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Knowledge and Therapy

One of the most appalling forms of exploitation of animals — if not the most appalling of all, for the tortures it implies — is undoubtedly the use of them as subjects of systematic experimentation, be it for the sake of mere scientific curiosity, be it with the definite purpose of discovering new and better methods of fighting disease in human beings, and, occasionally, in animals themselves.

The animals are either vivisected, that is to say that their organs are experimented upon while they are still alive — sometimes, but not always, under an anesthetic — or else they are injected with the germs of different diseases — turned into artificial patients — for the sole purpose of giving doctors and students an easy opportunity of studying those diseases and of discovering improvements upon the known methods of curing them. The two main reasons invoked to justify the atrocities committed in both cases — the “right” of man to increase his knowledge of nature, and his “right” to defend his life at any cost, — cannot be said to concern, each one, a separate class of experiments, for in research work, everything is connected. From the results of a series of experiments carried on today for the sake of pure curiosity, it may happen that light will some day be thrown unexpectedly upon some disquieting question of practical therapy. All arts apply some sort of information or other to their particular purpose, which is practical. And as the art of healing is no exception to that rule, it would be unscientific to justify the inoculation of animals for the immediate purpose of finding out new serums and other remedies, without justifying at the same time any experiments on the same, undertaken in order to acquire a more accurate knowledge of the mechanism of life. The two stand or fall together.


The two seem to be, in the eyes of those who support them, more difficult to condemn than most of the other forms of exploitation of animals of which we have spoken up till now, except, perhaps, than the custom of killing animals for food. Meat is supposed to contain “indispensable” elements of nutrition, and the horrors of the slaughterhouse industry come, therefore, under the same category as those involved in scientific research. “Helping man — the master species — to live” is always, to many people, a “noble” work, as least a “necessary” one, whether it be carried on by simply feeding him according to his needs (or tastes), or by “acquiring whatever such knowledge” as might be immediately utilized for the cure of his diseases, or stored up as useful information for the benefit of future research workers, “benefactors of humanity.” People do not care, in one case or in the other, what sufferings the so-called “noble” work might imply for creatures other than man. The “master species” should, in their eyes, come first.

After man’s right “to live,” the right the most broadly recognized and the most strongly defended is that “to think,” which is inseparable from the right to know, for it is only by getting to “know” the secrets of nature better and better that man can grow to think more and more accurately, to build a philosophy of life nearer and nearer to unshakable realities — to acquire the understanding of “truth.” Is it not so? Our scientists, greedy of information if not of actual knowledge, believe it, at least. And as thought and knowledge are the supreme functions of man — his justification, that is to say — man is, according to many, far more entitled to inflict pain upon creatures in order to enable himself to know more than he would be, for instance, in order to look more attractive, or to amuse himself, or even to get his hard work done for him cheaply and well. After all, there are plenty of amusements besides hunting, circuses and bull fights (or cock fights); there is plenty of stuff to wear, apart from animals’ skins, even in cold countries; and days are coming when furs, and even leather, will possibly be replaceable by plastic materials, and when machines will be made to do all the hard work that there is to be done in the world. But how to know about the different brain centers of a dog without experimenting upon it, even if that implies hours of incredible torture to the dog? The cruelties for the sake of dress, sport or transport, seem to many people less unavoidable than those perpetrated in the name of those two “higher” causes: the “saving of man’s life,” and the advancement of man’s “knowledge” — the “progress of science.”


In the increasing literature of all the noble societies formed in recent years for the defence of animals against the claims of fanatical “saviours of human life” and champions of “knowledge” at any cost— the different anti-vivisection and anti-vaccination leagues-much has been written to try to prove that experimentation on animals is useless, from the very point of view of the experimenter and of the scientist in general, i.e. that it does not yield the positive results that man mostly expects from it, and therefore that it boils down, most of the time if not always, to wanton cruelty. Much has been written to prove that no substantial scientific information was gathered through the practice of vivisection, which could not have equally well, if not better, been gathered through some humane and far more simple channel. Much has been said to point out the utter futility, the childishness — the silliness — of some of the most atrocious experiments performed in our times on dogs and other animals. Much has been done to counteract the results of an obnoxious widespread “health” propaganda among the public, and to point out, both to the possible patient and to their guardians (in the case of children) the tragic aftereffects that vaccination and “preventive” inoculation do bring about, more often than many of us imagine.

