Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Monsters: Monsters are Everywhere

[Adapted from a screen shot of They Live! 1988. Directed by John Carpenter.]

If we consider the problem of monsters as a whole, its size is gargantuan. To begin to understand the problem, we can identify the places and circumstances that attract them. One thing they look for is the shield of authority, so it makes sense to look for them in government. And there are places in government where they flourish.

CIA interrogators, prison guards, county and state mental institution doctors and nurses, all of these professions have a disproportional incidence of employees abusing the people under their control. The circumstances have common elements. They are out of the public eye; the people being abused have absolutely no recourse; authority figures tacitly or overtly condone the abuse; and most importantly, the people being abused are deemed of low status, powerless, and deserving and personally responsible for the ills visited upon them.

Law enforcement is a place where monsters can be found without too much trouble as well. You don’t have to watch many episodes of COPS to get an idea of what passes as normal and accepted police behavior, or watch Jail to begin to wonder just what sort of being is attracted to such a job. You can’t watch the many available videos of groups of police officers surrounding and striking with their clubs, kicking, pepper spraying, and tasering people, without beginning to understand that this is a profession that attracts monsters and people who can’t do much more than follow orders or implied orders, people whom Milgrim called “moral imbeciles.” And it isn’t a coincidence that most such cases involve minorities as victims—poor, sometimes alien, usually non-Caucasians.

So, if blacks, Mexicans, poor people, the recently arrested, the mentally ill, and assumed mentally ill, the elderly, the indigent, and prisoners are treated so very poorly, so very cruelly, so often, it isn’t difficult to begin imaging what’s being done to animals.

As far as I can separate them, there are three general groups who don’t care about monstrous behavior to animals. They all start with the claim that animals don’t matter as much as humans. (Humans are animals of course, but unlike those relying on this artificial human/animal distinction to shield their cruelty, I use it here as a rhetorical convenience, as it is commonly used in general parlance.)

One group, the overwhelming majority of human society, barely has an opinion about anything. These are the people who question almost nothing that they do. They do the things they do because television tells them to, sales displays tell them to, Rush Limbaugh and radio ads tell them to, magazine ads tell them to, sitcoms and dramas tell them to, their friends at work tell them to. When you ask them why they eat animals, or why they do anything, they look at you blankly. They can’t really hear you. The reasons they do the things they do are so long ingrained, so repeatedly reinforced, so encouraged, that you might as well have asked them why they just inhaled. They don’t even know that they did.

The second group has an opinion, but it is based on hearsay; they have little time or interest in seeking out primary documents and information and knitting together a reasoned, fact-based position on much at all. These are the people who will say, “Well, I heard…” or “I read in the paper that…” or “the Bible says…”. These are the people who, given an opportunity, might be swayed by rational argument, by a demonstration of the facts, by being asked to formulate a reasoned defensible position. This is a small group.

The third group is reasonably well informed, but it is filled by people simply don’t care about others or else, actually enjoy watching them squirm. These are the monsters.

It’s pretty typical to hear someone from the first or second group say something like animals don’t feel things like we do, or animals do the things they do because of instinct. And in a way, a belief like that, though wrong, at least excuses their abuses and abusive life style decisions. But those from the third group have much different perspectives on what animals experience.
The behavioral repertoire of nonhuman primates is highly evolved and includes advanced problem-solving capabilities, complex social relationships… Nonhuman primates are capable of advanced behaviors that share important and fundamental parallels with humans. These parallels include highly developed cognitive abilities and binding social relationships.(1)
Once, when I was debating Paul Kaufman on the radio, I asked him just how similar to us an animal would have to be before doing the things he does to them should be seen as criminal as they would if he was doing them to humans. Kaufman is a researcher at the University of Wisconsin. He replied that such questions were “above his pay grade.” Paul Kaufman ought to have an opinion on matters like this; he experiments on living monkeys’ eyes and has been doing so since the early to mid 1970s. In almost forty years he hasn’t wondered whether animals with highly evolved behaviors, advanced problem-solving capabilities, and complex social relationships should have their eyes mutilated and be subjected to much pain and suffering, or at least he claimed not to have thought about it.

