Selected articles from Arkangel No.11


Missing The Point

by David Phillips

'You do not settle whether an experiment is justified or not by merely showing it is of some use. The distinction is not between useful and useless experiments. but between barbarous and civilised behaviour. Vivisection is a social evil. because if it advances human knowledge, it does so at the expense of human character...' -George Bernard Shaw.

The real question in the 'vivisection debate' is not why we are opposed to animal experiments, but how we are going to put an end to them. Some of the recent articles in Arkangel seem to suggest that all we have to do is prove that vivisection is medical fraud, and that will be an end to the matter. But here it is they who are 'missing the point'. The point is that it is actions, not words, which bring about any real change in society. A quick look at the history of other struggles shows that those in power cannot be persuaded to do anything which is not in their own interest. Merely proving that vivisection is not a valid science is not enough. After all, the vivisectors already know this, or don't care, and the politicians will only act if and when their positions are threatened.

Only by building a large and active movement of opposition, will we ever see an end to animal experiments. Therefore our main aim should be to encourage others to become active campaigners. Experience shows that it is almost always the animal suffering which inspires people to become active, and the reasons for this are obvious.

It may be possible to convince the public and politicians that vivisection is a fraud and hazardous to health, but this is hardly going to stir up a mass-movement. Vivisection would just be another in a long list of health dangers, competing with issues such as global warming, ozone depletion, food contamination, nuclear power, acid rain.... the list goes on. Moreover, telling people about health dangers hasn't exactly achieved amazing results in other fields. Most people know about the dangers of tobacco, alcohol and poor diet, yet these remain the biggest causes of premature death in the western world.

With the population so apathetic in the face of all these known hazards, it seems a bit optimistic to expect people to raise much of a fuss about the health dangers of vivisection, however serious. It may take a long time for animal experiments to be stopped on moral grounds or because they are no longer profitable, but waiting for abolition as a health issue will take much longer.

The recent articles from 'scientific' anti-vivisectionists seem to rely entirely on one main argument to support their view, which is that animal experiments have continued and increased, and this means that the ethical arguments have failed. But the medical fraud issue is just as old as the moral argument, and has been used repeatedly over the years, with the same results as the moral arguments. In the early years of vivisection, public pressure forced the governments of the day to set up two Royal Commissions, in 1875 & 1906, to hear arguments for and against animal experiments. The anti- vivisectionists who gave evidence included some of the most highly respected members of the medical profession, who gave numerous examples of the ways in which the experiments were not only useless, but misleading and potentially dangerous. The reason that the Royal Commissions failed to act was that they were packed with vivisectors and their political friends, so that the outcome was a foregone conclusion anyway. Nobody should imagine that the political situation is any different almost a century later. In going down this same dead end road it is the medical fraud campaigners who should examine their tactics.

Animal Liberation and the Hard Option

By Annie Lib

It's good to see that Black Sheep (author of the article 'Animal rights and the Easy Option' in Arkangel l0) has thought about strategies for the movement, and what will achieve the best results for animals. However, I feel that this article is written from one angle only, which Black Sheep openly states: "...the most important lesson we can learn, it seems to me, is a political one; work from within". Perhaps a lot of people agree, and this is what I consider an animal rights objective, where we are in the business of conversion.

There are some people who are not working towards animal rights, or are into conversion, because they believe we are working from a huge disadvantage point already. The system we live under is specifically designed to control people. As soon as anything ever becomes a threat it is outlawed, or the people involved oppressed still further; the unions, particularly the NUM, or the new laws to stop hunt saboteurs, for example. The ruling class, who have spent centuries building up a system to profit and protect themselves, are not going to allow the smallest threat rise against them. I can't think of one useful piece of legislation that has helped animals, for instance, badger baiters are not deterred!

On the other hand, Britain has some of the toughest criminal legislation in Europe; its intelligence service is also one of the most highly developed in the world; we have one of the largest percentages of people in the population in prison; and in Britain 95 % of the wealth and land in this country is owned by 5 % of the people. The list goes on and on to prove that we are far from living in a 'free' country, where working from within is plausible. Black Sheep regularly reflects on the comparative successes of the equal rights movements, i.e of women's and ethnic minority's rights. Black Sheep admits that they "still have a long way to go", but I would say that the so-called achievements in these areas is superficial, as is any work within the capitalist system. Women and ethnics (?) may now have slightly better chances of getting jobs, or they may even be able to be seen to attain positions of relative authority, but since when has becoming more of a part of the abusive society we live in, been a success for a true liberation movement! I doubt if all the 7,000 people deported in 1992 or the victims of the 7.800 racial attacks in the UK in 1991 (both vast increases over the past few years) will be willing to acknowledge these "successes"?

