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Elephant rights?

Yesterday, I encountered this Economist advert (one of this set), in the tube, which included the following argument that booming Chinese investment in Africa is bad for Africans:

Elephant numbers in Africa are falling fast because of the Chinese demand for ivory.

My immediate reaction was that elephants should maybe be farmed. That would soon get the elephant numbers up again, and it would also be good for Africans, because it would provide them with lots of legal jobs. If you google “elephant farming”, you soon learn that an argument along these lines already rages.

People much like Doug Bandow (and like me) say: Why not farm elephants? And people like Azzedine Downes, as and when they encounter this elephant farming idea, are enraged:

These days, it seems like any idea casually dropped in a coffee break conversation can be, if repeated often enough, and forcibly enough, taken seriously by those not really interested in finding solutions. They are looking for sound bites and this one was a doozy! I have seen these arguments take on a life of their own and so struggled to overcome my own vision of elephants in iron pens being kept until they could be killed for their teeth.

“First of all”, I started. “No-one needs ivory.” “Secondly, your proposal raises so many ethical questions that I don’t really know where to start.”

“Don’t get upset”, he said. “I was just wondering. You are right, it is an awful idea.”

I hope I never hear that idea coming up again and, if I do, I hope it will be just as easy to convince the next misguided soul that it is an awful idea.

I’m afraid that Azzedine Downes is going to hear this notion, seriously argued, again and again, unless he covers his ears.

I think I get where he is coming from. Killing elephants, for any reason, is just wrong, like killing people. Downes doesn’t spell it out, because he is not in a spelling things out mood. (“I don’t really know where to start.”) But it seems to me that what we have here is the beginnings of the idea that certain particularly appealing and endangered and human-like animals should have something like a right not to be killed, just as you and I have such a right. If someone kills us, the government will, depending on its mood, go looking for who did it and maybe, if it catches the miscreant in question, punish them in some way or another. Killing elephants, says Downes, is likewise: murder. See also: whales.

Farming a bunch of humans for their bodily organs would also be murder. A kidney farmer pointing out that he was raising his clutch (herd? pack? flock?) of humans not just for the serial killer hell of it, but in order to profit from selling their kidneys, would make things worse for himself, legally speaking, because this would provide the jury with a rational motive. Motive is not justification. Motive gets you punished, not acquitted.

In the matter of elephants, pointing out that farming elephants for their tusks might, given the facts on the ground in Africa, be the difference between African elephants as a species surviving, and African elephants being entirely wiped out by ivory poachers (for as numbers diminish, so prices will rise and rise), or perhaps entirely replaced by a newly evolved species of tuskless elephants, is, for Azzedine Downes, entirely beside the point. Farmers killing the elephants for their tusks doesn’t solve the problem, any more than the slave trade solved the problem of slavery. The problem of slavery was slavery, and the problem here is people killing elephants, which they would do even more of if they farmed them for their tusks. This is absolutely not just about the mere survival of a species. It is about not doing something morally repugnant. The elephants must be saved. They must not be murdered. End of discussion.

Thoughts anyone? How about the Azzedine Downes tendency proving their love of elephants by buying lots of elephants, and large elephant habitats, and then spending more money protecting the elephants from ivory poachers, but without farming them or otherwise exploiting them, other than as objects of photographic devotion by tourists. Presumably this is sort of what they are already doing, even as the idea of people owning elephants sticks in their throats, just as does the idea of people owning people.

Here’s another thought. How would Azzedine Downes feel about elephants having their tusks removed and sold on to Chinese ivory carvers when the elephants die but not before they die? Die of natural causes, I mean. As a matter of fact, are the tusks of elderly elephants, just deceased, still worth enough for that to be any sort of economically viable compromise? And as a matter ethics, would the Downes tendency tolerate even that?

Elephant tusk donor cards? Well, not really, because how would you know, in this new world of elephant rights, how the elephant or elephants actually felt about such a scheme? In this connection, the recent proposal that humans should be presumed willing to part with any or all of their useful-to-others organs when (as above) they die but not before they die, unless they explicitly say otherwise by carrying a non-donor card, is surely relevant.

Another thought: Will it soon be possible to make something a lot like ivory with 3-D printing? Or with some sort of magical bio-engineering process? Perhaps, but if so, that would presumably take much of the fun out of ivory. But then again, so might ivory farming, if it got too efficient.

Perusing the Samizdata postings category list reminds me that maybe similar considerations apply, or soon will apply, to hippos.

Time for me to stop and for any commenters, who want to, to take over.

58 comments to Elephant rights?

  • ENikolai

    My immediate reaction was that elephants should maybe be ARMED.

  • Perusing the Samizdata postings category list reminds me that maybe similar consideration apply, or soon will apply, to hippos.

    Bite your tongue, Micklethwait :P

    But I am all for farming any animal actually.

  • Natalie Solent (Essex)

    But it seems to me that what we have here is the beginnings of the idea that certain particularly appealing and endangered and human-like animals should have something like a right not to be killed, just as you and I have such a right.

    Not “just as”. I’d consider an equivalence to human rights to be ridiculous. You do sometimes see idiot animal rights people arguing for this, but I don’t think even they take themselves at their word, which would make it mass murder to kill all those millions of bacteria every time you wash your hands.

