Seeking the psychological well-being of primates

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, May 1996:

NEW YORK, N.Y.––Even before Congress in 1985 amended the Animal Welfare
Act to mandate that laboratories are responsible for the “psychological well-being” of nonhuman
primates used in research, Henry Spira may have known that resolving the long impasse
in the 200-year-old debate over the ethics of using animals in biomedical research would
come down to accommodating primate behavior.
No primatologist himself, Spira brought to animal advocacy a background including
a multinational childhood, waterfront union organizing, and 22 years of teaching English
in inner city schools. Throughout, Spira noticed that what most people want most in any
conflict is not the goal itself, but rather, not to lose.
Losing means losing stature in the troop. Loss of stature means loss of security.
Goal-oriented negotiating, Spira realized, means finding a way for both parties to gain
stature: to achieve important objectives without sacrificing principle.
In 1976, Spira won the first major
antivivisection victory in the U.S. ever, leading
rallies that obliged the American Museum
of Natural History to cease cat sex experiments
that appalled the nation.
Barrel-chested, blunt-talking, notoriously
caustic, Spira seemed every inch the
tough new chimp in the jungle.
But as the most militant phase of
the animal rights movement erupted behind
him, Spira would behave more like a wise
old silverback gorilla. He would persuade
first Revlon and then Avon to become the
first major cruelty-free cosmetics manufacturers.
Then, as People for the Ethical
Treatment of Animals and the National
Institutes of Health squared off in a seemingly
endless chest-thumping and hooting confrontation
over the fate of the 17 Silver
Spring monkeys, the colony confiscated from
researcher Edward Taub’s cruelly deficient
holding quarters in 1981 through PETA
cofounder Alex Pacheco’s intervention, Spira
quietly persuaded Procter & Gamble to commit
themselves to a longterm phase-out of all
animal testing, including an all-important
pledge to fund as much research as was
required to develop and secure approval for
non-animal testing methods for the full line of
P&G products––including pharmaceuticals.
There was no declared victory.
There was no P&G statement of concession
to the animal rights movement. For that reason,
many leading advocacy groups have
never forgiven either Spira or P&G.
Demanding a concession as a show of force,
PETA, the Humane Society of the U.S., and
In Defense of Animals have boycotted P&G
ever since. P&G has meanwhile put circa
$45 million to date into alternatives development,
more than all other players in the field
combined; has cut animal use from 75,000 a
year to 34,000 a year, almost entirely in connection
with testing pharmaceuticals (90%)
and validating non-animal tests to the satisfaction
of regulators (6%); and despite the
heavily publicized boycott, has tripled sales.
Spira next befuddled even many of
his staunchest friends and allies by declaring
disengagement. He was satisfied, he
explained to those who asked, that the biomedical
research field would follow their
own leaders. With the biggest maker of both
personal care products and pharmaceuticals
in the world sold on the Three R’s of
Reduction of animal use, Refinement of procedures
to use fewer animals, and eventual
Replacement of animal testing entirely, Spira
felt that momentum would accomplish the
rest: monkey see, monkey do.
All further confrontation would
accomplish, Spira argued, would be to make
researchers resistant to taking the direction
they would ultimately take anyway, and all
the effort put into confrontation would thus
be not only wasted but counterproductive.
Silverbacks don’t waste much of
their immense strength in either fighting or
display. They lead chiefly by example. Spira
crashed away through the brush toward factory
farming. Much of the animal rights movement
and the research community screeched
on at each other, figuratively flinging feces.
But ANIMAL PEOPLE p u b l i s h e r
Kim Bartlett, then editor of The Animals’
A g e n d a, never really felt good about
screeching and feces-flinging. In her May
1990 Animals’ Agenda editorial, she suggested
confrontation with biomedical
researchers had done all it could do for a
while, and recommended moving on to
other issues. Some people flung figurative
feces at her. Others, on both sides of the
debate, followed her as she followed Spira.