All this is well and good as a means of practically impressing the populace. The average man, though not sufficiently depraved to encourage “useless” atrocities, is quite selfish enough to excuse any cruelty to dumb beasts as long as he believes it to be, in the long run, profitable to his own species. And as, in modem times, the average and less-than-average man’s views seem to be the only ones to count, he is the first power to tackle. The anti-vivisection and anti-vaccination leagues are moved by the noblest of intentions when they publish the opinions of eminent scientists concerning experimentation on animals either as gross, inaccurate and primitive, and therefore useless, or even as misleading in its results, and ultimately pernicious from a scientific point of view. Their aim is to move the governments of all so-called civilized countries to make the crimes in the name of knowledge and therapy illegal and severely punishable as soon as possible. And they naturally insist the most upon the one argument most likely to appeal to the vulgar, hard-hearted, utterly selfish average man who, after his own little person and his immediate kith and kin, values the “human race” above everything, incapable as he is of feeling his ties with all living Nature beyond it. The argument may be the cleverest one. It may be also a strong and entirely honest


one, founded on undeniable facts. It may be indeed that all the revolting atrocities of Pavlov and others, which dishonor our times, and all the horrors committed on animals in the past, from Claude Bernard to Galen, and from Galen probably to the dawn of history, under the pretext of gathering information about the mechanism of nature, or of finding out new means of healing patients; it may be, we say, that all those horrors rolled in one are but a grim piece of silliness, a monstrous farce, of no more consequence, for the real “advancement of science,” than the play of those devilish children who torture beetles, worms or ants, just for fun. It may well be so. We are neither in a position to assert that it is so, nor to deny it, not being ourselves versed in any of the particular sciences or techniques in the name of which the crimes we have referred to are ordinarily perpetrated. What we have to say is of a different order altogether.

We do not know whether vivisection has or not ever yielded scientific information of any value, which could not have been obtained otherwise. We do not know whether vaccination and inoculation have or not any real efficacy as a preventive measure against certain diseases, be it smallpox, typhoid, diphtheria or any others. We do not know whether certain serums, taken from animals, have or not a curative effect in most cases. We do not know whether certain human patients can or not expect to save their lives by taking liver extracts or meat extracts, or by drinking animals’ blood, or by using still more gruesome means of therapy recommended by village healers. We do not know, and we do not care to know. To us, whatever be their results from a scientific point of view, all those practices are damnable in themselves, on the sole account of the tortures they imply — tortures inflicted upon sentient creatures of any species whatsoever.

And even if they were of the greatest immediate service to the human race; even if they actually had led, or were rightly expected to lead, to the greatest discoveries concerning both our knowledge of Nature and the means to fight disease and to prolong our lives; even if they could reasonably be expected to give man the power of calling the dead to live again, we would, nevertheless, characterize them as damnable, and consider with indignant horror whomsoever it be who indulges in them, or encourage or tolerates them by his or her cowardly silence, instead of raising against them, at every possible opportunity, a stern voice of protest. As for ourselves, we declare in absolute earnestness that if, for consenting that any atrocity be committed upon a pig, a rat, a toad, or a still meaner


creature, we could be given at once the stupendous power to call back to life not the ordinary dead (as worthless in general as the ordinary, insignificant living) but any One we might choose among the great expounders of integral truth and lovers of all life, who flourished in the remote or recent past; and if we could be given the unthinkable joy of seeing the whole present world handed over to Him that he, visible in the flesh for the second time, might rule over it forever, still we would refuse.

For no reign of integral truth can stand upon a compromise with the great Law of love. And any of the great Ones whom we would be tempted to call back would blame us for making such a compromise, which He would look upon as the most shocking denial of all that he stood for and as an insult to Himself.

