Wise readers, I recently meditated on a dialogue between myself and a farmer from the deep south of New Zealand. As I have come to do, I posted my meditation for you to read. And now I shall recall a short portion of our dialogue.
SOCRATES: You look rather tired this morning.
BILLY: Well, I was up until 3AM hunting deer last night.
SOCRATES: Oh dear, that is late. Was it worth the effort?
BILLY: I shot one, just at the edge of the forest. I saw another but couldn’t get a clear shot.
SOCRATES: Why shoot deer? Is it sport?
BILLY: They destroy the natural forest. We kill them to protect the forest. They are not a natural part of this environment. They were introduced by early settlers and now their population numbers are too large, so we need to keep them under control.
SOCRATES: Why does it matter that they destroy the forest?
BILLY: The forest is special. It needs to be preserved. There’s so very little of it left as it is.
SOCRATES: Are animals not special? Should we not preserve deer?
BILLY: Deer are found all around the world. The forests of southern New Zealand are unique. There is nothing like this anywhere else in the world.
SOCRATES: So you kill animals that threaten it?
BILLY: That’s right.
SOCRATES: Should all animals who destroy the forest be killed?
BILLY: Well, yes, and I’d say we try our best. There are other species out there, like possums and stotes. They kill natural wild life and mess with the forest. We try to kill them too.
SOCRATES: I have been looking at all the glorious, grassy farm land you work upon. This was once natural forest, am I right?
BILLY: Well yes. My great grandfather cleared most of this land. Used to be all forest here.
SOCRATES: And now the natural forest is rare. You said that all animals who destroy the forest should be killed. What about people? We are animals. We destroy the forest to make farms. Should people be killed?
BILLY: Ah, you philosophers over think things. Of course not. We need farms to grow food. That’s how we survive.
SOCRATES: The deer need to survive. They do what they need to do to find food and survive. And that involves damaging the forest. Why do we only kill deer to protect the forest but not people?
BILLY: It’s different. We’re people.
SOCRATES: Indeed, and we have given ourselves the job of killing the pests — animals that destroy the forest, except us. Excuse the foolishness of this old man, but why is an exception made for people?
BILLY: People are important. Besides, who else would keep the forest protected?
SOCRATES: and yet we destroy it when it suits us to do so.
BILLY: Yes, when we need to. But it is special, so we preserve what we can. After all, it was here first, long before these pests.
SOCRATES: I understand. The forest is valuable because it is unique and it was here first, so anything that destroys it should be killed, except people, because we are needed to protect it.
BILLY: That’s right, Socrates.
SOCRATES: So, we can destroy the forest to make farms, because we need to survive so that we can protect the forest?
BILLY: It sounds silly when you put it like that.
SOCRATES: Forgive me, my friend. I am trying to understand why, if the forest is so important, that we make an exception of ourselves. We can destroy it but other species cannot?
BILLY: We need to live.
SOCRATES: The deer need to live, do they not? And so does the forest, for that matter. Are you saying that our survival is more important than deer or forest?
BILLY: We are protecting the forest.
SOCRATES: Yes, but we destroy it when needed to ensure our own survival. Why are we so special?
BILLY: We are intelligent. Animals aren’t.
SOCRATES: Whether animals are, or are not, intelligent, I do not know. But I do know that deer have more fur than people. And they have antlers, whereas people have none. All species are different. Are you suggesting that intelligence is more important than these other traits?
BILLY: Yes sir, I am.
SOCRATES: Upon what do you base this belief?
BILLY: For starters, it means we can help save the environment from pests.
SOCRATES: But Billy, is it not the case that our intelligence has lead to us introducing these pest species and destroying the environment? Am I not right in thinking our intelligence has caused the problem we are trying to solve? I have long argued that our reason is what sets us apart from other animals. I have also observed that in many cases, people focus primarily on their bodily desires and set reason aside. Nevertheless, I now wonder if having the ability to reason makes us more important. What does it mean to be more important?
BILLY: We have higher value.
SOCRATES: Where does that value come from?
BILLY: We are people, so of course we value ourselves more than other animals.
SOCRATES: By the gods, Billy, wouldn’t a deer say that deer have a higher value than people? I am searching for an objective reason. Why are people more valuable than other animals?
BILLY: Like I said before, we are intelligent.
SOCRATES: My friend, I think we will now go around in circles. The thought is that our intelligence makes us more important. Being more important means we are of higher value. And we are of higher value because we are intelligent. I’m afraid that the question has not been answered.
BILLY: Well, I’m just trying my best to survive in this wonderful land.
SOCRATES: Just like the deer.