Can we talk?
More than five years later, a new
direction in relations between the animal protection
and biomedical research communities
seems to be established. The Foundation for
Biomedical Research, formed to fight the
animal rights movement, has within the past
three years invited Spira, Animal Welfare
Institute representative Kathy Liss, and the
editor of ANIMAL PEOPLE, among others,
to address the FBR membership in a
variety of public forums. Spira and A N IMAL
PEOPLE have also, by invitation,
addressed the Issue Management Council, a
consortium including the public relations
managers of forty-five Fortune 500 companies.
The Animal Protection Institute and the
Humane Society of the United States have
recognized the strides of Gillette, target of a
PETA-led boycott since 1986, which has
reduced animal use from circa 5,000 a year to
a recent five-year average of circa 2,500 a
year. Several of the most aggressive anti-animal
rights spokespersons in the biomedical
research camp have retired or been retired.
Even Americans for Medical
Progress, the nonprofit advocacy group
sponsored by U.S. Surgical, is taking a less
confrontational approach.
Nearly eight years ago, in
November 1988, operatives of a private
security firm hired by U.S. Surgical paid for
the bomb a fringe activist planted in the company
parking lot, and drove her to the scene,
where she was arrested amid a splash of publicity
that was intended to discredit opponents
of U.S. Surgical use of animals, but instead
became Exhibit #1 for the influence of agents
provocateur on the animal rights movement.
Formed in 1991, AMP rose to
prominence through full-page newspaper ads
ridiculing activists. AMP still attacks activist
claims, as in a recent brochure and letter to
the Christian Science Monitor in which AMP
spokesperson Susan Paris decried the use of
inflated and obsolete pet theft statistics by
people who still argue that pet thefts are a
major source of animals used in laboratories.
But in the same brochure and letter, Paris
used more space to give pet keepers the same
advice they would get from any animal advocacy
group about neutering pets, keeping
pets leashed or fenced or indoors, and tattooing
or microchipping pets to help animal control
officers return strays to their homes.
The message from either side is no
longer that animal lovers are crazy or that
biomedical researchers are sadists. Rather,
it’s that powerful opposing forces are looking
for ways and means to reach mutual accommodation––not
compromise, which means
giving up essential goals, but rather ways of
pursuing goals that are not inherently mutually
Going ape
As Pultizer Prize-winning investigative
reporter Deborah Blum of the
Sacramento Bee recognized in her 1994 opus
The Monkey Wars, primate research has furnished
most of the high-profile issues of the
antivivisection and animal rights movements
since primate experimentation came into
vogue in the 1950s––in part because the public
was already having a negative reaction to
the use of dogs. Almost every activist knows
or soon learns about Harry Harlow and his
maternal deprivation experiments on rhesus
macaques; Robert White and monkey head
transplants; Ronald Wood and drug addiction
studies on monkeys; Thomas Starzl and
baboon heart transplants; and on the other
side of the research controversy, about Peter
Singer and the Great Ape Project; Jan-Moor
Jankowski and the recently disbanded
Laboratory for Expermental Medicine in
Primates; the even more recent retirement of
the chimps dubbed the Buckshire 12 to
Primarily Primates; the chimp work of Jane
Goodall; and the intelligence studies of
Roger Fouts and Duane and Sue Savage
Rumbaugh, among others, who have established
that chimps, bonobos, and even squirrel
monkeys of average intelligence can easily
beat humans at video games.
As Blum pointed out, the paradoxical
crux of the research issue is that
researchers claim other primates are valuable
subjects because they are so much like us,
yet are sufficiently unlike us that they may be
used in experiments. Antivivisectionists
argue that primates are so much like us that
they have, intrinsically, the right to refuse
consent to invasive procedures.
As PETA cofounder Ingrid
Newkirk says of all species, “Animals are
not ours to eat, wear, or experiment on.”
