Because They Can: The Horror of the Sciences

Kristine Ong Muslim in her short story collection Age of Blight has a grouping of tales dealing with both academia and the sciences in which the blind and detached use of animals all in the name of discovery (i.e., seeking to understand various medical, psychological, and other aspects of the human through experimentation with animals, etc.) leads to forms of inhumane torture. Not only that but many of the experimenters in their supposed objective distancing and non-emotional interventions become de-sensitized to the point of sociopathic and psychopathic degradation. In one of her tales she describes a particular scientist Harry F. Harlow (who actually existed!), who (let me quote at length from WIKI):

Harlow’s experiments were controversial; they included creating inanimate surrogate mothers for the rhesus infants from wire and wool. Each infant became attached to its particular mother, recognizing its unique face and preferring it above others. Harlow next chose to investigate if the infants had a preference for bare-wire mothers or cloth-covered mothers. For this experiment, he presented the infants with a clothed “mother” and a wire “mother” under two conditions. In one situation, the wire mother held a bottle with food, and the cloth mother held no food. In the other situation, the cloth mother held the bottle, and the wire mother had nothing. Also later in his career, he cultivated infant monkeys in isolation chambers for up to 24 months, from which they emerged intensely disturbed. Some researchers cite the experiments as a factor in the rise of the animal liberation movement in the United States.

After describing some of the horrific experiments performed on rhesus monkeys the narrator says,

Sometimes, when I lay awake at night watching the motion-regulated light fixtures strewn across the ceiling, I imagine how it must have been for Harry’s monkeys. I am shaped into what is supposed to be a cold and unfeeling contraption, but I realized a long time ago that I have limits: I cannot stomach torture. Torture, for me, has always been the resort of the weak, the inept, the ill-equipped. What torturers do not understand, they simplify by disassembling, by destroying the very essence and mystery of what they are trying to comprehend. What they covet, they steal and tinker with until it bores them or they discover that the tampered thing cannot be put back together again. And what they cannot subjugate, they maim— for no other reason but because they can.1

To have that kind of power bestowed on a person by an institution, academic or governmental is to revert to those impersonal and sadistic chambers of horror wherein humans became both victims and experiments in the Nazi-Fascist concentration camps (i.e., Josef Mengele). The fine line between allowing animals to be abused by such men, and that of humans is not one of morality, but of the very truth of science and politics. There are those among us that have such tendencies, and use them to hide their perverted proclivities behind the mask of war, medicine, and politics. In an age of authoritarian control are we not ripe for such invasive creatures to move toward such ends in a time when posthuman, transhuman, and inhuman philosophies open the doors to such strange worlds?


  1. Kristine Ong Muslim. Age of Blight. The Unnamed Press (January 12, 2016).

2 thoughts on “Because They Can: The Horror of the Sciences

  1. ..and before contemplating the possible future of humankind, it is worth noting that the abuse and mistreatment of farmed animals is on such an incredibly large scale that it truly is heartbreaking to contemplate. It is happening today, as we speak, by the million.

    Like

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