I’ve been thinking how often in news stories, and in public life, we are told implicitly or explicitly that some people and critters are deserving of compassion and not others. Take OHV folks who would prefer not to have roads closed. Or the people who have jobs at a uranium mill or a biomass plant- some news stories focus on some people (those potentially harmed) and not on others (those potentially harmed by its absence). Now I’m not saying it’s wrong to focus on certain people, but I think we should pay attention to whose stories are left out.
There are two reasons. First, there is no limit on compassion. It’s not as if we have some for person or group x, there will be less for person or group y. If you do feel that, there are traditional spiritual ways to open up to acquire more compassion energy, and that’s a very different discussion.
Second, some will imply that if you feel compassion for x people, that leads directly to a certain policy choice, which of course it doesn’t. For example, if you feel compassion for people around some infrastructure (wind turbine, uranium mine, biomass plant), there are a wide array of regulations that might be adopted.
Now our journalism friends have been taught that they need to engage our emotions, in many cases compassion for individuals or groups, but sometimes they leave out other individuals or groups and go directly from their own chosen circle of compassion to a specific policy outcome. And to my mind, many perspectives and policy options are not presented.
So for right now, though, we have the five Oregon wolves recently reintroduced to western Colorado (in the depths of winter). It was a politically contentious idea, driven by urban folks druthers with consequences for rural folks, and to me the oddest thing was that the goals did not change when it turned out that wolves were already coming down from Wyoming on their own volition. So to me, this seemed as yet another unnecessary sharp stick in the eye to rural folks. For me, disturbing Oregon wolves (is different from allowing wolves to naturally repopulate Colorado.
Plus our friends of CBD had this to say last spring about Oregon wolves not doing so well.
PORTLAND, Ore.— Oregon’s wolf population increased by two confirmed animals in 2021 — from 173 to 175 wolves — according to a report released today by the state’s Department of Fish and Wildlife. There were 21 reported packs in 2021, while the number of breeding pairs decreased by one for a total of 16.
This small population increase comes after a tragic year that saw eight gray wolves killed by deliberate poisoning in northeast Oregon. State officials themselves killed another eight wolves in 2021 over conflicts with livestock.
I’d like to anthropomorphize a bit. So you know, peer-reviewed literature says its OK and does not cause “significant misconceptions”.
Now if I were a wolf, making a living in eastern Oregon, happy and accustomed to my pack dynamics, surrounded by wolves I know and like, knowing where elk and deer are likely to be.. knowing where water is, knowing what ranches and highways to avoid, would I want to be dumped off in western Colorado in the winter with other wolves unknown to me? Not. Why are you doing this to us, I might ask? Oh, because some people have an idea.. and they couldn’t get wolves from closer states, so … we picked you. You see, these peoples’ ideas about “the balance of nature” “keystone species” “apex predators” (mountain lions, you aren’t doing the job..) and the timing (no we haven’t had them around for 70 years, but we can’t wait for natural processes, because…. some humans don’t want to). Will they bring Oregon diseases to Colorado canines? Will they be susceptible to diseases Colorado canines carry?
I’m mostly a fan of the folks at Colorado Parks and Wildlife, but driven by a ballot initiative they might not have been able to consider the latter two questions. But back to critters. Whom we care about. But some to quote Orwell “are more equal than others.”
If we could interview coyotes and mountain lions, they might say “hey, we’re carnivores too.. sure we’re not exactly the same niche, but we think we’re doing fine right now; why do they count more than us?”
As to the elk and deer, “hey, you guys are wildlife too, but you don’t count as much because of some peoples’ ideas. It’s actually better for you as a species to have more animals hunting and killing you on the landscape.. because maybe they will kill the sick along with the unlucky. Your well-being is sacrificed for the good of the population- and well, some people have this idea about “balance of nature” and so on, and it’s more important than your well-being.”
As for cows, sheep, livestock guardian dogs, domestic dogs and others.. sure being ripped apart or killed is not good for you, but maybe you shouldn’t be there anyway. Besides, some people have this idea that it’s better for an abstraction.. “the ecosystem”..
Then there’s a narrative where elk fear is really good because it changes their behavior and that’s good for other species. Again, the individual sacrificed for the whole.species, ecosystem?
My own experience with safe places as a college and graduate student, and unsafe places, is that it’s a much easier life in many ways to be in a safe place. Aside from alertness and stress, there’s decision making (should I go to the library after dark?). There was also time spent reviewing the list of crimes and locations and trying to discern patterns and adapt to them. My college roommate was mugged on the way to the Computer Center.. (yes there was a building that housed The Computer) and her box of cards (that is how a person programmed in those days) was dumped across the road, and she needed to redo her semester’s project. Perhaps that’s the equivalent of the energy expended running away from an attack. I’d say generally less crime and fewer perpetrators was actually good for my mental and physical health. So I’d be displeased if someone said “higher crime is better for you as it keeps you on your toes” or “it’s better for the human species if not you”, or “the ecosystem” or whatever.
It’s also interesting to me how climate change is used for different species. For some species (carnivores), climate change is happening so we need more protections of current habitat and more habitat and more reintroductions. For herbivores, climate change is happening, populations in some areas are dropping and we don’t know why… so let’s stress them more by introducing more predators! It seems like a bias against hervivores, what we might call carnivorism or carnivolatry.
Again, I’m not against wolves. I just think that this Colorado thing is needlessly disruptive to all kinds of creatures and people. Many bad things happen when individuals become unimportant in pursuit of ideas (think 20th century history) and I don’t think we necessarily are having the conversations around this that we should including all points of view.