We must constantly challenge the paradigm – the assumptions and opinions we all generally share – that purports to justify the exploitation of animals. Single instances of cruelty have intuitive appeal, as the following conversation can display. However, as a philosopher’s complaint, what we may be doing when we singularly focus is implicitly argue that all the other examples are ethically justified.
“I want some cough drops,” I stated rather emphatically, “that a thousand animals didn’t have to be tortured to produce.”
He said, “Animals are tested to cure cancer too,” grimacing as though to say, “I got you!”
I responded to this effect: “For every single instance of “legitimate” experimentation you can give me, I can cite you ten examples that ought to be questioned. Christmas tree sprays, the fifteen(?) new shampoos, botox (so those in Hollywood can stave off the effects of aging and their own choices), a new ingredient in chewing gum, several new brands of air freshener, hand sanitizer, a new “natural flavor” for our french fries, etc., etc. How about ‘addiction’ testing: Why – scientists aim to better understand by testing on thousands upon thousands of animals – do people get addicted to cocaine or tobacco when they choose to consume these products? What happens in the brain when heroine is introduced? Forcefully addicting/detoxing/re-addicting a rabbit is a means to this end. (Here’s another prescription, “Don’t do crack!” What will they do with the results anyways? Assume people will continue to do drugs, but we can “turn off” that part of the brain that make’s it addictive?)”
Going further, I asked him, “Have we cured cancer yet?”
He argued in response: “[blank]“
Notice, I automatically appealed to examples that most would find reprehensible, but I didn’t attack the assumptions that justify animal testing as an institution, or the speciesism it is predicated upon. This conversation ended as briefly as it began. As I’ve written before, these assumptions we make – “Animal testing cures cancer.” – are rarely challenged, therefore, when someone has the audacity to say, “Wait one moment, let’s talk about that.”, the singular best defense is retreat.
A scientist’s response (the emotional appeal): “What about AIDS, or diabetes? Scientists experiment on animals as a means to cure these diseases, and considering the terrible effects these illnesses have on humans, how can we not perform such tests? For the good of mankind…”
I might ask, “Have we cured AIDS or diabetes?”
They may respond, “We’re getting there; we’ve made gains.” The implied argument: “Just give us some more time.” (Read, “Don’t question the status quo; this is the only way to do it.”)
I would reason: “Prove it by taking the scientific challenge of altering your methods and testing accordingly, as they’re doing in Europe. What’s implied in your argument – the ‘necessary means to an end’ defense – was used to justify experimentation on human infants, the poor and black Americans. Therefore, as a matter of ethics, your response doesn’t follow.”
These retorts work, up to a point. We cannot, however, rely on this method when we are confronted with the clever animal exploiter who says, “Okay, I’ll stop X, Y, and Z, but as regards spinal cord research, we must continue.” Our grounds for intuitive appeal are gone. Their argument, however, seems to hold as a matter of pure emotion. The same is true, in my opinion, for the exploitation of animals for food. Veal production is easily challenged, but “happy meat” retorts are readily available for the flesh peddler (and consumer). The philosopher’s complaint remains strong.
I mention this to counter those who challenge ethical veganism on the grounds that we ought to be supporting humanely exploited animals in what is often euphemistically labeled the “compromise position.” What is really implied is an unstated counter argument: Animals ought to be treated properly while we justifiably exploit them. However, therein lies the paradigmatic philosophical rub: One cannot reasonably(?) – not rationally – ascribe interests to property; however, so long as the calculus is “person” X’s interests and “property” Y’s interests, the outcome is pre-determined. Property is owned by moral persons. Therefore, the power relations are clearly asymmetrical.
The practical results are easily understood: “We cannot,” the flesh industry argues, “feed and water cows who are two days from slaughter because if we do so the product is damaged and the market will reject it. Baby cows need to be emaciated or else their flesh doesn’t count as veal.” (Read, what is “necessary” is defined by the property owner.)
Returning to the beginning then: We must necessarily challenge the underlying paradigm of animals-as-property.
Crossposted @ That Vegan Girl