"The Animal People"
by Joy Williams
For centuries poets, some poets, have tried to give a voice to the animals, and readers, some readers, have felt empathy and sorrow. If animals did have voices, and they could speak with the tongues of angels- at the very least with the tongues of angels - they would be unable to save themselves from us. What good would language do? Their mysterious otherness has not saved them, nor have their beautiful songs and coats and skins and shells and eyes. We discover the remarkable intelligence of the whale, the wolf, the elephant - it does not save them, nor does our awareness of the complexity of their lives. Their strength, their skills, their swiftness, the beauty of their flights. It matters not, it seems, whether they are large or small, proud or shy, docile or fierce, wild or domesticated, whether they nurse their young or brood patiently on eggs. If they eat meat, we decry their viciousness; if they eat grasses and seeds, we dismiss them as weak. There is not one of them, not even the songbird, who cannot, who does not, conflict with man and his perceived needs and desires. St. Francis converted the wolf of Gubbio to reason, but he performed this miracle only once and as miracles go, it didn't seem to capture the public's fancy. Humans don't want animals to reason with them. It would be a disturbing, unnerving, diminishing experience; it would bring about all manner of awkwardness and guilt.
We learn more and more about them, and that has not saved them. We know that when they face Death, they fear it. We know that they care for their young and teach them, that they play and grieve, that they have memories and a sense of the future, for which they sometimes plan. We know about their habits, their migrations, that they have a sense of Home, of finding, seeking, returning to Home. We know these things, and it has not saved them. We know where they live on this planet, and nine times out of ten we will go there and... rout... them... out. Nothing that is animal, that is not us, cannot be slaughtered as a pest or sucked dry as a memento or reduced to a trophy or rendered into a product or eaten, eaten, eaten. The French eat horses, the Japanese whales, the Taiwanese dogs. Gorillas and chimpanzees are now being killed in quantity on a commercial level, to provide bushmeat for African workers who are decimating their forests for European timber companies. It's need or preference or availability, it's plentiful, it's not plentiful but it's a nice change of pace, it arouses the palate, it amuses the palate, it's healthy, it gets rid of something unwanted, it utilizes what's already dead, it would live too long otherwise and take up too much space, it's somebody's way of life, it's somebody's livelihood, it's somebody's business, it's an industry.
The creatures that have been under our "stewardship" the longest, who have been codified by habit for our use, the farm animals, have never been as cruelly kept or confined or slaughtered in such numbers in all of history. They have always suffered a special place in our regard - they are known to us, they are tamed, they are raised to provide us with milk and eggs and meat, they are bred to die. Large-scale corporate agribusinesses are pure Descartes. Animals are no more than machines - milk machines, piglet-making machines, egg-laying machines. Production units converting themselves into profits. Pigs are raised on bare concrete, in windowless metal buildings, or tightly restrained in foul pens and gestation boxes. Two hundred and fifty thousand laying hens can be confined in a single building on a factory farm with fully automated egg collection. The high mortality rate caused by overcrowding is considered economically acceptable. Nothing is more worthless than an individual chicken. Cows are kept pregnant to produce milk, the amount of which is artificially increased with synthetic hormone injections, although the dairy industry already produces enormous quantities of excess milk. The by-products of the dairy industry, calves, are chained in crates twenty-two inches wide and no longer than their bodies and raised on a diet of drug-laced liquid feed for a few months until they're slaughtered for the delicacy veal. The factory farm today is a crowded, stinking bedlam, filled with suffering animals who are quite literally insane, sprayed with pesticides and fattened on a diet of growth stimulants, antibiotics, and drugs, some of which, like sulfamethazine and clenbuterol, are proven carcinogenics.
Sliced, cubed, shrink-wrapped, their remains in our vast, spotless supermarkets have borne no resemblance to living things in our minds for some time now - they are merely some things, in another department from the vegetables. The supermarket is not a place where one thinks... Animal. Now, even at the source of their lives, where they live their brief lives, they are, in our time, slipping away from being thought of as animals at all. They are explicitly excluded from any protection offered by the Federal Animal Welfare Act, an act that is casually and lightly enforced, if at all, by the Department of Agriculture. "normal agricultural operation" precludes humane treatment and anticruelty laws do not apply to that which is raised for food. I thought that no one ate veal anymore. After learning how they were raised in darkness, in crates, not in meadow on mother's milk at all, I just assumed... But, no, many people say, well, apparently they're raised in the dark, in crates or something, but the taste is creamy, refined, I like it.... Gourmands will stop eating veal only if they become convinced that they'll get a killer disease if they don't.
In England, the beef industry had a setback when a link was found between bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), a fatal disease of cattle, and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, a fatal neurological virus in humans. The cows became ill because they were fed the rendered remains of sick sheep. Of course, in this country we are assured that our cows aren't being fed sick sheep and that no BSE-infected cattle have been found here. We do have many "downer" animals, though, about 100,000 of them a year, that collapse from stress or something, heaven knows, and end up dead prior to the slaughtering process. They are rendered and ground up and become pet food and animal feed. Cattle do eat cattle here. They are fed the ground offal of those that have succumbed to unknown causes, and this has been practiced for many years. If BSE were ever confirmed in this country, which is not at all unlikely, people would stop eating meat for a while for the same reasons the English did. Not because they'd had a sudden telepathic vision of the horrors of the abattoir, or because they'd all been subjected to a reading of James Agee's "A Mother's Tale" but because they thought that eating steak would make their brains go funny. It's unlikely that they'd turn to vegetarianism.
