I’m inclined to think our aversion to rats has less to do with apparent differences and more to do with apparent similarities, and I think that’s the point Burt makes. You are right in saying that we attracted to similar others, but further than that we are attracted to similar others who have qualities we like about ourselves. Rats have similar qualities we DON’T like about ourselves, and so we are averse to them.
I’m not sure we blame rats for the filth created by our growth. I’d be inclined to think most people know we are responsible for the problems created by our cities. But, rats are an excellent symbol for this reality and “save” us from attributing these qualities to ourselves.
Great post. I’m not sure I agree with the perception of mice as heroic or tragic. While I do manage some sympathy when I think about an entire species being reduced to a “unit” used solely for our benefit, they have no voluntary involvement in this process so I don’t see them as sacrificing themselves. They simply come into existence for a short while and then shortly after leave having no idea the involvement they had in the big picture that is our own prosperity.
For my own (complicated) thoughts about rats see this post from last spring: http://blogs.lt.vt.edu/freerangedomesticate/category/rat/
We do use lots of dogs in biomedical research. One of the cases I find especially interesting focuses on breeding of a colony of hemophiliac Irish Setters: Pemberton, Stephen. “Canine technologies, model patients: the historical production of hemophiliac dogs in American biomedicine.” Industrializing Organisms (2004): 191-213.
I couldn’t agree more. And Corinne also touches on an even more basic paradox that underpins animal experimentation: We use “animal models” because of their similarities to humans. Yet we assert that our right to use animals in this way is based on their fundamental differences from humans.
I love your reflections on Burt’s reading of the rat as humanity’s twin / doppelganger – especially the old Lady / young woman optical illusion. All is never as it seems….
On the research animals as “interchangeable parts”: I’ve been interested recently in research about dogs that’s moving in the opposite direction. Insisting that “dog” is just too broad a category to generalize about, Brian Hare’s citizen science project, Dognition, seeks to understand dogs as individuals, and is already changing many of the commonplaces about dogs we assert to be “true” for all of them. (https://www.dognition.com/)
You perfectly summed up the main point of his article, and in a lot fewer words. I was trying to come up with another animal that takes the blame for human destruction, and the best I came up with are deer. People often complain of deer venturing into their lawn and feeding off their flowers, or getting angry they have to slam on the breaks to stop for one sprinting across the road. However, we should not see these majestic animals as a nuisance, but rather, as a reflection of the fact that we have expanded our suburbs well beyond their carrying capacity and into wild forests.
Furthermore, we should see other “nuisances” like squirrels as a symbol of human preservation of surrounding trees. Squirrels need trees to live in, and if their is an abundance of squirrels scurrying happily outside, then we at least have kept enough trees to support the population. This is clearly a much simpler piece of the equation, but my point is that humans should use the populations of animals around us as an evaluation for our mark on the surrounding environment.
Maybe that is the type of bond Shapiro was referring to; one that serves only to protect the animal for the human’s best interest instead of a loving attachment to the animal alone. However, he talks about the “perfect” rat he owned that died, and he seems to feel a remorse over this loss. He personally may really enjoy the company of the rats and view them as pets because he respects their contributions to science, but I agree that he is probably the exception.
It seems like they basically artificially selected the rats best suited for research in the first place. They started out with the Norwegian rat, and ended up with an albino rat specifically bred for its tameness.