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Semiformalishmaybe

On PETA and Ashley Marie Chavez-Rubertt

This is commentary on a blog entry by PZ Myers. I don't expect a lot of you will agree with me on this one, but nontheless:

As many of the original links are gone, I will summarise.

Vivisection is one technique used in some kinds of biomedical and psychological research involving dissecting a living animal. It is (generally, depending on the species) governed by regulation that requires research using it to be justified by the research. This means that the research cannot reasonably be done using any other means.

Ashley Marie Chavez-Rubertt is a biology student at UFlorida who performed vivisections and was targeted by PETA for this act, which suggested (wink wink, in the same way that 2600 hacking articles are for educational purposes only, wink wink) violence against her. As the campaign mounted and fur bristled on both sides, she responded,

"Your website seems to indicate otherwise . look, I can appreciate what you do and I appreciate the fact you have your own opinions. Really, we need more opinionated people in the world. The fact of the matter is I myself have examined the evidence and I have already made a decision for myself."

End summary.

I don't have a simple judgement on this.

  • I reject the current metric used for justifying experiments of this kind. Scientific justification is necessary but not sufficient to justify experiments, and experiments that are monstrous cannot, regardless of the scientific benefit, be accepted. We have the morality very, very wrong here in both the law and in university culture. This is not limited to vivisection.
  • It is not good enough for either the individual researcher nor the scientific community as a whole to decide for itself or his/herself what is acceptable. Legally speaking, greater society has an interest in the ethics of all actions done under all things in the purview of science. "Interference with science" is not a valid complaint for any would-be regulation; no societal activity merits independence from society's moral judgement.
  • Individuals who dissent either with the law or with mainstream societal consensus will, as part of the general power politics underlying polite society, enact their values through direct action if they are willing to accept the consequences of acting outside the law. This goes for slave-runners just as much as here.
  • She can make a decision for herself, as she's stated. That doesn't mean it's nobody else's business, it just means there's a tension and right now she has the law on her side.
I believe regulations need to be changed and that what she does should probably be illegal, along with many other kinds of unethical research. Right now I have the luxury of not deciding if this kind of act is, by my value system, immoral or merely unethical; in either case I would be happy to see her and everyone else doing that kind of work shunned (appropriate treatment for unethicality).

Because this is a borderline issue for me, I refuse to condemn PETA for this campaign.

On the other matters:

  • I see no problem with PETA using a porn site to benefit their cause. That said, I think it is of very questionable utility. I suspect it will not help the cause.
  • I see no problem with their billboard about the obese woman, nor do I see it as exploitative.

On the general topic of values-based vegatarianism, I am not hostile to their arguments, but I reject values-based vegetarianism because our species is omnivorous by nature and we are part of a natural order of things. I don't believe that it is sensible to adopt moral codes that change our basic diet as part of a morality that leaves the animals-eating-animals aspect of the rest of nature. I would accept absolute bans on factory farming, kosher/halal slaughter, and other inhumane treatment of animals, but the basic fact of humans eating meat is not against my values in any way (even though, by taste, I have chosen not to eat meat).This argument I lay down is more important to me than any argument I have heard PETA make for vegetarianism.

And on PETA in general, just like sister group Earth First, I am generally (reasonably) friendly towards their values, often find their value conclusions differ moderately from mine, and am worried that their actions are often not targeted very well and amount to very bad PR for their causes. Direct action can be a good thing, even the destruction of a lab or a place of business. Getting the details wrong or getting the message wrong is unacceptable; anyone doing direct action has one of the highest obligations possible to get the details right and be able to explain clearly and coherently why they have done what they have done.

Comments

I'm pretty close to where you are in terms of result, i.e. it may be OK to eat animals but not to treat them inhumanely as is the status quo. This leads me in effect to be pesco-vegetarian as it's extremely difficult in practice to know how every animal you eat was treated and decide accordingly.

But I think I differ with one of your assumptions: "we are naturally omnivorous, therefore it is OK." We can naturally derive nutritional benefit from eating some parts or a fresh, well-prepared human. Is it therefore acceptable to kill and eat one another?