BOOKS: Beyond Evolution
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, November 1999:
Beyond Evolution by Michael W. Fox
The Lyons Press (123 West 18th St., New York, NY 10011), 1999.
256 pages, hardcover. $24.95.
“Few parents teach their children reverence for all
life, opening their hearts to the wonders and mysteries of wild
nature,” Humane Society of the U.S. senior vice president
Michael W. Fox laments on page 216 of Beyond Evolution.
“Few children now go out to hunt and trap and fish with their
fathers…It can be difficult to empathize with those who have
never learned why they must kill a deer swiftly with one arrow,
and not just for sport; and with those people who still eat other
animals without a second thought. But empathize we must to
help restore our collective humanity.”
The emphasis is Fox’s own. The notion that there is a
“collective humanity,” as opposed to acts of individual conscience
or lack thereof, may be cribbed from Karl Marx. The
rest of Fox’s argument might have been taken from hook-andbullet
defenders’ case for introducing ever more children to
blood sports––allegedly “for meat”––at an ever earlier age.
Fox boasts on the previous page of having “stood
beside an Eskimo whale hunter in communion with the Arctic
summer night,” as if this somehow opened his heart to “the
wonders and mysteries of wild nature” in a manner that watching
pigeons on a window ledge might not have, had he focused
on animal behavior instead of exotic experience.
On the following page, Fox writes that “It is not
mere nostalgia for the cry of the loon” which leads him into
seemingly contending that cruelties of the past are less reprehensible
than those of the present and future.
But Fox evinces only a murky sense of history. One
bizarre Fox claim, involving history that he supposedly witnessed,
is that the so-called Green Revolution overtaking agriculture
over the past 50 years has failed, especially in Asia.
Yet farmers worldwide now feed twice as many people as in
1960, on a third less arable land per capita. India has gone
from perennial regional famine to becoming a net food
exporter, even as her human population tripled. North Korea,
however, largely shunned the Green Revolution––and is suffering
the worst Asian famine since 1960.
Fox predicates his case against the Green Revolution
largely by alleging that India has failed to lift her whole population
out of poverty. Yet the number of Indians now at or above
the world standard of living is greater than the total Indian population
at independence from Britain in 1949. More than twothirds
of Indians now live above the world standard of 1949;
80% then lived below it.
Progress might have come faster had not quasiGandhians
battled innovation at every turn, using many of the
arguments Fox cites as his philosophical framework.
Gandhi-ji himself, however, prescribed policies not
opposing technological innovation per se, but rather favoring
decentralized technology, toward enabling and encouraging
individual enterprise. Had personal computers been invented,
he would have wanted every home and shop to have one.
Gandhian emphasis on respect for labor has unfortunately
been warped into a canon cited by some of the relatively
well-to-do to rationalize employing themselves in make-work
bureaucracy, while many of the poorest Indians remain shackled
to inefficient, inhumane ways of work that they would
cheerfully abandon, given any chance. A reincarnated Gandhiji
might devote his life to undoing the damage done by
“Gandhian” cant which tends to miss his most important points.
“My thesis,” Fox argues on page 30, “is that since
the Enlightenment [the dawn of modern science], a belief and
knowledge system has evolved” which “cuts off empathy, feeling,
and therefore respect and concern for other sentient
beings. How else could the biomedical priesthood condone
incarcerating our simian tree-swinging monkey cousins from
the forests and jungles in cages three feet wide by four feet long
and three feet to five feet high?”
This would suggest that cruel confinement of both
human and animal prisoners, slave-trading, and torture only
began with the Enlightenment. The Enlightenment did bring
the readaptation of some torture devices to serve vivisectors,
and the extension by philosopher/vivisector Rene Descartes of
the medieval belief that animals have no souls to a claim that
also they feel no pain. But it also brought the first scientific
awareness that humans a r e animals, and the orgins of the
humane movement. No Americans were more influenced by
the Enlightenment than Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin
Franklin, who set a global precedent by writing into the U.S.
Constitution a ban on “cruel and unusual punishment.”
