Muddlers Beware: The Case for Philosophical Extremism

Muddlers Beware: The Case for Philosophical Extremism

Empty Cages: Facing the Challenge of Animal Rights


By: Robert Speth, PhD  Date: 01/7/2012 Category: | Animal Rights Extremism |

Review Summary

The initial critical review of the book encompassed 12 pages. For purposes of presentation and discussion, I have summarized it into a more traditional review. In addition however, I present a critical review of specific aspects of Regan's philosophical principle, focusing primarily around Regan's challenge to the use of animals in biomedical research in Chapter 10. Comments in parentheses are restatements or corrections of the author's comments by the reviewer. Those in square brackets are those of the author to provide the proper context.

Regan's argues that larger cages (i.e., welfare without freedom) is not enough. The exploitation (i.e., domestication) of animals to serve any human needs and wants is forbidden. There can be no caged, or otherwise constrained animals.

Regan gives us a travelog of his journey from meat eater to ethical vegan, noting along the way his philosophic rationale for so-doing. He then attempts to tie animal rights with human rights - unsuccessfully so in this reviewer's opinion.

A major part of the book vilifies commercial and biomedical animal enterprises, most of these being retreaded arguments of animal rights advocates (ARAs) starting with an HBO shockumentary on the fate of a cat in a restaurant in China. However, the biased and inaccurate portrayal of animal research (Chapter 10) is so egregious as to question Regan's entire treatise. It appears that bio-logic is excluded from Regan's philosophical realm.

While there is little novelty in the book, there are two noteworthy developments. Regan assumes a defensive posture, perceiving that the animal rights movement has lost its luster. This decline arises from the stereotyped image of "unbalanced bunny huggers," "we hate humans," "extremists," and "terrorists" that now haunts the movement because these are the ARAs who attract most of the media attention. He begs "My hope is that people will not let the self-righteousness, tastelessness, or violence of a small handful of ARA's prevent them from becoming ARAs themselves." (page 6)

Regan also sees spokesmen for commercial animal interests and biomedical research and the support of the American Veterinary Medical Association making inroads into the previously unchallenged moral high ground of animal rights. Even the fur industry is able to penetrate this self-righteousness. His response is to insinuate that they are liars and hypocrites whose money has corrupted the "paid pipers" (page 14) of the media.

The other novelty is Regan's portrayal of a mystical, almost spiritual animas between humans and animals. Starting with a giftedness in children, the "DaVincians" who possess "animal consciousness," and an analogy with a Bible story "Damascans," he brings us to modern day "Muddlers." Muddlers are people who exist along the continuum ranging from clueless about animal rights to those (like himself) who have attained full enlightenment. For those who enjoy such writing, I recommend that of J.K. Rowling. Wizards, witches and muggles are much more entertaining than DaVincians, Damascans and Muddlers, and there is no pretense of factuality in the Harry Potter books.

Ultimately the book, like its many predecessors advocating animal rightism, fails because it is unable to effectively and truthfully argue a compelling case for animal rights. Animals are not things, but they are not human. As long as the animal rights movement continues to have an either/or mentality which precludes the assignment of an intermediate place for animals in the hierarchy of the world, their efforts to establish the principle of rights for animals will continue to fail.


Critical Review

The Foreword is foreboding because the writer acknowledges jeopardizing the safety of his children to adhere to his animal rights convictions by refusing to buy the safest available car (it had leather seats). This effectively torpedoes Regan's considerable efforts to align human and animal rights as a conjoint effort in this book. However, in view of Regan's oft-stated opposition to animal research "Even if it were true that humans reap great benefits and bear no harms from the practice [vivisection], that would not justify violating the rights of the animals whose misfortune it is to find themselves in a cage in some laboratory somewhere." (page 177), even Regan contradicts his argument that animal rights and human rights go hand in hand.