Monsters like Davidson and Kalin might be more hideous than monsters like Kaufman, who says only that human and monkey eyes are similar, since they base their experiments on their belief that the mental experiences of the animals they torture are like our mental experiences. That’s a dark claim.

Once, when I was debating with Davidson on television he claimed that he didn’t "hurt" the monkeys he experimented on when I was so brash as to bring it up.
If I can just respond to that. First of all let me clarify the issue of hurt.

In the work that we, I’ve collaborated on in nonhuman primates, I think the word hurt is very misleading. The protocols that we use do not involve pain to the animals. In fact, the research that we do in humans, I would say, we are permitted to inflict more pain, if the protocol requires it, than we can in nonhuman primates.

And so, I think it is deeply misleading to use the term hurt.(2)
This is a case of either profound denial, or more likely, just him hoping to confuse the audience, or his attempt to scurry into a dark hole because the light has become too bright. Of course he hurts them. In the course of his research they undergo highly invasive brain surgery. Can you even imagine a brain surgeon telling you that it won’t hurt? And then he frightens them. And he starts with the most anxiety-filled young monkeys he can find. These are the sort of people in the third group, the Davidsons, the Kaufmans, the Seligmans, the Suomis, the Little Angels, but also, the ranchers, the dairymen, the circus people, the dog fighters, the pet breeders, the zoo operators, the whalers, the fishermen, the bull fighters, the chicken fighters, the people that throng to the animal fights, the fast food vendors encouraging everyone to eat more animals, the people who raise all the animals, who build the cages, who manufacture the food, who build the labs, who make the drugs, who weave the nets, who make the guns, the knives, the electrodes, the restraint chairs, and the people who defend them. There are monsters everywhere.

Maybe it’s wrong to call someone who peddles fried chicken a monster. But how like us does a chicken have to be, as far as being aware of the future, having desires, preferences, fears, and delights, before hurting him or her is a sin, is immoral, and should be considered a crime?

A tenth? A hundredth? A thousandth?

The USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service reports that in 2008, more than one and half billion chickens were killed in the United States (1,503,267,000, not counting the many millions of male chicks who were either ground up alive or simply thrown away, give or take a few thousand.) And they were killed brutally. But maybe chickens aren’t enough like us to really matter even though it is clear that they anticipate the future and modify their behavior accordingly and have complex social relationships.(3)

What about sheep, goats, or pigs? Are pigs enough like us when it comes to caring about how they are treated, or disliking pain, or being curious, or brave, or anything else to make hurting them a lot like hurting each other? How like us need they be? A tenth? A hundredth? A thousandth?

In 2008, more than sixty-one million pigs were killed in hideous ways. Their lives leading up to slaughter were filled with fear and pain. According to the University of Arizona’s committee on animal research, “The intelligence of pigs should never be underestimated. Many behaviorists believe the pig to be smarter than the dog and pigs are, without doubt, the ‘Einsteins’ of the farm.”

In 2001, an undercover investigation of Seaboard Farms, Inc., North America’s third largest pork producer revealed that employees routinely threw, beat, kicked, slammed against concrete floors, and bludgeoned animals with metal gate rods and hammers. “Other pigs were left to die slow and agonizing deaths with severe injuries, illness, and lameness, often unable to reach food or water, without even a trace of veterinary care.” The farm manager pled guilty to three counts of felony animal cruelty. Only the farm manager’s guilty plea makes this case an exception; the suffering is routine.

What about cats and dogs? Is a dog enough like a human that hurting them should be considered a crime? How like us do they have to be? According to an article on animals’ minds in a 2008 issue of National Geographic, a six-year-old border collie named Betsy:
... can put names to objects faster than a great ape, and her vocabulary is at 340 words and counting. Her smarts showed up early: At ten weeks she would sit on command and was soon picking up on names of items and rushing to retrieve them—ball, rope, paper, box, keys, and dozens more. She now knows at least 15 people by name, and in scientific tests she's proved skilled at linking photographs with the objects they represent.(4)
According to the USDA, in 2007, just over seventy-two thousand dogs were experimented on. Unlike the mice, rats and monkeys used in vivisection laboratories, dogs tend to be used in only a few ways. The two main areas are toxicology and cardiology. In the toxicology experiments the dogs are typically not provided with any pain medicine. In the heart experiments, dogs commonly have electrodes surgically embedded in their hearts to allow the monsters to force their hearts to beat faster. This is called ventricular pacing or forced pacing. It is often used until a dog dies of heart failure.