    So definitely not “just as” – but I could go with the idea that the most intelligent animals (great apes, elephants, dogs, perhaps even parrots) should have more rights than less intelligent animals such as shrews and pigeons. Their level of appeal or likeness to humanity should not be the criterion, except in so far as likeness to humanity involves greater intelligence. To some extent the law already grants them this, especially in the case of chimps.

    All your practical ideas seem well worth further thought, and if Mr Downes really cares about elephants he will not shy away from thought.

    Another thought is that slavery is evil precisely because it treats people as animals. Slavery of animals that avoided inhumane (choice of word deliberate) treatment might be the best thing for them. The fact that wicked humans used this argument to defend their crimes against other humans does not invalidate it when applied to animals.

  • steve

    I do think there are ethical issues about killing animals that are above a certain level of smart. Why do I believe this? I am not really sure. Maybe I just imagine that I can see the pain in their eyes. The same goes for caging them in too small of a pen. (i.e. smaller then their natural range.)

    I think intellectually this is not valid. I don’t think you should have to behave anymore ethically towards an adult then they behave towards you, and even the smartest of animals display little in the way of ethical development.

    So my objections stem purely from my heart.

  • Richard Thomas

    When people don’t spell things out, it’s typically because they know, usually subconsciously, that their “feelings” on the matter don’t really stand up to logical scrutiny.

    Elephant farming until death might be a reasonable way to go if the tusk grows at a fairly constant rate (probably accelerates in the first several months of life). Early killing of animals tends to occur when the rate of return starts to decrease (animal ceases to grow, milk production slows etc).

    As a point of interest, there is an elephant sanctuary here in Tennessee. It’s not a bad place for it, land is cheap in many places here. Unfortunately, it’s not open to the public.

  • John W

    Animals have no rights whatsoever.
    Anyone making claims to the contrary simply has no idea what rights are.

  • Tedd

    I agree with Natalie that the issue with respect to animals is their intelligence. The exact criteria I would use are free will and self awareness, but the two probably correlate pretty strongly to intelligence. We are free as humans because of these traits, so they should apply to other species to the extent that those species possess them. Of course, the devil is in the details in that we really do not know how to quantify these things. (Even in humans.)

    Regarding the farming of elephants: I’d never thought of it before, but it seems like a very good solution. Not that I particularly want to see elephants farmed. But what I do want is not to see elephants become extinct. I think Mr. Downes is probably doing the right thing by trying to convince people not to buy tusks and products made from tusks. But, in the meantime, it is also a good idea to try to save elephants from extinction; if farming can save them, it seems silly to me for him to oppose it.

    When you think of it from a property-rights perspective, isn’t it fairly obvious that wild elephants are endangered precisely because there’s a poor infrastructure of property rights where elephants live, which prevents elephant farms from naturally arising? Surely, market forces would favour farmed elephant over wild elephant, as happens with other animals that are consumed.

  • Natalie Solent (Essex)

    Another thought: Will it soon be possible to make something a lot like ivory with 3-D printing?
    I think it it is already the case, and has been for decades, that you can make a plastic that is very hard indeed to tell from real ivory. Unfortunately, as you suggest in the next line, that takes all the “fun” out of it – people value authenticity.

    And another thought from me: add octopi to the list of animals that are candidates for enhanced-but-not-full-human rights. They are a good example as they are not cute.

    steve, this takes us into very dark waters but is it not the case that human babies and small children and mentally disabled humans of all ages can behave affectionately and kindly, but not ethically. So can ethical reciprocity be the test? Your mention of adults suggest that you don’t hold that to be the only test.

  • Rob Fisher (Surrey)

    “is it not the case that human babies and small children and mentally disabled humans of all ages can behave affectionately and kindly, but not ethically”

    Since you brought up babies and are using intelligence as your metric I’ll point out that someone I attended a talk once where the speaker said that pigs are as intelligent as human toddlers. I don’t know how true that is or quite what it means, other than definitions can be tricky.

  • Elephants don’t need to be killed to take their tusks, any more than the dentist had to kill me to extract my wisdom teeth. Heck, they don’t even have to pull the tusks out by the roots — just take the external portion.

    The elephants might not like it, but it’s better than being killed by poachers. They could get along — and breed while they’re at it — on a farm.

  • Rob Fisher (Surrey)

    Ellen: makes me wonder why conservationists don’t just hand out tranquilisers and chain saws to poachers.

  • Tedd

    Natalie:

    I like the idea of ethical reciprocity as a test, at least at first glance.

    Rob F:

    An important detail of the pig/baby comparison is that the baby will not stay at that level of intelligence. It’s already generally accepted that the responsibility for exercising the rights of a human baby lies with human adults. Another important detail is that we probably don’t yet have the capability to make that intelligence comparison very accurately. Also, I don’t think intelligence, as such, is quite the right metric. The issue seems to be more one of free will and self-awareness which, although presumably closely connected to intelligence, are perhaps not quite the same thing.

  • Mary Contrary

    I’m perfectly willing to afford a full set of rights to elephants, hippos, whales, apes, whatever. All they have to do is ask.

