The following post is the fourth part in a series of posts dedicated to Zoopolis. If you haven’t read the previous ones, it is recommended that you do so before reading the following text, especially if you haven’t read the book Zoopolis itself.
In this part we’ll focus on the second Zoopolis’ citizenship category – sovereign communities for “wild” animals.
A Better Protection From Humans
Donaldson and Kymlicka argue that as opposed to domesticated animals who should be considered as full citizens of human communities due to their dependency, “wild” animals should be seen as citizens of their own sovereign communities, whose relations to sovereign human communities would be regulated by norms of international justice. That according to them, would insure “wild” animals protection from various harms humans impose on them, harms which they divide into 3 broad categories:
“1. Direct, intentional violence-hunting, fishing, and trapping; the kidnapping of animals from the wild in order to stock zoos and circuses, or to meet demand for exotic pet -keeping and trophy-collecting, or other wild animal body or body part uses; the killing of animals as part of wildlife management programmes; and harmful experimentation on wild animals in the name of scientific research.
2. Habitat loss-the continuous encroachment of humans (whether for habitation, resource extraction, or leisure and other pursuits) into animal-inhabited territory in ways which destroy habitat and deny animals the space, resources, and ecosystem viability they need for survival.
3. Spillover harms-the countless ways in which human infrastructure and activity impose risks on animals (from shipping lanes, skyscrapers, and roadways, to spillover effects like pollution and climate change).”
And they add to these 3 categories of negative impacts, a potentially positive one – efforts to assist “wild” animals, such as rescuing individuals, vaccinating a population against a disease, assisting in case of a natural disaster, and rewilding and habitat restoration.
Donaldson and Kymlicka criticize the animal rights theory for focusing solely on the first category and ignoring the rest. The reason they suggest it is so is that the animal rights theory in its essence solely focuses on direct violations of basic rights:
“Their basic injunction is that humans should stop directly harming wild animals, and then leave them alone, even if this means leaving them vulnerable to indirect harms from human activity, or to being harmed by natural forces (such as floods or diseases) or by other animals (predation).
Thus Tom Regan summed up our duty to wild animals in terms of ‘letting animals be’. Similarly, Peter Singer says that given the complexities of intervention in nature, we ‘do enough if we eliminate our own unnecessary killing and cruelty towards other animals’ (Singer 1990: 227), and that ‘we should leave them alone as much as we possibly can’ (Singer 1975: 251) . And Gary Francione argues that our duty to wild animals ‘does not necessarily mean that we have moral or legal obligations to render them aid or to intervene to prevent harm from coming to them’ (Francione 2000: 185), and indeed he too suggests that ‘we should simply leave them alone’ (Francione 2008: 13).”
Donaldson and Kymlicka argue that animal right theorists ignore the rest of the categories because they cannot be answered within a framework that focuses solely on the intrinsic moral standing of animals. They think that our relations with “wild” animals must be understood in more relational and political terms. “We need first to ask what is the appropriate relationship between human and wild animal communities– a relationship we think is best framed in terms of sovereignty – and then address issues of habitat within that frame.”
We agree that these issues are generally basically ignored, but we disagree that the reason they are ignored by the animal rights movement is because they cannot be answered within a framework that focuses solely on the intrinsic moral standing of animals.
The second category for example, meaning “the continuous encroachment of humans into animal-inhabited territory in ways which destroy habitat and deny animals the space, resources, and ecosystem viability they need for survival“, and “the countless ways in which human infrastructure and activity impose risks on animals” is definitely viewed by the AR movement as direct violation of basic rights. And so is the third category – “the countless ways in which human infrastructure and activity impose risks on animals“, as obviously, no animal rights activist thinks that fishing is wrong but killing fishes by spilling pollutants into their living area is fine. Many activists, us definitely included, think that Donaldson and Kymlicka categorization of direct and indirect harm is utterly false. Harming and killing fishes by spilling pollutants into their living area is as direct as harming and killing them by pulling them out of water with a fishhook. And so, since these two categories are definitely viewed as direct violation of basic rights by the animal rights movement, not the focus on direct harm is the reason for the movement’s disregard of these kinds of harms. The reasons for the movement’s disregard are elsewhere. One of the reasons animal rights activists are not addressing problems of “wild” animals is the existence of many organizations for “wild” animal protection and conservation and even more environmental organizations. Another is since problems of domesticated animals are much bigger.
It is highly probable that it is Donaldson and Kymlicka’s concept of humans having different obligations to different animals according to the relations humans have with these animals, which is the basis for this false categorization of direct and indirect. The animals are direct victims in any case, they don’t care what humans’ intentions or other options are. In fact in many cases it is probably better for them to be shut in the head by hunters than to slowly die of hunger because their habitat was destroyed, or to slowly die of poisoning because they have eaten a plant in an area where humans have poured their dangerous waste.
All of these options are horrible and they are all direct. Humans know that someone would be harmed by their habitat destruction and pollution, therefore these actions are directly violating basic rights. There shouldn’t be a difference for that matter and so a framework that focuses solely on the intrinsic moral standing of animals can address the second and third category that Donaldson and Kymlicka suggest (which should be other examples of the first direct, intentional violence category) just as much.
Basically, there should be no difference between focusing on the direct violation of basic rights of animals (as long as they include direct violations of basic rights of animals such as the ones they have exemplified in all three categories), and sovereignty. When it comes to “wild” animals it should be practically the same. None of the things they have specified are allowed and accepted by activists, whether it is because this is other animals’ sovereign community, or whether it is because other animals are sovereign individuals, and so these examples are a direct violation of their basic rights. Basic rights, which are derived from animals’ intrinsic moral standing.
