Recently, I queried folks here on the appropriateness of our differing responses to hunting, which we generally consider acceptable or even laudable, and activities like dog fighting or turtle squashing, activities that are largely condemned as abhorrent and immoral. Most people were able to make cogent arguments that there were inherent differences to these activities and that our differing responses were largely appropriate. It was a refreshing conversation to hear, especially since I tend to think their is a lot of hypocrisy and other problems with our general approach to animal welfare. But, as expected, folks here were able to offer rather principled, thoughtful arguments supporting their position.
Many of the topics broached made me think of another question that I’d like to explore similarly here.
Imagine, if you will, that an alien race comes to Earth. This alien race is vastly superior to us, so superior in fact that the gap between our development and theirs is akin to the gap between a microbe’s development and ours. If you like analogies, then you could say humans:aliens::microbes:humans. Now, these aliens see Earth as a hospitable environment but our presence as an impediment to their health and well-being. As such, they decide to exterminate us in a way that is quick and painless.
Could we make a moral argument against their actions? Of course, we could seek to defend ourselves and our way of life, much like a bacterium might develop a resistance to anti-biotics out of a evolutionary sense of self-preservation. But would the actions of the aliens be immoral?
I ask because I doubt anyone considers the destruction of microbes that are harmful to us as immoral. In fact, some would argue that we have a moral imperative to do just that, advocating for vaccines and the like. But these same folks probably would consider the wholesale destruction of more advanced species, such as dolphins, to be more problematic morally. In fact, dolphins are seen as being so worthy of protection that scores of other animals, lesser animals are destroyed in the name of their protection*.
What I’m really trying to get at is whether there is an absolute threshold that some organisms have crossed that make them worthy of protection or consideration in a different way than lesser organisms -OR- is it the relative difference that matters? Have we and dolphins and monkeys and dogs reached a point that no species, no matter how advanced, can morally exterminate us? And, if so, what is that point? Where do we draw the line? What is the determining factor for what organisms ought to be considered worthy of protections and which ones ought not to be? But if it is the latter, than it seems we must concede any moral claim to self-preservation in the proposed scenario, no?
Thank you in advanced for indulging my provocativeness. I realize these questions might seem a bit absurd on their face, but I think in considering them we can arrive at a more principled perspective on the value of different species, one that is not derived solely from emotion or a sense of “cuteness”.
* Did you know that dolphin-safe tuna is deadly for a host of other animals? “[O]ne saved dolphin costs 25,824 small tuna, 382 mahi-mahi, 188 wahoo, 82 yellowtail and other large fish, 27 sharks and rays, 1 billfish, 1,193 triggerfish and other small fish, and 0.06 sea turtles.”