Wednesday, December 17, 2008

PeTA, Abortion, ES Cell Research, and Cognitive Dissonance

Here's some quotes from PeTA’s FAQ:

“What do you mean by ‘animal rights’?”

People who support animal rights believe that animals are not ours to use for food, clothing, entertainment, experimentation, or any other purpose and that animals deserve consideration of their best interests regardless of whether they are cute, useful to humans, or endangered and regardless of whether any human cares about them at all (just as a mentally challenged human has rights even if he or she is not cute or useful and even if everyone dislikes him or her).

“It’s fine for you to believe in animal rights, but why do you try to tell other people what to do?”

Everybody is entitled to his or her own opinion, but freedom of thought is not the same thing as freedom of action. You are free to believe whatever you want as long as you don’t hurt others. You may believe that animals should be killed, that black people should be enslaved, or that women should be beaten, but you don’t always have the right to put your beliefs into practice. The very nature of reform movements is to tell others what to do—don’t use humans as slaves, don’t sexually harass women, etc.—and all movements initially encounter opposition from people who want to continue to take part in the criticized behavior.

“Animals don’t reason, don’t understand rights, and don’t always respect our rights, so why should we apply our ideas of morality to them?”

An animal’s inability to understand and adhere to our rules is as irrelevant as a child’s or as that of a person with a severe developmental disability. Animals are not always able to choose to change their behaviors, but adult human beings have the intelligence and ability to choose between behaviors that hurt others and behaviors that do not hurt others. When given the choice, it makes sense to choose compassion.

“How can you justify spending your time helping animals when there are so many people who need help?”

There are very serious problems in the world that deserve our attention, and cruelty to animals is one of them. We should try to alleviate suffering wherever we can. Helping animals is not any more or less important than helping human beings—they are both important. Animal suffering and human suffering are interconnected.

Of course a logical question is, "What about abortion? What about ES cell research?"

Notice above that even using animals in experiments should be considered off limits, regardless of whether experimenting on (say) a monkey could potentially provide the cure to (say) cancer.

One would expect a logical, consistent, well-reasoned answer when it comes to abortion. That this should be expected is even more evident when you consider that the vast majority of PeTA members are atheists - who we all know are renowned for their clear, cogent, and profound thinking skills.

But then why do we get waffling here:

“Where does the animal rights movement stand on abortion?”

There are people on both sides of the abortion issue in the animal rights movement, just as there are people on both sides of animal rights issues in the pro-life movement. And just as the pro-life movement has no official position on animal rights, the animal rights movement has no official position on abortion. (ibid)

If you're feeling cheated, you're probably not alone. It just seems obvious that an answer in line with the previous answers would follow here. Something like:

"Well, our position on abortion is the same as if you asked me how I'd feel if you poured acid on a dog and chemically burned it to death, or how I'd feel about sucking a cow into a vacuum and chopping it into bits, or the same answer I'd give if you pulled a monkey out of its tree and shoved a giant spike into the base of it's skull. I mean, where do we stand on abortion?, that's a stupid question."

Or something along those lines …

I mean, to me, a condemning of abortion in the strongest of terms seems to follow, by strict internal logic, from other PeTA premises. But that's just me. But, perhaps it doesn't lead to such condemnation. I mean, we're dealing with atheist logic, after all. So, I'll look at some possible reasons for their apparently inconsistent pro-animal-murder stance. But first, before looking outside their answer for possible defenses, I think their answer itself is somewhat confused. I’ll offer a couple reasons why.

First, the fact that there are people on both sides of the issue within the (so-called) animal rights movement seems to be irrelevant. The question is obviously one of consistency. The purpose of the question is to find possible inconsistencies within the ideology of the (so-called) animal rights movement. So the fact that some within the movement are pro-choice seems irrelevant. It doesn't so much answer a question as it begs a question: "Well, how the heck can that be?" By my lights, to admit in this context that some members are pro-choice seems about the same as saying that some members of the movement are for wearing fur and experimenting on monkeys and some aren’t. The question is: Is it appropriate, consistent, or otherwise internally rational to be pro-choice if you are a member of the animal rights movement.

Second, what else can it be but complete ignorance of the pro-life position that there is a parity to be found in the pro-life movement? There is no official statement on non-human animal rights by the pro-life side because their position has nothing to do with non-human animals. However, as the PeTA FAQ sheet makes clear, all animals, human and non, have a right not to be used "for food, clothing, entertainment, experimentation, or any other purpose and that animals deserve consideration of their best interests regardless of whether they are cute, useful to humans, or endangered and regardless of whether any human cares about them at all" (ibid).

Having made these two brief introductory comments, I'll try to surmise as best I can what types of arguments PeTA might put forward to assuage our worries about the seeming inconsistency that appears obvious to many (and, by the way, it's kind of a throw away comment to claim that some of PeTA's members are pro-life, this position is rare among animal rights advocates, most always made up of those aligned with the radical left. The peer pressure from those on the radical left to be pro-choice is extremely strong, and I think that finding pro-life members among animal rights advocate may be only slightly simpler than finding a needle in a hay stack).

