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Old 12-09-2009, 11:07 PM   #1
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Default A conversation about species

A few months ago, Mr. Obama (current U.S. president as I write) declared we needed to have a conversation about race. I think a conversation about race is great but I'm willing to go even further. I am declaring the need for a conversation about species! Some of which are in grave danger of extirpation from various states/regions or extinction from the entire planet.

O sure, you think, more bad news which will be given a moment of pause, and then back to business as usual by the corporates. Perhaps, they will make a couple of token donations at best. However, there is something sneaky we can do to begin to load the deck in our conversations about species.

Linguistic relativism holds that our language shapes our ideas. Taken to the extreme (Sapir-Whorf), language can cause behavior. Ok, perhaps that's a little too extreme, but the following examples shed light on the real world effects of language.

In the United States it is perfectly acceptable to do anything we want to cattle. Cattle are basically a commodity like corn. We can milk them, eat them, even wear them. Yes, wear them, as I predict leather is found somewhere in your household. It would not be acceptable to eat dogs in the United States. Why? Because dogs are pets. It would not be acceptable to eat rats. Why? Because rats are vermin. It would not be acceptable to eat horses. Why? Because horses are for riding and can be pet-like as well. However, consider in China rats are commonly eaten. In Korea, dogs are commonly eaten. In France, horses are eaten. They are simply not categorized in those places as they are here.

The categorization is simply made up and the language we use reinforce the arbitrary categorizations. We are blessed and fortunate to have conservation departments in most areas which already have begun to attribute labeling to various species in a positive manner (such as "game animals"). Just having the word "game animal" makes it easier to conceptualize wildlife as having "value", as something that needs reconsideration and preservation. Must people I talk to in MO recognize the importance of game wildlife even if they do not hunt.

To the future: Non-game wildlife. Consider the metaphors involving reptiles: "like a snake", "he slithered away", "crawled off", "he's a snake", "snake oil", "showed her true colors", and so on. The basic idea is that a reptile is untrustworthy, a pretender with dangerous intentions or somehow unsportsman like. We have a rather large list of negative metaphors that involve reptiles, particularly snakes. Isn't it possible we could choose to create a new narrative of these species, with language to match. Perhaps, they are not "unsportsman like" and untrustworthy, but very predictable and wise. Choosing to work "smarter" rather than harder by using a lay-and-wait strategy such as the alligator snapping turtle which uses it's tongue as a fishing lure or the timber rattlesnake which rests it's head against rodent pathways and waits for thermoregulatory or vibration cues to know its prey is coming.

The basic idea is that conservation can be as simple as strategically using conversation. Our language matters, and at the end of the day even changing how we talk can benefit those voiceless creatures whose fate rests now in our hands.
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Old 12-10-2009, 09:58 AM   #2
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Very well said, Midwesternerr. Anthropologists have been talking about race for years and most agree that for the human species races do not exist except as a linguistic concept. Still we have had a whole civil rights movement and how many wars for racial equality or, alternatively, racial extermination?

I recently learned that American Indian dogs were eaten also-- Im not sure about how common the practice was. And several years ago I met a Viet-Nam veteran living off the land -- as he was trained to do in the Special Forces -- looking forward to capturing a river snake for his lunch. I offered a can of tuna, but he preferred the snake!
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Old 12-10-2009, 10:43 AM   #3
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Quote:
Linguistic relativism holds that our language shapes our ideas. Taken to the extreme (Sapir-Whorf), language can cause behavior. Ok, perhaps that's a little too extreme,
This is not too extreme. In fact relativism is frequently employed to shape collective thought which can and has resulted in behavioral changes. PETA attempted to capitalize on linguistic relativism when they launched their sea kittens campaign-
PETA wants to rename fish "sea kittens" | L.A. Unleashed | Los Angeles Times PETA's campaign was modeled after HSA's very successful campaign to prohibit the sale of horsemeat. We underestimate the power of collective wisdom.
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Old 12-10-2009, 03:20 PM   #4
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Another example: Dr. Phil - yesterday I think - was talking about the issues parents have with raising 'problem' children. The particular issue was labeling the teen girls with "bipolar disorder". He said the problem of labeling children is that their teachers, their peers, and they themselves will look for the definitions and then model that behavior. They become the label.