Articulated opposition to slavery and vivisection also began
with leading Enlightenment thinkers, such as Voltaire.
Fox continues, on page 31, to claim as alleged evidence
of the deficient “feeling state and vision of ‘establishment’
biomedical scientists” a recent survey which actually
showed that academic scientists have essentially the same view
of animal intelligence as English department faculty––and that
two-thirds or more of each group believe animals have minds
and think. Stating the findings, Fox in effect refutes himself.
Self-contradiction strikes again on page 50. There,
Fox objects that, “developing new crops like soybeans and
canola to produce specialty oils, and engineering bacteria to
produce vanilla in fermentation vats will devastate the export
markets of developing nations.”
Just a line later Fox laments that “Many developing
nations have not attained sustainable self-sufficiency because
colonial agricultural development programs have encouraged
them to produce various crops for export.” Presumably the loss
of export markets would encourage a turn toward self-sufficiency,
but Fox makes no note of this.
Fox recites the claim originally made against hybrid
grains more than 40 years ago that use of new, improved crops
obliges farmers to engage in costly and potentially harmful
repeated applications of chemicals––herbicides, pesticides,
fungicides, and now “activators,” meant to maximize the benefit
from bio-engineered traits.
Fox follows this with the claim that, “If a farmer
plants a genetically engineered crop of corn or soybeans with
herbicide resistance, he can’t plant any other crops unless they
too are resistant.”
But the whole reason for the repeated chemical applications
is that agricultural chemicals are now designed to break
down into harmless components with ever-increasing rapidity,
to avoid the lingering effects that Rachel Carson made infamous
in Silent Spring (1962). Should a farmer cease using any
herbicide now commonly used in the U.S., the very plants it
killed could grow in the same field within weeks––or days.
Another nonsequiteur scarcely unique to Fox is the
simultaneous suggestion that biotech may unleash a
Frankenstein’s monster organism which will devastate natural
ecologies, and opposition to “Terminator” seed technology,
developed by the USDA and Delta & Pine Land Inc., which
prevents a bio-engineered plant from reseeding itself.
“Terminator” seeds, in simple terms, prevent bio-engineered
plants from becoming runaway invasive species. Critics dislike
“Terminator” technology because it prevents farmers from
recycling their seed supply, allowing them to plant genetically
modified crops wherever and whenever they wish. On this
point the critics won a hiattus when Monsanto announced on
October 4 that it will not market the “Terminator” technology
even if it succeeds in an almost two-year effort to buy Delta &
Pine Land Inc., including related patents.
Throughout Beyond Evolution, Fox decries the
alleged monopolism of competing private industries, likening
them in a two-sentence sequence to “corporate feudalism,”
“corporate socialism,” and “state capitalism,” while arguing
for greater governmental control––a monopoly––over biotech
research and use.
Lest anyone believe his opposition to biotech is
absolute, however, Fox endorses biotechnological development
of more effective vaccines and contraceptives.
“The broad range of potentially beneficial applications
of genetic engineering biotechnology in agriculture and in
veterinary medicine and human medicine are being overshadowed
and undermined by an overarching narrowmindedness,”
Fox states––but identifies that alleged narrowmindedness with
the search for the genetic aspects of health, essential to understand
in order to apply genetic technology to any problem.
Much of Fox’s polemic seems based on either incomplete
understanding of his subject, or disingenuous disregard
for basics. Fox argues on page 96, for example, that plants
rather than animals should be used to make a class of bioengineered
drugs which are now being made––experimentally––by
substituting the digestive, lactative, and/or urinary processes
of animals (chiefly goats) for costly synthetic bioreactors. An
inherent problem, however, is that plants do not have internal
bioreactors analagous to the animal digestive tract, and especially,
to mammary glands.
On page 97, Fox leaps back and forth from discussion
of drugs produced through animal bioreaction to mentions
of biohazards associated with cross-species organ transplants.
The infectious contents of goats’ milk, however, unlike the
liver contents of baboons, have already been shared with
humans for millenia.
