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.
Back in 1913, the Times has just published a supplement on the textile industry. Just about every company that has advertised has included a picture of its factory.
I think they look fantastic: big, modern, solid, clean even. But why are they used in adverts? Perhaps the question should be why companies don’t use them any more? What it does suggest is that at the time they were regarded as far from the dark, satanic mills of modern-day folklore.
This is a lovely couple of paragraphs by Tim Worstall at the expense of that hardline opponent of global free capital movements, and socialist, Richard Murphy:
The major driver in growth is that two thirds of humanity are moving from 16th century peasant destitution to the 20th century petit bourgeois pleasures of three meals a day. As long as no one fucks that up with a Courageous State we can expect the global economy to expand 8 to 10 times in the 21st century just as it did in the 20th.
We do, after all, have a very large intergovernmental commission looking at these sorts of things for us. The IPCC it’s called. And such economic growth is actually one of their starting assumptions. No, really. so who are you going to believe? A retired accountant from Wandsworth or the scientific consensus?
When a blogger refers to a pit of bias and political intrigue like the IPCC to make a point against an attacker of low taxes and tax havens such as Murphy, it is really the end of the road.
Alert readers may have noticed that the default category, here at New Samizdata (it wasn’t like this at Old Samizdata) for all postings (i.e. if we forget to put in proper categories), is: Hippos. This is because our Dear Leader has a fondness for hippos. This means that I am constantly on the look-out for hippos in the shops of London.
It also means that I have been wanting to do a posting here that really is about hippos, ever since New Samizdata got into its stride. I didn’t just want to find some hippos. I wanted then to write here about them.
Easier said than done, because you might be surprised at how hard hippos are to come by in London. I would have thought that hippos would be as popular as dinosaurs, pigs, cows, horses, dogs, cats (small and big), and maybe even as popular as teddy bears. But no. Hippos seem not to figure in the manufacturing plans of most toy, model or miniature animal makers.
So, it was a happy moment when, while wandering about in South East London last month, I chanced upon a sort of ornaments/antiques/junk shop which was, in among much else, selling these:
How much is this hippo?, I asked, waving one at the lady at the desk. Fifty P, she replied. Then, perhaps mistaking my stunned amazement at how cheap the hippo was for a desire to haggle, she added: You can have three for a quid. Done, I said. Three. I should have bought all the hippos they had. Later, surprise surprise, I found the words “MADE IN CHINA” printed on the stick-on label next to those little hippo feat. The label also said: “FUNTIME GIFTS LTD.”, but I could find no mention of any hippos here.
They are very poorly done hippos, I have to admit. They are made of foam rubber, with a smooth skin that is then painted, with unfortunate results for the paint if you squeeze the hippo there. Already, one of them in particular has many small cracks in its paintwork. But no matter. Score.
Have you noticed how, with gift giving these days, the cheaper it is, the better? Any fool can get his friend a great hippo, if he is willing for his bank account to take a comparably great hit. But the gift you really want is one that is just what you want, but which the giver found, rather than merely threw money at. It’s the thought and the effort that counts, more than ever, as getting your hands on mere stuff gets easier and easier, what with it all being made in China now for next to nothing, and then brought to you by supertanker, ditto. But maybe that’s just me. Comments on that?
Yes, they are still in their cellophane wrappings. It is for Original Perry to unwrap them, not me.
LATER (with the cellophane gone):
The four of them seem very happy, wouldn’t you say?
We at Samizdata will be onto the champagne soon, but it is gingerbread hippos for now.
On Saturday various Samizdata team members and associates descended upon HQ for copious amounts of wine, chilli and cheese.
The party commences.
The goddess Elena holds fort.
Samizdata’s infamous bar.
Tomas Kohl drops in on us from the Czech Republic.
China’s hottest export.
There’s something important on the computer.
Readers of Brian’s blog are surging.
The Briffas – Peter Briffa is the purveyor of the fine Public Interest blog.
By 3:30am, everyone had fallen asleep apart from the guardian hippo.
I am presently doing a littlle travel on (or perhaps off) the Malayan peninsula prior to Christmas in Australia. Right now I am in Penang, and as always there is much to write about, but I do not alas presently have time to write it. So, a few photographs. Also, I shall be back in Singapore from this evening, and I am free on Thursday evening. If we have any Singapore readers who feel like meeting up for a drink, or dinner, or perhaps even some air conditioned indoor prawning, please let me know, preferably by leaving a comment at the end of this post.
Do I find it cool that I can look at high resolution satellite images of my current location on a tiny battery operated hand-held device while sitting in a coffee shop in Penang? Hell yes.