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On a completely unrelated note, a while back I made an LJ post where I talked about how I find the restrictive aspect of vegetarianism/veganism unnerving because of how it reminds me of disordered eating. Well, apparently the topic has come up on some of the feminism and fat acceptance blogs I read, due to a book called "Skinny Bitch in the Kitch" which (allegedly) uses fat-shaming techniques to get people to go veg. There's some interesting commentary here and here.

Okay, I'm editing this. I was think about this while I was in the shower (I take very productive showers) and I think that more than anything else, this type of book hurts the animal rights movement. It explicitly encourages the idea that there are good foods and bad foods, that you're a bad person if you eat the bad foods, that other people will judge you if you eat the bad foods, that no one will love you if you eat the bad foods. And let me tell you, that is not a recipe for success. I have to listen to it every day at work, from otherwise reasonably rational people. "I lost nine pounds this month!" "I can't eat that, KC will be mad at me." "You eat so much chocolate. I wish I could eat that much chocolate." What you eat and what you don't eat is a huge fucking deal and linking weight loss to veganism only makes escaping that cycle that much harder. And you don't want people engaging those thought patterns in an attempt to become vegan because it will make them a) miserable and b) completely unsuccessful.

I'm pretty sure that a lot of people who aren't vegans or vegetarians right now would be if they didn't have such complicated relationships with food - due, of course, to the fucked up societal messages endorsed by the above book. I mean, I can only speak for myself, but I think I would have at least tried being vegan if I wasn't worried about the inevitable good food/bad food complexes that emerge and about people judging me if I fail. I've had people tell me "you've just got to view it as 'not food'" and they don't seem to get that for 90% of the population that just will not. work.
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I just came back from the Peter Young lecture, which Kevin and I went to together. It was a pretty impressive lecture - he's a very eloquent man, skilled at public speaking, which I wasn't necessarily expecting, since he's not, you know, a public speaker by trade. I agreed with a lot of what he said, especially about the need for there to be more media attention and information about animal rights efforts. I also disagreed with one thing he said, which is that animal medical testing has never garnered results for humans. But leaving that aside.

Somewhere in the middle of the lecture I started drifting off into my own world, as I tend to do. Earlier on he was talking about animal research. It's a topic that was already on my mind today, as I was contacted out of the blue by a researcher about a job. As soon as I read the e-mail, I knew I couldn't pursue the position. It involves single-unit recording in primates. I don't know whether they'd want me to perform the surgery or just run them through the experiment's afterwards, how many times the procedure is run and how damaging it is, whether the animals are sacrificed afterwards. I do know that I have held a drill to an animal's skull before. I couldn't do it before, I won't be able to do it now. What makes it especially chilling is the reason why they contacted me - because I'm interested in social behavior and emotions. From their e-mail:

Our general interests include perception, attention, reward, and emotion.

Why study that in primates unless you believe it can be compared to human perception, attention, reward and emotion? This research is proceeding under the basic assumption that primates are similar to humans in their capacity to feel. I've spent most of today wondering how to respond to the e-mail. A brief refusal, no explanation why? A long tirade about exactly why I think it's wrong? Something in between?

It's hard, because I can so clearly see the other side. I absolutely believe in the importance of basic research. I absolutely believe in the importance of studying mental behavior. I want to know about perception, attention, reward and emotion, too. But there are other ways. Less precise, maybe. Slower. But other ways.

It's hard to decide what sort of action to take. I don't want to alienate people. I don't want to hurt my chances to work as a researcher - I want a long and successful career. But I do believe that this is wrong.


On another note, it's been about three months since I stopped eating meat. I'm wondering if, now that the stress of Div III is over, I should try to take another step. I'm not really grounded yet, though. By the time I gave up poultry and fish, my desire for red meat was absolutely gone. I still crave certain meats, with just as much intensity as I did in January. Just this past Saturday I stared longingly at a turkey sub that was set out for lunch at the MoHo conference before settling for a bag of chips.

I'm thinking of maybe trying to buy my dairy foods from a local farm, where at least I can ensure that conditions are up to a certain standard. I wonder if Cook's Farm sells anything beyond milk and ice cream?