In other words, even if it were possible to promote, as by magic, the establishment of the very reign of perfection on earth, it would be criminal in our eyes to do so at the cost of the deliberate torture of a single innocent creature.1 And if this — the highest of all ends — could by no means justify any atrocity whatsoever (were any, perchance, indispensable, in order to bring it about, which of course seems absurd), then what can one say of the ordinary ends alleged in defence of the revolting exploitation of animals “for scientific purposes”: the mere increase of man’s information concerning the phenomena of life; the mere saving of human life — in admitting that those two ends are effectively served?

* * *

Those who try to justify the exploitation of animals in its most horrible forms — vivisection, and the inoculation of healthy animals with noxious germs in order to create cheap artificial patients for the study of disease —are just as inconsistent as any of the many people who draw too definite a line between man and beast. Perhaps more inconsistent than most of them. For it is questionable whether human skins, thin as they are, and without hairs, could ever serve the purpose for which so many thousands of animals are stripped of their warm glossy furs. And though human flesh would perhaps be as tasty as beef or mutton, when well cooked, a man can always prefer to prey upon other species rather than on his own, when he can do soy with practically as much

1 Such human beings as are actual (or even potential) enemies of Life — or of a socio-political order rooted in truth (i.e., in harmony with the Laws of Life) — are, of course, anything but innocent creatures, in our eyes.


advantage. But here, the position is a little different. Here, the result would probably be far more encouraging, far more enlightening, scientifically speaking, if the subject of experimentation only were a man instead of a dog or a guinea pig. The animal cannot speak. It cannot give the experimenter firsthand information about what it feels while he acts upon its organs, laid bare upon the vivisection table, or while he tries upon it new treatments to combat the effects of the diseases he has himself afflicted it with. It cannot help the investigation in any way save by provoking unconscious variations in certain indexes which are to be read and interpreted. But a man! A man who could describe his sensations in picturesque language! A man, moreover, who would be convinced that, upon the accurate description he would give of his sufferings to his well-intentioned torturers, depends the comfort and healing of millions of patients in the future; a man who would be told, his arms and legs once bound upon the vivisection table, that he is going to fulfill a great purpose by groaning with pain for a couple of hours for the sake of Science with a capital S, and who would be given beforehand a decoration on behalf of the government! What marvelous information would not such a creature yield, provided he be, of course, as true a humanitarian and as enthusiastic an admirer of “scientific progress” as many profess to be now that there is no danger of their being vivisected! If a scientist thinks he can gather some useful hints from the naked brains of a dog — as he tells us he does — then surely he would be able to gather far more (and not mere hints, but facts, perhaps of immense psychological value, properly stated by the subject himself) from the brains of a man, exposed alive, if necessary without an anesthetic, according to the same technique.

If scientific information, exalted under the lofty name of “knowledge,” be really all that the scientist wants, and if it be precious enough, in his eyes, to be gathered at any cost, then indeed the vivisector should be made to experiment upon human beings alone — creatures who can speak. And if saving human life be really such a great task as many seem to believe when they excuse any atrocity committed in view of that end, then it is not rats and guinea pigs that one should inoculate in order to study the evolution of al sorts of diseases and the effects of all sorts of new remedies, but men and women. One will notices that “such things are done, or are said to be done, sometimes, in hospitals.” We reply that if so, they are rightly done, and should be done also in systematic laboratories containing artificial patients — man-made


patients — belonging to the human species; we say that such things, and worse ones should be done on human victims in the chambers in which vivisection is practiced; such things should be done everywhere on reasonable creatures able to speak, and preferably on people thoroughly devoted to the “progress of science” (for the others would perhaps refuse to speak); and if there be not enough real lovers of science ready to give their bodies, then — as a second best — experiments should be carried out on downright criminals, on traitors, on actual or potential enemies of higher mankind, or else they should be stopped altogether. As a result, many a scientific magazine might cease to be printed. But the world would go around just the same, without anybody being the worse for it.

