Too many grasshoppers–vegetarian riposte 1.1

I love the way Geoff Lawton puts it here:  if your garden has a plague of grasshoppers (or slugs), what you have is not an excess of grasshoppers (or slugs).  In fact, you will have just the right amount for the food that you are growing. 

What you have is a deficiency of grasshopper-eating birds.  Add the right amount of ducks, chickens, or turkeys to your garden system, and you will diminish the food you are losing to pests and generate one kilo of chicken for every three kilos of grasshoppers.  I suppose you could have just eaten the three kilos of grasshoppers to begin with, but by adding the birds you also generate fertilizer for your garden, you get a more effective grasshopper collection system than your fingers, you save a lot of time, and you probably enjoy eggs for breakfast more than grasshoppers.

Eventually your chickens will stop producing eggs.  At this point you could let them die a “natural” death (unless a cat or dog brings them to a faster form of natural death), and you could bury them reverently in the ground where insects, worms and microorganisms will eat them.  Worms, insects and microorgansisms can eat many things, including chickens that have already gone through your digestive system and given you better strength and health in the process.

Is it immoral for the slugs and grasshoppers to eat the plants you have taken pains to grown?  For the birds to eat the slugs and grasshoppers?  For the dogs and cats to eat the birds?  For the insects, worms, and microorgansisms to eat all of us once we are dead?

The ethics of nature is efficiency — nothing is wasted.

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~ by nolashaolin on August 13, 2008.

4 Responses to “Too many grasshoppers–vegetarian riposte 1.1”

  1. Sifu,
    I’ve really enjoyed the last two posts, and I’ve been thinking about your statement that the ethics of nature is efficiency. I think you are right about efficiency being at the core of natural processes, but I don’t think it’s a solid foundation for an ethical argument. Ethics is often defined as beliefs about what we ought to do, and efficiency is an observed feature of the way the world is. The philosopher David Hume called this the is-ought problem. That is, just because things are a certain way doesn’t necessarily mean they should be that way. Another problem I am having is with efficiency being the main basis of the argument. Looked at another way, features of the natural world from whole ecosystems down to our individual bodies are like Rube Goldberg machines- complex devices that perform simple tasks in indirect, convoluted ways. It’s true that a more efficient one will out-compete a less efficient one at the same task, but even so scientists and philosophers like Richard Dawkins have pointed out that the overall trend of evolution is for things to get more complex. The more complex a system gets, the less efficient it becomes. I think efficiency might act like a rudder keeping what I see as the crazy, burgeoning nature of life on a sustainable course. It seems like efficiency by itself would eventually pare things down to nothing. The other thing that’s giving me trouble is only a problem if you accept that our ethical beliefs themselves are features of the natural world arising through evolution. Then we have to ask if it’s any more wrong for us to do some of the crazy things we do to the environment and to each other than it is for grasshoppers to eat our plants, etc. If the answer is yes (which I think it is), then we are right back to the is-ought problem. I realize this is way out of the original scope of vegetarianism (which I agree with you on), but I have really been enjoying thinking about these things. See you in class!
    Tyree

  2. Tyree,
    Thanks for the thoughtful response.

    Perhaps I am using the terms in an incorrect way.

    When I say efficiency, I mean in the sense of energy efficiency–getting the most out of resources. I don’t mean accomplishing
    a task as quickly as possible. So if a Rube Goldberg machine acheives many things with no resources wasted,
    then by my meaning, that is more efficient than a short process that acheives only one thing and creates waste.

    I am arguing for more complex human food systems that mirror natural systems: instead of mass production of an
    increasingly small number of foods, complex webs that produce a larger range of foods, where the output of one
    process is the input for another. For example, grasshoppers are an unanticipated product of your garden, and become an input for
    chickens, which produce outputs such as eggs, manure, clucking, scratching, and meat. Of those, only the clucking
    is waste.

    So, far from paring things down to nothing, the kind of efficiency I mean –interactive diversity– makes things
    more complex and therefore more stable. A disruption along the chain of processes doesn’t break down the whole
    system. The system adapts and finds a new equilibrium.

    Ultimately, I think it is wrong to waste resources because it causes much unnecessary suffering and disrupts the
    web of life on which we depend.

    On the ought/is question, I endeavor to live and think as much as possible in the “is” category, because the “ought”
    seems to cause frustration, anger, sadness, and suffering. But it is human nature to move between the two. The trick
    is to maintain as much of a global view as possible of the “is.” Otherwise, you begin to behave in your own perceived
    short-term best interests (mm, cheetos and coke make me feel good!) rather than the long-term best interest of
    yourself and your descendants, which are in accord with the long-term best interest of the overall web of life.

  3. That makes a lot of sense, and it’s a really appealing world view to me.
    Tyree

  4. […] the cyle of life, death, and rebirth. I have posted before about why I am not a vegetarian (part 1, part 2) Here’s my view in a […]

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