Steven Wise: Unlocking The Cage

The New York Times today features a powerful short-documentary about a visionary lawyer , Steven Wise, who will be both The New York Times Magazine’s cover story this Sunday, and the subject of a full-length feature film produced by The New York Times called “Unlocking The Cage. “They used to bark at me when I walked into the courtroom” says Wise.

Please take a look at the short film below, and leave a comment for the New York Times here.

How does a thing become a person? In December 2013, the lawyer Steven Wise showed the world how, with a little legal jujitsu, an animal can transition from a thing without rights to a person with legal protections. This Op-Doc video follows Mr. Wise on his path to filing the first-ever lawsuits in the United States demanding limited “personhood” rights for certain animals, on behalf of four captive chimpanzees in New York State. – The New York Times

unlockingthecage

Debate: Don’t Eat Anything with a Face

By D.R. Hildebrand

anythingwithaface
Photo: Joshua Katcher

Earlier this month, The Discerning Brute covered promotions for the debate event “Don’t Eat Anything with a Face.” It got a lot of press traction. Hosted by the U.S. affiliate of Intelligence Squared, the debate featured two two-member teams arguing each side of the motion. For the motion were Dr. Neal Barnard of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine and George Washington University and his debate partner Gene Baur, founder and co-president of Farm Sanctuary. Against the motion were Chris Masterjohn, author of the blog The Daily Lipid (sponsored by the Weston A. Price Foundation), and his debate partner Joel Salatin, public speaker and director of Polyface Farms.

The debate was composed of three rounds, including a question-and-answer with the audience, and to my delight it maintained an intelligent, robust, and precise examination of the motion, Don’t Eat Anything with a Face. The facts and concerns the debaters addressed, on both sides, were detailed and numerous, and, at the same time, far from complete. Nevertheless, at the end of the ninety minutes the audience was asked to select a winner. The results are illuminating. TheDiscerningBrute.com editor, Joshua Katcher was in the audience and had this to say:

“The debate was sold-out, jam packed, and the popularity of this debate was such that it crashed the Intelligence Squared website! The energy both in the crowd and on the stage was intense, thought-provoking, and above all, it was nice to her that the place where 99% of meat and dairy products (CAFO’s, more popularly known as factory farms) was not even on the table for debate, being considered indefensible by both sides. At the after party, even moderator John Donvan, author and correspondent for ABC News, admitted he’d be changing his eating habits.”

For anyone passionate about food, the definition of food, the future of food, the state of farming, or our relationship to non-human animals, this is a serious investigation of all of these topics. The only related topic not considered here is that of factory farming. Both sides of the motion agree from the outset that factory farming, and all its outcomes and implications, is egregious. The panelists debate only the motion: Don’t Eat Anything with a Face. It is worth watching:

One of the main points raised by the two who argued against the position was that many animals are killed in growing vegetation. But according to research, more animals are still killed in farming them directly:

Engaging Your Audience

D. R. Hildebrand by D. R. Hildebrand

Every year, shortly before Thanksgiving, I come across a spate of videos promoting compassion and humanity by way of veganism. Some of the videos are classics that have circulated for years and gain upticks in viewership around the holidays. Others are new releases receiving attention for the first time. Of those I have seen, many appear unaware of the importance of presentation. The final products often lack an understanding that content alone will not transform a viewer. Style, tone, length, variety, narration, and accessibility are equally imperative. To dismiss them is a fateful flaw.

One example that avoids these errors was published last year in the week before Thanksgiving by Animal Place. It is called “Something To Be Thankful For” and it serves as a model for how a video can capture an audience’s attention, pique its interest, and sway its sympathies.

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Review: Frankenstein’s Cat

by D. R. Hildebrand

Earlier this month I read a new book by science writer Emily Anthes called Frankenstein’s Cat: Cuddling Up to Biotech’s Brave New Beasts.  The book, which appears to have garnered considerable praise, covers topics I’ve rarely considered and in some cases didn’t know existed, including the cloning, tracking, roboticizing, and genetically modifying of nonhuman animals, often in ways that are ethically suspect and that consistently beg the same elementary questions: Why are we doing this?  For whose benefit?  Can we be so hypocritical?  We call this science?

