June 29, 2021
EP. 111 — What Do We Owe Wild Animals? with Emma Marris
What are our moral obligations to nature, and the wild animals that live in it? Should we vaccinate them? Should we feed them when they’re starving? Should we kill so called “invasive” species? Emma Marris is back this week to discuss her new book Wild Souls and the complex ethical dilemmas surrounding our relationship with wild animals. You can check out her book at factuallypod.com/books.
111 — What Do We Owe Wild Animals? with Emma Marris
Speaker 1 [00:00:02] Hello everyone, welcome to Factually. I’m Adam Conover, so wonderful to have you listening to the show once again; to an incredible interview with an incredible expert who knows some incredible things that you probably don’t know. Let’s get into it. Part of our fascination with the natural world, with nature, is that it operates according to different laws than we have in our human civilization. In fact, the laws of nature often run counter to the laws of human society. For instance in our society, we don’t really love it when someone gets murdered; we think that’s bad and we think that we should prevent such a thing happening at all costs. But when a creature in nature murders another creature and eats it, well, we don’t send the nature cops out there to bust them and send them to forest jail. No, we say, ‘Wow, look at majestic nature, red in tooth and claw. Why, that’s just the law of the jungle or what not.’ In fact, we’re often awestruck, thinking about the violent ballet in the struggle of nature. It’s one of the things that we love about it. But at the same time, this idea that the natural world exists on a different plane of morality from our own, that makes our interactions with it confusing. For instance, think about a species out in nature that might be going extinct because of human effects on their habitat. How do we deal with that? Should we engage in a complex breeding or genetic engineering program to save that species? Or should we geo engineer a river to save a single species that lives in that river? Should we kill large numbers of ‘invasive’ animals, like they do in Australia or New Zealand, if doing so will save a single endangered marsupial that we adore? Maybe you heard some of those questions and said ‘I think they have an easy answer.’ But if you start to dig into why you think the answer is what it is, you might run into a couple internal contradictions. Here’s another one for you. Consider this common argument that some philosophers advance for why we shouldn’t eat meat: they argue that animals can suffer, so farming and killing them is de facto inhumane. Well, if that’s true, then why shouldn’t we go out into the woods and save the lives of herbivores who are being eaten by carnivores? I mean, seriously, why? It’s a harder question to answer then you might think and that’s because they require us to figure out what our values actually are in relation to the natural world and what moral principles apply. I mean, seriously, these are harder questions to answer than you might think and that’s because they require us to figure out exactly what our values, our moral principles are in relation to the natural world. And that’s a difficult but very worthwhile task because we are not getting a new world anytime soon. So we better start figuring out how exactly we relate to the one we currently live in. Well, to help us think through these issues, we have as our guest today one of the smartest and most thought provoking environmental writers out there. We’ve had her on the show before. We had an incredible conversation then, and the conversation that we recorded for this episode was absolutely fascinating. It blew my mind and made me consider things I had not considered over and over again. I very much hope (and think) it’ll do the same for you. Her name is Emma Marris and she has a new book out called ‘Wild Souls: Freedom and Flourishing in the Non-Human World.’ Please welcome to the show once again, Emma Marris. Emma Marris, thank you so much for coming back on the show.
Speaker 2 [00:03:39] Thank you for having me.
Speaker 1 [00:03:40] I loved our conversation (this was about two years ago) after your appearance on ‘Adam Ruins Everything,’ about how we might reimagine our relationship with the natural world. You have a new book out. Tell me, what are the new insights contained therein.
Speaker 2 [00:03:54] Well, the new book is about animals, wild animals in particular, and whether or not they really still are wild in a very human changed world and also about what we might owe to them ethically. What are our responsibilities towards these other creatures that we share the planet with?
Speaker 1 [00:04:13] Yeah, that’s such an interesting, confusing question. Can I start with an anecdote?
Speaker 2 [00:04:18] Please.
Speaker 1 [00:04:19] I read an article years ago. It was a guest article in Vox. It wasn’t even a Vox writer, it was somebody who was writing their first piece in Vox. The premise of the article was that the most ethical thing to do would be (because there are so many animals who die in the wild of diseases) to go into the wild and start vaccinating animals. Not against human diseases, we should vaccinate koalas against koala diseases in order to reduce the amount of animal suffering. I could see what the chain of logic was here. This is someone who would say, ‘Hey, one of my ethical commitments is to reduce suffering among animals. I think animals are sentient to the degree that they suffer. And so I don’t want to eat meat or I want to reduce the number of animals that are killed.’ And then they kept thinking, ‘Well, what else does that require me to do? I think I should go vaccinate animals.’ But me hearing this for the first time, I was like, ‘This seems like an almost absurd conclusion,’ but I’m not sure how I felt about it. It was one of those arguments where it provoked me in this way that was really destabilizing. I was like, ‘Wait, I’ve never thought about my ethical commitment to wild animals’ and I still have no idea where I stand on that issue. Whether I think it’s rational or whether I think it’s a crazy thing to think. Is that the kind of thing your book is about?
Speaker 2 [00:05:38] Yup, that’s right. If you like that destabilized feeling, you will love ‘Wild Souls.’ Because it is very destabilizing. Yeah. The problem of wild animal suffering, as it is referred to in philosophical circles, is definitely one of the things we cover. Should we be vaccinating them against diseases? What about the fact that some animals eat other animals, should the predators all be slowly eased out of ecosystems: given birth control pills, so there’ll be no more lions so that then the gazelles won’t get eaten? This is a real proposal. It sort of depends what, as you said, your ethical commitments you start with; if you start with the notion that all suffering is bad and you have an obligation to try to reduce all suffering in the world, then all of a sudden the very structure of ecosystems is a problem. The fact that things eat other things become a bug, not a feature. So it really does open up some very big, very confusing questions very quickly.
Speaker 1 [00:06:41] The difference being human in nature and our relation is a recurring topic on the show. I was just talking to Jaquelyn Gill a couple of weeks ago about how in many ways we need to break down that dichotomy: between thinking of the human world and the natural world as different. You and I have talked about that as well. But on that issue; where I think that the defense against thinking you have to go vaccinate all the animals is to think, ‘Well, hold on a second, there’s human morality and we should not apply that to the natural world. The natural world has its own rules. In the human sphere, yes, I want to reduce all suffering. But when it comes to nature, while nature has its own thing going on and I don’t want to mess with it too much,’ and in that sense, the dichotomy makes more sense. So we’re immediately into some extremely weighty issues here.
Speaker 2 [00:07:23] Yes, yeah. Yeah. I talk a lot about in the book about the autonomy of non humans and how respecting their autonomy is something that we should really consider. And that’s a really strong argument to not start wading into ecosystems and giving birth control to all the lions and vaccinating all the koalas and fiddling around like that, because it’s putting our value system onto these other communities that don’t live by our rules. So I think that there’s arguments pro and con and the autonomy that you bring up; the freedom of non humans is a strong one.
