On the news I saw a report about four fishermen rescued after being stranded on a small boat on the Pacific Ocean for thirty days.
Four fishermen who had spent more than a month adrift in a small boat after running out of fuel off the coast of southern Mexico had been rescued – more than 1,200 miles from where they set off.
Surviving for such a long time at sea without any food or water is quite amazing, but frankly, I don’t see the value of reporting such news on a national television worlds away from where it happened– the fishermen were from Ecuador, found and rescued on Mexican waters, and I was watching it on TV in Warsaw, Poland – aren’t there more important topics to talk about? – like the devastating fire in Indonesia that is possibly the biggest environmental disaster in human history according to some commentators – and yet I hear precious little about it in the media — Indonesia is burning. So why is the world looking away? http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/oct/30/indonesia-fires-disaster-21st-century-world-media —
And also – aside from the fact that I believe that fish should be left in the ocean to just be while we switch to non-violent sources of nourishment (i.e., plant foods, which in Ecuador are plentiful) instead of capturing and killing sentient beings (yes, fish are sentient); there was another thing that stroke me and made me take notice of this relatively insignificant story (insignificant for me; and in the bigger scheme of things – insignificant for the world; although I’m sure it was very significant for those who were rescued and their families).
The commentator was obviously impressed by the resilience of the rescued men – and how they managed to survive despite being in a situation that many would find hopeless. This led the commentator to reflect on the significance of HOPE and he proceeded to describe an experiment he heard of on rats.
The experiment involved placing rats into containers of deep water that they couldn’t escape. After a short time, half of the rats were momentarily rescued by being lifted out of the water for a few seconds, then put right back. The other half were not. The group that had been rescued before swam for more than three days. The other rats drowned almost immediately. The meaning of this “experiment”? The rats that knew there was a chance of being rescued again had hope – and tried to stay alive until the next rescue. The other group had no hope, so they just gave up and drowned.
So, there you go.
The scientists proved beyond reasonable doubt that having hope is better for survival than not having hope.
But what about rats?
Who cares about rats!
I bet most people (including the presenter on TV) didn’t even notice the horrific, sadistic nature of the so-called scientific study. But that’s the way we treat animals in this civilization. Animals don’t matter. Their feelings don’t matter. Their wants and preferences don’t matter.
They are just OBJECTS to satisfy OUR wants, appetites and – in this case – curiosity.
If it’s scientific – in the name of knowledge – it’s justified.
But even more so, even if it’s not in the name of science, even if it’s to satisfy our wants, appetites, desires, it’s also justified.
I had to look up this experiment, so I googled it. As it turned out, it was performed in the 1950s by an American scientist named Curt Richter. 1950s may seem like a long time ago, but if you think that senseless, cruel experiments don’t take place any more, think again.
At first, what stroke me is that the journalist didn’t even consider it to be cruel. It was stated in a matter-of-fact voice, as if it gave validity, legitimacy, proof-of-existence – to the feeling of hope – as if we needed it, as if we couldn’t BELIEVE something existed WITHOUT this so-called ‘scientific’ PROOF – and that there was NO REFLECTION WHATSOEVER, no consideration to what happened to the animals.
How blind can we be?
The amazing part that this experiment has since been cited by countless psychologists, writers, speakers, journalists, and bloggers in all kinds of content – but mostly in content that is intended to inspire, give hope, uplift, provide proof that having a purpose, a goal, a mission gives us strength, determination and tenacity to put more effort, work harder, reach higher, accomplish more, and generally achieve great things or whatever other point the author was trying to make. Teaching about the necessity of a worthy goal. Demonstrating that we are motivated by bold challenges that are out of reach. The content that is supposed to deliver spiritual message, motivate, inspire, generally all very POSITIVE messages and emotions.
The study is even cited in on a lot of bibly / sermony / religious writing that you can find on websites when you google for it.
They love the part about the hope, but they’re kind of missing HOW the hope part was derived and what happened to those animals.
How self-absorbed can we be?
Can we be any more self-centered? Egotistic? Center-of-the-universe? Above all moral laws?
Are there really no other ways to prove that hope can be powerful – that we need to deliberately torture sentient beings for hours and hours – and ultimately allow them to die while we’re watching?
That’s sick, twisted, and cruel, to put it mildly.
Fine, so it was done by one scientist – possibly sadistic and twisted – and a long time ago.
What does it even matter – those were rats, for god’s sake.
So now, let’s imagine a different scenario. You hear this report on the news.
‘A man took a bunch of stray dogs and put them into a deep well with water that they couldn’t escape from and timed how long it took for the dogs to drown. It wasn’t long – an average of 15 minutes for the dogs to give up, stop swimming, and drown. He then repeated the same action with a new group of dogs but – in the second instance, he “rescued” the dogs just after they had given up swimming, again, at around the 15 minute mark. He let them dry off, he fed them some food, allowed them to recuperate. And then he threw them back in the well with water. He watched the dogs who were now able to swim for hours before giving up and drowning. He was impressed how much longer the ones that had been rescued before could survive.’
The same report, just different animals, and the word ‘science’ is not used.
Did I get your attention?
Do we care now? Yes, no, maybe?
What if those are not just stray dogs – which implies they belong to no one, therefore have not value?
What if those dogs were pets, they all belonged to someone, and they were just captured from their homes for the purpose of the ‘experiment’
What if among these dogs was YOUR dog?
