Monday, February 27, 2006

What Celebrity Big Brother taught me

In Oxford on Saturday, a group called the Research Defence Society, took part in a march organised by Laurie Pycroft, 16. What struck me was, that finally, a group of people were standing up to the animal liberating, human annihilating Animal Liberation Front (ALF). It is good news that people are making their voices heard, coming out in support of animal testing. But despite their sometimes murderous intent, I still find myself on the side of the ALF’s arguments against carving up fluffy little bunnies for the advancement of science.

For the record, I am not a vegetarian, I am a carnivore, bloody fangs and all. No meal is complete without some kind of proper meat. I am not an animal-lover, I have killed chickens in the past, and own no pets. The only animals I have responsibility for are the rodents and cockroaches that sometimes invade my pantry, and trust me, I don’t treat them with an ounce of mercy. It’s just that I’m yet to hear a compelling reason as to why we should tolerate animal testing.

The biblical argument (see Genesis 1:28) about going out and having dominion over the "fowl of the air", and "every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth" is a lazy argument. If we took everything the Good Book said at face value, then women would be forbidden from going to church between days 1 and 7 on the menstrual cycle. Then who’d look after the sprogs in the crèche? The argument is not just one of animal testing, but also of eating meat, and the general coercion of animals for human benefit. What right do we have to make a horse carry us through desert sands on its back?

The diet argument isn’t good enough either. I’m sure if roles were reversed, we wouldn’t like to be born and bred just to be slaughtered for someone’s full English breakfast. Is that the argument of a child? “Why did you kill that ant? Imagine if you were the ant and somebody stepped on you, would you like it?” Childish, yes. But it’s simply a “walk a mile in an ant’s shoe” argument, designed to make people empathetic to the struggle of the lowly ant.

If you subscribe to the premise that humans are glorified monkeys, just lucky to be better evolved, then we shouldn’t be treating fellow animals in this way. We treat fellow human beings with respect, surely we should do the same to animals. If you think that humans are not glorified monkeys, but a higher species, we still shouldn’t treat animals badly. If we’re more intelligent, and better philosophically evolved, it is our duty to protect lesser species.

The key to being human is apparently having a sense of self. I think, therefore, I am. Do animals have this? Who knows. Animals have shown themselves to be very intelligent, from politically scheming wild monkeys to tool making crows. It has also been suggested that animals might feel pain, but cannot anticipate it. Not true. When I lived in Nigeria, there were some stray dogs that would roam the street, doing nothing in particular. I was a paranoid (read scaredy cat) little boy, and I soon learnt that to get rid of the dogs, all one had to do was bend down, as if to pick up something. The dogs would run as if my doing that conjured up some kind of apparition. What the dogs knew was that human being bending down, usually meant stones and sand, which in turn meant pain in eyes and body.

However, there is the survival argument. During a very brief period watching the recent Celebrity Big Brother, I learnt a very important moral story. Don’t judge people who wear fur. The British audience were reliably informed by Gorgeous George Galloway, MP for Gallivanting East, that the Inuits in Greenland had to kill bear for their fur to keep warm. As simple as this sounds, it was an earth shattering moment for me in the animal welfare argument. What is one supposed to do when there is no other way of keeping warm? I suppose they could just buy a fleece from Gap or something.

It is unlikely that I'll ever be fully convinced either way, but in the meantime, arm yourselves with your arguments.


Anonymous said...

Glad you're back from your football travels - but I'm sure you're not loving this weather.

Anyway, I've been wrestling with my own hypocrisy over animal testing and meat-eating forever. How can I, a professed animal lover, possibly eat sausages and wear Ugg boots?

I am in awe of people like my friend Lorraine, who is a geneticist. She is a long-time vegetarianism who also rescues abused chimps from labs and circuses.

While I don't condone PETA's terrorism, I am glad that someone is brave enough to stand up for the animals!

Monef said...

I'll just chime in with my two cents...

I like animals too, but I think there might be some element of idealism to this argument against animal testing. I understand the pelting of Paris Hilton with powder, after all her fur isn't designed for warmth so much as fashion??!!!

But without animal testing, we will never find cures for some of the nastiest illnesses afflicting us. It would be interesting if someone did a survey and found out how many animal activists have benefited from life-saving drugs that came about because animal testing was possible.

It's one of those scenarios that offers up a clear-cut choice, run tests on a few animals and find solutions to problems which threaten the existence of humanity e.g HIV or sit there and do nothing. It's not a pleasant choice but it's the only one available. If animal rights extremists were serious about their cause, then they would expend their energy coming up with a viable alternative. If they carry on the way they are now, then the result will be devastating. The UK has the most tightly-regulated clinical testing system, which makes it the best place in the world for animals to be treated humanely today. Terrorist actions by activists e.g SHAC will simply cause companies to perform their tests elsewhere e.g China, where the regulations will not be as stringent. Will the animals be better off then? I don't think so!