Vegetarians are still regarded somewhat suspiciously and, in general, not admired much. Their Meat is Murder chirping seems to be an irritant right up there with the noise of a leaf blower or a jet ski. And their wishful hope that by their example, animals will be saved, that slaughterhouses will fall silent and "modern" agribusiness will crumble, seems naive, for elementary economics do not apply to the world of agribusiness. If the state of Maine, say, went vegetarian or the entire state of Florida, led by those tanned oldsters who have finally for the first time, grasped what Ecclesiastes 3:19 is saying - went all the way vegan, what would happen?
Well, such a fundamental, abnormal shift in attitudes would constitute a crisis for many thousands of people in the intensive agricultural industry. On an average day in America, 130,000 cattle, 7,000 calves, 360,000 pigs, and 24 million chickens are killed, and you can't shut a show like that down overnight. On the nightly news there'd be footage of cows and calves being shot, pigs being bulldozed into pits, chickens being gassed and dumped - for nothing. Vegetarians would be accused of causing the carnage - the blood would be on their hands because they hadn't been realistic, they hadn't thought their actions through, they hadn't realized how illogical and egotistical they were being. Too, the argument goes, even when people don't eat animals (unless they are zealots are Jains), they are culpable in their deaths. For as well as being turned into the more obvious sofas, shoes, and jackets, animals are transmogrified into anti-aging creams and glue and paint and cement and condoms. Gelatin - benign gelatin, formerly known as hooves - constitutes Jell-O, of course, and is also in ice cream and the increasing number of fat-free products we consume. Animals are turned into all manner of drugs, mood enhancers, and mood stabilizers. Premarin, an estrogen drug for menopausal women, comes from the urine of pregnant mares. This is a whole new industry that results in the births of approximately 75,000 unwanted foals each year. Off to the slaughterhouse the little ones go, along with the big racehorses who had the misfortune never to see a winner's circle. Prozac was developed in the laboratory by - well, to make a long story short - injecting rats with various compounds and blenderizing their brains, which were then injected into other rats whose brains were blenderized, and so on to discover a chemical that would block a postulated cause of depression: too many neuroserotonin particles. Not that rat brains are Prozac per se, but it could be said that millions of dead rats are responsible for our being so at peace with ourselves.
Animals are everywhere in our lives. (We just can't look into their eyes. And we've gotten used to not looking into their eyes.) We distance ourselves from them more and more as we use them in increasingly unnatural ways. They're practically on the verge of being reclassified, so that our remaining compassion and ethical concerns for them will be made irrelevant. In the laboratory, animals are tools, they're part of the scientific apparatus, they undergo transformation, they are metamorphized into data. Rats and mice are already excluded from the definition of animal by the Department of Agriculture. Rats and mice are simply not animals, they are something else. And to take it one step further these un-animals are genetically manipulated and re-invented. Hairless mice were created some time ago to make it easier for researchers to administer injections. There are countless variations of mutant "knockout" mice that lack particular genes crucial to learning or instinctual behavior. There are AIDS mice and cancer mice who self-destruct in novel ways. There are countless creatures in the labs whose genetic code had been permanently altered, creatures programmed to suffer (though suffering to experimenters is considered a theoretical abstraction); to be born with or develop terrible diseases and deformities. The first patent for a genetically altered animal was granted in 1987. The engineering, altering, and manufacturing of animals has barely begun. A side benefit of this is that we don't have to feel guilty about "animals" anymore. Any sentience they'd possess would be invented by man or could be eliminated altogether. Animals would have no more a real "life" than a light bulb.
Animals of the farm, manipulated through drugs to grow faster and larger, to produce more milk or leaner meat, are commonplace. Now there is "pharming," a logical continuance of this accepted trend. Researchers are creating entire new orders of creatures - specifically designed, transgenic, xenograph-ready. Around the world in labs with names such as Genpharm International Inc., Genzyme Corporation, and Pharmaceutical Proteins, biotechnocrats are inserting human genes into livestock to form animals that can produce human proteins and hormones: drugstores on the hoof. Pigs, long attractive to the farmer, not because of any Babe or Miss Piggy-like charm but because they have short pregnancies and big litters, have become a favorite of researchers, who are altering them to make the perfect organ donors. Humans are requiring fresh new organs all the time, and employing animals in this way seems so much more sophisticated than merely eating them. The ethics of breeding animals for body parts to replace our own failing ones seems to give people pause only when combined with warnings of dangers to human health. A person might not want that little monkey's heart, not because he wanted the monkey to keep it but because he'd worry that he might contract the Ebola virus and his skin would get pulpy, he'd vomit black blood, and his eyeballs would burst.