  • Midwesterner

    As an individualist, I find the idea of sitting in judgment over who else is worthy of “rights” inconsistent, irrational and even offensive.

    Rights cannot be collected, only extended. I make a simple offer to anybody here (or anybody at all). I won’t harm you, you don’t harm me. We can negotiate the boundaries of “harm”. I don’t care if you are a grizzly bear or a religious or political zealot, if you break into my home to harm me, the reciprocal nature of “rights” will soon be demonstrated to you.

    I extend rights to others, including animals, on my own terms. If mutually agreeable terms cannot be found, then a state of hostility exists. Apropos of what I’m not sure, but my mother used to sing a little song with the verse:

    If a nest of live hornets were brought to this room
    And the creatures allowed to go free,
    You would not need urgings to make yourself scarce,
    You’d want to get out, don’t you see.
    They would not lay hold and by force of their strength
    Throw you out of the window, Oh No,!
    They would not compel you’ to go ‘gainst your will,
    But they’d just make you willing to go.

    The flip side of course is that I have the means to wage war against hornets. Whether hornets, elephants, or human beings, we must achieve mutually acceptable terms. If we can, those terms govern. If we cannot, no terms govern. Arguing “rights” skips the step about who gets to define somebody else’s “rights”. The answer is, only the person extending them. Anything else is just brute force in disguise.

    In this particular case, if the elephant guardians want to take the elephants into their care, I’m fine with that. If the elephant guardians want to compel me to assist them, either by forfeiting property to support their activities or preventing me from raising elephants for whatever purpose, then the point of contention is not between the elephants and me, it is between the elephant protectors and me. And to echo Mary but with serious intent, if an animal requests reciprocal terms with me (and dolphins for example may have the capacity to do that articulately) then I am receptive to hear their terms.

  • PersonFromPorlock

    steve
    June 28, 2013 at 2:43 pm

    I do think there are ethical issues about killing animals that are above a certain level of smart. Why do I believe this? I am not really sure.

    Try this.

  • Natalie Solent (Essex)

    How could I have forgotten dolphins? Add them and whales to the list. Which is getting out of hand.

    Midwesterner, about your picture of reciprocal terms. What if one party is capable of offering reciprocal terms, but the other party either truly can’t or wilfully won’t hear them? Or can hear and understand them just fine but wants to enslave / exterminate / eat them anyway?

    This has arisen between technologically superior and primitive groups of humans. It could arise between us an intelligent aliens, with us on the unfunny end. Distressingly to contemplate, it might have been the situation between us humans and some of the higher animals on my list for all history – although I also take Mary Contrary’s point. How would dolphins go about persuading humans of their intelligence? Are they already doing it?

    In a SF story I read somewhere, in the future hornets or more precisely hornet colonies have been accepted by humans as the other intelligent species on Earth. Killing one hornet isn’t murder but it is assault, like chopping off a human’s finger would be.

  • Sigivald

    Rob: Because the poachers aren’t easy to find – and are still subject to arrest by the local authorities even if not killing elephants, I believe.

    The other problem that brings up is that since it’s still illegal, the poachers have negative incentive to use a slower and less efficient (from their viewpoint) means of harvesting ivory. If the legal regime changed to provide them an incentive to leave the elephants alive and substantially unharmed, we’d still that as an outcome.

    As the economists always say, “incentives matter” – and currently they are, between the illegality of the process and the lack of enough enforcement to make its occurrence marginal, all pointing at “just kill the elephant and rip out the ivory”…

    One wonders what cognitive dissonance this might reflect in the conservationists (or more accurately, hippies) rallying behind the current incentives.

    (I say “hippies” because an actual conservationist isn’t so emotionally invested in The Noble Free Elephant Protected By The Magic Of Laws Saying So as to pretend that that ideal is actually working, and prefer dead elephants under such an ineffective regime, to live ones being farmed precisely to keep the species viable.

    Conservationists care about keeping the species going [and keeping wild populations alive by removing the incentive to poach them], not about preventing ivory farming because Nobody Needs It.)

  • Midwesterner

    When I look at the processes involved instead of the species involved, I no longer need to project qualities onto other beings.

    What if one party is capable of offering reciprocal terms, but the other party either truly can’t or wilfully won’t hear them? Or can hear and understand them just fine but wants to enslave / exterminate / eat them anyway?

    Exactly. Which is when the distinction between the grizzly bear and the sociopath fades. It is precisely those situations that demonstrate that “rights” are something extended to someone else. One is entirely justified in treating the bear and the sociopath on the same terms. After it is over, any social (ie constitution) or personal contracts that may apply can be addressed. At no time does the situation ever depart from a pursuit of mutually acceptable terms with the strongest actor having the strongest say.

    This is why we, by which I mean social individualists, associate. Individually we cannot deal with the many thugs and gangs and predatory collectives of the world, but we can enter into voluntary mutual defense and aid pacts.