Yet, this perspective also argues,
in the words of antivivisection author Hans
Reusch, that “Vivisection is scientific fraud,”
because primates and indeed all nonhuman
animals are supposedly so much unlike us
that information derived from animal
research is inapplicable.
The poles of “like” and “unlike” are
opposite. But virtually all participants in the
struggle, on either side, agree within a few
percentage points that we are about 92%
genetically identical to gibbons, 95% identical
to orangutans, 96% identical to gorillas,
97% identical to chimpanzees, and 98%
identical to bonobos, the so-called pygmy
chimps whose matriarchal society makes
love, not war, and are the closest of the
higher primates to extinction, through the
aggression of both chimpanzees and human s
who encroach upon their native habitat in
central Africa.
The fight over the morality of animal
use in research is not over the fact of our
primate-ness, nor the fact of our animal
nature, but rather, what this means in terms
of our rights and obligations.
Follow the monkeys
There is a saying in journalism that
if you want to understand any complicated
issue, just follow the money.
The reason why could be illustrated
by tossing dollar bills into a crowd––or
bananas into a troop of chimps or bonobos.
But the actual operating principle
may be not “Follow the money,” but “follow
the monkeys,” because the key to what happens
is not that all creatures pursue self-gratification.
Rather, it is that even in the scramble
and immediate aftermath, most humans
and other primates obey principles of social
conduct. Most do not actually kill or maim
each other to get the loot, and most in some
manner share it with others.
Ethologist Frans de Waal, of the
Yerkes Regional Primate Center at Emory
University, explains in his newly published
study Good Natured: The Origins of Right
and Wrong in Humans and Other Animals
that even though chimpanzees scramble quite
aggressively for a pile of food, all the chimps
tend to get enough, if there is enough to go
around. This occurs not only through might
making right, sexual politics, and other
obvious strategms, but also through the
apparent exercise of moral choice.
One expects altruism among bonobos,
who emphasize conflict resolution and
mutual aid, but even chimps, combative as
they are, seem to exercise a sense of charity,
and a sense of collectively enforced ethics to
restrain unacceptable behavior by the dominant
animals. The application of ethics and
charity may be limited to the members of
their own troop, but this isn’t different in
principle from the human concept of patriotism,
which enables humans to recite the Ten
Commandments, then rob, rape, and kill
neighbors with absolution.
What de Waal has done, simply
put, is scientifically explain animal behavior
in moral terms without anthropomorphizing
––taking us not full circle, but full spiral.
The Age of Science came when European
civilisation still shared the common pre-modern
perception that animals are moral beings,
subject to human moral restraints and therefore
as culpable as humans for such crimes
and sins as theft, fornication, and murder.
Respected courts tried, convicted, and sentenced
animals for all of these offenses.
Erased moral barrier
Rene Descartes (1596-1650),
reputedly the first hashish-smoking philosopher
within the European tradition, erased
the notion of animals as moral beings, albeit
not within his own time. Descartes argued
that animals are automatons guided wholly
by instinct, lacking the capacity for complex
thought and feeling. These he held unique to
humans, as alleged proof of our Godliness.
Descartes’ niece, an early antivivisectionist,
held that Descartes had spent too
much time smoking dope in his oven, which
concentrated the fumes.
The Cartesian argument provided
the ethical basis for vivisection, which in
Descartes’ own time was literally the dissection
of unanesthetized living animals. More
recently, Cartesian arguments have prevailed,
largely for economic reasons, in
agriculture, permitting the institution of close
confinement husbandry, or factory farming.
But the Cartesian argument selfdestructed
just as close confinement husbandry
began, when B.F. Skinner set out to
discover how the supposedly mechanical animal
mind is programmed. Skinner conditioned
pigeons to peck for rewards––and
thereby discovered why slot machines woo
gamblers. Either slot machines bring about a
human reversion to animality that results in
the loose morality of the Las Vegas strip, as
some religious fundamentalists have long
contended, or animal behavior and human
behavior are not inherently different.
