Call of the Wild

Many thanks for Charles Oliver's article ("Liberation Zoology," June). Not only does he counter each argument and "fact" spouted by animal-rights activists, but he also exposes some very real problems which lurk beneath the muddy waters of their rhetoric. Of course, most activists won't read his article, and even if they did, they would vehemently deny almost everything he says. Many never think through the "philosophy" of animal rights. I was once a member of the animal-rights movement, but the more I tried to explain our position on various issues, the more I became convinced that those positions were not right.

Some activists are so emotionally charged that they would avoid, supposedly, any and all medical treatment which was obtained from animal experimentation, even if it cost their lives. This is not to say, however, that every dime which goes to research is well spent; and not every consequence of animal-welfare organizations' "demands" has been negative. Like the fur farmer cited in Oliver's article, a researcher would agree that healthy animals yield better, more beneficial, and more useful results.

Lest anyone think that Oliver's exposure of the hidden agenda of animal rights activists is off-base, consider these lines from poetry by activist James Strecker, about his two dreams: "In one I love my kind," but "in the other, I/despair that he tortures what/is holy to me, so I shoot him." And lest anyone question Oliver's assertion that activists "share a strong antagonism toward economic growth and urbanization," they need only browse through a copy of any animal-rights magazine. When I first joined the movement, I was told that cosmetic testing was completely archaic and wholly unnecessary, and so the obvious question was why it was done. The answer I was given? "Capitalism." No kidding.

No reasonable person will argue that humans do not have an obligation to animals, but to maintain the belief that animals have rights is, ultimately, to place the "rights" of animals over those of humans. And while there is need for improvement in the treatment of animals in slaughterhouses, labs, and many other areas, still there is no rational basis for believing, as PETA's Ingrid Newkirk says, that "a rat is a pig is a dog is a boy." For myself, Oliver's article was a nice welcome back to the real world.

Natalie A. Sheppard
Chapel Hill, NC

Kudos to Charles Oliver. The philosophy of the animal-rights movement is frightening in both its simplicity and its seductiveness. It is a particularly dangerous movement in this era of scientific illiteracy, when even the most naive challenge to science can appear credible, and even the best schools and most well-prepared teachers seem unable to interest students in the exciting challenges of research careers.

As someone who has seen the benefits of animal research over and over, and who has worked with animals in a dedicated and caring research laboratory environment, I am genuinely appalled by the ease with which this movement has hoodwinked the press and the public. Thanks to reasoned analyses such as your own and the emergence of scientists ready to speak on behalf of their profession, I hope we will halt the rush to this "utopia" where I will not eat the alligator and the alligator will not eat me.

The public needs to understand two essential facts. First, the stunning medical progress that all of us have witnessed in our lifetimes simply would not have been possible without animal research. To continue that progress—which includes prevention as well as treatment and cure—will require that scientists use the best research method at hand, whether that be human studies, computers, in vitro techniques, or animal models. There is absolutely no question in the mind of any legitimate scientist that animal models will be essential to the prevention, treatment, or cure of Alzheimer's disease, AIDS, and the many remaining challenges of cancer and birth defects. Second, animal research is conducted carefully and humanely. Research scientists, like other people, love animals. Indeed, they have chosen a career devoted to finding ways to understand the workings of living things so that they can hope to play a role in the palliation of both human and animal disease.

Kay Holcombe
Executive Vice President
Foundation for Biomedical Research
Washington, DC

Your article accuses activists of playing "loosely" with the truth to make a point and cites the case of the Silver Spring monkeys. Alex Pacheco's investigation of Edward Taub's infamous stroke experiments on the 17 animals led to the first police raid of a laboratory in the history of the United States, the first confiscation of animals from a lab, and the first arrest of an experimenter on charges of cruelty to animals.

When the police arrived at the laboratory, they found leaky bottles of medicine years past expiration, animal cages caked with feces and vomit, and monkeys who had chewed off their own fingers in frustration and pain. This scenario is graphically recorded in both the videotape Pacheco produced and the article he wrote about his experience in Edward Taub's house of horrors.

Two Maryland courts convicted Taub of cruelty to animals, but the guilty finding was later overturned on a technicality: that a federally funded experimenter need not obey state anticruelty laws. The twice-convicted man was hardly "exonerated," as your article and proponents of animal experimentation have implied.

Christine Jackson
Senior Correspondent
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals
Washington, DC

Taub was also cleared by the U.S. Public Health Service Board of Appeals, which enforces federal animal-welfare regulations. —Eds.