As his arguments fail, Fox resorts to innuendo. “For
example,” Fox writes on page 45, “the chemical and biotechnology
multinational DuPont Nemours is one of the biggest
U.S. distributors of pesticides and other cancer-causing chemicals.
This same company put up the money to develop [oncomouse]…sold
to testing labs to screen harmful chemicals and
test for new cancer cures. DuPont also sells a high-resolution
x-ray film for screening women for breast cancer, thus profiting
further from the consequences of people, women especially,
being exposed to an increasingly toxic environment.”
Taking a similarly cynical view, one might point out
that because HSUS profits by raising funds from people
opposed to cruelty, and pays Fox more than $100,000 a year,
Fox benefits by perpetuating many forms of cruelty through
incessantly and unabashedly promoting organic agriculture.
For instance, organic growers instead of using chemical fertilizers
tend to fertilize their fields with bone ash and blood meal,
each a byproduct of animal slaughter; often raise animals for
slaughter, as a source of non-chemically contaminated dung;
and tend to tolerate insects, yet––to protect their relatively
meager crop yields––often trap and shoot birds and mammals
even more aggressively than chemical-dependent farmers.
We are not so cynical, however, as to believe Fox
really means to clandestinely encourage cruelty by way of
keeping himself employed. As Winston Churchill advised, one
should never ascribe to malice what may be ascribed to either
stupidity or ignorance.
“Medical and scientific experts have been fired by the
legalized-mafia of their governments and corporations for raising
questions about pesticides, dioxins, and various genetically
engineered products,” Fox adds on page 214. “A veterinarian
in Japan, who voiced concern about the Yakuzas’ [Japanese
mafia’s] refusal to allow their fighting dogs to be given a local
anesthetic before their wounds were sown up, was recently
killed. A Belgian veterinarian investigating illegal use of drugs
by the veal industry was killed in 1996 by the European drug
mafia. Chico Mendez, leader of sustainable forest gatherers,
was killed by cattle ranchers less than a decade ago.”
A government or corporation firing a whistleblower
may be an abuse of power, but is scarcely the same thing as
murder committed by dogfighters, drug lords, and frontier
beef barons. Neither did any of those murders have anything to
do with “pesticides, dioxins, and various genetically engineered
“I feel a growing sense of urgency,” Fox writes on
page 212, “over the closely linked spiritual, social, and environmental
crises of these times because,” he says, “I see corruption
being…rationalized as the means of doing business to
achieve justifiable ends. Having worked in one developing
country (India) and also being involved in animal and environmental
protection in the U.S., where––on both hemispheres––
corruption is either denied or fatalistically accepted as normal,
I am more aware than ever of the consequences of confronting
and exposing corruption in whatever form it may take.”
During the 15 years or so that Fox has been an HSUS
vice president, the Washington Post has syndicated five separate
exposes of dubious land deals and financial transactions
involving his immediate superiors. U.S. News & World Report
published another. HSUS ran into legal trouble in Canada and
The Netherlands for alleged misrepresentation. A member of
the HSUS board executive committee was convicted of bilking
investors of more than $21 million. A fellow HSUS vice president
was convicted of embezzling, and was accused of raping
at least 13 women in a civil suit eventually settled out of court.
Fox may well have been “aware of the consequences
of confronting and exposing corruption” all this while, but
ANIMAL PEOPLE has no record of him ever actually “confronting
and exposing” any aspect of it. Fox did, however,
amplify claims of corruption issued by his wife Deanna Krantz
against the management of the Nilgiris Animal Sanctuary in
southern India, which did not stand up either in court or in the
view of independent investigators. He also amplified Krantz’
allegations of corruption against the handlers of a rogue elephant
named Loki, also known as Murthy, and against their
superiors, and then against a series of independent investigators,
none of whom ever found that any of her central claims
were substantiated. (See ANIMAL PEOPLE, page 1,
July/August 1999, and page 16, September 1999.)
“We do not now have…more competent guidance
than that of Michael Fox in this book,” states theologian and
biotechnology critic Thomas Berry in a Beyond Evolution jacket
blurb. Biotech investors must hope he’s right.