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

Toby Bradshaw toby at
Thu Jul 8 16:38:52 EST 1993

In article <C9uy4M.7E4 at> James.F.X.Wellehan at (Jim Wellehan) writes:
>In article <21fhid$si9 at>
>toby at (Toby Bradshaw) writes:
>> 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.
>It would seem necessary to eat something in order to provide for
>organisms dependant on it.  If I recall correctly, there are more
>prokaryotic cells inside a human than human cells.

By this logic, an AR fanatic wouldn't use antibiotics.  You
won't find many that take it this far.  It is the logical conclusion,
but logic doesn't have anything to do with the AR position.  Bacteria
can be dismissed by them as "non-sentient" or "unable to feel

>On a side note, Dracunculus medinensis, the Guinea worm (parasitic
>nematode), is predicted by the WHO to be extinct within a few years. 
>Should we maintain live specimens?

Be my guest :)  

>>  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.
>Wouldn't the Child Welfare people come down pretty hard on this?  I
>remember some sort of fuss with Christian Scientists over a similar
>problem, but don't remember the outcome.

Law and morals are different things.

>>>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.
>No, just that there is such a thing as "fair" or "just".  The world
>doesn't necessarily have to be fair for the concept to exist.

"Fair" and "just" are human inventions, and have no objective basis.

>> >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'd think that you don't really believe it.  Do you really value a
>human you've never met or heard of more than your dog?

Sure.  I'd save a drowning stranger before I'd try to save my
own dog.  In real life, I don't feed starving people, though, I
feed my dog.

>> >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.
>I didn't say they used reasoning.  I just think it's an interesting
>behavior.  They breed to overpopulation, and then there is mass
>suicide.  (This seems like a great niche for a pathogen.  It would save
>the lemmings some trouble.)  Is there a potential human parallel?

I don't think the case is even made for lemmings.  Do you know
of any documentation (we've all heard the "legend")?

>> 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
>> population, that is, how is the Darwinian fitness of such an
>> individual is increased?
>Excessive virulence in parasites is usually selected against.  It's not
>usually advantageous for parasites to kill their host.  That's not to
>say it isn't common, though.

Wrong analogy.  It's easy to imagine scenarios where the fitness of a
parasite could be increased or decreased by killing its host.  The 
correct analogy is to find a parasite that kills itself when its
ecosystem (host) is doing poorly.  Good luck :)

Try to imagine a scenario where humans decide on mass suicide for the
benefit of the ecosytem.  What evolutionary forces could produce such an
outcome?  None that I'm aware of.  Do you really believe that 1) lemmings
commit "suicide" in order to "benefit the ecosystem" as opposed to
benefitting themselves (assuming the suicide really happens at all), and
2) that any species, save perhaps man, operates for the benefit of another
species or for the environment as a whole?  If so, you'll have to convince
a lot of skeptical evolutionary biologists.  The reason is that the first
"cheater" prospers inordinately from such a system.  The first lemming to
say "To hell with suicide" is going to leave a disproportionate share of
offspring.  A "to-hell-with-suicide" allele will spread like wildfire
through the lemming population, at the expense of the "altruistic" allele. 
Not to say that altruism doesn't exist in animals; it does.  In the cases
I'm aware of, when the "altruism" is studied closely, it turns out to
increase inclusive fitness, and is not, therefore, strictly altruistic. 

The AR part of this thread should be shipped over to talk.politics.
animals, and the group selection should be moved to or
bionet.molbio.evolution (can't remember the name of the bionet
newsgroup offhand, though I read it).  This is getting a little
tiresome for bionet.general.  If you want, I'll discuss it by
email.  I'll set the followups accordingly if the thread continues.

-Toby Bradshaw
toby at

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