Four Abolitions

In "Normal Rockwell Americans" Regan restates his four abolitions against the use of animals by humans. Not for food, not for fiber, not for entertainment, and not for scientific research (page 10). Interestingly Regan (a pet owner) never mentions companionship among his abolitions even though this fits within the domain of entertainment. Of note, the words pet, pet-owner, and companion animal are not in the Index. Also missing from Regan's (the ethical vegan) treatise is the mention of the killing of animals by food and fiber crop farmers. Interestingly, Steven Davis, a researcher at Oregon State University has presented data indicating that vegetarianism causes more animal deaths than meat eating. So, if Regan wishes to minimize the adverse impact he is having on animal populations (aside from becoming a fruitarian and wearing a fig leaf) he should become an ethical meat-eater, like in the picture of the Thanksgiving Day dinner shown in Norman Rockwell's famous Saturday Evening Post cover.

While Regan claims to repudiate animal rights extremism he lauds the ALF and continues to rely upon PETA-supplied information and quotes from other militants in the movement. He even borrows from Peter Singer's philosophy, equating speciesism to sexism, attempting to paint animal rights extremists as being no different from opponents of rape. Stepping outside of Regan's self-imposed limits on logical thought, this reviewer sees extremist animal rightism, upon which Regan relies, as being the same as accusing all men of rape simply because some men commit rape.


A Futile Attempt

Knowing that one of the major criticisms of the animal rights movement is that it compromises human rights, Regan makes a futile attempt to establish himself as a human rights advocate in Part II: Moral Rights: What They Are and Why They Matter, Chapter 3: Human Rights. His poorly chosen tactic is to bemoan the Tuskegee Syphilis Study. Perhaps due to his efforts to abstract the story within one page, he omits critical components. This study was initiated to treat these men with arsphenamine to cure their syphilis (Bad Blood: The Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment, James H. Jones, The Free Press, New York; New and Expanded Edition, 1993). It was only after the stock market crash of 1929, which depleted the assets of the organization funding the study, that the treatment was stopped. In addition, penicillin, shown to be an effective antibiotic in Florey's Nobel Prize-winning studies of mice infected with streptococcus in 1940 and effective against syphilis in 1943 was withheld from the men because of an ill-defined danger known as the Herxheimer reaction (The Pharmacological Basis of Therapeutics, Louis Goodman & Alfred Gilman, Editors, 2nd Ed. 1955, page 1237). This

Clearly Regan's animal rights principle: 'Humans have no right to the knowledge gained from research on animals' infringes upon human rights. The gospel according to Regan, which would have prevented Florey's studies of penicillin in mice, might have forever denied the victims of the Tuskegee Syphilis study the very drug that he condemns the US Government of withholding from these men for 30 years. Regan's exclusion of such bio-logic from his philosophical treatise is its downfall.

This example reveals another striking omission in this book: the lack of comment on the morality of using drugs developed through 'immoral' animal research. Undaunted by such concerns, Regan progresses insidiously towards his goal of equating the plight of The Tuskegee Syphilis Study victims of with that of animals.

Regan uses Darwinian evolution, which conceptually (if not practically) supports his equivocation of humans with other animals. Having invoked Darwin however, Regan realizes that he has begun to slide down the slippery slope that disappears into a taxonomical ooze that rivals Joel Chandler Harris' tar baby. Regan's solution is shockingly simplistic. It is in essence a 'see no evil, hear no evil, do no evil' approach. Despite the fact that he considers a nervous system to be the critical attribute that makes an animal "a subject-of-a-life" he draws the line in the neighborhood of fish. He simply ignores the fact that reptiles, mollusks, insects and a host of other less than cuddly species are sentient and should, under his philosophical principle, be entitled to the same protections he asserts for cats, dogs and chickens. Regan the philosopher becomes Regan the tactician, omitting mention of the flaw that invalidates, or at the very least, ruins the palatability of his philosophy.

Regan sinks even lower, resurrecting one of the most squalid principles that the animal rights philosophy has ever proffered: being human is not morally relevant because differences in race and gender are the same as differences in species (more parroting of Peter Singer). Once again, Regan does not allow bio-logic to interfere with his efforts to dehumanize us down to the level of fish.


