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From  Issue
6 January 2002
Scientific Literacy, Biotechnology, and Animal Rights

by Dr. Steve Best ~ sbest1@elp.rr.com


There seems to be an inverse relationship between the development of science and technology and citizens’ knowledge and awareness about it. I’m talking, certainly, about basic factual knowledge concerning physics, biology, and computers, but also, more importantly, the philosophical ability to understand and anticipate how these matters shape and affect our lives.

That the average American is ill-informed about even the most elementary facts of the world is hilariously -- make that tragically -- evident in Jay Leno’s “Jaywalking” routine that shows people don’t know how many sides there are to a pentagon, but can instantly tell you not only that there are five Spice Girls, but also their names.

Maybe if animal rights activists weren’t busy being so involved in the lives we are always told we need to get, we might watch enough VH-1 and stay apace with Star Magazine such that we could be competitive players at “Trivial Pursuit” and really awe the crowd at cocktail parties.

Clearly we have other things on our minds. Yet it’s important that those concerned about animal rights rigorously educate themselves about the dramatic revolutions taking place in science and technology, specifically, the changes involving genetic engineering, cloning, stem cell research, and xenotransplantation. For these are the new avenues of animal exploitation and we can’t criticize, resist, and stop what we don’t understand.

The new sciences and technologies could bring the human world blessings as well as curses, but under the control of capitalist industries, the profit imperative, elitist attitudes, and illusory beliefs that the world can be controlled with precision and predictable consequences, the biotech revolution is most likely to alter the planet for the worse.

However these ambiguous developments play out for human beings, it is clear that beyond the billions of animals already killed in laboratories and slaughterhouses, millions more are being sacrificed on the new alters of “progress.” As it seems we are making progress in campaigns against fur, vivisection, entertainment industries, and meat-consumption, animal exploiters are always finding new ways to confine, maim, torture, and kill animals.

Thus, animal bodies are genetically designed and reconstructed in sundry ways. They are engineered to yield more meat and milk, as they grow monstrously large. Their milk secretions are manipulated to produce drugs and medicines. Their organs are altered with human DNA to lessen the risk of transplant rejection. And they are cloned in mass batches for all of these reasons. Of the 5% of animals that survive cloning attempts, most suffer a severe malady or deformity and die prematurely. Of courses, all of these experiments involve new methods of intensive confinement.

The human race is at a terribly difficult crossroads as it assumes hitherto unimaginable powers it is not equipped to exercise. The genetic sciences have created dramatic mutations in the natural world, allowing the redesign of nature -- food, agriculture, animals, and human beings - and efforts to commandeer evolution itself.

We thus live in a revolutionary era that demands new maps, theories, politics, and modes of education. A democratic biopolitics and scientific education would involve the emergence of new perspectives, understandings, sensibilities, values, and paradigms that put in question the assumptions, methods, values, and interpretations of modern sciences, calling for a reconstruction of science in humane, democratic, ecological, and non-speciesist ways.

It is imperative that we do not leave the decisions to the scientists, anymore than we would to the theologians (or corporate-hired bioethicists for that matter), for their judgment and objectivity is less than perfect. To represent all the nonhuman species whose interests are discounted, and to help advance ecological perspectives, it is urgent that animal rights activists become major voices and players in the new debates. Yet so far there is little opposition to, discussion of, and, perhaps, understanding of biotech domination.

The new millennium thus demands a new activist movement defined against the biotech manipulation of the natural world, and animal rights activists must play a key role. The first step is that we all become well informed on the latest developments in biotechnology, and gain the new literacy tools we will need in the convulsive struggles to come.

Recommended Books and Websites:

Fox, Michael W. (1999) Beyond Evolution: The Genetically Altered Future of Plants, Animals, the Earth, and Humans.

Kolata, Gina (1998) Clone. The Road to Dolly and the Path Ahead.

Rifkin, Jeremy (1998) The Biotech Century: Harnessing the Gene and Remaking the World.

http://www.purefood.org (Organic Consumers Association)
http://organicconsumers.org/listserv.htm (Biodemocracy News)
http://www.genewatch.org (Gene Watch)
http://www.greenpeace.org/~geneng/ (Greenpeace)
http://www.gene-watch.org/ (Council For Responsible Genetics)
http://www.bio-integrity.org/ (Alliance For Bio-Integrity)
http://www.safe-food.org/welcome.html (Mothers For Natural Law)
http://www.ucsusa.org/agriculture/index.html (Union of Concerned Scientists)
http://www.rafi.org/ (Erosion, Technology, and Concentration)
http://www.sierraclub.org/biotech/ (Sierra Club)
http://www.time.com/time/daily/special/genetics/index.html (Time Magazine Special Issue on Genetics)
http://fullcoverage.yahoo.com/fc/Science/Biotechnology_and_Genetics/ (Yahoo Links)

Steve Best is Associate Professor of Philosophy and Humanities at the University of Texas, El Paso. He is Vice-President of the Vegetarian Society of El Paso, a long time vegan and animal rights activist, and author of numerous books and articles in the areas of social theory, postmodernism, and cultural studies. Some of his writings are posted at http://utminers.utep.edu/best/
His latest book (co-authored with Douglas Kellner) is The Postmodern Adventure: Science, Technology, and Cultural Studies (Guilford Press, New York)

Go on to My Heart's Desire for 2002
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