Animal Mass Extinction Thought Experiment

I was talking with a thoughtful friend the other day, one whom I have come to know through philosophy studies. We discussed the possibility that some species may face mass extinction in the future and if or why mankind should do anything about it. He especially pointed out some oddities concerning mankind’s values in relation to animal mass extinction.

First of all let us take a moment and engage ourselves in a thought experiment: Species number one, a monkey living in a remote area of Africa faces extinction. Species number two, a cranky spider roaming about in Australia also faces extinction. Let us presume that mankind have the resources to save one of these species from mass extinction. The initial questions I now ask are: Which species should we save? Why should we save that particular species rather than the other? What are the good arguments for saving that species?

Did you choose to save the monkey? How did you make your decision? What were your good arguments? I did not mention that the spider in my example might be more beneficial to the environment and ultimately to mankind. Let me rephrase the questions. Should we really try and save species at all? How do people intend to choose between saving a particular species rather than one that is either unknown or seen as a hazard to the environment?

Man is not the measure of all things – animals have faced mass extinction long before man even appeared on the scene. Even if we blame ourselves, tell people that we are trying to save species for generations to come or proclaim that the entire eco system will collapse if certain species die, there is no way we can ‘make it right’ and do natures job for her. We do kill animals, we do pollute and threaten eco systems but why choose to tell the world that we ought to save a certain species and then ignore hundred and thousands of other species? Perhaps we should not try to save certain species. We should instead try and save ourselves by dealing with our problems and face reality.

We should ask ourselves if it is really more important for us that certain species survive than what it is for the environment. We do not have the resources to save all the animals that affect the eco system, our values are not entirely rational when we choose our rescue missions and we inaccurately heighten our capacity as benefactors to the environment. We face a grim future, we are staring it right in the eye and we cannot really ‘feel’ its consequences. The efforts are missing the bigger picture – we might have to let certain species go nonetheless because they face extinction with or without us helping them to survive. Governments should deal with problems concerning the environment on a large scale rather than politicise it. However, I am not saying that we should stop researching about the environment and species locally, but we have to ask ourselves about our own values and arguments when we engage in such activities.

Now let me come back to the thought experiment and try to make some witty comment about it. I would want to save the spider, because a cranky spider can be much more interesting to look at when it is indeed cranky. It is more likely that it may be easier to save because one might be able to breed it in labs placed in the spider’s natural environment. It is probably a great benefactor around the country side, scaring people and stray cats as it roams about. The monkey is simply too hard to keep alive, it will cost so much money, time and effort. It will keep on eating leaves on trees that we need now when we are going to breath less of our much needed oxygen in the future. If we have evolved from monkeys, then evolution has moved on for a reason regardless of what we know about it.

My point here is that I call for a re-evaluation of one’s handed down values. Transcend these values by asking yourself the right questions, your answers will lead the way to a new individual understanding, once there you will be ready to adopt values in accordance with your new found understanding.

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