Finally, can I just say how amazing it is that I finally have the time and energy to engage with something that isn't my Div III?
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So, I think I've named my first monkey. The G-baby, Grace, is actually a boy, and so we were thinking up boy names, and they were going to go with Gilligan until I said, "What about Gomez?" And for a five month old cebus apella, G-baby does look oddly like Gomez Addams. So Gomez it is.

Speaking of G-babies... Gretel is already three years old. She looks much younger. The people in the lab think that her low rank might be stunting her growth. But recently she's gone up in the world, mostly because she's taken to attacking Goya, her older sister and the lowest ranking monkey of them all. Goya's got scars all over, and so much of her hair/fur has fallen out that she's more skin than brown. Just looking at her makes me want to cry.

We showed her to Devon from the field station, and he told us about one of their chimpanzees. He was attacked a few weeks ago by several of the other male chimps. They gouged out one of his eyes, and tore off half the lid. He had wounds on his arms and neck. But he's recovering pretty well. Devon also told us about a chimpanzee who was killed at another station. He said the other chimps took a long time about it, beating him to death one by one. "That's - that's torture - " one of the people from my lab said. Is it? We walk such a line between trying not to anthropomorphize these primates and drawing every conclusion we can from them, and applying it to ourselves. Well, it's an easy enough conclusion. The chimpanzees are our closest ancestors. They evolved the ability to torture, and we perfected it. But that's just one hypothesis.

Then I went to my desk and checked my e-mail and clicked on BBCnews. When a conflict has existed since before you were born, sometimes it seems eternal. And I can't bring myself to blame anybody, because who do you blame? The individuals on both sides who escalate the conflict - the suicide bombers, the war criminals - they're just individuals. As long as the situation exists, there will always be someone who will react that way to it. Colleen, a grad student in my lab, told me that capuchins in the wild don't act like ours do. The low-ranking capuchins don't get beat up, they just run away. But Goya has nowhere to run to. We do all we can to protect her, shouting at the other monkeys when they go after her, threatening them with the hose, distracting them with peanuts and froot loops. We're her greatest defenders. But we put her in that situation. We put Gretel into that situation. We're putting the G-baby into that situation.

Of course, if we released them into the wild, they'd all die sooner anyway. Goya might not get beat up but she'd starve to death when food got tight and the others took her food and refused to feed her. That's the practicality of the situation. Pidyon shvuyim, one of the greatest tenets of Jewish law, demands the redemption of captives. Israel in the past has traded thousand of prisoners - some innocent, yes, but some terrorists - for a single Israeli soldier. Today they decided on a different path. Maybe it was motivated by practicality. Maybe they thought they could save more lives by attacking rather than trading. At this point, who knows? Can anyone really find a solution garaunteed not to spill any more blood?

I don't have an answer. All I have is a guilty conscience, and a headache.
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I visited the lab today. It's got a really great atmosphere - the people who work there are friendly and funny, and the capuchins themselves seem pretty happy there. There's about thirty or forty of them, but my supervisors tell me I'll be able to recognize them instantly within a week. They all have very distinct personalities. My favorite so far is Sammy. He likes to play with the water tap and splashes water at the other monkeys. He'll splash at the lab workers, too, depending on how hesitant you are around him. Apparently the capuchins are really, really good at reading facial expressions and body language. If you have confidence, they'll treat you like an alpha monkey, but if you seem hesitant - like I'm sure I will when I'm in there - they'll feel free to tease you and taunt you as much as they like. I also like Grace and Brazil. They're the two baby monkeys in the colony right now. They ride around on the backs of their mothers. I'll take pictures if I can.

I went into one of the other buildings to use the bathroom, and it was a very different atmosphere. There are posters everywhere against animal rights activists, saying things like, "Thanks to animal testing, these people can protest for 20.8 years longer." There are also lots of displays. Right across from the bathroom is a display showing primate tissues with hepatitis, AIDS, etc. It's pretty deeply disturbing. On the one hand, I absolutely believe in the importance of animal testing in curing these diseases. On the other hand, seeing the capuchins for only a day, I got a deep sense of them, their personalities, their intelligence. It's really strange, because they don't look that human, but occasionally they do something really human, like opening a latch to get through a door, or going through the pockets of the lab workers.

