Category Archives: Ethics

Why we should cut the US military some slack

This.

Men and women who serve in the military see things none of us have ever seen. In fact, they are trained to become innured to seeing and doing horrible, grotesque, unimaginable things (so they can stay as sane as possible). Yes, doctors (for example) may see similar blood and gore, but a doctor’s job description does not require him to perpetrate violence upon other people.

These people put their lives on the line every day of their lives so we can sit in offices or in our homes and bitch about birth control, write on our blogs, kiss our partners and children, relax in our own beds, eat delicious food. They are sacrificing all of these things so that we can have them.

And the worst part is that they do this service in the name of American ethics and values (not necessarily their own ethics and values). They are risking their lives for things we read about in the newspaper and minimize and disparage. But there is a difference between raging against a war we are waging and raging against the person who put his life on the line to fight in that war. Christians try deal with this by reminding themselves to “hate the sin, not the sinner” (although they seem to hate sinners an awful lot, especially when they are gay or aren’t Christian).

Americans today are so disconnected from the military. “Joining the military” is something someone else is doing in some other country. They’re taking care of the dirty work while we’re reaping all the benefits. And, like those cloying thoughts we have about destroying the environment, we sweep these pesky concerns about soldiers aside and continue complaining about how much we hate war and defense spending.

I have talked to men who have killed men, and it is pretty fucking bleak. Killing a person is life-changing. And the difficult part isn’t just dealing with the thought that you have killed somebody. You might feel worst about the fact that you don’t feel anything. You might have flashbacks to collecting the body of the person you killed. You may have mixed emotions about whether or not the person you killed deserved to die.

The incidence of mental illness among people who have served in the military is harrowing.  In 2009, 7% of medical discharges from the military were necessary because of mental illness. Approximately 1/3 of homeless people are veterans, although veterans only make up 11% of the US population. Which means that 67,000 veterans will are homeless tonight. Add to this depressing statistics on divorce, drug and alcohol addiction, and social isolation following service and I start to question the sanity of anyone who is willing to give their life in service to the military.

So when I see shit like this Atlantic Wire article about how “morally repugnant” and “disgusting” these people are who we have trained to become callous and self-protective in the face of violence…I feel like shaking the writer out of his/her frightening lack of big-picture-perception.

We are so divorced from the lives, pain, and suffering of military men and their families that these seem to be the only stories that we hear these days. What about all of the thousands of heroes who are enlisted in the military and are engaged in heroic feats every day? Like this Lieutenant who, with his Marines, endured 2 days without sleep in 100-degree heat to obtain a major victory on the border of Pakistan. And Pat Tillman, the multi-millionaire professional football player who enlisted in the army in the aftermath of September 11th, 2001, later losing his life in Afghanistan.

These stories are just as sensational. And they should be pulled to the front in place of navel-gazing articles about rare and isolated incidents that do nothing to treat or help any of us. The positives are individual and institutional: the military is one of the best ways I am familiar with for people to raise themselves up out of poverty and other shitty circumstances.

Even though we may not have friends, children, or neighbors in the military, we can honor the work of our military by focusing on what matters: valuing and caring for men and women who risk their lives in service to our nation. And cutting them some slack once in a while.

And also there’s this:

Ok ok, and this:

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How to know when you’re ready to have children

If I had to choose one, I would say the most difficult moment in my life so far came right after I realized I would never be loved like a child is loved by his or her mother.

I heard that friends can be your new family, and that finding The One would pervade my being and fill all the gaps left by a multitude of emotional cuts and scrapes. I expected too much of my friends and hoped for the world in each new relationship. I held out hope for a long time, thinking the hole would fill as I concentrated on the love of friends, distracted myself with a variety of substances and activities. The right combination of love and life would make me feel whole.

It never happened. It was heartbreaking.

The reality is that nothing can replace the affection, kindness, and nurturing of a loving parent. I am never going to get that, because I have an emotionally limited parent who is incapable of giving that to me. I am the child of a narcissist who had a child for the wrong reasons. Do not be this person. Put in the work to learn how to help your child grow into a complete person AND a life-long companion.