The Attack On Biomedical Research

In Part IV: The Metamorphoses, Regan attacks animal agriculture, hunting, trapping, fishing , the use of animals for entertainment, and the use of animals in biomedical research. Refutation of all of Regan's erroneous arguments against the uses of animals for these purposes requires far more pages than are available in this forum, so I will focus only upon the invalidity of Regan's challenge to biomedical research using animals.

Regan attempts to negate the value of animal testing as a means of preventing toxic substances from causing adverse effects in humans and animals. That scores of animals in toxicity tests can reveal toxicity leading to the protection of hundreds of thousands of humans and other animals from such ill effects cannot logically be challenged. The fact that in vitro tests might have a better predictive rate than in vivo tests (as claimed by Regan's references), does not preclude the likelihood that the conduct of both the in vitro and in vivo tests would be an even better predictor of toxicity than either venue alone.

Regan cites a listing of animal research prepared by another ARA on page 171. Not surprisingly, it omits positive mentions of research to determine the mechanisms of disease, to develop animal models of diseases, to develop and study novel therapeutic treatments for disease, and to study emerging diseases. Regan is long on his depictions of the horrors of the fate of animals in laboratories as well as in agricultural and entertainment settings, but he ignores the far worse plights of the wild cousins of these animals. Once again Regan takes an 'out-of-sight, out-of-mind' approach to arguments that refute his animal rights philosophy and show its disharmony with animal welfare.

In the section entitled "The (Some But Not All) Animal Welfare Act," Regan infers that the government was hypocritical in not including rats mice and birds in the Act. If indeed Regan wishes to unhypocritically argue based on the term animal, then he should be arguing for the inclusion of the entire animal kingdom in the Animal Welfare Act.

Regan's inference that variations in Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee reviews between committees indicates inadequate animal care (page 174) is ludicrous. Each IACUC has its own personality and different committees differ on what they consider to be adequate safeguards. Would Regan similarly challenge Christian beliefs based on the different practices of Christian religions?

With regard to the benefits of animal research, Regan superficially accepts the validity of animal research as having provided many cures for disease as a prelude to attacking it. First, he trots out his moral principle that we have no right to be obtaining that knowledge because the animals that provide this knowledge do not receive any benefit from the knowledge. Then, in the section "Overestimation of Benefits" on page 175, Regan repeats an infamous lie of the animal rights mantra: "the vast majority of the most important health advances have resulted from improvements in living conditions (in sanitation for example) and changes in personal hygiene and lifestyle, none of which have anything to do with animal experimentation." Recognition of the need for sanitation and hygiene did not occur until Louis Pasteur proved the germ theory of disease, showing how infectious diseases are transmitted from one animal to another. Until that time many still argued that disease producing microorganisms arose from spontaneous generation. This knowledge of transmissibility of disease, derived from animal research, is what led to improved sanitation! Had Regan's proscription against animal research been in place in Pasteur's day we might still think that disease-causing germs arise spontaneously and still might not have a clue about the importance of sanitation.

It is noteworthy that according to Rene Vallery-Radot (The Life of Pasteur, Doubleday, Page & Co., Garden City, NY, 1927, p. 334) British anti-vivisectionists wrote torrents of hate mail to Pasteur: " – letters full of threats, insults and maledictions, devoting him to eternal torments for having multiplied his crimes on the hens, guinea pigs, dogs and sheep of the laboratory." John Crellin (Antibiosis in the nineteenth century, in: The History of Antibiotics, John Parascandola, Ed., American Institute of the History of Pharmacy, Madison, WI, 1980, pp. 5-13) describes it as, "... anti-vivisectionist attacks upon Louis Pasteur and his rabies vaccine became almost a monomania in Britain. Using Regan's poorly chosen bridge game analogy from this book, with respect to Pasteur, bio-logic trumped philosophical extremism.

In the section Underestimation of Harms, Regan delves deeper into dishonesty by reincarnating another animal rightist misrepresentation, 'that development of new drugs through animal research causes human deaths.' As already noted, the discovery of penicillin's antibiotic efficacy (which Regan trumpets as the drug that saved the Tuskegee Syphilis Study victims in Chapter Three) arose from an experiment using just eight mice. I challenge Regan to provide documentation of "...the hundreds of millions of deaths and the uncounted illnesses and disabilities that are attributable to reliance on the 'animal model' in research."

