18 September 2005

Combatting Malevolence (2)

This is a continuation from the separate post "Combating Malevolence (1)".

And so to Darley Oaks farm and the Animal Crackers blog.

(Just to get it out of the way: if you are looking for information on Google or wherever, that's Darley Oaks – "Darnley", as quoted in The Scientist, is a typo.)

I don't want to debate the rights and wrongs of animal testing; this is very emphatically not about that. For the record, I am myself firmly on the side of the fence which would like to see all animal testing discontinued; I live my life on that basis, as far as I can; but I understand the reasoning of those who feel differently. No, what concerns me is the rabid bigotry which seems to prevail on both sides of the argument.

On "my" side, to deal with that first, I fail to see how victimising other human beings can possibly be seen as part of a moral pursuit of animal rights. Human beings are animals, after all – I'm not one of those who excludes my own species from the respect which I believe is due to others. Besides: aside from being a scientist, I was for a time a soldier of sorts and learned that while violence may sometimes be necessary to survival it is never the basis for a better world. No: those who believe that violence is the answer to violence, or terrorism is the way to any noble end of any kind have nothing to do with me.

Nor, remaining on "my" side, do I believe that shrill abuse of those who carry out these experiments will achieve anything. That is just terrorism of a particular kind. Such verbal abuse is a familiar tactic from warfare: first deny the humanity of your enemy, so that you can then treat her or him inhumanely. In principle, given my viewpoint, I am glad to see an organisation like Darley Oaks farm close its doors. In practice, given that same viewpoint, I am saddened to see those doors close because of intimidation and psychological attrition.

Moving to the other side, though, I find the same thing. Not the physical violence, generally speaking – but the same mindset. The editor of The Scientist keeps to a rational plane, and I can engage with his argument despite disagreement, but all too often this isn't the case. At the level of argument in Animal Crackers is reminiscent of small boys trading taunts instead of blows in the playground.

In one of those apt coincidences that happen from time to time, a friend has today sent me a CD of songs by Buffy St Marie; one of the songs is Universal Soldier:

"He's the one who gives his body
As a weapon of the war
And without him all this killing can't go on"

I am old enough (just) to have been a hippy. I was in and around the peace movements of the late sixties and early seventies. The gleefully mindless point scoring viciousness (I can't agree with Richard Gallagher that this noise is 'courageous' in any sense) which pervades Animal Crackers, like the militaristic thuggery which pervades some of the animal rights fringe, reminds me of the ways in which some hangers on and fellow travellers behaved in those days. Both sides of the argument claim to want a better world, and and most on both sides really do; but those on either side who resort to violence, whether physical, verbal or psychological, pay nothing but lip service to their nominal cause and do it nothing but harm. They are the universal soldiers on both sides, indistinguishable from one another. Pacifism then, science or animal rights now: either way, the cause is lost if it is just an excuse for a scrap. As a scientist myself, I feel that this is particularly unattractive in scientists: rational debate is essential to science, and without it science ceases to meaningfully exist.

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