    At root, all relationships at all levels contain the element of violence. That isn’t a choice or an advocacy, it is the laws of physics or “the laws of Nature and of Nature’s God”. Civil society is how we individual beings negotiate ourselves away from violence and move to a basis of reciprocity, negotiated or instinctive consent. Many animal species reflexively honor restrained or ceremonialized aggression protocols because unlimited aggression is a finite course to extinction. Humans have the advantage of being able to think about and negotiate new and better terms of engagement. But whether instinctive of negotiated, it a civil restraint on behavior towards others.

    At a tangent but not irrelevant, your reference to hornets and attacks on their colonies demonstrates how individuals must relate to other humans who have formed themselves into collectives. If your SF author was treating the hornet colonies as ‘beings’ they are collective beings. When some hornets from a sentient colony attack a non-aggressor, then the colony itself bears the responsibility for the attack. Likewise, when a human collective attacks individual humans, the individuals need not confine their defense to just the attack units of the collective.

    Think of the grizzly bear as a collective of body parts. If the bear’s claws and teeth are attacking you, would you be obliged to consider its shoulders or ears to be innocent and untouchable while defending yourself?

    A difficult concept for many individualists to comprehend, including me initially, is that collectives are single beings. A collective could be a good neighbor or a sociopathic neighbor. To elaborate on what that means, just as we are not obliged to invade and free captive individuals caught in collective systems, neither are we prohibited from doing so. At least not unless our cooperative of social individualists has a treaty with the collective to not do so. Such a treaty is a practical, tactical and moral decision by the co-op.

    Well that was a mixed up reply on my part. I’ll try to clarify any confusing points but it may not be this evening.

  • steve

    Natalie said:

    “steve, this takes us into very dark waters but is it not the case that human babies and small children and mentally disabled humans of all ages can behave affectionately and kindly, but not ethically. So can ethical reciprocity be the test? Your mention of adults suggest that you don’t hold that to be the only test.”

    I think children get a pass for the obvious reasons. It takes time to grow into an ethical adult. I think this only applies to children of a species that is capable of morality, which as far as I know is only humans.

    The second issue is trickier maybe. What about the mentally handicapped. I think my ethics test does apply to them. In practice, very few don’t know that at least killing is wrong, and those that don’t get it tend to be institutionalized and treated reasonably kindly depending on the institution (jail or mental hospital). Not sure this is much different then a caged elephant. Although, the dark side of my theory says they could be harvested for organs like farmed elephants for ivory.

    To my heart this is repugnant just like the killing of smart animals like an elephant or orangutan is to me. But, my intellect fails me to come up with a better guide to legitimate behavior.

  • steve

    I think a corollary to my ethics test is that you don’t have to sink to their level ethically. It is just legitimate to do so.

  • steve

    Another issue with my theory is what makes an adult. I think its all biology. When you are capable of breeding you are an adult.

  • Fred Z

    How many of you elephant non-killers eat meat? Do I smell the sweet oleander and mustard reek of hypocrisy in the air?

    I wonder how elephant meat tastes. I’d try it, but then I’m a hunter already used to eating this and that. Most effete westerners gag over a simple bit of venison, much less elephant.

    How about the numbers problem – is killing one elephant for a ton or more of meat and some useful tusks more ethical than killing 10 pigs for the same amount of meat and no tusks? 10 deaths for 1, a good trade if the elephant steaks taste good.

    Stossel claims (http://www.foxnews.com/story/2007/06/07/elephant-meat-commodity-for-poachers/) that you’d only get 1000 pounds of meat from a 5000-6000 pound carcass but my experience is that meat is a little more than 1/3 the weight. He also claims the real problem is not ivory, but meat.

    Let’s go a step further and be super-duper ethical. “Save the whales!” must become “Eat the Whales!” and so make it 50 saved pigs or 10 saved elephants to 1 dead whale.

  • steve

    @Fred

    You bring up some details. I guess I would say it is more ethical to kill an elephant for its meat and ivory rather then just the ivory alone. But, you have to draw a bright red line somewhere. I think both are ethical.

  • Plamus

    PersonFromPorlock:

    steve
    June 28, 2013 at 2:43 pm

    I do think there are ethical issues about killing animals that are above a certain level of smart. Why do I believe this? I am not really sure.Try this.

    Argumentum ad passiones. How about you, Sir, try this? Or this and this? Or, in the more general context of “do not anthropomorphize animals”, this?

    IMHO, Mary Contrary wins the thread and a beer, with a close second (and another beer) for Midwesterner, and a third (and yet more beer!) for steve.

  • Runcie Balspune

    Perhaps not farming, but placing elephants in private ownership might go some way to deter poachers, didn’t they do that with rhinos in South Africa?

  • Codebanger

    I recall reading an essay some years ago on the subject. According to the essay, during the “great white hunters” safari era, the hunters were killing the nuisance animals. The ones that were preying on the local humans or their crops (which could devastate the food supply). There weren’t that many hunters and they were strictly controlled.

    The killing of an animal included: fees to the gov’t (for a license to kill the critter), fees to the chief and employment for a fairly large number of support personnel (bearers, cooks, firewood gatherers, etc.).

    When the hunting safari era ended the animals immediately went from alive-and-valuable to dangerous nuisances. An elephant can rip a field of crops up overnight; a big cat will wander in to a village looking for food (a dog is an easy treat) and carnage results.

