Animal Apartheid

By Razib Khan | June 21, 2010 7:46 am

Here’s an article from Canada on the debate about whether hybridization should be discouraged. I understand the impulse toward preserving nature as it is, but the drive for presumed purity seems almost fetishistic. Consider this sentence: ” Or could hybrids actually weaken genetically pure populations of disappearing wildlife?” What does “genetically pure” mean in a deep sense here? We know what it means instrumentally for the purposes of conservation genetics, but the way people talk about pristine lineages makes it seem an almost ethical concern.

When it comes to conservation and environmental policy you’re at the intersection of science, norms, and the messy world of human possibility. Perspective matters a lot in how you value or weight the parameters within your value system. To me the preservation of putatively pure lineages immemorial smacks a bit of pre-Darwinian biology, with its focus on systematic analysis of fixed and eternal kinds as well as a descriptive analysis of anatomy and physiology. At the other end is evolutionary biology which is a process, a phenomenon, understood as a flux of gene frequencies and morphs over time. It is by definition a refutation of a static conception of nature. Of course it takes time…but but not that much time. And then there’s the tendency to see humans as apart and beyond nature, exogenous to the system, destabilizing an eternal equilibrium. This is also arguably a false ideal, humans have been part of the ecosystem of every continent excepting Antarctica for at least 10,000 years, Australia for 50,000 years, Eurasia for a million years, and Africa somewhat longer. Modern H. sapiens sapiens has likely reshaped whole ecosystems through predation and fire even before agriculture and dense societies.

Let’s have a more nuanced and subtle conversion here, and put the focus on what our ultimate values are, or at least the ultimate values of the majority. As it is too often it seems to me that we’re not that far from “king’s wood” whereby we view nature as something to be isolated from the common man, who by his presence sullies and contaminates its purity. And now the fixation on distinct kinds and lineages seems to veer in a similar direction, albeit focusing on the purity of species and sub-species rather than nature as a whole.

  • tgt

    I think the eco-movement descended into fetishistic superstition a long time ago. They have an odd obsession with preserving or restoring “nature” to some vaguely defined untouched-by-man sense. Typically this means pre-industrial revolution, but since they themselves aren’t clear what arbitrary point in time they want to restore it’s never quite clear. Personally I blame continental drift for species-cidal habitat destruction and demand we restore Gondwanaland.

    I’m fine for preserving and even restoring animals we think are cute, fluffy, or just cool in some way, but the eco-crowd extend this puppy-fluffy preference to some religious imperative to preserve every small, slithering critter on the planet. They’ll even condemn the invidious bias in favor of fluffy cool animals.

    One false idea that helps this is the common belief in the “delicate web of nature”. The idea that any slight perturbation and the whole system could come crashing down. One tiny slithering critter goes extinct, or is just removed from one region, and the shattering consequences ripple through the planetary eco-system and then … something vague and bad and horrible happens. It’s stupid and false, but widely believed by the educated ruling classes of Europe and America.

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  • bioIgnoramus

    When we lived in Australia there was a drive to exterminate hybrid ducks. The Greens weren’t amused to be told that they were behaving like Nazis.

  • pconroy

    Agreed, it’s just plain stupid to re-introduce wolves into cattle ranching areas, and expect them to hunt “wildlife” and not easier prey like domestic cattle, and even humans.

    Another pattern I see is that many Nazi’s started out as idealistic, vegans, who were displeased with industrialization and concerned about the earth and it’s destruction and “pollution”, this then became concern over the pollution of German ethnic blood lines, with horrific consequences. Beware idealists lest they ever come to power!

  • Walter Sobchak

    “Barred owls could get the boot (or a bullet) to save spotted owls” by Matthew Preusch in The Oregonian on December 09, 2009

    “The U.S. government, facing ongoing decline in protected spotted owl numbers, wants to try ridding the woods of some of its bigger and more aggressive cousins, the barred owl. That might mean shooting them, trapping them and moving them out, or some other technique.”

    * * *

    “The bird’s addition to the list of endangered species nearly two decades ago contributed to a collapse in public lands logging. But the owl’s numbers continue to fall. More recently, blame for that has been laid on the barred owl, a larger bird more common in the East that has been moving into Northwest forests.”

    * * *

  • Walter Sobchak

    Pconroy: The cult of racial purity was the core of Nazism from the get go. It derived from 19th century pseudo-science, that was a re-decoration of pre-scientific ideas about “purity of the blood”.

    There is still a remnant of those ideas in horse racing and dog breeding.

    “Liberal Fascism: The Secret History of the American Left, From Mussolini to the Politics of Meaning” by Jonah Goldberg

  • Walter Sobchak

    An update on the Spotted Owl Fiasco:
    “Losing the Owl, Saving the Forest” by Jonathan Raban

    But although the spotted owl is more seriously endangered now than it was in 1990, its old-growth forest habitat is safer, healthier and larger than it was then. So after all, the endangered species listing of the owl has done the job for which it was primarily designed. This isn’t, as it might seem at first glance, a Pyrrhic victory, but a real success story — at least from one side’s point of view.


    I guess it all depends on whose side you are on.


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About Razib Khan

I have degrees in biology and biochemistry, a passion for genetics, history, and philosophy, and shrimp is my favorite food. In relation to nationality I'm a American Northwesterner, in politics I'm a reactionary, and as for religion I have none (I'm an atheist). If you want to know more, see the links at


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