Saturday, July 26, 2008

But what about Darfur?

My post about our many less than admirable tendencies coming together and making animal enterprises the most macabre nightmarish of circumstances prompted an anonymous challenge:

Anonymous said...
"Nowhere do the results of these less than admirable tendencies combine to create macabre nightmarish circumstances than in animal enterprises."

What about human torture in Irak?
What about ethnic cleansing in Kosovo? What about genocide in Darfur?

None of this qualifies?
I see that I left out “more.” Editing one’s own written work is error prone. I should have said:

“Nowhere do the results of these less than admirable tendencies combine to create more macabre nightmarish circumstances than in animal enterprises.”

The question this anonymous poster posses is an interesting one. The answer seems to be both yes and no depending on one's vantage.

When the question is considered from the perspective of an individual victim, then I think the answer is that the circumstances can be equally macabre and nightmarish. If we imagine ourselves as a civilian grabbed off the street, taken to a prison and held in dismal and distressing conditions, tortured repeatedly, and given no opportunity of legal recourse, or as a monkey or dog, taken to a lab, held in dismal and distressing conditions, tortured repeatedly, and having no hope of escape, and no understanding of why this is happening to us, then the evils are of a like kind and neither is any more hideous than the other.

When the question is considered a little more broadly, say Abu Ghraib and a primate lab with the same number of prisoners over a similar length of time, then here too perhaps, the evil is indistinguishable.

But when we step back farther, the similarities decline. In historical cases of widespread atrocity like Kosovo, Darfur, Cambodia, the Holocaust, the events have been of limited duration and roundly condemned by nearly every nation and political body. They are seen as aberrations, as dark punctuations in human history. As something we should learn from and work to make impossible in the future.

If we try to total the evil of these events with some sort of calculus of suffering - like the number of deaths - recognizing that such a measure leaves out the suffering of the survivors, we will come to a total of many millions who were killed. Combining the four named cases above, the total is probably less than 50 million killed in somewhere around 15 years. Considered together, this represents great suffering, and to each of the victims, as I mentioned above, their suffering cannot be deemed more or less than the suffering of the other victims.

In the case of animals, the situation is much different. Unlike the human victims above, animals are called into existence by us to suffer.

In spite of any and all instances of our atrocious behavior toward each other, we claim that we are such exalted beings that it is just and proper that animals should be raised in dismal conditions and killed because we enjoy the taste of their flesh.

Our behavior demonstrates our belief that we are such exalted beings that any suffering an animal might be forced to endure is just if it advances human knowledge an iota, or even if it just verifies for the nth time what we already know.

We claim that we are such exalted beings that an animal’s fear and pain is justified if it entertains us for but a moment.

We mutilate animals for our own esthetic values, we kill them at a rate that is impossible to truly grasp.

And few people blink an eye at this suffering or give pause to the millions manhandled and prodded and killed every day, to the billions killed every year, or to the millions tortured in the labs every year. And no end is in sight.

At the level of the individual, severe suffering cannot be rank-ordered. To those being tortured or experiencing what to them is torture at the hands of some tormentor, their lives have taken an equally nightmarish and macabre turn.

It is this similarity in suffering that demands that we change the most fundamental nature of our relationship with other animals. Denying that the animal enterprise is grotesquely more extreme and macabre than any past human atrocity is a denial of plain fact.

6 comments:

Jeremy Beckham said...

Rick,

Sometimes you and I poke fun of people for posting comments under "anonymous" on this blog. But then I remembered that the animal laboratories at the University of Wisconsin, and likely at most other institutions, don't allow their employees to freely talk about the issue or speak with critics of their practices. Perhaps this person is doing their best to voice their opinion in spite of the tactics at the UW to stifle dissent within their ranks.

To our anonymous poster(s) - is this the reason you choose not to associate your name with your statements? If that's the case, and even if it's not, what does that tell you about UW trying to hide their dirty laundry even from their own employees?

Anonymous said...

"If we imagine ourselves as a civilian grabbed off the street, taken to a prison and held in dismal and distressing conditions, tortured repeatedly, and given no opportunity of legal recourse, or as a monkey or dog, taken to a lab, held in dismal and distressing conditions, tortured repeatedly, and having no hope of escape, and no understanding of why this is happening to us, then the evils are of a like kind and neither is any more hideous than the other."