Ms. Anthes, who gave an interview last week on PBS NewsHour, in a tone far more somber and concerned than the one in which she wrote the book, is not exactly dismissive of these questions but rather unaware of them.  It is this fundamental difference—that my gut reactions aren’t even on her radar—that left me struggling to embrace, or even understand, her intentions.

Frankenstein's Cat

From the outset, Ms. Anthes appears determined to ease our innate discomfort with the concept of genetically modifying animals.  In chapter one, which looks at various sorts of transgenic fish, such as GloFish—actual fish that have been fixed fluorescent—and genetically modified salmon, the author comes as close as possible to equating our history of breeding to this latest pastime, genetic manipulation, ignoring a minimum of three critical facts: one, breeding, like modifying, is wrong, and two wrongs don’t make a right; two, breeding at least is reproductive, not mutant; and three, not in a million years would a jellyfish voluntarily mate with a worm, a rat, or a rabbit, the varying results of which scientists are envisioning.

Apparently, Ms. Anthes is not satisfied.  “We can have perfume, granola, and Nikes customized to our individual specifications,” she writes.  “Why not design our own pets?”  Oh I don’t know, maybe because each of these is an inanimate man-made object lacking a central nervous system whereas the creatures in discussion are alive, sentient, feeling, breathing, self-reliant individuals.  The author, however, is more interested in “animals that appeal to our aesthetic sensibilities” and in genetic altering that “shaves a year and a half off the time between when a salmon hatches and when it’s ready to garnish your bagel.”

Excuse me while I vomit.

She details the lengthy process of engineering goats built to produce milk with extra lysozyme, an enzyme that already occurs naturally in human milk.  She writes about both the successful and the nightmarish attempts at cloning sheep, cats, and dogs, and about what she calls the media’s “apocalyptic fanaticizing” of such experiments.  She highlights the Audubon Center for Research of Endangered Species, a noble-sounding initiative that does nothing to take into account why these animals have all died in the first place, or what would happen if the Jurassic Park scenario they’re gradually forming actually occurs.  She discusses tracking, a process by which scientists capture and cut open animals, insert satellite transmitters into their bodies, and then return them to their environment so that we can feed some useless quest for endless data all while ignoring little things like emotion and existence.  She absolutely marvels at prosthetics, at how “lucky” the dolphins are who get their tails mangled in crab traps and all the horses who have been raced into leg replacements.  “There has never been a better time for an animal to lose a body part.”  And of course she writes about everyone’s favorite: remote-controlled animal-machine hybrids.

Mutant and Genetically Modified Animals

Part of my irritation with this book has nothing to do with the author’s numerous interjections and moments of ignorance.  (“In all my years chowing down on spicy tuna rolls, I had never—not once—stopped to consider the animal on my plate.”)  It has to do with the content, the facts, these asinine things that “scientists” are “discovering.”  But it is amplified because the author does not just list the senseless realities and leave them for us to evaluate, but she defends them.  She defends them to such an extent that at one point in the margin I wrote, “Is someone paying this woman?”

Far too many glaring points are either downplayed or ignored.  Ms. Anthes ventures, unwisely, into ethical issues without genuinely examining them.  She never questions the monetary motives of the industries at work, whether it is entertainment, biotechnology, breeding, research, or food, but views them almost universally as altruistic, striving entirely for good.  She never addresses the colossal hypocrisies of any of the practices mentioned, or of the public’s general responses, including the author’s own appetite for animals and her history of buying pets from breeders—even as she writes about “improving their lives.”  She hardly even notes the most basic aspect involved here: autonomy!  What is this eagerness we exhibit to intrude on another being’s life?  What is this desire to quantify, to control, to immortalize every individual, and why do we insist it is good?  She asks none of the obvious questions.  The writing is littered with aloofness.

