First Let’s Kill All the Tigers..

Professor McMahan, the guy who wants to eliminate all predators, is back with what he thinks is a refutation of his critics. This time he begins with a thought experiment: since Amur (“Siberian”) tigers are supposedly insignificant ecological actors these days, why not let them go extinct?

“Many of the commentators said, in effect: “Leave nature alone; the course of events in the natural world will go better without human intervention.” Since efforts to repopulate their original habitat with large numbers of Siberian tigers might require a massive intervention in nature, this anti-interventionist view may itself imply that we ought to allow the Siberian tiger to become extinct. But suppose Siberian tigers would eventually restore their former numbers on their own if human beings would simply leave them alone. Most people, I assume, would find that desirable. But is that because our human prejudices blind us to the significance of animal suffering?

“Siberian tigers are in fact not particularly aggressive toward human beings, but suppose for the sake of argument that they were. And suppose that there were large numbers of poor people living in primitive and vulnerable conditions in the areas in which Siberian tigers might become resurgent, so that many of these people would be threatened with mutilation and death if the tigers were not to become extinct, or not banished to captivity. Would you still say: “Leave nature alone; let the tigers repopulate their former habitats.”? What if you were one of the people in the region, so that your children or grandchildren might be among the victims? And what would your reaction be if someone argued for the proliferation of tigers by pointing out that without tigers to keep the human population in check, you and others would breed incontinently and overcultivate the land, so that eventually your numbers would have to be controlled by famine or epidemic? Better, they might say, to let nature do the work of culling the human herd in your region via the Siberian tiger. Would you agree?”

I’ll let my intelligent readers answer this– have at it. And for God’s sake, Daniela– not before breakfast!

Update for Lane: “What but fear winged the birds?/ And jewelled with such eyes/ The great goshawk’s head?”– Robinson Jeffers, “The Bloody Sire”.

16 thoughts on “First Let’s Kill All the Tigers..”

  1. Same reason there's no such thing as animal rights without bastardizing the conception of the term right; humans are moral actors and animals are not. You cannot have a right to be left alone if you can't conceive of a responsibility to leave others alone. The humans may or may not act on other means to control their own population and control their own suffering, but unlike the animals they're capable of recognizing the concepts and recognizing responsibility.

    Of course the actual reason he's wrong is that the entire fucking ecosystem is built around these relationships and his tender sensibilities won't change that reality, but that's the philosophical argument why we regard the moral dimensions of animals and humans differently.

  2. Your own tag "Incorrigible Fucking Idiots" along with LabRat's comment is enough of a reply.

    This jackass feeds from the well of self-importance and a response of any kind only nourishes his indulgence.

    His entire premise is a juvenile fantasy. The reality of how we could do such a thing exposes the complete idiocy of his trade.

    Ethics and morals govern how humans interact. More importantly, they change over time.

    The professional ethicists of 200 years ago agreed that black Africans were only 3/5 human. The eminent moralists 100 years past all agreed that women were too delicate of temperament and lacking intelligence enough to have a say in how we would govern ourselves.

    These guys live in their own heads. We need to keep them there. Don't let them out by giving them air time.

  3. Your tags for this post pretty much sum it up, so you just took away my sputterings of disgust. But really I find it astonishing that he bases his argument on suppositions that he himself admits are wrong — this is not only incredibly lame but also irresponsible. So, Siberian Tigers aren't aggressive towards humans, but let's suppose they are and that your very children are in their path of evil destruction… so that we can comfortably justify letting them go extinct or killing them outright, or whatever — WTF?? (Okay, so I'm sputtering.) I actually respect some academics, but not this kind, the type who prefers to evade a real-life, high-stakes discussion by diverting it into a contrived, controlled "for the sake of argument" type of discussion that generates useless heat. BAH. (Thanks for sharing the link and allowing us to vent…)

  4. Crap, clicked publish instead of preview.

    I wanted to change 200 to 300 and edit "how we could do such a thing" to "how such a thing could even be done (it can't)"

    I also left out the part that it is absolutely necessary to human life that at least one tiger remain alive. Right, Matt?

  5. I have known a lot of professors and lived for a long while in their company and service at the university. It's impossible not to see the value in giving the academic mind its own space and place and respect. It is a credit to society, all else equal, that we have long acknowledged this value and provided suitable environments for their curious specie. 🙂 I think many of the professors I know and like would agree with that.

    So Prof. McMahan's position (or, at least his approach) is not so alien to me that I can't take it at face value. His first essay was, I believe, profoundly wrong in its basic premise (and its particulars, too) but I don't hold it against him. He is a creature of his environment, as are we all.

    What I do hold against him is this petty rebuttal, with its small enumerating and categorizing of responses–work done, I'm pretty sure, by adoring grad students.

    How many angels DO dance on the head of this pin? Let us count…

    Not to take this opportunity to continue the conversation in a creative way—not to invite and encourage dissent as a conversation must do—is inexcusable and impolite. Easily dismissed.

    To Steve's point, I agree we need tigers, all of them we can get. Bears too. Wolves, etc. I also believe we're within our rights to do combat with them, Corbet-style, on a case-by-case basis. This is fair and pretty much how things have gone for the world up till the invention of the ivy league college.

