Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Predation Problem Part II

A little while ago I discussed the issues of watching animal predation in wildlife documentaries, dismissing the suggestion this is a bad thing for a Christian to do if we link the fall to one animal eating another. I don't think that link can be made, either biblically or scientifically.

The next form of the argument I call the Violence Predation Problem, and may be stated thus:

  1. Animal predation is a form of (natural) violence.
  2. Christians are (almost) always forbidden involvement in violence.
  3. Passive viewing of violence for pleasure or enjoyment is participation in violence
  4. The only reason one might view animal predation is for enjoyment or pleasure in the act of predation per se.

    Therefore, viewing animal predation is sinful

I'll deal with premise 4 in a later post. Premise 1 is unarguable, though when I speak of natural/nature, I don't mean to do so in a materialistic sense, as if that is all there is. God permits this, this is not evidence of his absence. Likewise, premise 2 I take from "turning the other cheek" - a call to non-violent protest and a non-violent way of life (though arguably not indicating that the individual may never be violent in the pursuit of peace).

Further, John Milbank would say that ” looking at violence is more violent than participation in violence when we observe it in a detached manner. After all, part of the attraction, or so Milbank claims, is that we cannot intervene and therefore we must be passive. We become voyeurs of violence, who can do nothing else but sit back and enjoy the theatre of death, the artificial creation of a scene of horror, a “spectacle of termination” as a “recreational relaxation”. It is an artificial creation because it shows not simply nature “as it is” but as someone has chosen to show it, and as we have chosen to view it.

However, this doesn't help with viewing natural predation in the sense that if we did intervene, then we would be disrupting the natural economy. Intervention is (largely) out of the question and viewing of predation is a passive act (I say largely because conservation is such intervention - but this is undoing our deliberate or inadvertant interference in the first place). This deals with premise 3.

Lastly, consider Jacobs’ analogy between predation and bear baiting. This argument rests on equating the watching of predation (which is for survival) with the deliberate creation of a situation of violence for the purposes of our being entertained by that violence. But it is not a valid comparison. One is part of the natural economy and is for animal survival, the other for human entertainment by the act of violence per se, and any economic gain (i.e. gambling). This comparison forces us to address the form in which Jacobs casts the argument. To quote, “if we look upon such scenes with pleasure and fascination, something is dreadfully wrong. Those who look without flinching upon animals having the flesh of their bellies eaten while they are still alive are morally numb; those who seek out such scenes for their viewing enjoyment are depraved.”

I agree with this, but does it necessarily follow that the violence predation argument succeeds. I want to suggest in a weak form, not a strong form, i.e. that we may sin, not that it will always be sin. Jacobs wants to know why we might force ourselves to watch such things. I will address reasons later, but entertainment and pleasure per se are not the only reasons. Premise 4 is defeated.

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