Violence in Context

Adonia David

 Yesterday I received an email with a picture of cats that were force-fed toilet cleaner by Proctor and Gamble – an example of animal testing of the type that goes on every day.  The photo was posted by the Animal Liberation Front (ALF), an umbrella entity that many view as a fringe and frightening network of individuals who are willing to save animals in testing facilities by taking steps that are prohibited by society such as property destruction etc. (ALF’s guidelines insist that all precautions be taken to make sure no animals or humans are harmed when any destruction occurs, but the fact remains that arson and similar activities are carried out at times).  I have seen other information posted by ALF, perhaps the most disturbing being the story of Britches, a newborn monkey stolen from his mother for a study on “maternal deprivation” and whose eyes were sewn shut to study “sight deprivation.” He was kept in what appeared to be a shut cabinet and given none of the affection a young animal requires.  Members of ALF saved him and, watching the video, I’ll freely admit that I saw them as the heroes of the story despite their reputation.

 ALF holds a strange place in the world of animal activism.  Individuals working under the ALF banner take concrete action to pull animals out of situations that many of us decry and rail against, and yet they are derided for their extremism and many other people who are concerned about the fate of animals in society do anything they can to disassociate from them.  They are one of the groups that those on the other side point to when they want to discredit all individuals who fight for animal welfare.  It is an unfortunate fact that many people lump all animal welfarists and activists together, and so when individuals involves in ALF are labeled as “terrorists,” then by extension, other animal activists who do not take such controversial actions must also fight against that label.  But the fact also remains that there are animals alive today, living actual lives, that would have died in extreme pain save for ALF’s actions.  There is simply no getting around the fact that ALF members have saved more lives than many of us who walk a tighter legal line.

There  is a law called the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act (AETA) that purports to protect animal enterprises from animal activists, such as individuals involved in ALF, who “steal” property in the form of animals and engage in destruction of facilities to achieve their rescues.  There is a lot of controversy surrounding the Act based on free speech issues, as well as the fact that it partially ties its punitive sections to economic damage done to animal enterprises and the fact that such damage could be brought about by perfectly legal and non-violent activity such as boycotts and protests which are undertaken every day by more mainstream activists.  (See Equal Justice Alliance for more information on the civil rights aspect of the AETA controversy).

However, there is another question that the law raises:  why is it that society focuses on the sometimes illegal actions of animal activists but turns away from the insane violence that corporations inflict on the most helpless of creatures – animals absolutely alone and in the power of the testers with no recourse and no help?  Who defines which activity is violent and why have we, as a society allowed this definition, finding that the torture itself is not violent enough to outlaw, but the recues are?  Which is more immoral – torching an empty building, or pouring toilet bowl cleaner down cats’ mouths? Is violence to inanimate property really worse than violence to animal life?  This is not to say that I condone arson – I do not – but simply that there is a disconnect in the fact that society as a whole has chosen to identify the burning of an empty warehouse as violent and subject to legal sanctions, but the cruel testing and vivisection of animals, of living beings, as not.  It is a question that others have written about more elegantly than me, but one that I considered when I first learned about Britches.  It is a question I considered again when confronted with the picture of the cats, who had obviously died in torment. It is a question worth thinking about.

14 Responses

  1. […] Violence in Context « Animal Blawg […]

  2. I would love to test these products on the CEOs and their employees that actually perform these tests. Tie them up and give me the stuff, I won’t need any help.
    I admire the courage of ALF, the cowardice of those elected official that signed the AETA, not so much.

  3. The answer is simple. If animal testing really is without any value and really does not produce any results, then that should be easy to prove.

    The vast majority of people won’t abide the needless suffering of animals. The scope and degree of public rage regarding the Vick dog abuse case, for instance, is just one small example of that.

    But, I note, that as long as these objections have dragged on (it’s been decades now), the animal rights movement has apparently failed to prove vivisection is without value — while the vast majority of the scientific and medical communities have continued to support it.

    As soon as ARA has anything new to offer — something that will actually stand up against peer review with scientists and medical professionals — then I’m all ears, as I’m sure most other people are.

    But until then, for most of us, rantings against vivisection fall into much the same category as those trying to argue evolution and global climate change aren’t real.

  4. There’s a book called Sacred Cows and Golden Geese that presents a very compelling argument against medical testing on animals and also points out that it is a huge economic business. Those who test on animals have a lot of incentive to continue to advocate for it. I recognize this book will not change everyone’s minds, but it’s certainly worth a read.

