Thursday, May 18, 2006


Why should we care?

Why should we care about the death of an animal, the exinction of a species, or the loss of a particular animal's land resources?

My specific concern is why should anybody care about the potential exinction of the purebred Columbia Basin pygmy rabbits. Apparently the tiny rabbits are only found in Douglas County in north-central Washington. Read more on their questionable future here.

But really, why should any of us care? Do we receive extensive benefits knowing that one particular obscure creature still exists on this planet. Do we all really benefit from their continued existence, resulting in the need for a governmental intervention to correct for the market failure of obscure animals nearing extinction? Is protection or the prevention from exinction a public good?

What about the evolutionist standpoint. What makes us think that they (the animals) should continue to live? Even if mankind has created many ill effects leading the decline of this species, does that mean necessarily that weren't already "supposed" to decline in number. Although the evolutionist point-of-view is somewhat deterministic, it is right in not making a moral issue of the decline in particular species.

What about the issue of morality? Should we be ashamed of ourselves for not spending billions to save this rabbit. Should I be ashamed of myself for even talking about this in such a candid and callous manner?

What do you think? Why should any of us care?

This actually a question I've been struggling with myself.

My first point would be that your first set of questions imply that an animal deserves to live only as some means to human ends. "Do we [humans] receive extensive benefits..."

But why shouldn't we consider animals (other than humans) to be ends in themselves? Why shouldn't their happiness and well being matter?

This has important implications for welfare assessments in economics as well. If you think the cattle market is "efficient" in the Paereto sense, maybe you should ask the cow what she thinks.
A better question maybe:

What criteria do we choose to decide what life forms "deserve" to live?

I think most us would agree that most humans "deserve" to "live". But what is it about being human that makes you "worthy" of "living"?

I havn't been able to come up with a good answer yet.
Indeed a good question.

I think that the answer is that no one deserves to live at the expense of another. If animals in the current state of the environmental world are forced to live at the expense of others, then it is likely that they are not "deserving" to continue life as such.

Although we can make the ethical argument against this, I think that it is an appropriate approach to take in general.

Should animals be considered an end in and of themselves? How do we measure whether policies will serve their best interest. Is continued life utility maximizing for all? Hmmm...
But what exactly does "at the expense of another" mean? And does that actually apply in this case??

Humans certanly live at the expense of other animals. After all, many of us eat many of them. Is that immoral? What man's "invasion" of the rest of the planet over the past 10 thousand years? Was that at the expense of animals living in areas before us? I would say so. Was that immoral?

And what about, say, a law that prevents a walmart from being built in one area because it is nesting place for a rare bird. Are the birds living at the expense of humans? How so? What rights do these animals have to their habitats?

This is all very hard stuff. :(
Well, I dunno about going back in time to "right the wrongs" or about measuring how responsible current generations are for past crimes.

I am not a fan of the intergenerational transfers or the idea of reparations to animals for our guilty consciences.

What rights do these animals have to their habitats? And what right do we have to property? What right do any of us have to our lives or our possessions?

Whether it is man or animal, it might come down to an issue of "rights".
Are there less animals now than ever before, or more? Hmmmm...
I watched "The Secret Garden" the other night with my daughters. When the garden is discovered there are weeds crawling over all of the beautiful flowers, and the light is choked out from many corners. But with the assistance of the children, as gardeners, the space is made beautiful - and diverse - again.
In the absence of a gardener the strongest alone survive.
Without human management of natural resources there would be less diversity of life.
The only extinct animal is an animal that nobody owns. This becomes a property rights issue. But who says that we, as humans, ought to be the owners/managers? Well, whether by divine appointment, or by rising to the top of the food chain/whatever... here we are. And what ethics describes is what we ought to do now that we are homesteading the responsibility of the planet. The answer is to own it. If someone loves the bunnies, let 'em buy them.
The thing that requires a leap of faith here is the idea that humans ought to corporately agree to save the bunnies through a coercive institution. That is not rational, and requires more faith than I am capable of exercising.

1) Movie examples aside, I think nature does a pretty good job of keeping up diversity on its own. In fact, I'm really not sure how one could say man (somehow) makes nature "more diverse". The irish potato famine was the result of only farming one type of potato.

