Animal Rights(was Re: Need Safeguards for Gene-Tinkered Foods)

Toby Bradshaw toby at stein.u.washington.edu
Wed Jul 7 17:09:17 EST 1993


In article <C9t3Jx.3AK at dartvax.dartmouth.edu> James.F.X.Wellehan at dartmouth.edu (Jim Wellehan) writes:
>In article <21eoqt$kg2 at news.u.washington.edu>
>toby at stein.u.washington.edu (Toby Bradshaw) writes:
>Sounds logical to me.  I have heard of vegetarians who only eat fruits,
>thus not damaging plants.  Sounds like a difficult way to get a sound
>diet.  If you really wanted to be picky, I suppose you could not eat
>the seeds from the fruits.

If you _really_ want to be picky, you wouldn't eat any fruit that
another organism needs to survive, nor would you plant fruit
trees where they displace native vegetation.  There's a school
of thought among vegetarians that "one does what one can".  The
problem I have with that philosophy is that very, very few people
"do what they can", but "what they're comfortable with".  Vegetarians
aren't comfortable with killing members of some phyla, which is
fine by me.  I feel the same way, I just draw the line at a different
taxonomic level. I don't consider these positions as distinct, just
as points along a continuum.

>> >Why would you say humans are more deserving of rights than other
>> >animals?
>> 
>> I wouldn't, and haven't.  Rights are a human invention, vary across
>> human populations and across time, and the only "rights" possessed
>> by non-human animals are those accorded them by humans.  Like human
>> rights, non-human "rights" vary in time and space according to the
>> whim of humans.
>
>Let me posit another question:  Is the sacrifice of animals (yes, this
>is an arbitrary distinction) for human medical research justified?  Why
>or why not?

For me, and for the majority of Americans, the answer is "yes".
Like allegiance to mom and apple pie, most people oppose 
"needless suffering" of animals, experimental or gastronomic.
Defining "need" is the crux of the matter, and people
of good conscience can differ on what constitutes "need".  If I had a
diabetic child, or was diabetic myself, and dependent upon insulin
to survive, I would gladly slaughter swine all the day long by
my own hand and carve out their pancreases without so much as
a backward glance or a twinge of guilt.  To those who cannot bring
themselves to kill an "innocent" animal to save a human life, I
can understand.  However, such persons should have the courage to
deny themselves (easy) and their children (very, very difficult)
access to any medical advances that resulted from animal 
experimentation.  The hard-core AR fringe would deny that any
such advances _depend_ upon animals.  Wishing don't make it so.

>> Why are humans more deserving
>> of life than other _organisms_?  There is no _inherent_ reason, as
>> poisonous plants, venomous snakes, and several large carnivores
>> demonstrate on a daily basis.
>
>This would not be a demonstation of lack of merit of a human to live. 
>Just because a human (or any organism) dies does not necessarily mean
>it should.

"Deserve" and "should" revolve around the concept that the world
is fair.  I'm sure you can guess my opinion of that sentiment.  Like
the barefoot Indian about to step on the cobra, we all roll the dice
every day.  The cobra doesn't "deserve" to be stepped on, and the
human doesn't "deserve" to die for it, but one or the other is the
outcome anyhow.

>> >>  A retarded human is
>> >> genetically human (that is, a member of the human clade), regardless
>> >> of intelligence.
>> >
>> >What if someone has Down's or Turner's?  Their genetic makeup differs
>> >from the normal human genome, and they can't breed with a normal human.
>> 
>> A cladogram would still show the affected person clustering with
>> the human clade, and not with any other species.  That's why I was
>> careful not say "part of the human gene pool" or some other phrase
>> that implies reproductive capacity.  I don't consider someone less
>> human because he/she is sterile.
>
>I'm not familiar with cladograms.  Please explain.

