Sunday, April 19, 2015

At least on Earth Day ask forgiveness and feel sorry?

My neighbor has always made fun of me, whenever he finds me sweeping away the cobwebs around my home.  "You don't have to do it if you spray the chemicals I use" he reminds me and jokes that I am one of those who doesn't want to kill even spiders.

Which is true.  I don't want to kill spiders or ants or anything unless they directly interfere with my life.  I don't want to see ants in my kitchen, but I don't care if they are having a party on the sidewalk outside my home.  I don't like to see spiders or flies or gnats inside my home.  When I do see them inside, well, I do kill them.  But I feel bad for them.  I feel guilty when I crush those tiny critters. Sometimes I even apologize to them, as if that makes any difference to the ant!

I am no tree-hugging nutcase to whom environmentalism is a religion, and I routinely make fun of the Earth Day rhetoric, But, I care for, and worry about, the natural environment--the living and inanimate--because of a deep conviction that the cosmos is not merely about us humans and our own comfortable material existence.  My sincere belief that there is nothing for me after the remaining twenty-four years of my life does not mean that I am going to trash this place while I am here.


This being the Earth Day time, my various news feeds feature writings on many aspects of our existence on this glorious pale blue dot.  In one, the author reflects on a part of his life in which he was an animal experimenter:
First, I had to learn how to shock a pigeon. A graduate student demonstrated how one person held the pigeon upside down while the other plucked out the feathers in back of its legs, cut two lengths of stiff stainless steel wire from a spool and pushed them through the skin and under the pelvic bones. The wires were then soldered to a harness placed on the pigeon’s back. The harness contained a plug that would be connected to a source of electric shock during experiments. No anesthetic or sedative was used.
One day, while programming an experiment, I accidentally touched the electrodes and got a jolting shock that numbed my entire arm. I was amazed that, according to my professor, the shock level was the correct one to use for pigeons. I told myself that pigeons must not feel pain as much as I did
We tell ourselves all kinds of things in order to keep doing those things over and over.  
I was told that everyone had to take a turn killing the pigeons after the experiments were finished. A graduate student showed me how to dump a couple of dozen birds into a clear plastic garbage bag, then pour a splash of chloroform on them and tie the bag shut. I remember the first and only time I did the killing
I would imagine that except a minority, most of us would get messed up beyond repair if we conducted experiments on animals.  Especially if we did that more than once.  I would think we would forever be haunted by the images and the sounds.  
As I look back on this nearly 50 years later, I am astonished that the daily grind of depriving, shocking and killing these animals did not move me to leave my job. My rationalization is that I was a student and young worker in institutions of higher learning, programmed to receive the wisdom of academia. I was studying how the science that supposedly advanced our civilization was done. Speaking of his infamous experiments in which human subjects followed orders thinking they were giving extremely painful shocks to other humans, the Yale University psychologist Stanley Milgram said, “Ordinary people, simply doing their jobs, and without any particular hostility on their part, can become agents in a terrible destructive process.” I think that describes me pretty well.
Even when I kill ants and spiders that come into my home, I make sure I kill them as fast as I can.  I don't want those critters to suffer.  Yet, experiments on animals is nothing but watching them suffer.  If from those experiments we derive some life-extending benefits to humans, are our additional years worth all that suffering we put the animals to?
I sat with a small notepad writing the alien’s speech as my thoughts drifted back to my days in punishment research. The words flowed in almost final form as I drew on my own rationalizations for my acts of animal torture. Tears welled up in my eyes as I wrote: “We now recognize that you, too, are a sacred life-form. We deeply regret what we have done. We ask forgiveness. We are sorry.
I don't ever get trapped into the Earth Day rhetoric of "save the planet."  As George Carlin joked, the planet knows how to take care of itself.  The planet will easily shake us humans off--a volcanic eruption alone can knock us out.  Instead, it is the every day life (and death) issues, starting from how we treat the ants and the spiders and the pigeons and the pigs, that Earth Day should be about.  And for those, we need to think of every single day as Earth Day.  But, that's not how we humans will do it, and neither will we ask forgiveness and feel sorry :(


Ramesh said...

Agree completely. Needless killing of an animal (or for that matter a man) is a sin. What can you say about people who kill animals for sport. Your graphic description of laboratory treatment of animals will shock every reader.

The group closest to your point of view is the Jain community in India.

The area I have the biggest ethical dilemma is the animal testing of medical treatments. On the one hand I agree that all life is sacred and we as humans have little right in inflicting torture willingly on another animal. On the other hand the pain and suffering that new drugs and treatments can avoid is undeniable. They have to be tested somewhere. Until they can all be done on a computer, animal testing is inevitable. I simply can't resolve that dilemma in my mind.

Sriram Khé said...

But, what if those pigeons were subject to that torture in order to develop the drugs that we now use?
Is animal testing really inevitable? Why is a rat's or a pigeon's life not worth a damn thing that we are willing to torture it, when we would not dare to do that to a human?

Tough questions, I admit. But, we conveniently push those aside. More like denial that we engage in.

Shachi said...

Grew up around Jains in India so this point of view is rooted deep within me.

As I write this, we have a pigeon nest on our porch with two eggs (the pest control person wanted us to remove it and we refused), and a hummingbird nest on our rose bush in our backyard. I think it must have eggs, so I got a hummingbird feeder and food and set it up near the bush last weekend :). This is helping set a example for our kids too.

Loved this post!

Sriram Khé said...

Hey Shachi, yes, those are awesome examples for your kids ... hummingbirds are simply fantastic to watch ...
Yes, as you and Ramesh note, the Jains--especially the sincere followers--are big time into thinking about the feelings of the other life forms, and even of the non-living things. Humanity could learn a lot from them.