Macdonald spurred off an interesting inquiry about bison advocacy that Ralph linked to here.

Another fascinating conversation started in response to Bob Jackson’s observations about Mountain Bison here which one cannot help but extend sympathy for their plight and value the way that they are.

I’ll keep my thoughts in the comments, and hope you’ll put yours there too.

Brian Ertz



  1. Heather Avatar

    I think we need a thread on “environmental justice”.

  2. bozemanactivist Avatar

    Heather, what do you take to be the difference between “environmental ethics” and “environmental justice”? And, I also wonder what the “environmental” adjective actually adds to the discussion.

    I’ll admit I come at this from the perspective of many years of study of philosophy, having taken and even taught all kinds of courses. I also come at this from many years on the ground in activism, meeting people, and taking action with others on all kinds of injustices.

    I’m heavily influenced by Plato (at least my interpretation of him), and the notion that ethics is about virtue, and justice is one of the key aspects of virtue. However, as was true in Plato’s time, people have all kinds of conceptions of what they mean by justice. Some mean retribution or accountability (justice will be served) while others mean nothing more than the harmony of the soul of the person who practices virtue (The just person loves wisdom and practices it). Those two notions (and others) may not actually be at odds with each other, but I guess that’s why I’m asking you what the difference would be in the two discussions.

    ***Now, to the thread itself***

    In the essay that Brian mentions to start this, I think I’m taking a pretty minimalist view of ethics. Don’t do anything on the basis of a contradiction. The person who does so not only harms themselves (because they act based on a confused sense of purpose), they often create the conditions (perhaps this is the “environmental” part of it) that make it harder for other beings to act according to their nature. In most respects, it’s hard to say what the “right” way of acting is. There are so many possibilities, and we should not contradict them. Yet, often the way it works is that someone will insist that their way of doing things is the only proper way. In 19th century America, it was tilling the soil and living according to the ways of the “white man.” That may be a decent enough way to live (at least the tilling the soil part), but when an entire value system was created by it in order to justify genocide, buffalo slaughter, the killing off of wildlife (both predators like wolves and ungulate species), then that rationale unjustly divides the world. It sets in front of us an obvious wrong, and therefore a diversity of rights that might be used to take it on.

    Abstractions that go beyond what we can know elevated to certain truths are the primary source of injustice. When people take action and force those beliefs on others, then a mess ensues. When someone rapes someone else, when someone enslaves someone else, when humanity forces itself on the land a certain way, these things are all rooted in contradiction.

    Ethics and justice are found in the many paths that don’t presume anything more than resistance to injustice.

    That’s why I stand with the buffalo, with the wolf, but also with the immigrant, with gays and lesbians, with people of color in American society, with the poor, with the homeless, with the worker, with women, with the pacifist, with those who have had their voices shut out of any process. All have been victims of arbitrary borders imposed as just and ethical but have no justice about them.

    I guess it’s a little unusual for me to be a rationalist – someone who believes that reason and reality are symbiotic – and yet be such a pluralist. My problem has never been with minimal principles but with those who would insist on dogmas (on a set way of doing things that go beyond the first principles). That’s perhaps why although I have strong beliefs about certain courses of action, I would never insist upon them to others who are allies in the movements I have been a part of. I don’t ever want to become what I am struggling against. And, so though I don’t believe anyone should act on the basis of a contradiction, it would be contradictory of me to force a belief system onto others. The irony is that I think rationalism actually lends itself well to respecting a wide mix of behavior; it also suggests that the struggle for justice never ends.

    Anyhow, this is a bit long. Hopefully, it will lend itself to people sharing what they believe and further discussion.

    I’m also truly curious about the distinction between ethics and justice. I hope people will feel free to put their cards on the table.

    These discussions are important; for me, what are we doing by eliminating these oppressions that our animals and fellow humans face, except to re-open the possibilities for further interaction and engagement? That is, talk isn’t cheap. Our action in some ways is to further our ability to interact. That is, we act in part so that we can talk. So, for me, it is infused in this whole process. It is both theoretical and practical at once (as either by themselves is merely abstract and nonsensical).

    Let’s continue. I apologize if I’ve written too much at the start.


  3. Lynne Stone Avatar
    Lynne Stone

    The image of the AK wolf struggling to live with a snare around its neck should be broadcast across the nation. People need to understand that “Fur bleeds”. Relay the message: Don’t wear fur. Ban the use of snares and leg hold traps. Call your elected officals. Write letters to the editors. Don’t buy anything with fur on it.

    The American public also should see the photo of the four dead wolves taken near Cora WY, a photo that’s being flaunted about by anti-wolfers. Maybe not everyone reading this blog has seen it. Gory stuff being strutted apparently by Wildlife Services (who executed three of the wolves) and whoever else.

    Also, those with the money and means, could reprint the bumper sticker and t-shirt that said: Real men don’t shoot wolves. And make a new one that says: Real men don’t bait bears, or Real men don’t torment mountain lions. The latest Idaho Dept of Fish & Game newspaper has two photos of a beautiful mountain lion in a tree, then a dead lion on the ground with two grinning “sportsmen” and their happy hounds.

    There must be someone, somewhere with the money to fund a campaign to awaken the American public as to the terrible pain that humans are inflicting on wildlife for no other reason but “for sport” or for fur for “fashion”.

  4. Save bears Avatar
    Save bears

    Boy there sure seems to be a lot of thesis being wrote the last few days! No wonder Ralph’s blog is in the top ten all the time, they can just come here, read a few things change a word or two and turn a paper in! Yikes, makes me afraid, for the next generation of biologists that make the choices!


  5. Heather Avatar

    Thank Jim, I appreciate your reply. I guess I was thinking in terms of a recent lecture at the university here re: the “Democracy School” Much of the lecture surrounded a new movement (in their opinion) called “environmental justice” which encompasses the perception that animals should have justice, as well as humans including minorities and those opposed. It focused upon a worldview of ecology as whole, rather than just one species at a time gaining justice. The school stems from activists in Pennsylvania fighting for environmental health – water, air, soil etc from huge conglomerate factory farms depositing millions of tons of animal waste next to their homes, water etc. ( a teenage boy had died due to the toxin) The law that resulted from the conflicts between corporations and public- (especially corporate law, corporations seeing themselves as a “person” rather than thing) seemed to trump the communites’ best interest. My personal opinion is that I think the term or concept environmental justice should apply to wildlife as well. I believe as well that we should compete for the same thing as justice should be for all. However, many see justice differently as you had said. Their main point was that Justice regards all beings, not just a select humans, and this would be for the good of humans as well.
    One of the attorneys from the Democracy school has helped a South American country rewrite their charter… which I think is magnificent.. if only we could do that here…

  6. Heather Avatar

    Someone needs to write a book on 253M or “Hoppy”‘s life. Please?? I would like to read. I am writing a paper for my environmental law class on wolves/delisting/ etc and thinking about dedicating it him! Sounds cheesey but I think we need all the cheese we can get right now…

  7. Heather Avatar

    The money from this book could help what Lynne is talking about…money for something. It will come together… this happened 100 yrs ago for the wolf, I just wonder what the people that cared did back then? Did they try to stop it? Was there anyone that cared? Did they stifle out of fear? Things have changed since then, so logically WE can change this slaughter of wildlife. By the way please take a look at FootlooseMontana’s web.

  8. Robert Hoskins Avatar
    Robert Hoskins

    I will say that the photo of the four wolves killed near Cora are also making the rounds of pro-wolf people, and they’re “hopping” mad. I’ve told an European correspondent that if 253 and the other wolves’ deaths have meaning and seem not senseless slaughter, then it will be to prove to the world that we just aren’t ready to turn the states loose on wolves.

  9. Heather Avatar

    good point Robert, more for the lawsuit to win… please.

  10. Brian Ertz Avatar

    this could be a thread on environmental justice – have at it.


    the reason that i suggested and opened this thread was to provide a place for burning space without cutting into other important conversations. blast away ~ i will 😉 :

    you describe an ethical system premised on cultivation against nature:

    when an entire value system was created by it in order to justify genocide, buffalo slaughter, the killing off of wildlife (both predators like wolves and ungulate species), then that rationale unjustly divides the world.

    One thinker that first attempted to build an ethical system justifying the alteration of nature in the way that you describe is John Stuart Mill (see: Nature). – I presume this is Jim’s utilitarianism? To very simply describe it, Mill took a human-centered (anthropocentric) idea of virtue to mean the cultivation of nature – to distill or find peace and order in a way that only exists in the human mind. Value exists in nature, but it is not nature. A diamond is buried deep within the violent/dirty bowels of the earth and a war of human will against nature must be won to successfully refine this clump into the crystal clear virtue that is/can only really be appreciated in the human mind. We can see this ethical system at play with extractive industry today, we even see it with commercial hunting – as the essence of the hunt gets hijacked from the appreciation of wild and cultivated into the search for the perfect rack or wild places increasingly endure ‘habitat alteration projects’ which seek to maximize a particular species that we anthropocentrically value. the wild that i appreciated in my hunting days as a teen are not appreciated by this industry we see today – it’s human imposition. the same with the production of livestock or coal or even wind energy as advocated by some. the most best value is a human construct usually to maximize human benefit ~ anthropocentrism. We see this strain even in Gifford Pinchot’s conservation ethic. Muir is a fun contrast to that as is played out in universities everywhere.

    From scraped cliff and quarried stone
    she cries “A thousand types are gone:
    I care for nothing, all shall go…

    Who trusted God was love indeed
    And love Creation’s final law–
    Though Nature, red in tooth and claw
    With ravine, shriek’d against his creed —
    — Tennyson

    Let’s talk about ethical questions associated with pursuing genetic information as a means of protecting bison ~ as was referred to here and later amended/justified/qualified with the idea of “recognizing the integrity of all beings“.

    This position sounds mighty close to that of Albert Schweitzer’s as elaborated in Civilization and Ethics. An ethical basis for respecting all living beings as a function of all of our shared ‘will-to-live’. This necessitates a “Reverence for Life” :

    Just as in my own will-to-live there is a yearning for more life…so the same obtains in all the will-to-live around me, equally whether it can express itself to my comprehension or whether it remains unvoiced.
    Ethics consists in this, that I experience the necessity of practicing the same reverence for life toward all will-to-live, as toward my own.