This is how you know you’re ready to have children:

1. You have worked through your own emotional and psychological issues. Are you depressed? Are you a narcissist? Do you have a personality disorder? Are you excessively anxious? Do you lack close friends? Are you addicted to drugs (legal or illegal) or alcohol? If the answer to any of these question is “yes,” or “maybe” or “I don’t know,” you are not ready to have children. You need psychological counseling and you have a long journey ahead of you to fix yourself before you are ready to have children.

Young children cannot understand mental disorders, and they suffer under the care of someone who is unable to nurture, guide, and care for them appropriately. Infants born from an adverse prenatal environment (in the womb of a pregnant woman who is experiencing extreme stress or a mental disorder or who is unable to regulate her emotions), have more difficulty regulating their own emotions, are more likely to be unhappy, are more likely to express negative affect, and may be more likely to commit suicide later in life.

2. You know a lot about child development. Do you know how long you should breast feed your baby? The answer is: 2-5 years. Is your twelve-year-old capable of advanced moral reasoning (can he understand, in a complete way, why he shouldn’t do things)? No, and he won’t have a fully developed prefrontal cortex until he is in his mid twenties. How often should you touch your child as an infant? All the time, and you should keep up with the close, physical contact until your child is at least 2. You should be asking many questions like this and having them answered by science and scientists (not by your intuition).

You need to understand how your child’s mind is developing and what she needs at every stage of her life. Find out what developmentally appropriate games you can play with your child, learn about what issues she might be going through. This means being attentive and reading literature and understanding the science behind it. This means asking relevant questions (without prying) like: “Who are your close friends at school and what do you like about them (who are they drawn to and why)?” and “Has anyone ever been mean to you at school (are they being bullied)?” and “Do you have any questions about sexual health or how to have safe sex?”

If you do not know the answers to these questions (and especially if you have not even asked questions like this), you are not ready to have children.

3. If you didn’t have a good model for how to be a good parent, you found one. If you doubt your capabilities to be a parent (which every responsible adult should do), make sure you have a good model for what a parent should be. Find a spouse who has a warm, loving family. Look for friends who have healthy and happy children and do what they do.

If you don’t have any friends, having a child is going to be extremely difficult and your child will not have appropriate opportunities to develop social skills and close social relationships. If you don’t have friends, take a long, hard look at what you are doing and why you don’t have friends. Then fix it. If you need the help of a psychologist or psychiatrist, seek it out. Don’t assume you’ll learn as you go along. Positive social supports and scaffolding for building social relationships need to be in place before you have children.

If you do not have friends or if you do not have a clear idea of what kind of parent you want to be, you are not ready to have children.

4. You have grown the fuck up. You are not ready to have children unless you realize what goes into raising them. As in love, the process of growing with another human being is one of hard work and almost infinite patience. The work is often fun and rewarding, but it is still work.

If you are not adult enough to walk into a poop-smeared room and still pick up the child who did the smearing and hug and love him while calmly explaining why spreading poop all over our possessions may not be the right thing to do, you are not emotionally mature and you are not ready to have children.

Is your house filthy and unsafe for a child? Do you have dangerous pets? Do you and your spouse have a vitriolic or immature/shallow relationship? Are you financially unable to care for a child? Do you lack a clear understanding of the work required of a parent? If the answer to any of these questions is “yes” or “maybe,” you are not ready to have children.

5. You realize a child is an autonomous creature. If you have control issues, you need to deal with them before you have a child. Your child is going to be independent. He is going to have ideas that are different than yours, he is going to have experiences that you have not had, he is going to see things that you do not want him to. Such is life. You can spend years fighting it, attempting to claim the moral high-ground, and/or arguing with your child, or you can give him autonomy to explore the world as a normal human being.

There is an internet meme going around that says something like, “I nag, pester, annoy, and bitch at you because I love you and I’m your mother. When you understand this, that’s when I know you’re a responsible adult.” That is bullshit, and a product of a poor understanding of how to mother a child. I shudder to think how many abusers and terrible mothers have that meme plastered on their digital or physical walls. A better way to approach a child is with patience, respect, love, and understanding and (always) a clear explanation of why things are happening. If you can’t do that, you are not ready to have children.

And finally…

6. You have empathy for others and you are a caring person. I cannot stress enough how important it is to be a complete, loving person before you start having children. You want to be (and to seek out a partner who is) fun, playful, attentive, loving, and accepting. Men, if you are going to be the breadwinner of the household, and your wife is going to be a stay-at-home mom, make sure she is a caring woman and will be a good mother to your children. Take as much time as you need to make sure.