2) I am not sure I understand your rationale for saying we have the right to own animals. That is nothing more than coercion. Yet, a few sentences later, you're skeptical of the use of coercion to save these animals?

What is the difference? Obviously you think coercion is bad for humans, but good for animals.

Well, how do we justify ownership of plants or even inanimate objects? Is ownership of anythign including ourselves coercion?

In many senses the owership of domesticated animals is necessary for their own well-being. Most no longer know how to survive on their own (pets in general). Is that ownership coercive?

What about humans that are incapable of self sustained existence? Perhaps we don't "own" them in the strictest sense, but we do implicitly -- by having total control of their lives. Is that necessarily coercive?

It seems it has to be coercive. We are forcing our pets and our mentally challegened relatives to do something they don't want. Just because we're doing it with their own best interests at heart only makes it paternalism.

This is another reason why I don't believe all coercion is bad.

And you bring up a good question about how we justify ownership of anything, and to tell you the truth, I don't have an answer to that question.

I was thinking you might be right. Maybe all property ownership is grounded coercion (the use of force to compel the act or choice of another). Here's a potential argument:

What do you mean when you say you own a car? You mean that you have the power to use the car whenever you like and to exclude others from using it.

To own the car you must have the power to prevent anyone from using the car other than you. In other words, you must have the ability to compel them to act or chose a certain way (in this case not taking your car).

If you don't have the power to do that, how do you really own it?

So when one says they have the right to own that car, they mean they have the right to prevent others from using it with force or threat of force.

If ALL coercion is wrong, then property "rights" must be wrong as well.

I think you lost track of how libertarians define coercion or aggression.

It is defined in terms of property rights. Thus, it is impossible to coerce someone without aggressing (or threatening to aggress) against their property. In your example, using the term coercion does not make sense because the car is not their property.

When you say that not all coercion is bad, libertarians should nod in agreement. What you have discussed is a case where someone is trying to aggress on your property (your car). Defending yourself or your property is well within the "rules" of libertarian philosophy.

Stealing some Rothbard from Wikipedia:

"The fundamental axiom of libertarian theory is that no one may threaten or commit violence ('aggress') against another man's person or property. Violence may be employed only against the man who commits such violence..."

Well, the observation isn't too awfuly concerned with how one would like to define a particular term, since I provided my own definitions.

The essential point that the concept of ownership might be inseperable with the use of force or the threat of force. I defined that as coercion. If you want to define coercion a different way, that's your bag, but it seems immaretial.

The question still remains. Is force in this case right or wrong?

I already knew that libertarians support force in this case and in many others. But I still don't understand why.

And as usual, I expect the explainations to include a lot of talk about rights and self-ownership. What I don't expect is an explaination of what the nature of these rights are or an explaination of where these rights come from.
I was only addressing this:

"If ALL coercion is wrong, then property "rights" must be wrong as well."

I think Chris should start a new post if we are to discuss the nature and origin of rights.

And after reading your link I can’t actually find a different definition of coercion than the one I used. If your only point was that libertarians don’t believe all coercion/aggression/force is wrong, then I would say that is EXACTLY my point.

Rights-based libertarian arguments against government action always seem to be based on the annoying fact that governments get things done with force/aggression/coercion. As if that’s a bad thing. But, as you and I both agree, libertarians applaud aggression/force/coercion in other settings. Clearly, libertarians don’t believe force used defending one's property is wrong. Why? What's the difference between government initated agression and agression used in self-defense? Well, it has something to do with these magical things called rights that are… and we all have them because…

And that's where the train of thought falls off the tracks and I can't see how to get it back. If you can fill in the gaps, I would most greatful.
Filling in the gaps:

...endowed by our Creator...all men are created equal (with equal rights).

I dunno, Dallas, but it was worth a shot.
hahah indeed. ;)
Didn't we already have this discussion when we talked about Gandhi? (If someone has the link to that, feel free to post it.)

I think libertarian non-aggression and Gandhi-style non-violence are different ideas completely, founded on different principles. For the libertarian, it's all completely based on rights and ownership. For Gandhi, it's based on peace and personal morality (I think). Totally different concepts.
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