1/15/10

Boycott/Boycott?


The issue about conscientious participators brings up an interesting question that goes back to the post about "the tipping point."  Larry Carbone is a vegetarian veterinarian who works in an animal lab. If it makes sense to boycott the meat industry, why doesn't it make just as much sense to boycott animal research? Should he quit not only meat but his job?

Of course, this reasoning presupposes that animal research should all come to a halt. Carbone doesn't have that view, and in fact I don't have that view either (see chapter 8 of my new book). But leave that aside--suppose animal research really should come to an end, and imagine a vegetarian veterinarian who's come to believe this--and let's call her Terry. Should Terry quit her job?

Here's the way she may have thought about meat-eating. Given the way the meat industry works, one vegetarian doesn't do any good. The meat industry doesn't lower production until there's a big shift in demand. So abstainers only make a difference in combination with other abstainers. Still: there are enough abstainers for vegetarians to see themselves as effective.  So the question is this: shouldn't Terry qua lab vet go through the same reasoning? Shouldn't she quit her job, and figure that her abstention will combine with other abstentions to slow down the animal research industry?

The reason I don't think so is because  the research will simply go on without her. Veterinarians don't keep animal research in business in the way that meat-eaters keep the meat industry in business. With fewer meat-eaters, there fairly soon has to be a smaller meat industry. But with fewer veterinarians, animals will just receive worse care.  The AWA mandates their involvement in animal research, but there's plenty of latitude--they can be heavily involved or relatively absent. You'd have to have a massively successful boycott to close down labs or reduce their size.

But wait.  If Terry figured her meat-boycott could be effective, even though she didn't know exactly how many other boycotters there were, why shouldn't she be equally sanguine here? Well, it's different. In the meat case, she doesn't know if there will be enough other boycotters for her boycott to make a difference. In the second case, she actually knows there will not be enough to make a difference. She knows that even if she quits her job, the animals will continue being experimented on. Her reason to not eat meat just can't be retrofitted and turned into a reason to quit her job.

So: she shouldn't eat meat. But it's not true that she should quit her job. In fact, we may even have to say something stronger. If she's an exceptionally good vet and she thinks nobody would take her place right away, or nobody as skilled, then she should stay. While not eating meat is at the very worst ineffective, and can't be bad for animals, quitting her job could be bad for the animals in her care.

Now some people will say the reason to avoid meat and avoid animal research is not related to impact to begin with, but to our own character. You taint yourself by being involved in bad business. So Terry really should quit, to avoid that taint. But how can that make any sense?  If Terry is doing something good, and nothing bad, by keeping her job, then there's no taint to be avoided.  We shouldn't have the primitive notion that if we stand close to bad things, then they defile us. It has to be psychologically difficult to be a conscientious participator in something you regard as wrong, but you hardly wind up defiled if you're doing the right thing for the victims of the practise.

A fringe benefit of Terry's remaining on the job is that she stays in a position to tell the world what's going on in the lab.  She can be a relatively non-judgmental "explainer" like Larry Carbone.  Or, if she thinks she has evidence that can close the lab down and make a real difference, she can become a whistleblower.  She can smuggle videos out to PETA, if it comes to that. (And hurray for people who do, when necessary.)  She doesn't have the same reason to immediately quit her job that she has to be a vegetarian.

10 comments:

Wayne said...

Heh, I just want to be clear that I agree with your position still... But I'm not done playing devil's advocate either.

You assume that Terry is doing nothing bad by keeping her job.... But how could it be good to ensure that animals are in good enough condition to be experimented on?

Lets say for the sake of argument that I'm doing research on head trauma and football helmets. I need to traumatize the heads of monkeys to see how they are affected by various kinds of football helmets. Now, Terry thinks this is all horrific. We're harming monkeys for the sake of making a kind of entertainment more safe, when we could easily engage in other kinds of entertainment (the same argument can and has been applied to cosmetics).

Now, lets say Peter the monkey has a persistent condition that makes him ineligible for the experiment (say he has migraines). Terry realizes the cure for Peter's migraines is to change Peter's diet from bananas to cabbage, this will cure him from his migraines, and make him eligible to be smashed in the head with a helmet on repeatedly.

Now is it a good thing for Terry to cure Peter of his migraines?

amos said...

This really depends on how evil you think that animal experimentation is. Almost all human rights offenders, when tried, use the argument ad Eichmann: I did my best to lessen the harm done. I doubt that you would think that an SS officer or a torturer who tried to make things easier for his victims
was justified. As a matter of fact, in human rights legislation, many times one is considered guilty for even indirectly participating in human rights violations, such as torture. Your argument yesterday about the kapos in death camps neglects the vital fact that the kapos did what they did to save their own lives or to buy times for themselves, an understandable sin under the cirumstances. Now, I don't think that animal experimentation is analogous to torturing human beings, but many people do. So, you seem to agree that experimentation on live animals is not an evil of the same degree as torture.

