I just finished reading the science fiction novella, “The Vital Abyss”, by James S.A. Corey, which takes place in their “Expanse” milieu1. The story revolves around the fate of some scientists who engaged in the most horrific act of scientific malpractice in history, sacrificing millions of men, women, and children to an experiment.
At one point in the story, we see the main character, a scientists, as he undergoes intake processing for the project and through some kind of biological manipulation has his sense of morality removed. Essentially he and all the scientists are turned into psychopaths. The recruiter tries to explain to the protagonist through the lens of whether animal testing is okay:
“The idea that animal suffering is less important that human suffering is a religious one. It assumes a special creation, and that we—you and I—are different in kind than other animals. We are morally separate from rats or horses or chimps, not based on any particular physical difference between us, but just because we claim that we’re sacred by our nature and have dominion over them. It’s a story we tell that lets us do what we do. Consider the question without that filter, and it looks very different.
“You said there’s an ethical obligation to avoid unnecessary suffering. I agree. That’s why getting good data is our primary responsibility. Good experimental design, deep datasets, parallel studies whenever they don’t interfere. Bad data is just another way of saying needless suffering. And torturing rats to see how humans would respond? It’s terrible data because rats aren’t humans any more than pigeons are horses.”
“Wait, so you’re… are you saying that skipping animal testing entirely and going straight to human trials is… is more ethical?” “We are the animal we’re trying to build a protocol for. It’s where we’d get the best data. And better data means less suffering in the long run. More human suffering, maybe, but less suffering overall. And we wouldn’t have to labor under the hypocrisy of understanding evolution and also pretending there’s some kind of firewall between us and other mammals. That sounds restful, don’t you think?”
I realized as I read this that here is what’s fundamentally wrong with People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) and all the other animal rights groups out there.
What they all miss is that when you erase the distinction between humans and animals, you aren’t elevating animals so they can be treated like humans.
What would inevitably happen if the distinction between human and animal was erased is that humans would be treated like animals. Again. Like too often in history.
- Which has been made into a hit TV series on SyFy. ↩