Thursday, June 26, 2008
Fairly recently, I commented upon the vacuous practice of seeking moral prestige by the wearing of colored rubber bands around one's wrists. Summing up the mindless second-handedness of the fad and its resulting aspect of intimidation, I said:
In an important sense, it makes no difference what ribbon someone chooses to wear when the culture is saturated enough with altruism that wearing a ribbon is commonly regarded as a sign of good moral character. The message to anyone who might beg to differ with the idea that he exists to serve others, is this: "You will have to fight everyone. Give up or be alone."In higher education, the institutional equivalent of the wristband is the campus pledge, and it illustrates my point perfectly.
According to The Chronicle of Higher Education, animal rights activists are slowly getting small colleges that do not participate in animal research that might cause "severe" pain to laboratory animals to sign non-binding pledges ... not to do animal research that causes "severe" pain.
Amherst College, Fairfield University, Francis Marion University, and 10 other institutions, none of which are known for conducting animal experiments, recently signed a pledge not to subject any research animals to "severe" unrelieved pain or distress. The pledge was written by the Humane Society of the United States, which has sent it to a total of 301 presidents at similar institutions.This is curious. How can a non-binding pledge not to do something you're already not doing have any moral import? This seems about as upstanding and heroic as -- oh, I don't know -- wearing a rubber band around one's wrist.
"I said to myself, How could I not sign this and have a conscience?" says John M. Carfora, director of the office of sponsored research at Amherst. He said he hoped his signature might influence researchers elsewhere to reflect anew on the necessity of unrelieved pain in their laboratory animals.
Officials of Francis Marion University, a public institution in South Carolina, view the pledge as "a humane gesture" that is "reasonable and symbolic," says Elizabeth I. Cooper, vice president for public and community affairs. Faculty members there have done some surgery on anesthetized animals, she adds.
However, she says, the pledge, which offers some examples of procedures likely to cause severe pain, is not "a legal document" that would prevent the university from one day expanding the scope of its research. [bold added]
But remember: The second-hander is a pack animal, and lives for the approval of others, and every pack is led by its more dominant members. Functionaries of college bureaucracies are no exception. Recall what I said about fighting alone? Conformity is the name of the game here, and past acts of domestic terrorism by animal "rights" activists provide an unspoken, threatening subtext to the friendly-seeming invitations to conform:
A "different" approach, eh? Oh, yeah. I forgot about fear of slander and legal harassment.... When you have those, who needs a bunch of stupid kids waving signs around or breaking things?
Signing the pledge was easy, said officials on some of those campuses, because no such research went on there. And that is just what the advocacy group is counting on: a wave of no-fuss pledge signings that will put pressure on larger universities, which do conduct extensive animal research, to follow suit....
The document attempts to strike a collegial approach -- for example, the society offers to discuss with signatory institutions any instances of noncompliance it learns about and not to publicize them. (!) That's a different approach from the picketing and vandalism that more-extreme activist groups have carried on at the University of California at Los Angeles and other campuses in a bid to end all animal testing. [bold added]
When you don't have a persuasive argument, you can either accept the fact that others will not agree with you and move on -- or you can try to force them to act the way you want. The animal "rights" movement proved long ago that it has chosen the second tack, and this is more of the same.
In answer to John "How could I not sign this and have a conscience?" Carfora of Amherst, I would say that having a conscience is a matter of honesty and independent judgement, not public perception, and that following one in the face of irrational opposition is not always easy or pleasant. Unless, that is, one realizes the importance of what is at stake: Namely, the freedom of the academy to follow observation and logic wherever it may lead. But when you don't have a conscience, selling out that which it is your job to foster is, as the article says, "easy".
Mr. Carfora is so proud of his little pledge, and yet, if he really knows what it means, he isn't letting on. And that is exactly what the Humane Society wants.