Animal Testing: Necessary Part of Research or Primitive Practice of the Past?
By: Kaitlyn Petrow ~ Gold Key in Critical Essay
"The question is not, can they reason, nor, can they talk. But, can they suffer?"
Vivisection, more commonly called animal testing, as defined on adaptt.org, is the act of burning, infecting, injecting, freezing, starving, manipulating, shocking, and drugging animals with harmful, early-development stages of pharmaceuticals, narcotics, and other deleterious conditions or experiments, all while they are fully conscious. Each year, about 100 million animals are mercilessly subjected to this pain and torture, usually to the point of death or near-death. Among these animals are rats, mice, birds, rabbits, guinea pigs, sheep, fish, frogs, pigs, birds, dogs, cats, and primates, particularly chimpanzees. There is no question that vivisection is cruel, and many argue that it is unethical. Scientists justify vivisection by saying that it is necessary to ensure that medications, cosmetics, cleaning products, and other items are totally safe for human consumption and use. In addition, they presume that these tests are an important and customary step in understanding and developing cures for disease. But is animal testing truly necessary? What new technologies are developing to replace it? The answers to these questions are quite simple. Animal testing is more than just unnecessary, it is inefficient and unsound. Moreover, there are numerous technologies in development that will totally eradicate and usurp this practice.
Animal testing became popular in the mid-1800s. Some of the earliest known experiments involving animals include Louis Pasteur's experiments, in which he gave anthrax to sheep to show the importance of vaccines, as well as Ivan Pavlov's tests, employing dogs, to demonstrate how canines can be mentally conditioned, (Murnaghan). Since then, vivisection has escalated to the extreme. We have all likely seen shocking pictures of the doomed and miserable laboratory rats, rabbits, and monkeys. The cruelty these creatures endure is horrifying. Vivisection is arguably the worst form of legal animal abuse in our society, and there are few laws or regulations set on what can and cannot be done to the animals. These innocent beings live monotonous, stressful, and completely unnatural lives in total confinement and deprivation. The only time they come out of their cold, metal cages is when they are taking part in the invasive and mutilating experiments. In testing the formulas of household products such as cleaners, cosmetics, and toiletries, animals, typically rabbits, are held in full body restraints so that such "substances can be dripped in their eyes or spread on their shaved and scraped skin. The restraint stops [them] from pawing at their eyes or back to relieve the discomfort and/or interfere with the experiment. These experiments cause redness, swelling, discharge, ulceration, hemorrhaging, cloudiness, cracking and bleeding and/or blindness," (Devash).
According to The New England Anti-Vivisection Society's website, researchers are so desensitized to the suffering that they will not and in some cases can not ease the pain or feel surprised by the horrifying conditions the animals deal with. "One researcher, for
example, reported chronic diarrhea in monkeys in labs as 'normal.' Another claimed the 'rocking back and forth' is something 'they just do'," (NEAVS). There is no doubt that these practices are barbaric. But they are necessary for human safety, right? Well, recent studies have determined the opposite.
Enormous and vital breakthroughs have certainly been made through tests run on animals, such as in 1922 when scientists were able to isolate insulin from dogs for diabetes patients to use. However, with the amount that humankind has advanced both technologically and scientifically, there is no longer a true need for animal testing. Such breakthroughs and discoveries can be found in alternative ways. Animal testing is unnecessary and, frankly, it is outdated. China is one of very few remaining countries that requires animal tests on all cosmetic and other body-related products. Alternatively, other countries, such as Israel, India, Norway, and the entire European Union, have banned cosmetic animal testing and the selling of imported cosmetics that were at one time tested on animals. More and more governments are turning to alternative tests and leaving the animals alone. A poll sponsored by the Humane Society Legislative Fund, taken in 2013, found that 73% of American voters are in favor of federal legislation to end animal testing for cosmetics, (Devash).