    One of the problems that I have is the inability to account for the value of diversity. That is to say, I’m not concerned with the preservation of New Zealand Mud Snails in Idaho or Montana (I am concerned with the preservation of the Bruneau Hot Springsnail). This exotic species reduce diversity, so how do we account for the recognition that exotics corrupt biodiversity without cutting into this ‘reverence for life’ as described by yourself (jim) ? These ‘contradictions’ (I’m presuming a Kantian ‘contradiction’ as understood by the second development of the categorical imperative – the universalized maxim ? is that what you mean when you say ‘contradiction’ ) are unavoidable. Species displace other species, it’s a function of competition – exotics displace a lot.

    Practically, we all value nature, the environment, the wild, wildlife, animals for different reasons. As I mentioned before, Peter Singer can refuse to eat meat because he thinks that each life is precious, and that the sentience of a being is the fulcrum by which a choice about whether to harm it/inflict pain is ethical or not. I don’t agree all of the weight should be placed there. I think that the system ~ the natural diversity of a system ~ is a better angle at which to make that happen – and the fact is that many people disagree with me and you. There is no avoiding this. This is why i believe these developments are appropriately worked out in conversation, academic inquiry, right here etc. call it public/private pragmatism. For now, if we hope to seek practical protection for species in time – we need to use something that’s more befitting the urgency at which these things are lost. we need a collectivist approach.

    Because we value the wild and wildlife for different reasons – being ok with holding those ethical ‘contradictions’ amongst ourselves and throwing our weight behind the collectivist vehicle of the rule of law is beneficial on many fronts.

    1. identifying genetic sub-populations etc. is a robust foot-in-the-door. It gives us more standing as there is case-law from which to approach the podium and make our case for the recognition of this and for other values. This is done all the time, and successfully so. Perhaps an agency might cite these other values in addition to genetic. IF we need to approach a judge with genetic information about the uniqueness of a particular population of bison, there is NO reason why Bob Jackson could not submit a declaration and make the case for the cultural/familial considerations. There might be a chance for a judge to include that ‘value’ in a decision building recognition for these diverse values. Either way, you need a foot in the door.

    2. recognizing the importance of genetic diversity is a pretty good objective way to determine the urgency of needed protection. it’s a relatively objective standard that can better avoid the trap advocates often encounter regarding only protecting charismatic species. one might argue all species should be protected for all reasons ~ but we’re not there.

    3. Diversity is beautiful.

    i’m done for now

    P.S. Gandhi was wrong about the cow

  11. Heather Avatar

    I don’t think I can compete with you guys! thanks for the offer though!

  12. vicki Avatar

    Why defend wildlife? How did I get here?
    Well, I guess for me it began with roots and has sprouted wings. It is a lot less philosophical than some folks’ reasons.
    My fondest memories as a child were all based in the wilderness. I grew up hunting and fishing with my dad, it was my only escape. I was a tom-boy from day one, so I was hell bent on competing with any male that thought I shouldn’t. I got pretty good at it.
    I lived in the city, and grew up a minority in my neighborhood. I felt trapped in a place where I did not fit in, I was too white, too poor, too skinny, too this, too that. Being in the wilderness was the only time I felt free of stereo-types, or judgements, or concrete.
    I spent my childhood tagging behind my dad, gun or pole in tow every chance I’d get. My dad worked too much, and those times were to me, still are. I got to know my dad by walking behind him, admiring his strength, and his wisdom…aspiring to be fair and intellegent like him. Then I became and adult and was so proud to walk beside him. Watching how he looked for animals, how he picked a camp site, how he seemed so much more at peace when he wasn’t in town, showed me that being outdoors can really have a profound effect on people’s spirit. It let him be at peace with himself, instead of bound by what everyone expected of him.
    My grandpa used to take me fishing, and he died when I was young. He was the strongest and softest man I knew. My father’s fondest memories with his dad were always outdoors too. I feel very strongly that it gave me a special connection with my dad. He is my best friend. I still feel closest to him when we are sitting in the middle of no where, and are content to just sit, look, listen and breathe. I am passing this connection on, to my children, and to other people’s kids too. It is the ideal time to communicate. When you are in the wilderness, you can talk without interruption, and the animals don’t care what color you are, or how much your shoes cost, or who you have slept with.
    Over the years, I began to understand that my desire to be outdoors was based in the need to feel free and also connected. So I started picking up a camera instead of a rifle. I wanted to be able to provide everyone I could with that ability to connect. So I showed them what I saw when I went out.
    What I see when I walk in the woods, when I fish, when I photograph, is a world that exists without video games, or gangs, or racism or hate of any kind.
    I see that everything belongs and has purpose, smart, ugly, weak or not.
    I see that animals don’t play head games, they don’t stop doing what is necessary to survive when it is hard and just expect someone else to do it for them.
    I see that animals aren’t mailcious or evil, they simply do what is instinctual to exist.
    I see that with animals, life is defined by their dependancy on one another.
    I see that animals transend drama and artificial happiness, they don’t fill their emptiness with things, or enlarge their egos by hurting someone else’s feelings.
    With animals, you cannot buy loyalty, they don’t act out of spite. They have a harmonious relationship with every thing around them, and they help to foster life even in their deaths.
    With animals, you know what you get. You see what they are, warts and all, and they make no apologies or pretenses.
    When you are outside you are a part of that, you have a relationship with every thing, you have a purpose that is defined by your very existence. You are a part of the world, period. You belong.
    Why protect them? Because they need it, and we need them. Because without animals to remind us just how simple things really are, we’d forget how damn complicated we choose to make things.
    Protect them because, like a child who sticks their hand on something hot, they are incapable of realizing how endangered they are.
    Protect them because they are irreplacable, and because they have a purpose here, and because they have value. They have value because they provide lessons. They are a testimony to where we have been, where we have failed, and where we should go.
    Protect them now because we have no right to tell every child that follows they had no right to see them, learn from them or enjoy them, so we allowed them to all disappear.
    We are obligated to protect them because if not for us, they would not need protection.

  13. TPageCO Avatar

    “When you are outside you are a part of that, you have a relationship with every thing, you have a purpose that is defined by your very existence. You are a part of the world, period. You belong.”

    Thank you Vicki – I agree with every fiber of my being and I’ve rarely heard it expressed better.

    As I am out of my depth here, I will only suggest further reading for people who want to explore different paths to an equilibrium with the land they live on. I’m coming to the conclusion that most of our problems relating to wildlife are cultural, not scientific or economic or educational, and thus not easily fixed in the short term. These writers below help me by taking the long view. To narrow down the list, I’ve focused mainly on 20th century American writers I’ve found compelling since the Muir/Pinchot/Grinnell/Roosevelt era. It’s a mix of philosophy, fiction, memoir (for lack of a better word) and some science:

    In no particular order…
    Barry Lopez – Of Wolves and Men, Arctic Dreams and Crossing Open Ground
    Loren Eiseley – Pick any book of prose, about half of it will be brilliant.
    Paul Shepard – The later works (The Others, Coming Home to the Pleistocene, and Encounters with Nature) are easier to read and a better summary of his ideas as they developed through his earlier work.
    Aldo Leopold – Read more than the Almanac, it’s all good.
    Ellen Meloy – Raven’s Exile, Eating Stone (her death a huge loss for all of us)
    Ted Kerasote – Nature, Culture and the Hunt is a great examination of how to do the “least harm”.
    David Quammen – Monsters of God – not as good as Dodo, but more appropriate to this topic.
    William Faulkner – Big Woods – watch the wild country and wild men of the Mississippi Delta fade away through Faulkner’s eyes. Heartbreakingly beautiful.
    Terry Tempest Williams – Refuge. Finding patterns for your own life in the life of birds/animals.
    Henry Beston – The Outermost House. Everyone probably knows the famous animal quotation from this book…now go read the rest of it.
    Doug Peacock – Grizzly Years. Is Peacock a grizzly in human form? Sometimes I think so.
    Tom Franklin – Poachers. OK, so you’ve never heard of this one, but I wouldn’t put it here if it didn’t belong.

    And one from out of the USA…Meditations on Hunting by Jose Ortega y Gasset. Wonderful stuff on the sense of being fully alive in the presence of animals.

    There are many many others equally worthy, but this is a beginning for me at least.

  14. JEFF E Avatar
    JEFF E

    Okay time for some humor”

    I had this idea that I was going to rope a deer, put it in a stall, feed it up on corn for a couple of weeks, then kill it and eat it.

    The first step in this adventure was getting a deer. I figured that, since they congregate at my cattle feeder and do not seem to have much fear of me when we are there (a bold one will sometimes come right up and sniff at the bags of feed while I am in the back of the truck not 4 feet away), it should not be difficult to rope one, get up to it and toss a bag over its head (to calm it down) then hog tie it and transport it home.

    I filled the cattle feeder then hid down at the end with my rope.

    The cattle, having seen the roping thing before, stayed well back.

    They were not having any of it. After about 20 minutes, my deer showed up — 3 of them. I picked out a
    likely looking one, stepped out from the end of the feeder, and threw my rope. The deer just stood there and
    stared at me.

    I wrapped the rope around my waist and twisted the end so I would have a good hold. The deer still just stood and stared at me, but you could tell it was mildly concerned about the whole rope situation.

    I took a step towards it…it took a step away. I put a little tension on the rope and then received an education.

    The first thing that I learned is that, while a deer may just stand there looking at you funny while you rope
    it, they are spurred to action when you start pulling on that rope.

    That deer EXPLODED.

    The second thing I learned is that pound for pound, a deer is a LOT stronger than a cow or a colt. A cow or a colt in that weight range I could fight down with a rope and with some dignity.

    A deer– no chance.

    That thing ran and bucked and twisted and pulled. There was no controlling it and certainly no getting close to it. As it jerked me off my feet and started dragging me across the ground, it occurred to me that having a deer on a rope was not nearly as good an idea as I had originally imagined.

    The only upside is that they do not have as much stamina as many other animals.

