Principle Must Come First
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, July/August, 2002:
Principle must come first, by Patrice Greanville
ANIMAL PEOPLE board of directors
“Downplaying the ‘animal rights angle’ will be
counterproductive,” ANIMAL PEOPLE publisher Kim Bartlett advised
animal advocates who were preparing their lobbying strategy for the
spring 2002 legislative sessions.
“If the legislators believe the charade,” Kim continued,
and reiterated in the March 2002 ANIMAL PEOPLE editorial, “it
perpetuates the notion that nobody cares much about animals. If they
don’t buy it, it confirms the view that animal suffering is so
inconsequential a concern that even animal advocates are afraid to
acknow-ledge their true interests.”
The results of the spring 2002 legislative sessions are now
nearly complete. The so-called “pragmatic” emphasis of animal
protection lobbyists on bills linking human and animal concerns
brought some stronger prohibitions of abuses which were already
illegal, but no landmark gains. De-emphasizing concern for the
basic right of animals to enjoy at least a decent state of well-being
meanwhile brought the catastrophic loss of status of rats, mice,
and birds under the Animal Welfare Act, and the veto by Connecticut
governor John Rowland of what would have been the first state law in
the U.S. to establish that dogs should not spend their entire lives
on chains, outdoors, alone–after the bill had already won
overwhelming legislative support.
I agree unreservedly with Kim’s position of putting principle
first in seeking to advance animal protection, and believe her views
deserve wider attention.
For decades I have maintained that the effort of many animal
defenders to obscure their concern for animal suffering is phony,
cowardly, and finally self-defeating. It is the track most often
taken by those who feel there is always a way to have their cake and
eat it too. Perhaps the issue where this tendency has manifested
itself most prominently is biomedical research (and of late, food &
health issues). Here, even supposedly “fire-eating radicals” have
leaned toward a position of “pragmatism,” preaching the shopworn
factoid that animal-based biomedical research has occasionally led to
great human tragedies.
Marching under the banner of human self-interest, these
cunning defenders tirelessly trot out the 40-year-old Thalidomide
affair and a slew of similar research catastrophes. But the fact is,
whether we like it or not, biomedical research has yielded both good
and bad outcomes from a human perspective.
Barring nefarious events caused by corruption or negligence,
all types of basic research are likely to show an uneven pattern of
yield, because in these areas knowledge is by definition
inconclusive and imperfect. Accidents, therefore, are almost
inevitable. But do a few accidents warrant termination of a
promising field of research? Hardly. Aviation science, for example,
suffered many disasters before reliable aircraft were developed.
Even more uncomfortable to accept, in the real world, and
taking a strictly pragmatic viewpoint, tainted origins do not
necessarily doom the offspring. Nazi research on prisoners to learn
more about human tolerance to cold ended up, decades later, being
used by cardiologists in open-heart surgery breakthroughs.
In sum, in our case, putting the focus exclusively on human
welfare (which we obviously care about, but which is hardly an
orphan issue) only leads to eventual disaster and distrust of our
efforts. What would these “pragmatists” do if tomorrow it was
announced that a cure for cancer or similar scourge had been
demonstrably advanced as a result of animal-based research? Their
single argument would be immediately wiped out, perhaps for
generations if not forever.
Arguing principle is not only honest but far sturdier, for
it stands squarely on pure moral grounds. We oppose biomedical
research on animals because it is a form of human fascism,
perpetrated on weaker, defenseless creatures by superior force, and
justified by a unilaterally proclaimed, self-serving ideology.
If there is a situation where the ends do not justify the
means, it is this one. Dated as it may sound in a civilization that
breeds opportunists and compromisers by the millions, principle must