Oryx and Crake through the Prism of Environmental Ethics essay

The development of science and technologies increased both human abilities to change the world and the responsibility of humans for that. It is unclear what may appear as the consequences of the further development of biotechnologies and other close branches of the global science and technics. One of the best ways to assume that is the scientific fiction. Margaret Atwood in her dystopian book Oryx and Crake tries to demonstrate the possible consequences of the environmental ethics’ problems neglecting. Thus, she describes the post-apocalyptic world where the main character communicates with the so-called ‘Crakers’, the genetically engineered creatures that resemble some kind of humans.  The world described by Atwood is the result of the main character friend’s intention to change the human race in accordance to his own design. Thus, the novel provides the possible image of the future of the today’s world that also mostly intends to abuse the nature and change it in accordance with some personal or social demands. Besides, it is important that the main idea of the novel in the key of environmental ethics is that there is no real border between people and nature. In this way, environmental ethics provides the prism through which the strong interrelation between people and the environment clearly presupposes the ethical behavior toward the world.


1. The book Oryx and Crake demonstrates the human society destroyed because of one scientist’s intention to create a new race of people. Through the biocentric point of view, such position is absurd because it is necessary to respect life in all of its aspects in order to coexist with other creatures in harmony. Besides, the traditional view on the issue is based on the fundamentals that treat the whole world as inferior to humans, especially to the representatives of the Western civilization. Thus, the novel demonstrates the consequences of uncritical anthropocentrism that should be criticized by the environmental ethics. In contrast to anthropocentrism, biocentrism understands all living creatures as equally deserving respect to their ‘interests’. Thus, from the position of biocentrism, the main problem of Oryx and Crake is the inability of anthropocentric scientists to understand that their lack of respect to other living creatures finally leads to the lack of respect to humans.

2. The general position concerning nature presupposes different forms of human behavior towards it, as well as constitutes the ethical obligations towards other living creatures. Thus, the position promoted by the environmental ethics constitutes the supreme respect to life in all its forms, which is the very core of ethics. In fact, the problem here concerns the question of the definition of life itself. Thus, for example, this thinker tries to demonstrate that plants and other natural objects are as well-organized ecosystems as humans and the only difference is the level of these ecosystems’ organization. In this way, Holmes Rolston III generally appeals to the qualities of objects, and tries to show that the natural objects deserve the same respect as social objects of ethical behavior (people). The problems of this notion directly concerns the ethical issues because in fact it allows distinguish where the ethical norms should work and where they have no use. In connection with the problems stated by Holmes Rolston III, the environmental ethics should primarily resolve the problem of the difference between nature and culture as well as between nature and society. Understanding of nature as a result of social construction as Peterson proposes, allows one to see the connections between the attitude toward nature and social behavior toward natural world. For example, when the dominant position concerning nature is the inferiority of the latter contraposed to the rational world of people, this chauvinist point of view leads to the justification of nature’s abuse by human civilization.

At the same time, the problem here concerns the difference between artificial and natural worlds: in other words, the way to divide these spheres presupposes the ethical concern to both of them. People usually tend to distinguish artificial from natural through their ability to control the appearance and development of an object. Thus, those objects created by people are artificial (for example, technologies and so on), and they can not be the objects of ethical attitude, when the objects that exist independently from human will (other creatures and so on) have their own interests that should deserve respect. Besides, here is the problem with the living objects transformed or created with the help of biogenetic technologies. For example, the representatives of the race of ‘Crakers’ created genetically by Crake in Atwood’s novel possess their own interests, but at the same time they are the results of human transformation of natural world, and in this way they belong both to artificial and natural worlds. This problem makes difficult ethical relations with such kind of creatures and that means the need of development of ethics in accordance with the new challenges.

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3. The way to distinguish what is life constitutes the main fundamental position of biocentrism. It is possible to underline as the main characteristics of life the abilities to moving, reproduction, feeding, cell constitution and many other less important qualities. The main problem here is that through the anthropocentric position, the belonging to living nature is not enough reason for any respect and ethical behavior. Anthropocentrism in its core is based on the opposition between the world of reason (civilization) and the world of matter (nature). Thus, as long as only people possess reason, they consider that they have the right to abuse other creatures. This problem becomes the main motive of Oryx and Crake. Besides, through the text, the author brilliantly demonstrates that this opposition is false because it is grounded only on the superb point of view shared by the civilization that both neglects its belonging to the ‘world of nature’ and denies the belonging of nature to the ‘world of reason’. Certainly, the challenge is that humans can not communicate with other creatures in order to realize their interests and effectively coexist in the future. Besides, that only means that, as Cheney and Weston claim, the human behavior towards nature has to be regulated by some kind of “environmental etiquette”. The difference is that the classical ethics presupposes the interrelation between equally reasonable humans who share responsibility, when in the case of interrelation with other creatures all the responsibility is carried by humans only. In this way, humans should respect the interests of other creatures regardless their rational essence, behaving ethically and responsibly.

4. Science serves as one of the best instruments of the ideology of chauvinistic anthropocentrism because science provides both ways to change physical reality through technologies, and interpretations to justify and explain such activity. Thus, the worldview position that overcomes the dualism of nature and culture, and interprets both through the prism of social construction, presuppose respectful behavior toward ‘nature’. In this aspect, environmental ethics provides a possibility to understand reality through much wider perspective that takes into account not only the ‘interests’ of rational human beings, but tends to respect all the living creatures despite of their rationality or complexity. The role of science and technologies in their relations with nature and society is metaphorically described in Oryx and Crake through the relations between Oryx and Crake, and Jimmy and Crake. On the right hand, it is clear from the book that Crake and Oryx personify the civilization of technologies and nature respectively. Crake abuses at the same time nature and Oryx, and he finally kills Oryx as well as totally transforms the Earth and kills all people. The feminist discourse is clear through the author’s appellation to the quotation from the text by Virginia Woolf in the book’s epigraph. In such a way, the abuse of Oryx means the abuse of the whole Earth traditionally personified by feminine images. This aspect of the text by Atwood underlines the unity of environmental ethics and of classical ethics because of the connections between the abuse of females and nature that has the same root.