No Protection From Structural and Historical Injustices
The idea of sovereignty, certainly on the face of it, is a much firmer protection for “wild” animals from humans’ harms than solely focusing on the direct violation of basic rights, since it has the potential of being less ambiguous for humans who would like to bend the rules and it would be harder for them to do so if some areas are off limits. But not only that, as argued above, this advantage is practical not theoretical, meaning the motivation is the same as the one of the animal rights movement regarding “wild” animals, Donaldson and Kymlicka don’t suggest that these animals’ sovereign communities would be off limits for humans:
“As citizens of one state, we may be free to visit and even inhabit the territory of a different sovereign state, but we are not free to control, settle, or unilaterally reshape it according to our needs and desires, or our conception of its needs and desires.”
And not only that these animals’ sovereign communities wouldn’t be off limits for humans, the visiting regulations probably won’t really be mutual. Would “wild” animals be allowed to enter human sovereign states as long as they don’t control, settle, or unilaterally reshape it according to their needs and desires? We guess not. Because humans wouldn’t know what the animals’ intentions are, they could always claim ‘what if they want to eat our children?’ But would “wild” animals think differently about humans coming into their territories? How would they know that humans haven’t come to control, settle, or unilaterally reshape their territory according to their needs and desires? They can’t. Many of them would probably be scared each and every time a human gets into their living area. And still humans are allowed into their states but probably not the other way around. It is hard to see humans welcoming a pack of hyenas or wolves into their states.
For Donaldson and Kymlicka this is not a big problem since:
“sovereignty need not be defined in terms of exclusive access or control over a particular territory, but rather in terms of the extent or nature of access and control necessary for a community to be autonomous and self-regulating.”
But animals live everywhere or at least would have chosen to live everywhere they can, if they could choose, only that they are restricted by humans’ global occupation.
After everything that humans have done to animals all along history, if anything, it would have made much more sense to declare the sovereign communities as off limits for humans.
Human sovereign states benefit from tourists of other countries, and they permit or forbid entering their states. “Wild” animals wouldn’t benefit from humans’ presence, but would only lose from these visits, and they wouldn’t give humans permission to enter. Only that humans wouldn’t ask for permission, not even in the Zoopolis world, which even in the extremely unlikely scenario that it would ever come to be, it would still be a human world.
And obviously it is not only “visiting” permissions. How exactly would the world be divided? Of course it is very important to ask who would divide the world but that is very clear, so how would humans explain to animals that they have crossed the line? Using fences? Clearly boundaries are meaningless to them and conflict of interests is inevitable. How would the boundaries be determined? How would the size of each sovereign community be determined? How would the size of each population be determined?
When states conquer areas of other states they sometimes, at least potentially, can be forced to give them back by international organizations, who would force humans to give the animals all the territories that were stolen from them?
How is it fair to restrict the victims of human occupation and expect them to adjust themselves to human total domination over the planet? Why not restricting humans to a certain area and population size?
Their reply is:
“We don’t get very far by asking questions such as: Is Canada entitled to be as big as it is? Shouldn’t Luxembourg be larger? Should there be fewer Chinese and Indian people, and more Swiss or Ugandans? In other words, we don’t ask, in some abstract sense, how big sovereign territories should be, or how many people of each race/ethnicity/culture should exist.
Similarly, we won’t get very far by asking: How many wild animals should there be, and how many humans? Or how much land are various groups of animals and humans entitled to? Rather, we need to start from the facts on the ground. All else being equal, existing humans and animals have the right to be where they are, and the fundamental task of a theory of sovereignty is to protect that right from threats of dispossession or conquest.”
“A plausible political theory of territory has to start from the facts on the ground (where people currently live, and the boundaries of existing communities and states), while also attending to concerns of justice, both backward and forward looking. On the one hand, we must recognize the in justice of past actions, and perhaps, in some cases, offer compensation or restitution. On the other hand, we must start from the present-from individuals currently alive and inhabiting particular territories-and commit to justice for all going forward.”
That is totally ignoring humans’ responsibility for the current situation. How convenient is it to ignore the mass scale crimes of the past towards “wild” animals in order to avoid demanding humans things they would never agree to.
That line of reasoning would never be accepted in the case of human vs human conflict.
Can we use the same logic in every human territorial conflict? Would any discriminated group who was dispossessed of its living area agree that we need to start from the facts on the ground? Can you imagine every discriminating and occupying group using this line of argument against the group of people they have been discriminating? That would be outrageous, and it is way more severe in the case of animals.
History is full of genocides and dispossessions, are we supposed to let the past go and start from the facts on the ground?
And even if we do, should we ignore every single factor resulting in the present form? Should we accept every single fact on the ground? The human race population is almost 8 billion individuals currently inhabiting territories all over the globe, does that fact on the ground sound fair and egalitarian?! According to the Wildlife Conservation Society, 83% of the planet is directly influenced by humans, does that fact on the ground sound like an acceptable starting point for just relations between humans and “wild” animals?
And of course as opposed to conflicts between nations or groups of humans, which some of them are bilateral, humans’ conflict with “wild” animals are always unilateral, and nonproportional in terms of the number of victims and the scale of harm to any other conflict in history.
But Donaldson and Kymlicka insist that it is not actually unilateral:
“We should note that these risks are not all in one direction. Wild animals can pose a threat to human activity (e.g., road collisions with deer or moose; birds jamming airplane engines), or to public health (e.g., animal viruses), or indeed from direct attack (e.g., from grizzly bears or elephants).”