Even so, many companies are concerned when developing a product whether or not it will be safe for human consumption. Thus, they first pilot the products on animals and then use the results to improve the formula. However, more and more, companies are finding that the reactions animals have to certain ingredients are not representative
of human reactions, thus rendering the results completely useless. Though the animals used in these trials on have been proven to share a majority of their DNA with humans, that small portion of the DNA does make a difference. Why conduct research on cats and dogs when studying human leukemia? Why test how makeup reacts with the eyes and skin of shaved bunnies when humans are the ones that will actually utilize the product? When researchers are testing animals in an attempt to find a cure or a drug to help with specific diseases, it is incredibly difficult to recreate the exact human conditions in the animal. They work diligently and often unsuccessfully to recreate these exact symptoms and mutations, killing many animal subjects in the process. Additionally, the researchers or corporations can always manipulate the environments or experiments to receive a specific outcome they desire. According to former animal researcher, Dr. Jerry Vlasak, in a speech given at the 2004 Animal Rights Gathering in the United Kingdom, "If researchers want to show that there is no link between smoking and lung cancer, no problem, just bring in some dogs, hook them up to facial mechanical devices, and force them to inhale smoke with every breath. For the record, it is true that smoking does not cause lung cancer in dogs." Yet it is now common knowledge that smoking cigarettes has a direct link to lung cancer in humans. "How about showing that diet drugs are safe for humans? No problem. Just bring in some rats, gorge them until they become obese and give them large doses of fenphen. For the record, the diet drug fenphen passed all rat research protocols but was taken off the market years ago after killing several humans." Anything from diet drugs to cigarettes to facial lotion could prove to be perfectly safe in preliminary animal experiments. But human tissue has evolved and progressed to react uniquely to a multitude of stimuli.
Connecting the positive results of rubbing lotion on a shaved bunny to having the same safe effects on humans is asinine, especially with the frequency of mistakes this system has encountered in the past. It is simply not worth the risk.
Vlasak goes on to explain that after his year of performing vivisection for a living, he learned that, "85% of all the data gathered from animal experiments [in the US] was literally thrown away because it was of no use to anyone human or nonhuman; never even published, much less used to help people. Almost all the remainder of this data was never found useful for human healthcare." Because products and medications that appear to be effective and exemplary in rodent tests are found ineffective once human trials are conducted, much of the data is simply discarded. In order for the animal test to be of any use, the animal must have exactly human-like biological processes, mechanisms, symptoms, and reactions when exposed to the product or treatment in question. Failure to meet just one of these criteria invalidates the animal subject and the data collected from the experiment. Therefore, due to the disparity in the way non- human animal biology and human biology work and process things, vivisection is a waste of funding, time, and of the lives of countless innocent, sentient animals.
Vivisection is also an enormous expenditure to conduct. Most tests "use up" numerous animals, as the test subjects often die or become too ill to take part in the experiments. Additionally, companies or researchers must find a venue for their tests. Often, these research venues are universities, and using their facilities typically costs a sizable chunk of money. The organization, Americans for Medical Advancement, a
strong proponent of finding alternatives to animal testing, claims that "universities charge a very large overhead fee for animal-based research conducted at their institution. Some of the top universities bring in around $100 million annually from animal-based research." Furthermore, the animals themselves are expensive. Companies and organizations conducting research in the U.S. spend a combined total of $13 billion each year on the animal subjects alone, (AFMA). Many of these researchers could possibly conduct their research for much less of an expense in their own facilities with more reliable alternatives in the place of animals. In opening up the budget by eliminating these factors, companies could spend more time and money on research and development of beneficial products or revolutionary cures.
So what is the next step in moving away from vivisection? We cannot simply start testing these products and medications on humans. But we can, as new technology insinuates, do the next best thing. Numerous modern techniques have recently been or currently are being developed as more efficient, cost effective, and reliable alternatives to vivisection. Among these are arguably four of the most impressive and most promising alternatives- human organs-on-chips, cell cultures that closely resemble human skin, lab-grown mini-brains, and virtual models or simulations. These advancements will not only allow for a huge step forward in disease research, drug development, and product testing; they will also initiate an enormous ethical leap in the research industry.
In 2010, Harvard researchers and collaborators at the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering perfected "microchips that recapitulate the microarchitecture and functions of living human organs, including the lung, intestine, kidney, skin, bone marrow and blood-brain barrier," (Wyss Institute). Referred to as 'organs-on-chips', these devices are predicted to revolutionize research on human diseases. The microchips are made of a clear flexible polymer, a little larger than a USB flash drive, that hold channels lined with living human cells in an environment that acts very similarly to the human body. These cells are not complete organs but are close enough in composition to actually function the way organs in the human body do. Wyss engineers have developed them so that, "mechanical forces can be applied to mimic the physical microenvironment of living organs, including breathing motions in the lung and peristalsis-like [constriction and relaxation] deformations in the intestine." This makes them very reliable in studying diseases and in developing drugs.