People are in the habit of vehemently admiring those doctors (for there are some) honest enough to experiment upon themselves. They call them “martyrs of science.” They are, anyhow, self-appointed martyrs, a fact which makes their position somewhat different from that of the religious ones. They are workers, doing their job — not fighters defending their Gods or their principles, attacked by other men. They are scientific workers, more intelligent, more rational than others — better workers. For by inoculating their own bodies, which they know (because they can feel them directly) and by trying on them the drugs they wish to test, they have the opportunity of obtaining far more useful and interesting results then any of their colleagues would by using guinea pigs for the same purpose. They are, in our eyes, the ideal workers, satisfying at the same time the necessities of research (if necessities they be) and the scruples of true morality — taking as a subject of experimentation the most interesting creature possible: a human being; and choosing, among all the voluntary human victims that could perhaps be found, both the most handy and the one of which the “voluntary” quality is the most unquestionable: themselves.

The question of experimentation upon living creatures can be summed up as follow: either scientific information, whenever available, should be acquired at any cost, and human life, whenever there seems to be a chance of saving it, should be saved at any cost; or else there are things that are too degrading to do for any purpose whatsoever — be it to increase human knowledge, be it to save human life, be it to save the life of all the living; nay, be it even to establish (were that imaginable by such horrible means) paradise on earth for all times to come. In the first case, i.e., if one believes that scientific research should be carried on at any cost, then carry


it on upon human beings alone, preferable, but not all necessarily voluntary victims; men condemned to be vivisected or inoculated, as there are now men condemned to the gallows or to hard labor for life; prisoners of war1 —why not? — and men picked up at random among the most stupid and the most useless for any other service, but men exclusively (and women, of course) — not animals. Even if they be not always able to describe their excruciating pains in properly accurate, technical language, even if they cannot or will not speak at all, there is every probability that the information they would yield to the vivisector and to the doctor would be far more varied, far more thought-provoking, than that which the poor animals are able to give at the best of times. And why be contented, in any case, with a little increase in scientific knowledge, when greater progress would be possible — when perhaps unexpected horizons would be opened — just by substituting as laboratory subjects two-legged mammals for four-legged ones? If Science (with a capital S) is to be served at any cost, then we cannot be blamed for arguing thus. On the contrary, there is no other way one could argue.

But if scientific progress be not the end of ends; and if human life, however precious, be not worth saving at the cost of those eternal values, the consciousness of which alone makes man a possibly superior animal, a species apart from the others; if it be indeed better not to know and not to live than to know and live, and fight disease and death at the cost of the most appalling agony inflicted upon helpless creatures (i.e., at the cost of incredible collective selfishness and cowardice) then painful or possibly injurious experimentation of whatever nature, and in particular vivisection, should never be practiced, save upon voluntary human beings, and preferably, whenever it is possible, upon the scientific investigator himself.

The common — and most natural — answer to this, we all know, is that, if such were the strict laws of the land, and if they were properly enforced, all scientific experimentation of any painful character would soon come to an end for want of “subjects.” For even among such people who support the practice of vivisection the most noisily, putting forth all sorts of fiery phrases about the “requirements of science” and the “interest of humanity,” there do;

1 In olden times, prisoners of war were sacrificed occasionally to their victors’ Gods. We surely do not look upon “Science” as our God. But some people apparently do. So, if such be the case, indeed “— why not”?


not appear to be any who, in the case of the absolute prohibition of the use of animals for the purpose, would be ready to lie down in place of the dog or the guinea pig and to be themselves vivisected, with or without anesthetic — as it be “necessary” — for the pleasure of feeling useful to humanity and to science (more useful indeed, it seems, than most of them would ever be in ordinary life, if one is to believe that all those “scientific” atrocities are not but a revolting farce from beginning to end.) There are not many, for sure. And we are inclined to be of the opinion that there are none — save perhaps some of those conscientious doctors who already experiment upon themselves rather than on other patients, natural or artificial, two-legged or four-legged. And even among those, we dare think, many would allow themselves to be inoculated with diseases, but refuse to be vivisected. The number of voluntary human “subjects” would anyhow be insufficient for scientific research on the scale it is practiced today.

