Vegetarian Wolverines

I’m a vegetarian (with exceptions when I’m in Mongolia or when my friends donate meat that they’ve hunted), and I’ve often wondered why I find carnivorous animals so fascinating. After all, they make their living by being brutal. I rationalize by reminding myself that the brutality of a wolf or a wolverine or a bear is  necessary for its survival, unlike the most brutal of animals, humans, who actually have a choice, but who seem to delight in their own cruelty.

So it was a relief to discover, at long last, a potential vegetarian wolverine.

(Of course, for all you true Gulo gulo dorks, this is a joke, but that’s what happens when you start surfing eco-tabloids. There was also an item about the “10 worst celebrity cleavage tattoos of all time,” one of which featured what I thought were wolverine paw prints. So it could have been worse. Fortunately, they turned out to be dog prints….)

Update: I published the above about two hours before Jason, our executive director, pointed out a recent opinion piece in the NYTimes, suggesting that we should promote the extinction of carnivorous species in order to make the world a rosier place for everyone.

The piece is convoluted and relies exclusively on a Judeo-Christian interpretation of the universe, including the indisputable existence of binary good-and-evil. In this worldview, suffering (the suffering of an animal being killed by a carnivore) serves no purpose and is simply evil. Worldviews exist, however, in which suffering does serve a purpose, and there are many, many cultures in which carnivores play vital spiritual roles. To suggest that the entire natural world should be re-ordered to suit Judeo-Christian morality is, even as an abstract argument, offensive. Certainly no one respectable would make that argument about global human society, so why would you even broach it when discussing nature?

Beyond culturally-specific ideas about the morality, immorality, or amorality of nature, the piece highlights why we seek to understand the function of the natural world through science instead of religion or philosophy. Ecology tells us how things work, and it has told us in no uncertain terms that taking predators out of an ecosystem is a terrible mistake. The value of nature, species, and individual animals is a topic for philosophy and religion, but hard scientific fact says that if you’re going to have herbivores on the landscape, you need predators too.

I’m not going to get into this further, because I think that the entire argument is absurd, but I will say this: the most destructive carnivorous agent of suffering is Homo sapiens, so if we’re talking about phased extinction, perhaps we ought to be top of the list.

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2 thoughts on “Vegetarian Wolverines

  1. As a Christian (a Roman Catholic), and an Alaskan. I would never put forth such an idea as what you described in this article. I found the article to be informative, well written, but found your remarks about a “Judeo-Christian” slant to be maligned. The issue is not Judeo-Christian, the issue is the deranged modern interpretation of the tradition, the religion, and also of the world. These are not reliable representations of the faith in any way, shape, or form, and much of what we currently see peddled & marketed as Christianity is NOT historical Christianity. It is a cherry picked, and watered down Christianity where things have been ignored altogether, the bible taken out of context, and read in pretext. So please, in the future when you come across and article written by an obviously ignorant, warped and deranged person that concocts rationalizations in their head as to the destruction of species, just leave Christianity out of it. This person has no more credibility as a Christian, or Jew than some of the completely whacked out vegans that you can view on Youtube have credibility as vegetarians.

    • Thanks for the comments. I appreciate your perspective, but would like to respond and clarify the point that I was making.

      The generally accepted view of Christianity (I was raised in a very liberal Protestant tradition) is that humans have souls, animals do not, and that people have “dominion” over nature – see Genesis, where I believe it is stated that “God gave them dominion over the earth and all the things that walk or creep upon it…and he told them to be fruitful and multiply, and subdue the earth.” (That’s a paraphrase, off the top of my head, so don’t quote me.)

      I have nothing against Christians, but it’s a hard fact that the events described in Genesis have been interpreted to mean that humans have greater favor with the divine than other animals, and that we therefore have license to do what we want with them and the natural world for our own benefit. This stands in stark contrast to traditions that see animals as fellow persons and/or equally sentient beings pursuing their own destinies. I don’t have any idea whether the individual who suggested we wipe out carnivores is actually a practicing Christian (or Jew), but I am referencing deeply embedded cultural assumptions that stem from religious ontologies. The line that I am trying to draw is between traditions that think that humans have some right to control and exploit the natural world so that it reflects some perceived “better” moral order and human benefit, versus those that understand nature as having its own functions that contain their own inherent morality. The Judeo-Christian tradition is firmly in the former camp. I definitely don’t mean to imply that Christians want to wipe out all carnivores, simply that the very notion of that extent of control could only occur to someone raised in a tradition that suggests that humans have dominion. Judaism might once have been somewhat different (the Old Testament contains broad hints of nature worship: sacred mountains, communion with bears, etc), but Christianity has always been a religion that sees the human-nature relationship as one of hierarchy rather than lateral social ties. This is reflected to a certain extent even in the efforts of conservationists to reorder and protect nature; even in “taking care” of the natural world, we still assume control. In some cultures the idea that humans possess the power to harm nature is so antithetical that it interferes with efforts to protect biodiversity, simply because people don’t really assimilate the idea that they might have the capacity to make a species extinct; humans are seen as being powerless over the natural world, and therefore protection of nature isn’t necessary because nature protects itself. This stuff plays both ways.

      I would be absolutely thrilled if the wider Christian community could get its act together to express a new idea about the human-nature relationship, and I agree with you that the spirit of the faith has been hijacked, particularly in the US, by a dangerous fringe. Unfortunately, that dangerous fringe is extremely vocal, and they are the ones who are currently representing Christianity to a wider world. I’m not a Christian, so it’s not really my job to participate in the discussion about how Christians will ultimately define their relationship with nature. I’d encourage you to take this up with those who still espouse a dominionistic interpretation of things; they’re the ones you need to be arguing with, because until nature-loving Christians get as vocal as the other side, you can’t really argue that I’m off base in saying that the Judeo-Christian tradition is one of dominance over nature and animals.

      Thanks again for the comments, and please don’t take this personally. Good luck in working on defining a better relationship between nature, humans, and the divine – and definitely let me know if there’s scriptural evidence for a different interpretation of things. I’m always curious about this stuff.

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