More thoughts on animal rights and vivisection arguments

I have mentioned before that I am not a proponent for the kind of common animal rights anti-vivisection argument that focuses on scientific issues mainly because the vivisector side has a built-in advantage in this realm  no matter how sadistic or deceitful they are.  If they say that research on nonhumans is necessary, then the public is more likely to believe them, as they are being financed and backed by charities and the medical establishment, as opposed to an animal rights-leaning medical doctor who says they care about human lives.  We know that vivisectors make a living off experimentation and torturing a mouse or monkey as a profession is much easier than curing cancer, but that is not how the public is likely to see it. They will believe the vivisector values human lives over their victims whether they produce results or not.  Furthermore, because vivisectors have no moral boundaries, they will do genetic experiments and claim they can alter nonhuman physiology so it makes a perfect model for human medicine. Even if you know this is ludicrous since humans cannot predict how such biological alterations would function, the public is likely to believe in the miraculous potential of science especially if they have a relative with an incurable  illness.

As much as I despise vivisection as the atrocity and moral perversion that it is, I have to acknowledge that at least a few of those who torture innocent beings do so because they are extremely misguided or indoctrinated by the moral values of the time they live in. There are vivisectors who suddenly “see the light” and become anti-vivisection supporters. To ignore this and simply claim that all vivisectors are frauds is to risk derailing the argument and sidetracking from the real issue: the immorality of vivisection.

Another significant problem with the “animal research is necessary” argument is that it is framed by the vivisection side.  It usually goes like this:

The anti-vivisection side shows pictures or videos of the sadistic experiments carried out on the innocent victims. The vivisector side responds by saying (nonhuman) animal research is necessary. Then the anti-vivisection side responds by saying that animal research is not necessary and they will cite the various examples from Penicillin to Thalidomide where  nonhuman research studies were not reliable.
This is not an animal rights argument.

If we were talking about the doctors who experimented on African villagers in the 1990s, we wouldnt allow an argument like “it is necessary” to enter the discussion–the entire focus would be the  view that moral view that such actions are unethical whatever the benefits.

But in vivisection debates the science of experimentation tends to overshadow the ethical issues.In discussions with animal rights advocates I have found that while they may agree that morality should be highlighted, they say the public simply wont accept an animal rights argument and if the advocates can persuade them that nonhuman animal research is unnecessary,  that would be the most advantageous approach. But there are many exploitation issues that dont even have the excuse of necessity: circuses, rodeos, canned hunting, cosmetic testing, bullfighting. And yet these things continue. Clearly there is a deeper belief system at work-which is that humans regard themselves as categorically superior in value to nonhumans and can do what they will to them. It doesnt matter that innocent lives are subjected to worse treatment than the most despised criminals-there is a double standard-dictated by a mythological belief in human superiority.

When pressed on this one might cite intelligence or a soul or Divine or Evolutionary favor as the reason for this superiority–without realizing that such qualities are as arbitrary and subjective as skin colour or gender. The universe-weather, gravity-or invisible and mute deities–do not grant humans special rights because they possess any of these qualities. In the big picture attempting to place an absolute objective importance on a trait is as ludicrous as suggesting the ability to dribble a basketball is of divine significance. Only those that consider the trait valuable give it importance. There is no demonstrable outside judge.

This is the crux of the matter. Supremacism. While a member of any race or gender can be racist or sexist, only humans can be observed to be regard their species as superior in value as a group to others and base their moral laws around this belief. Speciesism or Anthropocentrism suggests an instinctual impulse-a  natural tendency to regard one’s “group” as superior in worth. But humans constantly discriminate and exploit each other–this is why we have moral laws-to discourage this behavior. The reality of humans preying upon other humans when given the chance is the ultimate foil to those who attempt to argue that humans deserve special rights.
If you propose human superiority based upon any subjective criteria or trait then someone else could use any other subjective criteria or trait to justify racial or gender or religious or class or any other superiority. This can only be avoided by extending the concept of moral rights beyond humans.

When discussing vivisection it helps to bring up simple truths like the need of human test subjects for medical research. This is a fact the vivisectors cannot deny. Every animal test requires human trials.

It can also be useful to mention Pfizer’s experiments on African villagers in the 1990s.
Why? Because it shows that the big mainstream drug companies recognize the importance of using humans in research.

Also one can mention the 19th century Dr James Sims who experimented on slaves and was president of the American Medical Association. This is useful because it demonstrates that even the medical establishment can support someone who is doing experiments we would call unethical.

This has additional value in the type of attack that animal activists constantly face–the accusation that they have benefited from exploitation that they condemn and are hypocrites. But human rights advocates have also benefited from exploitation they condemn-not only Sims and Nazi Research or the activities of big drug companies but the general history of any country can be traced to wars, murder, crime. Human rights activists are not expected to be perfect while animal rights activists are. This is the true double standard and hypocrisy.

The key to a successful argument is taking the lead–forcing the opposition to defend itself. Too often animal activists react–respond, defend, instead of going on the offense.

This  is especially true in another typical attack–“your child or your dog.”  Vivisectors will claim that animal activists have to choose–but why should they? Vivisectors are not miracle workers–they cannot torture a dog and produce a cure. There is no ticking clock. Furthermore, when such a question is posed–a “you are either with us or against us” ultimatum, you can simply turn it around on the accuser.
Ask them who would they choose if the choice was their child or a stranger’s. If they choose a stranger then it means they love someone else’s child more than their own. If they choose their child then they must support using strangers in medical research.
This exposes the human supremacy bias and double standard morality. The best way to fight it is to use reality and common sense observation.
If humans have a natural impulse to stick together and protect their own, why do they lock their doors?

This is common sense.

The animal  activist is often told he or she must provide an alternative to vivisection, and usually they are ready with a list of scientific methods that do not require the torture of innocent lives, but this is beside the point. It is not up to the animal activist to supply an alternative to vivisection any more than an abolitionist would be expected to supply an alternative to slave labor. The onus is on the vivisector’s side to come up with ways of exploring medical research that do not violate basic morality and decency.

A great obstacle to progress in animal rights advocacy is the lack of unified moral position among the supporters and the blurring of the line between it and animal welfare, which is often adversarial to the objectives of animal rights. As we have seen with vegetarian/vegan advocacy, the emphasis on cruelty and not rights has led to a state of affairs where the morality of meat eating is confused with how the victims are treated before slaughter. I think one reason for this is the promotion of Peter Singer views on sentience and the need to reduce suffering. The right not to suffer needlessly has become the central point, not the right to be treated with equal respect by humans.

If the issue returned to its roots and the myth of human supremacy was debunked (an easy task), then animal rights advocacy would benefit greatly.

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