So “word on the street” is, Dean Benjamin Sachs has claimed, according to one student,* that the image depicted on my poster is “fake.” I wished to resolve this matter like an “adult,” but Mr. Sachs — whom I happened to run into for the very first time this morning — showed himself unwilling to meet me halfway.
“Hey — are you the dean?” I asked — a good conversation ice-breaker, I thought — as he exited the building. Well, icy is right. He ignored me. At least the president of research Laura Levy offered a smile. The kind a person might bestow upon a wild animal they’ve just stumbled into in the woods, perhaps, shifty and devoid of verbal exchange — but a smile, nevertheless! “Can I speak with you for a minute?” I tried again, as he lingered at the corner. Nadda.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned in the last two weeks, it’s that persistence — to rewrite the old adage — makes the heart grow fonder. So when he returned, I gave it another shot, polite and nonthreatening as ever : “What do you think about what I’m doing out here?”
I liked his answer. He just scowled, and kept walking! Yep. He actually scowled at me! Kind of rude, but also…kind of flattering. After all, it’s known that the tens of millions in grants given by the National Institute of Health [sic] each year fund not only animal research but also pay for “overhead” — administrative costs among them; thus, it’s safe to assume our friend Benny, being an administrator himself (and not a low ranking one, at that), is on that tip. For the record, I’ve tried my darnest not to alienate or threaten anyone; but if my passive, nonconfrontational presence does so regardless, I can rest easier knowing I’ve at least upset the “right” people…
So I’ll try to break it down, briefly: the picture, as seen on the right, is of a rhesus macaque monkey. Or technically, it’s a picture of me holding a picture of a rhesus macaque monkey, but you knew what I meant! (All I gotta say is, thank jah/ god/ buddha/ krishna/ allah you were born homo sapiens.) Now, certainly it’s no secret: Tulane University houses hundreds of rhesus macaque monkeys — mostly at their Covington primate center. In the above photograph, taken from inside a laboratory at MIT about a decade ago, the monkey has electrodes implanted in his head — an unfortunately common procedure in neuroscience experiments — to “map” brain functions. Neural activity is monitored while researchers provide the primate with some sort of stimulus, or — in other more cruel cases — while shocking or burning him. Probably the former in this picture, though one can’t be sure. Either way, his head is restrained, as you can see, so he can not opt out of the experiment, as I’m certain he would have liked to.
What I’m trying to suss out is which aspect ol’ Dean thinks is fake. Does he believe the monkey is a life-like mannequin? Or maybe he thinks, like Edward Taub alleged upon exposure by PETA for the heartless demon he is, that an animal rights organization staged the photograph? Alternatively, could Dean Sachs believe such an experiment, in all the brutal history of research, has not been performed? Or just that Tulane, owning one of only eight primate centers in the country (obviously no puny players in the field), has not performed it? Because I believe, on all accounts, he would be false, false, false, and false. As a matter of fact, those Silver Springs monkeys I referenced in the link above, who spent their final days imprisoned on Tulane’s Regional Primate Center in Covington, were (contrary to the promises made by the NIH) subjected to one last experiment there before being murdered. That experiment was — you guessed it! — brain mapping!
Here’s some food for thought: the communist government tried to suppress the memory of Jan Palach (and thus the context of his death), a Czech dissident who immolated himself in 1969. The government exhumed his burial site and attacked public mourners. Though I acknowlege that the powers of Tulane haven’t plugged me up with electrodes and tortued me for speaking out (maybe if I were a “lower” species — then I’d be fair game), I don’t think it’s too much to draw a parrellel between the way Dean Sachs and others who make mad profit off animal exploitation wish to silence individuals who expose it to this sort of government repression of the past (and in some cases, present). I don’t know — refusing accountability, fortifying animal research labs with not only locks and alarms but a cold speciesist ideology, painting me (in whatever context) as a fibber to the student body… It could, in some light, seem a little — um — fascist…
Yet if my interaction with the dean rated as a 1, then the one which I had with a specific surgeon the other day would definitely be a 10, with contentious debates (such as the one today, where the outlandish claim was made that the rates of diseases like diabetes have gone up because “animal welfarists” keep scientists from doing more thorough animal studies) ranking somewhere in the middle. The man in scrubs read the text on my flyer intently for quite a while, before handing it back. “I can’t take one of these. Pigs were invaluable to my training in surgery.”
“Yeah, but you didn’t just operate on a pig and then become certified as a surgeon. You shadowed other surgeons and did other types of training, right?”
“Well, yeah, that’s true.”
I told him that I believed these animals have the capacity to feel (physically and emotionally) and to think. Duh.
“Well, yeah, they’re highly intelligent. Pigs are actually more intelligent than dogs — most dogs, at least.”
“Exactly,” I replied. “And I think that using them against their will — whatever the scientific insights might be — is unethical.”
He thought for a while, and finally said, almost somberly,”You’re right.” I couldn’t believe my ears. But he continued: “It is unethical.”
We introduced ourselves, and I asked him to help me make a difference for the animals inside this facility. We parted on very good terms. As he was climbing into the passenger seat of his ride, he picked up a dog that had been sitting there. He looked over at me and, cradling her, said, “Pretty hypocritical, huh, Derek?”
A realization. Incredible.
You want the truth? I’m actually dreading the approach of day 30…
*I am quoting a student, not the Dean, whom I have never spoken to, so authorities can promptly lay to rest any claims of libel.