Charles Darwin (1809-1882) found
the missing link between Cartesian philosophy
and Las Vegas when he outlined the theory
of evolution––still as controversial as it
was in 1925, when a Tennessee jury acquitted
schoolteacher John T. Scopes of allegedly
committing a crime in teaching it.
Fundamentalists of many traditions,
not just Bible Belters, have long been
uncomfortable with the teaching of evolution.
In one common view, evolution suggests that
if animals are not moral beings, we have no
inherent obligation to be moral, either. We
have every reason to rob, rape, murder, fornicate,
gamble, blaspheme, and fail to tithe
just as much as may suit us, to the detriment
of the so-called civilized virtues.
Schooled as a clergyman, Darwin
himself agonized over this possibility––and
led a conspicuously moral, orderly, and
kindly life.
Darwin founded modern biological
science by establishing our relationship to
animals. As philosopher James Rachels
pointed out in his 1990 study C o n c e i v e d
From Animals: The Moral Implications of
Darwinism, Darwin also in a sense founded
the animal rights movement. The theory of
evolution for the first time gave antivivisectionists
a means of arguing for the extension
of moral consideration to animals, as kin,
without having to argue the seemingly impossible
case for animals as moral equals.
Darwin did not take an absolute stance
against vivisection, much to the disappointment
of his close friends in the early British
humane movement. But Darwin didn’t
please his friends in science, either, with his
statement favoring research on animals if it
fulfilled essential purpose, yet opposing such
research if performed “merely to satisfy
damnable and detestable curiosity.”
This may be the single most quoted
phrase in the history of antivivisectionism.
Juxtaposing applied research against socalled
basic research, it underscores not only
the arguments p r o and c o n animal research
per se, but also the arguments within
Congress and the research community about
who should be paid to do what.
It particularly illuminates one of the
paradoxes of the animal rights movement,
which is generally perceived as a liberal
cause. In fact, liberal political administrations
have always favored basic research,
holding to the tenet that no avenue of intellectual
investigation should be taboo.
Antivivisectionism has historically always
had a strong conservative constituency.
Opinion polls tell us that Christian fundamentalists
are more likely than Americans of any
other religious background to endorse the
view that vivisection is scientific fraud, even
as they quote the Biblical phrase about
humankind being given dominion over animals
in rejecting the notion that animals are
not ours to eat, wear, or experiment on.
Republicans have historically favored governmental
funding of applied research, which
has obvious economic purpose, but not basic
research, which usually does not.
Colorado State University ethical
philosophy professor Bernard Rollin often
asks his classes of veterinary and agriculture
students to divide into two groups: those
who believe science should be constrained by
respect for animal rights, and those who do
not. He asks those who oppose such constraints
if they agree that Nazi vivisection of
human beings was justified in the pursuit of
scientific knowledge. Those who say yes, he
identifies as ethically consistent monsters.
He points out to the rest that they do in fact
accept ethical constraints on science; they
just disagree with animal rights activists as to
which constraints apply. Before the animal
rights contingent can draw a breath of satisfaction,
Rollin hits them with the familiar
hypothetical choice of saving their child or
their dog. Those who would choose the dog
or flip a coin are also termed ethically consistent
monsters. The rest are reminded that
they have just agreed that they will sacrifice
morality to self-interest if necessary. The
only issue in doubt is the degree of necessity.
Out of a typical group of 50 students who
start out believing they hold diametrically
opposing views, 48 actually hold essentially
the same views when those views are not
defined in terms of extremes.
The dynamics of the research conflict
exist apart from the substance of it,
which all takes place within the shades of
grey permitted by the various interpretations
of the initial phrase of the Hippocratic oath:
“First, do no harm.”