The authorities are happy to see us believing we have achieved great successes in terms of various rights and liberation movements through conversion. The capitalist system can adapt quite easily with consumer changes. In terms of animal suffering, people often quote successes regarding cosmetic testing, or the growth of vegetarianism. The consumers were given the highly acclaimed vegetarian 'wonder' food Quorn (produced by an ecologically destructive and vivisection based company) which was tested on animals and includes animal ingredients. Consumers were also fed Boots' cruelty -free image, hiding the face of vivisection they heavily indulge in. Looked at closely, the large amount of vegetarians in this country (7% it is put at) often still eat white meat (chicken, and other vegetables with wings) and still many more eat fish. The vegan population is put at 200,000 - compared with at least 600 million animals killed each year in the UK for food, it fades into relative insignificance.

Anti-Vivisection; Time To Move On?

by Barry Maycock

The anti-vivisection debate (see Arkangels 9 & 10), discussing the relative merits of scientific or ethical arguments against vivisection, is an old favourite, a hardy perennial - in fact it could go on forever! - and it provides much entertainment, as well as a generous quantity of weeping, wailing, and gnashing of teeth. Perhaps the Great Archangel in the sky should blow the whistle, and then we could all go home. However, at the risk of taking the game into extra time (and boring everybody to death), I will add a few more comments. Firstly, it is misleading to refer to anti-vivisection as if it were one campaign, because, as David Lane points out, this is not one campaign but several, embracing issues as diverse as weapons testing, space research, food testing, cosmetics, car safety testing, etc. It is obvious that different arguments will apply in different cases, and their tactical deployment will vary accordingly. In this article I shall concentrate on the use of animals in medical research. For this seems to be the contentious issue at the heart of the controversy.

The second point to be made is that this debate is often presented in terms of a choice between 'science' (hard-headed, rational) on the one hand, and woolly old 'ethics' on the other. However, this is not the case: science doesn't float around in some ethically-neutral vacuum, it is embedded in the values of society. Science justifies its eminent position by the claim that it is based on certain principals (to do with the improvement of human knowledge and the quality of human life) that are themselves ethical. The concerns of the 'concerned' medical scientist, in particular, are rooted in ethics. It is not 'ethics' which is in question, as in the supposed choice between 'a baby or a dog' - it is the strength of the ethical case for animal rights, the amount of ethical consideration we should give to animals, when human health or human life is at stake.

Scientific anti-vivisectionism need not condemn the case for animal rights as a whole, merely find it less applicable, or perhaps not strong enough, on this particular issue. But it is easy to see how an attitude of scepticism about animal rights can slide into one of contemptuous hostility, as David Lane's quotation from SUPPRESS makes clear. According to this viewpoint, 'animal rights people' (as dismissed by SUPPRESS) are part of the problem, not the solution, and positively detrimental to the cause of antivivisection. This whole approach is human-centred; animals we put back in their proper (inferior) position - the place from which animal rights campaigners have for so long, and with such difficulty, tried to rescue them. Indeed, much scientific anti-vivisectionism seems to go further, and seeks to detach itself from animal rights altogether, so that in theory there could be a meat-eating anti-vivisectionist who is solely concerned with human health, or correct scientific methodology. It is strange indeed that animal rights campaigners should find themselves on the same platform as the people who seem to despise them. It isn't hard to see how scientific anti-vivisectionism can be a divisive and disruptive force within the animal rights movement.

This attempt to appeal primarily to human self-interest, and to down grade the question of animal suffering, is a perverse one to make for a movement which must surely seek to do the opposite. In fact it seems to betray a remarkable lack of confidence in the case for animal rights. After all, ethical arguments are central to our other campaigns, because the philosophy of this movement is based on compassion (and the belief that in certain crucial instances human self interest can be set aside) and this is the source of its strength. In this respect it is closely linked to the philosophy of the Green Movement, with its belief that the planet and ecosystem have an 'intrinsic value' irrespective of human self-interest, use and exploitation. Surely it must be confusing for people to attend meetings organised by animal rights campaigners, filled by animal rights supporters who distribute leaflets and posters depicting animal suffering, only to be told by the speaker that this is a 'human health' issue. I suspect that they know, in their heart of hearts that it is not, but they go along with the scientific argument in the belief that it is a strong one. But if ethical arguments are good enough in our other campaigns, then why is antivivisection an exception'?

