I wrote "Sharing Suffering" acutely conscious that a few weeks later I was to give a keynote address at the conference Kindred Spirits, at which most of the speakers and attendees would be vegans, animal activists, and other thoughtful people, including some biologists, suspicious of most animal lab research.301 did not plan to give this paper there, but if I was going to be able to say anything in good faith at that conference, I needed to write publicly on the hard issues in response to and with that community. Talking about conducting responsive field research or training with dogs and horses, while serious and important, would not fulfill my obligation to people or animals. I am a part of the Kindred Spirits human and non-human animal community in many of the same ways in which I have been part of the ecofeminist world, in response to whom I wrote the "Cyborg Manifesto" in 1985. I also was and am part of the experimental biological science community to whom that cyborg paper was equally addressed.
My friend and colleague Sharon Ghamari-Tabrizi read "Sharing Suffering" in manuscript and forced me to come face-to-face with, as she put it, "the hardest case for the theory of co-presence and response":
It's much easier to make use of a notion of trans-species relationality in field studies where the scientist/knower can hang out in the animal's habitat. But the harder question is when the site is wholly humanly-constructed, where the lab is a total environment. In the lab, not only is the relationship unequal and asymmetrical; it is wholly framed and justified, legitimated, and meaningful within the rationalist materials of early modern humanism. Why? Because it is conditioned on the human ability to capture, breed, manipulate, and compel animals to live, behave, die within its apparatus. How has it been justified? By human power over the animal. Justified in the past by divine right and hierarchy of domination, or by human reason's gloss on necessary human predation over other beings.
So if you were going to abandon humanism, in favor of the post-humanism, ahumanism, non-humanism of the process philosophers, of the phenomenologists, of Derrida and Whitehead, I still want to know how specifically laboratory experimental practices get done and get justified. These details, these mundane practices, are the place where the politics of successor science get worked out.
What I'm trying to say is, Donna, the hardest case of all will be struggled over in the actual details of prohibition and license and the details of practice in the procedures in the lab during experiments.
I want to know what you would say when someone buttonholes you and says: I challenge you to defend the slaughter of lab animals in biomedical experiments. No matter how carefully you guard them from extraordinary pain, in the end, they are subject to pain inflicted by you for the social goods of: knowledge-seeking in itself, or applications for human purposes. You did it. You killed the animals. Defend yourself.
What do you say then?31
I wrote her back:
Yes, all the calculations still apply; yes, I will defend animal killing for reasons and in detailed material-semiotic conditions that I judge tolerable because of a greater good calculation. And no, that is never enough. I refuse the choice of"inviolable animal rights" versus "human good is more important." Both of those proceed as if calculation solved the dilemma, and all I or we have to do is choose. I have never regarded that as enough in abortion politics either. Because we did not learn how to shape the public discourse well enough, in legal and popular battles feminists have had little choice but to use the language of rationalist choice as if that settled our prolife politics, but it does not and we know it. In Susan Harding's terms, we feminists who protect access to abortion, we who kill that way, need to learn to revoice life and death in our terms and not accept the rationalist dichotomy that rules most ethical dispute.32
Calculation also demands another series of questions, ones feminists struggling with abortion decisions know intimately too: for whom, for what, and by whom should a cost-benefit calculation be made, since more than one always entangled being is at stake and in play in all of these hard cases? When I questioned the biologist Marc Bekoff in a panel session at the Kindred Spirits conference, he stated uncategorically that his make-or-break question is, "Does the research benefit the animals?" In light of the history of the reduction of lab animals to machine tools and products for big pharma (the technoscientific pharmaceutical research-industrial complex), agribusiness, cosmetics, art performances, and much else, that question has particular force. Not asking that question seriously is, or ought to be, outside the pale of scientific practice.
The practice of holding nonhuman animals at the center of attention is necessary but not sufficient, not just because other moral and on-tological goods compete in that kind of cost-benefit frame, but more important because companion-species worldliness works otherwise. A question like Bekoff's is not a moral absolute but a needed, mortal, focusing practice in a soul-numbing, situated history. That practice does not reduce the force of the question but locates it on earth, in real places, where judgment and action are at stake. Further, individual animals, human and nonhuman, are themselves entangled assemblages of relatings knotted at many scales and times with other assemblages, organic and not. Individuated critters matter; they are mortal and fleshly knottings, not ultimate units of being. Kinds matter; they are also mortal and fleshly knottings, not typological units of being. Individuals and kinds at whatever scale of time and space are not autopoietic wholes; they are sticky dynamic openings and closures in finite, mortal, world-making, ontological play.
