PSYETA goes a little crazy

Its Spring 1998 newsletter says
that Psychologists for the Ethical Treatment of Animals is “an independent
… non-profit organization comprised of psychologists working in
cooperation with other professional and animal rights organizations to change the way individuals and society as a whole treat non-human animals.”
After reading the newsletter, though, I’d say they’re a classic
case of the inmates loose in the asylum.

Consider the leadoff article in
the newsletter by Theodora Capaldo and Lorin Lindner, “PSYETA: Radicals
or Realists?” The article starts by describing child abuse and domestic
violence and tries to link those phenomenon with abuse of animals. Certainly
children who take out their anger by abusing animals need help, but PSYETA
goes much further maintaining that “membership in a nonhuman species
is no further justification for the deprivation of natural rights than
race, age, sexual preference, gender or any other categorization.”
Unfortunately, they don’t even attempt to develop or highlight any
specific “natural rights” theory.

Of course PSYETA believes this
puts “psychology in the forefront of moving society up the evolutionary
ladder of consciousness and moral development, PSYETA invites it to consider
another frontier, ‘speciesism.’”

Evolutionary ladder of consciousness
and moral development? Are people with PhDs really allowed to get their
degrees without even rudimentary training in evolutionary
biology? The idea of an “evolutionary ladder of consciousness”
is a religious belief, not a claim grounded in the reality of evolutionary
biology. This is the sort of nonsense I’d expect to read in a magazine
such as New Age or Whole Earth Review.

Capaldo and Lindner don’t
do much better in an extraordinarily lame effort to link violence against
animals with violence toward human beings when they claim “violence
toward animals is correlated with violence toward humans.” Certainly.
But you can pick any two variables you like and correlate them. This is
akin to me saying that protests by animal rights groups are correlated
with violence against human beings or that the amount of ice cream consumed
by Californians is correlated with volcanic activity in Asia. It is a
claim that is trivially true; any variable can be correlated with any
other variable.

Not so trivial is their view of
violence against animals. Lindner and Capaldo claim, “one necessary
step in doing this [understanding and preventing violence] is taking abuse
toward animals as seriously as other forms of violence.” Remember,
now, that Lindner and Capaldo earlier argued that there is no basis for
discriminating between humans and nonhumans when it comes to rights. So
should the slaughter of a cow to make hamburger be treated as seriously
as the rape and murder of a woman? Should a farmer raising chickens be considered on par with a serial killer? These would
seem to logically follow from Lindner and Capaldo’s claims.

Ultimately Lindner and Capaldo
return to their semi-religious musings about the role of psychologists:

We are convinced that the way humans treat nonhuman species causes
unnecessary suffering and violence to millions of sentient beings and
has a profound impact on our moral, ethical, psychological and spiritual
development. Psychologists, who should have a great capacity for empathy
and compassion, need to be in the forefront of efforts to eliminate
pain and suffering wherever it occurs. In this post-Cartesian-era, psychologists
/ scientists can no longer hide behind the erroneous belief that animals
do not feel or that if they do, their feelings do not matter. We cannot
continue to believe that what can be learned or gotten from animals
can be done so at their expense.

Throughout their piece the duo celebrate
their compassion, empathy and emotion, apparently unaware that they are
poor substitutes for sound reasoning and logic, both of which are noticeably
absent from their rambling.