A paper published in 2008 by monsters at Wake Forest University explains that:
A total of 18 healthy male mongrel dogs (32.2±5.3 kg) were instrumented. Ten animals were studied under normal control conditions and after volume loading. Ten animals were studied after HF [heart failure] was induced… Data were recorded with conscious, unsedated animals standing quietly in the sling after full recovery from surgical instrumentation… HF was induced by rapid ventricular pacing at 200 to 220 bpm for 4 weeks.(5)
A healthy dog who weighs about 32 kilograms or 70 pounds, has a heart rate of between 70 and 120 beats per minute. 200 to 220 beats per minute is a very rapid pace; imagine your heart beating faster than it ever has for weeks on end, being unable to move, with wires, probes, and tubes protruding from your body. What would Betsy be experiencing in a situation like this?

But if chickens, pigs, and dogs aren’t enough like us to make their pain and fear rise to the level of serious concern, what about the animals acknowledged by scientists to be most like us? How similar to us does another primate have to be, as far as being aware of the future, having desires, preferences, fears, and delights, before hurting him or her is a sin, is immoral, and should be considered a crime?

A tenth? A hundredth? A thousandth?

A couple years ago I was working at a chimpanzee sanctuary in Cameroon. At that time there were six orphan juveniles living in the “nursery.” Hunters had killed their mothers. The nursery was about half an acre of forest surrounded by an electric fence. A cabin-like building was divided into two parts, a nesting/sleeping room for the chimpanzees and a tiny bedroom/food prep room for a volunteer, where I slept. In the morning, I would get up and make cups of toddler cereal and formula for each of them. They would get up when they heard me stir and start hooting and clambering to have their door opened.

I’d step out into the yard and open their door. I’d quickly hand a cup to each of them and they’d settle down for a few moments. As they finished up, I had to be sure to retrieve the cups or else they’d be destroyed during the day’s very rough and tumble play.

After they finished and I put the cups away, I’d sit with them for a while. Babole would always climb all over me and urge me to play with him, which I did, of course. Most of the others would start playing tag with each other and climbing in the tangle of trees and vines, using them for trapezes and launch pads.

Moabi usually started his day by playing with himself. He would gather small pieces of wood, little sticks, a few stones, and pile them together. Then he would sit with his pile and move things into small groups, arranging and rearranging. This usually lasted for twenty or so minutes until one of the others would sneak up on him and disrupt the order he had created, and off they would tear after each other, sometimes using me as a sort of maypole to run around and over.

But what was Moabi doing? He seemed to me to be doing the same sort of thing that I did as a child, as other young boys I have known do. He was pretending. I don’t know what he was pretending, but his behavior wasn’t discernibly different from the very poor children I’ve know who have also turned sticks and stones into toys and have imagined them to be something much different than they are. Maybe each of the small objects was a chimpanzee in Moabi’s mind. It seems possible to me that they were.

I learned pretty fast that I needed to sit with my back to a wall or close to the fence to avoid being mauled from behind. Although the chimpanzees were young and smaller than adults, they were robust, strong, and energetic. Once, when I was sitting with my back to the fence, I inadvertently touched one of the wires and received an immediate and painful jolt of a few thousand volts. All the chimpanzees seemed to know immediately what had happened.

They rushed over and consoled me, hugging me and, for a moment anyway, suspended their mad-dash play to examine my back and cuddle against me. It was clear to me that they all knew what I had felt because it had happened to them too. They were empathizing and sympathizing with me.

Just how much like us does an animal need to be before hurting them should be considered as much of a crime as it would be if it was being done to us, or to one of our children?

