Invisible Voices

a voice for the voiceless

Category Archives: animal rights

Change is afoot…

As many of you probably know, Stephanie is no longer blogging at change.org. She’s still blogging though, and has masterminded a new endeavor, Animal Rights & AntiOppression.

I’m excited about this for many reasons; one of the biggest is that it’s harder and harder for me to see Animal Rights as a stand-alone issue. It all runs together for me – social justice, environmentalism, animal rights…oppression is oppression is oppression, right?

Besides, to loosely paraphrase something I heard pattrice Jones say once, what’s the point in saving animals if you don’t save their home too?

So, intersections, commonality of oppression, it’s how I see issues and so as much as I enjoyed Stephanie’s Animal Rights focused blogging at change.org, I have a feeling I’m going to enjoy this new space even more.

Stephanie asked me and several others to join her, so I’ll be posting there too. In fact, I have a post up already! “Glimpsing the Future in Re-Wilded Chickens and Turkeys.”

Miriam Jones’ Animal Voices interview now available…

Finally, the interview that Miriam Jones did with Animal Voices on rehabilitating former fighting roosters is on the Animal Voices website. It is also available on iTunes as a podcast.

I listened to it tonight, and it was great. I love the way Eastern Shore addresses the issues not just from the obvious animal standpoint, but also from the perspective of the intersection with feminism.

Mute Swans – scapegoat for the Chesapeake marsh grasses

We’ve heard the plot line a millions times before: humans import pretty / cute / exotic animals as lawn ornaments or conversation pieces, and are surprised when those animals integrate into the local population. The animals breed (*gasp!* how did they know how to do that?!) and before long there are not just a handful of the imported animals, but an actual population.

At some point someone gets it into their head that this is A Bad Thing, and the small population of the non-native species is seen as The Big Bad, and every effort is taken to eradicate that species from the area. It never works, but they never stop trying. The species becomes the scapegoat, because after all the humans don’t want to change their behavior, and so they’d rather blame another species for all the ecological damage.

In Maryland, there is a campaign against Mute Swans. The population had gotten up to a whopping 4,000 a few years ago, which must have put them at something like 0.01% of the bird population in Maryland. Maybe not even that much. But this was seen as too much by the state of Maryland. These birds were single-handedly destroying the marsh grasses of the Cheasapeake Bay! The native Marsh Grasses!

So in the past few years the Powers That Be, in their infinite (lack of) wisdom, have targeted the Mute Swans, killing as many as they can, and destroying as many eggs as they find. The Mute Swan population in Maryland is now estimated at 500.

And that, according to Maryland, is 500 too many. They all must die, to protect those precious grasses, because god knows, there’s not a single other species eating those grasses, and the human impact on the bay can’t possibly be a contributing factor.

The Potomac River, which empties into the Bay, is grossly polluted, with much of DC’s street-side run off and sewage overflow going directly into the river and thus the Bay. But no, that can’t have anything to do with the grasses, can it? It must be the sole responsibility of the Mute Swans.

At some point, we must take responsibility for our own actions, and the incredible damage we inflict on the environment around us. We need to stop blaming animals for existing. And part of that is going to require getting past the obsession with an ideal of a pure “native” ecosystem. When non-native species integrate into a local ecosystem, we have to accept that there is a new ecosystem, which includes these new species.

Ecosystems are not static, and they have a natural way of finding their own equilibrium, which doesn’t necessarily look the way humans decide they want it to look. The ideals of pure “native” ecosystems are absurd, and harmful. It isn’t animals like Mute Swans doing damage to the Chesapeake Bay, it is humans and our destructive pollution.

Animal blood banks

On my way home from work, I saw a bumper sticker “My pet gave blood at the [location specific clinic]!”

I started thinking about it, and what it meant. What it meant, specifically for those of us who care for companion animals, and also what it means for those of us who are vegan. Specifically of the anti-exploitation stance.

If our “pets” give blood, it is because we’ve decided that they will. That makes me uncomfortable right from the start.

But what if our companion was injured in some way that required a blood transfusion for them to have a hope of a survival? When I adopted my cat, it was a commitment to care for her as best I could. I have to make decisions for her all the time.

tempest on the patio

No, she’s not allowed to be outside unsupervised. (she goes out with me on my fenced in patio because it has been made escape proof, something that’s easy given that she isn’t a jumper and has no actual desire to escape.)