If, however, you found this fear beside the point - if, in fact, you felt that the monkey had a right to his own heart - you would be considered somewhat of an oddball. You'd be one of the "animal people." You'd believe in animal liberation, you would be part of the animal rights movement. Technology presses to remove animals from nature, to muddy and morph the remaining integrity of the animal kingdom. Technocrats would further reduce animals, historically considered property under the law, to defined, even designed varieties of use. While the animal rights movement is attempting to pierce the barrier between species in order to give animals equal consideration under the law, the far more powerful economic forces want to pierce the barrier for far different reasons and to far different effect. While the animal rights movement tries to make people face their responsibilities to the living world and question prevailing nature-breaking values, technology merely dismisses their concerns and characterizes the movement as being composed of crazies and cranks.
Anthropomorphism originally meant the attribution of human characteristics to God. It is curious that the word is now used almost exclusively to ascribe human characteristics - such as fidelity or altruism or pride, or emotions such as love, embarrassment, or sadness - to the nonhuman animal. One is guilty of anthropomorphism, though it is no longer a sacrilegious word. It's a derogatory, dismissive one that connotes a sort of rampant sentimentality. It's just another word in the arsenal of the many words used to attack the animal rights movement.
The American Medical Association, the National Association for Biomedical Research, the Food and Drug Administration, the National Institutes of Health, and the biotechnological, chemical, and pharmaceutical companies of this our land have an idea of what a day in the life of an animal rights activist is like, and they want to share it with you:
Wearing aggressive T-shirts that quote the maunderings of people you've never heard of - Schweitzer, Schopenhauer, Thomas a Kempis - animal activists start their morning by participating in one or another annoying obstructive boycotts (they have a list of things to boycott as long as your arm), telling people how they should think and feel and what they should wear and eat. Around lunchtime they sneak into grade schools and whisper to the poor impressionable innocent youngsters there, You know that sandwich that Mommy packed for you? Well, I know you love your mommy very much, but do you know that substance in your sandwich once had a mommy and a life too, and it wanted to live that life just as much as you want to live yours.... (Animal rights activists only pretend to like children - they really don't think they're any more important than an earthworm or a piglet. What they really want to do is to give our children nightmares.) In the afternoon they indulge in more protests against, circuses, zoos, and aquariums, which offer innocent family fun and/or education. They'll also attack the medical establishment whenever they can. (They dislike the sick because it is the sick who will benefit most from the data wrung from the research on intact live animal subjects, subjects that of course, if they're going to be of any use at all, do not stay intact for long. If animal rights activists had any real guts, they'd protest against who they're really against - tiny, sick babies, people with cancer and crippling diseases.)
As the day wanes, they go home and work for a while on the "Transitions" section of their underground zine, writing loopy obits like Emily the hen enjoyed two years with her human friend Sally before taking spirit form and leaving this material plane.... Evening finally comes and they sit eating their tofu burgers in the messy house they share with six dogs and eleven cats, watching inflammatory videos showing leghold traps going off and nailing the damnedest things; showing mutilated lab animals and terrified stockyard animals prior to stunning and skinning - they sit watching, watching simian horror, avian horror, equine horror, pound horror, trash cans full of euthanized dogs and cats in humane shelters, horses tied to tress and shot for bear bait - stuff a normal person would never want to look at - and then the last straw, the unfortunate footage of that elephant in Honolulu, Tyke, who escaped from the circus and was shot over and over again by police on the street, still had its little hat and bangles on and everything.... Crazed by such blatant propaganda, they rush out into the night, oblivious to the fact that they have run over a woman soliciting money - nickels, dimes, anything is welcome - for her ill, only son who needs a pig's heart valve if he's going to make it to his sixteenth birthday. Without pity or mercy or common decency, the activists in an orgy of vandalism smash the windows of fur stores and glue the door locks of business where hardworking taxpayers are trying to sell Heavenly Hams or leather sofas. Worse (they're quite deranged by now and should be captured and incarcerated) they break into a lab (a federal offense) where researchers have worked for years and years carefully, scientifically, decapitating cats, decerebrating dogs, and burning rabbits so that you and your children and your children's children can enjoy a better life....
Behold, the monster! The Animal Rights Activist. A mean-spirited, misinformed NUT, anti-technology, anti-science, anti-human with a bizarre agenda of rights for animals (and what the hell does that mean exactly, what kind of rights? the right to vote? the right to a good education? the right of a doggy to its own water dish? How about the right not to be nutted at the vet's? The right to die? A right by the way that's long been accorded to them.) The animal rights activist is very, very misguided if he thinks he can dismantle a sensible, progressive, cutting-edge society that offers its citizens 40,000 different formulations of pesticides and 205,000 different types of prescription drugs alone, a humane society that is already committed to minimizing any purported suffering experienced by the 2.7 million animals trapped each year for their fur, the 7 billion animals slaughtered each year for food and the 20 million excluding rodents sacrificed for the purposes of science.
Industry; the factory farm; chemical, biotech, and pharmaceutical companies; et cetera - all of which have only the interests of everybody at heart - would also like to point out exactly who the hell these animal people are. They're leftists. They're totalitarians. They're pantywaisted pantheists. They're fanatics. They're hopelessly middle-class individuals with too much time on their hands. They're dangerous radicals. The comparison they frequently make between the human slavery of yesteryear and the treatment of animals today is incredibly offensive to blacks. The Holocaust imagery they toss around is incredibly offensive to Jews. Feminists should be deeply suspicious of their demand to give animals the right to have a life. The Church should be outraged at the suggestion that like us animals possess souls. Veterinarians should disavow them, and children should be protected from their stories. (We encourage the dissection of frogs in the classroom if the teacher can find such amphibians anymore....) Vegetarians should distance themselves from them completely. Vegetarianism doesn't have to be a wacky pseudo-ethical choice; it can, it should, be just a harmless personal preference.