Links on parenting:

-Darcia Narvaez’s thoughts on evolutionary parenting.

-Psychology Today’s parenting articles.

Information about postpartum depression.

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Why I Hate the “Fat is Beautiful” Movement

I am a size zero. Being thin is in my genes. I eat. I am healthy and happy. I have to work hard every day to put on (and keep on) fat and muscle. It’s a struggle.

So I had a visceral reaction the first time I saw Dove’s “real women have curves” campaign for “real bodies.” The idea seems good on the surface, but what idea is Dove really selling us?

Dove is a multi-million-dollar corporation. The idea that Dove is encouraging “real” beauty by selling us beauty products is, in itself, laughable. Dove uses statistics (like this one: “Only 2% of women describe themselves as beautiful”) and images of women’s bodies to sell us the idea that Dove is made for “real” women (not those skinny bitches who are not “real” women). The message is incredibly cynical and insidious.

In other words. They are using this image:

Dove Advertisement

…to do the same thing to women as does this image:

What advertising is selling women is the gap. For Dove, the gap is between “real” women and “not-real” (skinny) women. For Armani, the gap is between you and the ideal woman. Either way, the end-game is to get you to buy things. The problem is that this message is a destructive one that seeps below the surface and poisons our thoughts about ourselves and about women on the other side of all the manufactured gaps.

I cringe every time I hear a corporation (or person) bang on about how only large/curvy/thin/fat/big/skinny women are healthy or beautiful. Such messages are not just hurtful to every woman excluded from the body-of-the-year definition of what is beautiful, they are also concepts mobilized to encourage competition and dissatisfaction among women. They funnel female energy away from loving, accepting, and nurturing one another and into competing with each other over what is most attractive and appealing.

I would say I wish male bodies were exposed to the same scrutiny as ours, but that’s not the solution. The solution starts with showing men (and women) the effect they can have on female health and self-esteem by being kind, accepting, and loving toward women instead of belittling, categorizing, and objectifying them.

Yes, fat is beautiful. So is thin.

The next time you are tempted to criticize another woman’s body, just imagine a man (let’s make him unattractive, whatever your idea of unattractive is) leaning back in his leather chair and smiling cynically at the inertia he has created to feed into the destruction of female self-esteem. Every time we push each other down, he is winning.

I refuse to buy Dove products and prefer real images like this:

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Universal Morality: In the Final Analysis

Thirty years after he wrote them, Dr. Kent Keith was shocked and thrilled to hear his “Paradoxical Commandments” (see below) read as a poem attributed to Mother Theresa. He discovered the basis of the connection between himself and Mother Theresa through library research and began to speak about his work again.

Since then, Dr. Keith has become a renowned writer and public speaker (and lawyer) who has put years of work into parsing out universal ethics and exploring the field of positive psychology.

drkentkeith@hotmail.com.

In addition to writing beautifully, Keith has produced a clear list of universal ethics–ideas that are common among all the major religions and on which we can agree even if we do not believe in a higher power. He calls this The Universal Moral Code.

Keith’s Universal Moral Code can be distilled into two main tenets: “Do no harm” and “Do Good.” The complete list contains twenty-two actions we can take (“Be generous,” “Take care of your children when they are young”) or not take (“Do not physically or verbally abuse others,” “Do not do to others what you would not like for them to do to you”) to be moral, ethical humans.

I am fascinated by the commonalities among the beliefs of ethical people and am always curious to discover what ethics seem to be innate in humans (most ethics) and which are ‘created’ through religious idiosyncrasies or legal peculiarities.

Keith and I are not the only people who seek clarity on what ethics we can all agree upon.

"Penn Fraser Jillette (born March 5, 1955) is an American magician, comedian, illusionist, juggler, bassist and a best-selling author." I copied that directly from Wikipedia, because it is awesome.

In 2011, Glen Beck challenged Penn Jilette (of Penn and Teller) to come up with an Athiest’s version of the Ten Commandments and this is what he came up with.