The second alternative technology is in-vitro test methods and models developed from cell cultures that replicate human skin tissue. In texture and elasticity, this tissues is nearly identical to human skin. At the University of Luxembourg, scientists are currently conducting cosmetic tests using "bio-artificial human skin" in order to test out new cosmetic products- tests which are usually done on rabbits. The CEO of the research lab, Bart De Wever, asserts, “The skin of a rabbit is very different to human skin. And since we know we are capable of mimicking human skin by reproducing it in a laboratory, this is much, much more relevant. It is really human skin. It is much more reliable, much more reproducible and probably less expensive,” (Hackwill). Another test
that uses 3D test-tube cultured skin tissue, called EpiDerm, has been evaluating skin irritants, pharmaceuticals, and chemicals for years. This alternative to using monkeys and rabbits "was found to be more accurate in identifying chemical skin irritants than traditional animal tests. In comparison studies, EpiDerm correctly detected all of the test chemicals that irritate human skin, while tests on rabbits misclassified 10 out of 25 test chemicals—a full 40% error rate," (NEAVS).
A third advancing technology in the field, similar to the in-vitro cell cultures, is lab-grown "mini-brains". Just 350 micrometers in diameter, these tiny bundles of cells and neurons mimic the processes and mechanisms of the human brain. Since the beginning of 2015, researchers at Johns Hopkins University have been growing and replicating these cell bundles until they reached a point of accuracy. If being much more reliable is not enough, these mini-brains are also so much easier to reproduce and attain for research. According to Chris Wood, journalist for online modern science and technology magazine, New Atlas, "hundreds to thousands of identical mini-brains can be produced in a single batch, and as many as 100 of them can reside and grow within a single petri dish,". The process of growing the mini-brains takes only 2-3 months, and researchers at Johns Hopkins are looking into how to make these mini-brains slightly bigger and produce them on an even larger commercial scale. As one of the team's lead scientists, Thomas Hartung, puts it, "we are not 150-pound rats. And even though we are not balls of cells either, you can often get much better information from these balls of cells than from rodents."
Finally, another interesting development that could supersede vivisection, is virtual simulation research. If human-cell-based alternatives do not seem reliable enough to a company, they can use this technology to test on animals without ever touching a living, breathing creature. This method, unlike the others, uses computer software that allows researchers to do the same experiments with the same environmental factors that could be done on a live rodent, but this experiment is virtual instead. Developed by computer engineers at the Human Brain Project, these simulated models of real mice and rats, can give as realistic results and data as if the tests were done on a live mouse. The simulations have a pre-set database that includes the already well-known and repeatedly proven reactions mice have when exposed to, force-fed, or injected with specific compounds. They also use data that has already been found in conjunction with new information to predict, as accurately as possible, how the mouse will react to new stimuli or to different substances. As of 2015, the team is able to map about a fourth of the 750,000,000 neurons in the mouse brain to the "corresponding points in the body that would stimulate them. For example, touching the virtual mouse's whiskers activates the corresponding parts of the mouse sensory cortex," Megan Treacy explains in her article on treehugger.com. This technology is still in the very early stages but is expected to make significant progress and release the first version of the software by the end of this year.
With the introduction of all these new technologies, it is not a question of 'if' they will replace animal testing, but 'when'. Researchers have, at their fingertips, methods that are far more cost-effective, reliable, and utterly harmless. So why would we not
choose these advanced methods over cruel and capricious animal suffering? As soon as these modern technologies are perfected and become widely available for all research teams and companies, it is only a matter of time before animal testing becomes a thing of the past that we shake our heads at. Not only is animal testing cruel and astoundingly unreliable and worthless, it is also unnecessary with the technology our world has and will soon have access to.
"Animals in Research and Testing." NEAVS since 1895. New England Anti-Vivisection Society, n.d. Web. 14 Nov. 2016.