    A brief 10 minutes later, it was tired and not nearly as quick to jerk me off my feet and drag me when I
    managed to get up. It took me a few minutes to realize this, since I was mostly blinded by the blood flowing
    out of the big gash in my head. At that point, I had lost my taste for corn-fed venison. I just wanted to get that
    devil creature off the end of that rope.

    I figured if I just let it go with the rope hanging around its neck, it would likely die slow and painfully somewhere.

    At the time, there was no love at all between me and that deer. At that moment, I hated the thing, and I would venture a guess that the feeling was mutual.

    Despite the gash in my head and the several large knots where I had cleverly arrested the deer’s momentum by
    bracing my head against various large rocks as it dragged me across the ground, I could still think clearly enough to recognize that there was a small chance that I shared some tiny amount of responsibility for the situation we were in, so I didn’t want the deer to have it suffer a slow death, so I managed to get it lined back up in between my truck and the feeder – a little trap I had set before hand…kind of like a squeeze chute.

    I got it to back in there and I started moving up so I could get my rope back.

    Did you know that deer bite? They do! I never in a million years would have thought that a deer would bite somebody, so I was very surprised when I reached up there to grab that rope and the deer grabbed hold of
    my wrist.

    Now, when a deer bites you, it is not like being bit by a horse where they just bite you and then let go. A deer bites you and shakes its head–almost like a pit bull. They bite HARD and it hurts.

    The proper thing to do when a deer bites you is probably to freeze and draw back slowly. I tried screaming and shaking instead. My method was ineffective.

    It seems like the deer was biting and shaking for several minutes, but it was likely only several seconds.

    I, being smarter than a deer (though you may be questioning that claim by now) tricked it.

    While I kept it busy tearing the bejesus out of my right arm, I reached up with my left hand and pulled that rope loose. That was when I got my final lesson in deer behavior for the day.

    Deer will strike at you with their front feet. They rear right up on their back feet and strike right about head and shoulder level, and their hooves are surprisingly sharp.

    I learned a long time ago that, when an animal–like a horse–strikes at you with their hooves and you can’t get away easily, the best thing to do is try to make a loud noise and make an aggressive move towards the animal. This will usually cause them to back down a bit so you can escape.

    This was not a horse. This was a deer, so obviously, such trickery would not work. In the course of a millisecond, I devised a different strategy.

    I screamed like a woman and tried to turn and run.

    The reason I had always been told NOT to try to turn and run from a horse that paws at you is that there is a good chance that it will hit you in the back of the head.

    Deer may not be so different from horses after all, besides being twice as strong and 3 times as evil, because
    the second I turned to run, it hit me right in the back of the head and knocked me down.

    Now, when a deer paws at you and knocks you down, it does not immediately leave. I suspect it does not recognize that the danger has passed. What they do instead is paw your back and jump up and down
    on you while you are laying there crying like a little girl and covering your head.

    I finally managed to crawl under the truck and the deer went away.

  15. TPageCO Avatar


    Have you submitted that to a magazine yet? Awesome story…I was rolling around under my desk, even after I read it for the third time.

  16. JEFF E Avatar
    JEFF E

    I wish I could take credit for this but it has been floating around for quite awhile. I still crack up when I read it

  17. Jim Macdonald Avatar

    Two things:

    Brian, I will try to offer you a detailed reply on Sunday. I’m traveling into the park tomorrow and have been busy with a lot of organizing tasks tonight and other family stuff.

    Heather and others,
    Please don’t fret about competition (of which I have absolutely no interest) or discussion that seems a little over people’s heads. If we cannot find ways in our discussions to take the contributions of each person seriously, we are not doing very well. There is a lot of jargon, history, etc. in philosophy that can and does certainly make discussion difficult, but it’s not discussion if we aren’t communicating. An open forum online won’t always be the best place (especially without a way to do threaded discussions) for these kinds of discussions – and one response to someone may not always be accessible to someone else. Still, we should have patience to try.

    The idea of environmental justice is interesting. Where we draw the line of moral equals is fascinating; I don’t think that line can be broad enough. Because whoever is on the other side of our community will always face the shaft, and I’m not sure we can ever justify it. Some call this view species egalitarianism; I think my view goes further (it’s not even just life; it’s everything).

    Anyhow, I want to do Brian’s comments justice. That will have to wait for a careful reply to the many points.

    Take care,

    PS As a taste of part of my response to Brian, I’m not taking a Kantian view (hell, I’ve often said that I consider Kant something of a mortal philosophical enemy) – for a lot of reasons, I’m not a deontologist. Kant mistook exceptions to a rule as contradictions; a contradiction is a much more serious infraction and is not synonymous with paradoxes. Anyhow, more on that later.

  18. Cindy Knight Avatar
    Cindy Knight

    Why do I value wildlife? I was born in Wyoming and from an early age was drawn to the wildlife, from a horny toad to snakes, to coyotes. I remember being sad that there were no more wolves when I was a child. The first coyote I saw was dead, but I was thrilled to look at him. As a child of the sixties, I remember when a Casper rancher was charged with killing eagles, and someone climbed up and shrouded the iron eagles that adorned his home during the night. I have always found watching wildlife thrilling. Once I heard antelope calling to one another. I watched insects, especially grasshoppers, for hours. Once some boys were stabbing salamanders down the street and my friend and I created a diversion (she pretended she was having a “fit” ). and while the boys ran over to see what was going on, I grabbed the salamanders and ran for our fort by the creek. We fought the boys off with rocks. It has always been a part of me. I worked in Yellowstone the summer of ’67 when the women in Glacier were killed by two grizzlies and learned to be more cautious. I find great solace in the wild where it all makes sense to me, while the “civilization” we have created, makes less sense all the time. Once native peoples learned from the animals. Watching the patience of elk cows teaching their calves to cross a river, or the way bison calmly walk their calves away when grizzlies come into proximity, or lead elk cows lead a herd toward a pack of wolves to drive them away, or watching wolves urging their new pups to follow by tempting them with toys makes me feel at one with the earth. It is the natural order and although sometimes it is harsh, it is survival. The animals accept this and this acceptance calms me. While elk are frightened of wolves when they startle or chase them, much of the time they are calm in their presence, only reacting when it becomes a matter of live or death. I have seen young bison “playing” with young wolves. I interpret it this way because it seems enjoyable to them both, as if both are practicing for more serious matters. We should take great pains not to interfere. If we do not respect their lives, we are at risk of losing the wildness that we cherish about Wyoming.

  19. JB Avatar

    Brian, thanks for starting this thread!

    Brian said: “Practically, we all value nature, the environment, the wild, wildlife, animals for different reasons.”

    I agree wholeheartedly, and would add that I believe how we assign value to non-human entities is at the heart of the issue of whether or not we should protect wildlife. Psychologists tell us that our values are rooted in human needs (think Maslow:'s_hierarchy_of_needs). That is, we assign value to objects/entities based on our perception of their ability to meet some need–on their utility to us. The problem is, different people have different needs, and people’s needs change over time. Thus, people within societies often conflict in terms of their value priorities.

    When one views values as being rooted in human needs the idea of intrinsic value (of objects having value in and of themselves) becomes nonsensical. In fact, I would argue that all ways of valuing wildlife are human-centered. Value is something that is PERCEIVED–there is no intrinsic value because intrinsic literally means “in and of itself.” An object/entity cannot have value “in and of itself” because the perception of value requires the presence of an evaluator (i.e. someone to assign value).

    Thus, in my view, labeling a hunter as having an anthropocentric or utilitarian value orientation does nothing to distinguish him/her from a non-hunter. I haven’t hunted in years, but I still see utility in wildlife–I do not shoot wildlife, but I still use them to meet my needs. They meet my needs by providing humor, comfort, excitement or more generally, pleasure. Even when I’m not in Yellowstone, the presence of wolves is comforting to me–as is the presence of deer, elk, and bison. Thus, even though I’m not “using” wildlife in the traditional sense (i.e. killing), I still receive utility from them, and I value wildlife because of this utility.

    “I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.”

    Thoreau went to the woods to meet his own needs, to learn and to discover what it was to truly live. Similarly, Chris McCandless traveled to Alaska to “kill the false being within and victoriously conclude [his] spiritual pilgrimage.” Both of their journeys were dependent upon a certain kind of environment, and so that type of environment became valuable.

    We protect wildlife not because of their intrinsic value, but because of their value for meeting our needs. What we (society) need is a realignment of our value priorities; we need to recognize that wildlife are far more valuable for the lessons they teach, for their therapeutic qualities and for their beauty, than they are as source of food. Perhaps more importantly, we need wildlife management to understand this so they can change their practices to reflect these priorities.

    Okay, that’s way too much from me…

  20. Linda Hunter Avatar

    I know most about bears and I think we need animals bigger than us to keep us humble, honest and aware. We also still have a lot to learn from them. To add a bit more humor to the thread here is an essay I wrote on just one of the reasons we need grizzly bears:

    Why we need more bears

    There are lots of guys whose mothers always picked up after them. Guys who grew up not knowing how dirty socks on the floor got back in their drawers clean. Guys who never understood that they even needed picking up after. . these guys have a tendency to pick wives who take over for Mom. When they are in the woods they throw down everything. They believe that someone will pick up after them, someone who gets paid for it. It is very obvious in hunting season that there is a lot of “man” litter in the woods.

    Not that women don’t litter, they do if they are drunk or stoned or just too stressed out by a bunch of kids that they have no control. Sometimes some things are just too icky to carry back with you to put in the trash. Instead it is OK to have some other unsuspecting person step in them.

    Some people drive cars that look like a dumpster inside and when it gets too full, out the window goes the next unwanted thing. These people believe that litter goes away somehow and that banana peels won’t hurt anything.

    Teenagers litter sometimes even if they have a good mother who makes them pick up after themselves. To them it is a territory thing. They like to mark where they have been and advertise what they were doing, God forbid. Teenagers also don’t realize that the little crimes they commit can be traced through litter.

    Which brings me to someone who doesn’t litter. Killers, the professional ones, don’t litter. As a matter of fact, litter is literally a life and death matter.

    It is only the fear of death that keeps people from littering. Fines? Nah, who cares, most littering people don’t think they will get caught. But I have noticed in areas where grizzly bears roam there is no litter. Yes, fear of death is the only way to keep those greasy hamburger wrappers and beer cans off the ground. In grizzly country people don’t even spit toothpaste on the ground because if they do . . .