The establishment that preserves and protects our lifestyle would also like to express the wish that the animal rights movement would just go away. Or at least become as docile, bland, and ineffective as the mainstream environmental movement, a movement that has been effectively neutralized in less than thirty years.
Animal rights groups are out in the big utopian lonely thinking paradisical. They have never been embraced by the increasingly corporate environmental community. Greenpeace, a once tough and charismatic organization, has been caught in exaggeration and lies and is now so muddy-minded that it supports legislation that will bring back tuna netting practices that proved so fatal to dolphins. The Nature Conservancy swaps land and triages habitat with unseemly tax-write-off vigor. Defenders of Wildlife, raking in the dough from wolf lovers in their highly publicized reintroduction program (and beginning to overdo it with those pictures of brave caring men in their mackinaws crouched over anesthetized wolves), is at the same time supporting increased government culling of the animals. Defenders also joined the World Wildlife Fund, the Environmental Defense Fund, and the National Wildlife Federation, among others, in their support of NAFTA, which begot GATT, which created the World Trade Organization, an extremely earth-unfriendly juggernaut. The Audubon Society, also a cheerleader for GATT, is the most reactionary of them all, but what could one expect from a group named after the premier avian slaughterer of his time.... ECOWIMPS all, as their duped and disappointed supporters are discovering. Yet even the far from ecowimpy Earth First! has never entangled itself in the briar patch that is animal rights. Farm animals to them are the problem. Shoot cows not bears, EF! exhorts in its typical Dada way. The Wild is everything, the Tame holds very little interest.
Jim Mason in his book An Unnatural Order makes the point that the conservation and environmental movement has always avoided the Animal Question. (You might as well call it the Animal Problem.) Though they call for radical changes in our worldview regarding Nature, the scholars and philosophers of environmentalism, the Deep Ecologists, somehow never mention the Animals, instead preferring the remoteness of discussions about trees or the abstractions of biodiversity and species. The call for a new, less anthropocentric ethic, an awakening, never acknowledges the reality, the difficulty of the animals in a new order. Changing the status of animals is discounted as a peripheral, even unworthy, concern.
But if environmentalists (when they're not out compromising) spend too much time contemplating their Gaia navels, society, in general, seems willing to consider the down-to-earth plight of the animals. That is, people seem to want to be kinder to animals even as they continue to use them and eat them and relocate them when it's time to build a vacation home. People support the animal rights movement to the degree they believe it is concerned with animal welfare. And their compassion and concern can be counted on to a point. But the perception about activists is that they go too far. Normal people are fond of animals and disapprove of wanton cruelty but keep their priorities in order. When a hurricane drowned 2 million assembly-line-produced turkeys, chickens, and hogs in North Carolina, the graphically revealed gothic methods of modern animal husbandry was not the news, it was emphasized, it was the possible contamination of the public water supply from overflowing waste pits. (Hog farmers, you realize, have to raise more hogs faster because there's less demand for pork.)
Normal people put people first. They poison rats, like fried chicken, buy their dogs cow hooves as treats, and keep the birdbath filled. When a dog was found bound and gagged with electrical cord and set on fire in Miami, people contributed money to a reward fund for the apprehension of his killer. A few people contributing a little money would have been normal, but hundreds of people contributed a considerable amount of money, which made them peculiar. The Miami Herald was puzzled: "It exceeds the $11,000 offered by law enforcement agencies for the capture of a serial killer who beats and burns homeless women here."
When a seventeen-year-old with cancer wanted to go to Alaska and kill a Kodiak bear and was sent to do just that, thanks to the generosity of the Make-a-Wish Foundation, it set off what the papers referred to as "an animal rights furor." The extent of that furor caused others to be more "objective" about the situation, saying things like Hey, it'll make the poor kid happy, it's a legitimate wish, and it's something he can do with his dad.
When boys on a high school baseball team in Texas killed a cat by battering it with their bats, stuffing it in a bag and running over it with a pickup truck because it had taken to hanging around and soiling the pitcher's mound, the "animal people" were outraged and demanded that the boys be kicked off the team. Such disapproval "bewildered" the youths. "It was just a stray cat," one of the coaches said. "We all did things to cats when we were young. Some people think a cat is more important than a boy."
Almost everyone has heard the remark made by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) - "A rat is a pig is a dog is a boy" - and it has been used with considerable success to discredit the animals rights movement. PETA's actual statement was "When it comes to having a nervous system and the ability to feel pain, hunger and thirst, a rat is a pig is a dog is a boy." Even addressing the statement as intended has resulted in a not-so-edifying debate about suffering. Do animals suffer or don't they? And if they do (they certainly seem to), does that ability, rather than speech or reasoning, give them rights? (One of the more remarkable philosophic arguments against granting animals rights is that they have no sense of morality - we can't act morally toward them because they can't act morally back.) Suffering aside, when people care too much about animals, it's suspected that somewhere, somehow, some person is being deprived of generic love and support and attention because of it.
