Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Book Review: Sunaura Taylor's "Beasts of Burden: Animal and Disability Liberation"

Also posted to goodreads

Image: The cover of Sunaura Taylor's book Beasts of Burden: Animal and Disability Liberation. The cover is a greyish blue with blue, yellow, and white lettering for the title and author's name. There are two figures silhouetted in white against the blue back drop. One is a cow and one is a human. Both appear to be using wheelchairs as you can see the wheels and spokes beneath each of them.
This book is spectacular. Carol Adams told me about this book about a year before it came out when I was talking to her at a conference. I mentioned that I don't know a lot of people who write about the intersection of disability and animal liberation and she told me that "Beasts of Burden" was in the works. I also read Sunaura Taylor's contribution to the Ecofeminism anthology which completely rocked my world. From that point forward, I eagerly awaited the release date of Sunaura Taylor's book. So, I went into this with very high expectations that were difficult to meet. This book surpassed them.

Sunaura tackles topics of disability and animal liberation without separating them from each other or many of the other oppressions that are intertwined with them like race, class, gender, and so on. At the same time, she give the topics and members of these groups the individualized attention they deserve. One of the best parts about this book is that Taylor does not shy away from the difficult conversations such as forced nonhuman animal research for human health issues, abolitionist rhetoric of rewilding animals and the extinction of domestication (and in turn- the maligning of (inter)dependence), some animal rights activists seeing themselves as "voices for the voiceless," the barriers to accessing vegan food for some people with severe health struggles, and so on. She tackles these topics head on, having discussions about issues where nonhuman animal liberation and disabled human liberation seem to collide- and often shows that they are connected rather than at odds with each other. Taylor also does not shy away from directly and honestly addressing the works of people like Peter Singer and Temple Grandin who represent famous and damaging representations of animal liberation in relation to disability and disability in relation to animal liberation. She is able to parse out the things that have merit while effectively calling attention to the things that do not.

I really hope this book becomes one of the staples of animal liberation discourse and disability discourse. Sunaura Taylor argues quite well that the two and intertwined and that ableism is at the center of nonhuman animal oppression and that speciesism is part of the ammo used to demean people with disabilities. It is an invaluable contribution that will hopefully help us create more connections between our movements.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Exploitation of the Marginalized Gets the Green Light

IMAGE: Two hooded Rats named Thelma and Louise sitting on their hind legs eating lentils and rice. They have brown heads and shoulders and white bodies. I chose an image of two rats who had names and personalities, different likes and dislikes, to remind us that the animals I discuss here are more than subjects of study.

Some of you may know that I suffer from multiple chronic pain conditions that leave me unable to work. There is a lack of viable treatments out there for chronic pain conditions- especially those that cannot be aided by manual fixes like surgeries, braces, physical therapy, and so on. Combine that with the war on drugs making more and more medications (both narcotic and non) more difficult to obtain (despite these measures doing nothing to help people with addiction struggles), insurance companies refusing to cover effective preventative and helpful treatments, and the general state of the world that does not make room for people with disabilities to function with in it, and you have a recipe for frustration.

Recently and article was sent my way in which a man named Mohab Ibraham tortures rats in order to research the effects of green light on neuropathic pain. All articles on the subject that I can find refer to "rats with neuropathic pain" as if the rats are being done a service by the study. Anyone with knowledge about pain research involving nonhuman animals knows that they are deliberately caused injury and pain in these types of studies- most of the time by exposing them to a painful stimulus like injecting them with acid, placing them on a hot plate, electrified floors, and so on. In this video, Ibraham says flat out that the animals "developed a better capacity to handle uncomfortable stimulus." Videos linked later in this post mention "paw withdrawal latency" which means that Ibraham and colleagues likely injected the rats feet with something painful. In other research, Ibraham and colleagues have induced spinal injuries in rats.

Putting the ethics aside for a moment, this study is ridiculous for a multiple reasons. 1) Rats have different visual perception of color than humans do- they can see green but they see it differently and see other colors differently. 2) Injecting rats feet with inflammatory agents in a box is not the same as dealing with chronic pain caused by a variety of neurodegenerative or myalgia conditions. 3) This study could have easily been effectively done in humans (as can be seen in the aforementioned video) and there aren't any regulations that would prevent exposing humans to green light. In fact, studies on humans using green light existed before Ibraham was torturing rats to study it.  Regardless, Ibraham and his crew have presented it as a novel discovery (as well as referred to people who use narcotic pain relievers generally as being drug addicts- blaming them for the "epidemic" of addiction)

It should be noted that there is no recent epidemic of drug addiction- drug addiction has been an epidemic for centuries, but since the face of the addict in the mainstream has become white, middle class, and addicted to prescription pills rather than of color and addicted to crack (despite white people doing more drugs on the whole)- this "epidemic" has received more attention. But, that is for another post. 

Ethically, if you have read anything else on this blog, you may guess that I oppose confining and abusing anyone against their will for research- human or nonhuman animal. This harms both humans and other animals. I am sure the big old grant that Ibraham was given was a good amount of wasted dollars that could have been used on a far more accurate, ethical, and sound study using human volunteers.

But, there is another intersection here- disabled people are used as pawns by researchers like this in order to get grants for future studies. I do not believe that all researchers are bad people who don't care. However, I do come from a background in cognitive neuroscience and I know how research communities value detachment and "objectivity" to the point that it allows for neglect and cruelty. There is a long history of disabled people, people of color, poor people, and so on being forcefully and/or coercively experimented upon, sterilized by, and studied by usually white male doctors and researchers who always defend their mistreatment by saying they learned something. Harriet Washington's book Medical Apartheid details the ways in which enslaved black people and black Americans have been experimented on against their will from gruesome gynecological studies on enslaved women to decades long studies of the effects of syphilis infection to faulty studies on predispositions to violence done on black boys. Eli Clare and Sunaura Taylor both detail in their writings the ways that disabled and other marginalized people have been exploited in research. Sunaura Taylor specifically explores how nonhuman animal exploitation is used as a vehicle for the exploitation of humans.

Our culture likes to uphold sciences as pinnacles of all that is good and right with the world. But, Institutional Review Boards exist as a result great abuses committed by doctors and scientists. And still, IRBs can only protect so much and often fail to do what they were intended to do. Marginalized people and species of nonhuman animals- especially those not covered under the animal welfare act like rats and some birds- are always at high risk of being victimized by people who are part of an industry of grants, sexy science, and a quest for knowledge that is willing to conquer anyone they need to to get an answer.

Unethical research is never worth the knowledge gained. Unethical research on humans and nonhuman animals is never excusable due to knowledge gained. With those two things said, this pain research on rats gained no knowledge and simply repeated something that can already be safely done in humans. As a result it is doubly inexcusable.

When you see articles heralding "advances" in medicine via the exploitation and torture of nonhuman animals, question what you are reading. Look past the "rats with neuropathic pain" to see the "rats confined to a box who are repeatedly injected into their paws with acid in order to study something that is already safe and effective in humans." See the truth.