No, she’s not allowed to eat as much as she thinks she should. (She gains weight incredibly easy, and we’re always battling to keep her weight in the healthy range. I’ve never not had a vet tell me she needs to lose weight.)

No, she’s not allowed to try to chew my arm off. Ouch! Tempest!

Whenever we have responsibility for the care of someone, whether they are a companion animal or a young child or an elderly parent or rescued farm animals or whoever it is that needs our care for whatever reason and is thus a dependent…we make decisions. Some of them, at least. That’s the nature of things, as the world is now, and we have to deal with that, and weigh and consider and think and do our best.

tempest playing with sparkly wand

So, the blood donating. I have my doubts as to whether it would be responsible for me to volunteer Tempest to give blood. Not that she, at 10 and as a cat (I’m still researching), even qualifies, but this is a theoretical thing at this point. Yet if I decide that ethically I can not make the decision for her to donate blood, then wouldn’t I be bound to not receive blood in the event she was in need? And that means I’m making an even more drastic decision for her – that I won’t allow her the option of a potentially life-saving transfusion.

That seems even worse to me. Better, isn’t it, to decide for her to periodically donate blood (assuming that it is risk-free, with the most minimal discomfort) than that she should die even if it was preventable with a transfusion?

This leaves me a lot to think about. I haven’t come to any conclusions, it was just sparked by seeing that bumper sticker on my ride home.

Has anyone had their dog (or cat? can cats give blood?) donate blood? Been on the receiving end? Have other thoughts, perhaps more thoroughly thought-through logic?

I have an acquaintance (a friend of a friend who I have met only once, and hardly had a chance to talk to) who is a vet. A vegan vet! Our mutual friend has advised me to ask her about the Canadian Animal Blood Bank. I checked out their Donor FAQ and zeroed in straight on the cat-specific questions:

Can cats donate blood?

We do not collect blood from cats at the CABB. There are more complications involved when collecting from a cat. As you probably know, most cats will not sit still and would have to be sedated. We only use minimal physical restraint on our canine donors. The amount of blood volume needed to be taken from a cat and their small size in combination with using a sedative may increase the risk of an adverse reaction such as low blood pressure.

What happens when a cat needs a transfusion?

The need for transfusions in cats is not as common as in dogs. Transfusions for cats are dealt with on an as needed basis. A volunteered cat will be brought in to the vet clinic to provide an immediate transfusion to the recipient cat.

A volunteered cat? Where do they come from? Are they on call?

I have lots of questions. I hope to get in touch with the VeganVet to see what her thoughts are on this.

animal rights and confronting heterosexual privilege

pattrice is encouraging us, in the wake of the awful attack on Nathan Runkle, to dig deep and examine an intersection, another piece of the privilege pie that we have as heterosexuals.

Finally, this attack ought to provoke the animal rights/liberation/advocacy community to take homophobia more seriously. Yes, the movement is generally queer-friendly but, no, it is not entirely free of homophobia. There are gay men in the movement who have hesitated to come out for fear of losing credibility or facing harassment. There are lesbian women in the movement whose opinions about the linkages between sexism and speciesism have been dismissed as the irrational ravings of man-haters. There have been (rare but real) incidents of both insensitivity and outright homophobia at movement events. Confronting this directly will make the movement stronger and better able to build bridges with other movements.

It comes down to a willingness to acknowledge and then divest oneself of unjust power and privilege. Just as it’s very easy for progressive activists in other movements to assume that, because they feel themselves to be good and progressive people, there couldn’t possibly be any need for them to look deeply at their power relationships with animals, it’s very easy for vegan animal rights activists to assume that, because they feel themselves to be good and progressive people, there couldn’t possibly be any need to challenge themselves about issues like race or sexual orientation. But, of course, what’s true is that we all need to be challenging ourselves about everything all the time if we’re to have any hope of salvaging the world from the wreckage wrought by the tangle of intersecting injustices in which we all are ensnared.

I was at a vegan brunch this morning, a final event marking the closing of the Brian McKenzie Infoshop. A sad day, yet it was a celebration. All these people together, sharing vegan food and memories of the Infoshop. Music, laughter, friendship, community.

One of the musicians was Spoonboy. I’ve heard him once before, though I can’t remember the topic of the songs that night. Today one of his songs was about the confusing aspects of sexuality, growing up with the pressures that society places on us to be a certain way. After Spoonboy concluded his song, he said a few words, about how important it had been for him to find the Infoshop just after high school, to have a place where he always felt accepted.

