15 January 2008

Seriously, Another Post about Polar Bears

Predictably, some biologists and animal rights activists are decrying the Nuremberg Zoo's decision to hand-raise its newest, youngest polar bear (dubbed "Snowflake" in anticipation of a democratic christening by her adoring public). The reasons for their outrage appear to include the following:

  1. It being unnatural to hold polar bears in captivity, we should not be surprised that it is so difficult to rear them in captivity, and we should accept the "natural" rate of failure here.
  2. This is in part because polar bears in captivity live a cruel, anxiety-riddled existence which disturbs their innate capacity to care for their young. (Implicit claim: we should not raise any more polar bears in captivity, since it only multiplies the cruelty).
  3. Raising polar bears by hand somehow constructs them as "asocial" or "psychopathic" - Knut is already developing symptoms.
While I'm no impassioned proponent of it, I also don't lose much sleep over animal cruelty. I think it's somewhat bizarre that we raise wildlife for the sole purpose of public display, entertainment, and adulation. But I also think that our (characteristically human) inclination to judge what is "natural" for animals (and therefore good) and what is "artificially imposed" on them by humans (and therefore bad) is a contradiction in itself. By making such a decision we are already artificially imposing an anthropocentric vision of what is "right" for animals on them; this is exemplified by the ascription of pathologies to animals raised in captivity by humans. We can't see animals without imposing our perceptual framework on them.

I thought that in moral philosophy we have gotten passed a fixation on seeking truth in "nature."

1 comment:

Nick said...

Clearly, Aldous, you also need to go see Peter Singer.