Just as some of the latest research suggests other animals are capable of emotions previously assumed to be exclusively human, government cracks down on animal rights activists and Vogue mounts a campaign to support the fur trade. Our relationship with other animals has always seesawed between traditionalist Judeo-Islamo-Christian ideas that the beasts are, like the rest of nature, resources to be exploited and humanistic ideas that, at the extreme, argue for almost equal rights. As tolerance of vivisection increases, other animal users – like the fur trade – also find the climate’s warming.
Of course, there is nothing in nature to suggest that suffering of any kind, by human or beast, is wrong. Abhorrence of suffering is a human invention and many of us fail continuously in this respect; we torture each other and other animals daily.
Government diverts the debate by stoking hysteria on whether animal rights activists are terrorists, when to terrorise someone with threats of violence or to damage their property is illegal anyway. Writing in the New Statesman, Peter Tatchell is also diverted. This time by the argument that animal research is bad science, which is almost traditionalist; implying, as it does, that if it were good science it would be okay.
The more important issue is our on-going relationship with the beasts and whether Roy Hattersley’s right when he says in the Guardian that, ‘Experimenting on living animals – although sometimes necessary – is an activity that a civilised nation should find distasteful.’
Hattersley goes on to turn an anonymous pro-vivisectionist on their head after they claim anti-vivisectionists are guilty of anthropomorphism; that they project human values onto the animals that suffer, when those animals own values (as revealed by their treatment of each other) allow them to inflict suffering without a thought. As Hattersley says, it’s the pro-vivisectionist who’s fallen for the anthropomorphic fallacy by assuming the beasts have an ethical code at all. However, even if they have, we’re under no obligation to follow it. Moreover, this is to fall for the naturalistic fallacy; there’s nothing in nature to suggest that suffering is wrong and so it’s okay.
While an experiment on a group of humans might yield results that would prevent the future suffering of many, many more people, we arbitrarily say that is wrong. We recognise that the experimentation would never end; that there will always be something more to discover. And on this same basis – that suffering is wrong, whatever nature says – experiments that cause other animals to suffer should end too.
If we truly aspire to moral superiority over the beasts, we’ll end vivisection and stop wearing fur now.