A high-school baseball coach is probably not up to the debating dazzle, say of Dostoyevsky's Grand Inquisitor, but it is remarkable how often this argument, puffed up a bit, is used to defend the uses of animals in research. Laboratory animals, though not deemed un-animals, have transformed semantically into animal "models." Like "food" animals, they qualify for very little protection under the Animal Welfare Act. Blinding has long been a popular procedure in the lab, as are any and all "deprivology" studies. Of endless interest is the study of an animal's reaction to unrelieved, inescapable pain. The procedures, of course, are never cruelty but science - they may result in data that might be of some use to us sometime. So baboon heads are bashed in to (ostensibly) help thousands of people who suffer head injuries each year; calves are given heart attacks; dogs are deliberately poisoned with insecticides to help children who are accidentally poisoned with insecticides (a rat is a dog is a boy when it suits science's purposes); other dogs are tormented into states of trauma, into states of "learned helplessness" into "psychological death," to give insights into human depression (maybe) or just to provide grist for a thesis. Other types of experiments serve different purposes. There are the voodoo and leech variety - CATS SHOT IN HEAD USUALLY DIE, TULANE STUDY FINDS. There are the experiments that merely satisfy scientific "curiosity." There are the let's do this and see if something interesting happens kind and there are the wow this stuff vaporized this puppy's skin right down to the bone - I wonder if it will take the rust off lawn furniture with no mess kind. Other experiments serve merely to confirm prior conclusions - to verify previously known LD (lethal dose) levels, for example. LD tests, used by industry to determine the toxicity of floor waxes and detergents (pumped directly into the animals' stomachs through tubes) end when half of the participants in a test group die. Animals almost never leave laboratories alive. They keep going into more corrosive tests or endure more invasive procedures until they succumb or until, their bodies unable to provide even the most senseless data, they're "humanely destroyed."
Of all the lab animals, the chimpanzee is the most popular. The chimps - humankind's closest relative - are infected and maimed and killed for us. They possess 98.6 percent of the same DNA, the same genetic material. That missing 1.4 percent allows them to be vivisected on our behalf. If it weren't for that lucky-for-us 1.4 percent, they wouldn't be able to be used as experimental subjects because they'd be just like us, and medical advancement would be completely thwarted. It would come to an absolute standstill, it would, in the words of a doctor writing in the New England Journal of Medicine, "spell complete stymie."
So in our country's finest universities (as well as in some of our just so-so ones) researchers, not to be stymied, are still making test animals "hot" with deadly diseases and screwing bolts in their heads. They're still performing cataract surgery on healthy ones, then giving them different rehabilitation treatments, then killing them and dissecting their brains to see which treatment produced the best result within the visual cortex. (Monkeys can't be trained to read eye charts.) But perhaps most dramatically of all, researchers throughout the '80s and '90s tried to give chimps AIDS. Anyone opposed to animal research was damned as being against finding a cure (only a matter of time) for one of the most dreadful scourges of modern times. Chimps became the Poster Primates in the fight against AIDS, employed as a symbol against the animal rights movement.
But after infecting more than one hundred chimps with HIV, scientists became increasingly frustrated with their lack of success. They could kill a monkey by destroying his own simian immune system, but they simply could not give him AIDS. Vaccines, created by injecting weakened simian viruses into chimps, also proved to be disappointing, merely creating the fatal animal disease they were intended to prevent. Now, after twenty years, scientists no longer consider our fellow primates to be "good" models for AIDS research. The intensive breeding of chimps for research, blessed by the National Institutes of Health, has resulted in eighteen hundred "excess" chimps. There were always researchers eager to infect them, but few - actually none - are interested in caring for the animals for their natural life span, about forty-five years.
Artificially induced diseases in animals practically never result in a cure for those diseases that can be applicable to humans, although the risk of strange new species-jumping sicknesses grows stronger every day. Misleading monkey experiments delayed an effective polio vaccine for decades. Successes in human kidney transplants, blood transfusions, and heart bypass surgery all resulted when doctors ignored the baleful results of experiments on dogs and used human material. Guinea pigs die when injected with penicillin. Thalidomide was found to be safe, safe, safe for rodents; so was Opren, an arthritis drug that caused fatal liver toxicity in a number of human patients before it was taken off the market. Animal tests for new drugs do not predict side effects in humans up to 52 percent of the time. The National Cancer Institute stopped testing anticancer drugs on animals in the mid-198os, finding toxicity results useless and misleading. (For instance, 46 percent of substances deemed carcinogenic in mice are noncarcinogenic in rats.) It is common now upon the announcement of any implication wrung from animal research for the researchers to publicly caution against using the findings to make conclusions about human disease or behavior.
And then there is the smoking debacle. The tobacco industry was able to deny a link between cigarette smoking and lung cancer for decades because many thousands of dogs, monkeys, rabbits, and rats, fitted with masks and placed in "smoking chambers" or immobilized in sterotaxic chairs with tubes blowing smoke down their windpipes could not be encouraged to develop carcinomas. In a more perfect world these animals all would have gotten lung cancer, thereby saving millions of human lives. They would have given a future with hope to an entire generation...(but those stubborn creatures didn't do it).