What, then, it to be done? We answer boldly: “Go without scientific research altogether, in all the branches in which the experts in the matter say that it cannot be carried on save at the cost of infliction of pain and death upon creatures that are not and cannot be voluntary victims. Go without it; and go without the advantages it might or might not bring (be they intellectual or practical advantages) rather then encourage cruelty, rather then patronize cowardice — for every man capable of inflicting pain upon an innocent, helpless creature is a disgusting coward; and every man who would shudder at the idea of doing so himself, but who approves of others doing so for advantages which he values and accepts, is still a greater coward. Go without it, and become true men, conscious of their sacred ties with all living Nature, rather than remain just the cleverest and the cruelest of all beasts!”

Our opponents — those who defend the practice of vivisection and the study of diseases on laboratory animals — would, most of them, recoil, if asked to sanction the uses of murderers, traitors and sadists as subjects of experimentation, although, as we have said, in some cases at least, science would be likely to gain by such an innovation. They would rather go without such a gain. The “subject,” be, he the most repulsive degenerate, condemned for having raped and killed his own mother, would still be “a man” in their prejudiced eyes. They could not possibly vivisect him! While the innocent, loving dog, which, unaware of his ghastly fate, licks the hands that will soon be “working” upon his bare intestines or bare live brains, is “nothing but an animal.” He can be used for any


purpose that suits man. He was given to man to be used. The vivisector would reject the advantage of scientific information, even the tempting promises of finding out new means of “saving human life,” if those advantages could be obtained, and those promises fulfilled only by inflicting upon the worst of human beings the agonies of a beast on the vivisection table. His lust for discovery would suddenly vanish, if men had to be sacrificed to it. His morality stops at man. Ours does not. That is all the difference.

* * *

All morality implies the idea of some sort of community: generally tribe or country, race or humanity as a whole. Our morality is based, as our religion, upon the conception of the unity of all life (within astounding diversity and God-ordained hierarchy) and upon the birthright of every healthy creature to enjoy, to the uttermost of its capacity, throughout its full span of years, the sight of daylight, which is beautiful. We also believe that the greater the claims of a species — as of a single individual — the greater also and the more exacting are its duties towards the rest of the living. Noblesse oblige. The real superman, if any, is the man in whom boundless kindness to all creatures goes side by side with the utmost intelligence and power. The actual master races surely cannot allow themselves to think and feel as it would seem natural to man of a mean type. And the real master species, if any, is the one that puts its consistent nobility above any advantage; the one that would not, even to save its existence, even to broaden its intellectual horizons, renounce the privilege of remaining at peace with the whole of the living universe; the one that would rather lose than break the great Law of Love — the inborn law of its best representatives; — that would rather die out than degenerate.

All the crimes that are excused in the name of the so-called “higher motives” of those who performed them and, in particular, all forms of the shameful, age-long exploitation of animals by man — from the brutalities of the cart driver to the learned horrors of vivisection — rest ultimately upon an ugly, barbaric conception of man’s superiority. They all presuppose the idea that man’s privileged position gives him “rights” over the other species of creation, without giving him also, and to a much greater extent, duties towards them. And they often, if not always, cover an exaggerated consciousness of human suffering and a bloated estimation of the value of any human life, be it of the most idiotic, the meanest or the dullest. There is, among the public at large, an


undue appreciation of quantity rather than of quality; and undue popularity is given to scientists of the type of Louis Pasteur, whose discoveries are said to have saved a great number of human lives (never mind at what revolting cost) while those other scientists, whose discoveries have opened new perspectives in the history of our planet or in our vision of starry space, are seldom mentioned outside specialized circles.

The average man, whose ties and pleasure and daily concerns are, whatever he may say in his conceit, very little different from those of most other gregarious beasts, would stoop to any atrocity in order to prolong his own life, or that of his kith and kin, for a few wretched years or even months. Above all, he would do anything, accept anything, tolerate anything, in order to save the life of his young ones. So nothing is more natural than the bigoted reverence in which he holds both the physicians and the scientists directly or indirectly concerned with the preparation of vaccines and serums, and the advertisers of preventive and curative medicines of all sorts. It is based, like the most irrational of his religious beliefs, on the fear of death. One cannot blame the little man. It seems beyond his power to understand better, as well as to feel and act more nobly than he does. The shocking point is merely that he is given such a say in the making of modern institutions —that on his support depend the governments of the world. For he naturally sends to the ruling assemblies individuals whose outlook is not broader, and heart no nobler — no more universally loving — than his own, whatever be their intellectual qualifications; individuals who are as sadly unaware as himself of the duties of a truly superior species, and as incapable as he of conceiving the need of better laws protecting the rights of all the living.