    Changing economies, population growth and ease of transportation might have inevitably pushed the exotic wildlife towards extinction but… making sure the local prefer the critters dead certainly didn’t help.

  • Saxon

    Ellen wrote what I wanted to say: cut off the tusks while the elephant is alive and the poachers don’t have an incentive to kill it.

    I believe they do this in India to some extent. If elephants need the tusks for self-defence, this would be a problem, but normally it shouldn’t be.

  • Natalie Solent (Essex)

    Fred Z,

    How many of you elephant non-killers eat meat? Do I smell the sweet oleander and mustard reek of hypocrisy in the air?

    Not really, no. Everybody on this thread who has expressed qualms about killing elephants has done so on the basis of drawing a distinction between a few species that are either smarter than those animals we regularly eat for meat, or in danger of extinction, or, as in the case of elephants, both.

    I mentioned “idiot animal rights people” who made no distinction between different species, but there have been none such posting here.

  • R. Dawes

    Concern for rights, my foot.

    Notice what was the very first argument made: “people don’t need ivory.” The chief concern was about depriving people of what is deemed to be a luxury.

    As to the second “ethical concerns,” I’m guessing that it is objection to humans thinking themselves superior to animals, one more instance of the hate of “triumphalism.” Downes strikes me as the kind of creature desparate to drag man down more than just a peg or two. The idea of animals having rights is only a means to that end.

    All together sum up to straight-forward misanthropy. These people against ivory farming are one step removed from the equally-misanthropic puritans of old who railed against bear-baiting.

  • PersonFromPorlock

    Plamus
    June 28, 2013 at 11:39 pm

    Argumentum ad passiones. How about you, Sir, try this? Or this and this?

    Well, yes. Steve was looking for an argument and I suggested one. The fact that bonobos have human-style failings as well as human-style virtues doesn’t do much to distinguish them from humans.

  • steve

    Am article talking about ethics in animals. Hint, social animals have some. Even though they can’t express them.

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/the-lay-scientist/2013/apr/26/1

    He does however say:

    He acknowledges that humans have more complex and developed social skills; we alone analyse, discuss and codify our behaviour. He says, “I am reluctant to call a chimpanzee a ‘moral being.’

  • Maximo Macaroni

    During the siege of Paris in 1870-71, two elephants in the zoo, twins, Castor and Pollux, were killed for their meat. No one seems to have been unduly ethically troubled. Didn’t Man survive and thrive for millennia by waylaying mammoths on their migrations? They built shelters of the tusks. Why is it that men have become such sillyheads?

  • Tedd

    Midwesterner:

    You’ll have to excuse me for not being terse here, because I’m thinking out loud, but I’m interested in how your theory of rights deals with the case of third parties. For example: A extends a right to B and to C; B extends the same right to A and to C; C also extends that right to A, but not to B. What, if any, are A’s ethical responsibilities to B with respect to the right that C does not extend?

    Presumably, if A enters into a voluntary mutual defense and aid pact with B that could potentially harm A’s chances of having such a pact with C. A better choice might be for A to try to negotiate a pact that included A, B, and C together. But that would seem to be the beginning of a rights meta-debate of exactly the kind your theory is intended to avoid.

    I think you’ve proposed (perhaps on another thread) that an evolutionary process is involved, wherein if A, B, and C fail to negotiate a pact they all lose out over time to D, E, and F, who have. I can see how that would work in principle, but it seems vulnerable to the pizza principle (wherein the number of toppings on a pizza decreases as the number of parties who have to agree on it’s toppings increases, until at some point it’s no longer possible to order a pizza at all). D, E, and F win out over A, B, and C because they have a stable rights pact. But then D, E, and F lose to G, H, and I, who have an even more stable (but smaller) rights pact… ad infinitum, until nobody has a rights pact.

    Perhaps the evolution principle and the pizza principle, over time, balance out to some optimum mix of mutually-agreed rights. But, if that’s how it works, would it not be possible to play out that evolution in our minds and, through debate, speed the process of evolution toward the optimum rights pact, rather than waiting for it to play out “naturally?”

    If there is no such thing as an optimum rights pact (which I think you might also have asserted on another thread), how does the evolution of rights pacts overcome the pizza principle problem? In other words, how is it possible for multi-party rights pacts to evolve beyond the scale of a handful of parties if there is no optimum pact that balances the individual self-interest of more rights desired with the individual self-interest of fewer rights extended to others?

  • Richard Thomas

    Quick thought… As the tusk grows at a fairly constant rate, perhaps differentiating between shorter tusks and ones that are long enough for the elephant to have had a decently long and reproductive life would be one way to go. Not sure how this would work, perhaps a mild fine for poaching if all ivory is longer than the defined length and jail time if it’s shorter or somesuch.

  • I’ve mentioned farming before, not with regard to elephants but to tigers or somesuch. After all, nobody worries about the extinction of cows, horses or chickens.
    As to rights, as was mentioned above when the elephant and tiger martyr’s brigades force us to sign a Great Animal’s Charter at Runnymede then I’ll listen. Or Planet of the Apes, whichever comes first.