Do we care now? Definitely so!
Does it have to be OUR dog or OUR child – for us to care?
It couldn’t have been done on dogs! It’s too cruel!
Here is another experiment for you: “Martin Seligman’s research on learned helplessness, described as follows: “When a normal, naïve dog receives escape/avoidance training in a shuttlebox, the following behavior typically occurs: at the onset of electric shock the dog runs frantically about, defecating, urinating, and howling until it [sic] scrambles over the barrier and so escapes from shock. On the next trial the dog, running and howling, crosses the barrier more quickly, and so on, until efficient avoidance emerges.” (From: Seligman, M. E. P., Maier, S. F., and Geer, J. H. 1968. Alleviation of learned helplessness in the dog. Journal of Abnormal Psychology 73, 256-262).
So, while positive psychology, for which Professor Seligman is the main spokesperson, should surely be embraced as the wave of the future, its roots lie in highly abusive research that ultimately told us little about humans. Surely nothing that came of it helped dogs or other non-humans. And, while we can philosophize about the ethics of Professor Seligman and what he and his colleagues did or didn’t do, it’s interesting to ask people who supported this research if they would have allowed their own companion dogs (or rats) to be subjects, or really unnamed numbered objects, in these horrific experiments, or it they themselves would have done the research. Everyone I’ve asked, including researchers, has looked at me with incredulity and said a resounding “no!” If they wouldn’t do it to their companion dog or rat why would they allow it to be done to other sentient beings?”” (Source Drowning Rats and Human Depression: Positive Psychology for Whom? By Marc Bekoff Ph.D.)
Newsflash: Animals have feelings. They do feel pain, hope, and empathy – they feel and know more than we give them credit for, and they deserve our respect. Regardless of their species. Regardless of whether or not they belong to a human. Regardless of whether we like them or not.
Now, I’m not fond of rats either. I would not want them in my house or basement, or anywhere near it. But it doesn’t matter. The fact that I don’t like someone – be that a human or an animal – doesn’t give me right to torture or murder them – in the name of science, my own sick pleasure, entertainment, to satisfy my own curiosity, or just to prove a point.
But come on, these were just rats, and it happened long time ago. Surely things like that don’t happen today! Right?
I don’t know, and it doesn’t really matter.
Because, if you think my rant is about one sick individual performing his experiments on rats – and nobody likes rats, rats are lowest of the low on ‘liking’ scale if that exists – calling someone a rat is an insult, a bigger one than calling them a pig, because a pig is just dirty and disgusting, but a rat involves another layer of repulsiveness – then I want to tell you that it’s not.
Because similar – and even much, much worse – horrific really – things happen to BILLIONS of animals EVERY SINGLE DAY – the ones that are raised for food, kept for entertainment in zoos and circuses, and in schools and laboratories.
So it’s not just about stopping senseless experimentation that proves nothing – although it’s certainly about that too. It’s about stopping all kinds of senseless violence against sentient beings. Which means going vegan and stopping the consumption of animal-based foods, animal-based products, and attending entertainment venues that involve animal exploitation.
I know, it sounds extreme.
Who can do THAT?
It’s too extreme? Hard to do?
Do you want to tell me that we can put men on the moon, build machines that fly, create personal computers that are smaller than a matchbox, or construct nuclear weapons that could annihilate our entire civilization in just minutes, but we cannot figure out a way to feed people in a peaceful, compassionate, and healthful manner?
We surely can – if we want to.
The hardest part is seeing the truth about animal exploitation – which is not easy because of our conditioning and pervasiveness of animal abuse in our culture, and BELIEVING that it can happen. For some, it may be hard to see it at first, to break old habits, to learn new ways of doing things. Then it’s easy.
But what about the situation when you are stranded on a desert island? Or, like the fishermen in the news, stranded on a boat on the ocean – with little hope to survive, unless you find a way to catch and kill some animals – birds or fish. Doesn’t that prove the point that we cannot denounce the animal foods once and for all, that we’re all destined to eat meat?
You may ask me or any other vegan, what would you do if you were stranded on a boat for 30-days without food or water? Would you then kill and eat fish to survive?
I don’t know what I would do. Whether I would have hope, or not. I do hope so. Would I kill to survive? Probably, but it doesn’t matter.
How often do you hear a news story like that? How many of us are stranded on desert islands or drifting boats?
Are you in that situation?
If you are reading this, then no, you’re not.
Those of us, who are stranded on desert islands without food or water don’t spend time watching news and browsing the web.
The rest of us – we have no excuse.
Live your values.
Will it happen?
I certainly do have HOPE. Against all odds.
Let’s change this world TOGETHER, SOONER rather than LATER.
If not now, then when?
If not us, then who?
PS. Every day we hear those kind of stories or hear these kinds of comments. Let’s call it what it is – let’s challenge the status quo, shake things up a little — or a lot, in a way that only we (as vegans) can. Join me on this upcoming challenge – ‘Re-Imagine the World as Vegan’ Challenge for Vegan Warriors, Revolutionaries, Bloggers, Writers and everybody else who wants to start making a bigger difference for the animals – both human and non-human ;-). Sign up here:
No animal has been harmed intentionally during writing of this article. All food was vegan, and locally produced, as much as possible (with an exception of the coffee).