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How can a biological approach suffice, when it doesn't even suffice for our own concerns?


Vegan Links: 

Silkworm (see also The Vegan/Summer 1990. Silken Thread, Silkworm Dead: RSPCA Council Menber Robbin Webb unravels the truth behind silk's 'innocent' lustre)

The Honeybee (see also The Vegan/Summer 1992. The Honeybee: Amanda Rofe investigates a remarkable insect and the ways in which it is exploited for commodity manifacture and dubious human health claims. The Vegan/ Autumn 1992. The Honeyee II: Amanda Rofe continues her feature with a look at the precarious life of the queen bee and honey's 'healthy' image)

Click here for further argumentation
'internal organs - outward behaviour'; biological hierarchism.

Independent, Sunday 25. 10. 92

Fatal Ejaculation

Nick Tonkin of Vivian's, one of the biggest bee keeping concerns in Britain with 12 million bees, claims that artificially inseminating bees is a process similar to the insemination of cows. 

However, the same cannot be said of the favourse method of obtaining bee sperm: pulling off the insect's head. Decapitation sends an electric impulse to the nervous system which causes sexual arousal. The lower half of the headless bee is then squeezed to make it ejaculate. The resulting liquid is collected in a hypodermic syringe.

"Indeed the classification of animals the cognitive system we impose upon all creatures exerts considerable influence over their standing with respect to rights. Different societies categorize animals in various ways, underscoring the fact that classifications are artificially created systems not intrinsic to the animals themselves."

Granting of Rights According to Species

When rights are granted to individual animals, these animals belong to species thought to most resemble humans. In the effort to understand more fully the attribution of rights to non-humans, it is instructive to consider common perceptions of and values ascribed to those categories of animals generally deprived of all rights in our society. Insects exemplify that status, and recently, two experiences stimulated me to think about them in relation to this phenomenon. One day a spectacular black bug with gold legs and body markings appeared on my mailbox. Enraptured by its beauty, I longed to locate it in a field guide, to learn its name so that I could hold it permanently in memory. Yet I was hesitant to disturb its life, so I left it alone, unnamed. The creature's right to be there seemed more important than my own need to identify it. At about the same time I was a dinner guest in a person's home. As I sat talking to my hostess, an ant walked by us on the floor, instantly causing the woman to crush it with her foot. I managed to keep my composure, but inwardly I was shocked at the needless killing of what I perceive as a fascinating animal whose kind cultivate underground gardens, maintain other insects for food production, and live in tightly-knit societies with division of labor.

Statistically, in American culture I am nearly alone in those opinions. According to a new study by sociologist Stephen Kellert, invertebrate animals, despite playing a crucial role in the earth's ecosystem and contributing to human welfare and survival, are not only valued far less in our society than vertebrates, but are viewed by the general public with aversion, dislike, or fear. Only a tiny minority perceive these animals as possessing the capacity for affection, conscious decision-making, or planning future action. Most people disapprove of expenditures and sacrifices on behalf of protecting endangered invertebrates. Insects, in particular, are objects of hatred, and there is widespread opposition to the idea of their receiving moral consideration. Hostility may stem from surface factors like insects' role in disease transmission, fear of being stung or bitten, or from potential damage to agriculture, but there are deeper motivations. People feel alienated from creatures so different from our own species (Kellert, 1993).

Speculating on the reasons why people hate bugs, James Hillman offers insights that relate to the question of animal rights. Not only is there a huge difference in size, there is an overwhelming disparity in populations with insects far outnumbering our species. Their multiplicity is an alienating element that can profoundly threaten human assumptions about individuality and independence, representing a formidable challenge to cherished human notions about personality and individuality. Imagining insects numerically threatens the individualized fantasy of a unique and unitary human being. Their very numbers indicate the insignificance of us as individuals (Kellert, 1993, pp. 21-22). Insects' perceived monstrosity, from an anthropocentric perspective, causes antipathy. They are associated with insanity, as terms like going buggy and being sent to the bughouse express contempt. To become an insect is to become a mindless creature without the warm blood of feeling (Kellert, 1993, p. 22). Their radical autonomy from human will and control are offensive. Insects often invade human space and habitations in unexpected ways. Their mysterious nature alienates a majority of people, most of whom respond to the unknown with fear and disdain rather than wonder and fascination (Kellert, 1993, p. 23).

Empathy, missing from human-insect interactions, seems to be a necessary concomitant for the granting of rights. This is particularly true for modern society because we have lost the sense of reciprocity with nature that, for pre-industrial people, ensured a relationship with other living creatures that depended upon mutuality rather than domination. When humans are perceived as part of a circle of being in which all interact as part of a whole, rather than reigning at the top of a linear hierarchy as in Western culture, their likenesses to animals, not their differences, are emphasized. By failing to classify my gold-legged bug, some would theorize that I symbolically negated domination over it. Indeed the classification of animals the cognitive system we impose upon all creatures exerts considerable influence over their standing with respect to rights. Different societies categorize animals in various ways, underscoring the fact that classifications are artificially created systems not intrinsic to the animals themselves. (READ THE WHOLE TEXT ON LINK: SEE TOP OF EXCERPT)

Now take a look at humans reasoning about humans:

Canetti writes in "Crowds and Power"

The Entrails of Power: ' ...But even more than fear or rage, it is contempt which urges him to crush it. An insect, something so small that it scarcely counts, is crushed because one would not otherwise know what had happened to it; no human hand can form a hollow small enough for it. But, in addition to the desire to get rid of a pest and to be sure it is really disposed of, our behaviour to a gnat or a flea betrays the contempt we feel for a being which is utterly defenseless, which exists in a completely different order of size and power from us, with which we have nothing in common, into which we never transform ourselves and which we never fear except when it suddenly appears in crowds. The destruction of these tiny creatures is the only act of violence which remains unpunished even within us. Their blood does not stain our hands, for it does not remind us of our own. We never look into their glazing eyes. We do not eat them. They have never - at least not amongst us in the West - had the benefit of our growing, if not yet very effective, concern for life. In brief, they are outlaws. If I say to someone, 'I could crush you with one hand,' I am expressing the greatest possible contempt. It is as though I were saying: 'You are an insect. You mean nothing to me. I can do what I like with you and that won't mean anything to me either. You mean nothing to anyone. You can be destroyed with impunity without anyone noticing. It would make no difference to anyone. Certainly not to me.'



The Vegan Society 

Also visit:
The American Anti-Vivisection Society


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