Gender roles
Demographic studies have repeatedly
discovered that the animal rights and
biomedical research communities are comparable
in level of education (85%-92% college-educated,
33% holding advanced
degrees), level of income (80% plus above
median), white/Asian relative to nonwhite/
nonAsian ethnicity (97%), and distribution
of political sympathies on non-animal issues
(slightly to the liberal side of the median).
Except in securing passage of the
Animal Enterprise Facilities Protection Act of
1992, which was directed at the already illegal
activities of the Animal Liberation Front
and other vandals, and was not actively
opposed by most animal protection groups,
the hunting, fur, and other animal use industries
have conspicuously failed in trying to
form alliances with biomedical research,
because as it happens the animal rights and
biomedical research communities are even
close in outlook on some extremely controversial
animal issues. Few biomedical
researchers hunt, wear fur, or go to rodeos.
Many donate to save whales. The single
biggest occupational category among animal
rights activists is health care, principally
nursing. After animal rights activists and
endurance athletes, medical professionals,
including nurses, are the subpopulation most
likely to be vegetarians.
The one clear demographic difference
lies in gender ratio. Three out of four
animal rights activists are female, with an
approximation of sexual balance only in the
youngest population group, where three out
of five are female. This is just about exactly
opposite the gender ratio, in each age group,
among biomedical researchers.
Reviewing recent biomedical
research findings, American Humane
Association board member Judy Lang pointed
out the implications of gender balance at
the 1993 AHA annual conference. For
starters, Lang explained, it is not just a cultural
cliche that women more rapidly and
clearly recognize emotions, including both
their own feelings and those of others.
Women are much faster to detect the biochemical
indicators of emotion, especially in
the absence of verbal clues, having on average
much keener senses of taste and smell.
Women also have a much thicker neuron
bundle linking their brain hemispheres,
which results in greater capacity for connecting
thought with feeling. Thus women are
simultaneously less likely to blindly react and
less able to distance themselves emotionally
from their work. Such traits are operating
when female activists tell male scientists that
experiments they consider brilliant are unacceptably
cruel, and the scientists, going ballistic,
retort that the activists are sentimental.
Chimps & bonobos
Lang stressed that the physiological
differences are matters of degree, not of
absolutes, and should not be considered an
excuse for men to be violent or inhumane.
What is important is recognizing that men
often need to learn modes of response that for
women may be instinctive. When activists
confront a researcher, Lang suggested, they
are likely to be talking different languages,
not because activists are sentimental and he’s
a monster, but because they are women and
he’s a man––or because the activists are men
who have learned to think more like women,
and the researcher is a woman who, through
working in a predominantly male environment,
has learned to think more like a man.
The researcher is likely to become obstinate
and defensive when accused of atrocity, not
because he or she condones atrocity so much
as because he or she doesn’t recognize it.
Men, as Lang noted, tend to be better at
types of abstract reasoning where intuition
interferes. More men go into the sciences,
this theory suggests, for essentially the same
reason that men seem to pick up math and
map-reading more easily. This may contribute
as well to the apparent greater ability
of men to limit conflict within ritualized
rules. Lang showed through a quick classroom
exercise that men tend to be more
acutely aware of their status at all times;
women are more acutely aware of whether
everyone is getting along.
Male consciousness, in short, has
evolved in response to the contest for position
within a primate mating hierarchy, while
female consciousness is more concerned with
keeping a safe atmosphere for the rearing of
young. Men are more like chimps; women
are more like bonobos. Men engage in overt
dominance struggles, from sports to conversational
one-upsmanship, in which display
usually matters more than substance. Such
contests rarely flare into actual combat
because much as predators instinctively
understand that preying upon other predators
is risky, no matter who wins, men usually
understand, perhaps instinctively, the necessity
of respecting rules of engagement to
reduce mutual risk. Dominance is relative;
the loser of one clash may win the next.
A related male understanding, also
seen in chimp behavior, involves the use of
teamwork to gain a degree of dominance collectively
that team members couldn’t gain
alone. As teams, men and chimps wage war,
escalating conflict to a degree that would be
suicidal for an individual.