Such a dismal record of nonachievement explains why enthusiasts of animal experimentation have to devote a portion of their energies and profits to public relations (Vivisectors Do It For You!). One of their most effective strategies is to enlist people in the war not against disease but against animal rights supporters.... I just want to thank the National Institutes of Health because I wouldn't be in remission today had it not been for all those dead dogs, some tearful housewife says to a congressional committee; or... I guess those animal people would like to make me feel ashamed to say this, but I think the life of my baby is more important than that of a research kitten.... Parents' terror of the mysterious Sudden Infant Death Syndrome was manipulated shamelessly with the cure-is-dependent-upon-animal-research mantra until the precipitous recent drop in infant deaths was attributed to the simple act of putting babies to bed on their backs instead of their stomachs, a change in custom that has been described as "one of the simplest and most effective public health interventions ever." (An ounce of prevention may be worth a pound of cure, but it's certainly not something drug companies are interested in.)
Yet when caught in the manipulation or misrepresentation of data or the exploitation of fears and hopes, science and medicine, hand in hand, retreat to the high ground, professing to be saddened by a public that so "fears expertise," that is so unobjective and so ignorant, that is so shockingly unaware of the nature of science (being wrong is a constant feature of scientific method), of what it can do successfully (potentially everything) and what it cannot do (resolve society's ethical qualms, or make value judgments).
Between competing notions a nonrational incommensurability lies, thus a switch from one belief or manner of action to another can never be achieved by logic alone. Major changes in thinking are frequently not incremental but occur all at once. In the book Scientific Revolutions, author Thomas Kuhn likens such change to the gestalt shift: "These flashes of intuition resemble instantaneous electron orbital changes. They are never in transition. They are here. Then they are...there."
Animal experimentation seems to be bloodily quaint baggage to carry into the twenty-first century and vivisection a most primitive method of discovery. Still, it does seem that something like instantaneous election orbital exchange in the mass mind is required to make the vivisector's work totally unacceptable to society. The Animal Liberation Front breaks into labs, damages equipment, and frees animals, all too great notoriety and accusations of terrorism, but its raids often provide irrefutable proof of researchers' barbarism. The ALF stole films from the University of Pennsylvania's head injury lab that showed baboons in vises getting their heads smashed while researchers chortled. The National Institutes of Health had called the Pennsylvania lab "one of the best in the world," but the federal government cut off funding after the improperly acquired film was made public. And if the young, rosy-cheeked commandos from the ALF with their bolt cutters and black ski masks broke into all the labs, emptied all the cages, and carried the deliberately diseased and wounded and moribund animals in litters down Constitution Avenue next New Year's Day, and if the event was featured on all the television networks in vivid and unrelenting repellent close-up, horrifying a majority of the viewing public, who would find the sight virtually pornographic, what would happen in this world of laws?
Well, all the rosy-cheeked, idealistic, No Compromise! ALF members would be jailed without bond pending trial on criminal trespass and theft charges, and the animals, the stolen property, would be returned to the labs for disposal. Prior to the return, the labs would have to rely even more than usual upon B dealers who are licensed by the Department of Agriculture to provide pound and other "random source" animals for them, "random source" frequently being lost or stolen pets. (Medical researchers prefer former pets over other animal sources since they are easier to control, more trusting and obedient....) Congress, urged on by a distraught citizenry, would debate what, or whether, changes would be necessary in the wording of the Animal Welfare Act (which surely must have the welfare of animals as its intent - otherwise, why is it called that...) because, as it is, the wording does not prohibit any type of experiment or procedure that can be performed on animals in laboratories and makes clear that the government cannot interfere with the conduct or design of those procedures. There would be much talk about wording, and strengthening the existing intent of the wording. The language of rights - practically the only ethical language we speak in this country - would not be spoken. Instead, humane treatment would be interpreted and described, as would suffering, and pain. Researchers and other interested parties would argue that animal suffering is an emotionally charged term that can't be defined as a reality, and that any attempt to define it would be biased on the side of sentimentality or sympathy and would be intellectually unverifiable. The "animal people" would speak about intentional cruelty inflicted upon sentient beings, and the researches would say: It's not cruelty, it's science. I suppose you'd prefer us to experiment on severely retarded people instead - well, we're not going to do that, that would be morally rehensible and, of course, against the law. We have laws in this country, you know....
And so it would go. Maybe bigger cages for the beasts would be required. Maybe daily water would be legislated (except in those cases where the denial of water was the point of the experiment). But the wrong would not be addressed because no right would have been established.
There are thousands of animal-advocacy organizations in the United States, with millions of members. Feral cats, wild horses, greyhounds, fowl, bats, as well as the more dramatic gorillas, pandas, and dolphins, all have their devoted protectors, and various methods are used to win public sympathy for them. But many advocates are working for more humane treatment of animals and would prefer not to argue the rights issue at all. To argue that a monkey has the right to not have his arms cut off in an experiment is far different from arguing that a thirsty horse should be given water before his journey to becoming dog food. It is one thing to show up as a carrot at the county fair toting a placard that reads, "Eat Your Veggies, Not Your Friends," and quite another to find a convincing language with a commanding legal basis that liberates animals from "thinghood." It's one thing to rescue individual animals from the slaughterhouse by buying them, as the group Farm Sanctuary does (you can sponsor a sheep for $20 a month, a duck for $8), and quite another to argue that raising animals for slaughter is morally unacceptable.
