It bugs me because at best I don’t like contrarians and at worst feel something close to contempt for them. By ‘contrarians’ I don’t mean people who sincerely hold an opposing point of view but people who do so merely to stand out from the crowd - the names A.N. Wilson and Stephen Fry spring to mind (and sorry, dear Johnny Foreigner if you haven’t a clue who they are). But it also bugs me because it simply isn’t true (or better: it isn’t true as far as I am aware and I shall be mortified if, against all my expectations, I am given conclusive proof that it is true).
When I voice an opinion which goes against the tide, it is because that is my opinion. It is not because, as my brother and sister claim, because for some stupid reason I want to stand out from the crowd, want to be thought as remarkably different or quite simply I am some kind of sad attention-seeker (although let me again add, by way of figuratively touching wood, I bloody well hope not).
Now you who is reading this who must make up his or her mind as to who to believe have absolutely no other way of judging the matter: do I say things just to stand out from the crowd or do I say them because, for better or worse that’s what I believe? And I am obliged to tell you now that despite my vociferous denials, my brother and sister would not be swayed: they insist that I am quite simply a silly contrarian who disagrees with the majority simply to stand out from the crowd. Oh, well, there’s not a lot I can do about that.
Where all three of us can agree, though, is that I quite often do disagree with majority opinion. And on one matter you reading this might well conclude that my brother and sister are quite right: that I simply like to cut a dash by holding minority views. That matter is conservation and all the hoopla and rigmarole which goes with.
The problem - and, in view of the above, my difficulty - is that conservation is such an important shibboleth of the modern age and of modern liberal thinking, and championing conservation is so keenly regarded as pretty much a defining characteristic of the modern man that even to doubt that it is worthwhile would strike many as not just perverse, but quite possibly wilfully perverse. It’s as though in all seriousness someone were to question the habit and benefits of wiping your bottom after taking a crap and suggest they it is a horribly overrated practice and quite simply unnecessary. In other words anyone suggesting that conservation is not necessarily A Damn Good Thing (and I can almost here the latter-day completion of that claim ‘... To Save The Planet) is nothing but a very sad and self-regarding contrarian looking to make his or her mark.
Well, if that’s your view, fair enough. But I’ll repeat for those at the back: I still can’t quite get my head around the modern notion of conservation in the form it takes and, crucially, I dislike a great deal of the double-think which surrounds it. And, quite possibly to compound such an inexcusable moral and ethical faux pas, I have long thought that conservation is rather less about ensuring various forms of wildlife are not made extinct and a great deal more about Homo Liberalensis basking in a little more of the glory he instinctively thinks is his due.
My doubts about exactly who is kidding whom about conservation occurred to me again yesterday - for about the umpteenth time - when I happened to find myself watching on TV one of those staples of afternoon gogglebox, the wildlife show. It was one of those shows which catches your eye with exceptionally good wildlife photography and an increasingly inane and sentimental commentary, and before you know it, it’s time to pull curtains and decide how to waste the rest of the day. This one was about it five mountain lions in Wyoming who - don’t you know it - had been orphaned and were each struggling to survive.
A team of conversationists had become aware of their plight when they were still very young - they are known as ‘kittens’ and would all win an Oscar for looking cute - and decided to follow their fortunes to see how they would get on. Each was fitted with a tracking device and then released to make their way on their own. Because they had been orphaned, none of the five had been taught by their mother the kind of skills they would need to make their own way in the world, for example how to hunt, and the team of conservationists wanted to discover how they would fare.
It was all very interesting and not one cynical thought crossed my mind until there was mention that in that part of Wyoming the population of mountain lions was ‘declining alarmingly’. And why was this? Well, we were told, it was because ‘wolves
Just spotted: some bastard contrarian who thinks conservation is pretty much a load of self-deluding crap
And there, dear reader, was yet another example of the double-think which seems to permeate so much of our thought: wolves were re-introduced to the wild? Why? Well, because they had once been indigenous to the area but their population had ‘declined alarmingly’ because of human activity. So where’s the double-think, I hear you asking? Aren’t you getting your knickers in a twist about nothing? Well, it’s this: we are up in arms because ‘human activity’ is interfering with the ability of various wildlife to survive and impacting on their environment, leading to a ‘alarmingly decline’ in their numbers. And what is the solution? Why, even more human activity and even more interference. In this case it is the ‘re-introduction into the wild’ of wolves because their numbers have ‘declined alarmingly’. Surely, I hear you ask, this is a Good Thing? Well, is it? You tell me. Does it really make sense if the effect of this apparently saintly and caring re-introduction of wolves is an ‘alarming decline’ in the numbers of local mountain lions?