1. One move might be to claim that the fetus is not an animal. But this seems highly implausible. It can be argued that it is not "fully human," that is is not "a person" that it is not "a bearer of rights", or any other typical pro-choice argument. But it is fairly established that it is living, and it is at least an animal. I am of course assuming that PeTA is not on a war against science (though some have claimed that they are by their desire to halt scientific testing on animals). If it is true that PeTA intends to be rational, and submit to scientific consensuses, then this move seems to be a unwarranted move. Here are various quotes by embryologists that have appeard in various journals and textbooks demonstrating the overwhelming scientific concensus that human life starts at conception.

If one does not want to admit to life starting at conception, it seems all sides agree that there is a new, living animal (at least) just a couple short weeks after conception. Yet one doubts pro-choice PeTA members would jump in at this point and defend these animals. And I'm not even saying that they have to get as extreme as they do when they try to stop (say) the making and selling of fur coats. For example, they will sneak inside posh stores and pour red paint all over themselves and on the fur coats, holding signs that say, "Fur is dead." They could write a position paper. And if that is too much to ask, perhaps a sentence or two on their FAQ page could be constructed. It doesn't take much away from your "primary purpose" to give a nod to the pro-life position, especially when taking any position other than the pro-life one renders your broader position inconsistent and makes it look more like it's about being radical than it is actually caring about “animals.”

2. They may answer along similar lines as their response to questions about plants. The question that naturally arises in these kinds of discussions is, "What about eating or 'harming' plants?" I'll present the essence of their answer below. So the FAQ:

“What about plants?”

There is currently no reason to believe that plants experience pain because they are devoid of central nervous systems, nerve endings, and brains. (ibid)

Though the validity of this answer can be debated with regard to various botanical questions that might be asked, I think it is insufficient to function as a reason to be pro-choice when it comes to human fetuses yet remaining staunchly pro animal rights (as they conceive the term). Some brief observations can be made:

i) Fetuses feel pain fairly quickly. Probably between 6 and 8 weeks. Can we expect PeTA to issue a statement condemning all abortions after this time?

ii) Can I kill an animal, so long as it's quick and painless? Say, blow a cat's brains out in her sleep?

iii) We should distinguish between pain and harm. Not all harm is physically painful. And certainly any self-respecting PeTA member is also against harming animals. Dressing a monkey up in a tutu may not be physically painful, but most PeTA members would say this is harmful to the "dignity" (or whatever) of the monkey. If that is true, a fortiori is it harmful to end the life of an animal? To knock out that future potential? None of us would have wanted our life snuffed out in the womb, even if it would have been physically painless.

iv) What, what do you do about CIPA? A person suffering from congenital insensitivity to pain with anhidrosis disorer cannot feel pain, heat or cold. Take this little girl:

"The untreatable disease also makes Ashlyn incapable of sensing extreme temperatures — hot or cold — disabling her body’s ability to cool itself by sweating. Otherwise, her senses are normal.

Ashlyn can feel the texture of nickels and dimes she sorts into piles on her bedroom floor, the heft of the pink backpack she totes to school and the embrace of a hug. She feels hunger cravings for her favorite after-school snack, pickles and strawberry milk.

That’s because the genetic mutation that causes CIPA only disrupts the development of the small nerve fibers that carry sensations of pain, heat and cold to the brain."
Therefore, if the inability to feel pain determines whether an animal (or plant!) can be unjustifiably harmed in some way, can we kill little Ashlyn? Of course not. And of course I am not suggesting that PeTA would say we could (though some comments by Singer allow us to question even this). But now they're left with the same problem and no apparent way out.

3. One possible reason an animal rights person may be pro-choice is due to compassion; that is, safe and legal abortions stop back alley abortions, and animal rights advocates want as little animal pain as possible inflicted on as small a number as possible. But not only is this "back alley butcher" scenario largely based on myth, and is now a well-known example of the typical wool that gets pulled over so many an ideologues' eyes because, to be quite honest, most Americans are dumb and will swallow whatever pill their Morpheus gives them, it also undermines animal rights arguments. For example, this argument could very well be used to allow the continuation of slaughterhouses so we don't go back to the old days of hunting our own food. Well-known are the stories about shooting your prey and having to track it for miles as Bambi slogs through the forest looking for a watering hole to quench her dry mouth. A captive bolt gun is "safer" than the "old" ways. The “backwoods hunter” days.

So, I confess that I can find no reason for this inconsistency on behalf of PeTA members. Their arguments for animal rights, if used consistently, are arguments against abortion of embryonic stem cell research. Yet we find the vast, overwhelming majority of animal rights advocates (again, defined as PeTA would define 'animal rights') decidedly pro-choice. This is probably because they are probably something like what "radical Muslims" are for "religions" (considered theoretically), instead they represent radical aspects of progressive and atheistic thought. Peter Singer would argue for the godlessness of it all. But at this point, one wonders of it is the atheism or the animal rights views that cause this cognitive dissonance. At this point I must put my hand over my mouth, for I can go no further.

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