Charles Oliver falsely quoted me as saying, "Human beings have no right to the knowledge gained from experimentation on animals, even if it is done painlessly." Not only didn't I ever say that, but contrary to the impression he gives, Mr. Oliver never spoke with me.

Mr. Oliver lifted his misquote verbatim from an article which resulted in a lawsuit by an animal-rights group against the author for making false statements.

The issues animal-rights activists are concerned with involve abuse and exploitation of animals. I would never make a remark regarding somebody's "right to knowledge." (For instance, I admire what Jane Goodall has learned in her research with chimpanzees.) But a central point of the animal-rights movement is that no knowledge is being gained from redundant, irrelevant experiments on animals.

Priscilla Feral
Friends of Animals
Norwalk, CT

The quotation in question was taken from Katie McCabe's Washingtonian article, which was credited several times in REASON's article. The omission of credit in this case was inadvertent, and we regret any slight to Ms. McCabe or Ms. Feral. —Eds.

Charles Oliver's article commits the same error that he rightly accuses the most radical (and, unfortunately, most visible) animal-rights advocates of—oversimplification. Yes, animals are not humans. Having argued that, what else does Oliver say? Does he offer any practical guidelines for reform, or does he simply argue that the fanatical premises of prominent advocate organizations leave no middle ground?

Having been a financial supporter of various animal-rights groups for many years (as well as a soft and fuzzy tuna boycotter), I am increasingly frustrated with the extreme positions these groups take. Are there any groups who argue the following?: Much animal research is redundant and merely an exercise in grantsmanship.

Much testing (cosmetic and otherwise) need not be done on live animals. Tissue cultures are often more reliable indicators of toxicological responses than archaic Draize tests and L/D 50 tests. This is not to say that the latest AIDS drugs should not be tested on rhesus monkeys, as the radicals would want, but it is to say that medical and veterinary students can learn suturing techniques on synthetic skins just as effectively as they can on live animals which are operated on and then destroyed for no other reason.

Oliver succinctly tells us that animals are not human, that the animal world is brutish. As opposed to the human world which is, what, humane? One can hardly argue that humans are different from animals and then argue that we need behave no differently.

Mike Garcia
San Jose, CA

Although Charles Oliver does quite a good job of dissecting the animal-rights movement, I fear he could be charged with begging the question. Mr. Oliver's distinction between human and animal societies is fine for those who recognize the distinction. But it would have no effect on those who see the planet as a big ball of life with each part having an absolute right to exist. These are the people humans need to worry about.

For all its confusion, however, the animal-rights movement does make a salient point about ascribing rights solely by species. For example, if everyone's favorite spaceman, Mr. Spock, were to suddenly appear in our midst, as a non-homo sapien he would have no rights. We could shoot him, cook him, and eat him.

This points out that when talking about rights we should pay attention to the qualities a being possesses. Just as it is obscene to place broiler chickens and Jews on the same ethical plane, it is absurd to insist that earthworms and chimpanzees have the same moral standing.

If we borrow the concept of personhood from the abortion debate it might be possible to formulate a sliding scale of personhood for living beings. Would that create "less important" and "more important" rights? Yes, but weighing competing rights and claims is what defines civil society.

The alternative is to abandon the question of the moral standing of nonhumans to those whose distinguishing characteristic is an unyielding hatred of man.

Jeff A. Taylor
Silver Spring, MD

If humans are animals, then let's demand our animal rights! As cat owners know, animals have a natural right to torture small, furry creatures to death for food or for fun. Human hunger and the quest for lifesaving knowledge are reasons at least as good, and our rights can be no less.

Eric Peterson
San Francisco, CA

As Charles Oliver implies, animal activists express a shortsighted view of animal rights. However, Oliver offers no solution to the problem. In recognizing animal rights one can only conclude that man's intervention in animal's natural cycles is a denial of those rights. As PETA'S Ingrid Newkirk aptly notes, even something so simple as providing basic human shelter displaces animals, ultimately leads to their death, and therefore violates their rights. I submit the only solution for protection of animal rights is abolition of man. Perhaps some animal rightist will become a true leader in the protection of animal rights and remove him/herself as a consuming, competing entity from this planet. Performed in public, this should draw attention to the cause and possibly start a whole wave of reduced animal-rights impairment. Corpses can be humanely distributed to habitats where wild carnivores feed, thus further securing the rights of wild bunnies.