It's easier to have a little brown rat as a pet (very affectionate) or even to make cruelty-free stock investments than it is to wade into real rights talk and tempt flake status. Rights is radical and abolitionist, welfare is conservative (the word to some extent has already been co-opted and absorbed by the status quo) and reformist.
The Humane Farming Association may be radical in its methods - in one case, members of the group slipped into a slaughterhouse and stole calves' eyeballs to test for the toxic drug clenbuterol - but its purpose is to make farming more environmentally responsible and to protect and enlighten the consumer. The Humane Society of the United States has become politically sophisticated at lobbying and promoting ballot initiatives (patiently, patiently, which causes more obstreperous groups like the Animal Liberation Front to behave impolitely - like driving up to a McDonald's with a dead cow in the back of a pickup truck and a sign saying Here's Your Lunch). Even so HSUS, traditionally considered kitty and doggy moderate, has, since 1980, claimed that there is no basis for maintaining a moral distinction between the treatment of humans and other animals, a view quite extremist in its implications.
Welfare groups have been laboring on behalf of the animals for some time - the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and the American Anti-Vivisection Society are both over a hundred years old - but the rights movement took off only in 1973, when the New York Review of Books published an unsolicited review of the book Animals, Men, and Morals by Roslind and Stanley Godlovitch and John Harris. The writer was the Australian philosopher Peter Singer, who expanded his article into the ideological classic Animal Liberation. PETA, founded by Ingrid Newkirk and Alex Pacheco in 1980, is the group that perhaps best personifies the rights movement, for it broke tactical ground in 1981 with a daring legal action that attempted to prosecute a researcher for animal cruelty. Pacheco volunteered as an assistant to a Dr. Edward Taub at the Institute of Behavioral Research in Silver Spring, Maryland, with the intention of secretly documenting conditions in an "ordinary" lab. Taub had been surgically crippling primates to monitor the rehabilitation of impaired limbs for many years, apparently suspending his efforts only long enough to write proposals for federal grants that would, and did, allow him to continue his labors. Pacheco and PETA got a precedent-setting search warrant from a circuit judge, and police raided the filthy lab and confiscated seventeen monkeys, as well as Taub's files and a monkey's severed hand that the less-than-charismatic researcher kept on his desk as a paperweight. Although the rights of the mutilated primates could not be argued, as those rights had never been established, Taub was found guilty of cruelty to animals by a jury. The conviction was overturned on appeal when the court rule that state statues did not apply to research conducted under a federal program. Since then, additional daring cases have been won, only to be lost on appeal, and the cases that are won involve animal cruelty or welfare, never the rights of an animal, for of course an animal has no rights; an animal has no standing in a court of law. The injuries to a person's "aesthetic interests" can be judicially recognized (I am offended by seeing spotted owls mounted on the hoods of logging trucks...), but an animal's interest in continuing to exist cannot.
The animal people need their day in court on the rights issue, and groups such as the Animal Legal Defense Fund are seeking to find, try, and win the perfect case - the case that will take animals out of the realm of property and grant them legal status of their own. The plaintiff will undoubtedly be a chimp. The chimpanzees' ability to be trained in sign language, and their further ability to use that language to express their fears and needs, could provide the scientific basis for the argument that they deserve the same freedom from enslavement that most humans now enjoy. Peter Singer's latest philosophical effort is the Great Ape Project, a rhetorical demand for the extension of the "community of equals" to include all the great apes: human beings and "our disquieting doubles" - chimpanzees, gorillas, and orangutans. The rights of life and freedom from torture and imprisonment would be granted to these animals, and then, possibly, would trickle down to those our less disquieting doubles.
Sometimes a number of animal people gather together as they did recently for a "World Congress" at the cavernous U.S. Air Arena in Landover, Maryland, just outside Washington, D.C. The arena can hold eighteen thousand people, and it was not full. The dilemma of the animals still lacks the drawing power of a mediocre rock band. Of course, animals can never be called upon to do a star turn on the movement's behalf - that would be anathematic to the whole precept. So only people were there, about three thousand of them. There were three days of speeches. The crowd was attentive. The speakers were calmly impassioned, well spoken, nicely dressed, well prepared; they politely restricted themselves to the time allotted. Nobody screamed, We've got to stop dressing up as carrots! or Whose idea was it to petition the town of Fishkill to change its name? It made us look like morons! The importance of unity was stressed. But there are so many methods, so many concerns, so many didactics...so many mundane and divine and extravagant ways to work for the animals. Managing "colonies" of feral cats by setting up feeding stations (Alley Cats Allies) seems les noble than trying to save a silverback gorilla (The Biosynergy Institute) from the stewpot, but it would impolite to say so at the big meeting of the year. The group the Nature of Wellness - with its witty baby-in-a-bonnet newspaper ads (MOST PEOPLE SEE A BEAUTIFUL HEALTHY CHILD, WE SEE A CURE FOR FELINE LEUKEMIA), which ridicule the premises and promises of animal testing - probably runs a more intellectually engaging campaign than the person who decides to show up outside Macy's some summer afternoon pretending to be a fur-bearing animal with its leg in a trap, but no one's going to question the latter's devotion. A fifth-grade teacher from Charleston who has her class read Black Beauty and then write an essay "If I Were an Abused Carriage Horse, What Would My Three Wishes Be?" leads a different, and probably less accident-prone life than the individual from Colorado who goes out to harangue the hunters on opening day. The feminists with their earnest semantic quibblings and Internet horror stories (alt.sex. bestiality... One person described having sex with stray dogs and then dropping them off at animal shelters...), equating everything with the subjugation of women, may not be quite as helpful in the long run as the lawyers strategizing in the Animal Legal Defense Fund, but no one's going to tell them to lighten up. The members of the Animal Rights Foundation of Florida who brought about the cancellation of a liposuction surgery workshop using live pigs can be just as proud of their work on behalf of animals as the animal law lawyers, theorists, and essayists Steven Wise and Gray Fancione, who teach at Harvard and Rutgers, respectively. Everyone here is working, working, working for animals in the hope that everything, somehow, is going to add up and that the animals will be... saved.
