Analysis of the Themes of Anthropocentrism and Technology Presented in Margaret Atwood’s Novel Oryx and Crake

June 22, 2022 by Essay Writer

Margaret Atwood’s book, Orxy and Crake, is bountiful with examples of environmental ethics throughout its entirety. The book dives into anthropocentrism, science, technology, nature, and many other themes in a way which provokes the reader to stop and consider these issues in a deep manner. Certain circumstances and situations arise within the book that require ethical consideration and contemplation. In order to tackle said ethical issues we must dive deeper in an attempt to distinguish similarities, differences, and important themes within Oryx and Crake which pertain to environmental ethics.

It is clear that when looking at anthropocentrism a certain bias is exemplified. After all, it is a word made up by humans which favors humans over everything else. The problem with humans is that we are exactly that, humans. We have flaws and we constantly make mistakes. Sometimes our mistakes our miniscule and sometimes our mistakes change the history of the Earth. Standing for anthropocentrism, similar to standing behind anything, results in problems from other perspectives. William H. Murdy states a major problem with anthropocentrism in his reading, Anthropocentrism: A Modern Version. Hurdy states, “The problem lies in our difficulty to distinguish between “proper ends,” which are progressive and promote human values, and “improper ends,” which are retrogressive and destructive of human values.” (Armstrong 281).

“Improper ends” becomes tricky because each individual human values things differently, especially when it comes to nature and how humans should perceive it when referring to a anthropocentric standpoint. Within Oryx and Crake anthropocentric views hold both “proper” and “improper” ends. A majority of people within the book aim to promote the betterment of humankind with advances in science and technology. Harvesting organs and making more food readily available are attempts to progress human health and longevity.

However, a certain dystopia lies within the world of Oryx and Crake. Harvesting animals for the benefit of humans indicates a clear violation of biocentric views. Jimmy’s father worked at OrganInc Farms and genetically modified pigs resulting in the “pigoon project.” These pigs were no longer seen as pigs but only a host for foolproof human-tissues organs. “Such a host animal could be reaped of its extra kidneys; then, rather than being destroyed, it could keep on living and grow more organs, much as a lobster could grow another claw to replace a missing one.” (Atwood 22). From an anthropocentric standpoint OrganInc Farms in terrific in its ability to produce vital organs for human health. If we look from a biocentric perspective, we would drive ourselves crazy from the cited passage. The pigoon is referred to as being “destroyed” which indicates nonhuman and nonliving properties. Is a pigoon natural or is it now artificial because of how much it’s been altered?

One’s attitude is a powerful and riveting thing. One’s attitude towards nature can be a beautiful thing or unfortunately it can be a horrifying thing. The attitude we choose towards nature has so many implications on numerous levels. We can choose to have a responsible and prideful attitude towards nature, or we can choose an attitude full of neglect and disgust. When we choose the attitude of responsibility and pride towards nature, we are creating value in nature itself. We realize that we do not have innate inheritance and importance over other things and see nature as a gift to us as humans. When we choose an attitude of neglect and disgust towards nature, we make it an object which only benefits us for practical uses. Aldo Leopold touches on concepts covering environmental ethics in his reading, The Land Ethic. His “Land Ethic” creates an extremely responsible and prideful attitude towards land. Aldo states, “In Short, a land ethic changes the role of Homo sapiens from conqueror of the land-community to plain member and citizen of it.” (Armstrong 375).

This attitude creates a sense of natural and pure beauty from the natural world. But what is natural and what is artificial? It’s not as black and white as one might hope. We can’t simply say that if something occurs “naturally” in the world then it is natural and if it is man-made then it is artificial. The Crakers in Oryx and Crake are “man-made” but clearly have natural attributes. The Crakers eventually sing songs and create a deity in Snowman while his is gone. They look up to Oryx and Crake and are clearly cognitive in their thoughts and processes. This is exemplified towards the end of the book when Snowman is reunited with the Crakers. Snowman is exhausted and injured when he returns in his thought process isn’t as sharp as it typically tends to be. The youngers Crakers are bombarding Snowman with questions and he is having trouble explaining questions about Crake. During these conversations one of women Crakers helps Snowman in his time of discomfort. “But look,” says a woman – Madam Curies, Sacajawea? “Snowman has hurt his foot.” The women have always sensed his discomfort, they try to ease it by changing the subject.” (Atwood 362). Although the Crakers are man-made and not naturally occurring they look to comfort Snowman in a time of need. They clearly have feelings of empathy despite their artificial conjuring. Who decides what is life and what is not?

Similar to what is natural and what is artificial comes the debate of what is “alive” or what deserves moral standing. Like most things from a worldview it’s how you view or perceive certain people or “things.” There is no specific moral or ethical standard throughout the world that dictates how we treat other beings. There is too much corruption and capital gain to be made that inhibits human’s ability to treat all living things equal. So where do we draw the line and decide that something or someone deserves to be treated as if they have human “life”? What animals deserves human rights? Peter Singer discusses these issues in his reading, Equality for Animals? Now, like everything in the world, it isn’t cut and dry and everything comes with objection. However, Singer makes many arguments and points in order to defend animal rights, specifically when it comes to killing and eating animals. A point he discusses that I think can resonate with most civilized people is animals and their experience of pain.