  • Mr Ecks

    Culture and artificially nourish the cells that, in the elephant, produce the ivory. It would not be that big a jump for biotech and ivory could then be produced by the tonne without harm to a single pachyderm.

  • Plamus

    The fact that bonobos have human-style failings as well as human-style virtues doesn’t do much to distinguish them from humans.

    You will have to do more work to convince me that bonobos have “human-style virtues”. Caring for one’s young is an evolutionary strategy (r/K selection theory); to make it a virtue would require that it first be elevated to the level of a moral standard or recognized right. The moment I see a chimp smack another chimp for killing a baby chimp from another “tribe” because it’s morally wrong, rather than joining in on the feast, I’ll revisit my opinion. What is lacking is capacity for moral reasoning – and before point it out, yes, many human beings lack that as well, and yes, the rest of humans deal with them by avoiding them, killing them, incarcerating them, etc. I would not begrudge a chimp killing a human who is trying to kill them. At the same time, if chimps kill other chimps, and not one chimp objects, then I have no compunction about killing chimps too.

  • Natalie Solent (Essex)

    It might be worth pointing out to those people one meets horrified by the idea of farming elephants that farming them needn’t mean confining them in cramped pens. It just means that someone owns them and hopes to make money from them somehow, giving them an incentive to protect their investment. The elephants needn’t know they are being farmed until the moment they are shot (it’s not as if elephants generally die of old age in the wild). Elephant farms could be huge, especially if they are not just elephant farms. Or perhaps you could farm the elephants without owning the land they range on at all – you could use electronic tagging or something like that to keep track of them, to protect them from poachers, and to pay compensation promptly to those whose property they damage. This would remove one incentive to kill them. Nor do the elephants have to be owned by a white capitalist in a top hat. Not that I have anything against white capitalists in top hats, but a system that involved local tribespeople in the project might work well, especially if it converted people who would have had an incentive to poach them into people who have an incentive to protect them.

    Some of this may already be happening, and these points are probably obvious to most here. However if there is one thing I have learned from blogging it is that what is obvious to one person is not obvious to another.

  • It may be worth pointing out that being tasty, or, making excellent dominoes, could be viewed as an evolutionary strategy too.
    For sure, the cow, the pig and perhaps in the future the elephant live shorter lives as individuals, but the species enjoys the protection of the most deadly species on the planet.

  • I always laugh at discussions like this. There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with farming elephants any more than it’s wrong to farm cattle or breed leopards in captivity – especially when, as in the latter case, the alternative is possible extinction of the species. Ditto elephants. Good luck with trying to eliminate the desire for ivory anywhere, especially with the Chinese, who are particularly un-squeamish about getting what they want. A couple of facts about elephants may be in order.

    1. They are (legally) slaughtered by the hundreds every year by the various game services (the equivalent of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service or Park Rangers) because en masse, elephants are unbelievably destructive to the habitat. The elephant carcases are turned into skins (boots, sofas, whatever), ornaments, ivory and meat. Which brings me to the next point.

    2. Elephant meat is delicious. It’s especially so when turned into biltong (jerky); in fact, when you buy a stick of “game” biltong anywhere in southern Africa, it’s more likely to be elephant than venison or any other type.

    3. Farming elephant to help satisfy the demand for ivory will increase the supply of ivory, therefore actually bringing the cost of ivory down and reducing the profit incentive for poaching.

    Whenever one reads or hears howls of moral outrage about the horribleness of farming animals, at the source of the howl will be found a wealthy middle-class White person who has no stake in the argument other than their own (misplaced) outrage. Included in the above will also be found a hopelessly-naïve set of solutions which will never actually work.

    Actually, as I think about this: ask these fools whether they’re against the breeding of captive animals in captivity. That’s also farming, of course, except that instead of fur and meat, we’re getting Sunday afternoons’ entertainment for middle-class White children and self-satisfied animal “lovers” who seem unconscious of the fact that keeping a wild animal in a zoo enclosure is no different from keeping it inside a fenced enclosure in the African bush.

    But there I go again, bringing logic to an argument with an idealogue. I never learn.

  • Tedd, I hope both you and Mid forgive me for interjecting (and feel free to ignore altogether, and apologies if I’m missing something), but my $.02:

    In other words, how is it possible for multi-party rights pacts to evolve beyond the scale of a handful of parties if there is no optimum pact that balances the individual self-interest of more rights desired with the individual self-interest of fewer rights extended to others?

    Through much violence? Which is exactly how it happened through the history of mankind.

  • Midwesterner

    A extends a right to B and to C; B extends the same right to A and to C; C also extends that right to A, but not to B. What, if any, are A’s ethical responsibilities to B with respect to the right that C does not extend?

    An algebra question. :-)

    I don’t think individuals can survive sustained contact with other humans unless they belong to either formal or informal pacts. Humans mobs can rationalize anything and just looking around the world of the moment you’ll see any number of places were you would be killed almost instantly if you refused to join a local association on its terms. Some places you wouldn’t even get the option.