It was the perfect song to get me really thinking about my own piece of the privilege pie, as someone who is technically heterosexual.

As someone who has only dated men, and who has only been inclined to date men, I don’t have to worry that I’m going to be beat up by others who disapprove of the sex of my date. I don’t have to worry that my parents will stop talking to me based on the sex of the person I date. I never had to worry about my parents throwing me out based on my sexual orientation.

If I hold hands with someone I’m dating in public, no one will notice. If I kiss my date in public, people might notice, but any comments would be along the lines of appropriateness of public displays of affection, rather than outrage as to the sex of my date.

If I want to get married, I can, no question. In any state, and with no protests by any group. The fundamental Christians won’t protest my fictional marriage, even though I’m atheist and one would presume that they are fundamentally opposed to any marriage that doesn’t fit their view of it. As long as it is superficially like their own, I suppose they turn their eyes away.

If I want to have a child and raise it with or without a partner, no one would question the suitability, at least not based on my sexual orientation. If I want to adopt a child, there are no laws banning me from doing so. (Though this might not be true in Arkansas, which I think passed a law stating that single parents as well as gay and lesbian couples were banned from adopting.)

There are so many aspects of our society that are built around the assumption that the only valid relationship is the one between one man and one woman. In fact, as we all know, there are those who want to make this a federally enshrined definition of marriage.

But it is more than that. Or it is all of that, on a bigger deeper level.

And this is what I was thinking as Spoonboy sang. When we talk about animal rights, we talk about their right to exist without interference, to find whatever joy and form whatever relationships and live whatever lives they can. The mere fact that animals are not human makes them targets for any number of abuses. They are raped, their babies are stolen, the milk they produce for those stolen babies is then stolen. Their lives are controlled to every degree possible, and then stolen. Their wings are clipped, their beaks and toes are mutilated. They are starved and kept in dark cramped places. If they do not have the misfortune to be a “farmed” animal, then the mere fact of their existence means that there are likely people out there with guns or other instruments of death just waiting for the right time, permit, or happenstance in order to do their best to kill them. Even the exceptions to these rules, the “pets”, have a small protection, and not more than that.

Obviously I haven’t listed all the ways that humans control and kill all the animals. The real point is that it is the mere fact of their existence, and the mere fact that they are not human that opens them up to abuse and death.

This is also true if your sexuality doesn’t conform to the dominant paradigm.

As humans, we are animals. As animal rights activists, this means we must also be social justice advocates. It is without question that we need to fight injustice wherever it occurs. It is shameful that hate crimes based on sexual orientation aren’t universally viewed, in a legal sense, as hate crimes. It is, of course, even more shameful that hate crimes occur.

pattrice has said that she’s seen and experienced extreme homophobia within the animal rights movement.

This doesn’t surprise me – it is a movement made up of people, and people are not perfect. That doesn’t mean we can’t improve. That does mean we need to confront that sort of behavior if and when we witness it. That does mean we educate ourselves so that we are that much more sensitive and aware.

I did some research, and found some shocking information. Shocking because I thought we, as a society, were more advanced than this. According to About.com, twenty states do not include sexual orientation in their hate crimes laws. Twenty! Including the current state I live in, and the one I moved from a couple years ago. And seven have absolutely no hate crime laws at all. Including one I’m about to take a vacation to.

This means that there are a lot of us living in places that likely have campaigns to address this. That means there are a lot of us who could add our voices to the fight, whether or not we live in Ohio, where one of our own was so recently brutally attacked, simply for being who he is.

One of the articles I read recently was on the Gay/Straight Animal Rights Alliance website.

Racism, classism, sexism, heterosexism and speciesism are separate symptoms of a greater disease – a disease that spawns from our behaviors, that will only be cured by a collective struggle to ameliorate all forms of wanton exploitation. We live in an anglicized world of white conservative values and ideals. From an early age we are spoon-fed a government education, learning the pledge of allegiance in conjunction with the alphabet. How is it that a culture so “advanced” necessitates the oppression of humyn and non-humyn animals?

