The second instance with the Geese is not “nature” - it’s nasty people not controlling their nasty dogs. I see a lot of this and the response is always along the lines of “it’s natural for dogs to chase things”. Maybe so, in which case it on a short leash. Not that Canada Geese are in need of much protection, but these killing machines go after other species too that are in need of a little help to survive.
My highly subjective view is that humans are the ugliest side of nature in most circumstances. I won’t lie that I find some things difficult gruesome and emotionally painful (orcas tossing seals around as toys as they’re essentially tortured to death is not great for me to think about but there’s a beauty in even that as there is in everything.) but all that is also a gift. Experiencing the full range of emotions in existence within nature (I don’t see “nature” as something I’m not from and for and of) and beholding things that people rarely stop to bear witness of is subjectively beautiful to me. As I listened to a bellowing mother turkey seemingly wail from a tree branch, I watched a fox kill and cache at least 13 poults in the rain on the side of a quiet road in the Adirondack mountains. It was unbelievable and violent and spectacular and beautiful and painful all at once and I consoled myself with the knowledge that a lot of kits would have full bellies tonight and the turkey can make more poults later and she probably doesn’t suffer in the way I do with PTSD. She will move on with survival after grieving in the way that I think some sentient things do. What a privilege to see and photograph from a pulled over car. Full anthropomorphosis going on here but I use a little to help me through the difficult stuff. I’ll always be more upset by roadkill or human abuse of animals than I will at coyotes ripping a deer up in the night or braconid wasps ovipositing.
I personally believe that sometimes we put too much human perspective on events that happen in nature. No taxon is inherently good or evil. They just do what they do, but some actions when viewed with human bias can be considered horrible/disgusting. Eg. it must be completely normal for a parasitoid wasp to be living essentially in a room full of its food, but in our view it is a macabre sight. The other day I saw a decomposing opossum corpse that was FULL of maggots and flies. Certainly for us humans its a repugnant sight, but that’s the lifestyle preference of those insects.
Indeed. I remember seeing a comment on a post on a entomology-related facebook group of someone recommending to use soapy water to spray leaves to discourage creatures from feeding on them, and also emphasizing not to do that on milkweed because “that’s what monarch’s eat”. So yes its a bit unfortunate that human bias plays a big role over such topics.
I agree they should control their dog and not allow it to harass or harm wildlife, but I don’t agree the dog was “nasty”. Hunting and killing is part of a dogs nature, as you said. This part is entirely a human problem.
7 posts were split to a new topic: Research and ethical questions in arthroproda experience of “pain”
I sympothise with your with your experience with the geese as I have experienced similar situations. It is my view that wolves are natural and dogs are not and that dogs should be under control of their owners at all times. The same is so for house cats.
In these situations, I try to contact the pet owner and explain the problem. If that does not work, I trap the pets and deliver them to shelters. I hope that they find a better home.
Yes, and a friend has become vegetarian (out of concern for animals!) but has three cats and feeds them meat because cats cannot survive as vegetarians.
Humans are, perhaps, the most contradictory of nature’s creatures.
Quite a lot of dogs are “nasty” because that’s what their owners have allowed them to be - others are “nasty” because they have been bred to be biting machines.
A dog is not a moral being like a human. Calling one “nasty” implies it has choices, which it doesn’t.
Human beings are saddled with consciousness, which has caused us to develop a sense of right and wrong - the basis of morality. Unfortunately, most non human life lacks that consciousness, and are morally neutral. I have used the term ‘amoral’, but it has become associated with ‘immoral’. Morality can only exist when there is a conscious choice to be made - to act in one way, or choose another. Perhaps some vertebrates have this quality, but certainly non-vertebrate life does not. They do what they do, and there is no good or bad about it. Humans don’t have to like what they see going on around them in the non-human world, but we cannot apply our morality to it. It is a tough thing to come to terms with. Several people have mentioned parasites, which on the surface are nasty to most of us. I try and admire them. They live in an environment that is not just dangerous, but is actively trying to kill them. They have evolved ways to subvert this. It’s fascinating, but also repulsive.
I’m not sure where I’m going with this, so I’ll close it up at this point. Most non-human interactions are relatively benign. Birds squabble, but rarely cause damage. Predators eat other living things, usually in ways that are not pretty. If it is possible, try to see the tenacity of life as at least a benign thing, and try to leave human morality to one side. (Dogs/cats eating wildlife is a whole other issue!).
