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a froggy (faulty) comparison

June 4, 2010

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about the value of life — not just human life, but life in general — and it all started with a casual status update that had to do with a pool full of frogs. Someone jokingly mentioned poison, and another agreed, saying something about there being “enough frogs in the world.” I countered that it can be argued there are more than enough people in this world and asked if poison was a good solution for that too.

Of course, I realize they were just kidding, and I was being hyperbolic; but even so, I still think it’s a valid point. From my point of view, a frog and a human are both living beings, and even in jest, I find the idea of euthanizing frogs simply because they’re numerous troubling. Not only that, but I think the notion that our lives are inherently worth more should be challenged as well.

I imagine most people might see it differently, but I fail to see how a human life is objectively more valuable or important than the life of any other kind of living creature. Certainly we differ from other animals in a variety of ways — from our ability to produce things, especially our means of subsistence, to our levels of culture and communication — but that doesn’t mean our lives are worth more in some universally objective sense.

In fact, I’d argue that the idea human beings are more important than other animals is an arbitrary and human-centric position, and in the grand scheme of things, the overpopulation of humans is more of a danger to the planet than the overpopulation of frogs. As far as I’m aware, there have been no recorded cases of frog-caused extinctions, but there have been a number of human-caused extinctions, many of them due to destruction of habitat and overhunting.

Subjectively speaking, I can see how the idea that the life of a human is equally as valuable as that of any other species simply because they’re both living organisms may seem ridiculous. But the fact that most living creatures share a rudimentary desire to be free from pain (the highest pleasure in the Epicurean sense) makes it hard for me not to be empathetic towards all living creatures and respect them as much as possible. It’s not that I think frogs or other animals are on the same ‘playing field’ with people, but I do think their lives are equally valuable simply for the sake of being alive (which is a bit of a tautology I suppose).

Don’t get me wrong, I understand that all living things must consume/feed in order to survive, and some are dangerous and survival instincts almost always trump empathy. But the more I see that other animals are just as capable of feeling pain as we are, and considering our superior level of intellect and our ability to change and shape the environment, I’ve come to see our role on this planet differently. We’ve essentially become the caretakers of this planet and all the life on it, and our responsibility has transcended our position on the food chain.

In the past, we’ve failed to realize how much impact we actually have on the environment and it’s been a costly mistake, not only in terms of environmental degradation but species extinction as well. Of course, I’m not talking about some frogs in a pool now, but the general attitude that we as a species have towards nature.

Sadly, it seems to be far easier for us to destroy what we consider to be a nuisance and ‘lower’ forms of life (i.e., everything else) than it is to respect them and treat them as if they also have a right to live alongside us. Many people think this is only natural, and in a sense they’re right, but it’s my hope that we’ll eventually develop a less human-centric view—one that takes the lives of other creatures more into consideration.

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One Comment
  1. An interesting and valid view to challenge; and quite well spoken. 🙂

    My thought is that we can only make distinctions from a self-centered perspective. In an absolute sense there are only complex organisms of varying stages of evolutionary progress. If these 'aggregates', acting together, also act in harmony with all other life then such questions or problems would never arise.

    We do not know if there is a goal to life, or if the goal is simply change. Humans perceive or create goals for themselves, but these are born of a sense of self and the attempt to find/grasp/maintain permanence in an impermanent reality.

    It's definitely something interesting to think about. We may know this for ourselves in time, but as to the human species…..

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