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Ann Bradley

Origins of a speciesist

In 1990, more than three million animals were used in scientific procedures. They included 8307 beagles, 56 greyhounds, 3456 assorted cats, 1304 marmosets and hundreds of thousands of rats and mice. Many of the experiments were of the kind that make your toes curl when you read about them, and animal rights groups complain that 60 per cent of procedures are done without anaesthetic or pain relief.

Organisations like Animal Aid, the National Anti-Vivisection Society (NAVS) and the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection (BUAV) think this is a disgrace. They campaign for a complete ban on all animal experiments, and have succeeded in mobilising a lot of young people behind them. The cause isn't new - NAVS and the BUAV have been campaigning for over a century - but while in their early days they were seen to be a bunch of cranky do-gooders, they now seem to be an essential 'cool cause'. All the examining boards offer an 'animal free' alternative A-level syllabus and World Day for Laboratory Animals, on April 24, was expected to be marked by one of the largest rallies for ages.

I think it's all quite perverse. Don't get me wrong. I'm an animal lover of sorts myself. I feed the birds in winter, lavish care on my pet gerbil and avoid treading on spiders. But the stupidity of objecting to research which could benefit humanity leaves me speechless.

Vivisection is not about nasty men in white coats torturing beagles for fun. In fact 91 per cent of animal experiments are conducted for medical reasons. They have helped in the investigation of dental decay; the development of antibodies to septic shock and of treatments for meningitis, infant pneumonia and Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy; and the testing of drugs for schizophrenia. In my opinion these are quite legitimate uses for mice and rats, and even marmosets or beagles.

The animal rights lobby claim that animal experiments are uneth-ical and immoral. Peter Singer's seminal book Animal Liberation (which, when first published in 1975, kick-started the modern animal rights movement), claims that these experiments represent the 'tyranny of human over non-human animals'.

According to Singer, the differences between human and non-human animals are no more profound than the differences between different groups of humans, and so he believes that those of us who oppose discrimination against humans, and strive for social equality, must extend our concern to animals. In his eyes 'speciesism' is akin to racism or sexism. 'Racists', he argues, 'violate the principle of equality by giving greater weight to the interests of their own race....Sexists violate the principle of equality by favouring the interests of their own sex. Similarly, speciesists allow the interests of their own species to override the greater interests of members of other species. The pattern is identical in each case'.

Well no, Peter, it isn't. Racists and sexists discriminate against groups of humans who are quite capable of exercising the rights which they are denied. By contrast, self-confessed speciesists accept that mice, beagles (and even my gerbil) do not have the potential for equality with humans.

The gap that separates the human mind from that of any animal, even the chimpanzee, is a yawning chasm. And I wholeheartedly agree with Jamie Love of the Institute of Animal Physiology and Genetics Research that 'when rodents build something like the Parthenon, write a poem, or make a fire, I shall be happy to give them rights reserved for members of our own species'. Right now, however, they can't, so I won't. I'm not even convinced that my gerbil has a concept of freedom - I certainly don't believe it sits in its cage aching for the great outdoors.

It's ironic that the animals which inspire such sentiment are the creations of humanity. The beagle in the box or the little lamb frolicking in the field would not exist if it hadn't been for our manipulation of animal husbandry. It's not just the case that some animals are bred specifically for research - vast swathes of what we see as 'wildlife' or dub 'the animal kingdom' simply would not exist if humans had not bred them and sustained them. The animal life that we recognise as wild is a product of a world shaped more by humanity than by the elements.

Of course humans are animals biologically speaking - but that's where the commonality ends. As human society has evolved and human language has developed, so the organisation of thoughts in the human mind has changed. We have evolved the ability to reason, to plan, to consider abstract ideas. We are unique in that we are able to develop our society, and ourselves.

Paradoxically even the capacity to extend interest and care to species beyond our own is unique to homo sapiens. It's hard to imagine beagles campaigning for the rights of greyhounds, never mind the rights of hamsters.

To claim that laboratory animals have equal rights to ourselves is to degrade humanity in general. To claim, as many animal rights activists do, that vivisection is equivalent to Nazi experiments on Jews is to degrade Jewish people in particular.

The arguments of the animal rights lobby raise many interesting philosophical and ethical questions: what do we mean by humanity and consciousness? why do we value human life? what checks should there be on medical research? But when you step out of the moral maze you have to decide on one issue above all. Should humans tolerate pain and suffering to protect animals, or should animals be used to find solutions to human suffering? For me, there's no contest.

Reproduced from Living Marxism issue 43, May 1992

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