Speaker 1 [00:07:58] Yeah and there’s also a degree into which, by imposing human values or making those places less wild and to the extent that wildness is a value that we might also want to treasure in addition to reducing suffering, then I don’t know. It gets very complex, very fast. But let’s bring it back down to earth. Let’s not fly up into the air in a balloon right from the beginning, I like to do that as we go through. Tell me about some of the examples that you have in your book. What’s one of the specific case that you think is really illustrative of these issues?
Speaker 2 [00:08:31] So there’s two that I think are helpful to think about, and the first one is a helping case. The case is: humans cause climate change. Climate change means there’s less sea ice. That means polar bears can’t hunt seals. That means polar bears are starving. Many of your listeners may have heard of this basic idea that polar bears are in trouble because of climate change. So then the question is, should we feed the polar bears? Should we be up there with big vats of polar bear chow, giving them lunch? So that’s one question that philosophers have been looking into and actual conservationists have proposed.
Speaker 1 [00:09:08] I like the idea of philosophers looking into something of like, ‘I don’t know, we’ve got to convene a philosophical task force. Congress is going to make sure that the philosophers are on the case’
Speaker 2 [00:09:21] If only this were the case, I think that we’d be in better shape. The other case study is killing for conservation. So this happens a lot on island systems where you’ve got these (or Australia, which is kind of like the world’s biggest island) new predators introduced to the system like cats or rats or foxes, and they’re eating all the native species. In order to ‘fix’ things, the dominant strategy has been to go in and do these massive kills of cats, rats, foxes, mice, et cetera. So I take a couple of chapters looking at that like, ‘Is it really OK to kill so many animals in order to save species, when species aren’t really sentient and don’t really have goals, don’t really have a brain, but individual animals do.’
Speaker 1 [00:10:06] Hmm, yeah, the cases where killing many, many individuals in order to save a broader ecosystem, these are really difficult moral questions for us to wrestle with. Do you come to any sort of conclusion about any of them in any of these cases?
Speaker 2 [00:10:25] I wish that I could have come with sort of a perfect algorithm that you could just feed a moral conundrum through. You just take out the dilemma machine and you put the problem in the top and the solution comes out the other end. But unfortunately, I don’t think that’s possible because every case is slightly different. So instead, what I come up with in the end of the book is a list of things that I think are actually valuable in the non-human world, things like the autonomy of non-humans, things like diversity of life. Then I have another list of things that I actually think are kind of B.S. that aren’t really valuable things like the purity of a certain species genome or naturalness in the sense of something being totally separate from humans. And then once I got my two lists, I have a little process for churning through some of these ethical dilemmas. So I have a five step plan of how to tackle these. i don’t give you the answers, but I give you the a framework for working through it on your own, I guess.
Speaker 1 [00:11:26] Well, so let’s say we want to puzzle through one of these difficult ones. Let’s do the polar bear one, because that’s cuter and it doesn’t include killing stuff yet, hopefully. So if we were to think about ‘OK, I’m worried the polar bear is on the ice floe, the ice floe getting smaller and smaller. The polar bear is getting less food. I love polar bears. They’re so cute.’ Do I want to start feeding the polar bears? Well, my initial reaction is, ‘Well, that’s unnatural for me to do that. Then they’re like pigeons,’ which; I like bird watching. I don’t like pigeons as much as the other birds. It’s less fun. It’s less wild, it’s less interesting. I like that they’re getting their own food, but if I don’t do that, the polar bear might die out. So how would I puzzle through this?
Speaker 2 [00:12:10] Right. I think your intuitions are pretty broadly shared there. We don’t like the idea of this pet-ification of a wild animal: where over time they become dependent on us. I think that if you’re looking at that in terms of this notion of wildness defined as the lack of human influence, that that’s a bit of a red herring because obviously they are being massively influenced by humans or they wouldn’t be starving in the first place. They are living in our world, in the conditions we’ve created. So set that aside, but then take a look at the freedom of the individual bears. If we’re feeding them, does that make their lives less good, less free? Do they become just custodians of the human world? And then you do this kind of imaginative exercise of ‘what would they want if they could puzzle through it themselves?’ On an individual basis, they’d probably rather not die of starvation. They’d probably take the deal, and of course, there are many more complications that you have to puzzle through. You have to think about ‘what do the indigenous people who typically hunt polar bears think is the right move?’ Because they should have a huge amount of say in what happens here. Then also, what are you going to feed them? They normally eat seals. Are you going to go out and kill a bunch of seals and feed them to the polar bears? So that opens up a whole bunch of other question.
Speaker 1 [00:13:39] Now you’ve got a seal killing operations in order to save the polar bears.
Speaker 2 [00:13:42] Exactly. So let’s imagine that you have some perfect vegan polar bear chow. I don’t think this exists, but let’s say it did. I think that you could make an ethical case for supplementing the diet of polar bears through this bottleneck period when it’s hot and and they don’t have enough sea ice to hunt all winter, provided that you’re also doing something about climate change so that a few generations from now you can wean them off the vegan polar bear chow and back onto the ice. I think you could conceptualize it as a couple of generations long stopgap project to keep them going through the hottest time, and then you could get them back out more independent. Then there’s the issue of how much we’re going to spend on this and where was the money going to come from? And are we taking money away from the school lunch program to feed polar bears? I’m not so sure about that. The pragmatics of it can get messy pretty quickly, but in a kind of a pure, abstract, philosophical world, I think you can make the case for a temporary (no more than a century long) supplemental feeding program.
Speaker 1 [00:15:00] You are really talking more like a philosopher than the last time we spoke. You’re like, ‘Well, presume there is a perfect vegan polar bear chow.’ It’s very much a thought experiment.
Speaker 2 [00:15:09] Yeah, my last book was really sort of pop science. This is pop philosophy, which is now a thing, thanks to ‘The Good Place.’ People are willing to enter into these conversations about philosophical ideas and hypotheticals and pushing people onto trolley tracks and stuff like that, and I think it’s great that we’re talking more about these ethical ideas more abstractly. It’s really helpful to have some of these frameworks to understand, ‘Do I care more about the consequences of my action or do I care more about whether a good person would do this action?’ Those are two big schools of ethical philosophy and it’s really helpful to have the tools to think through this stuff.
Speaker 1 [00:15:52] Do you find comfort in that? Because sometimes I feel that, look – I have a bachelors in philosophy. That’s not much of a degree, but I did spend some time studying it. When I start to think philosophically about issues like this, I often feel like I’m wading into the muck, I’m leaving the clean shore of understanding what I think, and I’m moving into a gray zone where I start to say, ‘Well, depending on how you value different outcomes, do we need to come up with a framework for this?’ And then that’s sort of where you land, because you never get around to defining what your values actually are in a way that everyone can agree on.