  5. Adonia,

    I apologize if I came across as strident, but I do remain dubious.
    The book you mention does sound interesting. However, does it really take the arguments past the three basic objections we’ve all heard so many times before?

    Vivisection offers no real benefits to people.
    It’s needless animal torture.
    It’s all about the money.

    Of those, the first is patently false, the proof is overwhelming, and virtually no reputable medical professional or scientist will say otherwise.

    The second is more of a philosophical matter. On a visceral level, yes, it’s objectionable to deliberately subject any creature to pain and terror. But where the rubber meets the road, so to speak, things get more complex.

    The third might hold some truth, but it’s also rather generalized and, frankly, lazy. Yes, it’s practically axiomatic that big money brings with it not only motive, but also corruption. However, it’s a bit of a stretch to say the medical and scientific communities largely support vivisection only because there’s money in it.

    Personally, I think this is a complex and evolving issue. But I will repeat, the objectors — at least those calling for a full ban — need to come up with better arguments and more evidence.

    Meanwhile, as to the main subject of this blog — I think illegal and violent actions are uncalled for an inexcusable.

    I have no regard or respect whatsoever for ALF and similar “activists,” other than that they represent a lunatic, and quite possibly dangerous, fringe. They have every right to rant and rave as much as they wish. I’m an unabashed advocate of free expression. However, if and when they do undertake any illegal activity, they make themselves criminals, and should be treated accordingly.

  6. Hal – you were not strident at all, not at all – I appreciate your frank and intelligent comments. I agree 100% that it is a complex issue and I think part of it at least revolves around our individual beliefs regarding humans and animals – at least to an extent. I think it leads to different takes on this issue, whether animals are seen as “other nations, caught with ourselves in the net of life and time” (Henry Beston – I love that quote), whose worth and autonomy is absolutely outside of their physical use to humans, or as other beings that we need to respect as much as possible, but still use when absolutely necessary for important human interests. If we think the first, then animal testing will simply never be as compelling than if we think the latter, and I really think very thoughtful and caring people fall on both sides of the line – I’ve met many on both sides.

    But either way, I do recommend the book for those interested in the topic – you are right, those are the basic points it touches (more the human benefits than the torture if I remember right, it’s been awhile since I read it), but it presented them in a much more unemotional manner than I had seen before – it is written by a medical doctor who was surprised to find that his vet wife treated her patients very differently, medically, than he did. He thought the methods should be much more similar, given that he had always believed that medical testing worked because of the similarities between humans and animals. So he went digging and uncovered things he didn’t expect to. But – obviously the book will speak more to some than others – as you said, is very complex and evolving and there are many issues involved. I am not a scientist at all – I found the book compelling, but I do keep meaning to have my medical student cousin and my nurse aunt read it and give me their take because I’m sure they will have insights I simply don’t.

    Off to study! Take care.

  7. Adonia,

    That does sound like a good book. Whether I’ll have time to read it is doubtful, with my hectic life right now. I’ve started an fine book on spirituality about five times now — who knows when I’ll have time to finish it, let alone move on to another book.

    I’m not sure where my views on animals fall. Somewhere along the spectrum you mentioned, but not really at either end. I tend to look at the big picture — how the entire planet (heck, universe, for that matter) is one huge interconnected system. Everything is taking and using from something else. Passive observation isn’t an option. Death and consumption are hardly bad things, from nature’s point of view. In that regard, I don’t understand why some people get so upset when an animal dies — or is eaten by people. Death most certainly doesn’t bother animals. And our own bodies get eaten by worms and/or microbes in the end anyway.

    I think in a way, we project our own negative feelings toward death and consumption, because of our misunderstanding and fears. Animals have a totally different perspective on killing and death.

    One small example, I once happened upon and had to shoot a dog – which some cretin had mortally wounded and then abandoned to suffer in the badlands – right in front of the two dogs I had at the time. I was torn up about it, but my dogs were’t phased at all.

    It’s the deliberate subjecting of animals to prolonged pain and terror that I oppose. But then again, what are the parameters of that — especially when it comes to something like vivisection?

    Still, as you’ve noted, vivisection is a more complex topic than either entrenched “side” of the debate tries to make it out to be. Again, I have no doubt that money and institutional dogma play a part. Yes, I would be fascinated to see what somebody who worked in the field of medicine, but questions the need for vivisection, has to say.

    Good luck with your studies.

  8. That must have been terrible for you Hal – about the dog. I’m so sorry – it was a kind thing you did…..
    You raise a lot of good points – has made me think today.

