This is for you. It must be.
You are the one for whom I write;
your ears alone.
That you read this and understand is enough.
—Tom Fahy, The Last Port
The synchronicity of a cluster of footprints from unexpected sources led to an investigation into what the real motives are behind people’s apparent ethical viewpoints as regards animals.
The first footprint was from an outstanding young American writer who had given a passionate and sympathetic review to a recently published anti-vivisection book. Some months later, I noticed on his web magazine an article that had descriptions of the results of feeding Kefir (a fermented milk drink), to rats and mice with artificially induced cancer tumours. I commented that the article was unethical and flawed because it used laboratory testing on animals.
This was his published reply:
"The article is neither unethical nor flawed; it merely describes, formally and coldly, what is—what has been discovered. The article is unconcerned with what ought to be, it is concerned with results, which are herein the product of logic and evidence. Your argument is a fallacious one. Specifically, it is an example of a moralistic fallacy: “The way things should be is the way they are”; or, the idea that what we believe to be ‘good’ is also ‘natural’.
As a rule, good science does not make leaps of logic, it does not defer to what is perceived to be good, it does not moralise, and it is unclouded by what may be construe d as abhorrent, or ugly. Good science is necessarily cold; there is no room for opinion...
One may have an opinion about what is good and what is right, but that doesn’t make it true ...”
Concerned about this retrograde change of view I responded by quoting from his published review:
“‘...What we do to another we do to ourselves.’ I believe this wholeheartedly... I find the lengths people go to in an effort to rationalise a belief, EXTRAORDINARY —and finally, disconcerting: our disregard for life...”
My reply was not published.
To express moral indignation about “disregard for life” one moment and in another, contradict oneself by saying that scientists are outside the moral code of the universe, is an unstable footprint showing no true ethical understanding. A genuine realisation that “all life is one” and “what you do to another, you do to you” would cure this wilful ignorance (or the experience of being a laboratory bred, imprisoned, cancer-diseased rat fed on ‘Kefir’).
The second footprint appeared in the form of an invitation from an animal rights’ teacher to object to a planning application for a proposed dog breeding factory. At any one time 2,000 beagles would be locked up inside the facility for six to twelve months, living in concrete lined, wire-meshed cages, before being transported to research laboratories. I was asked to focus on environmental issues rather than ethical concerns at this stage and a sample letter was included listing various factors relevant to the site.
I sent an ethical objection to the Council and in a reply to the teacher emphasized that ethics is the foundation of animal rights; people need to hear that it is wrong to breed dogs for torture and death in laboratories. Concerns about the width of roads, noise levels, historic sites etc. cover up the truth of suffering. Environmental viewpoints, though valid in their own terms, stir up counter-environmental viewpoints and do not waken the conscience of people to enable them to act from seeing and knowing for themselves that mistreatment of fellow beings is wrong.
The Council did turn down the planning application - on environmental grounds. The company appealed; the result is now outside the hands of the local people and to be decided, after a site visit, by an inspector appointed by the Secretary of State.
It was apparent that the company would make an effort to meet the required environmental standard so as not to be contrary to the Local Plan.
I then came across an article in which an animal rights’ spokesperson was advising anyone fighting developments, as in her case, a new ‘pig factory’, to pay attention to council documents. Planners are not currently allowed to turn down an application on ‘animal welfare’ grounds if the proposed ‘pig factory’ (beagle breeding facility) meets legal requirements. But in this case the activist found a loophole in the Local Plan which stated that it wants “all people of the area to think their area is a good place to live and work.” So the local residents could make an ethical objection to the development as it would ‘not make their area a good place to live and/or work’.
I asked the teacher if this was the reason why she had stressed prioritising environmental objections? An enthusiastic reply emphasized that this was indeed the case as she described the current laws as “disgusting” and how she wished she had studied law at college!
This footprint now began to make sense as it became clear that planning authorities are not entitled to use ethical considerations in their decisions, provided they are dealing with ‘lawful activities’. Therefore any objection which one makes to these barbaric developments (breeding establishments, vivisection laboratories, factory “farms” etc.) may seem to be only effective if they concentrate upon planning matters in the accepted sense – but this would be an error. Either something is right or it is wrong. To keep silent about the ethics here (the people who lived in the countryside around Treblinka said they didn’t know what was going on in the camp... objected to the stink in the air and the noise of the cattle trucks rattling past...) would be unintentionally encouraging the blindness of those who will not see.
A third footprint came with an invitation from Resurgence magazine to write a review for a new Animal Rights book. Resurgence magazine’s ethos statement is “at the heart of earth, art and spirit.” I looked at the information about the book and its description: ‘A thought-provoking, balanced introduction to the animal rights movement and the philosophical, legal, and political debates that have shaped it” and noticed the absence of ethics in the description. I replied that I would be happy to do the review in the light of why ethics was missing from this description.
The deputy-editor replied that they would probably leave the book review then, as they were covering the ethics elsewhere in the issue and she thought this book had a slightly different slant, though it did touch on ethics. She understood my point though and would pass it on to the Editor.
A wavering footprint. Ethics is not something you tack on to your framework – it is the centre and wellspring “at the heart of earth, art and spirit”.
I happened to have another look at the information about the book ‘Animal Rights: What Everyone Needs to Know’ by Paul Waldau, published by Oxford University Press and followed a link to read his introduction. There, in his conclusion, was the ‘needle in the haystack’ – the ‘needle’ being ethics:
“...I think people need to know how many people... find the phrase (animal rights) works... as an affirmation of humans’ special abilities to care about others...
...As the English historian Marc Gold wrote in 1995, “The term animal rights is nothing more than a useful kind of shorthand for a movement based on the recognition that nonhuman animals live purposeful emotional lives and are as capable of suffering as humans... kindness and tolerance for those different and weaker than ourselves are amongst the highest possible human aspirations.”
...So one point of this book is that everyone needs to know... that the dominant feature of most discussions about animal rights is the common question, “What is the meaning of life?” ...people ask this question because they feel emotionally committed to those around them. People recognise that daily actions, choices, and work can express human imagination and our considerable abilities to care...
Ethical concerns for other living beings, whether human or not, provide such possibilities. Many people today understand “animal rights”, however one defines it, to be a path of caring which leads to the fullest possible future. They have found that this form of life not only fosters virtues but in actual practice sustains the prospering of human imagination.
Through writing this book I came to understand that animal rights... is about connecting to the meaning of life.”
‘Ethics’ and ‘What is the meaning of life?’ are glaringly absent from the book cover’s list of ‘What Everyone Needs to Know’. Paul Waldau no doubt fulfilled his publisher’s remit to create a ‘haystack’ of interesting data (the history of humans’ lack of ethical behaviour towards animals...) - for whom? Those who want to sit on the fence and waste time juggling with the pros and cons of animal rights? But this is irrelevant to the student of life, who acts from knowing and seeing suffering with direct, decisive understanding.
One and not two
That’s all you have to do
One and not two.
Wherever you go,
That’s all you have to know.
—Brian Taylor, CENTRE
UPDATE AUGUST 2012: BEAGLE BREEDING FACTORY STOPPED
Following months of campaigning by PETA UK and other groups - including appeals to the East Riding Council and the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, a protest outside the Planning Inspectorate of Bristol and almost 10,000 objections - the UK government refused plans to build a facility that would have bred beagles and sold them to laboratories to be force-fed chemicals or cut up in experiments.