Using clever wordsmithing Regan makes it appear that every adverse drug reaction in humans is attributable to the failure of animal research to prevent toxic drugs from being administered to humans. This misrepresentation of animal research borders upon sociopathy because of the potential adverse health effects that could arise if such statements led to the abolition of animal testing of drugs. What Regan does not tell you is that a substantial proportion of the adverse effects of prescription drugs arise from medication errors. He also refrains from mentioning that many other adverse effects of prescription drugs arise from interaction with other drugs or herbal medications taken concurrently by patients. Such potential interactions are not tested for under current FDA requirements for demonstrating drug safety but are monitored as part of Phase IV testing of new drugs in human patients. Indeed the bio-logical inference of Regan's complaint that prescription drugs cause too much human toxicity is that more animal testing should be done to examine for potentially adverse interactions with other drugs that patients might reasonably be expected to be taking concurrently with the new drug!

Regan also fails to convey to his readers how many potentially toxic drugs never reach the human population because animal testing reveals them to be toxic. In what might be the most celebrated example of the marketing of a drug without adequate animal testing, thalidomide caused thousands of cases of phocomelia – a disease in which limb development is grossly impaired – in children born to mothers taking this drug for morning sickness during pregnancy. After the drug was taken off the market, it was subsequently tested for teratogenicity – the ability to cause birth defects – in pregnant animals and was found to cause phocomelia in their offspring. Had thalidomide been tested on pregnant animals prior to its marketing to humans, this disaster would not have occurred!

Near the beginning of this part of the book, Regan attempts to denigrate the use of leather. One of his strategies is to attack Indian leather because of the deplorable conditions of cattle in India. Once again he shoots himself in the foot. As sacred animals, cattle are for all practical purposes 'liberated' in all but two Indian states. There are estimated to be 200 million cattle in India. It is little wonder that cattle struggle to survive under conditions in which there are no owners responsible for their care and that communities attempt to rid themselves of these animals when their debilitation presents a nuisance. So here we have a pretty good laboratory demonstration of the implementation of the principles espoused by Regan (as well as by PETA, whose operatives documented these deplorable conditions). And, it shows the dismal outcome for the animals upon whom liberty has been inflicted. Rights? Yes! Welfare? No!


Critical Review Epilogue

Readers of this review may question whether it is unnecessarily harsh toward Regan's philosophy and goals. The intention of this review was to evaluate and critique the philosophical principles proposed by and argued for by Dr. Regan in support of the animal rights movement. However, I discovered that the most of the evidence in support of his philosophy was either missing, inaccurate, derived erroneously or was grossly deficient in objective evaluation. It then became incumbent for me to report that the 'logic' of Regan's 'philosophy' is nothing of the sort. Logic cannot be based on falsehoods, ignorance and one-sided arguments. Regan's continued defiance of the bio-logic is what causes his treatise to sink to the subterranean realm occupied by consorts such as the Flat Earth Society, the creation science movement, and the ban dihydrogen monoxide (also known as water) movement.

Masson's Foreword speaks of animals being happiest when they do what they have evolved to do. Humans evolved in an ecosystem in which we, like every other species on this planet, exploit other species. But Regan tells us humans can't be what we evolved to be. Worse yet, if his principles were established, we would be prohibited from pursuing the very activities needed to sustain human life on this planet. I argue that a 'moral principle' that dooms humanity to extinction is neither moral nor ethical.



Robert Speth, Ph.D. Board Member of NAIA, is Professor and Chair of the Department of Pharmacology in the School of Pharmacy at the University of Mississippi. He is also Adjunct Professor of Pharmacology and Neuroscience at College of Veterinary Medicine at Washington State University and Adjunct Professor of Physiology and Pharmacology at Oregon Health Sciences University. He is also a charter member and Past-President of the Society for Veterinary Medical Ethics.


About The Author

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Robert Speth, PhD -

Member/Volunteer/Partner/Article Writer of the National Animal Interest Alliance.




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