    Association for defense is ubiquitous throughout not just the animal kingdom, but plants as well. Most likely any human association for binding arbitration to resolve disputes among its own members will enter into less detailed non-aggression umbrella compacts/contracts with other binding arbitration associations. This scales up and down within the constraints of the moral philosophy an association holds. Humans-as-individuals societies and collective-humanity societies (they can be distinguished by where they vest the right to life liberty and property) can never reach terms and can only exist in isolation from each other or at war, but individualist societies can vary quite a bit within the general ideal of individual life liberty and property and still negotiate terms of mutual defense/non-aggression.

    One way I think of it is to recall the way the federation “The United States” was originally intended by the founders to work. The many states had one contract of very general terms (the Constitution) governing relations among the states, yet individual states had plenary scope to establish rules within their state. One can easily imagine a third tier association of associations with even less shared details by imagining how NATO relates to individual US states. Using this comparison, the biggest difference between moving to a particular state or joining a particular association is that the states are geographically defined and have monopoly jurisdiction. In a private law society, various associations would wax and wane with their perceived usefulness. Contracts that behaved like California, New York etc would be waning as the productive members switched to other contracts. Contracts will not, as states presently do, own their residents.

    As Alisa points out, failure to reach an peaceful arrangement with other associations will result in much violence. That reality is a strong incentive to negotiate terms.

    A private law/civil anarchy “state” would fit internationally not very much differently from how international politics works now. The only difference is that it will be chosen or created by consensual associations that have allied for mutual defense rather than be the product of an arbitrary claim of geographical sovereign authority.

  • Fred Z

    @Natalie Solent

    “… drawing a distinction between a few species that are either smarter than those animals we regularly eat for meat, or in danger of extinction, or, as in the case of elephants, both.”

    Do you have some evidence that elephants are smarter than pigs? I have never seen any such evidence, which is why I chose them for my comparison. Cows, probably, chickens for sure, but not pigs.

    If we did not farm pigs perhaps they too would be in danger of extinction. Indeed I think it likely as even the wild pigs of Europe require the protection of hunting seasons to keep them from extinction.

  • Fred Z

    @Plamus.

    Interesting comment.

    Heinlein suggested that all “human-style virtues” were merely part of a successful (so far) evolutionary strategy. His example of altruism was people drowning while attempting to rescue others, sometimes seriatim, and he allowed that this strategy might in fact be unsuccessful.

    You write that “to make it a virtue would require that it first be elevated to the level of a moral standard or recognized right.” Are there any virtues, moral standards or recognized rights that are not part of a successful evolutionary strategy? Because if any are part of an unsuccessful strategy one would expect them to disappear.

    And yet the homosexuals remain, cheerfully refuting the whole concept of evolution. They don’t breed at all, you’d think they’d be gone by now.

    All of which takes me far away from my original attempted mild sarcasm at what Du Toit rightly disparages as the middle class debating whether angelic pigs or elephants dance more nimbly on the pinhead.

    By the way, is there not something inherently evil about protecting any species from extinction? They are by definition no good, unsuccessful, can’t make it losers. They gotta go, make room for the up and comers. I often hear the argument that we must protect all the bizarre little species scattered here and there but the only argument I ever hear for it is that they may be useful some day, perhaps being stuffed full of cancer curing chemicals. Is there any real argument that an old species is more likely to be stuffed full of marvelous chemicals than a new one?

  • PersonFromPorlock

    And just as an aside, may I remark the the NPR crowd’s favorite wild animals, lions and elephants, are in their natural surroundings the functional equivalents of ‘a biker gang’ and ‘the tourists from Hell’.

  • Fred Z, your presumed assumption that the principles of biological evolution only manifest themselves through direct breeding, may be too narrow. Homosexuals do not breed directly, and so as a group under some arbitrary category they may not be seen as useful to the survival of the species. However, as individuals they certainly contribute to human society, and thus, perhaps indirectly, to the survival of our species. This is what makes us different from non-rational species: we can break the collective boundaries imposed on us by nature (such as, for example, being mere mammals or apes or whatever), and use our reason – which, lest we forget, was given to us by that same nature – to optimize the use of the physical resources around us, in order to maximize our chances for survival.

    It just so happens though that reason, when combined with our “animal” nature, is a double-edged sword: it can be used – indeed, it is the ultimate tool – for both cooperation and violence. The latter is what makes us the most dangerous species on Earth, as was pointed out here, and that is why human violence is the ultimate threat to ourselves as a species. The former – i.e. voluntary non-violent cooperation – is the most effective tool to resist and counter all threats, both human and non-human.

    Still, the ability to reason notwithstanding, the violence/cooperation dichotomy is real and ever-present, in both human and non-human species. It’s just that, despite a few “minor” bugs and glitches, our ability to cooperate through the use of reason has been so successful over centuries, that some of us have began taking it for granted. Quite mistakenly so, I might add.

  • PersonFromPorlock

    NPR crowd’s

    Drat. “PBS crowd’s.”

  • steve

    @Fred Z – I think homosexuality is a part of an evolutionary adaptation. Specifically the biology of pregnancy. My current understanding from reading is that homosexuality occurs from having the wrong level of hormones at the right time so to speak. Maybe evolution could avoid this at the cost of a more complicated reproductive system. I suspect it is tolerated by evolution for the sake of an efficient reproductive system. That doesn’t cost the mother more in resources then necessary.