It is also clear that two main characters of the novel embody the scientists who change the world in accordance to their design, and average people who face these changes and take the responsibility for the adaptation of the transformed world to nature in general. Atwood underlines that “Crake was top of the class”, when “Jimmy… was a mid-range student… even those underwhelming math marks had been achieved with the help of Crake”. Eric Freyfogle and Julianne Newton in their essay “Putting Science in Its Place” provided the in-depth analysis of the problems that arise when the scientific approaches are used to manage land replacing in this way the relevant policy. Both science and policy tend to provide some ways to organize and improve lives of people whom their influences concern, but the main difference between them is the orientation of science on some abstract goals that usually are not equal to those of policy. In this way, “a goal less overtly tied to science … offers a better option for land management”.

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The development of science and technology allowed to rethink the relationships between people and nature because after the appearance of the biotechnologies human civilization achieved the possibility to transform the world in accordance with its demands. On the right hand, this possibility may provide many advantages because it eliminates the problems that were inevitable in previous epochs: now humans can control nature much more effectively than before, and in this way to increase profits and avoid such problems as diseases, famines and so on. Besides, the danger is that humans do not take into account the interests of all living world and act only in accordance with their own interests. That may lead to disharmony in the natural world and cause some unwanted consequences humans will be not able to overcome. This dualist specific of biotechnologies makes people to think through the prism of environmental ethics in order to find some way to use technologies in an appropriate extent.

The dominance of scientists who operate with the abstract model of reality, may lead to the justification of different crimes in the name of some utopic goals. The most illustrative example is the so-called eugenics oriented on the ‘improving’ of human race under the scientific image. In fact, such a program caused a lot of crimes against the humanity in the middle XX century when such initiatives as Holocaust took place. If understand the scientific orientation to change the nature wider, it is clear that such initiative always cause the abuse of some people who do not belong to the dominant class. For example, Wenz underlines the actuality of the problem of the so-called ‘environmental racism’, which is “evident in practice that expose racial minorities in the US, and people of color around the world, to disproportionate shares of environmental hazards”. It is clear that the abuse of minorities and the abuse of nature in general are the results of the same worldview position that establish the false right of the European civilization and science to operate with the whole world and all people whose skin is not white as with the second-rank objects.

5. The scientific activity of Crake leads to the extermination of the humanity in the name of the human race’s improving. Thus, when Crake kills all the human beings by pandemic designed in his laboratory, he reaches his scientific goal, but it contradicts to the goal of any adequate policy oriented on the purposes of living people. Certainly, Crake behaves as insane when he exterminates the humanity in order to replace it by his own creatures, but his position is just a caricature on the position shared by the most of scientists who also neglect the purposes of average people in their scientific orientation on the future perspective. It is clear here that the problem of Crake is not only the lack of respect to nature, but also the inability to stop the ‘progressive’ activity in general. Thus, the crime of Crake is more of social than of personal origin, because the society should limit the possibilities of scientists instead of allow them in fact replace the Government and other authorities with the help of their scientific skills and devices. In this aspect, the position of Freyfogle and Newton concerning the need of the limitation of scientists’ power in society perfectly correlates with the novel by Atwood.

It is very illustrative that Crake tries to replace God by himself and in this way to pretend the creator of new kind of people who are ‘better’ than their predecessors were. Here come two ethical questions. The first one is how should people distinguish those creatures who deserve respect to their interests from those who do not deserve it. The second one concerns the human right to use biotechnologies to change the natural organisms in accordance to social demands. These questions are interrelated, and it is clear that Margaret Atwood ironically compares humans with all other beings humans changed before with the help of some technologies. It seems that people would not be happy of Crake’s initiative to exterminate them and replace humans by their advanced versions created with the help of biotechnologies. Besides, Crake does not consider those because he thinks from the perspective of the humanity in general. The same concerns those scientists who do not regard the interests of living creatures because they consider that the realizations of some plans is much more important in comparison with the satisfaction of concrete demands. In fact, it is possible to partly justify Crake from such position because he sacrificed the concrete breed of humans and ensured the proliferation of them in accordance to his plan. Besides, through the prism of ethics he had no right to act in this way, because in fact the realization of Crake’s plan is just the way to satisfy his own needs such as the need to feel himself the governor of the world and so on.

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Through the analysis provided, it is clear that the inequality in any field of human activity bears the same phenomena in other fields, and in this way, the abuse of nature causes the abuse of people. The brilliant parallelism between Oryx who is Crake’s prostitute, and nature abused by Crake as well as Oryx, allows the reader understand that human ethics has not to be limited by the human issues only. Human beings belong to nature as well as other creatures, and the superiority in the fields of technologies and knowledge only increase human responsibility, but in no way allows people to neglect ethics in cases that concern the natural world. It is important to underline that ethics serves not only to save the inferior from the superior, but also to help both coexist in harmony as effectively as possible, and that is the main point of environmental ethics.

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Oryx and Crake through the Prism of Environmental Ethics essay

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