    Well, we need more grizzly bears around. They are a lot prettier than litter and bears plant berry seeds. The woods would be a far better place with no litter and more berries.

  21. dbaileyhill Avatar

    Here are some ideas that could lead to protection of our wildlife and our environment.

    The Gaia Hypothesis is the theory that the earth is self-regulating. A scientific statement or declaration was created early in this decade that proclaimed, “The Earth is a self-regulating system made up from ALL LIFE (my emphasis), including humans, and from the oceans, the atmosphere and surface rocks.” So basically we cannot understand any part of nature, unless it is considered within it’s entire context. To be “good stewards” of what we have, we need to consider all aspects of life on earth as a whole.
    Cicero wrote that we must limit our rights for all to have freedom. Put another way people need to regulate their freedoms in order to respect the rights of all living things. We need to be aware of our environment, of others (all ‘living things’), and adopt ‘ethical’ approaches of how best to ‘manage’ all aspects, to respect that all living things have a right to exist.
    With the bison, for example, should they have rights? Rights to migrate on our public lands and freely seek sustenance, unimpeded, not harassed, have their family groups recognized and treated as ‘a whole’? Who would be entrusted to oversee that their rights are not infringed upon? (the park service hasn’t bothered). That would also include the protection of their environment so that they can continue sustaining the species.
    Since corporations can be considered, by law, to be a person/individual with civil rights, legal rights, there really is no reason that an entire ecosystem or species like the bison, should also enjoy those same rights.
    Natural resources are seen as products that can be manipulated and used up, simply because they exist and humans know how to harvest those resources.
    A ‘blanket statement’ might be, all living things were put here, so all living things have a right to continue to be here. And have a right to not be diminished to the point that they cease to exist.
    All things considered, what is best for all things?

  22. Brian Ertz Avatar

    Deep Ecology:

    the more we expand the self to identify with “others” (people, animals, ecosystems), the more we realize ourselves.

    simple principles of deep ecology

  23. Virginia Avatar

    I would like to add to this discussion of our valuing wildlife. I just finished reading an article in a weekly paper that I receive – “Liberal Opinion Week” which normally doesn’t address wildlife issues. The article is entitled “Murder In An Alaskan Forest” by Dr. Walter Brasch. Dr. Brasch tells a story about a politician/trapper from northeast Pennsylvania (unnamed) who goes to Alaska every year to try and trap as many lynx, wolves, wolverines and other fur-bearing animals as he can along with his brother who is a biologist with Alaska’s Fish and Game Department. Evidently, the story of the glorious hunt was in the local newspaper and included pictures of these two fine men each holding a dead lynx. This politician goes on to describe his plans to return to Alaska to murder as many of these fur-bearing animals as he can. I plan to contact Dr. Brasch to see if he will identify this killer, but I am certain that he will not. The article is in the April 16, 2008 issue of Liberal Opinion Week. It is a disgusting story and describes a person who should not be representing the people of Pennsylvania in any manner.

  24. Monty Avatar

    When I was 7 years old my father–I am now a grandfather–who was a dry fly fisherman–took me to Yellowstone where I saw my first grizzly. At about the same time, my father read two books to me by Jim Corbett, about man-eating leopards & tigers in India. Jim Corbett was first and foremost a “naturalist” and not a hunter. His simple elequent writing captured the magnificant essence of the flora and fana of the Himalayan foothills and it stuck with me. It was the mega fana–the tiger & bear–and in particular the tiger, that first “captured my soul”. My love for the habitat grew as I sensed, in my early youth, that, without habitat, there would be no tigers. Even in my early youth, during our many family trips throughout the west, I worried about the loss of habitat as I observed the early signs of the “urbanization of the west”. My point is that my love of “nature”, is a product of my fear that our rich civilization is morally unrestrained and unable or unwilling to strike a reasonable balance between amendities & commodities. As Aldo Leopold wrote: “the measure of a civilization is in it’s contrasts”.

  25. Linda Hunter Avatar

    I am interested in how to change the values of the part of the society who doesn’t value animals. As a writer and an artist I look everyday for ways to use my art to do that. Sometimes I feel like I am preaching to the choir with my art as the people who appreciate it usually already apprecieate animals and habitat needed to take care of them. But writing creatively can be a powerful tool. At least I hope so. Here is a piece I wrote for a writer’s blog I belong to (

    Fifteen kids lounged on the deck of the Captain Conner one summer day in Astoria. As the captain I was in the wheelhouse, leaving their educational trip up to my very competent interpretative crew. One boy, probably about 10 years old, was sitting just in front of me on the bow and kept smashing something on the deck. The Captain Conner is a pretty sturdy boat and he wasn’t likely to hurt it with his hands but I became curious. When Stephanie, my first mate, came into the wheelhouse I had her take the wheel for a while so I could go visit with this young man. I sat beside him and asked him how he liked the boat.

    “It’s OK I guess”, he mumbled towards his shoes. Just then one of the beach flies that are prevalent in that part of the river mouth landed near him on the toe rail. Wham. The kid dispatched the fly and swept the body off onto the deck. I looked at the shriveled little body and back at the boy. “Why did you kill that? I asked. “Cause it bugged me”, he retorted and he lifted his hand to smash another.

    I looked out to the water around us. It was a warm day, the view reminding me of a good camera’s focus with puffy clouds decorating the tops of dark Douglas firs. I wondered out loud to the boy about the beach flies. According to an article I once read about them, we don’t know what they do yet. Some beaches have flies at times that make the beached inhabitable to humans. They must be food for something or eat something else that would overrun the beaches. Likely there is a place for them in the scheme of beaches. I would bet scientists don’t know enough about them yet. The boy has no answers for my ramblings. When I stop, he looks up at me with a speculative squint. As we sit silently, he carries out his carnage but more slowly with more selection. Now he only gets the ones who land in a certain spot. Soon he is distracted by a sea lion on a nearby buoy. As the kids gather for another lecture, I get up and go back to work.

    As I navigate through the channel, I realize I don’t know enough to judge him. I don’t know if what I said to him will make a difference or if he’ll think of me as just another adult who doesn’t get it. Perhaps he was smashing live things because he gets smashed psychologically by the world everyday. Perhaps if he smashes enough of these flies he will grow up and not smash other animals that bug him, like coyotes or cougars, bears or wolves. Animals we already know benefit the earth. Perhaps.

  26. Jim Macdonald Avatar

    Just wanted you all to know that I haven’t forgotten about this discussion. I will be writing a reply to Brian tonight.


    If there are weird HTML marks in this, my apologies (if not, feel free to follow the link) – I’m testing out how I should format my reply.

  27. dbaileyhill Avatar

    Here’s my story; I spent a lot of time at my gramma’s house, and one of my earliest memories is spending time in her flower garden and generally spending as much time as possible outdoors. There were lots of ants. Ants of all sizes. I had made one too many trips going in and back out the door. So, i had to choose where i wanted to stay. Outside of course! But i was rather annoyed at not having the freedom to go back and forth as much as i felt like. I stalked the back door, and paced back and forth on the walkway, and became bored. I decided to pass the time stepping on ants. There were always plenty of ants. When she saw what i was doing, she wasn’t too happy about it. But I kept at it and she said something like this; Don’t you step on those little ants. You know they are just trying to make a living like anyone. How would you like it if someone came along and stepped on you? You don’t know, they may even be little people. They have as much of a right to be here as you do.
    Sometimes, i would forget and step on them. but it finally sank in… after having to think about while sitting quietly on a chair, for what seemed like forever. That was the worst! having to sit still. Her words really made a lasting impression.
    But, i will admit that i draw the line with mosquitoes….and when i am in New Zealand, it’s the sandflies. The flies are bloodsuckers just like mosquitoes only worse!

  28. Linda Hunter Avatar

    dbailey . . nice story. you had a great grandma . . I guess as kids we often do thoughtless killing. Now the mosquitoes and biting things . . well that isn’t mindless killing is it . . thats up close and personal. I have a good friend who was letting ants crawl on him one day and watching them as they groomed the hairs on his arm. He was content to let them have their way until they got to his belt line. There does have to be a line huh?

  29. dbaileyhill Avatar

    I agree, there is a line.

  30. C. Walton Avatar
    C. Walton

    Why protect wildlife or wildlands?

    The answer to this question leads us to both pragmatic as well as ethical considerations.

    Practical considerations would be things such as the value certain animals and plants play in maintaining a healthy ecosystem. One example of this would be the documented increase in biomass and biodiversity that has been seen in Yellowstone since the return of the wolf to the park (the regeneration of riparian habitats, as well as rebounding fox, songbird, beaver, pronghorn and other small mammal populations). These can be considered practical benefits since we all depend on the health of the natural environment for our enjoyment (hunting, camping, photography, hiking, etc.), as well as for our survival (water, air, food, etc).

    The second consideration is ethical.
    If a more advanced race of beings from another galaxy came to our planet and subsequently began exterminating the human race, would we consider this alien race’s actions ethical? Would their vastly greater intellect, culture and scientific understanding give them the right to kill human beings without consideration or mercy? If so, doesn’t this mean that “might makes right”? (After all, it isn’t only physical prowess that creates “might”, but also mental prowess).

    If we answer “no” to the questions above how do we justify killing or hurting other creatures for fun or expediency? Simply because they can’t think or live like we do? Because we are mightier? Of course there are many times that we have to kill animals in order to survive (and the ramifications/implications of the implied ethical principle are many), but how can one justify killing other living creatures at times when it is clearly avoidable?

    The idea above is closely related to the “reverance for life” principle that Brian Ertz mentioned earlier. However, unlike Brian, I don’t see any inherent contradiction between this value and some other values, such as the value of biological diversity. To have “reverence for life” does not mean that we must avoid killing “no matter the cost”. It just means that we recognize the value of all life and that we work, as the only conscious stewards of the land, to protect that life. In fact, protecting one individual species from extinction by reducing populations of an introduced species is not a renouncement of the “reverence for life” principle, but rather an expression of it.

    In thinking of the value of protecting wildlife I am reminded of a quote I once heard. I will paraphrase:
    “the first rule of solving any puzzle: save all the pieces.”