What perplexes me more than anything conveyed here is the lengths to which we go to obliterate certain billions of animals while doing everything in our power to save or even comfort just one.  We dedicate so much time and so much money to making things exactly the way we want them even when what we want is utterly incongruous and inexplicable.  We aim to catch and kill crabs yet a single dolphin injured as a bystander generates years of research, overwhelming sympathy, and not a moment of reflection.  We are experts at destroying cows but a single cat we will clone for tens of thousands of dollars, then watch while other cats suffer as experimental surrogates.

Near the end of the book Ms. Anthes contemplates the “troubled middle.”  The term was coined by the philosopher and bioethicist Strachan Donnelly and it refers to “a place where it’s possible to truly love animals and still accept their occasional role as resources, objects, and tools.”  I see two flaws here.  First, there is nothing “occasional” about 100 million animals writhing in labs, ten billion more killed annually for their flesh.  This is systematic.  It is constant.  And it is vile.  The second flaw is even sadder, though, and even greater than the first.  This thing we call love: it unequivocally is not.

The Accommodator’s Dilemma

by Eliot Michaelson

The basic question I want to ask is this: suppose that you’ve been convinced that killing animals for food is bad.  You don’t want to be party to bad things happening, and accordingly you’ve become a vegetarian or vegan.  Still, you live in a society full of people who aren’t vegetarians or vegans.  So how should you interact with them?  Should you be tolerant of their moral choices, even if you’re convinced that these are the wrong choices (and even though, per our assumptions, you’re right)?  Or should you somehow alter the way that you interact with non-vegetarians?  Alternatively, for those non-vegetarians reading this, we can put the question as: are your vegetarian friends morally required, at least by their own lights, to shun you?

“…are your vegetarian friends morally required, at least by their own lights, to shun you?”

A brief aside for those who’ve read my older posts.  As you can probably tell, I’m setting aside the Futility Worry for the time being in order to focus on a different question: not whether or not one should be a vegetarian, but rather how one should conduct oneself as a vegetarian.  For the purposes of this post, I’m just going to assume that any time someone declines to purchase or eat meat, one is doing something good; correlatively, when one decides to purchase or eat meat (except perhaps in some very special circumstances), one is doing something bad.  We can assume that any individual choice has some direct or indirect effect on animal welfare, or not.  For present purposes, this won’t matter much.

Now back to the main question.  For simplicity’s sake, I’m going to assume that there are basically only two ways you can go (as a vegetarian) in response to quandary: first, you can be what I’ll call an “Accommodator”; or, second, you can be “Resolute” (admittedly, these are less than perfect titles, since it can often seems good to be resolute and bad to accommodate, and I don’t want to prejudge anything here — so please try to hear these neutrally).  What I mean by the former is that, in rough outline, you choose to offer your thoughts on why one should be vegetarian in some limited range of circumstances, and are willing to accommodate the preferences of your meat-eating friends, family, and acquaintances to a fair extent when attempting to coordinate eating plans with them.  Perhaps you start by suggesting a vegetarian restaurant or by offering to cook a vegetarian meal, but you’re willing to compromise on someplace that serves both meat and decent vegetarian fare if pressed.  Likewise, you probably avoid directly confronting these friends and acquaintances, at least regularly, about their leather shoes, jackets, etc. (though hopefully not fur).  On the other hand, you might choose to be “Resolute”.  That is, you might decide to voice your views on the evils of meat eating on a regular basis to those around you and to refuse to share a meal with others unless it is going to be exclusively vegetarian.  Obviously, there are quite a few options in between these extremes, and many vegetarians probably in fact vacillate at different points in their lives (I certainly have).  For the time being, however, let’s stick with our simplifying assumption and pretend that these are the two main ways that one might respond to the circumstance of being a vegetarian in the contemporary context — that is, in an overwhelmingly non-vegetarian society.

 

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