Good tidings and well-wishes!
(WARNING: Graphic Content!)
If anyone with a strong stomach hasn’t checked out the latest post on Darren Naish’s “Tetrapod Zoology”, I’d strongly suggest remedying the situation as it contains this most unusual image:
For those of you who may be wondering what exactly is going on in the featured photo, allow me to explain:
It depicts three male mallard ducks in the process of gang-raping a female.
According to one of Darren’s previous articles, “[A]s you’ll know if you’ve spent any time watching ducks, ‘forced extra-pair copulations’ are very common… The Mallard Anas platyrhynchos is the best (or should that be worst?) example of the lot: females are handled so roughly by males (sometimes by groups of as many as 12) that it’s quite common for people to speak of witnessing ‘duck rape’, and forced copulation is a common strategy used by males of this species.”
If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a thousand times: you simply cannot apply human moral ideals to nature and attempting to do so embodies the definition of foolishness. A few weeks ago, I discussed the implications of “Nonmoral Nature”, which is arguably the late, great biologist and paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould’s most evocative essay. Though I had displayed the following quote in my analysis of the piece, I hope that my readership will forgive me for doing so once again, as the sentiment it contains is just as relevant for the purposes of this discussion as it’s ever been.
“[N]ature simply is as we find it. Our failure to discern a universal good does not record any lack of insight or ingenuity, but merely demonstrates that nature contains no moral messages framed in human terms. Morality is a subject for philosophers, theologians, students of the humanities, indeed for all thinking people. The answers will not be read passively from nature; they do not, and cannot, arise from the data of science. The factual state of the world does not teach us how we, with our powers for good and evil, should alter or preserve it in the most ethical manner.”
Having made this point abundantly clear on several occasions, I feel the time has come to examine the infuriating disregard for it sported by an array of laymen, scientists, and world leaders alike.
Consider this: last June, when Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa was asked if the famed big American banks had a right to protest the potential approach of any new regulations on the grounds of monetary loss, he provided the following response:
“Greed is human nature. We shouldn’t blame greed any more than you’d blame gravity when a plane has an accident and goes down.”
It turns out that Grassley was partially right. Examples of greed occurring in nature are almost innumerable, with the dictatorial pecking order utilized by lions and the will to monopolize all available females in several primate species immediately coming to mind ‘ere the arrival of countless similar cases. In fact, the subject serves as the backbone of Richard Dawkins’ celebrated book entitled “The Selfish Gene”, which convincingly argues that egocentrism is, ultimately, the driving force behind evolution itself. Likewise, it’s nearly impossible to contradict the assertion that this most odious of emotions lies near the foundation of our own collective human psyche.
However, it’s fairly safe to assume that neither Mr. Grassley nor virtually anyone with whom he finds himself in agreement in this case have ever heard of what’s known in academic circles as “the appeal to nature”. This concept is a logical fallacy which falls prey to the assumption that something may be cited as good and/or excusable simply because it’s natural. Therefore, according to this school of thought, greed is perfectly acceptable because, at the end of the day, it’s a demonstrably natural phenomenon.
But so is rape.
So too, in fact, are the practices of infanticide, murder, bestiality, and even genocide. However, I strongly suspect that one would be hard-pressed to locate a sane individual who maintains that these actions are to be considered remotely tolerable.
Yet this is precisely the sort of logic which is routinely espoused by political activists on both ends of the spectrum and everywhere in between. Although I fully and vocally support gay rights (as any of my friends and associates can testify), I nevertheless can’t avoid cringing whenever a fellow activist proclaims that ‘homosexuality is perfectly natural’ while, in so doing, assuming that he or she is effectively declaring ‘homosexuality is perfectly ethical‘.
Regardless of one’s personal ideology, such an assertion does not pass for an argument. If you believe that greed is a good thing or that homosexuality is in no way immoral, it’s your duty to explain these opinions to your intellectual adversaries without invoking the appeal to nature.
Ours is a world which, in its untouched state, regularly permits truly atrocious things to occur. The inherent constitution of our universe and that of all it contains is a thing to be respected, examined, and appreciated for the very miracle of its existence and intricacy. But we must never forget this simple, true statement: the way things are is not necessarily the way they ought to be.