That is redefining a reversal order of things. Humans have conquered and are affecting every inch on this planet and once an animal is trying to go from one point to another and is hit by a car – a killing machine that shouldn’t even exist because of its enormous harm in terms of accidents, constant pollution, including noise pollution, light pollution and pollution during manufacturing – it is considered as “wild” animals posing a threat to human activity?! If “wild” animals would decide to intentionally ram cars for invading their living areas it would be hard to define it as posing a threat to human activity and not as self-defense or fighting back, so when it happens accidently while they “dare” to simply walk around their living area? Same goes for the birds jamming airplane engines example as airplanes constantly invade their flight zones and migratory routes. And like cars airplanes shouldn’t exist because of their enormous harm in terms of accidents, constant pollution, including noise pollution, light pollution and pollution during manufacturing. Even animal viruses transferring to humans are a consequence of humans farming them, hunting them, eating them, wearing them, enslaving them and any other way of exploiting them and exposing themselves to their pathogens.
Amazingly, Donaldson and Kymlicka, in an extremely flexible reversal order of things, instead of explaining why all highways must be torn apart because of the threat they impose on animals, are explaining why despite the risk imposed by animals on humans while they are driving, using highways is yet justified because according to them it is “genuinely necessary, has a legitimate interest, and proportional to the benefit“.
“Many people benefit from highways, but others inevitably suffer, even die. Why is this not unjust? One reason we do not consider this unjust is that no one is singled out in advance to pay the ultimate price for the benefit of others. It’s not as if we literally select someone to sacrifice in order to appease an angry God or monster who demands a life in return for allowing passage along the road. Rather, (almost) all of us choose to drive (or be driven) on roads for the benefits we gain from mobility, albeit with the risk of harm. It is all of us who share in the benefits and risks of driving, as opposed to some humans being selected to die for the benefit of others.”
First of all, humans don’t consider using highways as unjust because they are indifferent conformists who aren’t wired to avoid risks but to be falsely sure that it won’t happen to them. Using highways and roads in general is exactly humans being selected to die for the benefit of others. Humans know that serious harms would inevitably happen and they know their extent, so by choosing it anyway they might not be selecting someone to sacrifice in order to appease an angry God or monster who demands a life in return for allowing passage along the road, but it is selecting many to be sacrificed in order to appease humans who demand rapidness and passage along the road. The fact that the identity of the victims is not selected in advance doesn’t change the fact that it is choosing that some individuals would be sacrificed for humans’ desire to get faster from place to place. We know there would be ultimate sacrifices we only don’t know of whom. Is it acceptable for a community to offer a cannibal king to murder and eat one person of their group every day in return for providing them protection and food, as long as that person would be selected in a lottery? Wouldn’t it be horrifying and wrong despite that no victim was specifically selected to be sacrificed?
Secondly, and more importantly and relevantly, for the billions of animals who are harmed by humans’ highway systems, this harm is genuinely unnecessary, illegitimate and non-proportional to the benefit (which is anyway a benefit for humans only). Would humans accept that every once in a while a herd of bisons on their way to find food, which as opposed to reaching faster from place to place is a genuinely necessary and legitimate goal, would trample on a child?
And they are aware of this problem:
“In fact, highways are a textbook example of a human infrastructure/activity that imposes enormous harms on wild animals in the form of ‘road kill’. To give you a sense of the scale of the problem, there is a 3.5 kilometre causeway at Long Point, Ontario, which separates Lake Erie from an adjoining wetland (part of a World Biosphere Reserve). It is estimated that on a yearly basis 10,000 animals (of 100 different species, including leopard frogs, map turtles, fox snakes, and many small mammals) are run over on this short stretch of road. Granted, Long Point is a particularly egregious example, but it gives you some idea of the incomprehensible carnage that human roads inflict on wild animals.”
But amazingly they are using this data to argue that it is only fair that as long humans are imposing animals with such tremendous risks when they are using roads, then they must be ready to risk getting hit by animals as well:
“If we choose to drive on country roads at dusk, we must accept the risk of harm from an accidental collision with a deer or moose. We cannot demand that these animals be culled in order to reduce our risk. In other words, we cannot demand zero risk for ourselves, at the same time that human societies impose extraordinary risks on wild animal communities.”
This argument by Donaldson and Kymlicka is so detached. They seriously compare humans who are choosing to drive, and are doing it with a strong metal machine at about 90 kilometers per hour knowing that they might hit someone, with animals who are slowly walking with no protection in their limited living area, some probably unaware of the chance of them getting hit. This is beyond ridiculous. Again they are reversing the order of things. And it is not only the hit which can maim, kill, and orphan animals, but it is also the chronic harm of humans’ use of roads, the pollution, the noise, the lighting, the destruction while building it, its fragmentation of habitats and etc. Nothing about this is even remotely comparable.
A just relationship with “wild” animals definitely cannot be based on the following:
“And so, predictably, wild animals have adapted to the human influences in their environment, such that certain forms or degrees of coexistence are now natural for them.”
It is very surprising that this extremely speciesist claim found its way into the book. A road inside other animals’ habitat is not something that activists should accept as a fact. Roads can be destroyed. Once humans have realized how harmful DDT and asbestos are they didn’t wait for humans to adapt to it but stopped using it, or at least that is what they should have done.
A Better Protection From Natural Disasters
Most of the chapter regarding “wild” animals is devoted to answering why they should be entitled with sovereignty, but it is a question that no one is really asking, at least no one in the animal rights community. People of the animal rights community would be glad to grant “wild” animals with sovereignty, that is probably what they mean by ‘leaving them alone’.
Being aware of how similar their idea sounds to the common idea of the animal rights movement regarding “wild” animals, they write:
“This may seem like a roundabout way of getting back to where we started namely, the long-standing ART view that in relation to wild animals we should simply ‘let them be’. But as we have seen, the arguments ART has invoked for this view are rather ad hoc and underdeveloped, and the recognition of sovereignty provides a more secure normative and conceptual basis for it. Moreover, ART has not explained how to let them be. Respecting autonomy is a valid moral purpose, but we need legal and political tools to do so.”
