Friday, February 25, 2011

Animal Liberation -- Peter Singer (eds. 1975, 1990, 2002) Part I: Lab Animals

I'm breaking up my review of Animal Liberation into two parts because I haven't finished the book yet.  I'm a fairly fast reader, but the constant descriptions of what amount to graphic torture scenes are really hard to plow through.  It's like Martyrs but with chimpanzees instead of irritatingly beautiful French women.

The edition I have is the newest -- and the fact that the book has been through three different rewrites in three different eras makes reading it a historically interesting but also incredibly schizophrenic experience.  Although Australian philosopher Peter Singer does his best to let the reader know when he has updated sections of the material, I still found myself stopping in the middle of a paragraph and thinking, "okay, now that sounds like something someone in 1975 would think, but is it really applicable in 2002's -- or today's -- different social landscape?"  Maybe it's just the English major / historian in me talking, but I really wish Singer had just annotated the 1975 text and had done with it.  I'm a big girl. I've been to high school. I can read footnotes.

The other thing that bothered me was the constant comparison of "speciesim" to racism.  I understand what Singer was trying to accomplish, and I agree with him that in light of decades of scientific evidence that animals feel pain and even, in the case of chimps, have social structures and needs similar to those of humans, it's horrific to think of them being used in often pointless (more on that later) experiments. However, it seems a little disingenuous for a white guy to go around saying, "yes -- repressing farm animals is just like repressing human beings of a different color!" Because what qualifies him to talk about the experience of being racially oppressed, anyway?

It is also beside the point, Singer's point being that animal experimentation is insufficiently evaluated by the responsible scientific authorities and largely unnecessary given our ever more sophisticated use of computer simulations.

But what about cancer and AIDS research?  Well, Singer points out that we've already had decades of cancer research using lab animals, and we're still losing the war on cancer. Also? The bodies of animals may be too different from the bodies of humans to make drug testing on animals of any real use. He then gets into a much criticized and absolutely horrifying ethical gray area by suggesting the use of brain damaged humans as an alternative, but I've read and reread those pages and I think he just makes that suggestion to highlight the inhumanity of using animals in research.    

Next;  The Evils of Factory Farming and Vegetarianism: A Short Guide

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