They are not us, so let's use them up.

500,000 sharks may be killed for the contents of their liver - squalene. It will be used to help create a vaccine for the coronavirus.

The magnitude of this organ harvest sets one on the back foot, but it only clarifies an almost universal humanist perspective: other things die so that we may live. Of course it is true that life feeds upon life, and that all carnivores eat their prey to survive. But it is only one species of Great Ape that has been able to leverage its instincts for survival so well that we now have the ability to wipe out a Kansas city of sharks so that our brightest minds can create a drug that will allow us to continue our destruction with less anxiety about a virus caused in part by harvesting animals.

The belief in human supremacy does have a biological root - every population seeks its own advantage, be it tribe, nation or species. We are cognisant however, that our behaviour in this regard is "unsustainable" - a quaint word for an apocalypse wrought on every species we could get our hands on once we figured out farming and the human population exploded and migrated globally. From millions of sapiens 10,000 years ago to billions now, there are twice as many of us in 2020 compared to the year I was born, and the carbon footprint of a modern-living human producing two offspring is 40 times that of one who does not procreate. Children have more children, eventually.

Human supremacy also has an ideological root - it is called "The Soul". For the religious, it is that special part of you other animals don't have that will survive forever. For those that have cast off parochial superstition, it is "Listening to your Heart" it is "Human Rights", it allows the use and destruction by law of everything that isn't us.

I may sound a bit down on humans here. A relatively small number of gifted humans created technologies more powerful than our collective wisdom could control. This was unforeseen. The prayer-wheel of "I must survive" has been steamrolling for a long time with greater momentum (which is why we are here), but there are few asking the question "how many of us is enough?". We feel it is a human right (a right bestowed by humans, to humans) to go on producing more - 8 billion, 10 billion, and to strive through medical advancements for each of these billions to live longer and longer lives, perhaps never to die. We have not yet collectively developed the internal resources of responsibility-taking and honesty to look this problem in the face. If there were 8 billion goats browsing the planet naked we could identify the problem and still love goats. Population size isn't the only dimension in which we could act, of course. Each of us has a perspective on what part of the planetary collapse we are witnessing is the most important, but it is one we can consider and actually enact as we plan our lives that will have profound impact on those of every species who'll be left when we are gone.

I suppose each of us has a line in the sand somewhere. Mine seems to be, strangely, sharks. I don't think my life is actually worth more than a shark's, and certainly I am much more hypocritical in my actual behavior and dietary choices than a shark could ever hope to be, discounting my perceived value all the more. You might ask yourself exactly how many sharks is your life worth - is it worth all sharks? If we could interview the sharks, I'm sure they'd have a different perspective on the right number, but we can't ask them so we'll take their silence as consent, as we have done historically with every other species that got in our way. Will we take a moment to thank the sharks for helping clear the way for the next necessary species-level organ harvest? I wonder.

On the other hand sharks are predators too, and even prey upon humans, roughly 16 times per year. It must be remembered that this seemingly small number, when compared to 1.3 million human deaths due to motor vehicle accidents alone worldwide, is not accidental. These man-eating sharks intended to kill us 16 times annually. Those 1.3 million other deaths were caused simply by a lack of attention in most cases, and not by actually brandishing a gun and killing another driver while driving (only 620 in the U.S. in 2016). We have the right get a license, drive a car and potentially kill people when we are tired or drunk or angry. Sharks don't.

Sarcasm aside, the key feature here to notice is the unvetted intuition that we deserve more. That the suffering of other species is a cost that must be paid, however unfortunate, for our continued survival. The truth is, our survival as a species as well as our psychological health would be better served by doing a few things to govern our impact on the world we depend upon, rather than by plundering it further. The root of this advocacy lives in you and me as an intuition of basic decency - remove "human" - that drives action, not a signal to others of our virtue - which is a changeable and weak driver of action. When we begin to collectively act from this place, the human world might change. Until then, it's not safe in the oceans for sharks, and if we use them up, whoever is next.


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