There is a disease called RSV that I learned about a few years ago. According to WebMD:
Respiratory syncytial virus infection, usually called RSV, is a lot like a bad cold. It causes the same symptoms. And like a cold, it is very common and very contagious. Most children have had it at least once by age 2.
I learned about this disease when an animal care technician at a giant primate lab named Bioqual contacted me about the treatment of the animals used at the lab. One of her concerns had to do with the young chimpanzees being used in RSV experiments. A paper published in 2000 by monsters at Bioqual explained that in one experiment, they used 19 one-month-old infants. They infected them by “combined intranasal and intratracheal inoculation.” They wrote that: “Nasopharyngeal swab samples were collected daily for 10 days, and tracheal lavage samples were collected on days 2, 5, 6, 8, and 10.”

So how like us do they have to be? The genetic difference between chimpanzees and us is vanishing thin. This is what I wrote about them in a newsletter to Congress in about 2002:
Let This Be a Time of Equality in American History

Congress should cease funding all research on chimpanzees. Funds should be reallocated for their permanent retirement. Only such action can approximate justice. The chimpanzee issue challenges Congress to lead; it challenges our beliefs about equality.

Chimpanzees can read.

It’s true that they can’t read very well, and they’re not as gifted in language as we are, but their mental capabilities challenge our traditional belief that humans alone are capable of such feats.

Chimpanzees can speak with us in sign language.

Our own amazing language abilities have allowed us to bridge a seemingly uncrossable communication divide. But the discovery that we can communicate in our own language with another species should cause us to reconsider our tradition-based beliefs and the morality and behaviors they engender. Right now, we act as if chimpanzee lives matter, just not very much.

The federal government’s recent actions suggest that Congress believes that harming chimpanzees in research is worthy of taxpayer support.

The national policy on chimpanzees, such as it is, is confused. Passage of P.L. 106-551, the Chimpanzee Health Improvement, Maintenance, and Protection Act, allocated funds to retire "surplu"’ chimpanzees. No similar program has been suggested for any other species. The ethically important similarities between humans and chimpanzees are widely acknowledged. Passage of the law was supported by an acknowledgment from the National Institutes of Health that there may be too many chimpanzees in U.S. tax-supported laboratories.(1) But simultaneously, NIH is allocating more funds to support the chimpanzee experimentation program.(2)

The global research community has tacitly acknowledged that chimpanzees are so similar to humans that experiments using them can hardly be justified. In Europe, only six chimpanzees remain assigned to a single research project; the rest are being retired to sanctuaries. Research using them is banned in Great Britain and New Zealand. Here, the U.S. government owns or controls most of the approximately 1400 chimpanzees available for research. (This is a small number of animals. Compare this with the 50,000 monkeys, the 70,000 dogs, and the 20 to 30 million rats and mice used annually in the U.S. (4) Also of note, is the fact that the overwhelming majority of these chimpanzees have been, and are being, held simply in case a "need" for them arises. Throughout the world, the moral and ethical realities seem to be overtaking the claims regarding any "necessity" of using these animals.
How Many Chimpanzees Are Available to Researchers in the U.S.? (3)

University of Louisiana at Lafayette 368
Southwest Foundation for Biomedical Research 250
National Institutes of Health (NIH)/Holloman Air Force Base 241
Emory University (Yerkes) 190
University of Texas 154
Primate Foundation of Arizona 76
Bioqual (Rockville, Maryland) 63
Centers for Disease Control (CDC) 14
Food and Drug Administration (FDA) 11

Total Available Chimpanzees 1367
A very few philosophers and scientists continue to argue that chimpanzees and other primates are so unlike us that certain harm to them is justified by any chance of benefit to us. But those arguments are convoluted or mean-spirited and reminiscent of the Southern intellectual defense of slavery. The more common view is that humans and chimpanzees are much alike.

National policy in this arena is crying for leadership from outside the vested economic concerns. Members of Congress are personally and particularly responsible for the nation’s continuing failure to address the important ethical questions raised by the complex minds within the animals being experimented on in the United States.

Chimpanzees live to be nearly as old as humans. They form long-lasting relationships with each other. They make and use tools, they teach their children how to use tools. They pass their simple cultures down from generation to generation. Chimpanzees are intensely emotional, as are all primates. They laugh, they hoot, they mourn.