  9. Excellent post and comments, thank you all.

    Life is suffering, and death is inevitable, this much is true (to borrow from the buddhists). But what is at issue here is not that. Rather, it is what Adonia alluded to in her post — the *normalization* of certain kinds of violence and torture against animals (vivisection, meat industry, etc), versus the focus on criminalizing economic harm such as the AETA does.

    This normalization works against rational discourse about animal use. To trust in people’s outrage to end a certain practice is to assume a lot of things, among them that people are (a) getting the full story, and (b) not continually told or shown by authority figures that such things are “normal” (remember the famous Milgram experiments about obedience to authority?) For example, the furor over the Vick case had more to do with his status as a football star than anything else, and with the fact that dog fighting is seen as criminal, not “normal” (there is also a racist edge to the furor over dog and cock fighting). Also, the furor did little to stop dog fighting, which continues virtually unabated in many places.

    So it is not as simple as showing that the violence and harm of animal testing outweighs the benefit to humans, because when that kind of violence is normalized, it counts for very little on the scale, so the evaluation is almost always skewed.

    For another book to add to our ever growing reading list, I’d like to add _Muzzling a Movement_ by Dara Lovitz, about the Shac 7, and AETA. For anyone interested in First Amendment rights it’s a must read for its look at the AETA. It’s also pretty short!

    Now, back to work 😦

  10. Another thing I thought of (while working of course ;0 ). And this is pretty much off topic, it’s just a response to Hal’s example about his dogs. Sorry for the digression, but I think it’s important not to jump to conclusions about animal behavior that aren’t warranted.

    Hal, while I agree that most nonhumans likely see death differently than humans (although it appears clear now that many do mourn the deaths of companions. See biologists like Marc Beckoff who do research in this area), your example does not support that proposition. You felt bad about shooting a dog that had been left to suffer, your dogs didn’t. I don’t know exactly why you felt bad, although, as someone who works with a wildlife rehabber, I have a pretty good idea: it hurts when you can’t save someone you wanted to save. But do you feel the same about roadkill? If you’re not torn up every time you see roadkill, aren’t you behaving like your dogs? “Unphased?”

    Another example: I lived in NYC in the bad ole days of the crack epidemic. Coming home late one night, I practically stumbled over a man who’d been shot. I ran to the nearest working pay phone to call 911, the ambulance came, but the man died anyway. I was shocked and scared (because I didn’t know where the shooter was!) but I cannot say in all honesty that I was torn up about this man’s death. Thus, I behaved like your dogs. I don’t think I’m that different from most people in the compassion department, but I didn’t know this man, and had nothing particularly to mourn except for the circumstances of his death, which were horrible.

    My point is, we suffer over the deaths of those who matter to us, and those we are somehow connected to by virtue of trying to help them or something else. We are shocked and outraged when someone we don’t know dies violently in front of us, but I do not think that we are “torn up”, usually.

    Conversely, I’ve seen animals who are bonded to another animal stop eating when the other animal dies. We don’t know how to interpret it, granted. But, in any event, the fact that your dogs did not “care” about the poor dog you had to kill, while you did, doesn’t prove your thesis about the difference in human/nonhuman relationships to death. Wish it were that simple.

  11. Lorien,

    Vivisection, like any institutionalized practice, needs to be scrutinized and questioned.

    My objection is to claims it simply does no good. Clearly, it has.

    As to my story regarding the dogs, the point I was trying to make was that the event was traumatic to me, because I projected my own emotions and sentiments on to it. In the objective sense, there was nothing bad or unnatural about it, and nothing to get upset about.
    A suffering creature had its suffering cut short. Something died, and its body went back into the soil.

    Animals have a sense of loss, I’m sure. There’s practical reasons for that. Animals that live in a pack or herd have a much better chance at both immediate survival and species preservation if they share at least some level of bonding.

    I will note that having had numerous pets over the years, the surviving animals do seem to notice when one of the other dogs or cats dies, but they don’t seem to particularly distraught about it either.

    Again, nature does not blink at death, and animals don’t seem to have the hang-ups and fears about it that humans do.

    And there’s practical reasons for that too. If you’re a deer, your species could never survive if you suffered debilitating mental trauma or crushing grief every time one of your fellows got killed and eaten.

    Likewise, if you’re a wolf hunting deer, you can’t afford to waste much sentimentality if one of your pack members breaks his leg chasing deer, and then suffers and dies as a result. Survival and the best interest of the species would not allow you the time or energy to waste on that.