So as said before, the principle is the same, but they are suggesting a much better regulation. They are not suggesting something totally different conceptually, but more of ‘let them be’ with legal authority.
But they insist that it isn’t, for example because sovereignty implies assistance:
“respect for sovereignty is not just an injunction to let them be, in either the human or animal case. Respect for sovereignty does not require isolation or autarchy, but rather is consistent with various forms of interaction and assistance, and even with forms of intervention. This is clear enough in the human case, where self-governing communities exercise their sovereignty by entering into dense webs of mutual cooperation and mutual agreements (including agreements over the rules of humanitarian intervention). But even in the wild animal case, it is a mistake to think that respect for sovereignty requires a complete hands-off approach. Not all forms of human intervention threaten values of autonomy and self-determination. On the contrary, some forms of positive intervention may promote them. Imagine that human intervention could halt an aggressive and systemic new bacterium which is about to invade and devastate an ecosystem. Or imagine that human intervention could deflect a large meteor on a collision course for a wilderness zone populated by billions of wild animals. In these cases-and others we discuss below-human intervention can be seen as protecting the ability of wild animals to maintain their way of life on their territories.”
It is true that the ‘let them be’ position doesn’t imply assisting “wild” animals in case of natural disasters but neither does the sovereignty position. It is not the sovereignty factor which is in the basis of suggesting assistance to other sovereign states, but that otherwise the sovereignty’s citizens would be harmed. The grounds for providing assistance to others in case of need doesn’t stem from them being citizens of a sovereign state but from their subjective ability to be harmed. Providing help would be the right thing to do regardless of sovereignty. There is nothing in the idea of sovereignty which implies assisting members of other communities. If anything, it may limit the ability to provide assistance because it requires permission from the sovereignty administration, and in cases of say a natural disaster in a sovereign state with a totalitarian government, assistance might be declined and its citizens would suffer greatly, ironically exactly because of its sovereignty.
Considering “wild” animals as citizens of their own a sovereign state is not supposed to incentivize helping them anymore than when they are not. The incentive to provide assistance is supposed to be the same in both cases – because help is needed. Sovereignty has nothing to do with that. And vulnerability and sentience has everything to do with that.
And that crucial point brings us to the most important issue of this post and of “wild” animals in general – Predation.
No Protection From Other Animals
One of the main premises of Donaldson and Kymlicka is that humans have different obligations to different animals according to the relations they have with them.
As we have argued in the first part of this series, the very idea of categorizing animals on the basis of their relations with humans is anthropocentric. The obligation to animals must be based upon animals’ independent qualities, not upon humans’ relations with them. Moral status mustn’t be based on the relations of animals from specific species with humans, but focus on the morally relevant capacities of the animals. Moral consideration is supposed to be a product of internal abilities, not external relations.
The well-being of sentient individuals, and not how we relate to them, is what establishes the obligation to help them. Our moral obligation not to cause animals suffering is not depended upon our relations with them, but solely on their ability to suffer. By the same token, our moral obligation to prevent animals suffering is not depended upon our relations with them, but on their ability to suffer.
Moral consideration is not supposed to be conditioned by the location of the sufferers, or by the relations of the victims with their victimizers.
But when it comes to “wild” animals not only that Donaldson and Kymlicka perception is anthropocentric, meaning the sense of the moral obligation to help them relays on their relations with humans and not on their subjective abilities, it is also ecocentric, meaning the moral center is the eco-system, not the individuals living in it.
The following paragraph properly summarizes their perception about predation:
“Averting a meteor collision, for example, seems to fall clearly in the category of interventions that respect and help to restore sovereignty. By contrast, intervening to end predation, or to control natural food cycles, could only be achieved by subverting sovereignty, and by reducing wild animals to a state of permanent dependency and paternalism. As we discussed earlier, predation and food cycles are part of the stable structure of self-regulation of wild animal communities. Animals have evolved to survive under these conditions, and are competent to do so. Individual animals suffer from these natural processes, but the presence of predation and food cycles does not indicate that the sovereign community has suffered a disabling catastrophe, or a sudden failure of competence. Wild animals are not in the circumstances of justice with one another, and the survival of some individuals inevitably requires that other individuals die. This is a regrettable feature of nature, but any attempt to intervene to change these facts of nature en masse would require completely subjugating nature to our ongoing intervention and management. Not only is this impossible, but even if it were possible it would completely undermine the sovereignty of wild animal communities. Intervention in nature to end predation and food cycles is unjustifiable both in terms of motivation and effect. It does not meet the required trigger for intervention (overwhelming catastrophe, community disintegration, and/or request for external assistance), and it cannot meet the goal of intervention, which is to help a sovereign community get back on its feet as a viable and self-determining community.”
To claim that food cycles are part of the stable structure of self-regulation of wild animal communities is speciesist as they themselves argue that there are by no doubt way too many humans, yet they don’t suggest that murders, terminal diseases and fatal accidents are part of the stable structure of self-regulation of human communities, and definitely not that due to human overpopulation there should even be more of these. They are probably in favor of the human community doing everything in its power to prevent murders, terminal diseases and fatal accidents. But when it comes to animals the fact that trillions of individuals are daily devoured alive by other animals is just part of the stable structure of self-regulation of “wild” animal communities.
“Wild” animal communities don’t feel, and have no need to be stable or self-regulated. They are notions, concepts, not sentient beings. They are not moral subjects, but descriptive (sometimes arbitrary) classification of systems of interactions of moral subjects. Natural processes are not moral entities. And neither are food cycles and sovereign communities. Only individual animals are, and therefore they are all that matters morally. The basic unit of ethics is the sentient being, all the rest are ecological terms which are relevant only in the sense of affecting sentient beings, they don’t have any intrinsic moral value, only instrumental one.