    I strongly believe that we should not be removing any of the pieces of this puzzle (life on earth) before we even know what those pieces do or how they relate to the whole.

  31. vicki Avatar

    Thanks for the kind words.
    I have been reading a bit about the “justice” aspect of this. There are as many definitions of the word justice, as definitions of hell in The Bible.
    People will really need to find an accepted definition. Justice as in punishment, justice as in “just desserts”, or justice as in behavior or treatment? So many terms…so little time.
    Maybe justice here, for the intents we discuss, is the ability to hold humans and corporations legally accountable for harm they do to the environment?
    Or not?

  32. Brian Ertz Avatar

    C. Walton,

    The reference to the “reverence for life” was meant to be qualified by the context of Schweitzer’s “will-to-live” basis for founding intrinsic value/moral agency.

    i did not mean to suggest that Schweitzer’s “reverence for life” prescribed avoiding killing “no matter the cost”. I meant to suggest that building an ethical justification that identifies things like intrinsic value as an extension of moral consideration in idea’s like his “will-to-live”, others’ sentience, even the ability of a being to reason is tricky business. If I reason that inflicting pain on a being is immoral or unethical – or denying a being life is immoral/unethical – then I’ve painted myself into quite the corner because there is no avoiding these things. There’s no avoiding contradiction.

    C. Walton, I think you’re right – I don’t think that there is any inherent contradiction between ‘reverence for life’ and biodiversity. But similarly, if I reason that we ought “recognize the value of all life and that we [ought] work, as the only conscious stewards of the land, to protect that life” (I entirely and whole-heartedly agree with this) I may avoid the problem of contradiction mentioned above, but I have come no further in supporting an ethical basis, a qualified basis, with which to suggest that strip-mining, clear-cutting, aerial gunning of wildlife, hazing of bison, slaughter zones for bighorn etc. is ethically wrong – because there will always be the ability to qualify those activities in ways that suggest they are “protecting life” (John Stuart Mill to use the same example) or are necessary toward a similar end. Put another way, I’ve got very little doubt that the boards of Boise-Cascade, Phelps-Dodge, Simplot Co., Sen. Larry Craig, Sec. Kempthorne, etc. would all agree with the statement that we ought :

    recognize the value of all life and that we [ought] work, as the only conscious stewards of the land, to protect that life

    there’s no avoiding self-contradiction AND having meaningful qualifiers with which to determine an action as ethically or morally ‘wrong’
    We need to have standards for identifying unethical choices and the balance of ethical value between a cow and a wolf because we need to galvanize response, we need to be moved to act if we are to preserve what we value. I think that a wolf is more valuable than a cow, more valuable than the subsidy received on behalf of the owner of the cow, and I think it’s a moral and ethical issue. I made the above point in response to the suggestion that we should not act in self-contradictory ways (EX used: use of genetic identification of sub-population as basis to seek protection for bison population is potentially self-contradictory). I don’t think that it is possible to avoid contradiction while keeping all wildlife enthusiasts involved to the extent necessary, let alone is it possible to avoid and hope to acquire meaningful protection. I don’t think it’s possible to avoid our ideas chafing, nor do I think its bad that they do, while having meaningful bright lines about what is ethical or not and why. This is where the suggestion that a public/private pragmatic approach – as is happening – is appropriate. collectivism is appropriate publicly (the most effective arguments ought be pursued w/ lawsuits, legislation, etc.) but we ought all have our own reasons – whether academic, personal (as has delighted me and been beautifully and surprisingly demonstrated on this thread), political, etc.

    we all have our ideas – and all our ideas move the ball forward.

  33. Jim Macdonald Avatar

    This is in response to Brian; however, others should certainly feel free to agree or take issue with what I say here.

    The first thing I want to do is make some distinctions. First of all, there is a difference between valuing something and believing that the values that one holds are justifiable as general rules of ethics.

    Everyone has values; no one could so much as decide to go left versus going right if there weren’t something preferential, or valued, in making one choice over another. Our choices always expose our values. In my particular case, I have a special value for Yellowstone National Park over any other place on the earth. I also take special care to take care of my baby child. I choose to eat certain foods over others. Values are natural. No world exists where everyone is going to choose everything equally. Leibniz used similar reasoning in what he called his law against indiscernibles. If two things were truly indiscernable, there would be no reason for one to be instead of the other. While he understood that law in the absolute sense as applying to the choices of God, the same is true of us. Anything that truly is equal before our eyes may as well not exist.

    However, that we have values is one thing; being able to suggest that the values we must hold as beings are right and should be followed by others is something else altogether. I might love Yellowstone, but I have no idea how I could possibly argue to someone else that Yellowstone is better than some other place. I might love buffalo, but I have no idea how I would argue that in the cosmic sense of things, that a buffalo has greater value than the planet Jupiter or yesterday’s trash, or the molecules or anything else for that matter. That I am drawn to one and not the other is without a doubt; that I would suggest a moral system based on what I do and value is something else altogether. Buffalo during the rut have values – many abrasive to our own – and yet buffalo have never codified a moral law for all to follow.

    A second distinction I would like to make is on the notion of a contradiction. I take a contradiction to be something that is and is not in the same time and in the same respect. A contradiction is not a mere opposite. For instance, if I’m at Tower Junction and want to get to Norris (after all the roads have opened for the season), going left will get me there, and so will going right. This is not a contradiction. One can do either. At different times, one could do both. However, what would be a contradiction would be to go left and right from Tower Junction at the very same time. That is simply impossible unless one changes the respect one means by that.

    So, let’s move this forward a little. When you took my ethics as being a derivative of the categorical imperative (namely that one should will a rule such that it would become a universal law), Kant argued that things such as lying could never be just because there is something inherently self-contradictory in a world where people would ever be permitted to lie. Of course, don’t tell that to the person planning your next surprise birthday party; they would be quite upset to find out that their lie to you was immoral. Kant’s error was that he abstracted contradiction from the context of reality (which he had to do because he didn’t believe you could ever know things as they are in themselves, merely the way we necessarily thought about the things we perceived). As such, contradictions for him are puzzlingly reduced to mere categories of thinking, and the variances in existence necessarily had to hold little sway no matter how absurd it became. In fact, this approach to ethics and reality is itself self-contradictory. There’s no contradiction in believing that lies are generally a bad idea and yet at the same time recognizing the exception to the rule because of the context of the situation. Right and left may generally take you different directions, but if you are on a circuitous road, you’ll end up in the same place. You’ll never recognize that if you don’t see that your principles are always part of a real context.

    This is why Kant isn’t really a rationalist in the traditional sense; ultimately his view tends to destroy the connection between reality and reason. That’s no doubt why Hegel uttered the famous maxim that the real is the rational and the rational is the real; no one would have bothered until Kant made such a mess of everything. But because of Kant’s mess, the divorce of thought from reality, of ethics from common sense, a lot of people recognizing that was wrong still managed not to understand the full extent of the problem. That would be an interesting discussion in itself (I’d argue utilitarianism and pragmatism both recognize the problem of Kant without recognizing the essence of the mistake).

    Anyhow, the point here more concisely is that the charge of contradiction is a very special charge. It doesn’t involve mere opposites. People can value different things. Some value cows, some value wolves, some value buffalo, some value the grass, some value some or all of these things. They may act on those beliefs to the detriment of the other. However, that’s not contradictory any more than some people go left and others go right. It seems awfully probable that different beings will have different values. What is contradictory is to assert a value for all that one cannot justify (like the value that humans are the most important beings) and insist on that for everyone else. It is contradictory to assert that the ways of the civilized white man are better than that of the nomadic person of color and then self-righteously enforce that value.

    Okay, on to another confusion. You have confused my view about values for one far more conservative than the one I actually hold. I don’t hold simply that all life is of equal value as far as we know in terms of justice; I hold that all beings of all types are. The tiniest sub-sub-sub electron is as far as we know as equal in value to the star that it in part composes. Aldo Leopold’s land ethic doesn’t even go far enough. We have no reason to presume that any being whatsoever has a higher value. So, yeah, like you, I know of no way to justify biodiversity because biodiversity is simply a dogma, a preferential value that still treats too many beings as mere objects in the service of the living. That doesn’t mean that there isn’t a place for it, but not as the rationale for action (rather the consequence).

    So, the net result of that world is that though we find ourselves with all kinds of values – we value so many things rooted deeply in our experience (things we have shared here in this thread – for me, I value certain secret locations in Yellowstone based on some very deeply personal experiences from my early adulthood) – yet we have no way of asserting those values as absolute save the very minimalistic limits of reason itself. This is not a contradiction; it may lead to all kinds of contrary courses of action, changes of heart and mind, going left one day and going right another, but this is not the stuff of contradiction. What has been contradictory has been the assertion of values that go beyond what we know and the enforcement of those values onto others.

    Racism, sexism, nationalism and on and on are rooted in contradiction. The oppression of our continent’s indigenous people have been rooted in it; look at the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1868, a war that American Indians won on the battlefield, and yet here we see the same call for a particular way of life over another.

    But, let’s assume for a second that we rid ourselves of all these contradictions. Of course, we will still have conflict. Our likes and dislikes aren’t the same; when we breathe the air, we displace air that had every reason to be left alone as it did to be inhaled and exhaled by us. It’s a very humbling thought. We have no idea whether we act for good or for bad, but act we must. Freedom itself is forced on us, and it’s a burden when we try to identify any further rationale for why we do what we do. Instead of breathing the air because we have, because that is our nature as breathing beings – we feel we need to justify our breating of the air as somehow appropriate. That’s an abstraction. It takes us away from simply breathing, from simply acting in the world.

    The net result of this worldview isn’t to get into some pissing match about cows and buffalo (who the heck knows whether Gandhi was right or wrong – when you’ve been mistreated as badly as cows and concrete beams have been in the service of an uber-philosophy for the chosen – anything that raises a value has something of the sacred to it). Rather, the net result is one of constant critique, where we are constantly in search of our own intellectual vanity, the vanity of others, and trying to rid ourselves of it. Ultimately, it does tend to embrace a wider diversity of relationships, however not as some meaningless intrinsic value (taken by itself, that’s simply an abstraction) but as a consequence of a world where we are not burdened by trying to justify that which it is not possible to justify. We’ll eat, perhaps hunt, love some and dislike others, because it is rooted in our natures, in our experience – not because we try to raise our experience to some kind of general statement about the way the world should be. The irony is that it’s the empricists, those who supposedly want to root everything in our experience, who have had the greatest tendency to take us further and further away from it – taking our simple smell of the wonderful sulfur pool to some kind of reduced value for some general good for some arbitrary group (of certain people). Ironically, it’s reason that calls on us to simply be (and that’s a myriad complexity of wonder all to itself).