Jilette’s list has a lot in common with Keith’s, but it is more parsimonious and elegant. He includes a commandment to rest, to “Put aside some time to rest and think” in his fourth commandment. This commandment encompasses all forms of religious ‘rest’ (Shabbat, Sunday for Christians, snake-handling, whatever). His other commandments include the abstract: “The highest ideals are human intelligence, creativity and love. Respect these above all.” And the simple: “Keep your promises. (If you can’t be sexually exclusive to your spouse, don’t make that deal).”

Keith and Jilette each provide a wonderful base of commonality among all humans: religious, spiritual, and non-believing. What a beautiful project. What ethics do you think are universal? Is there anything missing from Keith’s or Jilette’s list? Is there anything that should be taken out of either list?

The Final Analysis (Dr. Kent M. Keith)
People are often unreasonable, illogical, and self-centered. Forgive them anyway.
If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives. Be kind anyway.
If you are successful, you will win some false friends and some true enemies. Succeed anyway.
If  you are honest and frank, people may cheat you. Be honest and frank anyway.
What you spend years building, someone could destroy overnight. Build anyway.
If you find serenity and happiness, they may be jealous. Be happy anyway.
The good you do today, people will often forget tomorrow. Do good anyway.
Give the world the best you have, and it may never be enough. Give the world the best you’ve got anyway.
You see, in the FINAL analysis, it is between you and God. It was never between you and them anyway.

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6 Groundbreaking Psychology Experiments that Scarred Participants for Life

Psychologists are wonderful people. They’ve given us psychoanalysis, Celebrity Rehab, and Ritalin. Psychologists are also generally ethical, kind people out to do good and improve our understanding of human behavior.

However, sometimes people do some ethically dubious things in the name of science. For example…

6. Little Albert

Remember Ivan Pavlov, the guy who’s famous for making dogs droll in response to a bell?

"I’m a genius! Where’s my Nobel Prize?!"

Pavlov is famous for demonstrating classical conditioning. Classical conditioning works like this: Humans are pretty dumb, so we try to make everything easier on ourselves. We put things together that don’t really go together. For example, if your local bartender slaps you in the face every time you order a vodka-cranberry, you’ll start cowering in terror every time you smell vodka or cranberries.

It’s not really the vodka or the cranberries; she just hates you

Conditioning is responsible for those heart-flutters you feel every time you smell your ex-girlfriend’s perfume. It’s also why a junkie can’t visit his former crack-house without going into a self-destructive, needle-poking rampage.

The experiment:

In 1920, John Watson and Rosalie Rayner wanted to top Pavlov’s work and see if classical conditioning could work on a human baby. They chose a normal, eight-month-old baby who they dubbed “Little Albert.”

They started by showing Little Albert a white rat, then slamming a hammer onto a metal rod. Little Albert wasn’t initially afraid of the rat, but the crazy hammering sound was terrifying, so he soon learned to associate the rat with fear and misery.

After Little Albert was satisfactorily terrified by the white rat, Watson and Rayner used the same process to make him afraid of other white/fluffy things: a rabbit, cotton, Santa Claus, and a white seal fur coat (because, you know, this was the 1920’s).

I wasn’t there, but I assume their thinking went something like this: “Wow, those drooling dogs were adorable! How much more exciting would this experiment be if we used an infant instead of a dog? But instead of letting the baby smell delicious steaks all day, we’ll make sure every time he sees something white and fluffy, it will scare the bejeezus out of him! What could possibly go wrong?”

Where it went wrong:

Unfortunately, Watson and Rayner chose the color white. There are a lot of white things in the world, and we can only assume that all of them terrified eight-month-old Little Albert after his encounter with science.

Even worse, Little Albert left the lab before the experimenter was able to get rid of his fear of everything white (probably because Little Albert refused to see the mean, evil scientists at this point). So, essentially, Watson and Rayner gave an infant an enduring terror of all things fluffy and white and then never fixed the problem.

Not pictured: Little Albert shitting his pants at his first job interview

5. Oklahoma Sonic Boom Tests

The experiment:

Also known as “Operation Bongo” (yes, really), the Oklahoma Sonic Boom Tests were carried out in Oklahoma City across six months in 1964 by the Federal Aviation Administration to parse out the sociological and economic factors in sonic boom flights over rural areas. The FAA wanted to figure out if the US could use supersonic transcontinental air travel.