Speaker 2 [00:16:25] Except I do! I have a list of the good values and the bad values. I really do come down on saying some of these values, like, ‘Look, here’s the list of things that are not valuable,’ right? On page two hundred and fifty four, I have a list of five things that are not valuable. And I have another list of things that are valuable on the next page. So I do try to actually come to some conclusions, but I can’t come to universally applicable conclusions about every case, because the particulars of every case are going to – In fact, I think the muddiness comes from the real world situations in which this stuff is embedded. I think that if you have a hypothetical case where it’s like ‘This is an island and this species will 100 percent go extinct if you don’t kill the foxes and there are exactly 100 foxes and they’re exactly 100 endangered birds,’ you can create a hypothetical that’s tidy and you can use your philosophy on that. I think that’s helpful, and then when you get to the real messy world with all of the stakeholders and the permitting processes and the federal agencies and everything, you can still use the insights from your more hypothetical exploration. But it’s much more complicated and tangled.
Speaker 1 [00:17:40] Yeah. Can we talk about another example that I think about constantly? I don’t know if you cover this in the book or not, but the problem of when humans start maintaining the population of a feral animal that we have brought into an area that is not native to the area. The example that I’ve talked about on my own show is feral cat populations, which humans brought to this continent (I believe) to North America (the continent that we are both currently in) and our pets escaped. They have large feral populations and those feral populations are killing birds on a huge scale, and also the animals themselves are clearly very unhappy. It’s dangerous. It’s a bad place for the animals to be. You see a feral cat in a feral cat colony, you’re not like, ‘Wow, what a happy cat.’ You’re like, ‘Uh-oh,’ right? And so my position is (as not a cat lover, particularly) we just got to get rid of all these cats, you know? If I’ve got a hundred feral cats in my city, I’m sorry. Let’s just humanely put down 100 cats. I’m very sorry. Maybe people are going to be very upset with me for saying this, but I think that’s the best way to reduce the suffering. Everyone says, ‘Trap, neuter, release programs.’ My understanding is that those are where they trap the cats, they neuter them and they release them. Those have not been shown to be incredibly effective, so we’d do a lot better just to like, ‘Hey, let’s nip this problem in the bud.’ We’ll save a lot of birds lives. We’ll save a lot of cats lives in the long run because we won’t be creating all these new cats that are dying. However, there’s a lot of people in the real world who just fucking love cats. They’re like, ‘Well, no, these are cute little kitty cats and I don’t care that they’re not native. I don’t care that they’re killing many more animals. I care mostly about maximizing the livelihood of these particular cats right here.’ Then no matter what my philosophical conclusion is, I got to wrestle with the fact that a lot of people in my community who I respect, and I don’t want to denigrate because this is their value system. They just love the cats, and that’s that makes the problem a lot thornier.
Speaker 2 [00:19:51] Yeah, for sure.
Speaker 1 [00:19:53] How do you look at that situation?
Speaker 2 [00:19:54] Well, I do talk about cats quite a bit in an Australian context, because here in North America they eat a lot of birds, but they haven’t driven any birds extinct yet. Whereas in Australia, they are responsible for some documented extinctions of small native mammals, and so their conservation community is really active in trying to kill cats. They had a national goal of killing – Oh, I’m going to look it up. Four hundred million cats, a million cats, a billion cats? I don’t know. They were going to kill a lot of cats.
Speaker 1 [00:20:28] Wow. Yeah.
Speaker 2 [00:20:29] What troubled me about that program was that it wasn’t what you laid out in a more urban context. It wasn’t trying to eradicate the population, they were just trying to knock it back. To me, that’s ethically problematic because then they just reproduce and then you come and kill them again and it’s endless.
Speaker 1 [00:20:46] Now you’ve got a program of killing cats forever. You’ve got people out there who just gotta gas cats for the rest of time. That’s awful.
Speaker 2 [00:20:55] Yes. Yeah. So I think we can agree that perpetual cycle of killing cats is not good.
Speaker 1 [00:21:01] We don’t like that.
Speaker 2 [00:21:02] We don’t like that. Then the question is, if the technology exists to fully eradicate them, should that be done? Or should they be given the right to live there; because maybe they’re not native, but they might have been born in that empty lot in Los Angeles. So that’s their home. I have whole chapters devoted to each side of this question. I don’t know if there is a right answer to this. I think it really does depend on your baseline value propositions. Some philosophers think that if you have a relationship with an animal, it changes what you owe to them. So, oddly enough, the minute you start feeding a feral cat colony, it might potentially change what you now owe to this colony ethically; because you have an ongoing relationship with them. We can’t fully divorce our emotions from our ethical decision making. We can’t be little logical, rational ethic robots. Maybe Peter Singer can; just figure out what the consequences are and then maximize everybody’s happiness and then proceed. But I think most of us do make our decisions with a combination of logic and emotion. And I think it would be foolhardy for us to pretend that we don’t do it that way.
Speaker 1 [00:22:21] Well, and it would be foolish to try to eliminate emotion and do the – well, now we’re back with Mr. Spock. But that’s part of human life and human decision making and what it means to be a human, and to try to do the logic lord thing doesn’t make sense. By the way, if someone were to come to me and say, ‘Hey, the thing I said about let’s just get rid of that cat colony. Here’s reason A, B, and C on why that’s an unethical position.’ I’d immediately go, ‘Yeah, yeah. No, you’re right. You’re right.’ I get why it’s more complex. That’s my initial response to the problem. Other people’s emotions are valid, and I can see how I would very easily have that emotion myself and the argument of like, ‘Hey, this cat didn’t ask to be born here,’ immediately makes it much more complex. These are hard questions, Emma.
Speaker 2 [00:23:18] Yes. Yes, they are. People keep saying, ‘What are your conclusions?’ or ‘What’s your take home?’ And I’m like, ‘It’s a process. The take home is a process.’ It is about doing the work of figuring out what you think is really valuable. But examining those, for example, with the cat case. I think that killing a cat, because it ‘doesn’t belong’ or isn’t native is bullshit. That’s a bad reason to kill a cat: because you can’t put everybody back where they belong. That’s just doesn’t make any sense. The nature is a moving target. Things are moving around constantly. I think the notion that nativeness gives you a right to exist and that if you’re not native, you deserve to be killed is really problematic. So that pares down some of it. But I do think that the fact that a population of cats driving a native animal towards extinction is a potentially possible reason to do something about the cats. So, you know, you just got to really examine why you feel the way you feel. But then don’t discount your feelings either, because they’re part of that process.
Speaker 1 [00:24:25] Yeah. Oh, so let’s dwell for a second on what you said about nativeness, because I think this is the most – not controversial, the most different thing that you say from what so many conservationists and people along those lines do. I mean, if you go out on a nature walk with someone from your local Botanic Society or Audubon Society, they’ll be like, ‘Oh, native plant, native bird. UGH, Non-native plant, non-native bird. I hate that house sparrow’ or whatever (I think how sparrows are non-native). That makes sense to me on a lot of levels, as my first viewpoint: a lot of non-native species are invasive and push out species that are native. A lot of non-native species have – If we’re talking about plants, say, here in California, they have watering requirements that are not commensurate with the area. All these sorts of things. It does seem to violate – Also when you’re a nature lover, you love nature. You love the thing that was already there, apart from humanity to a certain extent. Talk to me about that piece of it a little bit,
Speaker 2 [00:25:49] First of all, this notion that every place has a suite of native species and that those are the only species that are allowed to be there, only it goes back to the mid 20th century.
