Throughout this course there has been a lot of debate about the culturally constructed aspects of science. One aspect of this debate has been the question of whether we, as humans, need to resist privileging humans as subject and all other life forms as object. Basically, is speciesism ok? Our course materials have thoroughly explored how speciesism works and where we can see evidence of it in our understanding of science. By failing to acknowledge the vast array of differing subjectivities of animals and organisms, (and plants too, perhaps to a lesser extent) humans engage in speciesism constantly. However, this aspect of debate has taken on a new form in our class while talking about animal rights and genetic engineering. The assertion that humans, if we are no different than other animals in our instinctual drive to survive, are not doing anything wrong by using our considerable scientific means to "survive" has come up several times. This is speciesism sneaking in through the back door. At first glance, it seems this argument does not engage in speciesism: "Humans are the same as all animals, no worse or better." From this, it might seem to follow that humans, like any other animal, will use all of its power to survive. However, there is fallacy in both of these points.
To start, humans are very different from any other species on this planet. This is not to say better or worse, but surely different. Humans alone have access to intellect that separates us from all other species. (Stating this fact is not speciesist, because it does not deny that other subjectivities, and perspectives exist for other species and individual organisms.) This separates the scientific research and methods, such as research using animals and genetically engineering plants and animals, from a situation of predator and prey. A lion preying on an antelope is a vastly different situation from genetically altering an organism so that it is more beneficial for humankind (which is debatable as well). Although all types of scientific research can very well be defended for innumerable reasons, and I am not arguing against those, scientific research is not a predator-prey scenario and it shouldn't be defended as one.
My second objection to this line of argument that has come up many times in class and on this blog is that while an animal hunts its prey for its individual benefit, the development, research and use of scientific and technological advances do not aim to ensure the survival of the human race, but rather to improve quality of life. While there is the possibility that the results of lab testing or improved disease resistance in crops will save lives, the survival of the human race by and large does not hinge on these. Humans existed long before the types of scientific advances that we investigate in this class came into existence. Also, there is no animal other than humans that have the same capability of collecting, imprisoning, breeding, altering the genetic makeup of, violating, and killing other organisms. It is not a level playing field. While invasive species have been known to kill off other organisms on a large scale, it is very different from the scale of damage that humans can knowingly enact, and the conscious effort behind these enterprises is what separates humans' deployment of scientific advances from animals preying on others for food and survival.
I realize that there may be possible points for debate in my argument, but I am really frustrated at this analogy that continues to be wielded in defense of very intricate and specialized scientific research that is in no way similar to a predator-prey scenario. It is speciesism because it assumes the guise of equality between humans and other species in their predator capabilities, but really is used as an excuse to continue the hierarchy of humans manipulating other organisms without consent. I like to think of the difference between speciesism and an understanding of the nuanced place humans hold in their intellectual differences from animals as akin to the famous line from spiderman: "With great power, comes great responsibility." It may be cheesy, but there is some real truth to it, and it is very applicable when we investigate the issues of this course. (If you want to relive the wonderful movie moments, here is a link and here is another link with Uncle Ben telling Peter Parker all about this... I'm not going to address the "becoming a man" part and the issues therein today though...)
Does anyone else agree? If people think there is a hole in my logic, by all means, defend this analogy. I am very interested to see if anyone has other thoughts that may be different.