Testing humanity

We’re very pro-cuddly creatures in our house. Some of our most treasured companions are very realistic fluffy bears, dogs, otters, giraffes, lions and so on and our favourite stories usually feature a talking duck or a hungry caterpillar or something. We’re also generally down on unmotivated cruelty to animals – we don’t support the squashing of bugs or the kicking of dogs, for instance. We do, however, support animal testing.

The animal rights people are wrong. They’re wrong because their description of nature, of our relationship with other species, is infantile and anthropomorphic. It depends on a simplified (Disneyfied) taxonomy that gives all species (usually just the furry ones, actually) an erroneous equivalence. In their version of the top end of the food chain, rights invented in complicated, literate human cultures are arbitrarily extended to parts of the natural world that cannot ever properly own them.

The human species is… well… just that: a species – a small part of nature’s awesome unity. Our relationship with other species is like that of other top predators. We make complicated, highly-evolved use of the species below us in the chain, like those parasitic moths who persuade poisonous ants to feed them through their pupal stage and like the cuckoo whose use of stupider bird species is well known.

Opposing the use of animals in medical and scientific tests suggests a sympathetic relationship to animals. In fact it means quite the reverse: an arbitrary separation of the animals from the humans. In the animal rights campaigners’ world animals are not part of the same, impossibly rich and productive system as humans, they’re something separate and different, deserving only of our pity and protection.

I don’t want to naturalise animal cruelty: morality (another complicated human invention) still applies and so does ecological common sense. Destroying animal species for profit and abusing animals for fun are just wrong but making scientific use of the living world in the pursuit of knowledge is a proper and profoundly natural thing to do.

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