Ken Warthen
Pembroke, VA

For the average member of PETA (myself included), it is rarely the fabled choice between man and beast that your author would have readers believe. Rather, it is merely a question of eliminating the savage exploitation of animals when superior alternatives exist. Many members are uncomfortable with the quasi-intellectual ruminations of Peter Singer and Ingrid Newkirk. Instead, they see redundant, inconclusive experiments being carried out in a reckless manner. They see large cosmetics companies continuing to perform vivisection when other companies are able to safely produce quality beauty supplies without animal testing. They see men and women wearing the pelts of animals whose sole reason for existence was to nourish someone's ego.

Perhaps advocates of animal welfare are more realistic than you give them credit for. They know that humans will never give up the consumption of meat, so they focus on an unnecessary extravagance, thereby forcing society to come to terms with the most insidious form of cruelty, that which is perpetuated for the sake of vanity.

Danielle E. Turnof
Wantagh, NY

Charles Oliver paints an accurate and grisly portrait of the animal-rights movement. But what he fails to point out when restating the animal-rights position "that nature is good, man and technology are evil" is a simple fact that the animal-rights activists themselves fail to notice: Man, evil or not, is part of nature. That and nothing else is the crucial, fundamental, and blatantly missing element of all antihuman/pronature activism. Of course humanity is flawed; all of nature is. But man—above the other creatures and inanimate components of the nature that activists attempt to extol—is capable of establishing a system of ethics and laws by which to check himself and his power. That fact, and not sentience or intelligence, makes humans superior.

James J. Hartman, Jr.
Bowie, MD

Charles Oliver's expansive essay on the animal-rights movement provides a clear and seldom-seen perspective. Nevertheless, I do feel the author downplayed an apparently contradictory argument, one which reflects the longterm vision of such radicals as Ingrid Newkirk. He says they idealize a world where "the lion will lie down with the lamb, where man will live in harmony with nature, where when two animals fight, human beings will intervene."

Now, bearing in mind the final word in that quotation, and knowing quite well what it forebodes for those who prefer freedom, let us reflect on this same person's attitude toward pet ownership—"an absolutely abysmal situation brought about by human manipulation" (emphasis added).

Well, which is it? Shall we manipulate? Shall we intervene? If so, when, and for what purpose? According to the laws of nature? What about the laws of man? More importantly, what about the laws Newkirk and her collaborators would impose on both man and nature?

Wayne A. Leighton
Bedford, TX

I am one of those "dangerous" animal-rights activists you described. It seemed obvious that you did not do your research very well, Mr. Oliver. You have no idea how many animals are suffering at this very moment—"in the name of science." Of course—you do not care. Indeed, you are the "dangerous" breed of our society.

I just want you to know how very much I resent your article and how very wrong you are about animal-rights activists. It's too bad there aren't more of us. We are the kind, caring, gentle members of this world. I have such respect for each of us. I have none for you or people like you. My only hope is that you do not have an animal.

Molly Parson
Phoenix, AZ

Mr. Oliver attacks the more extreme positions of the animal-rights movement. The important thing to realize is that animals are not simply property like inanimate objects. They are more than just things and deserve to be treated better. I do not believe that animals have rights as humans do, but I do believe they have value as sentient beings. The animal-rights movement needs a firmer philosophical foundation, but it's closer to the truth than its enemies realize. Perhaps that is why both sides are so strident.

Paul E. Gagnon
Alexandria, VA

I found Charles Oliver's article quite disturbing. No, he doesn't advocate cruelty to animals as a policy. But its existence doesn't seem to bother him very much. Can he really doubt that animals spend their lives in tiny, filthy, wire-mesh cages? Those who raise calves for market will often tell you this themselves—and thousands of pictures of this kind of thing have been published.

One of the strongest impulses of an animal is to be free to roam. Perpetual imprisonment, especially in quarters so small that the animal can hardly turn around, is surely worse than death. For my part, when I see animals caged in a pet store I want to release them all at once (and put the store owners in)—and the same with chickens, pigs, and cows on today's factory farms, a condition to which Oliver seems to be indifferent.

Oliver remarks that after convincing others that veal ranching is cruel, "the animal-rights types turned their guns on mass factory farming.…" But his response to this is not to condemn the infliction of suffering involved in factory farming. Instead, he condemns the furthest-out champions of animal rights for saying "meat is murder."

Less fanatical defenders of animals do not agitate for the illegality of raising cows and chickens. We can treat them as most farmers did until a generation ago, in uncrowded conditions where they can roam or graze. And as fewer people choose to eat beef, the market for it will gradually disappear.

John Hospers
Los Angeles, CA