Our society is founded on the inherent belief in false dualisms, dualisms constructed to subjugate and categorize animals with respect to humans, women to men, ghetto to suburb, inferior to superior. We have come to accept the torture of animals, the suppression of minorities, and the servitude of women as human nature. Through the deconstruction of false assumptions we lay the grounds for total liberation; liberation for others and ourselves irrespective of socially constructed biases.

Final words from pattrice:

By making connections and taking action, we can counter might and make things right.

asking for changes

We heard for almost two years that Barack Obama would bring us change. Sure, sure, anything can be said during a campaign! When it comes to politicians and their promises, I’ll believe it when I see it.

In addition to my lack of belief in campaign promises, I’m quite cynical!

And yet…even though we’ve still got a few months before President-elect Obama becomes President, I see glimmers of good things to come. If nothing else, he’s approaching the entire idea of the presidency with innovation.

He’s asking us, we the people, what we think. He’s asking the people of the country he’s to lead what we think is most important.

Plus, I just saw this great quote, which to my mind is one of the most encouraging things I’ve heard out of the mouth of any politician:

The debates unnerved both candidates. When he was preparing for them during the Democratic primaries, Obama was recorded saying, “I don’t consider this to be a good format for me, which makes me more cautious. I often find myself trapped by the questions and thinking to myself, ‘You know, this is a stupid question, but let me … answer it.’ So when Brian Williams is asking me about what’s a personal thing that you’ve done [that’s green], and I say, you know, ‘Well, I planted a bunch of trees.’ And he says, ‘I’m talking about personal.’ What I’m thinking in my head is, ‘Well, the truth is, Brian, we can’t solve global warming because I f—ing changed light bulbs in my house. It’s because of something collective’.”

As RAN said, “No kidding”.

But more than that, he gets it! At the very least, he can see that action is needed, and that action should be more than sticking your fingers in your ear and saying “I can’t hear you!” anytime someone wants to talk about the climate.

So. I have a glimmer of the hope that people keep talking about.

Change.org is doing this thing where they’re collecting ideas and having their members vote on them, and they’ll present the top 10 as their suggestions. There are a few animal rights related ideas, but there are few votes.

If you’re of a mind to suggest an idea or vote on one, go check it out.

I’m sort of bemused that one of the top rated ideas at the moment is something that P-E Obama has already said he’s going to do (close Guantanamo Bay), and is one of the things that I’ve heard the most chatter about in mainstream newsites. That would be disappointing if something he’s already doing was presented as an idea!

It will be interesting to see how he deals with what are likely to be a gigantic number of suggestions. I like the idea of presenting ideas that have many supporting voices behind them, but of course it can be frustrating if your idea is not one of the ones presented by a group like change.org. So, to this I’d say, vote on change.org, or on any other site or with any other group that is doing this sort of thing with ideas that you like, but don’t let yourself be limited to any of that. We can’t know, at this point, what our suggestions might mean to a man about to be sworn in as President, but I do know that what is not voiced can not be heard.

Some of my ideas at the moment:

  • repeal the AETA and AEPA
  • require prisons and schools to provide vegan meals
  • spend 10% of the transportation budget on bike and ped and transit options
  • make the 3ft rule (for motorized vehicles passing bicycles) and “slow then go” on red for bicycles the national standard
  • ban all further use of the words “terrorism”, “terrorist” or any deviation from government speak and government documents until those words are clearly defined to mean something other “anyone who doesn’t agree with me, or anyone who tries to prevent me from exploiting others for my own gain.”
  • require that all employers provide work-from-home options
  • require all employers provide secure indoor bike parking and showers

That’s what comes to mind for now. And yeah, I figured why not ask for the moon, right?

I did like the idea that Stephanie presented to increase funding for non-animal research methods.

What would you ask for?

History, Direct Action, Inalienable Rights

Listening to my headphones at work today, a song by one of my favorite folk singers came up – Utah Phillips. Utah was an interesting character, and as he was a collector of history I have always felt like I have a lot to learn from him.

Utah was an anarchist – not through theory, but through the way he lived. His heroes included Ammon Hennacy, Mother Jones, and many more people that most of us likely wouldn’t know.

Utah’s histories are people’s histories, in the same sense as Howard Zinn’s “A People’s History of the United States” – the history that we’ll never read about in the history books used in school. Folk histories.

The reason I’m talking about Utah tonight is because listening to “Direct Action” at work today (an irony a few of you might understand) I was struck by how appropriate much of what he had to say was to the Animal Rights and Environmental Rights movements right now. The AETA, the SHAC7, Operation Backfire…and everything that Will talks about on his blog, Green Is the New Red.

