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Emotions Don’t Win Debates

Despite the fact that I’ve been told I wouldn’t know an emotion if I stepped on it, I have noticed, over two decades, a pattern in debates about vivisection: Those against it often lose the debate because they are emotional and they concentrate on the suffering of the animals. Clearly, the suffering part is heartbreaking. But for the anything-to-advance-the cause-of-man people, mentioning suffering is not only a mistake, it’s a fatal flaw in strategy.

In The Art of Arguing with Facts, not Emotions, the folks at Arkangel provide tips for arguing against vivisection that are based in medical facts rather than subjective emotions and concepts (such as cruelty). As always in a debate, it’s best to take the main premise of the other side and deconstruct it. Use what’s important to them rather than blathering on about suffering (to them, it really is blathering, because they don’t concern themselves with suffering).

Let’s deconstruct:

  • The opposition’s argument is: When you give an animal an illness and then cure it, you can likely use that cure for the illness in humans.
  • Notice the two parts: Give animal illness, use cure for humans.
  • Both parts must be present, or the fundamental assumption of the pro-vivisectionist is flawed and incorrect.
  • We all sort of vaguely know that you usually can’t give animals diseases that are foreign to them, and when you can, the disease doesn’t look the same as it does in a person, for whom the disease somehow organically occurred. But can you describe any direct evidence? Arkangel provides some:
    • "The best animal model of CF is the CF- mouse, which never gets the lung infections that kill 95% of human CF patients. Instead they get intestinal problems, which human patients don’t. Most male CF patients are infertile, but the animal model reproduces normally. There is no model even close to human CF."
  • A less esoteric example is rats and cancer:
    • "Animals overwhelmingly get sarcomas (growths on the bone) rather than carcinomas (cancer in lining membranes). This is why smoking was considered safe for years – lining membranes like lungs are not where animal cancers grow. In humans the main threat is through mastasis – the spread of cancer to other sites. Rats and mice are used in almost all lab animal cancer tests, yet their cancer doesn’t spread, and they often live with huge cancers."
  • Then there’s the reality that many drugs that are used successfully on humans killed animals in trials (such as the first chemotherapy drug). On the flip side are the drugs that tested successfully on animals, yet were a disaster when applied to humans, probably the best known being DDT. And there are also drugs effective in animals (like the 30 vaccines that effectively treat them for HIV), but don’t work at all for humans.

Net message? As distraught as you may be over the realities of vivisection, displaying those emotions doesn’t help your argument, and more important, basing your argument on those emotions can prove fatal for you when debating. There is plenty of substance to the medical argument. Get to know it, use it, and when you’re in the privacy of your own home, cry your eyes out over all of the suffering.

2 Comments Post a comment
  1. I respectfully disagree. My thoughts happen to be laid out in an article, "Bad Science or Bad Argument: The Role of Science Arguments in the Animal Experimentation Debate."

    In addition to my arguments there, I'd also like to note that valuing "logic" over "emotion," and indeed, viewing them as separate incompatable things at all, is a (white, patriarchal) Western thing, and very much at play in (white, patriarchal) Western science. A problematic aspect of Western science, in the opinion of many.

    One can see how this operates specifically in the arena of animal experimentation by how science students are brainwashed starting very young through the ritual of dissection, and there is enormous pressure to conform. Medical students & doctors, similarly, are literally brainwashed in all sorts of ways through things like sleep deprivation and funding for courses from the pharmaceutical industry.

    Arguing with most scientists is going to be fruitless because of how messed up their worldviews are due to their training. Scientists are just as irrational as everyone else; we have to wait for the old generation to die and focus on the next one rather than trying to convert them. That's why efforts against using animals in education are so important. If we can create a culture in which it's unacceptable to use animals as instruments, then we have a chance. But if it's just about whether or not it's "good science," then animal rights advocates lose their powerful standing. Thankfully, making arguments to the general public is different than arguing directly with scientists.

    March 8, 2007
  2. Noah,

    My post is with regard to my observations over two decades–not the optimal argument. And, overwhelmingly, when anti-vivisectionists argue, in my experience, they lost their debates due to their inability to articulate any kind of clear argument because of their emotional attachment to the suffering and cruelty.

    I refer to the Arkangel article, which doesn't address morality. For me, there is no reason to ever use an animal in an experiment. But I didn't want to criticize an argument for not doing what I wanted it to do. The article was pitting the emotion (and emotional) argument against the medical one. It didn't address the moral argument. I was dealing with it on its own terms rather than arguing with it (although I'm happy to do that another time).

    I don't think logic and emotion are mutually exclusive at all. I think the way they manifest are the problem, as most Americans aren't capable of, for instance, presenting a logical argument about morality without leaking their emotions. If the message received is more important than the one intended (which can become meaningless), and your receiver equates any outward of expression of emotion with weakness, AND you want to win your argument, you must tweak your message so that it is heard. Forget ego. Do you want to win or not?

    Net message: The moral argument is the abolitionist one. It always is. However, the medical argument doesn't argue for regulation or any kind of use–it argues that we shouldn't use animals. No, it's not the same. But I wouldn't call it a new welfarist argument, though Gary might disagree. The suffering and cruelty arguments are welfarist and new welfarist, in my mind, as they can be resolved by altering what is being done to the animals. The medical argument cannot. Again, not perfect.

    When you consider audience (which Gary doesn't always do), you often must change your presentation. NOT YOUR MESSAGE, but your presentation. These are people we're dealing with, and they've got lots of issues, ego and otherwise, that require managing. Again, my opinion.

    March 8, 2007

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