Ironically, it is also often only
through teamwork, including at war, that
men find the emotionally stabilizing friendships
that women tend to form throughout
life. This is how the unique self-reinforcing
subculture of research has evolved––and the
subcultures of police and fire departments,
and of Fortune 500 corporations. It is literally
true that the inclusion of women in traditionally
male subcultures tends to change
them so that they no longer serve the psychological
needs of the men who most depend
upon them: typically, the men who are most
alienated from the communicative demands
of women, who want peer relationships that
they don’t have to work so hard to maintain
as a male/female relationship, albeit that
male peer relationships may actually be quite
shallow despite years of familiarity.
When women fight, Lang continued,
the issue is more likely to be subliminally
perceived as life-and-death. This
doesn’t mean the issue is serious; only that
where men are programmed for nonstop ritual
combat, involving frequent low-risk offensive
forays, women tend to be programmed
to fight to the death if forced to fight at all.
This results in a dramatic difference in modes
of conflict. Since the issue for men tends to
be display, the conflict is overt. Because the
issue for women is felt as survival, women
to equal degree try to remain hidden.
Stereotypically, men challenge; women
resort to subtrefuge. The male approach is
that of power-holders; the female approach
is that of the relatively powerless, for whom
guerilla warfare is the only viable counterattack.
Men known as great strategists tend to
be those who have learned to use female
strategies; women known as great strategists
tend to understand the use of male strategies
when strategically appropriate.
Women are generally better at conflict
resolution than men, but may be less
familiar with managing conflict itself. The
result, in the research controversy, is the frequent
feeling of either side that the other isn’t
fair. A female activist, given a place on an
Institutional Care and Research Committee,
may feel both patronized and violated, since
she is asked to approve of projects, if they
meet animal welfare standards, that are still
abhorent to her, and in any voting situation
is likely to find herself voting alone. A N IMAL
PEOPLE gets telephone calls now and
then from women in just that position, who
seem to need affirmation as much as the
scraps of information they request.
The scientists surrounding such an
activist may meanwhile feel that she is
unfathomable and unreasonable, and that
they have already conceded everything they
possibly can concede: they have given her
the status of a place among them, even
though she may lack the formal scientific credentials
that are otherwise required of members
in their club. Without admitting it, they
may actually be vying for her approval, since
it is very difficult for most men not to vie for
the favorable attentions of a female, as either
a symbolic mother or symbolic mate.
The unrecognized subliminal issue
for the male leaders is quite likely to be personal
status rather than animal suffering.
They may not be capable of understanding
that to an activist, the knowledge of suffering
is a torment like that a mother feels upon
hearing a baby cry––a sound to which most
females of any age have an immediate physiological
response. Typically, men may
respond; women must respond.
Bernard Rollin points out that a
hidden issue for men in any conflict is how to
change their behavior without losing status
among peers. We see this on Institutional
Animal Care and Use Committees and elsewhere
throughout the research debate.
Denial, Rollin suggests, may indicate not
that men are blind to the suffering they causes,
but rather that they don’t know what to
do about it. They not only need an alternative
that won’t cost them their livelihood, but
need a way to embrace it that won’t seemingly
cost them their manhood, which may be
perceptually linked to the size of their
research grants and their ability to perform
research that gains professional recognition.
As Rollin puts it, “When a guy
begins practicing denial, and you know that
he knows what you do, then you have to start
showing him an easy way out, because he
doesn’t want to fight you any more. He
knows he’s wrong. What you have to do is
find a way to let him do right.”
The key to progress becomes strategic
disengagement, which is distinctively
different from relinquishing an essential
point. Successful married couples learn how
and when to do it. Both animal advocates
and research advocates may now be maneuvering
toward strategic disengagement that
can enable progress––perhaps including
eventual agreement on just what the still
hotly disputed standards for assuring the
“psychological well-being” of nonhuman primates
should be.

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