Seems important…

Where it went wrong:

Except that a sonic boom is sound. A lot of it. Just for some perspective, a sonic boom can reach 200 decibels at ground level. That’s one million times the sound of a cricket. Or 3.5 thousand times the sound of the average fart.

Although residents of Oklahoma city were initially receptive to the experiment, they got tired of the sonic booms pretty quickly. The force of the booms broke 147 windows and led to a class action law suit by the residents of Oklahoma city against the federal government. The FAA concluded that sonic booms were “tolerated” and hundreds of thousands of people in Oklahoma concluded that the federal government is composed entirely of assholes.

"Turns out, poor people will tolerate a shit-load of noise!"

4. Facial Expressions Experiment

The experiment:

In 1924, Carney Landis, a psychologist from the University of Minnesota wanted to do an experiment to figure out whether people make universal facial expressions unique to different emotions.

The study had many awesome implications for teaching autistic children about emotions and teaching men how to approach the gentler sex.

If you start apologizing for existing now, you might still get laid tonight.

Where it went wrong:

As part of the experiment, to induce a ‘disgust’ facial expression, participants were asked to behead a live rat. They had no instructions and no training to perform the procedure in an ethical manner. So, this was pretty freaking terrifying for all of them.

Although the idea was admirable, the experiment actually produced no positive results. Turns out we really are beautiful and unique snowflakes when we look at really gross stuff.

3. MK-ULTRA

The 1960’s were a glorious time in American history. Love was free, racism was falling out of vogue, and your parents were drying weed in their ovens to go to Woodstock.

I don't know about you, but I had fun.

MK-ULTRA was the code name for a series of experiments conducted by the CIA during the 1960’s. The CIA? Well there must be nothing to worry about; they’re totally trustworthy! Right?

The experiment:

Wrong. Although the original stated goal was “mind control,” what they actually did was test LSD on unsuspecting civilians.

The CIA even included a separate project called Operation Midnight Climax (seriously) in which they used prostitutes to lure unwitting subjects and then test tons of illegal substances–including LSD–on them, all while monitoring them behind one-way glass. I know this is a regular Saturday night for some of you, but these are innocent civilians we’re talking about.

Towlie was a "scientist" in the 60's

Where it went wrong:

Senator Ted Kennedy’s comments on MK-ULTRA really sum things up well. In an apology to Americans and non-drug-users everywhere, Kennedy admitted that the CIA conducted “drug tests on unwitting citizens,” the “agents doing the monitoring were not qualified scientific observers,” and that “at least one death” occurred. At least…

And, best of all: “Other experiments were equally offensive. For example, heroin addicts were enticed into participating in LSD experiments in order to get a reward — heroin.”

What actually happened is not known, since almost all documents related to the experiment were destroyed in 1973. What we do know is that the CIA took advantage of the best decade of the 1900’s to get innocent people addicted to drugs. Awesome.

2. Harlow Monkey Experiment

Harry Harlow is famous for his experiments in pair-bonding with monkeys. Harlow taught us that monkeys prefer a surrogate mother who gives them warmth to one that gives them food.

In 1960, Harry Harlow changed the direction of his research. He took happy, well-adjusted monkeys who had bonded with their mothers and placed them in isolation chambers.

Fascinating! This guy has already proved he’s a genius! Everything seems fine!

Where it went wrong:

Humans aren’t the only creatures that can be emotionally affected by experimentation, you dirty speciesist! The monkeys were placed in isolation, which caused many of them to eventually go super bat-shit bananas, and not in a good way.

Harlow actually called the isolation cages “Wells of Despair.” Plus, numerous comments by Harlow indicate that he was a serious monkey-hater. Harlow’s creepy later experiments, explored the depths of depression in animals by ‘breaking their hearts.’

I hate things that share 98% of my DNA!

1. The Monster Study

The experiment:

The Monster Study was a stuttering experiment conducted on 22 orphan children in Iowa in 1939 (uh-oh, they used orphans; we can already tell this isn’t going anywhere good…).

Researchers wanted to figure out if parents played a part in whether or not children develop stutters.

Where it went wrong:

Did I mention that the experimenters got the children to stutter by screaming in their faces and telling them they were worthless?  And that they got the orphans to participate by telling them the experimenter might be their new mom?

