Primate Freedom to propose killing … primates?

Rick Bogle, co-founder of the Primate Freedom Project, which fights to ban primate research (and, sadly, the life-saving research that goes with it), has decided to join the ranks of extremists such as Jerry Vlasak in condoning the murder of researchers. Sorry Rick, researchers are primates too!!

On the Primate Freedom blog, Mr. Bogle has this to say:

Rick Bogle

Trauma surgeon Jerry Vlasik [sic] has suggested, and I think he’s right, that if just a few vivisectors were murdered that millions of animals might be spared much suffering. Many vivisectors would simply quit. I don’t see how this isn’t likely to be true. [emphasis added]

You can read more about Jerry Vlasak from our previous posting about him. Note Bogle’s agreement with Vlasak’s stance. Bogle continues:

Extending this line of thought, if one were to start killing vivisectors in order to terrorize other vivisectors into stopping their diabolical investigations, should the murders be secret? sanitary? neat? Maybe not. It makes a certain sort of dark sense that one very sensational murder could have a greater impact than many hidden murders. There is an equation of sorts suggested by this. If it’s true that a series of murders might slow the attack on animals in the labs, wouldn’t lives be saved if the smallest number of murders possible were employed? What might be done to make one murder more noteworthy or a more efficient tool than another? [emphasis added]

At least he’s more or less admitting such extremism is terrorism. Nonetheless re-read the bolded part. Despite Bogle suggesting a few public, grizzly murders instead of a lot of “secret” and “neat” ones, it is still clear that more grizzly murders would be more “effective” (more researchers quitting, thus less animals used) than fewer grizzly murders. From that basis then we must assume that the lives being saved from the “smallest number of murders” is referring to the lives of researchers. Let me thus paraphrase:

Wouldn’t researchers be saved if we murdered only a small number of them?

Some of you will already be screaming “NO, if you want to save researchers then don’t murder any of them!” For those of you not screaming yet let me show you an analogous scenario of a murderer caught by the police:

Murderer:    But Sir, I saved lives as well
Policeman:  And how did you do that?
Murderer:    Well I was going to murder 5 people, but I decided to just kill just 3 people, thus saving 2 people’s lives!!
Policeman:  You can’t claim you saved someone because you didn’t kill them

Well at least the policeman realises the flaw in the argument, even if Rick Bogle doesn’t.

In conclusion all I can say is that Rick Bogle can join the ranks of absolute nutter, alongside Vlasak – and dangerous nutters at that.



9 responses to “Primate Freedom to propose killing … primates?

  1. Animals are neither innocent nor guilty. They are amoral. Animal rights activists, instead, as you correctly point out, wrongly support violence by arguing that the animals are “innocent victims” that must be defended in exactly the same as if a human was in their place.

    As for marginal scenarios — I do not agree that our moral concern for an individual must be based exclusively on intrinsic properties of that being.

    Do you?

    Consider our treatment of human remains. They obviously have no interest whatsoever, yet deserve moral consideration above that of other inanimate objects because other members of society (such as their relatives) care for how we treat them.

    Nearly all of the patients you mention have a family (of moral agents) that will suffer tremendously if harm came to them. I don’t think it is too much of a stretch to say that humankind, as a whole, cares about each human life.

    You seem to be arguing that in life-boat scenarios you would not see any reason to pick the human over the mouse. If so, we disagree. I am not sure why their different interest in life, which you already acknowledged, is morally irrelevant to you.

  2. I haven’t declared anyone an innocent being, just talked about the ethical consequences of different interpretations on the matter. I should point out that your notion of innocence is inapplicable to human children too young to understand and play by moral rules, so you should have trouble with the notion of an ‘innocent baby.’ The same is true of people with mental handicaps that preclude them from understanding moral rules. Animal advocates ask us to see non-human animals in a similar way – that is, as moral patients who are not moral agents but demand our concern in light of the fact that they can suffer and enjoy their lives.

    I meant to address the issues underlying your question by discussing the morality of different types of violence, but if you’re having trouble extrapolating the implications of what I said to your example, I can explicitly lay them out for you.

