Thursday, September 14, 2006

Environmentalists vs Animal Lovers

Recently there has been a big brouhaha made over the death of the host of The Crocodile Hunter show. Now I find that kind of public weeping extremely distasteful at best. I do not find it "sad" when a public figure dies. I have no personal allegiance to Noam Chomsky as a person anymore than I did to Jane Jacobs. Their works are useful to many, including me personally, but their deaths should be left to their families and friends to mourn, not strangers.

I'm also against everything Steve Irwin did in life and everything he represents. Like most people today I'm concerned over the environment but that doesn't extend to being an animal lover. On the contrary, I am very much opposed to the entire "animal rights" movement. I don't anthropomorphize animals or supplant a Disneyfied version for what animals really are. Wild animals are dangerous and unpredictable and it is neither respectful nor responsible to pretend they are otherwise.

With few exceptions (parrots, crows, primates and cetaceans come to mind) animals don't think and they don't learn. A crocodile acts based on instincts, not by weighing options using symbolic reasoning (thinking). It doesn't matter if you've been feeding it for years, it will just as cheerfully eat your baby as the steaks that are its usual fare. At one time, Steve Irwin fed a crocodile with his baby underneath his arm on camera. It was criminally negligent of him to endanger his own child and in a Just society some judge or social worker would have intervened.

Irwin conveyed a dangerous and suicidal attitude to millions as an ideal to be emulated. Regardless of his intentions, the effect of his acts is to endanger many others. This is criminal. And he did this in order to personally profit from it, which is despicable.

But let's get into animal rights. You want to know how much I'm not an animal lover? Well, the condors of California were on their way to extinction anyways, so why not just let them die already? As for the cutesey wuvwey pandas? I vote we kill them to prove a point about whole-habitat conservation and the greater importance of lower life-forms in ecosystems. Environmentalism is about self-preservation, not about warm fuzzy feelings for anime pandas.

Ecology has more to do with the bacteria in people's shit than it does with pandas raised in cages. Irwin wasn't an environmentalist, he was a travesty of environmentalism. People claim he promoted a love of nature but it's more accurate to say he promoted a perversion and exploitation of nature. Irwin took animals out of their habitats and put them on a pedestal for people to gawk at. Nature isn't animals and plants, nature is a system of animals and plants. If you want to see a genuine environmentalist, look to David Attenborough.

It's the same kind of thinking that gets people to feel sad for the cows with their big brown eyes but be scared of the evil bacteria in their guts, the same bacteria that are as important to a human being as the liver or kidneys. This is not a talking point. People's actions are informed by their beliefs, and beliefs that "cute animals are good, ugly animals are evil" do an incredible amount of damage both directly to humanity (as when people take antibiotics without appreciating that it is a kind of chemotherapy) and indirectly by destroying the biosphere.

What Irwin did wasn't founded on any notions of goodness. So how did he get away with it? How could he ever have been mistaken for an environmentalist? Well he got away with it because the environmental movement is split between two factions, the same two factions that divide every sector of our society. Enlightenment progressives and Romantics. The distinction between environmentalists and animal lovers (or animal rights activists) is the distinction between the Enlightenment (rationalists) and the Romantic (intuitionists) movements. David Brin talks about these distinct movements in history.

A lot of people in the green movement are animal lovers and not environmentalists. This is a kind of magical thinking, much like the irrational terror of radiation. The problem with this magical thinking is that it doesn't lead to rational decision-making. Actually, the problem with this particular brand of magical thinking is that there's a whole psycho-dynamic behind it that involves hatred of humans and seeking union with the nature that's being "murdered" by humans. These people worry about bears, wolves, and tigers because they're mammals like us and they have the big eyes that make them anthropomorphizable. So they devote resources to those animals with big eyes. Meanwhile, what we really have to be worried about are the algae, the phytoplankton, frogs and insects. We should be worried about the animals and plants that are dirty, slimy and repulsive, not the ones that are cute and cuddly.

I don't really keep up with conservation issues, but I'll give you an example from the energy sector. In the 70s, the world had the option of going to nuclear. Nuclear power is safe and sensible, and the fear of radiation is completely irrational. Storage of nuclear waste and even reactors blowing up were never issues until the greens made them issues. The greens made nuclear power economically and politically expensive. As a result the world never went nuclear. So what are we left with? Coal. Coal was always far, far more dangerous than nuclear ever was. Acid rain? That was the environmentalists' cause during the 80s. There would have been no acid rain with nuclear power. And you know what else there wouldn't have been? Global warming. Greens caused 50-80% of the global warming problem. The global warming we're seeing today wouldn't have happened until 2030 by which time electric cars would already have solved the problem. That's the power of irrationality.

I will leave you with this final thought in mind. The harmony of nature is that of overwhelming and collective murder.

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