No Backbone? No Difference.

The Rise for Animals Team, June 22, 2023

We humans rarely learn our lessons, especially when it comes to our own (unfounded) sense of superiority to others. Our mistakes in denying the sentience of other animals have been proven historically and continue to be proven (with ever more richness and starkness) today, yet we continue to belittle, denigrate, subjugate, and deem inferior to ourselves “other” lifeforms with whom we share this planet. 

Humans have adopted a particularly speciesist view of insects, compounding our blatant disregard for their lives (let alone their wellbeing) with the use of incendiary and oppressive language – they’re just “pests”, we so often say.

For the perceived inconvenience of their mere existence among us, we swat them, crush them, poison them, and electrocute them. We do this with little, if any, thought for the lives ended. 

But we don’t stop there.

It turns out, even “pests” are not safe from human commodification and exploitation: countless numbers of insects are bred, trapped, tortured, and killed in research facilities all around the U.S.

Not only have researchers exploited insects for decades, but, as the public becomes more concerned about the use of mammals for experimental purposes, researchers’ are increasing their use of insects. In so doing, they’re almost certainly banking on human tendencies for discriminatory and emotional reactions, the very same tendencies that see us crying out over the torture of dogs in labs while remaining silent over the brutalization of rats and mice. 

It also could not be easier for researchers to exploit insects, because there are no animal welfare laws in the U.S. that protect any invertebrates enslaved in labs. Anything can be done to them, for any reason, and it is. 

Countless individuals:

  • are “deliberately” stressed to death “in order to figure out how much [they] can tolerate”;
  • are subjected to surgery and electrode implantation all over their bodies “without any form of anesthesia”;
  • have their limbs amputated without anesthesia;
  • are dissected alive; and
  • have their extremities removed, their bodies embedded in hot wax, their heads opened “and electrodes inserted into various parts of their brain[s]”, all without anesthesia.

Researchers do all of this and more to insects – and humans remain largely silent – despite the existence of incontrovertible evidence that insects are like us in all ways that matter

Scientific findings demonstrate that insects display “a range of cognitive abilities” and are sentient (meaning, they experience both positive and negative emotions and states, including pain and fear). Insects can “count, grasp concepts of sameness and difference, learn complex tasks by observing others . . . know their own individual body dimensions, a capacity associated with consciousness in humans” and “”experience both pleasure and pain.”

They (including flies, mosquitoes, cockroaches, termites, beetles, butterflies, and moths) show strong or substantial evidence of pain, and others (such as fruit flies) even display chronic pain. 

Moreover, insects feel pain in the same ways and for the same reasons we do, and – because we and they share similarities in genetics and behavioral response – humans even choose them as “models” for human pain research. 

Researchers are doing this more and more, in fact, even as we are confronted with proof that insects “form long-term memories about the conditions under which they were hurt.” Just like we do.

The evidence is clear, but, tragically, humans have shown themselves resistant to changes in behavior even in the face of undeniable proof that their behavior is premised on inaccurate assumptions and causes tremendous suffering to others – as author Kenny Torrella observes, “just look at how we treat many birds and mammals despite general consensus of their sentience.”

Insects, just like all other sentient beings, deserve moral consideration and should never be used as means to human ends.

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