Speaker 1 [00:26:01] I love where you’re going. Keep going, give me more of this.
Speaker 2 [00:26:03] Things move around and before the 1950’s, the idea that a plant from Europe might ‘naturalize’ (that was the terminology that was used back then) in the United States, wasn’t necessarily considered a bad thing. People were moving plants and animals around on purpose all the time, sometimes with no big deal effects and sometimes with terrible effects. But then in the 50’s, Charles Elton; this famous ecologist, wrote some books about comparing introduced species to bombs and war and using all these militaristic metaphors to talk about how species could be. In the years that came after people started talking about them as a sort of pollution, as if the way that they infiltrated an ecosystem was impure. So the rhetoric around it, I think, is really loaded and not super duper detached and scientific and it can lead to some really weird outcomes. So, for example, many people are willing to kill non-native animals in ways that are considered inhumane if you were to use them on pets or native animals: drowning them in a bucket or giving them poison that takes a week to kill them, that kind of thing. I think that if we really dive into this question of nativeness, it starts to fall apart scientifically; because species do move around over time, and there’s nothing super different scientifically between the ones that are moved by humans and the ones that are moved by getting on a raft of branches and crossing the ocean or crossing a land bridge when North and South America come together. And in fact, there’s lots of famous cases where scientists didn’t know whether humans moved it or whether it moved itself. And so they weren’t sure whether to kill it or to let it be. And they had to do all this investigation to figure out whether it was a bad guy or a good guy. So the whole framework only really works if you think that humans are not a part of nature at all, and I just reject that framework. I think humans are a part of nature. Now, having said all of that, there are certain situations (especially on islands) where introduced species do cause such extreme changes that they can drive species extinct. In those cases, where species are really causing problems, causing situations we don’t like, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with trying to fix those problems or trying to address those situations. Absolutely.
Speaker 1 [00:28:33] It’s because of the consequences, not because of the non-nativeness.
Speaker 2 [00:28:36] Exactly right, so it should not be enough to say ‘You don’t have the right passport, I’m going to kill you now.’ It should be ‘OK. Here are our goals for this place, and this species that’s here is making it difficult for us to achieve these goals. So we’re going to try to figure out how to solve that problem.’ But it should be about what they’re doing in the ecosystem, not about where they came from.
Speaker 1 [00:28:57] Yeah, I think what makes it complicated is a lot of non-native species are – Invasive is probably a completely another, differently loaded word.
Speaker 2 [00:29:07] I hate that word. I don’t use it, because it sounds intentional. It sounds like they’re like, ‘All right, men, we’re going to North America. Get on the boat.’.
Speaker 1 [00:29:17] Right. So many species that are introduced by humans did, in fact, proliferate to a degree that pushed out other species that we might have preferred to protect. That is a thing that has happened.
Speaker 2 [00:29:30] It is true.
Speaker 1 [00:29:31] And that’s a thing that people in the past did not know about. A story that has stuck with me is (I don’t know if it’s apocryphal or not because it sounds too good to be true) that the European Starling is all over North America because it was released by Shakespeare buffs who wanted to were like, ‘Let’s have every bird mentioned in Shakespeare exist in North America.’ And they started with the Starling and they released it, and now they’re starlings literally everywhere you go in North America. There are starlings all over the place. We can look back at those people and say, ‘Well, we prefer people to not do that,’ but not because it’s not native in your view, but because it could have bad consequences that we cannot predict.
Speaker 2 [00:30:08] Yes. Yeah, no, I’m definitely opposed to willy nilly moving things around, because it’s very difficult to predict what’s going to happen. Listeners at home: please don’t take large breeding populations of species and move them across continents. I advise against it strongly. But I mean, the starling is an interesting example. Right? So obviously, it caused a lot of problems in agricultural contexts; a big flock will descend on your crop and start eating it. But I don’t think you can find an example of a species that the Starling has driven extinct. I’ve looked into this pretty closely, and it is islands where this goes down. It is on islands where introduced species cause actual extinctions. In North America, I have not been able to find examples of non-native species causing actual extinctions because there’s enough room for things to respond, evolve, develop. The ecosystem shifts around. There’s remnants, I’m not saying that they are always ideal, but I don’t think that they’ve caused a ton of extinctions on continent.
Speaker 1 [00:31:09] Wow. But what about , I’ve read about cases – Look, I believe that you’ve gone into it, but there’s cases I’m trying to remember. What’s the fish that’s moving up a river and devouring – the Snakehead? Do I have it right? Where it was just like ‘There’s too many Snakeheads in there and they’re eating a lot of crap.’
Speaker 2 [00:31:29] Yes. Yeah and, obviously, it might have unwanted effects on recreational fishery, and that’s a real thing. If I am a manager of this lake and it’s filled with Snakeheads and I want it to be filled with Trout or Bass or whatever, then maybe I take out the Snakeheads. But it depends on what they’re doing and what my goal is, not because Snakeheads are inherently evil creatures.
Speaker 1 [00:31:56] Yeah. So it’s that over focus on this very simple thing of ‘native or not.’ That can lead us to make poor decisions when we are trying to manage the – or not even manage, interact with the natural world and it can lead us to do weird things if we focus on that too much.
Speaker 2 [00:32:18] Yeah. One example is, I often talk to people who have been trying to restore property or they work for a parks department and they’re trying to restore, and they realize that they’ve been spending years and years and years and dumping tons and tons and tons of herbicide to try to get rid of non native plants. They’re not really totally sure why, except that they’re not native. It’s a huge amount of effort and money that they could have spent on making trails or buying more property or putting in swing sets. I don’t know. Depending on the context, it seems like a wasted effort. I already mentioned the cases in which non native animals are treated differently, they have a different standard of humaneness than native animals and that I find to be very ethically tricky.
Speaker 1 [00:33:02] After the break, I want to ask you more about our ethical obligations towards animal, because I think this is a really interesting thing at the heart of your argument. But let’s take a really quick break. We’ll be right back with more Emma Marris. OK, we’re back. The fundamental question of what our ethical obligations to animals are is a very difficult one. Do you have any personal feeling on this? I don’t even know if it’s possible to make a claim about what our obligations are that will apply to everyone. But what is your personal feeling on the matter?