Donaldson and Kymlicka are turning animals from subjects into objects of a sovereign community, and a sovereign community from an object for animals into a moral subject. They think that the value of “wild” animals is derived from their contribution to the community. According to them the continuity of the group is much more important than the well-being of its members. The system is much more important than the individuals forced into it. Focusing on communities instead of their residents is like focusing on states instead of their citizens, and placing states above their citizens is fascism. When not states but ecosystems are placed above their inhabitants it is ecofascism.
Donaldson and Kymlicka could have argued that human intervention is wrong in the same manner as Singer and others are claiming, meaning that humans would probably make things worse and therefore better stay out, but they don’t, they argue that nature has a moral value of its own. Evidently they claim that even if it was possible to end predation it would be unjustifiable both in terms of motivation and effect. Not only are they arguing that ecosystems are morally important despite that they are not sentient beings (or even beings at all), they argue that they are more important than individuals, despite that sentient individuals are the only morally relevant entities in the world.
But they don’t let the fact that they themselves are ecocentric stand in their way of criticizing other ecocentrists for arguing that interventions are always prohibited, saying for example that it is callousness towards the fate of individuals. “The fact that one cannot change natural processes of predation or food cycles, and hence cannot change the fate of animals on a large scale, doesn’t mean that acts of caring towards individual animals are irrelevant or inconsistent. Such acts mean everything to the actual animal who has been fed, or rescued after falling through the ice.”
Obviously we agree that acts of caring towards individual animals are relevant, but disagree that they are consistent when coming from Donaldson and Kymlicka. It is inconsistent to argue that some acts that mean everything to the actual animal who has been rescued, are morally justified only as long as that animal was rescued after falling through the ice, but are morally wrong when that animal was rescued from the claws of another animal despite that it would mean everything to the actual animal just as much. If the criterion is how much does something mean to someone then clearly not being eaten alive always means everything to everyone.
However, their criterion is different. Assisting individuals is permitted only when it is consistent with respect for sovereignty. But where is the sovereignty of the trillions of animals who are devoured every day in the wild? They are all individuals, and they are all suffering. They all need help. All the time. Nature is the realm of violence and power. It is unavoidable. What about the autonomy and rights of all the individuals who live under the constant threat of being eaten alive by someone else within their community? Is that allowed among human communities?
Communities can’t be harmed because they are not morally relevant entities, they are not beings, they don’t feel. They are morally irrelevant. Only individuals can be harmed, and only individuals’ sovereignty can be unrespected. And it always is since harming each other is inherent and constant in nature. That is probably the reason they suggest focusing on communities. The strident contradiction in their claim is between respecting the sovereignty of communities and harming individuals. And when the sovereignty of communities is respected individuals are left to be harmed.
A sovereign community would provide a much better protection from humans but the rest of the problems would remain as they are:
In a sovereign community hyena cubs would still viciously fight each other, tearing off slices of other cubs’ faces including ears and lips, to get more food.
In a sovereign community crabs would still be pulled apart limb by limb by otters.
In a sovereign community fishes would still be digested alive by the stomach acids of a pelicans who gulped them whole.
In a sovereign community wasps would still inject their eggs into a live caterpillar’s body to ensure that when their descendants hatch they will have easy access to food as the larvae eat the caterpillar from the inside out.
A sovereign community is definitely not masculinity-free. Brutal fights for territory and for the “right” to mate would still occur in immense numbers. Walrus would still fight each other over territory with giant teeth that can reach up to one meter long and more than 5kg weight. And the biggest males with the biggest tusks would still push their way to the center of the iceberg pushing the females and pups to the edges where they are more likely to be attacked by an orca.
In a sovereign community billions of insects would still get chemically liquefied before they are eaten by spiders. And snakes would still swallow whole animals and slowly digest them until hawks hunt them, digging in with their talons into the snakes’ body until they give up fighting back, and then start to cut off pieces of their body and eat them.
Eels would still electrify other fishes to hunt them using up to 600V in a single discharge – this is 5 times the shock one would get from sticking a finger into an electrical socket.
Young offspring would still get murdered by opportunist males who want their own genes to be spread.
And in a sovereign community duck, dolphin, seal and sea lion females would still be gang raped routinely as a way of mating.
Unfortunately these examples are only a tiny glimpse of the horrors happening every single moment in nature. None of them is going to be solved by the sovereign community model.
Claiming that “Animals have evolved to survive under these conditions” in relation to predation is beyond absurd. Predation is the exact opposite of survival. No animal has evolved to survive under the conditions of predation but under the conditions of being chased to be murdered. When the chase is ended with predation it is also the end of the animal. This is not a petty comment, as had animals truly evolved to survive under the conditions of predation there would have been none. The fact is that millions of animals are predated by the second, so they are definitely not competent to it.
A political model is irrelevant in a world in which everyone necessarily lives at the expense of another. There is no political model that can seriously face such a problem. Evidently, when they address the hardest issue of “wild” animals, where their statements about individual rights are challenged the most, they ditched the political and hide behind the ecological. They still claim for a political option – sovereignty, but clearly the internal conflicts within the sovereignty are discounted.
They claim that “Wild animals are not in the circumstances of justice with one another, and the survival of some individuals inevitably requires that other individuals die.”
According to this perspective if my existence is dependent upon someone else’s existence, then in every case of conflict of interests, the stronger is right. How is that right? That is not morally right but is the rightness of the fittest.
When facing systems which are inherently unjust we shouldn’t change all of our moral convictions and recruit all of our cognitive flexibility so we can turn them into just ones, but exactly the opposite, we must recruit all of our cognitive abilities to end this injustice.
If the survival of some individuals inevitably requires that other individuals die within a human community would they find it morally acceptable? Or would they look for ways to alter this system no matter how natural it is or how complicated it is to end its inherent injustice?