Devash, Meirav. "What No One Is Saying About Animal Testing." Refinery29. N.p., 14 Oct. 2015. Web. 14 Nov. 2016.
Does Animal Testing Save Lives? Dir. BiteSizeVegan Emily. Youtube. N.p., 11 June 2014. Web. 10 Nov. 2016.
Hackwill, Robert. "Replacing Animal Testing with Cultured Human Cells." Euronews. N.p., 13 Oct. 2016. Web. 14 Nov. 2016.
"Human Organs-on-Chips." Wyss Institute. Harvard University, 09 Nov. 2016. Web. 14 Nov. 2016.
Murnaghan, Ian. "Animal Testing Timeline." About Animal Testing. N.p., 26 July 2015. Web. 14 Nov. 2016.
"Opposition to AFMA." Americans for Medical Advancement. N.p., 2014. Web. 29 Nov.
Taylor, Vicky. "Virtual Animal Research Facility with Embedded Interactive Screen Experiments." The Open Science Laboratory. The Open University, n.d. Web. 14 Nov. 2016.
Treacy, Megan. "Virtual Mouse Could Make Animal Experiments a Thing of the past." TreeHugger. N.p., 16 Mar. 2015. Web. 14 Nov. 2016.
Wood,Chris."CouldLab-grownMini-brainsReplaceAnimalTesting?"NewAtlas.N.p., 16Feb. 2016. Web. 14 Nov. 2016.
Yourofsky, Gary. "Other Animal Rights Issues." ADAPTT. N.p., n.d. Web. 29 Nov. 2016.
Zhang, Sarah. "Chips That Mimic Organs Could Be More Powerful Than Animal Testing." Wired. Conde Nast Digital, 7 June 2016. Web. 14 Nov. 2016.
By: Ethan Marley ~ Silver Key in Personal Essay/Memoir
"So you gonna play football bud?" My uncles voice followed me at most family gatherings, constantly trying to gauge whether I was going to continue to be a pansy that didn't want to tackles other boys my age and hurt them into submission. His question wasn't necessarily, "Are you going to play?" but rather, "When are you going to start playing?" I had never given much thought to it, but as the Fourth of July's and birthdays went by and he kept up his interrogation, I started to consider it. I did love Peyton Manning and the Colts, I had watched football since I could form memories, and my cousins had all played. I looked at them in their over-sized shoulder pads and massive space helmets (which looked more like riot gear on them than protective sport padding), and I saw the way the rest of my family was interested in them. They would ask them how their games went, what plays they'd been learning, and how many touchdowns they had. Most of what they said only made me want to play less, but if they were doing it, then I thought, with no confidence, "I can too."
So, in second grade, I decided that enough was enough, and that my cousins wouldn't be the only ones to share in the gridiron glory. After I told my parents the news that I was a future Super Bowl winner, standing tall at about 4 foot 8 inches, weighing in at 46 pounds, they signed me up at the Center Grove Bantam League. There may have been some indication that my Super Bowl dreams were dead when I cried at the helmet fitting before the season had even started (and to be fair, the helmet was very tight), but I kept at it for that season and then the season after that. When my athletic career didn't exactly flourish with either the Ohio State Buckeyes or the Florida Gators, I decided to announce my retirement to my parents, and to my surprise, they were indifferent. I thought there might be at least a little bit of push back, considering I was quitting on my dream, but unbeknownst to me they had an entire, nonverbal conversation when I told them.
"It's about time," I'm sure my mom communicated to my dad with a look.
"At least he tried," my dad probably said in his mind, with a mental shrug.
They were neither disappointed nor relieved, just curious as to what my next obsession and pipe dream leading to disaster would be. I didn't realize that at this moment, I abandoned my masculinity and ability to gain respect as an American man-boy.
This started to become obvious to me when my friends started to ask me why I didn't play anymore.
"Hey what team are you on this year?" they would say expectantly.
"I'm actually not playing this year."
"What? What do you mean?"
"I just didn't want to this year."
"You were just on Pro Bowl though."
While I was on the Pro Bowl team, I was on the lesser B-team, and I also got about 4 minutes of playing time over 10 games, so I figured the best course of action was to not go where I wasn't welcome.
"I know, but I just didn't really want to this season."