The reason is obvious; in our society at the present moment, the idea that animals should not be made to suffer unnecessarily is now widely accepted. People do not, on the whole, regard animals simply as property, to be treated as the owner thinks fit. And by an extension of this principal, most of our campaigns could actually be included within the current moral framework, without any need to go outside this framework by introducing difficult ideas about 'rights', or even obscure philosophies such as 'deep ecology'. The argument (concerning 'unnecessary suffering') is a strong one, and easily understood, and could even be used against factory farming, the dairy industry, etc, on the grounds that an affluent society such as ours could find alternative sources of food without recourse to animals. Of course there will always be disagreements about the meaning of that key word 'unnecessary', Society is hypocritical and inconsistent, and principles that are accepted in theory may never be applied in practice. But it is a strong ethical case, to weigh animal suffering against human pleasure and profit. The exception is vivisection, where animal suffering is being weighed against human suffering, now and in the future. This is surely the reason for the attempt to bypass difficult ethical problems altogether and to use the 'scientific' argument instead.

So how strong is the scientific case? The strength of its main argument seems to lie in its simplicity, that vivisection is a wrong methodology, that animals and human beings are manifestly different, that the results of research on the one cannot be applied to the other, and this is therefore scientific fraud, maintained by deception, in the cause of greed and self-interest. In other words, it is self-evidently unscientific to use animals in this way, and any scientist of any integrity would have to accept this. So how could a vivisector, therefore, respond to this argument'? The answer is; quite easily. The concerned, 'enlightened' scientist could argue like this: "Yes, I agree that the results of animal testing should not be applied to human beings on any kind of crude, simplistic way, and the results should be treated with caution, yes, I too deplore the bad drugs manufactured and promoted by bad drugs companies. But in many cases scientific research must necessarily be inexact, and animals can yield us useful information; if society allows the use of animals for food, clothing, and indeed for all sorts of trivial reasons, then it seems perverse not to allow the use of animals as necessary material in scientific research that may prevent human (and indeed animal) suffering, and may save human (and indeed animal) lives. And, by the way, aren't you wearing leather shoes'?" What begins as a scientific issue leads us back, inevitably, to the problem of animal rights.

The scientific argument, according to its own philosophy, needs to be tested scientifically, by examining the results of vivisection - its effects. We could argue that vivisection has done more harm than good, but it is not clear how we would produce the evidence for this assertion. In any event, the vivisector can reply, if this is the case, then more animal testing (not less) is needed, to reduce the harmful effects. This is the vivisector's argument about Thalidomide, that more animal testing (not less) would have revealed the deficiencies of the drug. So we might then have to adopt a more uncompromising position, and state that no benefits have ever been conferred on human beings as a result of animal experimentation. This argument permits of no exception, and for this reason usually provokes incredulity; in the end it has to be accepted (unscientifically) on trust, since it is surely impossible to 'prove' one way or the other. Unfortunately, the vivisection lobby has an easy response to this; it can simply produce a small child whose life has been 'saved' by animal experimentation. Or someone could say: "Yes, I took the drug, it worked as it was supposed to do, the pain has gone, the proof of the pudding is in the eating!" I suppose we could say that the person hasn't really benefited (pain is good for the soul!), that, terrible side effects are ticking away in the body. We could discuss society's attitude to disease and its treatment, and the importance of social factors in creating ill-health. We could argue that the experiments were unnecessary (and therefore' alternatives' are unnecessary) because we need a different, 'holistic' approach to the care of the human body and the human soul. This is a technique known as 'moving the goalposts', where the argument continually shifts its ground. But it is already trying to prove too much, and is collapsing under its own weight.

In the end we cannot rely simply on an assertion about 'wrong methodology', because the methodology has to be proved wrong by its bad effects. The effects have always got to be bad because one good effect, so intended, might indicate that there is something right with the methodology . So we have to be prepared to argue about every case, which is surely impossible. And this focus on ends rather than means runs counter to another argument within the anti-vivisection case, that the ends do not justify the means. Imagine the kind of outcry there would be if someone in power proposed that old people, or the unemployed, should suffer the kinds of scientific experiments inflicted on animals, on the grounds that the human race would benefit immeasurably from them. The objection to this would be, that the issue of benefits does not apply; the idea is wrong on principle, because human beings are considered to have certain rights, not just in this society, but universally applicable. Animals are not considered to have such rights, and that is why they are used. It has nothing to do with science; they are used more or less as lifeless matter is used, because they are considered to have no value.

Whatever the merits of the scientific case, it has often been said that this is simply a matter of tactics, that all sorts of arguments are worth using, as long as they have a chance of success. There is something to be said for this pragmatic approach, but campaigners who use the scientific arguments need to be very sure of their ground in other words, of their science. The spectacle of a tongue tied campaigner, struggling for words when confronting a self-assured white-coated 'expert' is not usually a happy one. And one problem with the scientific case is that it confronts scientists on their own ground, where they feel most secure. They are much less comfortable when trying to answer awkward ethical questions. Another problem too, is that it elevates the scientist, the doctor, the expert, at a time when many theorists, in the Green Movement and elsewhere, have questioned the claim of the scientist to be the self-appointed arbiter of human, animal, and planetary destiny. These two tendencies, to elevate scientists and to cut them down to size, pull in opposite directions.