The fact that the brokenness of a system is structural doesn’t qualify it morally. Broken systems shouldn’t exist no matter how natural they are. Naturalness is morally irrelevant.
As many activists are telling many meat eaters, the fact that something is natural doesn’t make it morally justified. Usually they tell it to humans who choose to eat meat despite that they don’t have to, and true predators do have to eat meat, so the circumstances are obviously significantly different from the point of view of the victimizers, but not from the point of view of the victims, and it is their point of view that matters most. Suffering is suffering is suffering, for the sufferers it doesn’t matter who the causer is and what the circumstances are, they want it to stop, immediately and for good.
All suffering should be stopped no matter how we define it, where it happens and by whom.
Moral status is non-dependent. Sentient beings don’t lose their moral status when their suffering happens in nature or among their sovereign community.
Consider for example an animal who has a deep wound, the animals’ interest in not suffering from it is the same if it was caused from falling on a rock, or by being bitten by another animal. The harm’s cause doesn’t affect the individual’s interest in not being harmed. Their interests are independent of other considerations.
We mustn’t accept suffering just because it happens to nonhuman animals by other nonhuman animals. To the sufferers, suffering is bad when it is inflicted by another animal just as much as when it isn’t. And the victims are not consoled by the fact that it is nonhumans who are part of their sovereign community that hurt them. If labeling a violent scene as natural and as an integral part of the sovereign community doesn’t affect the suffering of the victims, then this label doesn’t have a moral effect.
During an interview Donaldson and Kymlicka argued: “Whenever we talk of rights— whether human or animal—we need to clarify what is the moral purpose these rights are supposed to serve. On our account, the primary moral purpose of sovereignty rights is to protect organized forms of life on a specific territory from external threats of invasion, colonization, resource theft, and spillover harms (e.g., water pollution, radiation leaks, climate change). Whenever the wellbeing of individuals (human or animal) is tied up with the ability of their community to live autonomously on their territory, then we have the prima facie basis for claims to sovereignty.”
It is no coincidence that the focus here is on external threats and not internal ones despite that for most “wild” animals the internal threats are much more common. Individuals must be protected from harm no matter what their sources are. Individual humans must be protected from murders and rapes, not only from invasion of other sovereign communities. But when it comes to animals, protection from internal threats is totally absent.
One of the reasons according to them is that:
“The various wild animal species who share sovereign wilderness territory often are in competition with each other, but they typically share an interest in avoiding foreign domination, control, or injustice, and it is this shared interest that grounds the claim to sovereignty rights against human colonization.”
According to them it is as if the animals are thinking that it is not so bad that every time they go to the river to drink they are terrified that a crocodile would jump out of the water and drown them, or that another animal would attack them from behind and eat them alive, the most important thing is that they won’t die of pollutants that humans have poured into their river. Being killed by whom who they have a shared interest with is fine, the problem is being killed by external invaders. That’ is ridiculous.
Animals’ interests are to avoid internal domination, control, or injustice just as much as avoiding external domination, control, or injustice.
Does it matter to them who hurts them? Does pain from an internal invasion hurts less than from an external one?
At the very least, it is extremely hard to make sense of the idea that those “wild” animals who suffer terribly and face death directly as a result of the current conditions of their community also have an interest in the preservation of that community in its current form.
We think it is safe to say that all the individual animals who are constantly chased by other animals, with many of them brutally killed and eaten alive, would be very pleased and relieved if someone would intervene in their favor, even if it is at the expense of their sovereignty. It is also safe to say that these animals don’t care much about biodiversity, ecological equilibrium, or sovereignty but that they won’t suffer so extremely.
Donaldson and Kymlicka claim regarding sovereignty rights against human colonization is obvious and right, the problem is their disregard of what is the biggest most common problem of “wild” animals, which is not external invasion but internal one. The danger of human invasion is very important but not the biggest one.
The various “wild” animal species who share sovereign wilderness territory are not often in competition with each other, but are always in competition with each other. They don’t have external and internal enemies, which while harms inflicted by the later are acceptable, harms inflicted by the former are unacceptable. They just have enemies, and lots of them, and all the harms they inflict are unacceptable.
Once a community is consisted of individuals with conflicting interests and it is violent and harmful and inegalitarian by definition, how can it be morally justified?
Focusing on external threats and disregarding internal ones because what matters is the existence of a state not what happens inside it, wouldn’t be acceptable in the case of humans.
If ISIS would have managed to form the state they desire, and they would have succeeded in protecting their sovereignty from external invasion and from others polluting their state, wouldn’t it matter that they regularly rape women and murder whom who they view as sinners among their own community? Would it be prohibited to intervene for the sake of individuals because the state is functioning in terms of protecting its sovereignty?
During its first 200 years, the United States of America was a functioning state in terms of protecting its sovereignty, if it was possible to end slavery by external intervention wouldn’t it be morally justified?
Was the Taliban regime legitimate as long as it was a functioning state in terms of protecting its sovereignty?
We agree with their claim that “responsibility for protecting prey from predators“, means that “we would be going down the road to human management and control of all of nature“. However our fears of that option are different. Placing humans as supervisors is a horrible idea because when they did intervene in nature, the results were horrible, and also since we refuse to keep entrusting the fate of trillions of nonhumans in the unreliable hands of humanity.
And anyway this option is absolutely delusional. A species which is still so far from eradicating poverty, hunger and war not to mention racism, misogyny and ageism, a species that haven’t even ended slavery yet, and even expends it, and of course a species that invented and constantly intensifies factory farms, will not someday seriously take responsibility for the suffering of “wild” animals.
Currently not only that humans are not even willing to take responsibility over animals’ suffering that they are directly causing, but the number of the victims is constantly increasing.