Your analogy does not hold. The animals are simply NOT "tortured". I agree they may be happier in the wild, but they are not tortured.

Yes, the animals are eventually killed (under anesthesia with as little pain as possible) and, despite your delusions, scientists are not dancing around, rejoicing nor finding much pleasure in this event.

Rick said...

The animals are simply NOT "tortured".

Why the quotation marks?

Define torture.

Anonymous said...

Torture: "the action or practice of inflicting severe pain on someone as a punishment or to force them to do or say something, or for the pleasure of the person inflicting the pain."

In 99% of the cases animals are not under severe pain, nor are they punished for the mere pleasure of scientists. Thus, the animals are not tortured.

Jeremy Beckham said...

Anonymous:

Your definition, apparently taken from the Oxford English Dictionary, would exclude us from considering the behavior of the human vivisectors during the Holocaust as being torture. It is very clear, even if one only does a cursory glance at Lifton's Nazi Doctors, that the human vivisectors there were not inflicting such suffering for their own personal pleasure - nor to coerce information out of their victims.

Was that not torture?

Furthermore, I think that much vivisection actually still conforms to your definition because it states: "to force them to do...something". When a primate is restrained in a primate chair and deprived of fluids or food, this is to coerce a particular behavior from them. When they have their penis shocked during electroejaculation (do you consider this part of that 1% of animals who do endure intense pain?) it is to force them to ejaculate. The entire existence of the primate, their everyday routine and behavior, is forced to conform to the experiment/experimenter's whims and desires regardless of what may be in the interests of the individual animal.

Rick said...

Anonymous said...
"Torture: 'the action or practice of inflicting severe pain on someone as a punishment or to force them to do or say something, or for the pleasure of the person inflicting the pain.'

In 99% of the cases animals are not under severe pain, nor are they punished for the mere pleasure of scientists. Thus, the animals are not tortured."

Humpty Dumpty and the neo-conservatives might agree with this very narrow definition of the word, but most people recognize the humiliation of the prisoners at Abu Ghraib, the intimidation of them with dogs, the experiments on prisoners by the Nazi doctors, and a host of other actions -- not specifically intended to inflict pain or to punish or to feed some sadistic need -- to be torture.

The Oxford Pocket American Dictionary (for a very large pocket, apparently) defines torture as Anon does, but also as the experience of (the noun form) or the infliction of (the verb form) "2. severe physical or mental suffering."

See my post "Torturing Monkeys. Everyday." http://primateresearch.blogspot.com/2007/03/torturing-monkeys-everyday.html

Also, see
Lutz C, Well A, Novak M. Stereotypic and self-injurious behavior in rhesus macaques: a survey and retrospective analysis of environment and early experience.
Am J Primatol. 2003 May;60(1):1-15.

"Behavioral assessments of 362 individually housed rhesus monkeys were collected at the New England Regional Primate Research Center (NERPRC) and combined with colony records. Of the 362 animals surveyed, 321 exhibited at least one abnormal behavior."

These abnormal behaviors range from "active whole-body and self-directed stereotypies to self-injurious behavior."

The claim that in "99% of the cases animals are not under severe pain" is suspect. The recognition of pain (and distress) in animals is a well recognized problem discussed with some regularity in vivisection journals and other publications.

And even where pain and distress should be pretty easy to spot, it isn't, as in the case of the emaciated dog discovered dead at UW, Madison in 2006.

The reason the 628 primate vivisection videotapes were destroyed by the UW is most likely their belief that the public would recognize that the animals depicted were being tortured.

So many mice today are bred to have various maladies. Many of these animals are clearly suffering as many descriptions of their problems demonstrate. Breeding animals specicially because of the known severe medical problems they will be born with or develop is a particularly odious practice and is clearly torture.

The notion that the person responsible for the infliction of the pain or suffering needs to gain some pleasure from it before the act can be called torture is odd. This would mean that the Nazi doctors studying the effects of decompression or exposure weren't torturing their subjects unless they enjoyed hurting them.

And then, there is the obvious fact that most vivisectors probably went into animal research because they, like the Nazi doctors, enjoy this dark version of medical science.