Speaker 2 [00:33:45] Yeah, I appreciate how you phrased that question, actually, because I think you’re right. I don’t think I can make a claim to a universal answer to this but I think for me, I do think that biodiversity is valuable. So I do think that in some situations it is ethically acceptable to hurt or kill individual animals to protect species. I don’t love it. I don’t relish it, but I do think that it is sometimes ethically justifiable. But I think that’s one of the relatively short list of situations where it’s OK to go and just kill non-human animals. I think that if where we can, where it’s possible, I think letting them be autonomous and free is the ideal. You talked about ‘wildness’ earlier, and I don’t like defining wildness as a lack of human influence because as we’ve noted, I don’t really believe that humans aren’t part of nature. But I do think that wildness can point towards this other value, which is the value of freedom for sentient creatures; letting them do their thing. I think where we can let them do their thing, let them make their own choices about what to have for breakfast and where to go, I think that’s good. I have a chapter about zoos where I’m like, ‘I don’t love zoos, because then they can’t make their own choices about what to do and where to go.’ I think trying to let wild animals be as autonomous as possible, while balancing that with trying to stop species from going extinct is where I land.
Speaker 1 [00:35:19] This starts to almost mirror a conversation we might have about other humans. Do we take steps to prevent other humans from killing themselves accidentally, or from doing unsafe things? Or do we allow them more autonomy? That’s a discussion that we might have about whether we ban smoking cigarets or something along those lines. That’s a very complex, different discussion but I can see how there’s a comparison between that and saying, ‘Should we winnow out the predator population because it’s causing suffering in animals?’ Yes, we want to reduce suffering in animals where we can especially, say, factory farming. We absolutely want to reduce suffering, but when it comes to animals that are literally out in the forests, we also want to take into account their autonomy. Part of their autonomy is allowing them to just fucking live out there and maybe get eaten by a hawk.
Speaker 2 [00:36:19] Yeah, I think that’s right. There’s this book that I talk about in my book, that uses the analogy of nation states to talk about animal populations. The polar bears and the seals and all of the other animals that interact in that food web would be a different nations. We wouldn’t necessarily have the right to interfere in their affairs and tell them how to lead their lives. But if they were suffering through a disaster, then feeding the polar bears would be a kind of foreign aid; where we show up and we help them out. It gives us sort of a sense of where the boundaries might be between intervening ‘for their own good’ and letting them sort it out on their own. Maybe they’re like other countries, other nations, these other animals, these other species.
Speaker 1 [00:37:07] That’s a really fascinating way to look at it, but OK, I think I figured out what is weirdest to me about this whole conversation. This is where it starts to really break down in my mind and I get really confused, because I agree with breaking down the dichotomy between the human world and the natural world, that we’re all part of the same world. The problems with everything you’re saying about nativeness, and wildness specifically, as free from human intervention. But the big difference between our ethical obligations to each other, and our ethical obligations to animals is that animals (I don’t believe, maybe you’ll disagree, but I don’t know how you could) animals do not have a moral sense of their own. If there were not humans, there wouldn’t be anyone having this conversation in the first place. Animals would just be eating each other. Animals also would be moving from place to place and invading other ecosystems and no other animals be sitting around going, ‘Oh, it sure is too bad that the dodo died out because some rats found their way out of the island.’ That would just happen and Earth would keep spinning. That is a sense in which wildness is separate from humanness to me, because if humans aren’t around – It’s like that famous clip of Werner Herzog out in the jungle going like ‘Nature is corrupt and debased and there’s screaming and blood’ and yeah, that’s what nature is like. It’s just horror and death and life and joy and all these things happening, and no one is putting any values on it. We as humans are the only ones who do that. So I do end up feeling at root, the more I think about this stuff, to the extent that we’re doing that at all; that’s a human thing. That is not an animal thing to do, to even be having these conversations and so to that extent, the entire project still seems a little bit weird to me, at root. I don’t know. What do you think?
Speaker 2 [00:39:06] Well, I agree with you that – I talk a little bit in the book about the glimmerings of morality in non-humans; like chimps get mad at unfairness. If you give one chimp a good treat and the other chimp a bad treat, they’ll be pissed off. Certainly many social animals are kind to each other and help each other out and take care of each other, watch each other’s backs. So there are little hints there. But yeah, broadly speaking I agree with you; that humans are the only animal that has this ethical obligation. The lion does not have an obligation not to eat the gazelle because it just doesn’t apply to it. I agree with that. And I also agree that there’s a lot of horror and mayhem and death and suffering and stuff in the natural world. I talk about that near the end of the book, about how puzzled I am that I love so much these food webs that are all about one thing, eating another thing and things dying and eggs getting sucked out of the shells by snakes. It’s intense out there. It’s not sunshine and rainbows out in the ecosystems. I agree with both of those and I feel like there is a sense in which human ethical systems just don’t map well onto non-human food webs.
Speaker 1 [00:40:31] Yeah. That’s one of the things that we like about them. Actually since the last time we spoke, I’ve started avidly bird watching. I’ve been bird watching during quarantine.
Speaker 2 [00:40:44] Fantastic! Yes!
Speaker 1 [00:40:44] I’ve been waiting to tell you this. In fact, when we were on set for ‘Adam Ruins Everything,’ I had written in the show that you see a Bufflehead off camera and then you looked it up and said, ‘Oh, actually at the park that we’re shooting this, a Bufflehead was seen a little while ago’ and I was like, ‘Oh, cool.’ That was part of what got me started thinking, ‘Oh, maybe I should understand what fucking bird is what.’ I’ve had a great time and as you birdwatch, you start to love the birds. You’re like, ‘Oh, I like this bird, I like that bird.’ And you like to see a hawk, even though the hawk is killing the other birds you also like. You’re not like, ‘Oh my God, I hate the fucking red tailed hawk. It eats the other animals. It eats the other birds that I love so much.’ You’re like, ‘No, I’m observing something that’s apart from me, that I don’t put my own morality onto. They’re doing their thing. They’re eating each other, and that’s kind of what I enjoy about it.’ You don’t look at an animal and say, ‘Oh, what an asshole, it another animal. I got to stop it.’ There’s a sense in which we want to preserve the fact that these spaces have a morality that is not our own, isn’t there?
Speaker 2 [00:42:00] Yeah, although hearing you tell that story, it makes me think that I don’t think everyone feels that apart from those interactions. I have a chapter where I talk about hunting, where I’m in the Peruvian Amazon. I’m going monkey hunting with Demetra Ganga who live there, an indigenous group, and they don’t feel that sense of separation because they eat the monkeys and the tapirs and then sometimes the jaguars try to eat them. They’re in the food web. They are part of this drama, this ongoing drama, that normally we tend to look at in the West through binoculars or whatever, but they’re in it. When I was there on this hunt, we had an encounter with a Jaguar and just for a few seconds, I got that feeling of what it was like to actually be an animal in a food web; a potential prey item myself. It really changes the way you think about all of this stuff, because suddenly it’s not so abstract. Suddenly it really is this web that you’re part of. There’s a philosopher named Val Plumwood, who I talk about a lot in the book, who almost got eaten by a crocodile in Australia and it changed her philosophy forever; because now she saw herself as food in this way that she never saw herself before. It really changed her mind about this idea that we shouldn’t ever touch other species, we shouldn’t ever eat them and we shouldn’t ever be part of their food webs. She’s like, ‘No, no. Whether we like it or not, we will eventually get eaten by worms and we are part of their food webs.’ Towards the end of the book, I get into this idea of we are still embedded in ecosystems, whether we like it or not, even if we eat very carefully and shop very carefully, there’s no way to not be ecological on this planet.
