Animals living in the wild, is it ethical to feed them from the store of food from the human world?
How about manatees? Manatees are starving and people have started feeding them. What if we upset the ecological balance by artificially introducing manatee food into a small section of the biosphere? Could the balance ever be put right?
Before you answer, here’s a little background:
In 2016, about 8,800 manatees lived in the waters of Florida. In 2021, more than 1,000 have died. Manatees eat sea grass. The sea grass has been killed by algae blooms created by fertilizer runoff and human waste from septic systems.
The tipping point has arrived. What do we do? Can the balance ever be put right?
Since we don’t directly witness the scientific experiment demonstrated in a laboratory, we take on faith that the witnesses who do are a trustworthy jury of scientific peers. We trust they will make their judgements independent of politics and religion.
This era’s attacks on science pinpoint the witnesses as untrustworthy because they are members of the “elite trustworthy community”—the very thing that is meant to give them purchase. In their place, a conspiracy of witnesses is substituted to testify to whatever “alternative facts” that serve their political agenda.
From Bruno Latour’s “We Have Never Been Modern.”
Boyle’s innovation is striking. Against Hobbes’s judgement he takes possession of the old repertoire of penal law and biblical exegesis, but he does so in order to apply them to the testimony of the things put to the test in the laboratory. As Shapin and Schaffer write:
Sprat and Boyle appealed to ‘the practice of our courts of justice here in England” to sustain the moral certainty of their conclusions and to support the argument that the multiplication of witnesses allows “a concurrence of such probabilities.” Boyle used the provision of Clarendon’s 1661 Treason Act, in which, he said, two witnesses were necessary to convict. So the legal and priestly models of authority through witnessing were fundamental resources for the experimenters. Reliable witnesses were ipso facto the members of a trustworthy community: Papists, atheists, and sectaries found their stories challenged, the social status of a witness sustained his credibility, and the concurring voices of many witnesses put the extremists to fight. Hobbes called the basis of this practice: once again, he displayed the form of life that sustained witnessing as an ineffective and subversive enterprise. (Shapin and Schaffer, 1985, p. 327)
At first glance, Boyle’s repertoire does not contribute much that is new. Scholars, monks, jurists and scribes had been developing all those resources for a millennium and more. What is new, however, is their point of application. Earlier, the witnesses had been written by men or inspired by God—never inspired or written by nonhumans. The law courts had seen countless human and divine trials come and go—never affairs that called into question the behavior of nonhumans in a laboratory transformed into a court of justice.
When something becomes uncountable, or its number too large to fit into ordinary experience, we go numb. We sense our words and feelings won’t have the slightest impact on something of such magnitude. Quantity introduces a qualitative difference. Language is outscaled.
A poem written in exile by Bertolt Brecht in the years from 1934 to 1936.
When Evil-Doing Comes Like Falling Rain
Like one who brings an important letter to the counter after office hours: the counter is already closed. Like one who seeks to warn the city of an impending flood, but speaks another language. They do not understand him. Like a beggar who knocks for the fifth time at a door where he has four times been given something: the fifth time he is hungry. Like one whose blood flows from a wound and who awaits the doctor: his blood goes on flowing.
So do we come forward and report that evil has been done us.
The first time it was reported that our friends were being butchered there was a cry of horror. Then a hundred were butchered. But when a thousand were butchered and there was no end to the butchery, a blanket of silence spread.
When evil-doing comes like falling rain, nobody calls out “stop!”
When crimes begin to pile up they become invisible. When sufferings become unendurable the cries are no longer heard. The cries, too, fall like rain in summer.
Here’s another “pro tip” for the media. They seem to have trouble locating an appropriate frame for the antics of President Donald John Trump. They’re used to finding political and policy strategy when they look for it. This President is purely tactical; he exists from one moment to the next.
Here are two tactics that have been successful for him.
The first tactic is reducing the pressure on yesterday’s outrage with a new outrage today. These rolling outrages overwhelm the capacity of the media. Unable the prioritize or distinguish what’s important from what’s not, the media is rolled on a daily basis. This tactic can be used to set the agenda by driving the outrages into the direction of wedge issues. Since it’s not illegal to lie to the media, that’s the primary tactic. This tactic surprises the media over and over again.
The second tactic is manufacturing targets for his mob. You can find the perfect normalization of this tactic in Shirley Jackson’s short story “The Lottery.” In Jackson’s story the target for stoning is chosen by lottery while the whole community dutifully takes part in the event. In Trump’s world, to refrain from throwing stones is to succumb to political correctness.
Stoning is a method of execution during which a group of people, usually peers of the guilty party, throws stones at the condemned person until he or she dies. Death by stoning was prescribed in the Old Testament Law as a punishment for various sins. Both animals and people could be the subjects of stoning (Exodus 21:28), and stoning seems to have been associated with sins that caused irreparable damage to the spiritual or ceremonial purity of a person or an animal.
Hillary Rodham Clinton has been Trump’s target par excellence. Over the years, through an extended campaign, the mob has been given permission to throw stones at her. Anything is allowed in an attack on a person condemned to stoning. The reason Trump can’t let her go, even though the election has long since past, is that he hasn’t found a target that his mobs like as well. The other thing that made it work was that the mainstream media felt that they too had permission to throw stones at Clinton.
Trump’s Twitter attacks are the way he tests new targets. Currently he’s auditioning Colin Kaepernick for the role of scapegoat. The quarterback certainly seemed to fit the mold, although Trump’s run into some unexpected resistance. While initially the media was happy to throw stones at Kaepernick, recently they seem to have discovered the other side of the story.
The social madness of stoning is the primary metaphor of Trump’s political power. In some respects, this is why individual Republican politicians fear him. They understand that they could easily be the next target. It becomes easier to follow what Trump is doing once you realize that all he really wants is another good target for the stones of his mob. His search isn’t restricted by ideology or party loyalty, Trump is simply looking for the freedom to stone some person or group to death.