The subject of wolf recovery in North America sparks heated controversy, both for and against. This paper explores how this subject is informed by cosmopolitan worldviews. These worldviews pull nature and culture into a common orbit of ethical meaning, with implications for the normative relationships that ought to pertain in landscapes shared by people and wolves. This theoretical outlook is illustrated using the controversy over wolves in the northeastern region of the United States. I conclude with a set of reflections on theorizing the cosmopolis, the interpretation of cosmopolitan landscapes, and living with cosmopolitan wolves.
Wolves have a special resonance in many human cultures. To appreciate fully the wide variety of views on wolves, we must attend to the scientific, social, and ethical discourses that frame our understanding of wolves themselves, as well as their relationships with people and the natural world. These discourses are a configuration of ideas, language, actions, and institutions that enable or constrain our individual and collective agency with respect to wolves. Scientific discourse is frequently privileged when it comes to wolves, on the assumption that the primary knowledge requirements are matters of ecology, cognitive ethology, and allied disciplines. Social discourse about wolves implicitly challenges this privilege and provides a rich array of social perspectives on human-wolf relations. Ethical discourse has until recently lagged behind the other two. So too, ethicists are increasingly challenging the adequacy of scientific and social discourse. They do so by calling attention to the value-laden character of all discourse, and the unavoidable ethical questions that confront us as we learn to share the landscape with large predators like wolves.
Ethics reviews are not part of environmental policy or wildlife management in the United States. This changed when, for the first time, the US Fish and Wildlife Service conducted such a review with respect to the barred and northern spotted owls. Spotted owls are endangered throughout their range by a variety of anthropogenic and natural forces. The interspecific competition between barred and spotted owls is a key factor second only to habitat destruction. A proposed lethal experiment to remove barred owls raised ethical concerns among wildlife agencies, citizens, and advocacy groups. Seeking to better understand these concerns, the Service created the Barred Owl Stakeholder Group. Using an innovative method and instrument in the form of an ethics-based policy dialogue and an ethics brief, the stakeholder group explored the ethical dimensions of the removal experiment. This process holds lessons for how public policy can bring ethics to bear on wild lives.
This study examines the cognitive resources underlying the attribution of stigma in substance use and misuse. A cultural model of substance misuse risk was elicited from students at a major U.S. state university. We found a contested cultural model, with some respondents adopting a model of medical risk while others adopted a model of moral failure; agreeing that moral failure primarily defined risk led to greater attribution of stigma. Here we incorporate general beliefs about moral decision-making, assessed through Moral Foundations Theory. Specifically, we examined commitment to each moral foundation in relation to stigma attribution while controlling for the specific model of substance misuse risk. We found an interaction between the purity moral foundation and the cultural model of risk. This suggests that broad moral orientations, along with more specific understandings of substance misuse risk, combine to orient an individual with respect to stigma attribution.