    We are beings who taste, smell, see, hear, and touch; that’s all we need to be. That’s all the animals that roam need to be; that’s all the rocks in the fields need to be. We don’t need to say that our special moments are the special moments; at the same time, we are also not rejecting our human capacity for dialogue and thought. Instead, we desire that the union of them be recognized; that the thought that contains that desire be recognized as sound. Instead, we confuse the preferences of our experience for rules about experience itself. That confusion causes so many problems, divides the world, and makes long essays like this verbose and yet necessary. Our words lose their feeling, lost in jargon, lost in eloquence and sophistry. We are no longer admiring the way the water spits out of the geyser, wondering about the petrification of wood, or seeing mountain buffalo for what they are. Instead, we are divided in a world torn apart by the abusive insistence that so many have had that there’s more to living than this, that we have to insist on certain beings as better than others.

    What a disservice we do to wildlife when we put them on the same kind of pedestal that others have used to abuse them.

    And, yet resist we must; we are all caught up in the problem. We cannot pretend that we do not live in the same universe where such injustice exists.

    That’s why I said in my essay that fighting for buffalo is a mere preference of mine, but the injustice that they face is certain and the same injustice we must all fight, even if we do so following different instincts in our experience.

    Anyhow, I know this was long. Those who have had the patience to read it are clearly strange people (hi, nice to meet you).


  34. vicki Avatar

    Jim and Brian,
    You two ought to start your own think tank. Or throw a book together, maybe “The Earth Has Purpose, a Colection of Philosophical Thoughts and Debates.” I am glad you are both on our side!
    You may need to break all of this down into smaller lessons for us to share with the students we are gathering for our bison project.
    Since you are both so well versed and educated on the issues faced by the wildlife in the Rocky Mountain states, perhaps you should get some info together on how you feel we should begin the education of the next generation.
    No matter how much we try to change things now, ultimately the responsibility of what we begin will be theirs to continue.
    When I read Ralph’s blog, I become so informed. I also see that there a so many folks with the same goal I have, to give the gift of nature to our youth. Bob Jackson and Save Bears seem aligned with that goal. dBaileyHill is a force of change and an impression maker….the type of teacher that makes a lifetime impression on people’s hearts.
    RH takes an approach that does not deviate from it’s objective, he is someone who can teach us all to be resilliant in our endeavors.
    Brian has taught me through humor, and wisdom. Ralph is the embodiment of ability and effort. He is a person who teaches us to reach out, and he is on the cutting edge and doing just that.
    There is JB, who is reasonable. Mack who takes initiative and action…and is always positive. Everyone here contributes something, and has a value in their voice.
    I fall into another group. I am the average Joe, I am learning as I go, I feel the need to make an impact on the problems. I want to help, but don’t always know how. I want to change the world, and will, with proper guidance and hopefully by reaching kids.
    This string is about protecting wildlife, and how. I say we have the thinkers it takes to find solutions. The people who want to apply them, and the perfect way to reach out to those seeking an avenue to be a part of the solution are all here.
    How do we protect the wildlife? By showing the world what we see, and how what we see effects each of us, and therefore them.
    How do we do it? One person at a time. One vote per person. One county, one city, one state, one law suit, one country, one world. Create a massive domino effect. We build momentum one person at a time.
    We protect wildlife by remembering not to alienate the opposition, but to change how they see the problem.
    Pull together the foundation that is here, on this blog. The thinkers, the doers, the new comers, the hopeful, the dedicated…and unite with one mission.
    This last year has been difficult to deal with. There have been so many struggles that we’ve had to endure. We have watched the political system fail, and be bought. We have watched bison lured by their hunger, marching to their end at the hands of those we had entrusted the welfare of wildlife to. We have watched the premature and ill-conceived implimentation of plans that enable senseless killing of wolves. we have watched the world begin to feel the painful withdraw of it’s dependance on oil and energy. We have seen that dependance jeopardize the existence of species already in peril.
    It has been difficult to remain hopeful and committed to saving wildlife and ecosystems when , at times, it has seemed a doomed mission.
    Thanks to Ralph for providing me, and others, a forum where we can feed our need for information, and to all the people here who inspire us to keep trying.
    I think the birth of a group that can do what needs done has occured on this blog.

  35. Catbestland Avatar

    I would feel more optimistic about a bright future for man if he spent less time proving that he can outwit Nature and more time tasting her sweetness and respecting her seniority.
    E. B. White (1899 – 1985)

  36. Jim Macdonald Avatar


    I hear you. Several years ago, I decided not to finish my Ph.D. in philosophy because I did not want to be stranded in the ivory tower; I wanted to take action.

    So, I took action, joined a group of people taking action together, and in the process, became an organizer.

    I really believe strongly that people need to meet together, meet in their local communities, and organize together (forums like this can only plant the seeds for what happens face-to-face where we actually live). It could be marching in the street, it could be holding up signs at corners, it could be hosting panels and educational events, it could be almost anything, but people need to organize together and almost see the process of organizing as almost as important as the issue that brings people together. To undo what keeps us separated, we must find ways to meet.

    And, that will change the culture and bring embodiment to these thoughts, which mean nothing for us without a context.

    Thank you for writing this. And, when you all come out Yellowstone way, we’ll do what we can to help get the word out. We may not be as successful as we like, but it’s part of a long hard process.

  37. vicki Avatar

    I am a big advocate of education. I sould encourage you to finish that degree:) You are definitely not lacking ability.

    thanks so much for the kind words. I agree whole heartedly. We have to meet.

    Here is a bit of successful networking. I ammeeting in May with dBaileyHill, and hope to meet Susan. I am also going to try to swing through Jackson and meet Mack. Now I have been in contact with Heather, and she will likely meet us for the bison project too, later this summer. I hope that you may have time as well. The afore mentioned gtoup is composed of people from 5 states. That is pretty impressive considering we all came together via Ralph’s blog.
    With any luck, we may all get some great ideas and support, so we may act in our home state.

    I am in Colorado, and I am hoping to meet Catbestland, and TPageCO, too. We are trying to get Wildlife watchers organized in my home state(which I am proud to say is becoming greener each day!!! Thanks Governor Ritter and company.)

    My big outreach will undoubtedly involve teens. I have great hope for our future generations. The lapse in education about civics and the environment has left us with a huge clean slate!!!! I hope to somehow incorporate my involvement with WW, and an outdoor education fund. That may enable me to take under-privledged and at risk teens, and teens who are pro-active environmentally, and pair them up…mentors of sorts. Those teens could work on projects for public awareness, and would take trips to the wilderness to learn, first hand, what they will help preserve.

    I am a bit of a dreamer. But I keep reminding myself that these kids will vote when they are 18, and will decide their future based on who impacts them now.

    I look forward to meeting! I hope to meet you this summer as well!!!

    Let me know, via my email address(you have it), where and when your group will be meeting the last week of May. I may try to attend!

  38. vicki Avatar

    Sorry, I am so full of typos today! I was on call all night-and am now exhausted.

  39. Jim Macdonald Avatar

    We meet – Buffalo Allies of Bozeman – every Wednesday at 7 PM in the 2nd floor cafeteria NW corner of Montana State University’s Strand Union Building (student union). So, we’d love to have you there, as we are brand new and can use all the momentum we can get – even from outsiders.

    For you or anyone else interested in joining us, we don’t have officers or leaders – we meet as a group and decide by consensus. Parking at MSU is pretty much allowed after 6 PM, and so there’s plenty of that for people.

    Since we are brand new, by the end of May, we still may not have a tightly oiled machine, but we are making steady progress.

    I’ll write to you offline again as the time nears about trying to get media. I’ll try to remember to bring this up so that people – if the group is interested – can put it on its radar. BFC may also be interested in some aspect of this as well.

    (tying this back to the thread)
    As far as being all but dissertation, I made the right decision for me (at least as far as I can tell); I don’t have a single regret about this (in a life with several regrets). I guess we can chalk it up in some sense to making decisions based on conflicts in our values. We make decisions; they are all value decisions of a sort. However, my choice is hardly something I’d endorse for everyone. If someone tried to, I might have to resist them like I do what happens to the buffalo.

  40. vicki Avatar

    Looking forward to your email, I will be in touch.

  41. JB Avatar


    I have no training in philosophy. My view of ethics comes from psychology and so is rooted in how individuals tend to perceive ethical dilemmas. Yes, it is quantitative and reductionist–the kind of view that postmodernists abhor.

    I tried to get this across in my earlier post, but I don’t think the message came through (apologies). From the standpoint of psychologists, values are practical–that is, they serve a function. Specifically, they help us sort out our priorities by judging a thing’s importance (i.e. value) for meeting our needs/goals.

    You said: “I don’t hold simply that all life is of equal value as far as we know in terms of justice; I hold that all beings of all types are.”

    I cannot reconcile this view with what I know about values. If all things hold equal value then the concept of value is meaningless–it does nothing to distinguish one thing from another; it is a constant, not a variable. Yet, you go on to acknowledge the high value you place in Yellowstone and bison? I don’t disagree with you (about the value of bison/YNP), I’m simply having trouble reconciling these positions…they seem contradictory?

    As you suggest, our personal experiences affect how much value we assign to a particular object. Research tells us that, in turn, the objects we value (and how much we value those objects) affects our perception of what is in our own interest. From this point of view, values can be viewed as a driving force that pushes us to act in a manner congruent with our assessment of our needs; that is, our self-interest.

    From my limited knowledge, the philosophical view of ethics seems largely concerned with justifying particular actions. As a psychologist, I can tell you that people are masters at justifying all sorts of actions (especially when they serve our own perceived self-interest). Thus, from a practical standpoint, the real challenge of environmental ethics is in persuading individuals that the type of “land ethic” Leopold envisioned IS, in fact, in their own best interest and not just an attempt to persuade them to act in a manner that is consistent with someone else’s.

