Friday, September 21, 2012

AIDS, and Animal Research is Good

AIDS patients are generally killed by the symptoms of other diseases their immune system decides not to defend.  AIDS has it's finger on the immune system.  Then it hides away in the body, constantly mutating to avoid detection and immune response.  You can see this would be a difficult virus to deal with.

But Chimps, who often carry a cousin of AIDS in their body in the wild, are unaffected by HIV.  They can can carry HIV without being killed by it.

It would only seem natural then, that we should write a contract with some chimps and pay them to help with this research.  We could be honest about the risks.  What other job offers have they had recently?  Perhaps this isn't really free choice still, but this would no worse than the kinds of choices we offer to real human beings, who often have to choose between some undesired job such as boot soldier or being unemployed.  We talk about freedom and choice but in reality our range of choice is very constrained.  We can't choose to live the good life, and not to work, unless we own a venture capital company...

Somehow I can't imagine that being done, though.  How can the negotiation be done.  Should we make Chimps into humans?  We have a society that is built to meet human, not chimp, needs and capabilities.  Should we make Chimps into humans?  Somehow that sounds like the most dastardly idea of all...but if they happened to evolve human capabilities we oughtn't stop them either.

Now even if Chimps who are quite close to us could evolve human like capabilities sufficient to be serviceable in human society...what about baboons, marmasets, or laboratory mice?

Consider the Chimp position in this world now.  Their balkanized native territories are being overrun by Homo Sapiens.  As with the Native Americans who occupied a continent and then became relegated to remote and poor backlands.  Their genetic diversity is already being greatly reduced.  Further the impacts of pollution, global warming, and so on.  When not on relatively tiny protected areas, they are routinely shot by the law breakers.  Off their protected areas, they are shot at will.  Pretty much the sorry state of all other wild animals on earth today.

Living in an animal research facility, animals often get better care and desired attention than in zoos.  Private ownership is a crap shot for unusual pets like monkeys, and even cats and dogs, sometimes they fare better than in animal research and sometimes worse.  (BTW, it's very unwise to own chimps, they can bend steel bars for example.)

Chimps in particular are covered by very strict regulations when used in research today.  They must not be treated inhumanely in any way.  They must be retired after so many years participation in research.  Their medical, social and amusement needs must be met throughout their lifetime.

These animals living away from nature aren't generally a subtraction from what can exist in the tiny portion of wildlands we leave to them.  Those wildlands are already in constant saturation or decline...there are only as many Chimps as the land will bear, and what little protected land they have is constantly being overrun or used illegally.

So in effect the Chimps in research would have an existential choice if Chimp research were abandoned.  Live the life of the research subject, which could be a pampered one if the right regulations and oversight are in place, or not live at all.  I would gladly take the pampered research option over the no-life option.

But given that we can't do this kind of direct negotiation and contracting with Chimps, an emphasis that Chimps must have the same (so-called) rights as humans is terribly misguided.  Instead, we should grant them a different but equally important set of rights (which we unfortunately don't always grant ourselves): collective rights (right to collective existence at some expanse), along with rights to humane treatment.  But not this so-called liberty that is so often valued in human society, we simply cannot do that.  As Jamie Galbraith says, most often this so-called freedom granted to us by our rapacious capitalism is really simply and only freedom-to-shop.  It would be nice if we could offer Chimps that, and I would favor it done if it could be done fairly.  But it can't, really.  And in many ways, it is so limited for most of us anyway, it really isn't that important.  We can't choose not to need food, housing, or healthcare.  So we're back to collective rights and humane treatment, which we must adhere to.

So then I see it as highly useful that we also have enough chimps under our care in research to have a functioning genetic and social system for them.  That also serves as a buffer for catastrophes in the wild.  I believe that would be on the order of 1,000 chimps or it could be 10,000.  I've heard of various proposals to cut Chimp research back to zero or almost zero, and I think those are very bad ideas for many reasons, and the animal rights arguments presented are not relevant to the actual world context.

I fear some animal rights activists have become the tools of those whose real agenda is to de-fund the public sector generally, including nationally funded research.  Nationally funded (or subsidized) research has been the origin of much of our greatness, and future challenges look even more complex than those in the past.

These Chimps should be considered our most treasured guest workers with special requirements.


Now back to HIV.  Is it possible that in Chimps their version (SIV) has actually become a mutualistic damper on the immune system itself?  We humans are plagued with immune system overreactions.

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