One remarkable human gift is our ability to imagine justice based on compassion and inclusiveness. Our hearts have led us to claim equality for those unequal in many other ways. No matter how smart, how literate, how creative one might be, we extend the basic right of freedom from harm by another to all. We continue to break down the barriers built on prejudice. Only tradition and the bigotry of a few vested interests keep us from reaching across the barrier of species – a barrier to justice maintained only by greed and the pre-scientific myth of mankind’s metaphysical superiority to all else.

The mental and emotional similarity between chimpanzees and humans makes our continuing use and warehousing of these animals indefensible. It is time for a change. It is time for leadership.

Congress should cease funding all research on chimpanzees. Funds should be allocated for the permanent retirement of all chimpanzees.

Let this be the time of equality in American history. Let our children look back on today with the same relief and pride that we ourselves now feel when we look back on past inequities and see our moral progress reflected in our revulsion to those moments most obscene. Let this be the time when the United States Congress leads the way to basic legal protections for all those who can suffer, as we ourselves are wont to do.

It is possible.

(1) John Strandberg, Prepared Statement on H.R. 3514. National Center for Research Resources, National Institutes of Health. Hearing before the Subcommittee on Health and Environment of the Committee on Commerce. U.S. House of Representatives. May 18, 2000.
(2) University of Louisiana at Lafayette, “Expansion of NIH Chimpanzee Holding Facility,” (Grant 1C06RR016483-01); $1,975,176. (2002). And, “Establishment/Maintenance of Biomedical Research Colony (Grant 5U42RR015087-03); $843,593. (2002). University of Texas, “Establishment/Maintenance of Biomedical Research Colony, MD Anderson Cancer Center.” (Grant 1C06RR017724-01); $1,959,906 (2002). And, “Organized Research, Veterinary Science: Extramural Research Facilities Construction Projects.” (Grant 5U42RR015090-03); $5,155,254 (2002).
(3) No one knows with absolute certainty. The table represents the most currently available data drawn from official documents from NIH and the facilities named. Most of these animals are not being used in research.
(4) United States Department of Agriculture. Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, APHIS. “Animal Welfare Report: Fiscal Year 2001. Report of the Secretary of Agriculture to the President of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives.” Appendix.
At every university and many of the colleges in the US, people with mental defects or delays are being allowed to do horrible things to animals. Police departments seem unable to weed out the monsters from their ranks. Government agencies attract people willing to do anything they are allowed to do. Monsters are everywhere.

It’s pretty clear that there is something wrong with such people. It’s not so much that they can’t or don’t understand their victims’ suffering; it’s that they don’t care, or worse, that they want their victims to suffer. It turns out that psychologists and medical doctors were involved in the torture of prisoners -- convicted of nothing -- in the interrogation program carried out by the US government in the years following September 11th. Presumably, psychologists have a deep understanding of people’s feelings. They hoped that the methods they devised would be horrible. Those who did these things were monsters.

Once you take notice of the problem it is hard not see it everywhere you look. It’s sort of like John Carpenter’s film They Live! in which the main character puts on a pair of special sunglasses and presto, he sees the world as it really is, a world dominated by alien monsters who appear as regular old humans when seen without the glasses. Subliminal messages are everywhere, embedded in all the normal signs and billboards, telling unsuspecting humans to obey and consume, only in this case the subliminal messages say: "Animals don’t matter." "Ignore obvious suffering." "Eat more animals." "Wear more animals' skins." "Animals are disposable."

(1) Burbacher TM, Grant KS. Methods for studying nonhuman primates in neurobehavioral toxicology and teratology. Review. Neurotoxicology and Teratology. 2000.

(2) WISC-TV. “For The Record,” Hosted by Neil Heinen. Sunday, June 22, 2009.

(3) Abeyesinghe SM, Nicol CJ, Hartnell SJ, Wathes CM. Can domestic fowl, Gallus gallus domesticus, show self-control? Animal Behaviour. 2005.

(4) Virginia Morell. Minds of their Own: Animals are smarter than you think. National Geographic. March 2008.

(5) Masutani S, Little WC, Hasegawa H, Cheng HJ, Cheng CP. Restrictive left ventricular filling pattern does not result from increased left atrial pressure alone. Circulation. 2008.

No comments: