Thursday, August 7, 2003

1. Every life is worth our efforts

The inspiration of The Starfish Poem is easily understood- that one needs not to save the world in order to make a difference or perhaps even more simply stated- "every little bit matters." However, from an ethical, anthropocentric perspective it could mean that every individual life matters, at least to that individual. The poem begins with a wise man walking along the beach and noticing a young man "reaching down to the shore, picking up something and very gently throwing it into the ocean." It continues:

As he got closer he called out,
"Good morning! What are you doing?"
The young man paused,
looked up and replied,
"Throwing starfish in the ocean."
I guess I should have asked,
why are you throwing starfish in the ocean?"
"The sun is up and the tide is going out.
And if I don't throw them in they'll die."
"But, young man, don't you realize that
there are miles and miles of beach
and starfish all along it.
You can't possibly make a difference!"
The young man listened politely.
Then bent down, picked up another starfish
and threw it into the sea,
past the breaking waves and said-
"It made a difference for that one."

Probing deeper into the ethical side of this poem, that every individual life matters, draws into question one of America's favorite family activities- visiting the zoo. While zoos have implemented many commendable and credible educational programs, they, by in large, remain as entertainment and, harshly stated, as a form of imprisonment for the animals they harbor.

Educationally, zoos detail animal natural habitats, social characteristics and where the animals are naturally found. In addition, zoos have promoted to protect endangered species with their rescue and breeding programs. Zoos also strive to inform the public as to the sensitivity of many species in relation to human activity- such as rainforest destruction and human overpopulation. These are important issues that the general public rarely thinks about except when visiting the zoos.

Zoos have made great progress in animal living conditions, as best they can, by creating a living environment similar to what these animals may have encountered in the wild. However, many remain in very confined spaces or cages. And while many have had their habitats recreated, they still don't get to experience life as they would in the wild. They don't have to search for there own food. They don't have the social environment that for many species exists naturally in the wild. They don't have reproductive freedom. Captivity acts against all their natural instincts. In the popular movie, Jurassic Park, the scientist notes upon seeing a dinosaur being fed a goat, "They don't want to be fed, they want to hunt."

The argument against this, of course, is that they are well provided for, they live a long time and that they live without the danger of being hurt or killed. True as this may be, are they really living? What is life without the experiences that are instinctual to it- even if those experiences are not always favorable? Another argument is that these animals are suffering for the well being of their species. By educating humans, they may make things better for their relatives, that their individual sacrifice will save the rainforest and make humans more responsible. As admirable of a case that this might be, most regard the zoo as entertainment- a place to take the kids on a nice summer day.

Whether or not zoos do more good than harm is not necessarily the question. It is of the ethical belief that every individual matters, as suggested in The Starfish Poem, that we are forced to conclude that zoos clearly infringe on this poetic theme. Zoos, and society's support of them, have decided that it doesn't matter to that one.

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