"Hey, this is your new mom! J/K, you're still an orphan, but she's going to yell obscenities at you for the next six months."

Of the six ‘normal’ children in the experiment, five developed a stutter after “negative therapy.” The experimenters tried to reverse the damage, but couldn’t. Worst of all, the experimenters didn’t even tell the orphans they were part of an experiment until 60 years later.

When the study was made public in 2001, experimenters were forced to admit that many of the participants were psychologically scarred by participating in The Monster Study, and that “the negative therapy group showed a loss of self-esteem,” which probably led to years of this:

The University of Iowa made a public apology after the study came to light.

That’s all, folks! Thanks for reading!

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A difficult but effective way to be a better person

Five years ago, I read a brilliant article on self-improvement by Rabbi Noah Weinberg. He explains an exciting personal exercise (here) for figuring out how you can be a better person and extolls the virtues of loving criticism.

I asked a close friend to do this exercise with me in 2008 and he came up with three big things:

1. “Try overlooking 3 things everyday.” In friendship and romance, overlooking things that do not really matter makes life happier and more joyful. I had to learn the hard way that I can’t make everything that annoys me a “hill to die on.”

2. “Try to not be so sensitive. I think people don’t think through things as much as you do.” I think all human traits are adaptive in a group context, but being sensitive is often a limiting, crazy-making, isolating trait in my life. Every time I see the humor in a ‘bad’ situation or respond thoughtfully to a rude comment, I feel myself growing.

3. “Be Bold.” This friend encouraged me to try out for a singing competition, start this blog, and apply to a competitive internship. I made it to the finals of Michigan Idol, gained an important outlet for my thoughts in my blog, and got the internship at the Human Rights Commission of Korea. Now, I don’t think I’m a total wiener; I enjoy new experiences and I take pleasure in risk-taking. But taking the steps to actually achieve all of my wild, unrealistic dreams is a challenge for me.

These are all things I am still working on, and I commend him for being so honest! I feel like my life-long task is self-improvement. Although hearing my flaws pointed out was jarring, I don’t think I could have articulated these personal goals myself.

What are your New Years Resolutions? What personal goals do you need to set today? Who can help you identify the things you need to work on?

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The thinly-veiled, dirty secret of “The Secret of NIMH”

‘The Secret of NIMH,’ also known as ‘Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH,’ is a beloved children’s movie about friendship and perseverance. Originally released in 1982, ‘The Secret of NIMH’ received much critical acclaim, because it was both beautifully-animated and not a Disney production.

The secret behind “The Secret of NIMH” is that it is an 82-minute piece of thinly-veiled animal rights propaganda against the National Institute of Mental Health, one of the most famous and productive mental health research facilities in the world.

Don't think you can distract me by using the enchanting voice of Sir Derek Jacobi, you sneaky bastards!

Let’s ignore for a moment the fact that the film contains many scenes that look like a terrifying PCP-induced hallucination gone wrong, the images the film shows of the “laboratories” in NIMH look more like pictures of a violent animal hoarder’s house than an actual laboratory.

The lead scientist is made out to be some sort of Dr. Mengele, but what the scientist in the movie actually does is inject the rats with a drug that gives them super-rat intelligence. The rats are able to read and even understand mechanics (I am a human and I can’t even understand mechanics).

A soothing, happy movie for children of all ages

After a multitude of terrifying scenes describing the origin of NIMH and the protaganist rat’s journey into NIMH (keep in mind this is a children’s movie), the mouse talks to a rambling, psychotic crow and then meets a scary owl, who mercifully decides not to eat her.

As a child, I didn’t draw the connection between the movie NIMH and the place where my mom worked (the actual NIMH). I just liked the movie because it was the most edgy, scary thing I was allowed to watch.

But let’s get serious about the implications here.

Many of us are alive today thanks to animal research. If you are against animal research and are going for moral consistency, I hope you don’t take insulin to treat your diabetes, antibiotics to treat infection, or really any FDA-sanctioned medication to treat what ails you.

Animals in laboratories are treated with care and respect, a far cry from the treatment animals in the factory farming industry receive. Working with laboratory animals is not fun or sadistic. It is often allergy-inducing, and depressing. But what people have done with animal research is truly incredible and life-changing.

I support this NIMH, not the cartoon rat one.

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