Will doesn’t just talk about the oppression, he also has a running theme, encouraging us to not be intimidated, to get out there and exercise our rights.

Well, Utah’s song/story/spoken word has a great example of what direct action is, or can be, and the impact it can have. And he has something to say on freedom as well:

Freedom is something you assume, then you wait for somebody to try to take it away from you. The degree to which you resist is the degree to which you are free.

The IWW, the Wobblies, those unionists we can thank for the fact that we have weekends, they believed that men and women were born with inalienable rights. Inalienable rights, natural rights…these are the terms that we use to discuss what we mean by animal rights.

The right to live, for example, is an example of an inalienable right that we, as animal rights activist, believe that all sentient beings have, and should be respected.

The right to speak is one that Utah talks about, as a right that no one can give and no one can take away…it is something we’re simply born with.

Interestingly, one of Stephanie’s posts on change.org today was about Ingrid Newkirk, or rather it was about an interview with her in the Financial Times. I have become more and more closed to anything Newkirk has to say (how can she possibly support Breed Specific Legislation, for example), but even she gets it right sometimes. To quote Stephanie quoting the Financial Times quoting Newkirk:

But if she considers animals “equal” to us, and we are dwarfed by their numbers, is it not inevitable that their interests will ultimately overwhelm ours? “No, no, no, ‘equal’ doesn’t mean ‘the same’. Happiness for a bird is not the same as happiness for man. I’m not suggesting we buy the chicken a golf-club membership, but if he has wings, let him fly and don’t keep him in a cage. Let him be who he is,” she says.

Freedom. That elusive inalienable right.

Sea Shepherd: Whale Wars

I think it is pretty exciting to hear that a series about Sea Shepherd is going to appear on Animal Planet in November. Animal Planet! Even my exceedingly conservative coworkers watch things like that.

The series is called Whale Wars and I find it even more exciting that there is a series planned than the simple fact that it will be on a regular TV show to begin with.

If you go to animal planet’s site, you can see more info on the series, as well as a video sneak peak. It will premiere November 7th at 9pm EST/PST.

I’ve heard Paul Watson speak at a couple of the Animal Rights conferences. One thing that always sticks out in my mind is that he is not an animal rights activist, he is an environmental activist. He points that out to us often, perhaps because it is so unusual for us, as animal rights activists, to see people in other movements (other than the anarchist movement, in my experience) who so strongly see that these thing are connected.

Paul’s pretty blunt about it. I think that he’s a great person to use as an example and source of information for people primarily concerned with the environment. Have you read his essay, “A Very Inconvenient Truth“?

He starts with:

The meat industry is one of the most destructive ecological industries on the planet. The raising and slaughtering of pigs, cows, sheep, turkeys and chickens not only utilizes vast areas of land and vast quantities of water, but it is a greater contributor to greenhouse gas emissions than the automobile industry.

The seafood industry is literally plundering the ocean of life and some fifty percent of fish caught from the oceans is fed to cows, pigs, sheep, chickens etc in the form of fish meal. It also takes about fifty
fish caught from the sea to raise one farm raised salmon.

We have turned the domestic cow into the largest marine predator on the planet. The hundreds of millions of cows grazing the land and farting methane consume more tonnage of fish than all the world’s sharks, dolphins and seals combined. Domestic housecats consume more fish, especially tuna, than all the world’s seals.

And that’s just the intro paragraphs.

I’m not actually putting the blame for the disconnect between movements on the shoulders of others. I think that we have a lot of work to do ourselves, and I think that we need to put in time in other movements instead of letting ourselves be isolated. It was surprising to me when I first learned what a negative opinion most movements have of animal rights activists. “What have we done?” I wondered to myself. Well, we’ve done nothing, and that’s the point. We tend to point fingers without offering a hand.

But I’ve talked about that before.

The real point here is that what we eat, it matters. It is a choice, and it is a choice that is about a hell of a lot more than just what it tastes like. It is a choice that has a rippling effect – from the environment to the animals to the workers, and back around to our health and the environment and … well, it is a feedback loop, see?

What we eat matters, and our choices arguably impact others more than they impact us.

