Black Market Ethics

Randy Cohen: To visit another country is not to endorse its every practice.  If that were so, well, no European could ever come to America with our cuckoo, you know, wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, you know, what with our little Guantanamo. . . .  

If you choose to go to this other country, you really should obey the laws, including the laws about currency exchange.  That if you in your heart of hearts thought your conducting economic business in this country was going to have dire consequences that you genuinely disapproved of, well, here’s a solution: don’t go.  But if you choose to go, then you really do have to honor the laws and customs of the place you are visiting. 

There are times when you should not go, and, in my view, that’s when there’s an organized boycott or when the people who live under such a regime are urging you not to come.  That was the case in South Africa for awhile.  Here in the United States, there were organized boycotts, for instance, of some states that were determined to display the Confederate flag -- which apparently had nothing to do with race, you know, just a lot of whiners, and any way, I can’t imagine how anyone could think that -- but so once there was an organized political movement and residents of the state were wounded by the flag and said please don’t come, you should respect that.  But if it’s simply your own fastidiousness, well, I think you make the decision, go and obey the laws or, if this truly offends you, then don’t go at all. 

I think it works at the consumer level, too, not just the border crossing level, that I may choose to get bootleg software because I don’t want to prop up, you know, the evil empire of Microsoft, but that’s morally very, very dubious.  If you think that Microsoft -- and I use them strictly as an example.  I am not asserting a case for Microsoft’s corporate conduct.  I’ll leave that to the courts in Europe to do -- that if you truly think a corporation’s behavior is beyond the pale, then don’t do business with them. 

You can’t work out these self-serving rationalizations that because the other is wicked I can treat them without any moral consideration.  You choose your moral principles because you believe them right, not because of how good or bad you believe the people you’re dealing with are.  So if you don’t like Microsoft, don’t do business with Microsoft.  But you can’t steal their products because you've decided they’re bad people.

If you choose to go to this other country, you really should obey the laws, including the laws about currency exchange.

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If you want to know what makes a Canadian lynx a Canadian lynx, I can now—as of this month—point you directly to the DNA of a Canadian lynx, and say, "That's what makes a lynx a lynx." The genome was sequenced by a team at UMass Amherst, and it's one of 15 animals whose genomes have been sequenced by the Vertebrate Genomes Project, whose stated goal is to sequence the genome of all 66,000 vertebrate species in the world.

Sequencing the genome of a particular species of an animal is important in terms of preserving genetic diversity. Future generations don't necessarily have to worry about our memory of the Canadian Lynx warping the way hearsay warped perception a long time ago.

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It is easy to see how one can look at 66,000 genomic sequences stored away as being the analogous equivalent of the Svalbard Global Seed Vault. It is a potential tool for future conservationists.

But what are the practicalities of sequencing the genome of a lynx beyond engaging with broad bioethical questions? As the animal's habitat shrinks and Earth warms, the Canadian lynx is demonstrating less genetic diversity. Cross-breeding with bobcats in some portions of the lynx's habitat also represents a challenge to the lynx's genetic makeup. The two themselves are also linked: warming climates could drive Canadian lynxes to cross-breed with bobcats.

John Organ, chief of the U.S. Geological Survey's Cooperative Fish and Wildlife units, said to MassLive that the results of the sequencing "can help us look at land conservation strategies to help maintain lynx on the landscape."

What does DNA have to do with land conservation strategies? Consider the fact that the food found in a landscape, the toxins found in a landscape, or the exposure to drugs can have an impact on genetic activity. That potential change can be transmitted down the generative line. If you know exactly how a lynx's DNA is impacted by something, then the environment they occupy can be fine-tuned to meet the needs of the lynx and any other creature that happens to inhabit that particular portion of the earth.

Given that the Trump administration is considering withdrawing protection for the Canadian lynx, a move that caught scientists by surprise, it is worth having as much information on hand as possible for those who have an interest in preserving the health of this creature—all the way down to the building blocks of a lynx's life.

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