I’d like to take a moment to consider a recent comment on a fairly old post about a class meeting wherein my students and I considered some of the inconsistent views about animals with which people seem to walk around. Here’s what the commenter said:
“But, as one of my students put it, ‘Some of these people who want to shut down the animal research facilities should put a sock in it while they’re still eating meat.’”
This suggests that your classroom discussion created a false impression in your students, perhaps due to your own false assumptions.
I’ve campaigned for ten years to end harmful biomedical and behavioral research with primates. I’ve been involved along the way in campaigns to shut down studies using other species as well.
Consistently, and with only very limit exceptions, the people I’ve worked with and met around the country working on this matter have been almost uniformily vegetarian and frequently vegan.
You seem to have left your students with a misunderstanding of the realities of the modern antivivisection movement and confused them regarding just who it is out on the sidewalk holding the sign.
At no point in my post (or in the discussion with my students) was there any mention of “the modern antivivisection movement,” at least if we’re talking about people who work professionally on behalf of animal rights or otherwise devote a large proportion of their time, efforts, or resources to fighting for animal rights. We certainly weren’t mounting a critique of official doctrine from ALF or PETA or any other organization.
We were talking about the views of actual people we know — real folks who describe any research use of animals as bad but think using animals as food is unproblematic. Thus, to ascribe “false assumptions” to me or my students seems unfounded. Here’s how I framed the original post:
It’s true that there are folks who try hard to be completely consistent: they’re not only against animal experimentation, but they don’t eat animal flesh, or eggs, or milk, or honey, don’t wear leather, don’t kill the ants that have taken up in their kitchen, etc. Or, on the other end of the spectrum, they’ll not only eat any animal product, but will happily wrestle it to the ground and kill it themselves, and have no problem with the use of animals in research, whether the aim of the research is curing cancer or developing a new eyeliner color.
But between the No Animal Use Ever camp and the Any Animal Use You Desire camp, there’s a whole lot of people in the middle. And, at least one notable position in the middle seems to be: “Scientists ought not to use animals in research, but eating meat is perfectly fine.” …
I’m not saying we ought to make life hard for anyone who is the least bit inconsistent in his or her beliefs or actions. But, when you want your views to be binding on someone else’s actions, making sure your views are binding on your own actions might be a useful first step. Maybe there is a persuasive argument that using animals for meat is morally defensible in a way that using them in research is not (and if you have such an argument, please share it). But, as one of my students put it, “Some of these people who want to shut down the animal research facilities should put a sock in it while they’re still eating meat.”
Wanting to shut down animal research facilities doesn’t necessarily mean holding the signs on the sidewalks. Plenty of people have opinions that they hardly act on at all, save to share them with anyone in earshot. This is why it’s pretty easy to find a wide range of opinions on a college campus where the students themselves decry the apathy of the student body.
That said, given that the original post was an examination of a certain kind of inconsistency to which it seems humans fall prey fairly easily, I can’t help but read the comment a little more closely:
Consistently, and with only very limit[ed] exceptions, the people I’ve worked with and met around the country working on this matter have been almost uniformily vegetarian and frequently vegan.
(Bold emphasis added.)
So … can we talk about those exceptions? Wouldn’t those suggest that there do exist people — even people in the modern antivivisection movement — who think it is morally wrong to use animals in scientific research but morally acceptable to use animals for food? And if so, doesn’t that mean the accusation that I’ve given my students a false impression of the human frailty of people who oppose animal research is a false accusation?
For what it’s worth, there some other posts worth reading about the challenges in being completely consistent:
*Hugo Schwyzer writes on his continuing opposition to animal research despite his father’s recent death from cancer. There’s a very interesting discussion in the comments about what consistency requires of a vegan who, for example, is also striving not to be wasteful.
*Amanda Marcotte’s review of Michael Pollan’s book The Omnivore’s Dilemma takes a nice peek at how the embiggening of organic farming operations tends to undercut the principles that lead many people to seek out organic produce in the first place.