The Book of the Rally

Today is World Day for Animals in Laboratories, an occasion for calling attention to these more or less invisible animals, for reviewing their experiences during the year, and for judging what has been done and what still is to be done for their deliverance. And heaven knows there is plenty in that last category, what there still is to be done. A few weeks ago the European Union published a report on animal research in member-states for the period 2015-17. It shows that approximately 9.5 million animals were used in each of those years (the UK leading the field), and that even more of them – over 12 million in 2017 – were bred for laboratories but died unused. The 12 million or so included not just mice, whose squandering is a familiar phenomenon, but also dogs, cats, goats, pigs, horses, and monkeys.

The more detailed state-by-state numbers appear in a part of the report called the Staff Working Document, a giant cascade of statistics which would be hard to make sense of even if the online version was in working order, which it wasn’t when I attempted it. Of course it’s much better than secrecy, but these accumulations of numbers are strangely barren of meaning. Really they’re the opposite of a dramatization: millions of particular unpleasant events, in times and places across Europe and across the three years, transformed into static numbers.

World Day, by contrast, was founded in 1979 exactly to dramatize, to make repeatedly visible and audible, public concern about the plight of these animals and about the wrong of using them in this way at all. If you’re present at these occasions, or if you look at the photographs, there is one especially moving thing about them. As against what Gerald Carson (in Men, Beasts, and Gods: a History of Cruelty and Kindness to Animals, 1972) calls the “fearful and self-regarding thoughts” with which medical science has hoped over the years to persuade us to accept vivisection – fear of cancer, fear of war, fear of Covid-19 – here is ocular proof of something more honourable and self-forgetful in humans. Patrick Corbett described it, in Animals, Men and Morals (I shall explain why all these quotations later), as “that model of a disinterested [i.e. unselfish], loving and respectful life which we all carry with us in our hearts.”

Certainly there are many necessary and often courageous campaigns and demonstrations every year through the world; as part of an exhibition about dissent shown at the Victoria and Albert Museum in 2014 (it was titled Disobedient Objects) there was an illuminated map showing the multiplying of them year by year, and very inspiring it was. But all of them had a human political or social interest; most sought justice for people some or all of whom were among those present to demand it for themselves. Animals must depend on others to do it for them, so that as Peter Singer has said, “Animal liberation will require greater altruism on the part of human beings than any other liberation movement.” World Day shows that such altruism is indeed available, and exemplifies it for all who look. In that way, it evokes the future with a kind of implicit promise: this version of humanity will be possible.

Then World Day has also a consolatory function which everyone who attends such events must feel. The publisher Jon Wynne-Tyson, an important personality in the revival of the animal rights movement that began in the 1970s, wrote that the “daily painful empathy with the predicament of all sentient life is not an easy burden to bear.” He saw this too as promise for the future, in that it was the motive in humanity which might drive our evolution towards a species-life in some sort of harmony with the rest of the world. But meanwhile it remains a burden, especially for those not professionally engaged in animal rights work, therefore not able to convert the distress into daily action: and such are the majority of us. Therefore, to be with a band of like-minded people from time to time is a very great consolation. In his essay on vivisection of 1893, the philosopher and social reformer Edward Carpenter contrasted life-science in its guise as mere curiosity (“lust of knowledge”) with the kind of science which teaches “that greatest and most health-giving of all knowledge – the sense of our common life and unity with all creatures.” With all non-human creatures certainly – it’s what animal rights events primarily affirm – but what about unity with our fellow-humans, from whom we may usually feel unhappily alienated? That alienation is what animal rights pioneer Henry Salt sardonically referenced when he called his 1921 autobiography Seventy Years among Savages. But World Day gatherings have that “health-giving” efficacy to rejoin us to our own species as we genuinely like it and as we want it to be.

But of course there can be no World Day rally this year. It was due to take place on Saturday in Liverpool, but the Covid-19 pandemic has made it impossible – ironically so, since the disease arises directly from human maltreatment of other animals (see the previous post on this subject). As the World Day facebook page says, “This does not mean we can’t all do something to mark World Lab animal week by taking part in some online campaigning.” In fact some political theorists writing in Monday’s Guardian claim to have identified nearly 100 distinct methods of non-violent action used or even invented during the period of the lock-down. Anyway, the very enterprising 2020 online version of World Day, with video speeches, can be watched on the facebook page, and a small selection of online actions which you can take at present for lab animals is linked below in the notes.

However, as an in-home substitute for the World Day gathering I would especially recommend the book from which I’ve taken all the quotations used above (except for the World Day facebook one): Jon Wynne-Tyson’s The Extended Circle: a Dictionary of Humane Thought (1985). This anthology is the literary equivalent of an animal rights protest rally, a diverse assemblage of like-minded and impassioned people speaking their minds on the subject. Carpenter himself, as a utopian visionary, is in there, of course, but so is his near-opposite, the sceptical churchman Dean Inge: “We have enslaved the rest of the animal creation, and have treated our distant cousins in fur and feathers so badly that beyond doubt, if they were able to formulate a religion, they would depict the Devil in human form.” There are politicians, scientists, bishops, judges, actors, philosophers (of course), poets: over 500 of them in all. Some are famous names, though perhaps unfamiliar in this connection: Robert Browning, Alexander Pope, Victor Hugo (“I believe that pity is a law like justice, and that kindness is a duty like uprightness.”). Others will perhaps be discoveries. For me, re-sampling the book now, one such is the distinguished American anthropologist Loren Eiseley who, recalling “the eyes of every starved mongrel I have fed from Curacao to Cuernavaca, realizes that his preoccupation with suffering animals has made him, too, “a wanderer forever in the streets of men”.

