Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Hurting Animals

Of the myriad fronts on which the fight for animals’ rights is waged, antivivisection might be the one most associated with the use of logical, rational, science-based arguments. The vegan movement also employs science-based rationalistic health- and environment-related arguments, but pro-vegan literature seems more holistic overall.

Science-based critiques and defenses of the use of animals as models of human disease and drug responses account for a large proportion of the pro- and anti-vivisectionist literature.

I wonder though, whether those arguments, on either side, aren’t just so much smoke and self-deception.

It seems to me that the real usually unspoken argument concerns the way humans treat other animals. The reasons we treat them badly aren't given much thought in actual practice. The arguments put forth to defend their poor treatment by us appear to be manifestations of our gene-based propensity to rationalize when confronted with a challenge.

Quite matter-of-factly, hurting other animals is a human societal norm. We like to hurt and kill other animals. Seemingly rational arguments defending our behavior cannot be genuinely answered because they don’t accurately explain the behavior being challenged; they are mere rationalizations that shift as needed.

It’s only recently that I’ve begun to understand this.

There are good examples of our poor treatment of animals that can serve as anchor points for understanding why we ought not get too hung up with trying to carefully counter the claims made by those hurting animals when they are challenged to defend themselves. A careful rebuttal to an argument that doesn’t accurately describe real motivations is a waste of time, but worse, it leads one and observers to mistakenly believe that a better, more detailed, more fact-filled argument might have succeeded.

An anchor point.

On Sunday, January 22, 2012, the Wisconsin State Journal ran a half-page full-color article titled “Nothing squirrely about hunting tournament” on the prominent back page of the sports section. Here’s an excerpt:
Each two-person team had until noon to shoot as many squirrels as hunting regulations allow (five per hunter) and report to the Hyde Store in rural Iowa County for a weigh-in. The team with the heaviest bag would win the third annual event.
There wasn’t a serious reason to kill the squirrels; it was just for fun. We like to kill animals. And in this case, the fun was amplified by the joy of enticing and encouraging children to kill animals. Here’s an image from the article. The caption reads: “Thirteen-year-old Darren Amble watches the scale record 3.11 pounds for three gray squirrels he and his team member, Matt Bender shot during the 3rd Annual Winter Squirrel Hunt held at the Hyde Store in rural Iowa County.”

I can imagine the rationalizations from the adult organizers and participants if they were challenged, but that’s all they would be, mere after-the-fact rationalizations. It would be ridiculous to spend a moment rebutting them because they would be shape-shifting inventions with no roots in reality. They simply like killing animals.

Here’s another anchor point.

Elephants used in circuses lead miserable lives. The documentation of their chronic poor health, life-long restraint, and physical punishment is voluminous. Yet, efforts to eliminate their exhibition are met with endless spurious claims. And their use continues.

Simply put, we don’t care. We don’t care.

Examples of our true opinions, our society-wide lack of concern about the suffering of literally billions of animals, abound.

This brings me back to the arguments about the use of animals in science. They are shadow dances; they are the ever shifting meaningless shapes in a fog bank.

The people presenting these vaporous defenses of animal experimentation eat animals. They wear their skins; they never speak on their behalf; they like seeing animals in zoos and circuses; and they enjoy killing them while hunting and fishing. They like using animals.

Arguments over the utility of animal experimentation miss entirely the reason people do it. They like it. They get paid to do it. They don’t care about the animals. Their behavior is rooted in the societal norms that condone hurting and killing animals.

We promote killing contests and cheer when animals are coerced into performing stupid tricks. We buy their flesh and dedicate magazines to the fashionable use of their skin and fur. We mount their dead heads on our walls. We use tax dollars to televise and celebrate hunting and killing them on public television. The notion that we have some well articulated rational reason for doing so, and that we wouldn’t if a better argument could be formulated, is untenable in the face of our daily unthinking use of them.

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