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From communism to the threat of cats: This week’s TED Conversations

Posted by: Aja Bogdanoff

TED-Conversation-generic-imageTED Conversations is a unique space where any member of this community can get feedback on an idea, pose an interesting question, or start a debate with their fellow TEDizens from around the globe. This week, dozens of new conversations were started. Many of them were about issues brought up in our first television special, TED Talks Education, while others were unrelated, spanning topics from the merits of communism to whether cats threaten biodiversity. Here, a sampling of the highlights from this week:

First, a thought-provoking question from Ye-Jin Ahn:  If communism was working the way its progenitors wanted it to, would it be better than capitalism?

The main reason why communism was made was people wanted to be equal without getting restricted by their environment, but nowadays communism is abused by some dictators such as North Korean leaders. Besides, capitalism also has its own problem. There are so many people who didn’t have opportunities to try what they really wanted to do due to their poverty or else.

If communism was working as it was intended, would it be better than capitalism?

Yubal Masalker responds:

I think it would. The problem was that there was a huge gap between the theory and its practice. The communism theory was an outcry for change in the reality of severe injustice of those times. It had noble ideals. But as it usually occurs in the mankind’s history, the great ideals fell victim to basic human nature — the human nature of greed and selfishness. This means, whoever gains the power in the name of any ideals, exploit those ideals only for the benefit of himself and his close group. Communism was not exception of this basic human nature, as well as the Capitalism and many countless other man-made systems of diverse ideals.

So I think that instead of looking for the BIG answers from the failure of Communism (like dictatorships, organizing labor differently, the Chinese interpretation of communism or whatever) it would be much better for the all mankind to look for more seemingly minor answers, which are actually the real true answers. Because these answers are common to perhaps all the mankind’s ideological failures in the history and not just for the failure of the communism — for example, also the latest economic crisis due to the failure of the Capitalism.

While John Moonstroller reminds us that:

First we need to find a country that practices communisim without dictators to determine an answer to this question.

And Heather White adds:

The current problem capitalism has is the same problem communism had — its utopian ideology was infiltrated by psychopaths. I’m serious.

People with psychopathic tendencies are attracted to power and prestige — they climb the greasy pole, by whatever means, and when they get power or influence they use it for their own gratification, glorification and empowerment. They lobby for the relaxation of regulation, and once they achieve this they exploit it ruthlessly. You cannot expect a psychopath to have self restraint or feelings of remorse — they are relentless — they want it all.

Corporation directorships, government departments and politics, are disproportionally represented by psychopaths. In the population as a whole they make up 1%, within the halls of corporate and political power it is estimated that they make up to 4% (source: Jon Ronson’s TED Talk).

With 221 comments and five days remaining, there’s plenty of time to get involved in the debate!

Also this week:  The latest in our TEDinClass series, from University of Oregon student Jon Cox:  Cats pose a serious threat to biodiversity: Why do we accept it? What should be done?

According to the ASPCA, there are around 90 million owned domestic cats (Felis catus) in the U.S., and taking into account strays and feral cats, the total number is estimated to be as high as 160 million (1).Loss et al. (2013) estimates that cats roaming outdoors kill 1.4-­3.7 BILLION birds and 6.9­-20.7 BILLION mammals in the U.S. annually (2). Reptiles and amphibians such as snakes, lizards, frogs, etc., are also frequently killed by cats.

Cats are even more popular New Zealand, where they are contributing to declines of endemic birds such as the critically endangered kakapo (3), which have evolved in the absence of predators. Businessman/philanthropist Gareth Morgan is trying to gather support for legislation that would aggressively deal with stray and feral cats and potentially eliminate cats from New Zealand to take pressure off of threatened species (4 & 5). With Morgan’s plan, in addition to regulation that would reduce cat populations and increase owner accountability, residents would be encouraged to not replace their cats. As of now the majority of New Zealanders surveyed are in opposition to Morgan’s initiative.

Would a proposition like Morgan’s meet similar resistance in the U.S.? Probably, but is he on the right track? Would you personally support something like it for your state or country?

Mario R responded:

I found an interesting article that highlighted the effects of reducing predatory effects in ecosystems. The article was talking about predatory chains and how the elimination of a top, or superpredator, might open the door for a different predator, or mesopredator, to take the original predator’s place. This would in fact lead to the extinction of the prey. The example they looked at was an endemic bird population, and the superpredator were feral domestic cats.

This got me to thinking about the effects of suppressing cats’ activities outdoors. If something was done to regulate cats’ outdoor liberties, would there be increases in predatory activity of a different species on the same prey?

And Erik Parker replied:

Great point as usual, Mario.

That was exactly the same line of thought that I was mulling over. For as long as there have been modern urban and suburban areas there have been cats present, really. So I think it makes sense to think about it as though those environments and cats have co-evolved in a way. That means we have no real way of knowing what will happen if cats are eliminated from an area all together. Sure we can speculate that maybe those species preyed upon by the cats in those environments will recover greatly, but what’s to say that some other species wouldn’t come in to fill that niche vacated by the cats? The reality is that we really don’t know what will happen until it does, and this unpredictability is why removal experiments are often so dangerous.

The article Mario linked to makes the good point that other predators often move in to such situations quickly, and in particular uses the example of rodents coming in to prey on the eggs of birds usually targeted by feral cats. I was able to find some more articles that addressed this phenomena of top predator removal harming an ecosystem overall, and I think they would be valuable to take a look at as it is a really counterintuitive but interesting viewpoint:


While Phoebe Cone added:

I find it pretty ironic to call for the elimination of cats as pets because of their effect on bird biodiversity, when humans are directly causing the loss of so many other species. You could argue that legislation to limit the population of humans in the US should be implemented, because “it is for the greater good and humans are just too destructive to justify”, but of course most people would not support that. Similarly, the majority of people will never support a decision to make cat ownership illegal. There has to be a balance. I do not think it is reasonable to force people to give up pets, a major source of enjoyment and entertainment (a provider of “cultural services”, if you will) to protect other species that the general population, to be honest, probably doesn’t care all that much about.

I think the focus should be on public education and on feral cat population control. The people who are most likely to want to donate their time and resources to organizations that advocate things such as the protection of bird biodiversity are probably animal lovers, and therefore are likely to keep pets themselves. If we increased public education that let people know that regulating their cats’ outdoor activities could lead to more beautiful birds gracing their feeders and yards, I think people would be much more receptive to the idea that cats harm bird biodiversity. As another person mentioned, putting bells on cat collars is a great idea … It’s not perfect, but it’s a much more balanced and reasonable approach to this issue.

This conversation has ended, but be sure to check out the rest of the 198 comments here!

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