    While we’re on the subject of self interest, I don’t believe in altruism. I find it annoying that environmentalists (I consider myself one) often proclaim the high road, suggesting that hunters, ranchers ,loggers, miners, etc. are motivated by their own interest while they themselves are acting altruistically. Bullshit! I am motivated by my self interest to protect YNP, wolves, bears, coyotes, and the ecosystems on which they depend. Even if I receive no benefit in fitness (sorry, now I’m adding evolution lingo to the mix), I PERCEIVE a benefit–it makes me feel better to know that these creatures exist in the park and we as a society have protected an ecosystem that functions largely without our intervention.

  42. Jim Macdonald Avatar

    Hey JB,

    I think you’ll see that there’s no contradiction if you keep in mind the respect in which I say that values are numerous and plentiful and the respect where they disappear, at least as far as we know.

    All decisions are rooted in values; we couldn’t so much as make a choice unless there is a value judgment involved.

    However, the value judgments that we have in a particular place in a particular context that apply to what we decide do not therefore rise to a general rule. That is, just because I chose to go left to get to Norris does not mean that I believe that my value in going left is a general rule that should apply to everyone in every instance. It may not even apply to me the next time I go.

    Just because I have a value does not make that value universal.

    I did not say that values don’t exist or that there is nothing universal about them. Values are universal when they apply to necessary principles. If someone contradicts themselves, they have said something that has no value; when the call on others to act on it; there is value in resisting it (not just for me but for everyone).

    I love my baby boy; I would never pretend that you should love him just as much. (And, it’s not in my self interest either – or anyone else’s interest)

    People valued farming over wildlife (it goes back to John Locke’s views on property rights). However, as a result, they forced those values on everyone and everything else. The value of farming was not necessarily wrong; what was wrong was the insistence that farming was a superior way of life for everyone. I’m saying it does us no good to make the same error with wildlife. We should fight for wildlife not because we think that everyone should value wildlife equally but because it has never made any sense that we have oppressed wildlife the way we have. We don’t do wildlife any favors forcing a pedestal under them we cannot defend; why can’t we value wildlife simply because we do and fight against a world that keeps that from being possible?

    Anyhow, to your other points about self interest, I don’t know what to say except that whether you approach it from self interest or in some other way (I don’t like to separate what’s good for others from what’s good for oneself), the question will still be what is good; what is actually in one’s interest. So, one of my points against the utilitarian point of view isn’t that it is self-interested (or human-interested); it’s that it’s vacuous. It doesn’t actually tell us what is good. Yet, people have used it in any way, depending on their value assumptions, to make it work any way they want it to work. The real problem is why we think the values we hold should apply to everyone else. What is the nature of those values, and how can we act on them? That’s what I understand the primary question.

  43. Brian Ertz Avatar

    There are some who can live without wild things, and some who cannot….Like winds and sunsets. Wild things were taken for granted until progress began to do away with them. Now we face the question whether still higher “standard of living” is worth its cost in things natural, wild and free….These wild things, I admit, had little human value until mechanization assured us of a good breakfast, and until science disclosed the drama of where they come from and how they live. The whole conflict thus boils down to a question of degree. We the minority see a law of diminishing returns in progress, our opponents do not.

    Aldo Leopold


    Kant’s abstracted rendition of contradiction is entirely consistent with his foundation of moral agency in the noumenal realm. That is, if for a subject to be endowed with moral agency/consideration, that subject must be rational enough to be capable of the abstraction of morality – or that determination is a function a reason – a noumenal enterprise – morality is a consequence of reason – one that cannot reason cannot make a moral or immoral choice, it’s something else. the standard by which the morality is to be determined on an inherent contradiction of the universalization of a maxim/law. it is entirely appropriate that the determination as to consistency be uniquely abstract – the consistency of such is the function/qualifier of moral determination – being as end in itself ! as to the test of universalized law in the second development of the CI – i guess i always thought that the rigid terms that you describe were used by teachers/proffs to illustrate the point. i don’t see how the puzzling reduction to categories of thinking holds bearing on this – though i see its limitation. look – i agree with you, i think that the empirical has some bearing on the morality of a decision – the real world/our experience informs moral/ethical determination. but my agreeing with it does not qualify the judgement that kant was wrong, as you’ve suggested. i’d be interested to hear your qualification as to why kant was wrong in the distinction ~ i.e. :

    ultimately his view tends to destroy the connection between reality and reason

    why is this bad; why ought it be discounted; or why ought moral determinations be grounded in the phenomenal ? this is the question that needs answered/qualified to be able to discard kant. perhaps it’d more compelling to suggest the destruction of the connection of intrinsic value – or moral consideration – from the empirical is a bad thing, especially when if one is hoping to found ethical consideration in nature.

    In fact, this approach to ethics and reality is itself self-contradictory

    again, i don’t get this. i think that his approach is remarkably consistent and reasonable – just not all that practical (as you mention). To kill kant, we have to do so by demonstrating the contradiction – that it’s not ‘reasonable’.

    Some value cows, some value wolves, some value buffalo, some value the grass, some value some or all of these things. They may act on those beliefs to the detriment of the other. However, that’s not contradictory any more than some people go left and others go right. It seems awfully probable that different beings will have different values. What is contradictory is to assert a value for all that one cannot justify (like the value that humans are the most important beings) and insist on that for everyone else.

    this is interesting. what makes the ‘oppression’ or ‘contradiction’ of what is happening to the buffalo any more real than what happens to slickspot peppergrass, the meander of a stream, or a permittee’s alleged right to the forage for his cattle on the Gallatin – “custom and culture”? we can’t skirt this determination – not if we hope to justify advocacy. it ought not be as relative as merely preference.

    But, let’s assume for a second that we rid ourselves… [all of it] …we put them on the same kind of pedestal that others have used to abuse them.

    i like this ~ perhaps I agree with it. but we’ve come no closer to understanding what to resist or why. we have no way of determining . it’s all relative. ‘the cowboy’s custom and culture is dying, held under the oppression of an elitist subculture of environmentalists who would rather watch wolves, pygmy rabbits, sage grouse, and bison than allow these stewards of the land to persist. held under the oppression of wolves depredation, bisons’ brucellosis, or at least theft of forage ~ we must resist…’

    Rather, the net result is one of constant critique, where we are constantly in search of our own intellectual vanity, the vanity of others, and trying to rid ourselves of it.

    ain’t that the truth 😉

    And, yet resist we must; we are all caught up in the problem. We cannot pretend that we do not live in the same universe where such injustice exists.

    again – the qualification for determining self-contradiction has been drowned in relativism. i don’t know whether to turn left, right, or just spread my wings and fly. as far as i can tell – we should resist telling others what to do or how to be – because inflicting a particular ethical determination upon others is oppressive/self-contradictory. but we must do so in a way that protects bison ? or it’s not a contradiction to insist that a species not be oppressed – even if that insistence can be justified to be an imposition on another’s being-there, on their particular situation/interest/value ?

    no. no. there are general wills – there are ethical constitutions that we express and enforce – not just resist – and apply to all of us when entering into social situations ~ when communicating/interacting/commerce etc. and the wild & wildlife are granted moral consideration as a function of these generalized ethical obligations. Look, we could go into Rousseau ~ (Locke and Hobbes are two others whose follow-ups jive with the following less well) regarding the relinquishment of autonomy and the development of social contexts or generalized wills which found the necessity and existence of ulterior exercises of sovereign determination (what you seem to characterize as self-contradiction ~ that we ought not extend ethical decisions onto each-other) to substantiate the notion that it’s ok to extend ethical obligations – and it’s ok to push for your ethical obligation (adversarial checks & balances) in the civil forums established to do just that ~ that’s my original suggestion regarding judicial enforcement – the courts. it’s ok to introduce and enfranchise species and sub-populations incrementally with a firm shoulder pushing for more expansive standards for admittance. that’s not an act of oppression or favoritism – it’s an ushered ‘quick – get the hell through the door while you’ve got the chance’ in the context of an administration that is closing off the spigot. self-contradiction ?

    The Leopold quote at the top does demonstrate the urgency of advocacy – it’s not just that a thing or species is oppressed — it’s that species and systems are under threat of losing their being altogether. [enter ontological implications here] that’s why genetic research and explicit values judgements associated with immediate protection is granted one population over another – because there are biological indications that explicitly indicate the threat to species’ and ecosystems existence – and we recognize that this must be a more urgent red flag and garner a more robust response than other scales of justice might afford. sub-populations contribute to an understanding of unique characteristics associated with a given system or systems – and the protection extended sub-populations contributes to the protection of such context – the system in which a sub-species is found. this is why Bush FWS denial of ESA protections for species like the Big Lost River Whitefish or the arctic grayling substantiating their denial on existing populations elsewhere are both biologically and ethically destructive. the administration is breaking down advancements biologically which is more frequently talked about – but the implications to the recognition of ethical principles that expand criteria for ethical obligation to both unique sub-populations – but also entire unique systems, is significant. it’s a hard hit for folk who recognize the potential of the ESA.

    Jim, i’m with you – Fuck the man – i’d like to see it, you even had me thinking heidegger for a moment – but that’s quite a bite for a monday night. now convince me you’re not a relativist :

    We have no idea whether we act for good or for bad


    however not as some meaningless intrinsic value (taken by itself, that’s simply an abstraction) but as a consequence of a world where we are not burdened by trying to justify that which it is not possible to justify.

    we’ve got to find an anchor – otherwise there’s no escaping self-contradiction and everything is oppressive.

    Here’s a start: Gandhi was wrong about the cow

    JB –

    if someone were to offer to give you a million dollars to set a fire in some pristine ecosystem bounding with wildlife out west – would you do it ? i’d say that you’re right that we can decide that we value different things and the push for those things becomes self-interest. but the preservation of a thing – allowing it to be itself – must be a different kind of self-interest – deciding how we look at the world, which self-interest to see through – is the question – perhaps not better, maybe just more sustainable… and there’s got to be something altruistic about that !!!