Jean Kazez said...

Wayne, Nice example. Such situations must come up for lab vets, but I'm betting they're unusual. Most of the time lab vets are making housing, food, anesthesia, analgesia etc better for animals who are going to be used no matter what. I think if a vet's main job was to remove barriers to using animals in research, that would change the moral equation and (I agree) I couldn't make the same argument defending them.

Amos, I'm assuming just for the sake of argument that all experimentation is bad. In reality, I think it's mixed. But assuming it's all bad, I still think the vets can be doing the right thing by participating. There's a difference between initiating wrongdoing and helping victims endure it. I just don't think the helpers ought to be confused with the perpetrators.

As to Kapos: I read a memoir by a man who became a Kapo and who was able to help others by doing so. I think that was part of his motivation. On the whole, he was in a better position to help by being a Kapo, even though he was the one who had to send people to gas chambers. I think it would be pretty wild to say this was wrong of him.

amos said...

Kapos are a special case. They were forced to choose between dying and aiding in the killing process. I don't feel qualified to judge them nor do I particularly want to delve into their motives, which given the terrible situation that they were thrust into against their will, probably contain a certain quotient of rationalization and self-justification due to guilt feelings, etc. I can't imagine a Kapo who feels like a moral hero, but the Kapos did not have the option of being moral heroes.

However, my point is that when we sense evil, we should have the primitive notion that if we stand close to evil things then they defile us. Maybe not to everyday bad things, but to genuinely evil things, yes. I don't see animal experimentation as genuinely evil as I do the Holocaust or torture.
I think that the primitive notion of moral purity is very important not only in keeping us from participating in evil, but also in preserving our sense of moral integrity. There are situations
where the utilitarian calculus does not apply and where the notion of moral purity should guide our decision process.

Jean Kazez said...

It just sounds weird to me to count a vet "morally pure" for staying out of animal labs, if that means letting animals suffer more (and I think it does). If that's purity, then I don't think it's important to be pure.

amos said...

Correct. I agree with you about the vet. But let's take a doctor who is offered a job watching sessions of torture to make sure that they don't exceed certain guidelines, causing "unnecessary"
suffering. He refuses indignantly. Yet his job would have prevented suffering. From a utilitarian point of view, he is wrong, but from the point of view of moral purity and personal integrity, most of us would consider him right. What is the difference between the vet and the doctor? I think that the difference is that most of us consider animal experimentation to be bad and torture to be evil. There is a difference between something being bad and something being evil, although I can't spell it out. Maybe the difference is that in the case of evil a reaction of moral purity is justified. A circular definition, but the best that I can do.

Jean Kazez said...

To make the two cases "equal" in every way, you have to imagine that torture goes on everywhere, that it's supported by the govt, the public, medicine, academia, etc. In other words, you have to imagine it just as entrenched and ubiquitous as animal research. Once you've got all that in your imagination, your intuition may change about whether anti-torture doctors should get involved to protect the victims. By the way, you might think so without being a utilitarian--all you have to is give a lot of weight to preventing suffering.

amos said...

Ok, let's take a trip to Nazi Germany or the Soviet Union under Stalin. There is nothing more ubiquitous than the secret police.
Would you be justified in joining the secret police if you genuinely think that you can work from "within" to make things better for the victims of the secret police? Or would you be justified in a reaction of moral purity, of refusing to have anything to do with the secret police?

Jean Kazez said...

The question is always where you can be effective--inside, ministering to victims, or outside, protesting the whole system. The idea that the insider is doing the right thing is always premised on the assumption that they would be powerless on the outside. If that is really so, then I can't see any reason to condemn them for helping victims on the inside. In fact--just the contrary.

By the way, this relates to questions about undercover investigators who infiltrate bad organizations to take pictures and send out information. I think it just can't be that these are bad people because they have "dirty hands."

amos said...

The situation of undercover investigators is a bit different. Let's imagine an agent from the Red Cross who infiltrates the SS to lessen suffering. A moral hero, we agree. What is the difference between the woman from the Red Cross and an idealist who infiltrates the SS on her own?
I guess that I'm more skeptical of motives or motivation than you are, and the fact that she comes from the Red Cross seems a fair guarantee that her mission is kosher, while the fact that she does it on her own is more ambiguous, leaves her more open to being corrupted, perhaps corrupted little by little, unconsciously, etc.