Ways of living and dying matter: Which historically situated practices of multispecies living and dying should flourish? There is no outside from which to answer that mandatory question; we must give the best answers we come to know how to articulate, and take action, without the god trick of self-certainty. Companion-species worlds are turtles all the way down. Far from reducing everything to a soup of post- (or pre-) modern complexity in which anything ends up permitted, companion-species approaches must actually engage in cosmopolitics, articulating bodies to some bodies and not others, nourishing some worlds and not others, and bearing the mortal consequences. Respect is respecere—looking back, holding in regard, understanding that meeting the look of the other is a condition of having face oneself. All of this is what I am calling "sharing suffering." It is not a game but more like what Charis Thompson calls ontological choreography.33
I act; I do not hide my calculations that motivate the action. I am not thereby quit of my debts, and it's more than just debts. I am not quit of response-ability, which demands calculations but is not finished when the best cost-benefit analysis of the day is done and not finished when the best animal welfare regulations are followed to the letter. Calculations—reasons—are obligatory and radically insufficient for companion-species worldliness. The space opened up by words like forgive and wicked remains, although I grant that overripe religious tones cling to those words like a bad smell, and so we need other words too. We have reasons but not sufficient reasons. To refuse to engage the practices for getting good reasons (in this case, for doing particular experimental lab science) is not just stupid but also criminal. Neither "the greater human good trumps animal pain" camp nor the "sentient animals are always ends in themselves and so cannot be used that way" camp sees that the claim to have Sufficient Reasons is a dangerous fantasy rooted in the dualisms and misplaced con-cretenesses of religious and secular humanism.
Obviously, trying to figure out who falls below the radar of sentience and so is killable while we build retirement homes for apes is also an embarrassing caricature of what must be done. We damn well do have the obligation to make those lab apes' lives as full as we can (raise taxes to cover the cost!) and to take them out of the situations into which we have inexcusably placed them. Improved comparative biobehavioral sciences, in and out of labs, as well as affective political and ethical reflection and action, tell us that no conditions are good enough to continue permitting many kinds of experiments and practices of captivity for many animals, not only apes. Note, I think we now know this, at least in serious part, because of research. But again, those calculations—necessary, obligatory, and grounding action out loud and in public—are not sufficient.
Now, how to address that response-ability (which is always experienced in the company of significant others, in this case, the animals)? As you say, Sharon, the issue lies not in Principles and Ethical Universals but in practices and imaginative politics of the sort that rearticulates the relations of minds and bodies, in this case critters and their lab people and scientific apparatuses. For example, what about instituting changes in daily lab schedules so that even rats or mice get to learn how to do new things that make their lives more interesting. (A trainer to enhance the lives of subjects is a little thing but a consequential one.) After all, in the world of biotechnology, rodents bear the brunt of increased invasive use worldwide.34 Besides the provision of good human child care attached to labs, I'd love to see many jobs open up for good animal trainers and environmental enrichment practitioners. I imagine the lab people having to pass a positive-methods training proficiency test and lab-oriented bio-behavioral ecology test for the species they work with in order to keep their jobs or obtain approval for their research. Experimenters would have to pass such tests for the same reasons that bosses and workers these days have to learn that sexual harassment is real (even if the regulatory apparatus often seems to be a caricature of what feminists intended); that is, unless retrained, people, like other animals, keep seeing and doing what they already know how to see and do, and that's not good enough.
Of course, imagining that reforms will settle the matter is a failure of affective and effective thinking and a denial of responsibility. New openings will appear because of changes in practices, and the open is about response. I think this actually happens all the time with good experimenters and their critters. For most of this chapter, I have concentrated on instrumental, unequal, scientific relations among human and nonhuman vertebrates with sizable brains that people identify as being like their own in critical ways. However, the vast majority of animals are not like that; nonmimetic caring and significant otherness are my lures for trying to think and feel more adequately; and multispecies flourishing requires a robust nonanthropomorphic sensibility that is accountable to irreducible differences.
In a doctoral exam committee with my colleague, marine invertebrate zoologist Vicki Pearse, I learned how she looks for ways to make her cup corals in the lab more comfortable by figuring out which wave lengths and periods of light they enjoy. Getting good data matters to her, and so do happy animals, that is, actual animal well-being in the lab.35 Inspired by Pearse, I asked some of my biologist friends who work with invertebrates to tell me stories about their practices of care that are central to their labor as scientists. I wrote:
Do you have an example from your own practice or those close to you of how the well being of the animals, always important for good data, of course, but not only for that, matters in the daily life of the lab? I want to argue that such care is not instead of experiments that might also involve killing and/or pain, but is intrinsic to the complex felt responsibility (and mundane non-anthropomorphic kinship) many researchers have for their animals. How do you make your animals happy in the lab (and vice versa)? How do good zoologists learn to see when animals are not flourishing? The interesting stories are in the details more than the grand principles!
Michael Hadfield, professor of zoology at the University of Hawaii and director of the Kewalo Marine Laboratory (the Pacific Biosciences Research Center), responded:
What your questions draw to mind for me lies more in my work with the Hawaiian tree snails than our small beasts at the marine lab. I have worked very hard to provide laboratory environments for these endangered snails that approach a field setting as closely as possible. To that end, we buy expensive "environmental chambers," wherein we can set up day lengths and temperature-humidity regimes that approach those of the snails' field habitats as much as possible. We also try to provide a leafy world and the mold they scrape from leaves in abundance. Most importantly, we provide all of this in a predator-free world, to "save" them from the aliens [highly destructive introduced species such as predatory snails and rats] that are eating them up in the mountains. I also find the snails to be beautiful and their babies to be "cute," but that's not very scientific, is it? For many reasons—not least being their legally protected status—we work very hard to keep from injuring or killing any of the snails in the lab. I truly want to see these species persist in the world, and what we do in the lab is the only way I know to make that happen, at present. We are now caring for more than 1,500 tree snails in the lab, at great expense and personal effort, with the goal of staving off even more extinctions than have already occurred. A major part of this is keeping the snails as healthy and "natural" as possible ("natural," because they must someday go back to—and survive in—the field). If that's "keeping them happy," then it's our driving force.