A cladogram describes the relatedness among organisms due to common
descent, i.e. evolution.  It's a family tree (phylogeny) constructed 
using a set of shared derived characters (morphology, DNA sequence, etc.).
Our hypothetical Turner's child, however different morphologically
and cytogentically from the "normal" human, is still more like the
"normal" human than it is like any other species of organism.

>> Having experience with both, certainly an adult dog (at least of some
>> breeds :) ) is more intelligent than a newborn human.  In fact, an
>> adult dog can learn the meaning of more words than a newborn human.
>
>This is debatable, as you stated earlier in the adult humans designing
>test bit.  One definition in the American Heritage Dictionary is:(1. a.
>The capacity to acquire and apply knowledge.)  Infants (both human and
>canine) have a much greater capacity for learning than adults.  Adults
>have previous knowledge, and thus can apply new knowledge better.

As long as its debatable, and I agree that it is, I would refrain
from using my notions of "intelligence" in deciding whether to
pull a dog or an occupied baby stroller from the path of a bus.
 
>> Does that mean the dog has more rights than the human?  Not to me.
>> I say this with the full knowledge that my own dogs live better than
>> many of the world's people, which leads to the conclusion that I
>> value my dogs more than I value some people.  If I believe that
>>, then I would be a hypocrite for keeping my dogs.
>> Am I?
>
>If you believe that all people deserve a minimum standard of living
>that could be provided by killing your dogs and diverting those
>resources to human needs. ;-)

In principle, I probably do believe it.  In practice, I behave
differently.  I conclude that I am a selfish hypocrite, not an
entirely satisfactory state of affairs but one that leaves me
in the company of many others.  I'm afraid I believe that human
nature makes most of us focus our resources on ourselves, that is,
to behave selfishly.  I'm making no value judgement about selfishness,
or claiming that selfishness is biological destiny, just stating
a personal opinion.  Who among us could not do humanity more good
by donating the time and energy we spend throwing ideas around
in this forum to teaching a disadvantaged child to read or working
in a garden to feed a homeless person?

>> As a practical matter, dominance = superiority.  I doubt woodcutters
>> in India feel dominant to tigers, and the inferiority of humans in
>> this situtation is reinforced regularly.  Would I blame woodcutters
>> for snaring or poisoning tigers?  Not at all, no more than I would
>> blame you for poisoning rats in your attic.
>
>These are different.  In the tiger example, the dominated acts against
>the dominator.  Would you blame rats in my attic for killing me?  Do
>you blame the tiger for killing the woodcutters?

If the woodcutter kills the tiger, by definition he is superior
to that tiger at that moment.  I wouldn't blame rats for killing
you, but it's been my experience that they're not that organized :)
Of course I don't blame the tiger for killing the woodcutter,
even if the tiger leaves the carcass to rot.

>> It would be an unusual evolutionary progression for a species to
>> value the genes of other organisms over its own.  It might be
>> a "good idea" to think globally, but biology works against us.
>> We are perhaps the only species capable of grasping even a part of
>> the big picture; this places us in the position of conflict
>> with our own biology.  Such conflicts happen in other organisms,
>> such as when a female mammal "adopts" an infant of the same (or
>> even another) species to replace a dead offspring.  This kind of
>> conflict has been raised to an art form by humans, though, to
>> the extent that some have advocated that the ideal human population
>> of the earth is zero.  Such a person, who is a hypocrite if
>> not actively engaged in either murder or suicide, has achieved the
>> ultimate in negative selection. 
>
>I'd like to bring up lemmings, who sacrifice themselves to make more
>room in an ecosystem.

If you can document that lemmings use such reasoning, I'm all ears.
Group selection is not the easiest topic to defend, but I'd be
happy to see somebody give it a try.  Group selection where an
entire species works "for the good of the ecosystem" is well nigh
impossible, I'd wager. 

Imagine for a moment that an allele arises that causes one to favor 
the welfare of the group over the welfare of the individual bearing
the allele.  Now describe how this allele might spread in the
populat


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