In our eyes the quality of human life is far more important than its length. By quality we mean that which makes a person actually superior to others: inborn balance and consistency, generosity and detachment; and inherent consciousness of eternal values; a joyous sense of the beauty to be found in everyday concerns, allied to a sense of personal responsibility; the urge to live in beauty and in truth. Such a thing does not come from our surroundings; but our surroundings can help us to develop it, when it happens to be in us. And we are far, far more grateful to the scholars whose discoveries in astronomy and higher physics, in philology and archaeology, etc., have enabled a few of the better men to live more richly, more intensely, more harmoniously, by opening to them new and more astounding sources of inspiration, than we


ever will be to those so-called “benefactors of mankind” whose main work has resulted merely in keeping alive thousands of human beings neither good or bad, nor even physically beautiful, who could as well have died and made place for others at the best of times, as the rest of the living do. We are far more grateful to Sir James Jeans and to Max Planck, and also to the first translators of Homer and Plato, than to the inventor of penicillin; far more grateful to Heinrich Schliemann, Sir Flinders Petrie, Sir Arthur Evans and Sir John Marshall, than to all the prolongers of human life that this planet has produced.

For the world is far more benefited by the joyous thrill of a single intelligent and noble adolescent who feels his vision of it suddenly illuminated by a peep into its majestic mysteries, or by the contact of one of its great Souls embodied in the past, than it is by the prolonged presence upon its surface of millions of mammals, both two-legged and four-legged, made immune from certain diseases at the cost of atrocious experiments upon individuals of their own or of other species.

Teach people, for goodness’ sake, to live more beautifully — when they still happen to be able to live at all, — instead of concentrating so much intelligence and wasting so much time and money in order to find out, no matter at what cost, means to keep them from dying! Feed animals and make them happy-help them too to live in beauty and in truth to the utmost capacity of their species — instead of telling us that the hundreds of victims, tortured in various ways in the laboratories for the “progress of science,” suffer so that cures may be discovered for the diseased creatures of their own kind, as well as for human beings!

Far too much is made, nowadays, of human life as a bare physical fact. Far too much is done “to fight disease” and to prolong life by any means; not enough to make life worth living, both for human beings and for animals; not enough, especially, to impress upon man that his life has no greater value than that of any gregarious beast as long as he remains contented to use his human intelligence in the pursuit of nothing more than the mere welfare of his own kind — as social apes would do, if they enjoyed the means of which men dispose. Not enough is done to cultivate among men in general, and especially among the better men, the characteristics of a truly “superior” species: a stoic fearlessness before their own sufferings and death: a chivalrous attitude towards the unorganized or less organized dumb creatures of the earth; not enough is done to stir in them the sense of shame, and make them feel that, even if


it be a fact that, at the cost of experimentation on animals, they can hope one day to reject entirely the burden of disease and death, still the only course for them, as creatures of a higher kind, is to cast aside the unholy bargain; to refuse the opportunity forever — lest they be cowards.

There is no other answer to all the arguments — “humanitarian” or “scientific” — put forward in support of vivisection in particular, and of systematic experimentation on animals in general. No other answer but this: such experimentation is downright cowardly. Any infliction of pain on a helpless creature, for whatever purpose, foreign to that creature’s own welfare, — or, in the case of a human being, foreign to his justified punishment as an offender against Life, or to very definite State necessities, (provide the State itself be a genuine national State, founded upon the true laws of Life, and thereby worth defending) — is cowardly. It would be far better for all “scientific progress” to stop rather than for it to be bought at the cost of such a degradation of man. And if disease can only be fought at the same cost, then it is better for it not to be fought at all. And if human life, in many cases, can only be saved by such means, it is better — far better — for men to die. Their death would at least be an honorable one.