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  • Writer's pictureCrone

A question...

Here it is: who do I make invisible?

Maybe I do know how it came about. I'm reading another book by Vinciane Despret, What Would Animals Say if We Asked the Right Questions?, and she covers the way in which we refer to animal flesh - so cow flesh becomes beef or spare ribs or T-bone steak. This tends to make the deceased cow invisible.

Now, I don't eat the flesh of other animals. But that's not the only way to render others invisible and nor is animal flesh the other thing we rename to make victims invisible.

There are people working is sweat shops or Amazon warehouses whose misery is invisible to me as I click on "buy now". There are people whose homes and livelihoods are destroyed by rising water levels or polluted air whose suffering is invisible to me as I drive down the motorway to work.

In fact, I probably deliberately don't see the pain of vast numbers of humans. How often do I think of the Central African Republic or Somalia?

As for those who are not human... I am more attentive to their difficulties. But, do I ever consider the plight of plankton? Of parasites? Am I more sympathetic to crows than to cows? Don't cows need me more than crows? Do I ignore farm animals because I am vegan, render them invisible through my very veganism?

What I tend to think is that most people are more concerned about people, so I can leave people to people and most animal ethicists are more concerned about farm and laboratory animals, as well as feral cats and dogs, so they can take on that burden. Most conservation types focus on the wild, especially the wild and charismatic and/or wild and native and/or wild and endangered.

That renders invisible crows and foxes, rats and badgers, robins and wrens, grey squirrels and pigeons. There's a certain general fondness for many of these liminal creatures. Not for rats. They are one of the great unloved. Pigeons and squirrels are deanimalised (I am playing on the idea of dehumanising humans by calling them "pigs" or "cockroaches") by being described as flying rats and tree rats respectively. The rat is almost not even animal. The rat is like filth animated, contagion with legs, disgust given furry form.

And, on the reverse, ironically, the rat is the first and the most numerous "model" for the human in laboratory experiments. So like us in mind and matter that they take our place, suffer for us, in the pursuit of knowledge.

Is this not strange? How can we make sense of this?

Of course, the common hatred for rats means that they "sacrifice" in labs means precious little to people. It is useful for us to hate them so that we can torture them in our interest.

Yet all who celebrate progress in medicine and psychology, physiology and neuroscience must accept this: we owe rats a huge debt, which is nowhere near neutralised by their perceived sins against us.

It is handy to denigrate those to whom you owe the most.

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Dec 22, 2023

I don't have an answer. But your films with the rats as part of the garden community have influenced me and I'm less inclined now to put them in some separate villainous category -- and see them more as just -another type of rodent. You're right -- we owe rats and mouse a lot in their use in research labs. I've known about this group for a few years - another kind of rat that provides service to humans.

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