In 1953, Pogo cartoonist Walt Kelly wrote, “We have met the enemy, and he is us”—aptly summarizing our human condition, as that socio-political satire did.
Now it’s our turn at revision. “We have met the enemy, and he isn’t anything like us!”
It’s clear, I believe, what separates those who work on behalf of animals from those who don’t. The difference lies in what is called emotional intelligence (EI). Definitions of EI vary, but one component that most agree is essential is EMPATHY—the capacity to recognize and share feelings experienced by another sentient being. Empathy is an essential ingredient in compassion.
Let me share some of my rapidly accumulating evidence that our enemy is lacking in empathic IQ. The NBC primetime news show Rock Center with Brian Williams ran a story on chimpanzees in medical research. Here’s what John VandeBerg, the director of the Southwest Foundation for Biomedical Research, had to say:
“I don’t think [invasive research has] any effect whatsoever on chimpanzees psychologically…chimpanzees do not have a choice…these are animals used by humans for the welfare of humans.”
VandeBerg is apparently not alone among lab directors in his inability to empathize with his research subjects. Asked for his response to HSUS undercover footage of chimpanzees at the New Iberia Research Center in Louisiana—footage that that went viral and moved millions to tears and rage—New Iberia lab director Thomas Rowell commented in a W5 CTV interview that
“for 9 hours and 55 minutes… of the footage, I was quite proud.”
Rowell explained the public’s reactions as a function of
“Not having the experience and not being accustomed to seeing what it takes….The procedures that were
shown on that tape are no more traumatic or no more invasive than what all primates experience when enlisted into research.”
Contrast their words to the words of those for whom empathy and compassion are a way of life. Dr. Jane Goodall expanded the frontiers of science when she pioneered a deeply observational approach to chimpanzee research, sitting patiently with her research subjects for hours, observing them, and respecting each as a sentient individual—the subject of a life. Goodall can see the world through their eyes because she let them teach her how.
Interviewed in the same Rock Center Primetime TV program, Goodall disagreed with VandeBerg’s view that research has no effect on chimpanzees:
“All invasive research is torture, and not just the procedures. It’s the imprisonment. It’s being kept in a small space with no choice…”
When asked how chimpanzees respond to such a world,
“Some of them went crazy, some withdrew into themselves, some self-mutilate.”
Fauna Sanctuary Director Gloria Grow, who is dedicated to helping chimpanzees recover from their psychological as well as physical lab trauma—the trauma that lab directors deny exists—shared her first-hand experience with
“It’s taken them a long time to trust humans. Some days are good, some are bad. So we start over each day.”
From my friend and foe analysis, what can we garner about what is needed to strike those final blows to the institution of vivisection that we abhor?
Indeed. Meanwhile, NEAVS remains steadfast in effective strategies that will one day end the use of all animals in all research. We work for consciousness, for compassion and for effective and humane science. I promise you, we will not stop until we get there.
Theodora Capaldo, EdD