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The recent transfer of authority of the OVP from the state to the province and the resulting turn in the debate on the management of the large grazers have made it clear to me and to my colleagues that we have either overlooked or paid too little attention to a number of issues.
In the first place, we have underestimated the role of power relationships between rural and urban communities and the need for bargaining in nature protection and conservation conflicts. As Habermas (1996) has pointed out, in complex societies it is not—even under ideal conditions—always possible to settle controversies by argumentative means only. Whenever proposed regulations affect the various interests in different ways without any generally accepted common interest, there simply is no alternative except bargaining. In such situations, we must strive toward achieving a balance of conflicting interests through compromise under fair bargaining conditions.
Second, we have underestimated the extent to which people have become increasingly alienated from nature. As a result of the industrialization of agriculture and ongoing urbanization, many people in the Netherlands have lost touch with the natural world. This has led to tunnel vision on animal welfare in which the standards for riding school horses and farm animals are also considered to be applicable to wildlife. There is a lack of interest in and knowledge about the life and death of animals in the wild. The question is how this knowledge gap can be filled, given that citizens tend to consider expert-based views of nature to be technocratic and elitist. As Tim Nichols (2017) in his book The Death of Expertise argues, we are witnessing an emerging “cult of ignorance,” which has been fostered by social media.
This brings us to our third and final point: the role that social media has played in further heightening the tensions between opponents in the OVP controversy. It is clear that where debates become so embattled that communication between opposing sides breaks down, philosophical boundary work will be difficult, if not impossible. Boundary work requires a political culture in which often widely diverging lifestyles and worldviews can compete with one another on an equal footing. Only then can there be a balanced debate in which one party, without renouncing its own claim to validity, is able to respect the other parties as allies in the common quest for genuine truths (Keulartz 2018, 207).
A general lesson I have learned from my long-standing involvement with the OVP, and particularly from the present conflict, is that the success of philosophical boundary work is highly dependent on the broader political, social, and cultural context in which nature management practices evolve. If the context changes, it might be wise for the philosopher to take a step back from the immediate practice and temporarily retreat to his or her study in order to delve deeper into the meaning of such change, and to come up with new solutions and strategies.
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