I just wanted to add one more thing - feelings (emotions) are not rational. We can feel sad, angry, depressed, when we know rationally that we should not. The clearest example are films - even though we know rationally that these are actors in a story, a film can still bring on feelings. It’s a dichotomy - I still feel sad seeing some things in ‘nature’, even though rationally I know it’s just part of life. Two opposing things can occupy my mind at the same time. I believe having an understanding of the rational part of things allows us to process the feelings a little faster, but I have no evidence for that.
Not of the formal research-based type but I consider myself living evidence for such a hypothesis. Information and science-based inquiry into systems and rational parts of things tempers my emotions and PTSD responses (it’s somewhat known but I can’t point to literature at the moment). I think some will find that they almost completely move past the concept of ugliness in nature and eventually see the totality as beautiful and painful…much like the human experience.
It helps to remember Darwin.
In the deepest, darkest, most remote areas of this planet, nature and it’s creatures all work in perfect synchrony…living, dying, surviving, etc… the whole “circle of life” works perfectly and everything takes care of itself…it’s when humans become involved in an area that the problems begin…sad, but true.
If humans don’t get involved in nature, they are eating it. Thereby getting involved in it anyway.
" Tho’ Nature, red in tooth and claw
With ravine, shriek’d against his creed-"
I hadn’t read in full Tennyson’s In Memoriam! https://www.theotherpages.org/poems/books/tennyson/tennyson04.html
He quotes Nature as saying
‘So careful of the type?’ but no.
From scarped cliff and quarried stone
She cries, 'A thousand types are gone
I care for nothing, all shall go.
‘Thou makest thine appeal to me:
I bring to life, I bring to death:
The spirit does but mean the breath:
I know no more.’
An enormous amount of human creativity, as well as despair, has been motivated by versions of the question you ask. Meditations on mortality, death and loss are at the core of much art (of all forms), philosophy and psychology. John Keats’ Ode to a Nightingale is about all of those things but it is a work of great beauty, not ugliness.
In evolutionary terms, rational thought is a recent development; the human family has been emotional from day one but the ability to think about our emotions is a recent thing. The iNat project is a place where people who choose to think about nature organize their observations to learn and to think about the things they see in the world around them; it is very much about the rational side of human nature. But for the most part people also come here because they care, in various ways, about what they see and are passionate about it; that is, they are emotionally attched to the activity.
We have a range of emotions, some of which don’t feel “good” or “pleasant” or “positive”. Label them how you will, they are all reflections of what it is to be alive and human. The death of that gosling was sad - for it, for its parents and for you. We feel happy when the things we care about thrive and sad when they suffer and die. Do all living things experience these things in the same way? Probably not. But they exist because caring makes us better parents, better siblings, better friends, better community members.
Our ability to care is a sloppy thing. I have emotional responses when I think about a bunch of inanimate objects (gifts from special people, things that have been with me through hard times, etc.) that have no ability whatsoever to reciprocate my feelings. If humans are capable of getting all misty when we think about our first car, it’s not so hard to understand how we can feel sad about the death of a gosling and the pain of its parents.
Anyway, those are my thoughts, rationally speaking, on feeling sad about a gosling, emotionally speaking. You’re sad because you care. Caring is good.
Great post. I’ve had this idea, for a number of years now, that emotions are the precursor to rational though. It’s not based on any evidence though. My logic goes like this - emotions, feelings, happen in many vertebrate species. My dog hurts, but does not think about why (specifically). Similarly, he feels attraction, and many other emotions I don’t quite know how to state. Somewhere along the line, people somehow linked the ‘feeling’, emotion, to a thought. I hurt, which part of me hurts, oh wait I did that to it last night… Which leads to cause and effect, and the ability to perceive things in a more analytical way. I don’t think it’s better or worse than how my dog thinks, but it is a skill set that humans have developed. I suspect that emotions are more common in vertebrate life than we suspect, but we have the unique ability to think about them and analyse them, for better or for worse.
I could ramble on about this for hours, so I’ll stop now. It’s all very interesting to think about. Hope this made sense!!
This discussion reminds me of one of my favorite books: “There’s a Hair in My Dirt” by Gary Larson (yes, The Far Side cartoonist). I think I came across it in a bookstore or library when I was in HS or college.
It’s an illustrated storybook that tells the story of a maiden’s walk through the forest…and how her romanticizing nature, including assigning values or aesthetic judgements to different things she witnesses, comes from an incomplete understanding.
Not that I’m saying that’s the case with bobwolski, or anyone posting here…it’s just a good, funny story, that really made me reconsider some of my own biases (the part about feeding the “cute”, not people-shy, invasive squirrels, who then have enough resources to outcomplete the native squirrels, always stuck with me) .