There is no limit to the things an animal rights activist can worry about in this world. And it became clear as the groups were heard and topics covered and enemies identified that whenever a battle is won, a victory claimed for the animals, it doesn't stay a victory for long. It's either nodefinitive, or it's superceded by something worse.
Two great successes for the movement involved the fur and the cosmetic industries. The wearing of fur was discredited through the tactics of howling insult. Corpse Coat!! activists would scream at the slightest opportunity, or they would solicitously ask of some fur wearer, How did you get the blood off that? Then they'd go out and paint SHAME and DEATH all over furriers' windows. Education followed by organized consumer boycotts encouraged cosmetic companies to pretty much eliminate animal testing. (Mommy, is it true that they blinded hundreds of white bunnies to make this pretty soap?)
But the fur industry is still around, hoping for government subsidies to boost export sales and counting on a new wave of designers - there's always a new wave - who believe the trend gurus' predictions of a "fur renaissance fuledby a growing interest in luxury investments" and are churning out the beaver capes, the burgundy pony skin jackets, and the acid green sable barn jackets. And some of the big names in the beauty industry - Helene Curtis, Chesebrough Pond's - continue to test on animals. Overall, the use of animals in research could very well be increasing - who knows? Corporate monoliths such as Proctor & Gamble and Bausch & Lomb never stopped animal testing; the Department of Defense could still be cutting the vocal cords of beagles and testing nerve gas on them. The DOD doesn't have to release any figures at all, and research facilities in general enjoy institutionalized secrecy and seldom have to provide real numbers to the public. The Silver Spring monkeys that PETA pried from researcher Taub almost tow decades ago became wards of the National Institutes of Health and were only recently put to death (humanely, of course) after a final set of experiments in which the tops of their skulls were removed and their brains repeatedly pierced with electrodes. Agustus, Big Boy, and Dominion had already lost the use of their limbs in previous experiments when the government-financed scientists at Tulane had severed the nerves to their arms and shoulders.
No, there's little cause for real happiness among the animal people and scant opportunity for self-congratulation. (Peter Singer says about Animal Liberation, "When I wrote it, I really thought the book would change the world. All you have to do is walk around the corner to McDonald's to see how successful I've been.")
Public awareness and revulsion are often raised only to fade or be circumvented. Commercial whaling has never been outlawed; the clubbing of seals has resumed; trade in exotic species is brisk; bills pending in the House and Senate would allow tuna fishermen to again use netting methods that would kill thousands of dolphins and still be able to label their products as "dolphin safe" (sort of a joke on the little kids). The U.S. Air Arena itself, so vast and impersonal, so disconcertingly inert, only emphasized the gargantuan task the animal people had taken on, and the gaunt specter of hopeless helplessness appeared more than once. Between speeches, people would wander out to the encircling satellite area and line up for the beyond-veggie vegan food that the arena's concessionaires were serving up with a certain amount of puzzlement. The Franks-a-Lot stand was sensibly shuttered. (The animal people are vegetarians. They'd better be if they don't want to be accused of being hypocritical. Of course, by being unhypocritical, they can be accused of being self-righteous.)
On the fourth day of the World Congress there was a March for Animals, form the Ellipse up Constitution Avenue to the Capitol. Any parade watcher who had expected to see animals (as though animal rights activists were all Episcopalians going to some fun-filled blessing of the beasts at church and taking their rats and snakes and dogs and burros and pigs with them) would have been disappointed. And anyone who had expected to see eccentricity incarnate in the marching crowd would have been disappointed as well. They appeared to be ordinary, caring, middle-class Americans marching for justice. Yet has any group in this country ever had such an extremist agenda, based utterly on non-self-fulfillment and non-self-interest? The animal people are calling for a moral attitude toward a great and mysterious and mute nation. Their quest is quixotic; their reasoning, assailable; their intentions, almost inarticulateable. The implementation of their vision would seem madness. But the future world is not this one. Our treatment of animals and our attitude toward them are crucial not only to any pretensions we have to ethical behavior but to human kind's intellectual and moral evolution. Which is how the human animal is meant to evolve, isn't it?