John James Audubon – Naturalist, Murder or Both

I knew who Audubon was. He lived from 1785-1851 and wrote the definitive book on American Birds, The Birds of America (Published in 1827). First editions often sell in the millions of dollars. What I did not know was that he killed the birds he painted. He would go bird watching with a shotgun by his side.

This absolutely fascinates me because it fits in so well with the themes of death and Ancient Egypt in my newest book, Fraternity of the Soul Eater. It is the idea that destroying something beautiful to create a more lasting beauty is alright. It is the idea that death can trump life.

This is an idea that I am struggling with. In the middle ages people were starving. Yet, the church spent money creating art rather then using the money to feed people. Was that the right thing to do? The paintings and sculptures exist to this day. Is that not choosing art over life? Is that a reasonable trade off?

If the answer is “no” then take a look at your life. When was the last time you bought a car? You could have bought a less expensive one or kept the old one longer. Instead of buying a car you could have provided money to a charity to feed the poor. You could have saved lives. Every day we spend money that could be donated. If you went to McDonald’s instead of out for Sushi you could have used the money you saved to feed the poor. Is that being overly harsh? Should we live in poverty for the sake of others?

How do we value life? If someone dies in a third world country does their life have less value than someone in Europe or America. Is there a greater or lessor potential for their life to make a difference.

I am not a philosopher. I don’t have the answers. Yet, either directly or indirectly we are making life or death decisions by our action or our inaction. We do so on a daily basis.

Audubon preserved the image of a number of birds that are extinct at this time. There is lasting value to doing so. I should note one of the birds was the passenger pigeon. I mentioned in an earlier blog that they are trying to bring back the passenger pigeon from extinction using old DNA see http://longnow.org/revive/passenger-pigeon-workshop/. I know nothing about the charity. Yet the idea seems cool.

I am not trying to bring people down or take away from their enjoyment. I am only pointing out that everything we do or don’t do could have an impact on others. I have little doubt Audubon’s efforts have saved far more birds than the number he shot to make his book. It is just food for thought. Speaking of food I wouldn’t mind some fried chicken.