  12. When billions of dollars are at stake, vivisectors have a very vested interest in holding onto these sums — thus making it NOT very easy at all to prove that vivisection is useless.

    If anyone is seriously interested in hearing from members of the medical community who not only question the efficacy but prove the harmfulness of animal experimentation, then I, like Adonia, recommend not only “Sacred Cows and Golden Geese: The Human Cost of Experiments on Animals” (2000), but also the Greeks’ follow-up “Specious Science: How Genetics and Evolution Reveal Why Medical Research on Animals Harms Humans” (2003), as well as their most recent “What Will We Do if We Don’t Experiment on Animals? Medical Research for the Twenty-First Century” (2006).

    I had to laugh at reviewer Rick Bogle’s opening remark on the latter book: “The Greeks’ newest contribution to the growing debate regarding the most ethical use of limited resources for medical research will be unpopular with the animal-model community. ‘Unpopular’ may be an understatement; they are going to hate it.”

    The rest of Bogle’s critique is worth quoting here:

    “Whenever the question of using animals in research comes up you can be certain that the animal researchers and their supporters will accuse you of hating children if you criticize their cruelties or even their science. ‘What else do you suggest?’ is their common challenge, ‘should we experiment or little children, or just let them die?’ Indeed, it is in their financial interests to cast any critic as a callous lout. But now, the answers are much clearer.

    “In ‘What Will We Do If We Don’t Experiment On Animals?’ the Greeks explain the failures and risks of basing medicines for humans on the results of experiments on other species. Apparently, the animal researchers are content to let children die from a new drug just as long as it was first developed for and tested on animals. But this is well known already.

    “The new ground in the Greeks newest book is the compilation of modern research techniques that really are providing new insights into human disease and offering potential new cures. Readers are given a tour of truly modern medical research that is grounded in a thorough appreciation of the underlying genetics behind disease and our individual responses to drug therapies.

    “Unlike much of the traditional antivivisectionist literature, the Greeks write from the perspective that we have learned something about human biology from studying animals even if we could have learned the same things in other ways. More importantly, they point out that we no longer wonder what a heart does, and that today we are seeking to understand the roles of the proteins coded for by each organism’s unique genetic code. The subtleties that account for differences between species are the same subtleties that explain why a rat, a dog, and a human will each respond differently at the molecular level to any particular drug.

    “But, the real value in the book is not its power to point out the failures and ugly profiteering of the animal modelers, but to give the reader hope by pointing out the growing number of research efforts underway based on modern science. The reliance on the most modern of methods accounts for the fact that an ever-growing number of researchers interested in curing and preventing human disease have turned to non-animal methods based on human biology.

    “For anyone with an interest in leading edge biomedical science, this book will probably become a well-worn reference.”

    The Greeks are hardly the only physicians who find fault with the experiments in which they once participated. contains extensive excerpts from Air Force animal researcher turned antivivsectionist Donald J. Barnes (Chapter 15, pp 13-15) and from Vernon Coleman, a retired M.D. in the U.K. who has written extensively on the subject (Chapter 17, pp 26-30).

    Coleman concludes his exhaustive analysis of vivisection with his usual candor: “Those of us who oppose animal experimentation are ethically right, morally right, scientifically right and medically right.”

    In addition, parts of the preface of the 1989 book “1,000 Doctors [and Many More] Against Vivisection,” written by the founder of the Scientific Center for Information on Vivisection, Hans Ruesch, can be found in Chapter 13, pp 31-33.

    Perhaps the best summary by a physician of the uselessness and consequent evils of vivisection is found in Chapter 9, p. 26, where surgeon and Harvard Medical School professor Henry Jacob Bigelow (1818-1890), observes, “Watch the students at a vivisection. It is the blood and suffering, not the science, that rivets their breathless attention. If hospital service makes young students less tender of suffering, vivisection deadens their humanity and begets indifference to it. … Vivisection is not an innocent study. We may usefully popularize chemistry and electricity, their teaching and their experimentation. BUT not so with vivisection.”

    Fittingly, Dr. Bigelow delivered this prophetic line: “There will come a time when the world will look back to modern vivisection in the name of science, as they do now to burning at the stake in the name of religion.”

  13. Hal, who are you arguing with? I said your example was not well thought out, and I stand by that. Your response didn’t raise anything new. I work with a wildlife rehabber. I’ve also lived in areas remote from humans, around wild critters. Spare me the biology 101.

    Nor does your last comment add to the viivisection debate.

  14. Nor does mine. So I’m going too leave it here, and read the excellent links posted by CQ.

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