    The issue is more than just which being has a stronger interest in life – that would answer some more straightforward questions, like whose life we should save if both were in a dangerous situation. Here the question isn’t just which being has a stronger interest in life – it’s whether it’s just to kill beings with weaker interests in life to save beings with stronger interests in life. Your conclusions on the matter should follow from your views on the types of violence I discussed in my previous post. If your view is a strictly consequentialist one, in which we are permitted to do whatever brings about a favorable outcome, then accepting the valve is permissible. But if your view isn’t strictly consequentialist, and you believe it isn’t automatically permissible to use others as means to your ends, even when doing so would bring about a favorable outcome, then accepting the valve is not permissible.

    To avoid circular reasoning on the question of what role species membership should play in our calculations, you might mentally substitute a human being with an atypical interest in life for the pig – say an elderly man or woman who can’t enjoy life as fully as an adult or child, or who has less time to live ahead of them. That might play into our calculations on who to save between them and someone with more time to enjoy ahead of them, were both in a dangerous situation. But most people, including myself, favor non-consequentialist perspectives on the issue of killing them in order to distribute useful parts of their bodies to people with stronger interests in life. Without an explanation of why the species of the being with the weaker interest in life is important, I don’t see a good reason to treat non-human animals differently.

  3. You make some good points, but I think you are too quick as to who you declare are “innocent” beings. To me, such word can only be applied to a being capable of playing by the rules of a moral society. Innocence can only be applied to full moral agents that respect the golden rule. Animals cannot do that.

    You did not answer my question.

    You stated the interest in life being different for a pig and a human. Would you accept life-saving, heart-valve transplant as morally permissible? If not why not? Or will you declare this violence against the “innocent” as a way to declare it morally wrong despite the differences?

  4. Tom posted about the invalidity of the notion that one could save lives by killing fewer people, asserting that an analogous scenario revealed a ‘flaw in the argument.’ That is a claim about consistency.

    You’re describing a crude construction of species equality. Typical animal activists, including many who justify direct action against researchers, assert that all animals have the right to equal consideration of interests – not to equal actual treatment. In this framework, a self-aware being with plans for its future, like most Jews and other humans, could be said to have a stronger interest in living than a being which has happy and painful experiences only on a moment-to-moment basis, like most chickens; and thus while we treat the interests of all the animals with equal consideration, we see that it is the human animal we should have more concern for, because he or she has a stronger interest in life.

    I don’t know why the premise that we owe equal moral consideration to all living beings is relevant – that would put us all in a very difficult position when it came to the consumption of plants or sterilization of germs. It isn’t that animals are alive, but that they have experiences, including suffering and pleasure, that is the basis for moral argument on their behalf.

    As for the best way to resolve disputes in a democratic society, nothing in Bogle or Vlasak’s arguments – or for that matter, the arguments of anti-abortion extremists – conflicts with common ideas on the matter. Typical people believe proportional violence can be justifiably used to end moral atrocities. That’s evident in the lack of retrospective guilt over the use of violence to end things like slavery in America and the Holocaust in Europe. It is the notion of whose lives count, morally, that is inconsistent with common thinking, and that is where the conversation should be.

    To categorically address your examples, everything I’ve said about animal activists – that if their moral theories were true, then their violence would be legitimate – holds true of anti-abortion activists, which should be obvious. If abortion is indeed the murder of a child, then killing a small number of people complicit in abortions to prevent a large number of abortion deaths is plainly moral. Neither of those conclusions is inconsistent with common ideas on how we should resolve moral disputes in a democratic society; it’s their premises about what lives are morally valuable that conflict with common moral ideas. It’s because typical fetuses are not like children in important respects that violence on their behalf is illegitimate, and in a conversation with someone who believed in anti-abortion violence, I would expand this claim. You should be doing the same concerning the moral differences between human and non-human animals in your conversations with advocates of violence on behalf of the latter. Hopefully you can see how your KKK example isn’t really appropriate, in that typical KKK members don’t believe black people pose direct and imminent threats to the lives of others in the the same way that anti-abortion activists believe abortion doctors do and animal activists believe researchers do.