  44. Jim Macdonald Avatar

    Hi Brian,

    I don’t have the luxury of time today, so I need to make my points as quickly and as succinctly as possible.

    1. It’s very unusual to say someone who openly espouses first principles (like the law of noncontradiction) as a relativist. You get that no doubt from the belief I have that you can’t say anything more than you can derive from first principles about values, and perhaps moreso because I don’t think the categorical imperative actually is a meaningful derivation from the law of noncontradiction. However, I maintain that first principles are meaningful ethical guides, do lead to some universal values (when their limits have been crossed), and so the result is not relativism. The result is pluralism, a world where a lot goes, but not a world where anything goes.

    2. The categorical imperative is rooted in self-contradiction. It’s not simply a hypothetical stance toward morality (if there are moral agents, then they must act this way), it’s the entire hypothetical stance toward the world as it is that’s at issue. You cannot presume Being to derive principles for acting in a Being you claim you can know nothing about. That is to say that Being is and is not from the standpoint of the individual. So, to derive a moral principle abstracted from Being itself is already to speak against oneself. The hypothetical categorical is absurd. In practice that works itself out in seeing principles of thought as mere categories yet denying what is claimed as “mere” is something at all, then denying that when something else calls claim to our attention (like the different respects of Being), that it’s irrelevant. It’s really no different than the absurdity of Kant’s position against the ontological argument for the existence of God; you cannot deny that existence is a “real predicate” when you’ve denied that anyone can have any idea about reality. In the same way, you cannot abstract a moral principle, say that it is fully derived by the will of a hypothetical moral agent – claim that this is a nothing, and say that that applies to a something.

    So, yes, it is self-contradictory.

    3. I believe I already tried to show what the contradiction is that makes wildlife a cause for justice. When someone generalizes a moral law from a particular individual value, it is certainly a contradiction because it is not possible to derive a general from a particular except in the case where there is only one instance of the particular (a class including one member). Yet, to call for people to insist that one knows and therefore should act on a value that one cannot possibly derive is contradictory, right?

    I’ve got to run.


  45. Catbestland Avatar

    Every creature is better alive than dead, men and moose and pine trees, and he who understands it aright will rather preserve its life than destroy it.
    Henry David Thoreau

  46. media Avatar

    1. the story about the deer was good. that’s why i like wild animals, etc. they deserve respect. (i remember catching my first poisonous snake; i was so proud at my brilliance and control, until it bit me. at least it got a chance to fly.)

    2. similarily, using the ‘wild’ as a refuge from ‘violence’ and ‘gangs’ etc. is another good idea. i learned to enjoy fleeing to ‘uncivilized territory’ as a safe alternative to fighting; possibly a bad choice since it cuts down on learning to adapt to ‘society’. whatever.

    3. personally, i think one should try to ‘master’ several modes of reasoning, hence i am at times ‘utilitarian’ and other times in an ‘altered state’ more appropriate for areas where calculation is not the language (eg fishing).
    one big problem i see is people do make categorical statements as did Kant. e.g. dismissing ‘utilitarianism’ or ‘pragmatism’ when in fact acting for utilitarian and pragmatic reasons.

    i agree with jim that Kant is essentially contradictory, via his categorical imperative. in fact this is a kind of ethical rule which is both made to be broken and also likely actually serves the purpose of negating itself. its like asking a scientist to be objective, and hence eliminating his/her subjective self from the inquiry. the people who propose these rules typically want others to follow them, but they themselves are not required to follow them.

    However, what i remember from reading about Kant is his ‘critical realism’ which is the basis of science. Its not ‘categorical’ but interactive. Facts and logic (categories.).
    Science claims to be ‘objective’ yet it is created by ‘subjects’. People are aware of this (some argue its just a convention or social construction); one way to solve this is to assume science is correct, as is objectivity, while scientists and subjectivities are simply confused illusions. This would explain why NSF still funds them—-the blind funding the blind.
    Or one can take a pragmatic view, which is that the world may not be a platonic solid, nor an illusion, but some weird combination therof.

    From this view, everything is cost / benefit analyses. Get over it. Its just another language, what animals call optimal foraging theory. The same idea goes for ‘altruism’ which just about every biologist (should ) know is just a word exchangeable for ‘self-interest’. These are just words, labels. The whole world may be a ‘vibe’ or ‘feeling too’. Inventor of Quantum theory, Schrodinger, did think that electrons, etc. and other matter have feelings. (For this reason, my own group PETA, has been advocating for the rights of atoms, which should be written into the constitution. To join, please send $75/ week. ) Do what the natives do and speak their language too.

    (Many of these debates are religious, similar to whether the judaic version of the golden rule (don’t do unto others what you would not have them do to you’) is correct, God’s word, or rather the christian one (do unto others…).
    Of course, these debates do provides reasons for wars, profits, prophets, academic controversies, etc. This way, through action and rhetorical repetition, people might not have to read up on why their particular brand of logic is preferable over, say, Doritos, as an absolute value.
    (Remember, though this view is widely hated, Einstein showed relativity is an absolute.)

    For animal justice, the issue is what are the costs and benefits, for everyone/thing concerned.

    4. I was reading a critique of the ‘gorrilla preserves’ in Congo, where gorrillas are like wolves, or even more threatened (actually nearly extinct). It turns out Leakey, and the NWF, use a police force to protect the preserves. The force itself is run by a guy with big mineral interests in Congo; so the idea is save a few gorrilla preserves while also getting the right to profit by destroying alot of the Congo. (Multimillionaire Paulson of the US govt/ wall street spent millions preserving the peregrine falcon too; and i like the peregrines. destroy the world to save nature.) the archaeologoist Leakey, whose father was somewhat involved in putting down african resistance in Kenya (though apparently he may have favored a milder ‘reformist’ approach to english decolonization), and the NWF, apparently have few qualms when valuing gorrilas over other things in Congo. (The actual article seemed to be claiming the gorrilla reserves were, or are being used as a front by military groups used for western corporate colonization of the Congo. Gorrilla as human shield.)

    (me, i’m split. i’m down with the gorrillas, but down on mineral exploitation in congo. the congo people are all (except for the ones who work for Leakey and mining companies) victims of the situation, like the gorrillas. but even some of them will get the DVD player and paved road, and forget about the bush.)

    what does that have to do with preserving wildlife? to me, it means one has to look at the whole system.

    (if i want to get ‘hardcore’, i could make an argument to destroy all the wildlife, if it is simply going to legitimize by serving as a backdrop for the few people who get to own ski lodges. toni morrison in her book ‘beloved’ made a similar kind of case, about a slave woman who killed her baby for some reason.)

    as has been noted especially in the ‘ecojustice’ movement (which i think started in cancer alley in Lousiana, a place not too many environmentalists filling up their gas tanks may be aware of when off on their struggles, as being a ‘poor person of color’ area with a high cancer rate) many environmentalists often do not seem all that concerned with the whole system. like most people they want to get through the day doing something they are familar with and comfortable doing. save the peregrines and make $100M/yr.

    i think its good big groups are working with farmers, ranchers, hunters… and other non-pc types to try to make a deal in which all parties get their interests both preserved, and modified. in places like congo, i think they are trying to find a ‘win-win solution’ so you get gorrillas and ‘right livlihoods’. Some of this stuff is like ‘cult deprogramming’, or PR, or developing new interests—-to me, learning to hunt buffalos is better than learning to develop ski resorts.

    5. in sum, my view or value is a)thinking one can spread values (eg about wildlife) via PR, priopoganda or prosyletizing will likely not work for some segment of the population (and even turn them off)—-whether its sold as ‘ethical’, ‘good’, ‘for love of nature’, or ‘sustainability’. Most people just see the PR and go into selling pelts.
    b) trying to reduce reasons into simplistic formats won’t work. If one is going for pluralism, try multilinguism. All the different species maybe can then be hooked.

    7. i remember grayling were the biggest, most stupid and easiest trout i ever caught. i couldn’t believe it; where i am from you would never be able to catch ones like that. perhaps an educational program is needed to understand modern reality.

  47. vicki Avatar

    Although I would never set fire to anything, or blow anything up (bad for the ozone), I am beginning to see what the devastation of wildlife and habitat can push people to, and how those extremists get to that point. I dn’t condone their actions, but I agree that they have valid motivation.
    I see how absolutely helpless you can feel when you watch beauracracy and it’s failures irrepairably damage what resources we have left.
    I was asked yesterday by a 17 year old girl, why I want to protect buffalo. It was a very simple question. The answer was anything but simple.
    I could talk all day about the injustices perpetrated on the wildlife and environment in this country, let alone the world.
    But I wanted to help her find an understanding that would stick with her forever. So I had to stop and think about my answer.
    Finally, I asked her, “Have you ever seen a bison in the wild?” She said no, but she had seen a deer and a few elk before. She seemed tickled pink to say so. I asked her. “Do you want to see abison? Or more deer?”
    She giggled, and told me “Ya, I have never been any place where they (bison) are. I want to go see them though.” It took a second before I realized that she had no clue where bison were, they could have been two blocks away and she wouldn’t have known that.
    I had found my answer.
    I pulled a picture off of the shelf I had taken of two bison calves butting heads. I sat down next to her, and I asked her what she saw when she looked at the photo.
    She told me she saw a funny picture of two little buffaloes.
    I told her she was actually looking at two bison who are likely dead now. She had a horrified look on her face.
    I told her that there are very few wild bison left in the world, and their numbers are dropping. I explained that when they leave one of their last refuges, Yellowstone Park, they are most likely sent to slaughter. I explained what brucellosis was, and gave her some short and to the point background. I told her thatthere used to be so many bison that you could cover a small state with them.
    Her eyes were huge, and she looked so confused and sad.
    She asked me “what happened to them?”
    Now I can tell you that I will strive to save wildlife because this child has no idea what she is missing out on. She is the reason I will protect them. Because some where along the line, we forgot to give our children what is rightfully theirs. We forgot to tell them that natural resources belong to them, and to their children. I protect wildlife because there is a nation full of children who don’t even know they exist.
    It broke my heart. But I come across it often. And every time I hear it, I break out the educational info and photos. Most of these kids will never see a wild bison. None of them will if we don’t protect them.

Subscribe to get new posts right in your Inbox

Brian Ertz