Nor do I think much of the 'mud-slinging' school of argumentation which seems to believe that if enough arguments are slung at a target, something at least will stick. But a dozen weak arguments are no substitute for a strong one. I have often come across leaflets crammed with diverse (and often contradictory) arguments because the writer is obviously unsure of the strength of his own case.

And this is why scientific anti-vivisectionism is important, because it emphasises a fatal flaw in the animal rights movement - the weakness of the ethical case for animal rights. But the point is, not to discard it, but to strengthen it, to establish the theoretical basis for animal rights on a much firmer foundation. This is one of our most important tasks, and it only seems to be attempted by moral philosophers, rarely by activists and campaigners, the people who actually write the leaflets and argue with the public on the streets.

Those who object to ethics claim that the whole subject is woolly, vague, messy, unsatisfactory. Of course it is, but that is true of all ethical questions, including the ethical basis of scientific research. There is no easy escape from ethics into science. Ethical theories of human rights are equally vague, woolly, messy, unsatisfactory, but they still form part of the conceptual framework within which governments make decisions, and people live their lives. They have become established, and cannot be wished away by clever people demonstrating all the flaws and weaknesses.

It has also been argued that the ethical case against vivisection has 'got nowhere' in the past century or so, in fact vivisection has grown because of the weakness of our arguments! This is absurd; vivisection has grown because consumption has grown (with the growth of population, industrialisation, capitalism) including the consumption of health care. To blame our weak arguments for this growth is as absurd as to blame the same arguments for the growth of factory farming over the last half-century. Factory farming has grown for the same reasons as vivisection, because consumption has grown. Our arguments (and our campaigns), strong or weak, have nothing to do with it. If our cause hasn't succeeded, it is because of the strength of the forces ranged against us, the powerful vested interests, the might of governments and the transnational corporations that control them. Faced by our failure to make dramatic progress, it is an easy option to seek scapegoats in our own movement, to blame our poor arguments, or 'corrupt' societies. But we know who our enemies are, and they are not our fellow campaigners.

To me this is what the debate is really all about, along with the other controversies that storm through the pages of Arkangel, the search for scapegoats in which everyone blames everyone else for our supposed lack of progress. If the ethical arguments have 'got nowhere' then we should be honest enough to admit that the scientific case is not the 'knockout blow' that it is claimed to be. As year follows year, and vivisection is still with us, then there may soon come a time when we can argue that scientific anti -vivisectionism is 'getting nowhere', because it is struggling against the same powerful forces that have always impeded us. In such circumstances it is easy to turn to 'the enemy within' corruption within our own ranks, and scapegoat anyone we don't like. But arguments about corrupt anti-vivisection societies, and about the power and corruption of the drugs companies, which take up an enormous amount of space in these debates, are not directly relevant to this issue at all. It is important to discuss these matters, but they have nothing to do with the principle of vivisection, which was established long before the drugs companies (and the animal rights groups) came into being. Vivisection doesn't have to be about drugs, or even the treatment of ill-health, it is justified as being part of the acquisition of knowledge, in the way that the dissection of animals is introduced to school children.

Personally I am not at all pessimistic about vivisection. Far from 'getting nowhere', the ethical case has already been conceded - by vivisectors themselves. In a recent issue of one local paper, a supporter of vivisection dismisses the scientific argument as 'nonsense', but is defensive about the ethical aspects, defending only the 'limited use' of animals, their 'small but vital contribution', and supporting the development of alternatives which will make animal testing unnecessary. If vivisectors themselves can concede this much, then they haven't much of a case left. Nor will the drugs companies collapse if vivisection is removed; they will probably turn 'Green' overnight, and continue to sell their useless and harmful products.

I actually believe that the arguments against vivisection have been won, which is not to say that its abolition is imminent. The case against fox hunting has long been won, in my view, but fox hunting is still with us. I also believe, controversially I suppose, that vivisection takes up too much energy, space and time within the animal rights movement, especially the acrimonious (or perhaps rather silly) controversy. The ferocity and paranoia generated in this debate seems totally absurd - out of all proportion. It has been said that people are afraid to speak out through fear of receiving a mountain of hate-mail, or a deluge of bile and abuse. But my advice would be, that if people get too hysterical over this, then it is best to back away, and gently agree to differ.

It is surely time to move on - to the discussion of really difficult issues, such as the abolition of factory-farming.

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