Primum non nocere
If you read last Thursday’s post you may be interested to know that the ewes that left the farm have settled in nicely at their new digs. Joanna and I are pleased that this nonrandom assortment of genes, as manifest in the fleece and conformational characters of these particular animals, has been preserved and that it is now under the care of such good people. The shepherd who now watches over the ewes appreciates Shetlands for their unique qualities. She is a spinner with interests in many-things-fiber. When she arrived at Pairodox we had all the ewes penned for her to examine. She looked, touched, looked again, and asked many good questions. After she departed, Joanna turned to me and said, She selected all of our best ewes! We are glad, for it demonstrates that, even at her young age, this woman knows her stuff.
As I look over what I have just written, I wonder how many readers will react to my concerns about the welfare of these animals as nothing more than needless worry over a bunch of sheep. I do not know why the concerns many of us show for our dogs and cats are not often extended to other highly domesticated animals such as sheep, goats, hogs, cattle, and poultry? Surely, along with plant crops, these organisms play important roles in the lives of the omnivores among us. But, why should the fact that these animals are raised to work, provide fiber, or as part of the food chain preclude thoughtful attitudes toward and humane treatment of them? Although I am not a full time farmer, I have been around farms, farmers, and livestock operations enough to know that many an attitude could use adjustment when it comes to the ways in which animals are housed and treated. Attitudes which we describe as speciesist may be characterized by the belief that the interests of one species trump those of another. Certainly our attitudes toward many other animals is speciesist in that we believe they serve us, and we manage them. I wonder why we, as humans, have adopted these attitudes and behaviors? Why are we so quick to dominate, control, and to utilize? Some would say, as the only truly sentient being cabable of higher-order thought, it is our obligation. I disagree. There is an enlightening discussion in Simon Conway Morris’ text, The Crucible of Creation, in which he considers the responsibilities of our species, Homo sapiens. His Devil’s Advocate position is that, … by virtue of a cosmic accident, we, and we alone, have no choice but to take responsibility for our own destiny and mold it to our desire. On the other hand, he believes that, We do indeed have a choice, and we can exercise our free will. We might be a product of the biosphere, but it is one with which we are charged to exercise stewardship. So then what are our responsibilities, as perhaps one of a very few highly intelligent organisms on the planet? Is it our responsibility to exercise our libertarian rights and do what we may? Or, would it be better to recognize that we are but one of more than perhaps 10 million species that call this place home? I sometimes see humans as out of touch. Surely we have done some wonderful things; consider the machine with which I am communicating these thoughts to you. In another sense, however, I believe we are out of touch with our cosmic significance as seen against the backdrop of geologic time. The Earth has been here some 4.6 billion years while fossils of anatomically modern humans date to no more than 200,000 years ago. Homo sapiens has been here to experience just 0.004% of the full history of the planet. If you round that down to the nearest whole number, you get … zero. Poof! We’ve not even been here. So, tell me then, what do you make of our self-proclaimed superiority and preeminence? Let me close by translating, from the Latin, the title of this post; Primum non nocere. It means, First, do no harm. Its derivative practice of non-malfeasance is perhaps the central tenet of bioethical analysis. Rather than view the world from a position of arrogance, I suggest we adopt that middle road of conciliation. At the risk of coming across as an atavistic throwback to the 1960s, let me suggest that we work to live in peace and harmony with all living things. Let’s give it a try, and see how it goes.