Probably happens in teen-age kids a lot more than we think.

So what sort of strategy do you propose, Midwesternerr?

Personally I would like to learn more about the ecological activity of endangered species. I am interested in environmental drivers that lead to species decline. We are targeting climate change -- but surely it is not as simple as that.
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Old 12-11-2009, 09:16 PM   #5
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Well, I think conservation departments have already begun the process. "Non-game" wildlife and the regulatory codes for them starts to create a language whereby we associate their importance. If something is regulated, then it must be important. Whereas "vermin" or "pest" carries a more negative connotation that is associated with needing eradication. It would be easy enough to bring a copy of the state's wildlife code for non-game wildlife to a boy scout meeting or something and point out how the state is implementing rules to help preserve these species.

It would also be preferable to see metaphors associated with the positive traits of reptiles rather than always having them associated with cowardly humans, used car salesmen, and untrustworthiness.

I believe habitat destruction is still the primary threat to most wildlife populations. Many species cannot survive in tiny pockets of habitat for any length of time. There is a journal article by Owen Sexton which documents that changes that occurred post flooding of a (I think 900 acre) island of habitat. Bottom line is some species were too depleted to recover and without sufficient corridors, they never repopulated. There are also issues with gene flow, which is an important component of genetic variation as random mutations within an isolated population alone are not sufficient to prevent erosion. That's really an issue above my head, but that's what I'm reading anyway!

For children: I think George Herbet Mead (or something like that) was a big name is symbolic interactionism... basically out of that school of thought came social constructivism, labeling theories, etc ..... that we internalize labels people give us and form our self-concept based partially on how people interact with us. One of the terms "looking glass self" means that we see ourselves through others, but there's a lot of language issues that come up with that too. Some labels carry positive connotations while others carry positive ones. Sometimes these are arbitrary as well. I imagine we all know someone quiet bright who has decided he is a loser. Geee, I wonder where someone could get an idea like that! Amazingly, the law requires more training to drive a motorcycle than to raise a child.
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Old 12-12-2009, 12:30 PM   #6
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Jabberwocky - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

I remember in Philosophy class, Lewis Carrol was taught right along with Sapir/Whorf.

“'Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.

"Beware the Jabberwock, my son!
The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!
Beware the Jubjub bird, and shun
The frumious Bandersnatch!"

He took his vorpal sword in hand:
Long time the manxome foe he sought—
So rested he by the Tumtum tree,
And stood awhile in thought.

And as in uffish thought he stood,
The Jabberwock, with eyes of flame,
Came whiffling through the tulgey wood,
And burbled as it came!

One, two! One, two! and through and through
The vorpal blade went snicker-snack!
He left it dead, and with its head
He went galumphing back.

"And hast thou slain the Jabberwock?
Come to my arms, my beamish boy!
O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!"
He chortled in his joy.

'Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.
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Old 12-12-2009, 12:38 PM   #7
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Lewis Carroll

Quote:
'When I use a word,' Humpty Dumpty said in a rather scornful tone, 'it means just what I choose it to mean - neither more nor less.' -- Lewis Carroll, Through the Looking-Glass


The humpty dumpty rule.

I once had a conference with the local extention agent for suggestions as to what I could do about workers who were bludgeoning any snake they saw on the State property that I managed. The local agricultural university (Auburn U.) had just announced that King Snakes in Alabama were becoming extinct from being killed indiscriminately by farm and other outdoor workers. The king snake is an important predator of some other really poisonous snakes here.

The local agent said, I must say if I see a snake of any kind, I kill it.

This idea that a snake should be killed is really deeply ingrained here -- and when I insisted snakes would not be killed on property under my management I was only reported as an irrational manager.
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Old 12-12-2009, 06:19 PM   #8
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"I was only reported as an irrational manager." %#*_#^&*^%$&())^##^%$$#*
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