And that impact has nothing to do with the grumbling of the people in our lives as they complain about the “inconvenience” of feeding The Vegan.

border walls and habitat fragmentation

I am not a fan of borders. I’ve written about it before. Many of the issues with the enforcement of borders are social. It is about power, about control. Denying access to some groups of people gives others more power.

Drawing a line on a piece of paper and fighting wars to maintain that as your territory means that despite treaties and agreements signed, the country upstream (who happens to have nuclear weapons en mass, and who has proven themselves to be more than willing to use those weapons) can decimate the Colorado River leaving nothing but a polluted trickle for their southern neighbors. That it destroyed a formerly fertile delta and bird estuary was merely a side-effect of the political power play of water control.

Some people are threatened by the trickle of people crossing the border “illegally”. Mary posted about this, and described some of the pampered rich folks who are threatened by those taking jobs they wouldn’t deign to work themselves. Jobs that are worked by people who are so desperate for the paltry opportunities in this not-so-golden land that they will risk death in the harshest deserts of this country in order to come here and work these crap jobs in horrible conditions. And so a wall is being built. Or, I should say, another wall. The existing walls have not been effective in keeping people the politicians like to call “illegal” out of this country, but the facts were ignored.

That wall is expensive.

It has the obvious associated monentary costs, of course, a budget laughably large and still overrun, but it also has what I’ll call a democratic cost. As in, democratic process is not being followed in the raising of the wall, which cedes yet more power to the government and the corporations who run it. There is a social cost, as there is with any border, but you need only look to the mental impact of the Berlin Wall on the people of both West and East Germany to see that there is a greater social cost when there is a wall guarded by automatons with machine guns to enforce the rules of that wall.

Ron sent me a few links, and asked if I’d post them. One of them is a blog that is pretty clear in its stance, No Border Wall, and which is doing a good job of looking at a multitude of issues surrounding the wall.

While the walls built along the U.S./Mexico border since the 1990s have done tremendous environmental damage, they have not saved any human lives. Chertoff cannot point to a single terrorist who has attempted to cross the U.S./Mexico border, much less one turned back by a section of border wall. It has not even reduced the number of undocumented immigrants who enter the country each year seeking work. Four months before Chertoff claimed that if we do not build walls we must be “prepared to pay human lives,” the Congressional Research Service issued a report which found that the border wall “did not have a discernible impact on the influx of unauthorized aliens coming across the border.”

And the final impact, which most people ignore, but which is of high importance to animal rights activists, is the devastation these walls have on the animals themselves.

Habitat fragmentation is a big part of this.

For visual proof of what happens to the animals, visit Demarcated Landscapes and see that Mountain Lions are getting stuck at the wall. And snakes get stuck too.

And here’s why: it isn’t just the big critters being harmed. The Sierra Club film has video of a whip snake that tells us that even the little guys are confused by the wall. Particularly awful is the knowledge that just a few meters hence, there was a “wildlife window,” a small gap in the fence designed for these types of species. How would a whip snake know such a thing? Instead, it just tried and tried and tried the same spot.

The Sierra Club has a video out about the impact of this wall on the wildlife.

Habitat fragmentation is deadly, and has profound impacts on entire populations and ecosystems. This wall that is being built is costing human and animal lives. It isn’t about security or even about immigration. It is about power.

I heard someone talk about his experience at a No Borders camp at the Mexicali/Calexico border in November of 2007. It was moving, and fascinating all at the same time. For a variety of reasons. Believe in borders or not, I think everyone can learn something from what these activists have to say.


The US Mexico border is a place of much conflict, suffering and tragedy. The death rate along the border is truly alarming. For the past seven years, a rough average of 500 migrants have been found dead on the border every year. Upwards of 4000 people have died trying to cross this border since 2000. And even this figure is a low estimate, as it accounts for only those people whose bodies have been found.

To put this in perspective, far more people have died on the US/Mexico border since 1995 than were killed in the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center on September the 11th, 2001. Another pungent comparison is that more people have died on the US/Mexico border in the last eight years than throughout the entire 28 year duration of the Berlin wall. If statistics are at all to be believed, the US/Mexico border since 2000 has been 300 times more fatal to Mexicans than the Berlin wall was to Germans.