How do we see (assuming we are "good zoologists") that our animals are not flourishing? Ah, well, usually it's when they die. Snails and worms don't emit cries of anguish, nor typically show signs of illness for very long before they die. For the tree snails, I watch the demographic trends in each terrarium very carefully (we census them at least bi-weekly) to note whether there are births, if death rates are greater than birth rates, etc. At the first hint of something wrong, I force the lab crew to immediately stop and review every step in the maintenance-culture regime. We often have to check an entire environmental chamber (10+ different terraria, with several species) to see if something is wrong with the entire environment. And we take immediate steps to remedy situations, even when we don't fully understand them. E.g., I recently concluded that my lab group was over-filling the terraria with leafy branches from ohi'a trees at each cleaning/changing session. They had concluded that, since the snails'
food is the mold growing on the leaves, the more leaves the better. I explained that the snails needed more air flow through the terraria, and that their activities were strongly regulated by light, little of which reached the centers of the leaf-crammed terraria. So, we've fixed that and are now looking for the next problem and "remedy."36
Scott Gilbert, whose work I have drawn from constantly over many years, also gave me a story rooted in his experimental investigation, with his Swarthmore undergrad students, of the embryonic origin of the turtle plastron from neural crest cells:
I usually don't allow my students to kill any animals. That's always been one of my jobs. I don't particularly mind dissecting turtle embryos off their yolks and consigning them to 4 percent paraformaldehyde. I'd probably tolerate a day of that more than I'd tolerate dispatching one adult or hatchling turtle. I don't know of any story as provocative as the one you mentioned concerning the man who had his arm bitten by tsetse flies. The founder of this department, Joseph Leidy, was a remarkable person, and one legend is that he walked from Philadelphia to Swarthmore because he had forgotten to ask a student to feed the frogs and lizards.37
I like the language of "politics" as used by Despret, Latour, and Stengers, which I see related to polis and polite: good manners (politesse), response to and with. Hadfield, Gilbert, and Pearse are "polite"; theirs is the biological cosmopolitical practice of articulating bodies to other bodies with care so that significant others might flourish. Their work is immersed in the daily minutiae of life and death for the animals (and the students and postdocs) they care for and learn with and from. I am suspicious of assimilating this labor to the category of "bioethics," but I am not ready to give over the word ethics to the enemy either. It's my old refusal to give up what folks say I can't have, such as cyborg. I don't duck the decision to kill animals for the best reasons that persuade me or duck what it takes to formulate those best reasons. I am just saying that does not end the question; it opens it up. Maybe that's all nonhumanism means. But in that little "all" lies permanent refusal of innocence and self-satisfaction with one's reasons and the invitation to speculate, imagine, feel, build something better. This is the sf worlding that has always lured me. It is a real worlding.
Indeed, Whitehead in Stengers's hands talks of abstractions as lures when our previous abstractions break down.38 Loving our abstractions seems to me really important; understanding that they break down even as we lovingly craft them is part of response-ability. Abstractions, which require our best calculations, mathematics, reasons, are built in order to be able to break down so that richer and more responsive invention, speculation, and proposing—worlding—can go on. A Whiteheadian proposition, says Stengers, is a risk, an opening to what is not yet. A proposition is also an opening to become with those with whom we are not yet. Put that into the dilemma ensuing from killing experimental organisms or meat animals, and the mandatory "ethical" or "political" call is to reimagine, to speculate again, to remain open, because we are (reasonably, if we built good abstractions; badly, if we were lazy, unskillful, or dishonest) killing someone, not just something.
We are face-to-face, in the company of significant others, companion species to one another. That is not romantic or idealist but mundane and consequential in the little things that make lives. Instead of being finished when we say this experimental science is good, including the kind that kills animals when necessary and according to the highest standards we collectively know how to bring into play, our debt is just opening up to speculative and so possible material, affective, practical reworlding in the concrete and detailed situation of here, in this tradition of research, not everywhere all the time. This "here" might be quite big, even global, if abstractions are really well built and full of grappling hooks for connections. Maybe sf worlding—speculative fiction and speculative fact—is the language I need instead of forgiveness and wickedness. Maybe even Baba Joseph and Cixous would think so, if probably not the ticks and tsetse flies. Perhaps best of all, in the lab and in the field, Hawaiian tree snails might actually have a chance to live naturally because an experimental invertebrate zoologist cared in nonanthropomorphic, nonmimetic, painstaking detail.
This page intentionally left blank
Was this article helpful?