  • Plamus

    Fred Z:

    Are there any virtues, moral standards or recognized rights that are not part of a successful evolutionary strategy? Because if any are part of an unsuccessful strategy one would expect them to disappear.

    Yes, there are. Evolution has not stopped – there are always traits that are in the process of disappearing, while new ones are emerging. Furthermore, “part of an unsuccessful strategy” is a tricky line of reasoning – success is most often determined a posteriori. For example, dinosaurs were highly successful during their lengthy reign – and then were gone, most likely in a catastrophic event that mammals survived better. Who was more successful? The very definition of “success” is non-trivial, and one has to be careful to compare apples to apples – e.g. comparing insects (a class) to humans (a species) is flawed. Also you cannot always genes or traits in isolation. A trait that is a liability may come paired with another trait that confers an advantage, which more-than-offsets the disadvantage. Going to the specific example you suggest…

    And yet the homosexuals remain, cheerfully refuting the whole concept of evolution. They don’t breed at all, you’d think they’d be gone by now.

    There are numerous theories, supported by various levels of evidence, as to why homosexualism persists, even though it confers a reproductive disadvantage (gay men nowadays, for example, have children at about 20% the rate of heterosexual men). Among those:
    – Kin selection: since homosexuals are largely freed from investing time and energy into reproduction, they can help their relatives (who are passing on the same genes) raise children. It’s even possible that the freed resources alone, without cooperation, account for the effect. Fewer children overall, but higher survivability of children.
    – Social prestige: (related to kin selection) there is anthropological evidence that in pre-industrial societies homosexual men were more likely to become shamans/priests. Prestige and resources flow to the relatives.
    – Polymorphisms: as mentioned above, it’s possible that homosexuality comes paired with an offsetting advantage (example: the gene causing sickle-cell disease also makes the bearer immune to malaria) – IQ, bond-forming capacity, etc.
    – Sexually antagonistic selection: the idea here is that a gene that acts a certain way in one sex can work the opposite way in the other. Some studies have found that the female relatives of gay men have more children than those of straight men.

  • Richard Thomas

    Plamus, there’s also nurture vs nature. Environmental effects may be very important. The average number of legs for human beings is less than two but that’s not really something that can be bred out. My suspicion is that it is a quite complex combination of all the factors mentioned plus many others (this also handily allows me to equivocate on the subject when it seems prudent).

  • Julie near Chicago

    And I think it’s implicit in Alisa’s and Plamus’s and R.T.’s remarks: It’s not obvious that every human trait is either a help or a hindrance in terms of “the survival of the species. Perhaps a trait has developed that is not particularly useful–say a liking for ice-cream–but is a side-effect of one that is. Or perhaps a trait is somewhat counterproductive but is somehow a side-effect of, but simply overridden by, traits that are good for survival. And actually, it seems to me that most of our traits are sometimes helpful, sometimes counterproductive — depending on the circumstances. And the very mix of “opposing” traits, such as being prone to pacifism vs. being a bit inclined to aggression, may provide a balance amongst humans that’s a good thing in the long run — the one group acting as a brake on the other, in both directions. Of course in any given instance, the wrong group may prevail….

    Anyway, it is said (though some experts, or “experts,” and I’m not equipped to distinguish, disagree) that other species also have their homosexuals. Also that there is a Babysitter or Auntie wolf in the pack, who is male but not allowed to breed by the dominant Alpha Male, but who performs the useful service of babysitting and pup-nurturing. Perhaps he also dispenses sterile bandages and whiskey when Mom or Pop comes home a little the worse for wear?

    There’s also the fact (I consider it pretty obvious) that the potential for each human to develop any particular trait usually exists somewhere along a spectrum. But that’s a discussion for another time. :>)

  • Plamus

    Richard Thomas: absolutely, and I touched on this in “kin selection”, and my list is not exhaustive by any measure. All in all, in Plamustopia, I’d welcome gay people in my community. Your comment does remind me of an old statistician joke along the lines that the average human has one testicle and one tit :)

  • Plamus

    Julie, fancy a beer? :)

  • Julie near Chicago

    Sure, Plamus, but at least one of us will need an awfully long straw. ;)

    I have to admit something *blush* — I worked a deal with the Big Guy, and traded in my one nut for a second chest ornament. (That was in the pre-Conception interview He holds with all souls as they approach the head of the queue.)

    . . .
    —Huh! That’s interesting! I wish I could write fiction. There’s a good SF or fantasy story in there, I think. Could be humorous or not. Anybody want to swipe it?
    :) :)

  • I want a cold one too…:-(

  • Plamus

    Alisa, anytime! We’ll tap a firkin, if there’s enough demand :)

  • JC

    African elephants are obviously racially inferior to the Asian elephant, which has been cultivated in India, Borneo, and so on for millenia. Therefore they are deserving of special treatment and protection. The freedom-loving African elephant is quite clearly superior to its Asian cousin, raised to servitude, and could never have been suborned into slavery as were the elephants, e.g., of Hannibal.
    Oops. Raaacist. My bad.

  • Julie near Chicago

    JC! Tsk! Now,even on this site of maximal moral–if not political–rectitude and righteousness, we see the Elephant in the room….