I don't think I'm going to resolve this anytime soon. At least in my lab I won't have to worry about that. The monkeys are pretty well treated, and while I'm sure there's a case to be made against it, too, in my mind it's a lot more easy to accept than what's happening elsewhere at Yerkes.
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When it comes to eating meat, my history is rather spotty - I have been, variously, a fish-only vegetarian, a fish-and-poultry vegetarian, a full-fledged vegetarian, and not a vegetarian at all. I have been most of these things several times. It seems like I went back and forth every month in high school. When I got depressed, I stopped caring about a lot of things, including what I was eating. Even after I got better, I felt no need to stop consuming meat - that is, until I took a course last spring which basically involved killing rats. Ambivalent as I was about the ethics of sacrificing animals in a classroom environment, I couldn't ignore the hypocricy of continuing to eat meat. So I stopped, completely, although since then I have added fish and poultry back to my diet.

As I'll be spending this summer again working with animals - non-invasively, thank god - and since I'll be responsible for feeding myself, I figured now's as good a time as any to think about what meats I'm comfortable eating. I want to decide for good this time. I want to make a moral decision and stick to it.

I have pretty much decided that I won't be eating mammals. I only ever ate cow and pig products, and both of these animals are clearly conscious and capable of suffering, if any animals (other than humans and non-human primates) are. I am also thinking that, if I decide to consume a particular animal, the conditions in which this animal is raised don't really matter, at least to the animal. If a chicken is sentient enough that raising it in a factory farm is wrong, if we're going to grant it that much conscious perception of pain - well, then I don't want to be eating it at all.

So, mostly I'm looking at fish and poultry, and whether I want to continue consuming them.

I am going to be looking into the research on this, but I know several people on my friendslist have strong opinions on these issues, so I thought I'd ask if anyone has any opinions or links to resources they think I should consider.
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I was talking to my father about how I don't think I could stand to be an experimental psychologist - that is, I couldn't perform surgeries on animals, or order them killed for study. Not on any consistent basis; it leaves me feeling drained and guilty. And it seems like a great deal of the most interesting work is done that way. I remember getting very excited last semester by a guest lecturer's explanation of the work he was doing to cure Alzheimer's, but in the methods section of one of his papers I saw he'd used hundreds of rats in a study, and the study was only one of many. It's not that I disapprove of the study. It's not that I don't want him to continue working like that. But I knew when I saw it that I couldn't do it myself. To kill something takes a peculiar kind of - well, I don't know if it's a strength or a weakness, but it takes something I don't have. I'm not saying I could never kill anything, only that I couldn't do it consistently, and it would take too much out of me to be personally worthwhile.

Anyway, I've gone over all this before in my journal, but I was explaining it to my father. And he nodded sympathetically, and we moved on to discussing my other classes. And I told him that I thought my social psychology course had been rather useless, neither as morally or academically challenging as my neuroscience course. "It's all just fuzzy science," I complained to him. "Or else it's clear science that goes over what we already seem to know. It seems like a waste of time."

"That's funny," he said. "Because it was social psyschology that got you interested in psychology in the first place."

I have always been fascinated by the Zimbardo Experiment, also known as the Standford Prison Experiment. One of the most famous experiments of modern times, it placed twenty-four random people - mostly young, white, middle-class males - in a prison simulation. Things quickly spun out of control. The guards began to exhibit sadistic tendencies, forcing prisoners to sleep on concrete floors or stay in isolation rooms, denied food, bathroom breaks, even clothing. The prisoners began to show signs of mental trauma. After only six days (the experiment was supposed to run for two weeks) it was all called off.

Since then, I've researched better-conducted and even more appalling experiments (the Milgram Experiment springs to mind, and also the work of Latane and Darley) but Zimbardo was the one who first shocked me. I began to read my father's psychology books, and buy some of my own. It was only later that I began to be interested more in the physicality of it, the anatomy, the chemistry. I'm still interested in that, but perhaps it's not the place for me, if animal experiments are necessary. Perhaps I could enjoy a career as a social psychologist, provided it was more in line with Milgram's work than, you know, cultural studies.

I'm going to look into this. Maybe I can spend next spring or next summer at a social psychology institute.


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