2017 essay contest


The essay contest is now closed. Utility Farm received no quality submissions, and did not award the prize in 2017. The prompt is listed below. Questions to submissions@utility.farm.

Most suffering on our planet is experienced by wild animals and caused by factors like starvation, disease, and predation. Yet people who are interested in the wellbeing of animals at all overwhelmingly focus on harms from human endeavors such as farming, experimentation, hunting and fishing, and various forms of captivity. At the same time, the relatively few animal advocates who have focused on suffering that occurs in the wild have tended to focus on speculative strategies that cannot be implemented without more widespread knowledge, interest, and cooperation. Much social change is required before serious efforts to reduce suffering in the wild can move forward. The prize for this essay will go to the writer who best identifies social obstacles to wild animal advocacy and articulates strategies for accomplishing this social change.

Writers might draw on many disciplines such as sociology, moral psychology, history, religious studies, and politics, insofar as the knowledge and methods they provide pertain practically to theories of social change and strategies for wild animal advocacy. At the same time, no particular background or expertise is required, and we welcome essays based purely on personal observations and experiences. In any case, writers should strive to make the most practical contribution to the problem of wild animal suffering possible, while focusing on social issues rather than technical issues or moral theory. Writers may wish to consider the following specific prompts, but by no means do they exhaust the range of available topics. Successful essays might stick closely to one of these prompts, address points from multiple prompts, or focus on entirely different points that fall within the general scope we have outlined.

1. Many factors play a role in the disparity between the small attention paid to wild animal suffering and its immense contribution to total suffering. These include speciesism at a broad level, the relative invisibility of wild animal suffering to most humans, conservationist ethics that value the spiritual and aesthetic importance of wilderness over the individual wellbeing of wild animals, and broader environmental values that discourage the kinds of interventions in ecosystem structure and functioning that may be required to alleviate suffering in the wild. In your view, what are the most important factors impeding consideration of wild animal suffering, and what are the most promising strategies for overcoming them?

2. It is likely that different people are more or less predisposed towards accepting utilitarian conceptions of wild animal suffering. It is also likely that not all awareness of the problem of wild animal suffering (as such) is of equal practical importance, and that whose minds we ought to prioritize changing depends on what ultimate strategies we favor. For example, top-down ecological management strategies probably require the participation of government actors and wildlife biologists, while various bottom-up approaches require more wide-ranging efforts and cooperation from the general public, and maybe unequally from particular demographics (e.g. rural landowners). In your view, who are the most important targets of wild animal advocacy, and what kinds of outreach are most likely to succeed in their particular cases?

3. Substantial conflicts exist between traditional environmentalism – especially conservationism – and moral frameworks that prioritize the experiential wellbeing of individual animals. These conflicts are brought into sharp focus by issues like wilderness preservation and human intervention on behalf of wild animals. Should wild animal advocates focus on persuading conservationists, or direct their outreach towards strangers to environmental issues in order to avoid entrenched disagreements? Given that getting people involved in animal advocacy often increases their exposure to environmentalist ideas, some of which may be detrimental to addressing wild animal suffering, should wild animal advocates actively advocate against traditional forms of environmentalism? More generally, when should wild animal advocates downplay these conflicts, and when should they openly explore them?