Speaker 1 [00:43:46] That’s true. That’s very true and that’s a good point: that I’m in a privileged position of looking at those birds and thinking, ‘Oh, I’m separate from them.’ That’s a little bit of a false construction. But then on the other hand, if I go out in the countryside here in California; I drive up into the mountains and there’s someone just shooting every animal they see because they’re like, ‘It’s me or them. I’m part of nature, too. I could get eaten.’ I’d say, ‘Well, hold on a second. You’re discounting how much disproportionate power you have in the ecosystem, versus anything else.’ You sometimes come across people in America who act as though a lion is going to come eat them at any moment, and it’s like, ‘No, no, no. We are the dominant creature in every respect and so we have more responsibility.’ We have created a separate space for ourselves and we can’t pretend like we haven’t done that.
Speaker 2 [00:44:42] Yeah, I think your analysis of it in terms of power relations is right on. When I was in the jungle there, the guys I was with had bows and arrows and we were three days away from the closest hospital. So if a jaguar had leapt out of the bushes, it really could have fucked us up. But most of the time, that’s not the situation we’re in in Los Angeles County.
Speaker 1 [00:45:05] And a lot of times, American hunters will go out and they’ll feel that way. Like, an American who goes out to Africa and tries to go bag a lion. They want to put themselves in a position where they could get killed, but they’ve done that to themselves and they’ve come out with high powered rifles. It’s a little bit of an odd situation.
Speaker 2 [00:45:26] Yeah. I mean, there’s different types of hunting, right? There’s people who are legitimately hunting to feed their families and that’s how they eat. Then on the other side of the spectrum, there’s guys who spent $100,000 to fly to Africa and shoot a lion or something. Then there’s lots of gradations in between. So I think having an opinion on hunting is impossible. Again, it’s going to be very case by case here. Who’s doing the hunting? What are they hunting? Are they eating it? Is this part of a cultural tradition in which they’ve been born? What are the economics of this? What are the power relations? What’s the ecological impact of the of this? How quickly does the animal die and how much does it suffer? There are a lot of questions you have to ask before you pass judgment on an act of hunting.
Speaker 1 [00:46:12] OK, well, I read years ago, (and I’m just constantly dropping pop science names on you) a book that had a profound influence on me; Michael Pollan’s ‘Botany of Desire.’ He poses this idea that basically these different plants have taken advantage of humanity in order to propagate themselves. When you look at it from the genes-eye view; from the evolutionary units-eye view, well, they’ve done it very successfully. The tulip or the potato have evolved in such a way to take advantage of what we need, and now these are extremely successful organisms. There’s many, many more of them there than there would be otherwise. Marijuana is another one of his examples; where marijuana has tricked us into growing it in this weird situation where we pump it with light in order to get as much marijuana as possible, whereas it used to just be a little bush in the woods.
Speaker 2 [00:47:06] My brother grows marijuana commercially and I can tell you, he is like a slave to that plant. He wakes up at weird times. He has an alarm on his phone for if the humidity is wrong, those plants have him right where they want him.
Speaker 1 [00:47:21] Yeah. So to the extent that that is the morality of evolution. If humans didn’t exist, that’s the only reason anything exists, is because a gene figured out a way through natural selection to propagate itself. To the extent that it has goals at all, which is even a human way of talking about it, that is its goal; to propagate itself. I thought that was a fascinating argument. I’ve thought about it ever since. Where it starts to get confusing to me, is when I apply it to animals. Because when you look at our livestock, our animal food population: these are now the most, by a large measure, the most populous animals on Earth. There’s (I believe, correct me if I’m wrong) more chickens, there’s more biomass of human raised chickens than there are of all other birds combined. If you add cows to that, I saw a chart once of like ‘Here’s all other animals compared to human livestock:’ most animals on Earth are animals we eat, at this point. From a dispassionate evolutionary perspective: wow, cows did a great job into tricking us to helping them breed on a massive scale. Except that, factory farming is also an abomination of suffering. Those are two different frameworks that are colliding in a way that I have no idea how to resolve. I’m curious if you have any thoughts on it.
Speaker 2 [00:48:46] Well, I kept away from farming and from pets in this book because I really did want to focus on wild animals, even though (as you point out correctly) they now represent a very small sliver of animal life on the planet. But I do think that it’s interesting, what you said about evolution and the morality (or the lack of morality) there because that’s exactly what Kevin Esveld says. He’s a geneticist who invented this thing called a ‘gene drive,’ which is a way to propagate a genetic modification through a free ranging wild population of organisms.
Speaker 1 [00:49:20] Yeah, I’ve heard of this. This is like, you tinker with the genetics of one animal and then you release it and then the gene will propagate itself through the whole population as that animal breeds with others. Do I have it right?
Speaker 2 [00:49:33] Yeah. You got it right exactly. The way that it works is that you get one hundred percent of the offspring of those animals theoretically having the change. Not even 50% like you would get with a random gene, but one hundred percent. He is an incredibly great guy, in terms of realizing the scariness of this technology. Immediately after inventing it, spending like a decade telling people not to use it or not to use it in a foolish way. Or not to use it without super careful consultation with everybody who might have an interest in this case. So he’s actually a model of a responsible scientist, in that regard. But he is interested in, theoretically, someday using it to tackle some problems. He’s particularly interested in using it to maybe deal with feral cat populations because he hates the idea of feral cats suffering and a gene drive could be used to make it so that they just can’t reproduce; they just can’t have kittens. That would be a way to sort of do what ‘trap, neuter, release’ people want to do but to have it actually work.
Speaker 1 [00:50:43] So you would release one or two cats that have this special gene in them into the established population, then they would breed with the other cats and the new kittens would be born with some new gene that prevents them from further reproducing. Then naturally the population winnows and dies out without ever having to snap the neck of a little kitty.
Speaker 2 [00:51:09] Exactly. That would be the idea and that’s important to him because he hates the idea of these kittens suffering. He has a cat himself, that he loves, who used to be a wild feral cat who he adopted. So he always says that evolution does not have a moral compass and to him, that creates obligations to fix things. But to do so in a very careful, slow, measured, deliberative way, where you run everything by everyone, but I’m not sure I’d necessarily agree but I’m not sure I necessarily disagree either. If we could use genetic technologies to stop some horrible disease that afflicts koalas, why would we not do that?
Speaker 1 [00:51:54] Yeah. Well, now you’re back to vaccinating koalas again.