Singer states, “Unlike the cerebral cortex, which developed only after our ancestors diverged from other mammals, the basic nervous system evolved in more distant ancestors common to ourselves and the other “higher” animals. This anatomical parallel makes it likely that the capacity of animals to feel is similar to our own.” (Armstrong 327) As stated, this is complicated because then comes the question, do ants feel pain? Universal morals and ethics will always be complicated. For Oryx and Crake we can refer back to the Crackers. Would we treat them as humans or machines in today’s society? Are they alive or only something we created due to our own free will? When referencing the Crakers during Jimmy’s first time seeing them Crake states, “You know how they’ve got floor models, in furniture stores…these are the floor models.” (Atwood 302) Crake was making a “species” he believed would take place of the human race and he only saw them as floor models. If the inventor of such a perfect and flawless “being” describes them in such an emotionless way, why would anything else deserve moral standing?

As time progresses so do our advancements in science and technology. More specifically, our advancements in science and technology pertaining to environmental ethics. Not that science and technology are new in agriculture because it’s been around for thousands of years, as stated by Andrew Dobson in Biocentric and Genetic Engineering. Dobson also sums up reasonable genetic engineering motives. He states, “So research in genetic engineering is likely to be driven and regulated by the demands of the capitalist markets as it is by good intentions and philosophical principles.” (Armstrong 472) In other words, factors such as money drives genetic engineering as does providing food for those in need. We can help those less fortunate than us by creating crops with higher yields.

Genetic engineering has plenty of benefits, but it also has its downfalls. What if the genetic engineering invades an animal’s life? Are plants okay to modify but animals are the line? In Oryx and Crake genetically, modified animals are a dime a dozen. Jimmy visits Crake at his workplace and learns about “ChickieNobs.” Crake describes the ChickieNobs as, “Chicken parts. Just the breasts, on this one. They’ve got ones that specialize in drumsticks too, twelve to a growth unit.” (Atwood 202) These chickens are so far technology modified that they are unable to any longer be classified as chickens. They don’t even needs eyes or beaks. At this point biocentrism should come in and humans should take a stand. Even if the chickens are being modified to grow an abundant amount of meat in order to be more accessible and cheaper for those in need, There comes a philosophical line in which the actual life of an animal outweighs its technological modified benefits. So when does the longevity of Earth outweigh human’s lives?

In Oryx and Crake, Crake decides that humans have destroyed Earth too much and should be eradicated. Crake believes that humans are impacting other being’s lives too much and also the natural world in which we live. If we continue to go at this rate we are going to wipe out the whole planet and leave nothing for anyone or anything. With this, Crake creates the Crakers in order to continue “human” life but in a more ecological friendly manner. Crake is looking out for the livelihood and preservation of everything else by sacrificing only one species when this one species would destroy millions of others. In Oryx and Crake Crake States, “Overpopulation, leading — as we’ve see in spades — to environmental degradation and poor nutrition.” (Atwood 292) Crake is considering the future of every single living and nonliving thing on the Earth when he decides to make the BlyssPluss pill endanger the human population for the greater good all everything.

I think it’s hard to argue against Crake’s decision because he is right, we are one species ruining millions of species. We are extremely anthropocentric as a whole and will likely never be able to live in harmony with nature. Why should our species be able to destroy everything else when no other species comes close to what we do to the environment? Even among our own species we degrade one another ecologically. In, Just Garbage: Environmental Injustice, Peter S. Wenz describes how environmental racism is evident. Wenz states, (…practices that expose racial minorities in the United States, and people of color around the world, to disproportionate shares of environmental hazards.” (Armstrong 106). Even within our own species we destroy and degrade each other. We continually have to be the top of the food chain even if it means hurting and poisoning our own. Crake realizes what we will do to succeed and thrive in an environment and he decides our cons outweigh our pros. Sacrifice one to save millions.

The world is a complicated and diverse place. With each decision a human makes environmental ethics are likely impacted. This thought likely rarely goes through the heads of many people on a daily, or even weekly basis. We drive gasoline cars, litter enormous amounts of trash into the ocean, pour toxic wastes in the dirt, and many other negative things that vastly affect Earth on a routine basis. At what point does enough become enough? Do we have to be one of only a couple hundred species left? Does global warming have to reach heights to a point where nobody can deny the facts? Do all the avalanches have to be melted and the lands be covered in water before we realize we messed up?

I believe the human race can save Earth but it has to start at the top. Corporations must stop being so greedy and realize they have the biggest ecological impact. Humans must choose to be Crake in a certain way. They must choose to sacrifice themselves for the greater good of the world. Each individual on the Earth needs to realize what they do on a day to day basis could leave nothing for future generations. We must sacrifice now in order to preserve tomorrow.


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