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From 28 August 2005 Issue

On 'Painism'
By Guenady - speakeasy@wanadoo.fr

While it is always heartening to see evidence of a personal philosophical evolution, Dr Richard Ryder's philosophy of “painism,” as reflected in his article published in the Guardian of August 6, 2005 (and reprinted in Animal Writes August 14, 2005), is, in our view, too limited to be satisfying.

Painism, as developed by Dr Ryder in the referenced article, excludes from moral consideration our treatment of so-called 'inanimate' existence: rocks, water, and air, for example. What would the militants of environmental and ecological issues say about that? In particular let us note that some scientists, over recent decades, have shown evidence of waking up to a fact which many ancient philosophers (as scientists were called in ancient times) took for granted: a force or spirit which inhabits these 'inanimate' objects of our world. We know now, thanks to atomic research, that 'inanimate' is a misnomer-- in fact, all of 'creation' (for lack of a better word) is alive with the ceaseless movement of electrons within the atoms -- atomic energy. Even the 'objects' previously cited have a place in the biosphere in which we live, and in which each 'component, be it living or 'inanimate', has a place and a relation interwining it with each other 'element', no matter how separate they may seem to eyes that look at appearances only. Things and species that were once considered superfluous have over and over again demonstrated, by their disappearance, the useful functions they actually once served, their disappearances leaving far-reaching problems in their wake. We think of cities which manage to 'get rid of' rats, only to find that their sewer systems are quickly blocked by solid matter which the rats used to dispatch, keeping underground conduits free-flowing, to everyone's benefit... And we all know what happens when the rains come to a hillside from which the rocks -or trees, for that matter- have been removed, when erosion carries off the topsoil, reducing the hillside eventually to the level of the flat plains below...

Reverence for life, we would submit, is only one aspect of humanism, and insufficient alone to help us find solutions to the pressing problems of our modern civilization, problems which are having direct bearings on our survival and the survival of the whole world of which we are but one small part. Philosophy, after all, is the pursuit of knowledge about the principles which should guide our actions. Granted that happiness is our ultimate goal, we seek through philosophy the moral guidelines which will help us achieve a rational, and not an irrational, happiness.

Rational happiness is that which puts us in harmony with our environment, living and 'inanimate.' Pain, then, is one aspect of irrationality which we must oppose, and fight against, in order to achieve harmony/peace in the context in which we live, such harmony/peace being a fundamental prerequisite for our happiness (does anyone dispute this point?). (Nevertheless, let us note in passing that it is sometimes necessary to cause pain in order to achieve a good goal, as with the surgeon who cuts open a patient to remove a bullet, or the dentist who drills out the cavity in a tooth). Inherent in this philosophy-in-a-wider-context is an acceptance of our 'place' in 'creation'... As so rightly pointed out by Dr Ryder, Man is not the center of the Universe, with the moral right to impose any whim or passing fancy on what he finds around him (be it, we would specify, living or 'inanimate'). The fact that Man has tried to bend so-called inanimate matter to his will, with such disastrous results, as we all know, also makes a claim on our moral preoccupations... as on our preoccupations regarding our own chances for survival as a species.

The problem of the treatment Man metes out to other species of living creatures is one that rightly preoccupies those of us who defend animals, their resemblance to us in their capacity for pain giving them in our eyes a first-call on our efforts towards a positive influence on our fellows. Humanity is still, by and large, living as if it had never heard of Copernicus – as if the Universe DOES turn around the Earth just because humans inhabit it. Shall the light of human reason be extinguished along with our species, in order to establish the point that Man has a place in existence, but that (as Copernicus tried to show us) he is NOT the center of the Universe? (And let us all remember that there was a time in Europe when people were put to death on the rack for holding this conviction.)

Perhaps the reverence for ALL EXISTENCE which the ancients took for granted and which many (so-called) primitive people still practice, is too grand a notion for Modern Man, bent on fast (and cheap) satisfactions at the expense of future conditions. But we all have heard that 'you cannot have your cake and eat it, too.' The final bottom-line bill for all the immediate and cheap satisfactions will be presented one day, if not to our generations, then to our children's generations. And by then, the size of the Amount Due may be more than our species can ever hope to pay. But that is the price of irrationality.

So, while we applaud Dr Ryder's philosophical defense of those on whom we would inflict pain in order to meet our 'needs', and while we particularly applaud his rejection of the bankrupt notions of 'Utilitarian Ethics', we find his philosophy of 'painism' too limiting to provide the answers we seek to the full range of problems that we, as good Animal Soldiers and Humanists, must face today. For we should never lose sight of the logical whole of which our struggle is but a part. Let us always keep in mind the words of Marguerite Yourcenar, the great French thinker and writer (by the way, a vegetarian), 'The protection of animals is basically the same battle as the protection of man'.

Nevertheless, we are encouraged to hope that the former vivisector in Dr Ryder (20 years, as we understand it, of practicing vivisection, notably as Senior Clinical Psychologist at Warneford Hospital, Oxford, at Cambridge and Edinburgh Universities, at the London Zoo, and in various laboratories in the United States) and, we are assured, the former holder (at the helm of the RSPCA, he was the person ultimately responsible) of long-term substantial investments in the stock of major pharmaceutical companies, all of which practiced, and still practice for that matter, vivisection (for details, see http://www.nzavs.org.nz/mobilise/34/4.html ), and as one of those responsible for the Animal Welfare Act of 1 January 1987 in the UK as well as a subsequent similar law in New Zealand (which poses an obligation of vivisection where it had not existed before and guarantees the continuance of the practice for many generations to come), we are pleased to deduce that Dr Ryder, in his Golden Years, has been led by his reflections to a well-merited implicit rejection of these previous positions... in which case, we can all join him with the full force of our energy and determination, wholeheartedly rejecting vivisection once and for all, in all its forms, with all its (so-called) justifications, and turn our backs on previous errors and disagreements, which means a full and complete rejection of vivisection, on all points, at all times, once and for all. For non-abolitionist anti-vivisection leaders can seriously damage our health (moral and physical).
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Guenady is the single pen name used by the active members of The Friends of Guenady association ( www.stop-abus-animal.com ). The author of this particular article is a graduate, in Journalism (with the equivalent of a minor in Philosophy), of the University of California at Berkeley, and lives and teaches English in the South of France.

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