Thursday, June 19, 2008

Animals Must 'Pay Their Way' (1926)

It is astonishing how many predictions of the early 20th century assumed animals (that is, all animals) would eventually be extinct simply because they were not needed by humans. A piece by John Elfreth Watkins, Jr. in the December, 1900 Ladies Home Journal predicted that there would be, "no wild animals except in menageries."

The article above, from the November 11, 1926 Galveston Daily News (Galveston, TX), operated under similar assumptions. Titled, "To Find Some Use For Every Wild Animal," the piece assumed that in the future animals would have to justify their existence by proving their usefulness to humankind. That's a far cry from today when we're trying to save polar bears, which everyone knows are lazy and deceitful. I mean really, what has a polar bear done for you lately?
[Scientists] predict that the day will come when the wild creatures of the earth will have to pay their way or become as extinct as many forms of animal life have in the dim distances of the past.

Unless an animal can contribute something definite to human life - food to be eaten, clothes to be worn, labor to lighten the burden of man - then his doom is sealed and the last of his tribe will one day pass out of the picture.

See also:
What May Happen in the Next Hundred Years (Ladies Home Journal, 1900)
Animals of 2076 (1977)
Animal Food Abandoned (The Anaconda Standard, 1914)
French Prints Show Year 2000 (circa 1910)


Dan said...

I like that they have the chimp labeled as a monkey. It goes to show that a lot of thought went into the enslavement of animals :D

Anonymous said...

I like to think this notion may have "evolved" somewhat, though more out of practical limitations on what we can do than on any respect for fellow creatures. In the 1970s, the U.S. Navy experimented with using dolphins to deliver explosives underwater, and science fiction imagined artificially augmented "superchimps"; David Brin's "Uplift War" novels imagine humans helping chimps and dolphins develop full technological competence. (Nice to think even we might have that someday. Maybe we'd grow up.)

Anonymous said...

The very notion that animals have to justify their existance to us noble, superior humans is very depressing. I'm often sad that many of paleo-tomorrow's inventions or predictions have not come to pass. This one, I'm thankful that the majority of peoples attitudes have evolved, so that animals don't have to.

Mark R. Brown said...

It's good we didn't completely buy into this idea. I mean, most PEOPLE can't justify their continued existence based on their usefulnes

Anonymous said...

To a large extent this idea is still pervasive. "Why should I lose my job to protect a spotted owl?" However the environmental preservation community has been able to show that species have "value" because the survival of a species is dependent on preserving its ecosystem -- and that if ecosystems (watersheds, forests, what have you) aren't preserved, then human society itself can be harmed (droughts, floods, erosion, etc.).

Another successful variant in the last 10 or 20 years has been identifying how so many species -- even the lowliest most obscure bug -- can contain some protein or enzyme or neurotoxin that turns out to be quite helpful to humans. Hence, preserving these species (and their ecosystems) becomes a value-based decision.

Cory Gross said...

Wutzke beat me to it... We still do largely base right of wildlife to exist based on economic indicators. The change is happening, but in our kind of system, ultimately the only indicators considered valid are economic. Presumably they're the most "objective" and "democratic", not considering the conflicting vaguries of moral, spiritual and assigned "intrinsic" values.

For the most part we are content to relegate wildlife to menageries. They're called national parks, wildlife reserves, or in lesser cases, zoos. Unfortunately even those menageries can be violated when the pesky wildlife gets in the way of economic growth and resource exploitation (see: Alaska). We generally consider wildlife's right to exist unto themselves forfeit and they have to prove some use for us (undiscovered medication, etc.) to take deliberate and involiable efforts to preserve them.

But as Mark hinted, we have the same view of people. Your worth is your ability to produce wealth for others, first by your work and then by your spending. Only half a step up from wildlife are indigenous peoples, and only a half-step up from them are the developing nations, and only a half-step up from them are our own homeless. Other people's right to exist is weighed by their usefulness to us.

This is a case where I'd say that the prediction was pretty close to being on.

Ha said...

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Will Doohan said...

We will probably make ourselves extinct before we kill off all the animals. And even if there were a 90% extinction, the Earth has gone thru that before and would probably bounce back with new, and weirder life forms. Like Land octupuses. :-D