Speaker 2 [00:51:57] Exactly. I’m tempted by these kinds of interventions because, the thing is, is that there’s never going to be a perfect case; where there’s no other impacts of your action. If you had a perfect case where you could just surgically intervene and remove a lot of suffering from a wild system and then pull back and there would be no other ecological cascade effects, then it would be very tempting to do that. But that’s not really how the world actually works: if you save a bunch of Koalas from dying, maybe they eat all the eucalyptus leaves and then maybe other butterflies that need to lay their eggs on eucalyptus leaves are now going to die out because they don’t have a place to put their eggs. I just made that completely up. That’s not a real thing.
Speaker 1 [00:52:36] But we’ve all seen Jeff Goldblum in Jurassic Park. We understand that this is the Godzilla movie version of ‘do not tamper with the natural world because you do not play God with the universe.’
Speaker 2 [00:52:50] Yes. Yeah. But I do think, on the other hand, that we’re doing that all the time anyway. As you pointed out with the domestic animals, we have radically genetically altered a huge suite of animals and now they eat most of the photosynthesis on Earth and if that’s not playing God, I don’t know what is. So the idea that we should not, in the future, play God always makes me chuckle because that horse is so far out of the barn.
Speaker 1 [00:53:16] Right. I mean, all of this is all so complicated and delicious to think about. Every single one of these questions is just fun to roll around in your head to play with and it really makes you figure out exactly what it is that you believe about these things. I don’t think I – I do not actually believe that factory farming is great because the evolutionary morality is to propagate itself and there’s a whole lot of cows. So therefore, that’s good. I think it’s weird for me to come to that conclusion, but it’s instructive for me to follow the chain of reasoning and at the end, go, ‘OK, wait, what was the mistake I made along the way’ and try to puzzle out exactly what the error was and then apply it to something.
Speaker 2 [00:54:09] I think the error in that case is that evolution seeks to good or tends towards good, which is just not the case. Evolution just produces things that reproduce. It doesn’t produce goodness.
Speaker 1 [00:54:22] Right. So the fact that there’s this tendency for species and genes to propagate themselves, and that is what creates more of things; that doesn’t mean that that’s something that we should seek out. Like that is a good thing, that’s just like something that happens.
Speaker 2 [00:54:40] Well, this gets back to my eternal struggle with my love of the non-human world and with the forest and with these ecosystems: is that they were produced by evolution. Evolution is amoral and if some sort of kind God had made them, they wouldn’t have made parasites and predator prey and wolves eating elk alive. All of these things that are baked into these ecosystems are not good. They’re not bad but they’re not good.
Speaker 1 [00:55:08] Yeah and again, that comes back to what we love about them and the eternal human fascination with them. That clip, again, of Werner Herzog, which if you have not seen it go look it up. I forget what it’s from. It went viral like ten years ago almost.
Speaker 2 [00:55:22] It’s from the documentary about the making of the movie about the guy who hauls the boat over the mountain. Interestingly enough, the watershed that I was in monkey hunting is where that happened in real life. That’s a real thing that happened. There was really a crazy guy who hauled a boat over a mountain.
Speaker 1 [00:55:43] Oh, there was?
Speaker 2 [00:55:43] Yeah.
Speaker 1 [00:55:44] Oh, wow.
Speaker 2 [00:55:45] He drowned eventually.
Speaker 1 [00:55:47] And then Werner Herzog made a movie in which people literally had to haul a boat over a mountain.
Speaker 2 [00:55:50] Yes, and some of the people that I met down there in the Peruvian Amazon had been extras in that film.
Speaker 1 [00:55:56] Oh, wow. Well, I think the reason we love that clip, is that he’s basically just standing in the jungle going, ‘The jungle is horrible.’ He’s disgusted by it on this deep level, and that is like he’s he’s vocalizing the constant human reaction to the natural world.
Speaker 2 [00:56:19] Fitzcarraldo!
Speaker 1 [00:56:22] Fitzcarraldo is the name of the movie. Thank you.
Speaker 2 [00:56:22] And the clip is from the making of the Fitzcarraldo documentary.
Speaker 1 [00:56:27] Got it. That reaction that he’s having, of nature is beautiful and horrible and non-human and things are just happening out here. There’s death all around me. There’s sopping oozing guts and slime and there’s no order and it’s deeply unsettling. It’s unhumanness is something that has motivated humans throughout history to make art and philosophy and it’s one of the deeper narratives of our entire existence; is this relationship with this thing that we are a part of yet seems so different from us. God, you could spend your life thinking about this stuff and dwelling in that dichotomy or lack of dichotomy, couldn’t you?
Speaker 2 [00:57:17] You can, and I do. But yeah, you’re basically right. The non-human world is both terrifying and exhilarating and amoral, but at the same time it deeply draws you in. Sometimes you want to run away from it, or build a fence around it and stay far away and sometimes you wanted to just get swallowed up by it.
Speaker 1 [00:57:43] Yeah. You just want to lose yourself in the lack of order, the lack of humanness, the lack of, I don’t know –
Speaker 2 [00:57:53] There’s an order, but there’s just not a human order to it.
Speaker 1 [00:57:57] Yeah, well, stuff is just happening. There’s no shoulds. I think that’s one of the things that’s so freeing about it; human life is based on shoulds. I should do this. I should do that. Shit out in the jungle, just fucking occurs and no one’s sitting around going ‘It should or shouldn’t happen,’ they’re just doing it.
Speaker 2 [00:58:17] But if you live in a jungle full time, you are part of an order of shoulds. Like ‘Oh, I would like to go out and hunt a species. So I should ask the protector spirit of the forest whether I’m allowed to do that and I should offer something in return.’ There’s a lot of deals; there’s a lot of transactions between humans and non humans that make things go. I think that many of us feel we’re not part of those transactional relationships anymore, we’re alienated from those or at least we feel alienated from them because it happens a couple removes away from us.
Speaker 1 [00:58:52] Well, now you’ve made me sad. Because what a profoundly interesting and rich way of thinking about the world and being in the world that so few of us have access to now. That’s a very beautiful thing that you’ve described, that because you were there and you had that experience and you had a little bit of direct partaking. I’m envious of that because I’m like, ‘Oh, this sounds like a very rich way to experience the world.’ That wasn’t the world I was born into. I was born into a world that separated me from that experience and so are, I think, most of the billions of people on the planet. That’s a very odd change.
Speaker 2 [00:59:36] Yeah. I think that it’s a cultural shift that’s pretty massive and maybe the cultural shift that’s happened in the last five hundred years or something. But I think that there are ways to approach it, and I think taking up birding and learning the names of the species that surround you on a daily basis is the first baby step towards having a relationship with those other species. You got to at least recognize them and be able to call them by their names and talk to them before you can have some sort of back and forth relationship. I see the project of environmentalism more broadly as one of fixing our relationship with other species. That involves getting back into a relationship or understanding what kind of relationships we have and then trying to work on making those better, rather than just managing the shit that’s out there past the last road.
Speaker 1 [01:00:31] Rather than just trying to preserve wild spaces or whatever those sorts of things are, it’s about changing us and our spiritual psychic philosophical relationship with those spaces as much as anything.
