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Re-thinking the human-animal relationship

Animal Rights
Rethinking the human-animal relationship
About Pat Battuello
Smoking Monkeys

September 13, 2009 at 8:56 am by Pat Battuello

'Vivisection is a social evil because if it advances human knowledge, it does so at the expense of human character.' (George Bernard Shaw)

Meet Edythe London. Dr. London is a professor and researcher at UCLA in the departments of Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Sciences and Molecular and Medical Pharmacology. She is currently the lead researcher in a nicotine addiction study funded by Philip Morris (to the tune of $6 million). According to the LA Times, fervet monkeys are forced to ingest liquid nicotine, and some are then killed for brain study. Dr. London said, 'We are doing this because we really want to save lives. I am really proud of what we are doing. We have a track record for contributing to science, and we would like to bring that to bear on the problem of nicotine addiction.' (LA Times, 2/8/08). Philip Morris, funding 23 projects at 7 different California campuses, has indicated that their purpose is to reduce adolescent smoking. How twisted and sordid is this business relationship? Philip Morris, arguably a mass murderer, is paying the nation's best and brightest to torture and kill primates ostensibly to protect young smokers from becoming addicted. Never mind that addiction to their product is precisely how Philip Morris makes their money. Let's review what what was established as scientific fact years ago: nicotine is addictive, and smoking will probably kill you. A Harvard School of Public Health study found that nicotine content actually increased annually from 1997-2005 among all major brands. Imagine that. Philip Morris is putting more nicotine in their cigarettes and we're supposed to believe that they care about teenage smoking. How morally corrupt are these people? Edythe London pitifully rationalizes torturing animals using blood money with references to her being a child of holocaust survivors committed to reducing human suffering, and the fact that her father died 'of complications of nicotine dependence' (i.e. he smoked himself to death). In response to the morality of taking Philip Morris money she wrote, 'It would, therefore, be immoral to decline an opportunity to increase our knowledge about addiction and develop new treatments for quitting smoking.' You can read London's defense of using animals in addiction research here. And so, when her research was made public, the Animal Liberation Front (ALF), acted. Her home was vandalized twice (Oct '07, Feb '08), and she received a card with blood and rat poison (attributed to a group called Justice Department) in Jan '09.

I have always felt it important to place the modern animal rights movement in a historical context and have frequently compared it to 19th Century abolitionism. William Lloyd Garrison and Wendell Phillips are two great icons from that era. They, through their writings (Garrison's 'The Liberator') and eloquent speeches (Phillips was known as 'Abolition's Golden Trumpet'), represented the cerebral approach to ending slavery. But another towering figure of the time advocated a slightly more radical method. John Brown, in my estimation, is a man to be admired alongside Garrison and Phillips. In today's parlance, he would be called a direct action proponent. His armed resistance in Kansas and then the ill-fated raid on a Virginian Armory in 1859 are widely considered to be major catalysts for the Civil War. His goal, at Harpers Ferry, was not to indiscriminately kill white Southerners. He had hoped to encourage enough slaves to rebel and join his group so that American slavery would collapse on itself. Property destruction and physical confrontation in the interest of self-defense were to be the means to achieve that goal (an echo of Malcolm X's 'by any means necessary'). Ironically, Henry David Thoreau, who served as an inspiration for famous pacifists Mohandas Gandhi and Martin Luther King, would give an impassioned speech in defense of John Brown after his arrest. Though Garrison and Brown may have differed on the use of direct action, abolition ultimately succeeded through the efforts of both.

There is a schism within the abolitionist branch of animal rights. Gary Francione (who I have referenced several times) believes in nonviolent (for our purposes this includes property destruction) and creative vegan education. In short, he says focus on the demand part of the equation by trying to convert the world to veganism one person at a time. I believe he is right in regards to food. On the other hand, laboratory testing will probably not be affected by boycotting products and universities. Government, corporations, and researchers (under the credo 'publish or perish') have entered into an unholy union where cruel animal experiments are rationalized to be necessary when common sense (London's research) should dictate otherwise. Their power is too great for passive protest to cause significant change. The ALF keeps all options open. It should be noted that, as far as I know, not a single person has been harmed in over 30 years of ALF activities. Their focus has always been on liberating imprisoned animals and causing enough economic hardship to possibly change individual or corporate practices. Intimidate the Edythe Londons of the scientific community to the point where they may reconsider torturing animals. London wrote, 'Already, one scientist at UCLA has announced that he will not pursue potentially important studies involving how the brain receives information from the retina, for fear of the violence that animal rights radicals might visit on his family. We must not allow these extremists to stop important research that advances the human condition.' I confess to admiration and respect for activists who place their freedom in jeopardy when performing direct action. Understand that I am fervently against violence towards other humans and would not condone any plan that puts lives at risk. But I don't consider destroying a laboratory or harassing a vivisector violent or terrorist in nature. When confronted with the horrors visited on sentient animals in research facilities, I understand the rage and sense of immediacy.

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