On a string stretching all around the camp on the US side, four thousand small white flags fluttered in the desert wind, each representing a migrant casualty of the border since 1995. For the campers, each small piece of cloth was a reason to be there, a reason to put themselves at risk, a reason to show their opposition to this ongoing tragedy and express and embody their desires to build a world without the borders that cause it.

against vivisection: ethics and science

pattrice is hosting a Carnival Against Vivisection, and it is an important topic, as well as one that I don’t talk enough about, and so I’m joining in. Her deadline is September 6th, by the way, if anyone else would like to take part as well.

Vivisection sounds like such a clinical word, doesn’t it? I had never heard the word until I got into animal rights, I think. Yet I have vivid decades-old memories of my first exposure to the idea, if not the word, and that exposure hit me in a very personal way.

I don’t know exactly how old I was. Young, perhaps in middle school. I can’t remember the teacher or the class or why we were being shown this information, but I will never forget the picture of the bunnies being tortured by having absolutely horrible things put in their eyes. For cosmetics.

The ethics of the situation was painfully clear to me at the time, in that pure way that children see the world. There was simply no justification, no possible way that anyone could convince me that there was anything right about what I had seen. If it is required to do such damage to bunnies to make sure make-up was safe for humans to use, then humans should refuse to wear it. That was it for me, the situation was clear.

These thoughts were only in the back of my mind, however, as I reached junior high and started wearing some of that dreaded make-up myself. In that weird mix of self-conscious selfishness, I just didn’t let myself think about it.

In 7th grade I had to watch a film in class. Again, I’m perplexed thinking back, and can’t come up with a reason we would have been required to watch this film in school, but watch it we did. It was devastating.

Project X. Did you see it?

The screenplay’s premise has a fictional air force soldier named Jimmy (played by Matthew Broderick) who, as punishment for “misconduct” involving a romantic interlude in an aircraft cockpit, assigned to a top-secret military project wherein chimpanzees are trained on virtual reality flight simulators, and experiences a crisis of conscience as to the project goals.

Chimpanzees being used in testing for the military, their personalities shining through, and in the end they were treated as if they were completely disposable. We won’t even get into the irony about these chimps being used by the film-makers, and the ethical issues around it. That didn’t occur to me at the time.

All I knew is that what had been done to these animals was wrong. And it didn’t matter that it was just a movie. I knew that these things were happening. Perhaps seeing the devastation to the bunnies had prepared me for this immediate acceptance that things like the project x testing were happening.

In my first exposure to the faces behind vivisection, it was clear that the bunnies were being sacrificed only for the vanity of humans. Well, and also for the profits of the companies, but I was maybe 12. I didn’t think that way then. I find it incomprehensible that vivisection still goes on today for cosmetic products, something that is entirely unnecessary on several levels. First of all, hello! Cosmetics. These are not exactly necessary for anyone’s survival. And second of all, there are many options out there for cosmetics that have not been tested on animals, and these options are continuously growing. There is no excuse.

Cosmetics seem like a slam dunk to me, in terms of my expectation that there should be universal condemnation of animal testing on cosmetics.

That’s my naivete showing. Those same companies are still testing, and those same companies are still in business because women and men keep buying their bloody products.

The second example, with the chimps, could have been murkier. The testing being performed on them was supposed to help keep air force pilots alive in extreme conditions. These extreme conditions were situations the pilots might be subjected to if, say, a nuclear war started, and they were trying to protect the ever important country of America. (yes, that is sarcasm.) (and yes, the movie dealt in cold war themes, it was from the 80’s!)

It was not murky to me at the time, perhaps because I was facing these wonderful individuals, who were forced to live in an underground prison. They’d done nothing wrong, they simply wanted to live, and one can safely assume they actually wanted to live somewhere outside and green, yet they were seen as things, to be sacrificed. The air force pilots, on the other hand, were accepting their own risks. Their decision, which meant that even if they had to pay “the ultimate price”, it was their choice that put them in the situation to begin with. Not so for the chimps. And so it was not murky to me.

Funny, because if Hoot is considered soft-core eco-terrorism in today’s political climate, I think it is obvious that Project X would not stand a chance if it was not already made.

I can’t say that watching Project X caused immediate changes in my life, but clearly it has had a multi-decade impact on me, and perhaps laid a piece of the framework of my current animal rights viewpoint.

And who would have thought a Matthew Broderick/Helen Hunt film could do that?

The point I’m trying to get to, in this long drawn out way, is not just that *some* vivisection is completely unnecessary. That’s only the tip of the iceburg. Once you realize that some vivisection is unnecessary, and that the general public has been fed enough bullshit over the years that we placidly accept that these horrors are done for our good, without ever questioning the need for the product itself…once you realize that, it only makes sense to take a closer look at what other lies we’ve been fed.