    • “…we see that it is the human animal we should have more concern for, because he or she has a stronger interest in life.”

      We agree on this point then.

      Now, suppose you suffer from a leaky heart valve that will cause your death within a year if left untreated. Would it be morally justifiable to use the heart of a pig to make a replacement valve and save your life? The above recognition that human and non-human animals have different interest in life seems to suggest you should. If so, how is that different from using monkeys to eradicate polio from the face of the earth exactly?

      Moreover, you seem ready to accept violence against a few humans with the goal of saving many human lives. If so, how is that you fail to accept violence against non-human animals (which how animal rights activists see in animal research) with the same goal?

      • You’re conflating two different types of violence on behalf of others. The first is the one justified by animal activists, anti-abortion activists and most other people, and that’s violence used against the perpetrators of violence, in order to stop them from harming innocent moral persons – though as we’ve seen, people have different ideas about who exactly is a moral person. The second type of violence, which you’re now appealing to to justify animal research, is a very different one: violence used against innocent third parties, in order to prevent some harm to others. Here the recipients of violence have done nothing to cause the harm the violence is alleged to relieve. The types of violence I’ve discussed and referred to all fall under the first category, and it’s not at all obvious that accepting that type of violence implies accepting the second kind.

        There’s a common thought experiment in ethics used to reveal the moral complexity of this second type of violence you’re appealing to, in which you are asked to imagine that you are an organ transplant surgeon treating five people who are dying of the failures of different organs. Suppose a healthy traveler passes through your hospital and no one would suspect you in his disappearance. Are you permitted to kill him and distribute his organs amongst the five? This is an example of that second type of violence, in which a small number of people is sacrificed for the benefit of a larger number of others, but in which the people who are sacrificed did nothing to cause the harm the others faced; and people are typically unconvinced that doing so is permissible. Animal advocates would say that the animal subjects of medical research are like the hypothetical traveler – they are the recipients of violence meant to alleviate unrelated harms faced by others. So the debate converges on the same fundamental question, which is why we should treat members of other species who enjoy their lives and suffer when harmed in ways that we wouldn’t treat members of our own species.

        (You should also realize that even accepting that kind of violence wouldn’t immediately justify all or even most medical research on animals, in which the number of animals sacrificed is often not trivial compared to the number of people the research benefits, though there are obvious examples in which the reverse is true.)

  5. Many popular ethical frameworks justify murder. Many people believe ending some number of lives is permissible when necessary to save a larger number of lives; the only difference between this ubiquitous ethical framework and that of Vlasak and Bogle is what species’ lives count. The salient issue is why the lives of human beings and not other primates should count in this way – a question you ignore completely. Unless your entire point is one about the semantics of the concepts of ‘murder’ and ‘saving lives,’ I don’t see how you’ve contributed anything to the discussion.

    • As Tom indicated nobody claims they are inconsistent. If you truly believe there should be no difference between our moral concern for animals and humans, then you must conclude that a chicken in a farm is no different than a Jew in a concentration camp.

      PeTA has arrived at that conclusion. So have Bogle and Vlasak. There is no surprise then that they justify violent action, as they see no difference whatsoever between the two situations.

      Most people, however, would disagree with the premise that we owe equal moral consideration to all living beings and, therefore, with their conclusion.

      Furthermore, at stake here is the issue of what is the best way to resolve moral disputes in a democratic society. If you accept animal activists have the right to use violence based on their moral theories, so you must also accept anti-abortion activists killing doctors, and KKK members killing black people. Is this what you have in mind?

  6. “wouldn’t lives be saved if the smallest number of murders possible were employed?” is self contradictory (assuming lives being saved is a good thing) – I simply pointed this out.

    Their moral framework is used to justify murder – most people would find this disgusting. I pointed this out. I’m not criticising them for being morally inconsistent, I’m criticising the disgusting conclusions – and yes, this (my) conclusion is one which is based on my own framework – fortunately most people would agree with me.