Anyway, more to their original point, the fact that they don’t like the conclusion doesn’t mean it is legitimate to throw away valid premises or to change them into something completely implausible such as a differentiation between internal and external harms as if it matters to the victims. Predation is a really huge problem. The fact that what they think is its derived solution is also problematic doesn’t make it minor and it definitely doesn’t nullify it. Human control is indeed a very problematic solution and totally unrealistic, but what makes it a bad idea is not that animals don’t mind being harmed by internal enemies but under no circumstances agree to be harmed by external ones, or because what matters to them is the community and its sovereignty and not themselves, their families and their own kind.
The problem of predation is huge and inevitable. Changing its name or its status, hiding it behind sovereignty, or using the appeal to nature, won’t solve anything.
To claim that “wild” animals have the ability to pursue their own good, and to shape their own communities (p.170), is simply ignorance. The vast majority of “wild” animals have no ability to pursue their own good and to shape their own communities because they are eaten alive within moments of their brief and brutal existence.
An idealized and a very partial view of nature, causes many not only to ignore most of the horrible parts of the lives of animals in nature, it also causes them to ignore most of the animals.
Usually the idealized image of nature is consisted of adult individuals of large herbivore mammals pasture in a green field. However, there is nothing ideal in the lives of adult herbivores considering the constant social stress of many, the constant fear of predation of most, the harsh weather, the hunger, the thirst, the diseases, the frequent injuries from successful escapes from predation, and the excruciating pain of unsuccessful escapes from predation. And more importantly, herbivore mammals dying in adulthood are by no doubt extraordinarily exceptional and utterly unrepresentative of life in nature.
Most of the sentient beings on earth never reach adulthood, but live for a short and extremely brutal period, in most cases, lives of nothing but suffering. This fact is particularly relevant to their case for sovereign community, since this mass scale horror is mainly driven by one of nature’s most fundamental elements – the reproductive strategy.
The two main reproductive strategies are called K-selection and r-selection. To put it simply, K-selection is putting all the energy on maximally preparing individuals to survive the environmental conditions, while r-selection is putting all the energy on the maximum number of individuals and minimum investment (in many cases none) in each individual.
Of course these strategies are combined in one way or another among different species, but generally that is the main framework.
Basically, the higher the value of r, the lower the value of K. So every single case of reproduction of r-selected species ends up with numerous individuals who will die shortly after.
Since the population of these species is more or less the same from generation to generation, on average only one offspring will survive to replace each parent.
Of course not all the individuals of each reproduction will live long enough to become sentient (consumed while still in the egg at a very early stage for example) and there are those who argue that some never become sentient, no matter their age, because they are simply non-sentient. However, given that most animals practice r-selection, including invertebrates of course (by far most of the animals on Earth) and many vertebrates such as fishes, amphibians and reptiles, and given the enormous number of reproductions and the enormous number of reproduced beings, nature is full of suffering on every single level.
The philosopher Oscar Horta thinks that the existence of r-selection leads to the inevitable conclusion that there is far more suffering than happiness in nature. He gives an example to prove his point:
“Consider just one example regarding a certain species of animals, the Atlantic cod (Gadus morhua). These animals can lay from a few thousand to several million eggs. Let us suppose that they lay 2 million each time. It is estimated that in 2007 there were around 33,700 tons of Atlantic cod in the Gulf of Maine bank alone. An adult cod can weigh up to 25-35 kg. Assuming they have an average weight of 33.7 kg, there would be around a million of these animals (the average weight I have proposed is too high, though on the other hand I am assuming, for the sake of simplicity, that these animals are all adult animals). Assuming the cod population remains stable, on average only two of the eggs that a female cod lays in her life end up developing into adults. Thus, a total of 2 trillion eggs laid will fail to become adults. Assume each egg has a 0.1 probability of developing into a young, immature fish, a codling, and that there is a 0.1 probability that codlings are sentient. Finally, assume that on average they suffer for just ten seconds before they die.
All of these are extremely conservative assumptions. Yet they entail that each time these animals reproduce we can expect that 200 billion seconds of suffering is experienced (and these are only the cods in the Gulf of Maine). Since there are 31,556,926 seconds in a year, this amounts to 6337.7529 years of suffering. If this continues over an average human lifespan (that is, six decades), the number of years of suffering generated would be 380,265.174. All this for a very specific species in a very specific area.”
Donaldson and Kymlicka claim that “to end predation, or to control natural food cycles, could only be achieved by subverting sovereignty, and by reducing wild animals to a state of permanent dependency and paternalism“, but they are wrong. Maybe predation can be ended only by reducing wild animals to a state of permanent dependency and paternalism, but that wouldn’t end the problems involved with predation. Predators would still want to hunt and be frustrated if they don’t get the chance to do so, and at least some animals who are commonly hunted in nature would still fear other animals including humans.
If even domesticated cats who live at humans houses and are regularly fed are often seeking to hunt if they get the chance, surly “wild” animals who are separated from other animals by humans so they won’t hunt them, would still have the desire to do so. And “prey” animals who wouldn’t be hunted, in addition to that they would still fear other animals, would eventually starve to death because their population would keep growing.
Furthermore, predation is far from being the only suffering cause of “wild” animals. Besides predation, there are many other suffering causes in nature.
Every single second somewhere in the world, defenseless and frightened babies are left alone because their mother has to search for food, a turtle is burned alive as she can’t out run the flames of a fire, a bird’s feet are frozen to a branch since he couldn’t find shelter from the harsh weather, a baboon monkey is in ongoing stress as an higher ranking female takes food out of her mouth and eats it herself, a nestling is thrown off the nest by the other siblings so they can get more food, a female dolphin is being raped after she couldn’t outswim a male or even a few of them who gang rape her, a badger drags his rotten legs with infectious wounds resulting from constant fights, a lizard is being slowly devoured by a fungus that spread through the organs, a weak robin chick starves to death because his parents don’t feed him as it makes more sense energetically to invest in his stronger siblings.