And that’s where we get to the big one. That animal testing on drugs is necessary for the safety of humans.

I accepted that, without question, even after I began cutting out any product from my life that had animal testing performed on it. I believed, wholeheartedly, that animal testing was absolutely wrong, and yet I still believed that to stop testing these drugs on animals would increase the risk to the humans who wanted to take them. I just figured that was a risk we should take on. And ethically I still think that we should take on our own risks. The problem with the big lie to begin with is that it doesn’t even come close to being scientifically sound.

And I have a biology degree. It is embarrassing, really, that I never stopped to think.

I should have known better, and I would have if I’d thought about it for a second. Drugs, and disease, are scary things, and we like to think that there is some way to make it all safer. We don’t want to question the drug companies or the FDA, we don’t want to learn that all these animal tests are doing nothing to make us safer after all.

There is a safer way, actually, but it is one that alarms people. The way to do drug testing in a way to more safely determine its impact on humans is … to test the drugs on humans. Sounds radical, doesn’t it?

The truth is that this is what happens already, after millions of animals have been pointlessly sacrificed. Pointlessly? Yes, pointlessly. Knowing how a bunny reacts to a drug or a cosmetic tells us with a reasonable certainty how a bunny will react to that drug or cosmetic. Not an absolute certainty because no two individuals of any species actually react exactly the same. So. We know how one bunny reacts, and we might be able to predict how a different bunny would react. But how do we use that information and apply it to humans?

With a complete disregard of both science and ethics, that’s how. Flipping a coin would actually be more accurate, based on the numbers I’ve seen. If you want rather exhaustive information detailing exactly how animal testing has not only not helped further human medical science knowledge, but has also held back the advance of such knowledge, you’d do best to read the Drs. Greek, “Specious Science” and “Sacred Cows, Golden Geese.” They have a newer book (2006) that I have not yet read, but which I plan to pick up, as it looks like another excellent resource, What Will We Do If We Don’t Experiment on Animals?

So after all these animals have been needlessly killed in the desperate pursuit of CYA material in the blind guess of how humans will react to given drugs or chemicals, human trials begin. These human trials are the final stage before the drugs are marketed, and these are people who have volunteered to be part of these trials. The studies are somewhat informative, but because they’re the last stage, they’re often rushed. The drug companies have, at that point, spent so much money on the drugs that they really aren’t prepared to let anything stop the drugs from being put on the market.

They pressure the FDA if the human trials don’t go well. And they continue to exert the pressure on the FDA after the drugs are on the mass market and people start dying from their drugs. These drug companies, showing more of their true colors, continue to exert pressure to stop the FDA from removing the deadly drugs from the market.

What floors me about this process is that we have two very different groups of humans being tested on. The “human trials”, people who have volunteered to take part in the experiment, and then the vast unsuspecting “free market” of people who believe naively that the FDA is not controlled by the drug companies. These are people who choose to take the drugs, but who don’t take them with the knowledge that they are part of a bigger experiment, a large scale drug trial.

That is frightening, at least to me. There is quite a bit of history of vivisection being done on humans, as well. I think we tend to forget that. The concentration camps in Nazi Germany are, perhaps, the most widely known. Perhaps to soothe ourselves we assume that these involuntary experiments will be done on us only if we are living in a repressive regime that cares less for it’s citizens than it does for it’s power, and the wealth of the elite.

Vivisection is difficult to talk about in short bits. There are painfully obvious ethical reasons why it is not right. However, few people know what to say when they are then faced with statements that they themselves might think are still true, such as that the animals killed are helping save human lives. It is false. Read the Drs. Greek for yourself. They spent a decade researching this exhaustively, after coming from the same blind belief that we all did.

But none of us benefit from the animals being killed. Unless you are employed by a vivisector or drug company, of course. These animals are being killed needlessly, pointlessly. Their deaths do not further human medicine, the pursuit of animal death sets back research on human medicine.

And facing the lie, finally seeing that there was no point to the millions (or maybe billions – there are no official numbers, so no one really knows) of deaths of animals each year in experimentation, that shook me to my core. It brings back the picture of the bunnies, my horror at what was happening to those chimps in Project X

If we don’t need to do these things, why are these things being done?