The rate of human-centred progress over the last 50 years has been astounding. Capitalist forces, globalisation and the global village mentality (where white middle aged male CEOs and male war lords, sheiks and organised crime bosses re the chiefs of the village of course) have all enabled a no-limits mentality of choice. We in the wealthy countries can have almost anything we want when we want it. A 12-year-old virgin bride, no problem. A third world surrogate to have your child, done. A lion or tiger or elephant trophy for your great room, easy. Just because we can do these things doesn’t mean we should. The problem is we think we should because we can.
The idea of ethics and morals has all but vanished from the discussion. Our discussions of choices have all been justified through a capitalist construct that leaves a moral and ethical vacuum allowing justification of our choices: This girl was promised to me as a bride, therefore I own her. I paid good money to this woman to carry our children; she was fairly paid for her services. My canned-hunting trip benefitted the poor African village so now they can send their kids to school.
The treatment of animals has fallen into this vacuum with terrible consequences. Animals are consumed on every level as food, labour and experience and rarely does the question of what we ‘ought’ to be doing in regards to animals come up. We kill sharks to make our beaches safer for beach goers because we can hire people to do it. We eat shark fin and consume shark products because they are readily available in a simple commercial transaction at your local Chinese restaurant or chemist right here in Sydney. We go on baited shark dives because the tourism industry allows and profits from it.
While our personal moral framework allows us to decide not to participate in these activities, the social ethical framework is not enacted to prevent these options being present in the first place.
David A. Fennell’s book, Tourism and Animal Ethics (2012), gives an insight into this idea on page 12:
Saul (2001) argues that ethics is the most demanding of our human qualities and this can be discernable on two basic fronts. First, our capacity to be moral is contingent upon the will to resist the vast spectrum of human needs, wants and desires that we must have at any cost the recognition that we cannot have whatever we want at any price (Preece, 2005). Second, because morality can be taken to culturally derived extremes, it must be rooted in everyday life. In order for ethics to have utility, it needs to be exercised regularly – not unlike the muscles of the body that, if not exercised will atrophy and be of less use. How can we claim to be inclusive of thought in tourism if we are only now beginning to ask questions that have moral significance? And how is it that we can take pleasure in our touristic pursuits if they come at a cost to others? The pleasure principle continues to prevail in this field of practice, with little resistance from the philosophical domain. This statement, bold as it may seem, continues to hold weight.
My grandmother was a very cherished part of my family. She suffered from extreme osteo and rheumatoid arthritis from her late 40s until her death at 91. She was in extreme pain for the majority of her life and tried various remedies including cortisol, gold injections and finally shark cartilage. When she started using it, I was in my early 20s and remember feeling dismayed. My aunt admonished me harshly and questioned how dare I think of it as wrong and how could I possibly question any form of remedy for my grandmother. But I did question it and still do. I loved my grandmother very much but just because she had the option to use this possible remedy which might work (it did not) I didn’t think she should. I think these questions should always be at the forefront of these situations, not a possible footnote to the discussion after it has occurred.
The situation of shoot first and ask questions later is literally happening everywhere, especially in the recent WA shark cull. Many sharks were killed before the discussion even happened.
Our new technologically driven consumer mentality is not allowing time and space for these discussions to take place. Thankfully, this same technology enabled the mobilisation of many people to quickly spread the word of the shark cull and get the discussion into the public domain which allowed an end to the cull.
The question needs to come first. In terms of tourism in general, this question is rarely asked. Many of my friends and colleagues are travel junkies. They are in races with each other to see the most countries before they die. My discussions with them are often heated as the pleasure principle rules this domain and any questioning of it seems blasphemous. Should we travel to places to see sharks teased mercilessly with bait they rarely get to eat, to see sharks put into tonic immobility and treated as circus animals in their own domain? We feel we should do these things because we can. These options are laid out in front of us like a cornucopia of experience. Just because we can doesn’t mean we should.
One thought on “Just Because We Can Doesn’t Mean We Should”
This is another thoughtful reflection on our crazy times. What often was thought but never so well expressed. Thank you. Sometimes it is more liberating to accept and be glad that we cannot always get what we want, and to feel a little richer with what we do have. Your writing inspires wisdom!