Paludal Dilemma – Real World Ethics

I was listening to an episode of the Radiolab podcast this week called “For the Birds”, and was struck by the story they told.   In short (from their website):

“…When the conservationists showed up at Clarice Gibbs’ door and asked her to take down her bird feeders down for the sake of an endangered bird, she said no. Everybody just figured she was a crazy bird lady. But writer Jon Mooallem went to see her and discovered there was much more to this story…”

The more to this story?  Mrs. Gibbs’ husband had severe Alzheimer’s Disease and the only time he was present was when birds were in the yard and at the feeders.  In the midst of her turmoil, Mrs. Gibbs found moments when she could almost forget everything she was going through – moments when her husband came back to her.

I recommend listening to the episode in full before pondering the questions I’m about to ask:

  1. Where is the point at which the needs of many outweigh the needs of an individual?
  2. Does that change when one side is human and one side isn’t?

There are a number of ways that I can look at this particular story, and each one reminds me how situational ethics truly are:

As someone who believes in the conservation of endangered species, especially those who are endangered due to human intervention, I can take the side of Operation Migration.  They have worked so hard for so long to keep whooping cranes alive and thriving.

As someone who lived through a loved one’s descent into dementia, I can take the side of Mrs. Gibbs.  I would’ve given anything to have my grandmother come back from where her mind trapped her – my heartbreak remains with me now, even though she’s gone.

As someone who believes that sensible laws on the books should be upheld, I can wonder why the focus is on Mrs. Gibbs and her husband instead of on the vandals that are senselessly destroying migratory birds.  Bird feeders in a yard do less physical damage to a bird population than people who kill animals for the joy of destruction.

As someone who feeds birds in her own yard, I can wonder whether Mrs. Gibbs uses seed feeders or suet feeders…and also whether anyone’s spoken to her about providing sources of water instead of seed, and providing suet in winter to keep insect-eating birds around.

So much wondering, and in the end, my point-of-view has little bearing on this specific situation…but it speaks to my thought processes in general.  Which way am I inclined to lean, and why?  What could convince me to choose another way?  Am I as open-minded and ready to hear things that contradict my own opinions as I’d like to be?

In Kemeticism, the “right” path is the one that upholds ma’at.  To be true to this concept, I must look at the situations in which I find myself and try to predict the choice that will best serve.  In FlameKeeping, the “right” choice is one that promotes growth and improvement rather than stagnation.  To be true to this  concept, I must apply action in ways that move the Divine forward; I must look at the connections between myself and other parts of the Divine and choose accordingly.  When these pieces are put together, though, the “right” way may not be ethical when seen from anywhere outside my own head…and this is why I continually refer to ethics being situational and not always “right”.

Which brings me back to the questions I asked about this particular story, although I’d prefer to alter them slightly to address the world at large:

  1. Where is the point at which the needs of many outweigh the needs of an individual?
  2. When does that point change?
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2 responses to “Paludal Dilemma – Real World Ethics

  1. Pingback: Paludal Dilemma – Real World Ethics | The Cauldron: A Pagan Forum

  2. Pingback: Paludal Dilemma – Real World Ethics | TC Test Site

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