For several years the focus of my animal activism efforts took the form of working with a national animal rights organization on campaigns to end the use of animals in experiments. More often than not, the approach was to highlight technologies that could replace the use of animals in ongoing experiments and/or educational settings. In many cases, the technologies or products are readily available, less expensive than using animals, and have been positively reviewed in the relevant professional literature. What needed to be overcome was the culture that treated animal use as not only acceptable but as the default option.
The popularity of this approach does make sense. After all it is emotionally satisfying to show that one is more cutting edge and more high tech than crude and cruel vivisectors. “Crude” is seemingly used no less than “cruel” by activists and “antiquated” is another favored pejorative used to characterize experiments. Campaigning in this fashion is, in a sense, to beat experimenters at their own game and to demonstrate that one knows the relevant literature better than the professionals whom one is campaigning against. It also eliminates the need to talk about the suffering of animals with people who very well may have no concern with such matters.
Even while this approach seems to be The Answer for many anti-vivisection activists, I no longer get overly excited about the prospect of developing new technologies that can take the place of animal experiments.
My current preference would be to simply shut down a lot of research rather than replace it, improve upon it, make it more efficient, or less costly. Ironically, this is often the very thing that animal experimenters accuse activists of wishing to do. The charge is rarely accurate but in my case it is.
I would rather explore and develop new ways of coping and/or new ways of caring for one another that do not require our current industrial infrastructure…perhaps these could be thought of soft technologies that cultures develop over time in response to life’s normal and inevitable travails. Living in a multi-generational community, for example, might be such a soft technology. Other soft technologies might include ensuring that we are not chronically sleep deprived, adopting rituals that acknowledge an individual’s passage through different significant life stages, and having a healthier attitude toward our own mortality rather than promoting fantasies of eternal life.
I would invite readers to suggest or point out other possible examples of such soft technologies.
It is not enough to enumerate the benefits of modern (i.e. industrialized) medicine for all new technologies—even the transparently trivial—generally have some benefit or else it would be unlikely that they would ever be very widely adopted. A full accounting of the harm done must also be considered. This must includes harm to the individual and harm that may only appear at a societal level.
Mark Boyle, author of The Moneyless Manifesto, has effectively made the point with respect to medicine:
“Our entire civilization is unsustainable, and that includes our methods of producing healthcare…Take one dialysis machine, syringe or catheter, examine the raw materials and production processes involved, and you suddenly see a global industrial system unfold…If you want high tech healthcare, you have to accept the spectrum of industrialized goods. To make just one syringe you need someone working on an oil rig.”
Worshipping high tech gadgetry even if the goal is to replace animal experiments and not simply to navigate the way to the mall or find the closest McDonald’s is in the end–by my lights–harmful to animals (human and nonhuman). This is because many of the positive outcomes that do result from industrial technology—and even industrial medicine—are inherently coupled with negative consequences. We cannot cleanly severe the desirable outcomes from the negative consequences.
We cannot engineer shortcuts to animal liberation but instead need to develop a whole new worldview, abandoning the culture that raised us to be speciesists and pseudo-gods rather than members of the biotic community.