Is traditional conservation science a pathological disorder? by Ed Boks

The Lottery by Shirley Jackson

Is traditional conservation science a pathological disorder driven by an obsessive, distorted belief that the environment can be, indeed must be, restored to some idyllic, imaginary state of being at any cost including, and perhaps preferring,  killing anything that gets in the way?

Sound over the top?

The question occurred to me while reading Marc Bekoff’s May 17th article in Psychology Today titled, “Killing Animals Is ‘Weirdly Addictive’ Says New Zealander: New Zealand’s brutal war on wildlife relies on kids and adults to meet its goals

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines pathology as something abnormal, or the deviation from the normal, so as to give rise to social ills.  Using this definition, is it not fair to ask if traditional conservation is pathological?  Does traditional conservation give rise to social ills?

Marc Bekoff

Bekoff’s article describes the exuberant conversion of a “squeamish” New Zealander woman into someone “who likes to kill” and is “compelled and happy to do so”.  She also refers to the “thrill of the kill” in the context of winning a game and calls the killing “weirdly addictive” as she refers to her victims as “stuff”.  Sound like a deviation from normal to you?

One might ask if this woman is an isolated case or is this deviation so widespread in New Zealand that it has become the new normal?   The answer comes quickly when she refers “to a group of grannies” in her community who “have a competition” to see how many targeted animals they can kill in their gardens.  So, for these ladies, killing has become “sort of game”.

The process of normalizing the killing of targeted populations is called “gamification” – a process that turns killing into a game, which in this case, resulted in a “weirdly addictive” need to kill again and again.

Understanding that this “weirdly addictive” game is a government sanctioned program, one has to ask, can it be controlled?  That is, can any pathological, or weirdly addictive, government sanctioned violence be limited to officially targeted populations?  If you answer “yes”, then you must conclude that New Zealand being home to the highest rate of family violence in the developed world is merely coincidence.

“It isn’t fair, it isn’t right,” Mrs. Hutchinson screamed, and then they were upon her.

What’s happening in New Zealand weirdly reminds me of Shirley Jackson’s 1948 short story, The Lottery – a haunting depiction of a, by all accounts,  normal community – except for a comfortable acceptance of an annual human stoning determined by lottery.

This pathological tradition is symbolized by the “black box” that “grew shabbier each year” – just as our justifications for killing, culling and eradication of entire species grow weaker and shabbier each year in the face of rigorous and compassionate conservation science.

The Lottery describes how pathological traditions often survive year after year.  If anyone dared to talk “of giving up the lottery”, they were branded “crazy fools” and warned that “nothing but trouble” comes from questioning tradition – no matter how pathological…

Still sound over the top?

Consider Lynley Tulloch (PhD), from the University of Waikato, who dared to talk of these things and found “nothing but trouble”.

Lynley Tulloch

She explains “The mantra to kill… is so entrenched in New Zealander’s psyches that very few dare to question it.  In fact, suggesting that we look at the issue from another angle is akin to being regarded as a dope-smoking hippy greenie from the Coromandel at best.  At worst, you become subject to rape and death threats, and clandestine plans on social media pages to have dead possums dumped on your driveway. I’ve had them all.”

Dr. Bekoff closes his article with this admonition: “When people say they’re addicted to killing animals, or it’s cashed out as some sort of competitive game, it has to be taken seriously, as does calling these beings ‘stuff.’  Words that objectify animals ignore that they are feeling and sentient beings and help to alienate people from their pains and suffering.  Even if one says they’re addicted to killing animals in jest or thoughtlessly… it’s essential to understand what this means” not only to the environment, but to our “state of mind.”

The Four Principles of Compassionate Conservation; the antidote to pathological killing:

  1. First, Do No Harm
  2. Individuals Matter
  3. Value All Life
  4. Peaceful Coexistence

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