Speaker 2 [01:00:45] Yeah, but also our practical relationships. How much of this are we going to take out? How much are we going to plant, how much are we going to do? What are the transactions that we’re making, between us and other species and how can we make those more mutually beneficial rather than just a one way extractive process?
Speaker 1 [01:01:02] Something I think about all the time, since the first time we spoke, is about how we can create (and you said this on our episode, but it was so brief) more spaces that are both human and natural simultaneously. Since I started bird watching, one of my favorite things to do is go down to the L.A. River, which is this manmade channel that seems – People in L.A. are like, ‘Oh, that’s just a piece of shit concrete gutter, basically.’ If you go down there, though, it’s left alone enough that there’s trees growing in the middle of it. There’s reeds and things and there are so many fucking birds in this place, seriously. If I look at my whole list, that’s where I’ve seen the most different species; from big giant herons to ducks and it’s incredible. It’s a couple miles from my house. It takes me a little while to get there and I’ve started to develop, as a result, more of an eye for ‘Oh, here’s a spot where I might see some more. Here’s a spot where there might be some more species hanging out because there’s a couple more trees in this area. There’s a little water running through. It’s not quite so manicured. There’s enough space for some shit to happen.’ And I can go see some nature there. I’ve started thinking about it more as like, ‘Oh, I wish there were more places like that spot in the L.A. River closer to my house and closer to other people’s houses, so that everyone was within like a half a mile of a place where they could see something like that.’ Is that the sort of thing you’re talking about?
Speaker 2 [01:02:44] Yeah, absolutely. In my dream utopia, not only are there little bits of the non-human world threaded through cities, but there’s also an understanding that they aren’t necessarily just for looking at. That maybe at a certain time of year you can you can get nuts from the trees or mushrooms, or maybe you can replant something and have that relationship. Urban foragers are headed in the right direction on this. So that the idea is, that it’s not that these are picturesque amenities to look at, rather that they’re just part of the community.
Speaker 1 [01:03:21] Yeah. I would love to just hear, before we wrap up, any other stories of particular animal from your book that is particularly fascinating and a nice note to end on.
Speaker 2 [01:03:32] OK, well, I guess I’ll give you the story of the wolf and the dog that tried to form a pack together up in Washington state.
Speaker 1 [01:03:41] This is a real story, not a fairy tale?
Speaker 2 [01:03:43] Real story. Not a fairy tale. Well, as you’ll hear, because unfortunately, it’s a bit of a sad ending. This is a sheep guarding dog, it runs away from the ranch after these two wolves come and coax it out over the fence. It runs off and the three of them form this pack. The state of Washington decides that this is not acceptable, because wolves are wild and dogs are not. So they go out in a helicopter and they find out that the wolf is pregnant by the dog and they give her an abortion.
Speaker 1 [01:04:13] What?! What the fuck? That didn’t end the way I expected at all. I didn’t even know – You stunned me so many times in one short sentence. I was like, ‘Wait, the dog and the wolf are going to have a baby?’ I was about to be like, ‘What was the baby like?’ And you’re like, ‘No, there was an abortion.’ They gave the wolf an abortion?!
Speaker 2 [01:04:43] Yes. To me, this story shows that the way that we sometimes think about wildness is much more about the purity of the genetics and about the lack of the touch of humanity than it is about letting the goddamn animals figure out what they want to do.
Speaker 1 [01:05:00] Yeah, that dog and that wolf wanted to make a baby.
Speaker 2 [01:05:03] And we were like, ‘No. It’s not gonna happen.’
Speaker 1 [01:05:07] That’s not right. I want to see the sheep dog wolf baby, I’m sure it would be very cute and what’s the harm letting it run around a little bit?
Speaker 2 [01:05:16] Bureaucratically, it would have been a nightmare because wolves at the time were an endangered species. Dogs that were unsecured and running through the woods were essentially strays that the dog catcher should come and deal with. So if you have a hybrid wolf dog running around the woods, or in this case, more of a prairie-type ecosystem, what do you do with it? Do you protect it as an endangered species, or do you take it to the pound?
Speaker 1 [01:05:41] The dog does not fit our dichotomy, so it has to go. That is the essence of an unhealthy way to look at nature, is to reify that dichotomy so much that anything that doesn’t fall into it has to be done away with.
Speaker 2 [01:05:57] I think so.
Speaker 1 [01:05:59] And instead, we should what?
Speaker 2 [01:06:01] I think that what we should try to do is we should try to be in relationship with other species, but not dominating them.
Speaker 1 [01:06:09] I think that’s a wonderful message, Emma. Thank you so much for coming on the show again. It’s always incredible to talk to you. It’s always one of my favorite conversations. We’ll have to have you back the next time you write a book.
Speaker 2 [01:06:18] Yes, I’ll be the first three time guest.
Speaker 1 [01:06:23] Thank you so much, Emma.
Speaker 2 [01:06:24] All right. Thank you.
Speaker 1 [01:06:27] Well, thank you once again to Emma Marris for coming on the show. If you want to check out her book. Just a reminder, you can get it at factuallypod.com/books. That’s factuallypod.com/books. When you buy a book there, you will be supporting not just the show, but your local bookstore because our bookshop is set up through Bookshop.org. That is it for us this week on Factually. I’ve been Adam Conover. I want to thank our producers Chelsea Jacobson and Sam Roudman. Andrew Carson, our engineer. Andrew W.K. for our theme song, the fine folks at Falcon Northwest for building me the beautiful custom gaming PC that I’m recording this very episode for you on. You can find me online at AdamConover.net or @AdamConover wherever you get your social media. That’s it for us this week. Thank you so much for listening and we’ll see you next week on Factually.
July 26, 2022
How can we best help animals, when it’s we humans who cause their suffering? Animal Crisis authors Alice Crary and Lori Gruen join Adam to explain how the same systems that hurt and kill animals also harm humans. They discuss the human rights abuses that happen in industrial slaughterhouses and how palm oil monocrops are devastating the world’s rainforests. They also share how we can have solidarity with animals in our daily lives. You can purchase their book at http://factuallypod.com/books
July 19, 2022
In times of turmoil, it can be useful to take a longer view of history. Like, a LOT longer. Paleontologist and author of “The Rise and Reign of the Mammals” Stephen Brusatte joins Adam to explain how mammals took over the Earth hundreds of millions of years ago, and why we survived and achieve sentience when dinosaurs died out. Stephen goes on to discuss why taking a deep look at our history can help prepare us for the crises of the near future. You can purchase Stephen’s book at http://factuallypod.com/books
July 13, 2022
Trans people have existed as long as, you know, people have. But the barriers to legal inclusion and equality are still higher than most people realize. “Sex is as Sex Does” author Paisley Currah joins Adam to discuss why institutions have been slow to give legal recognition to trans identities, why Republicans have shifted their attacks from bathroom policies to trans youth in sports, and why the struggle for trans equality is tied to feminism and women’s liberation. You can purchase Paisley’s book at http://factuallypod.com/books