It starts in school, where little boys and girls (already accustomed at home to being told to sit up straight and eat their meat and stop behaving like cry-babies over the fate of the moo-cow or the baa-lamb that’s ended up on their plate) are told to dissect a frog, or the young of a rabbit untimely ripped from its mother’s womb, also killed. It’s already dead. So picking up the scalpel (behaving properly, not behaving like children, not behaving like girls, not behaving like gays, not behaving like blacks, not behaving like peasants or the poor) and making the first cut, it really doesn’t mean anything. It’s already dead.
It continues in college or university, sitting nervously, having heard stories, but determined to get through, to get on, to get it, when the professor (or the lecturer, or the university teacher, or the tutor, or just the techie cos why spare anyone else?) walks in and demonstrates the best way to kill a little white mouse. The best way. Thwack! and its head is smacked onto the bench and its neck is broken. It it it. It’s best not to use gender here. It is an animal, no, ‘a specimen’ (you have to get the language right) whereas she or he sounds too human. Sentimental. It’s science that counts. That half-hour lecture on ethics, that essay on the pros and cons, the one for which everyone on the course, sensibly, came down on the pro side. You’ve done this. It’s all about progress.
Accustomed now to breaking necks and ending life in a variety of ways (the best way isn’t the only way and it’s best not to get involved so it’s all still it and no-one has name just a number) and a bit blasé about the whole thing. You’ve worked as a techie yourself and you’ve actually done that lecture. It’s a rite of passage, you see that now. Anyway the thing now is to get on with your Master’s. And it’s good to get in-vivo on your CV. The pain of the lower mammals never crosses your mind now. Unless you’re doing pain studies, then it’s just numbers. The guinea pigs? Well that’s what they’re for! And the rabbits are the same, so docile. The dogs, admittedly, are harder, and so are the monkeys. It’s more difficult to keep the required distance but you tell yourself it’s all about progress. They’ll be dead soon, anyway. And it is quite a noble feeling you get, especially when you see all those women running in pink. It’s all progress.
At doctoral level it’s a way of life. By now you know that it’s all about funding, and that doesn’t bother you. Everything is all about funding. And everything needs to be tested. No, not because it makes any difference, it’s just the law. The law that is written by politicians who read what you write because you’re funded to write it. You could be cynical, but why? That would involve your heart, and it’s already dead.
One ordinary sunny afternoon or rainy morning, nothing special, and you didn’t even notice, just at some point when you were slicing open yet another sentient living creature, unanaesthetised, in the name of science, you stopped feeling. It’s much easier to be heartless, and no-one notices. It’s a trade secret. More efficient. And you can still go home and play the part of the hearty husband or wife. You don’t have dogs anymore. Too confusing. And when you hear those tiresome people, again and again with the same hippy nonsense, love and peace, ban the bomb, save the animals…
…you don’t imagine what might have happened, what your life, your heart, might be like, if you hadn’t sat up straight and had refused to eat what was on your plate, because it was a moo-cow or a baa-lamb and you cared more about that than about being childish, or girlish, or gay, or black, or a peasant or poor. Because you cared more, in caring for animals, more than breaking your neck in the rat race, more than slicing up your heart, more than becoming desensitised to conscience so that you could carry on doing and teaching entirely useless sadistic practices because they attract funding and prestige; because you cared more about being human.
Thanks to Anna Langova who has released her photo ‘funny clip’ into the Public Domain