  6. I did not read this article(or the other ignorant one) and then leap immediately to the keyboard to attack; I took some time to think about it. But the more time spent thinking about it, the DUMBER it becomes, to me, not less so! If he realizes that eliminating predators will likely cause suffering from starvation and habitat degradation and violent competition between all those lovely plant eaters with each other, then WHY continue to postulate such drivel? I disagree that this kind of ignorant(of Nature) prattling is to be ignored–such people, with their degrees and pompous(therefore to some gullible people–impressive) intellects influence other idiots who are actually in some position of power who make laws and actually make things happen(I. E. killing all the predators in Yellowstone as a policy in the not-so-distant past)–they need to be nipped-in-the-bud with as cacauphonous an uproar as is conjurable–these types, though rewarded by a certain amount of attention, are deathly allergic to looking stupid, and will usually finally shut up when it becomes obvious to everyone they have no clue about what they are talking about. But, just philisophically speaking– eliminate predators to eliminate suffering? What about the beauty and inspiration throughout the ages predators have given to mankind? What about the fact that all those plant eaters are so beautiful and graceful and alert and alive BECAUSE of predators? What about the percentages of suffering and death caused by animal predators to humans in comparison to something of our own making, like say automobiles? You gonna ban them too? How about taking out the tobacco industry and street gangs before you start on wild animal predators? At least that would keep such nincompoops busy long enough to use up their lifespan and give the wretched, beleagured predators of this planet a break! We ALL die, and we ALL suffer, no matter how we try to avoid it–that's just part of life. Quit harping on the negatives and focus on the good stuff and positive outlooks, while you have time! I don't doubt some Siberian Tigers are wishing all humans WERE eliminated to aleviate THEIR suffering and fears–why is it their "rights" are not being considered in this very narrow biased view? Ideas like this seem to evolve to become against ALL life–better for eveything to be extinct than(Waaa! Waaa!) anything to ever suffer! Well hey, sorry bub, but I'll take my share of suffering, and do my best to accept death when it comes(and I'd MUCH rather get nailed and eaten by a tiger or croc than killed pointlessly in a car crash and pumped full of embalming fluid and put in a criminally expensive coffin that puts my surviving relatives in debt for decades….)and meanwhile enjoy the heck outta any time I have, because life is SWEET, made moreso perhaps because of its seeming(?) impermanence…..L.B.

  7. hmm.. Siberian tigers: no. Indian tigers: oh my yes. How many humans do Indians tigers kill each year? Dunno, but in the USA, our pet DOGS kill about 25 people/year.

    Better eliminate the dogs!

  8. The professor's idea doesn't even make sense if you leave human morals out of it.

    First of all, the idea that it would even be possible to kill *all* the predators on the planet off is completely absurd. Do parasites count? How about "killer" bacteria, viruses, fungi and prions?

    Second, even if one could put together a group of humans that was large enough and sufficiently blood-thirsty and obsessive to complete the task – don't they have to commit suicide when they're done? After all, they would have to be the most horrifically efficient group of killers ever to infest the planet.

    And third, I suspect that once the awful deed was done – if a sufficient biomass remained to survive – predatory species would just re-evolve anyway.

  9. The arrogance and nazi-like tyranny of trying to eliminate everything that doesn't fit one's own personal little philosophy is always going to be disrupted by the individuals targeted that just won't cooperate–I'm sure IF such a stupid philosophy was actually implemented, uncooperative critters like coyotes would blithley continue on as they always have, despite the propaganda and variety of extermination tactics weilded against them. Hey, wait a minute–they already have survived such persecution(God bless 'em!)….L.B.

  10. This guy just hates plants.

    Anyone who calls that subspecies a Siberian tiger isn't worth listening to.

    Some people have a hard time accepting that death is part of life.

    Life as we know it cannot exist without predation.

  11. I don't know anyone has seen the study that compared the mitochondrial DNA lineages of Amur tigers and specimens from the extinct Caspian tiger population.

    If the MtDNA studies are correct, then Amur and Caspian tigers represented a single subspecies.

    And in theory, Caspian tigers could be returned to their former range using Amur tigers.

  12. That last on DNA is fascinating, for it suggests the trans- Central Asia population is also potentially restorable. There were tigers between those two places, including the shores and marshes of the "seas" of what was once called Turkestan, the foothills of the Tian Shan (which come to think of it somewhat resemble the deciduous woods of Primorye and Manchuria on the Amur) and more…

    Re Amur & "Siberian": many animal rights advocates with a philosophical base in utilitarianism think that studying too much about animals, especially by observation, is wrong because intrusive, even abusive. One book I browsed through years ago– I try!– said it would lead to ethical dilemmas like whether or not one should save a prairie dog being stalked by a coyote (the particular author's solution was to intervene only if there were TWO prairie dogs!– "moral calculus"?) But he thought it better not to look.

    These people do not inhabit the universe, moral, scientific, or "real", that readers of this blog generally do. Peter Singer long ago declared his utter lack of interest in animals except for their suffering.

    Do not expect any knowledge, real empathy, or non- abstract sympathy about animals from them. I knew illiterate cockfighters and poachers in this town, long dead, who had more of all three.

  13. I do sort of think that nitpicking about which species and subspecies to restore may be of less value than habitat preservation. Species and populations are always going to be in flux. But I definitely want to live in a world with *some* kind of tigers. Preferably carnivorous ones.=p

  14. Edward Abbey had a good idea about the reintroduction of endangered species. He felt that more man eating predators were needed to maintain a natural balance. I agree. A few thousand saber tooth tigers would be nice in downtown Dallas or Chicago.
    Even if it were possible to clone some extinct cave bears they would never be placed in urban areas. After all, the condo-dwelling city folks who have no perception of nature, other than that provided by the Disney Channel, are the folks that fund the multi-billion dollar environmentalist groups. If they are so compassionate about the fate of the Mexican gray wolf or the grizzly bears then they should take a few and raise them in their own homes. Don’t force ranchers and farmers to allow them to destroy their property and livelihoods.


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