Such ‘re-introduction’ of various forms of wildlife continues everywhere: just here in Britain lynx, sea eagles, beavers and wolves have been re-introduced to Scotland - the buzzword is ‘rewilding’ which admittedly does make it sound sexier - and there’s even talk of ‘rewilding’ bears. To be fair, even those involved in widlife do have their concerns - here you can find reaction to the rewilding of sea eagles - but generally speaking ‘rewilding’ is regarded as a Good Thing, and any cunt (such as me) who dares to question it is at miserable bastard or, at worst, anti-progress.
A further aspect of what I regard as double-think by the conservation movement is that generally the cuter to animal in danger of extinction, the greater its chances of some caring herbert setting about rewilding it. Conversely, if you score rather lowly on the cutey-cute scales, you can kiss goodbye to existing anywhere except in, perhaps, a zoo (which, by they way, I loathe, but my rant against how inhumane zoos are must wait for another time).
So I haven’t yet heard mention of any plans to rewild the Tasmanian Devil, pug-ugly if ever an animal were pug-ugly. And how about hyenas? Their numbers are also declining, but I’ve have yet to see a collection tin anywhere exhorting us to Save
Save this ugly bastard? You are joking, surely!
Certainly, they look cute in photographs, and which cat lover hasn’t at some point or other seen a picture of a tiger and though ‘ah, must be so great to stroke that tiger. Ah’. Well, it would be the last time you stroked anything if you were given half the chance. And were it to enter your head to cuddle up to a bear or wolf, that would most certainly be the last thing in this world you would cuddle up to.
Furthermore, anyone who comes into proximity with any wild animal (or even, as I do, farm animals as my brother-in-law is a beef farmer and I have, on one or two occasions, helped out in some way) will know that as a rule they stink to high heaven and when stroked leave all kinds of shit on your hands. As for beavers, sea eagles and lynx...
The concern I mention - and here are more thoughts on rewilding and why it might have downsides - at least had the good grace and honesty to consider rewilding from both points of view, and for that it deserves credit. But for me the final, and darkest, irony of the whole conservation industry - and there’s certainly a great deal of money to be made producing wildlife films reminding us what complete bastards we are to all those dumb animals - is that our conviction that we must remain in control the whole time: our relationship with wildlife is utterly one-sided.
Let me try to explain: on, for example, the issue of foxhunting, I am firmly in the ‘I don’t give a fuck either way’ camp. Both sides are very much inclined to talk bollocks to push their agenda: the hunters in general claim that they are only hunting to keep fox numbers down; and the ‘sabs’ get het up because of the cruelty involved. Both claims are thoroughly dishonest: there are far greater dangers in the countryside than foxes and far more humane ways of controlling their numbers. And as for the sabs, I would be more impressed with their bona fide and concerns about cruelty if they didn’t behave in rather cruel ways towards the horses ridden by hunters and would be a little more sympathetic to their views if some of them weren’t inclined to threaten hunters with death.
Finally, of course, in the list of Evils The World Faces, foxhunting can be found at the bottom of page 29. But what I cannot deny is that pretty much all forms of hunting are utterly one-sided: if the hunter, whether some cunt in a pink jacket on a horse or some fat Yank with a high-powered shotgun, were in just as much danger as their quarry of losing their lives then the hunt would at least be equitable. But, of course, he’s not. The hunter will spend the evening boasting of his ‘courage’. The quarry will spend the evening in bits if it was a fox or being roasted on s spit. The hunter in danger of losing his life? Not a chance, unless he's a complete idiot and shoots himself or is shot by one of his hunting compadres (I think that is the jargon). And that is the crux of the debate on hunting and, more broadly, at the essence of the zeal for conservation: at every turn we, humans, mankind, call us what you will, are not only in charge, but would not countenance any situation where we weren’t in charge.
Rather like a secular god, conservationists the world over are deciding what species should or should not exist. For example, every attempt is being made to exterminate mosquitoes wherever they are found because of the diseases they are partly responsible for (partly responsible because they are carriers, not causes). And amen to that: lives are being saved. It’s a similar story with rats and rabbits: get rid of the fuckers, they are a pest and carry disease. But when we get to the ‘noble’ lion, wolves, bears, tigers, bears, lynx, sea eagles and every other we decide that it is a Good Thing that they should be rewilded, re-introduced. Why? Well, I have yet to hear an argument for rewilding which is not distressingly circular. But it rarely gets even to the stage where rewilding can be questioned in civilised society: deny that it is absolutely necessary and you are regarded as very odd indeed. Try it.