Geoscience Reference
In-Depth Information
It has to be kept in mind that human—animal relations have been and remain
driven by a heady mix of emotions which span from reverence to revulsion and from
fetish to fear. Although nature gets excluded from orthodox ethics, and this certainly
has had a political fall-out, some groupings of nature, in some places and in some
times, are included in some form of, perhaps de facto, ethical considerations in other
ways. These may be based on religious, spiritual, emotional or even aesthetic
grounds. For example, Sheail (1976:4) states that 'nature preservation in its earliest
day was almost entirely an emotional issue'. Initiatives such as the 1869 Sea Birds
Preservation Acts, and the forming of the Royal Society for the Protection of
Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds
(RSPB), were responding to highly visible and wanton exhibitions of nature
destruction such as shooting parties which sailed to sea bird colonies and shot
thousands of birds to leave them floating dead on the water. Such concerns had
parallels and links to the Romantic and transcendental movements, which were
expressly orientated counter to Enlightenment/modernity (Wheeler 1993) in part
due to their concern for and celebration of nature. Attitudes that they generated
have fed into the development of the nature conservation movement, and eventually
into modern environmentalism (Bunce 1994; Cronon 1996; Pepper 1996). Their
ramifications can also be found in continuing contemporary popular affections for
nature (Bunce 1994), and particularly for certain landscapes (Macnaghten and Urry
1998) and certain animals. So, although there has been a general exclusion of
animals and nature from the realm of ethical consideration, this has been distorted,
partially reversed or even emphasised by other types of relationships with nature and
animals, thereby adding to the deeply uneven and in some cases painfully
contradictory relations between certain non-human others and human society.
Individuals and collectives
The construction of the modern world has been based on the uneven but deeply
cutting relegation of the individual non-human other from the ethical field. This
has significant implications for the ethics of human—animal interaction. As Serpell
(1995:825) states:
[T]reating animals as groups of organisms (populations, species, ecosystems,
and so on) creates ethical problems when it encourages people to ignore or
devalue the well-being of the individual animals comprising those groups. An
extreme example is provided by modern intensive farming…. In the field of
nature conservation, it is common to ignore or subordinate the interests of
individual animals for the perceived good of their own or other species.
It is this process which in part shows such a marked geography of ethical relations.
We relate to and act upon groups of animals in particular spaces. Here I deploy some
brief examples to illustrate this point. Magpies in the UK can be killed as pests under
the general licence of the Wildlife and Countryside Act of 1981. When an
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