Some of the texts are substantial, the equivalents of speeches: such are the extracts, for extended circleinstance, from George Bernard Shaw, Peter Singer, and Richard Ryder. Others are stray exclamations, something more like placards or banners: “The more I see of men, the more I like dogs” [Madame de Staël]; “I wish no living thing to suffer pain” [the poet Shelley]; “I think the rapidly growing tendency to regard animals as born for nothing except slavery to so-called humanity absolutely disgusting” [the publisher Victor Gollancz]; “The awful wrongs and sufferings forced upon the innocent, helpless, faithful animal race, form the blackest chapter in the whole world’s history” [Edward Freeman, Oxford’s Professor of Modern History 1884-92].

Across the centuries these men and women have spoken for the non-human animals with passion and eloquence. To be among this great enlightened host as a reader is very moving, a powerful and convincing experience. If you have a copy, spend some time with it again; if you haven’t, try to get hold of one. As I say, it’s a protest rally on paper, a permanent demonstration. It affirms that there has never been a day on which this voice of love and remonstrance was not somewhere being raised, nor ever will be such a day, until humanity becomes either wise or extinct.


Notes and references:

The report submitted to the European Commission consists in three distinct documents. The two summarizing documents are linked here:  The Staff Working Document is published online here (it seems to be working properly now):

The Guardian article is here:

Some current campaigns with petitions you might like to sign are accessible here

and here

and here

The Extended Circle was first published in 1985 by Jon Wynne-Tyson’s own Centaur Press, but there have been other editions from other publishers since then.

Jon Wynne-Tyson was born in 1924; he died on 26 March of this year.

Victorian Attitudes

DSC04714There was a big demonstration in London today against the proposed amending of the Hunting Act. Mostly the demonstrators looked and shouted across the road at the Houses of Parliament, to whom the message was being directed. But when some speeches were made by Brian May and others, from the steps of a statue further back from the road, this great assembly – with its placards, fox outfits, and other insignia of protest against field “sports” – turned to face none other than King George V, whose statue it is, standing high above the green there. A most ironic situation, because King George was not just a stickler for correct dress and procedure, but also a habitual killer of wild-life: principally so-called “game” birds, but also, when he got the chance as Emperor of India, more exotic creatures like tigers, rhinoceroses, and bears. For much of the time during today’s speeches, the King had a pigeon on his head, preening and scratching itself: in his lifetime, that would perhaps have been the only safe place anywhere near him for a bird to be.

In John Betjeman’s poem of 1936, ‘Death of King George V’, there is mention of this hunting and shooting, but King George is presented as rather poignantly old-fashioned in his tastes and standards. In the last line, by contrast, his successor Edward VIII is a modern figure, turning up casually dressed for the time and occasion, and by aeroplane: “A young man lands hatless from the air.” This more modern king did indeed pursue less rural and destructive hobbies than his father had, but, as we know, it was not the end of hunting and shooting as royal pastimes. Even the present Prince of Wales, for all his earnest promotion of green causes, seems to have no particular feeling for wild animals as individual lives, deserving of respect as ours are.

It seems that the royal family refuses to modernize in this matter. The one British monarch who has had a really powerful and personal hatred of cruelty to animals was George V’s grandmother, Queen Victoria. Admittedly she seems to have accepted her consort Albert’s hunting and shooting. Perhaps also, like the Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals to which she gave royal approval in 1840, she was readier to mind cruelty to animals among the working people than among their superiors. If so, she made an exception to that in her plain-spoken indignation against what she called “this horrible, brutalising, unchristian-like vivisection [her own underlining]. In a letter she wrote to the Home Secretary, whose office had been made responsible by the 1876 Act for overseeing the practice, she called it “a disgrace to a civilized country.”

That Act, incidentally, was not euphemistically titled, as the present Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act is; it was bluntly named the Cruelty to Animals Act. Everyone knew what they were talking about. However, at the time of the Queen’s letter, the early 1880s, the Act was in the hands of Sir William Harcourt, and so far from agreeing with Queen Victoria, or paying attention to her complaint, he did more perhaps than any other Home Secretary before or since to give the scientists what they wanted: that is, the power to administer the Act themselves, and to enjoy its professional protections without being troubled by its restrictions.

The quotations from Queen Victoria’s letters can be found in Jon Wynne-Tyson’s magnificent anthology of anti-speciesist writings, The Extended Circle (Centaur Press, 1985: revised edition 2009). This book is a sort of permanent demonstration, a great collective statement to the effect that we cannot call ourselves civilized until we cease to tyrannize over our fellow-animals. It ought to be the bedside reading of every politician and monarch.