Monday, October 03, 2016


Yesterday, as my wife and I walked to the grocery store, we walked over a footbridge that has a "fence" over it - probably to prevent kids from throwing things down onto the cars below, or performing the types of dangerous antics that children are disposed to perform.

As we got to the far end of this fence, I looked up to see a hawk or a falcon (I will not pretend that I have the skill to tell the difference) surveying the ground. From eyeball to eyeball we were perhaps two meters apart. It seemed uninterested in me.

There was a natural thrill in being so close to a bird of prey.

It was fairly big.

This brought to mind the thought that every aspect of that bird's existence - its feathers to its muscles - was brought about through the pain and suffering of other creatures. What causes this bird of prey to have a good life necessarily implies a painful, fear-filled, untimely end to the life of a great many other creatures. Those creatures were captured and torn apart by beak and talon.

For that one life to continue into the future . . . for another year . . . for several years . . . meant a violent end to still other creatures.

It is no consolation to talk about the pain and suffering that would have resulted from the overpopulation of the herds that the bird preys upon. If there were a benevolent god, it would have found a less horrendous way to prevent the ill effects of overpopulation. And if the capturing of innocent creatures and tearing them apart can be justified in virtue of its overall social utility, then perhaps it is something we should try as well.

Or, if it is too horrendous to for us to try, then all of the reasons against it are reasons to be uncomfortable with the pain and suffering that this method of population control brings into the wild.

These facts are among the facts that cause me to scoff at the thought that we have evolved some sort of moral sense. Is there some sense among birds of prey that give them any reluctance at all to inflict such pain and suffering on animals in the wild? Is seems absurd to argue that there a wrongness to these acts to which it is simply blind. Rather, it makes more sense to say that birds of prey have evolved those sentiments suitable to their continued existence - and a sense of moral approval at tearing apart other creatures and eating them simply is not on the list.

The fields below where we saw this bird tend to be filled with rabbits. My wife and I enjoy counting the rabbits as we walk to the bus in the morning to go to work - counting as many as ten different rabbits some days.

This morning, we did not see any rabbits.

It is quite likely that one of the rabbits we saw last week was captured and torn apart.

This is a part of the world in which we live. This has been a part of the world for hundreds of millions of years without anybody giving even a moment's moral thought to any of it. Creatures have been captured and torn apart - with all of the pain and suffering inherent in these activities - without the least bit of moral objection.

If there is an objection to be made to the bird of prey inflicting such harm on the rabbits, then that objection does not come from the birds. It comes from us - grounded on our sensibilities. The rabbits might also have something to say about it - insofar as they could say anything about it. But there is no "moral sense" that dictates that any properly functioning bird of prey has a reason to refrain from these types of activities.

No comments: