Saturday, August 21, 2010

Animal Testing: A Deal with the Devil

Whenever we encounter a euphemism, it’s time to beware. From the war: “Collateral damage,” and “friendly fire.” From the airlines industry: “Near miss.”

Benicians are now presented with a euphemism of equally dubious merit: vivaria. It means animal testing laboratories, and it is part of a proposal for relaxing Benicia’s zoning codes in an effort to include clean energy, high-tech, and research and development uses in the industrial districts.

Thanks to Commissioner Donald Dean who says, “We want to know what’s going into the community. There may be a dark side to some of [this], and we want to know what [it is].”

We don’t have to accept animal testing laboratories in Benicia. We can rewrite and broaden our development plans to include lots of things to enhance our economy without selling our souls.

Remember the 1940’s movie "Picture of Dorian Gray"? Dorian, played by Tyrone Power, makes a wish ever to remain the beautiful young man he is in a portrait of himself, while the portrait takes on the effects of his hedonistic life. As in any good pact with the Devil, he gets his wish.

He gets women and wealth and an extravagant life. As he goes, he steps on the backs of others. He reneges on promises he made. He breaks hearts and disappoints those who thought they knew him, even admired his good looks and influence. Only his portrait, covered in heavy canvas on an easel in his spidery attic, shows the effects of Dorian’s short-sighted selfishness.

He goes to the attic periodically to view his own corrupt soul and assess its march downward. Once, seemingly distraught at the degeneration he sees, he goes and kills the artist, blaming him for his own ugliness and torment.

But ultimately, Dorian knows he is the ugly and degenerate one. It is his distorted soul in the painting. His outward beauty cannot disguise his corrupt and cynical self.

He stands in anguish facing his portrait and a sliver of conscience goes to work. He pulls out a knife; at first we think to tear at the painting. Then his servants, hearing noises above their heads, rush to the attic to find him dead on the floor, shriveled and grotesque. The portrait now restored to its youthful beauty.

Guilt never did do a person much good. Regret and apologies are most limited in their value.

So how shall we have it?

We can stick to the euphemism. We can allow vivaria without looking at the animals. After all, we won’t actually witness the tests. We won’t be present to document the effects on animals’ eyes, or skin, or breathing, or nerves.

We can keep vivaria in the attic of our industrial park and go along our way, pretending not to know what we’re sanctioning there. After all, there is much to be gained by the inclusion of businesses that harm animals for profit: greater city revenues and new job creation are dangled before us.

It won’t show will it? No one has to know.

Or, we could steer away from the ugly and degenerate. We could go to the trouble of writing our zoning codes specifically and precisely to include those businesses and industries we truly can be proud of as we profit from them. I object to the notion that there is no threshold that would allow the city to prevent laboratories from testing on specific animals. It’s our city, our zoning code. It will read as we say, set the limits we determine in good conscience.

We can add such categories as information technology, computer server farms, nanotechnology, semiconductor manufacturing and robotics so the city can “put out the welcome mat” for new businesses without leaving the door standing open for the unsavory business of conducting traumatic, painful, deadly, and crude tests on animals in Benicia.

We’re told that Benicia has an opportunity to be a leader by relaxing our zoning now so we will be ready when ‘the next Google’ walks through the door. Perfect! Google is funding research and development projects that provide alternatives to animal testing!

Why go there?

We can flourish without this unwholesome pact. We don’t need to step on the backs of animals dependent on us. We must not renege on our promises to be moral and ethical in our pursuits. We can expand our economic base while retaining our good looks and influence.

Vivaria be damned.