In one of their articles they claim that while intervening in the wild in a temporary way for example to prevent a specific act of predation by distracting a predator that is about to strike, is justifiable, this momentary intervention is completely different from placing all animals in segregated captivity in order to eliminate the risk of predation.
But what exactly are they saying here? That predation is wrong only when humans observe it? That predation of an individual is wrong one case at a time but accumulatively and principally it isn’t? That if a specific human would help a specific animal it is fine but if everyone would do it, it would be totally wrong? That preventing predation is fine because it is hard for humans to watch but not because it is hard for the nonhuman being who is eaten alive? Whatever the case may be, isn’t it knowingly ignoring the reality of nature in every single moment?
Placing all animals in segregated captivity in order to eliminate the risk of predation is obviously also bad. And therefore what must be seriously discussed is forsaking all the problematic, half-baked and irrelevant suggestions and start thinking about a comprehensive, thorough and total solution for everyone. Looking for ways to eliminate this whole planet – the largest restaurant in the universe, once and for all.
When watching suffering of “wild” animals on the screen, many humans and certainly every animal activist, are dramatically emotionally moved by these horrific scenes. Some rationalize their way out of it by calling it natural and others by claiming it is inventible, failing to infer the moral conclusion out of the situation – when something that horrible is such a natural and inventible part of life, life is horrible. Activists mustn’t rationalize their way out of horrible situations but act to change them.
In the same article they also argue that:
“we need a theory of justice for wild animals as they are. Viewed this way, predation amongst wild animals, who are outside the circumstances of justice with respect to one another’s flourishing, should be seen, not as the kind of tragedy we should seek to overcome, but as the kind of tragedy we should accept as a parameter of their lives for the foreseeable future (Hailwood 2012: 312). Any approach that seeks to take wild animals outside of relations of predation and food cycles is not a theory of justice for wild animals as they are or might plausibly become.”
To argue that any approach that seeks to take “wild” animals outside of relations of predation and food cycles is not a theory of justice for “wild” animals as they are or might plausibly become, is a combination of the appeal to nature fallacy and the is-ought problem. To say that something is natural doesn’t add any moral value to it. It only says that it evolved spontaneously through time and improved or didn’t interrupt the reproduction of its beholder. Nature is indifferent to the suffering of its residents. A natural behavior is the one that is probably the most successful in terms of survival and reproduction, not the one who successfully promotes moral ideals. Therefore many actions are perfectly natural but morally horrible. The fact that this is how things are and that they are natural don’t make them morally right. It is not needful that “wild” animals be the way they are, let alone if the way they are is horrible. They haven’t chosen to be eaten alive nor to eat others alive or die of hunger. The horrible and violent way they are was forced on them.
This argument is also speciesist since a similar ethical formulation would never be accepted in the case of humans. Humans are naturally violent, yet violence is considered unacceptable. The fact that it is natural and the way humans are, doesn’t serve as a rational ethical justification for violence. Violence among humans, including war, murder, rape, plunder and etc., despite being a natural phenomenon since ancient times, isn’t viewed as a regrettable feature of humanity that we must accept, but an injustice that we must fight against. The fact that there was never in history a human society which was nonviolent didn’t derive them to argue that any approach that seeks to take humans outside of relations of violence is not a theory of justice for humans as they are or might plausibly become, or that humans are not in the circumstances of justice with one another.
The naturalness of violence among humans doesn’t mitigate or comforts any human victim. And the same goes for any nonhuman victim.
When you are the animal hunted and eaten alive none of this is outside circumstances of justice.
Natural processes are not moral entities, sentient beings are. If intervening in a natural process can help sentient beings who are affected by this natural process, we are morally obligated to intervene, not to abstain. Refusing to do so is placing non-moral entities above moral entities. And it makes no moral sense.
What if humans were truly carnivores? Should we accept the suffering of billions of animals if humans really needed to eat flesh to survive? We think we most certainly shouldn’t. If that was the case we should have looked for any possible option to reduce the suffering of animals regardless of humans’ needs. We would probably see many more activists who are in favor of a serious population reduction, in favor of in-vitro meat, in favor of VHEMT, and even in favor of genetic interventions aiming to ease animals natural sensitivity to physical and mental pain (an issue which is discussed as a future option among some supporters of intervening in nature) fewer would be in favor of organ donations and of the artificial prolongation of life of old and sick humans, and many other positions they should already hold but somehow too many don’t.
Anyway the point is that the relation towards the issue of inevitableness would change dramatically if humans were naturally carnivores. If this short list of standpoints sounds reasonable to you in the hypothetical case of humans really being carnivores, then it should also be reasonable in the case of real carnivores.
Inevitableness might ease our sense of responsibility but it doesn’t ease the inevitable suffering of the inevitable victims.
So raising the inevitableness of suffering claim to explain why we can’t do anything about the suffering in nature, is actually one of the strongest cases for doing anything we can to eliminate it. The fact that suffering is inevitable is not a reason to ignore it, but the primal reason why this world must end.
A system which justice is inherently irrelevant for, cannot be morally justified.
We must never accept horrors happening to individuals as they are because they are inherent to the systems these individuals are part of. Morally broken systems must be broken literally. And tragedies should not be accepted. Given that most of the beings in this world are suffering most of the time, this world mustn’t exist.
There is no doubt the horror of life in nature meets the criteria for intervention because it most certainly is an overwhelming catastrophe. And considering how overwhelmingly catastrophic life in nature actually is, then averting a meteor collision is the worst thing that humans can do for “wild” animals. If directing a meteor for collision with earth is possible, then clearly it falls in the category of interventions that respect individuals’ suffering more than any other action we can imagine.