The Protectionworthiness of the Cuddly

Facebook is swamped with pictures of cats at shelters that face imminent euthanasia. Meanwhile, the World Wildlife Fund has an ad on the Tradera auction site that says "Soft, Orange and Homeless" and invites me to support orangutan shelters.

There's a reason that these campaigns don't feature fish or lizards. And that reason is that cats and young orangutans happen to be cuddly and the size of human babies. But disregarding our parental reflexes, there is no more (or less) reason to mourn a dead cat than the chicken you had for dinner yesterday.

But I'm willing to believe that an orangutan is sentient or smart enough to fall under the same rules that declare a human life sacred. And so, probably, are dolphins, octopuses and certain parrots. This is a dangerous argument though, because it removes the duty to care for severely mentally retarded humans.

Pragmatically, if you want to collect funds for orangutan shelters, it's probably a good idea to appeal to our baby protection programming rather than our intellects. But really, if it was a question of rational argument in the competition against other endangered species that need support, it would have been better if the WWF had written "This young orangutan is smarter than you were at that age".

I really don't know why the PR firm thinks the colour orange makes you more deserving of protection though.

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I always have trouble with the people who will happily eat cows and sheep and pigs but not gerbils or dogs or guinea pigs. I've know lots of charming cows.

Do you regard this reasoning as conclusions from your own subjective premises or some kind of more general valid "objective" rational conclusion? I think it is the former but I get the impression it is the latter.

I meant for the last sentence:
I think it is the former but I get the impression you think it is the latter.

A selection by brainpower is at least a rational form of selection, but the WWF is surely after attempting to protect not the orangutans specifically, but the Indonesian forests that are being felled around them. The orangutans are a sensible choice of poster child for an effort to save an ecosphere. With no environment, their brainpower will cease to matter before long.

By Jonathan Jarrett (not verified) on 23 Sep 2012 #permalink