I was tipped off to the fact that I had done something "wrong" by my friend's face when I explained this to him. One corner of his top lip lifted ever so slightly, in a small show of disgust and confusion. He forced a, "Oh that's cool too," but I saw his lip, and I didn't forget it. My wrong-doing was only made absolutely clear to me about 7 years later, and it was made clear to me by a woman in a referee's uniform.
I was a freshman in high school, full of fear and hormones when walked into that Sport Clips on a late fall, October day. The wind whipped the back of my mom and I as we opened the door. A small bell rang and the large, tattooed woman at the counter said in a forced voice that belonged to someone whose shift had lasted too long and had lost the ability to put space between her words, "HiWelcomeToSportClipsPleaseSignIn."
I wrote my name on the clipboard and a few minutes later, a short, older blonde woman called my name. Or she tried to. "Ian?" My mom and I sat politely, waiting for my name. "Is there an Ian? No Ian, all right."
"Ethan?" I said, trying to not sound rude.
"Come on." She made the come here motion with her index finger. I had already made an enemy out of her.
I sat down in the chair, hoping I wouldn't accidentally get Ian's haircut. She plugged in her clippers preparing to shave my head, and she said, in a hopeful voice, "So do you play any sports? Football?" I should've been prepared for this. Most people assume that anyone who looks like they skip at least one meal a day must be an athlete. While my explanation to her assumption would've been, "I have high metabolism," I had a hard time coming up with an answer, even though she had given me an obvious lead in, she even named a sport for me.
"No, not this season," I said, hoping that the judgment that was definitely coming would miraculously not.
"Oh so you're just taking the year off?" she said trying to find an angle that would, in her eyes, not make me an un-athletic kid whose name might be Ian.
"Yeah, well I haven't played since about third grade."
The rest of the haircut was only filled with the sound of the clippers, buzzing busily, taking off my disgusting, non-football playing hair. I tried to stay concentrated on the small TV, situated in front of every hair cutting station, but I still felt the weight of the silence between us. After I heard the clippers click off, I got up, said thank you, and was surprised when she didn't spit on me and tell me to leave angrily.
I walked out to hear that same bell ring and hear that same tired woman say in a slurred voice, "ThankYouForComingToSportClipsHaveANiceDay." I rounded my mom’s SUV with a furrowed brow and a shaved, cold head, and she asked me if there was anything wrong. "Do you not like your haircut?" she said worriedly. It was a fine haircut, but that wasn't the problem. "No, it's all right, I'm fine." I tried to un-furrow my eyebrows and talk about something that would take my mind off of my "stylist's" judgmental response to my completely banal answer to her conversation starting question. That clipped "Oh," hit me on a level that probably surpassed what was intended.
I had faint images in my mind of people in life who had reacted to my quitting football. There was my family, who said, "Awww, but you were so good!" politely lying to me, and (ex)teammates that I went to school with in third grade, scoffing at my decision and telling me how much I'll be missing out on the new renovations to the fields all the new concession stands, and I remembered my specific friend's lip curling with contemptuous disgust but quickly saying, “Oh yeah, that’s cool too,” but that reaction I got from my nameless barber was the first, truly unfiltered, and unhindered by emotional investment. She saw a young kid walk in, lanky and odd, and must have assumed that this kid's only reason for living is sports. And what young man's isn't? Apparently my lack of reason for living really got to her, which then, in turn, got to me.
I was staring out the passenger's side window, remembering the reasons I quit football. The thoughts that surely went through her head started to swirl around mine. Could I not take it? I really did look forward to our water breaks while I was those teams so many years before. Even when we lost, I would sip dutifully from my sweating water jug and feign anger, saying, "Aw, come on!" while slapping my padded knee.
Every other person who continued to play through elementary school and made it through middle school seemed to have come out pretty well. Now in high school, they sauntered through the halls, the groomed stallions of their head coach, who looked on proudly while his giant show ponies trotted by, their jerseys stretched tight over their swollen bodies, ready for game day.
Was I too weak to continue to play? I had been 46 pounds in third grade, but I had more than doubled my weight in the last seven years. Most of that weight was bone mass, which made me think about my lack of steroid-enhanced muscle.
I realized that Center Grove Bantam League natural selection had done its work to faze me out of the league, to leave the more fit players to survive and thrive while I was bullied by stylist who question my masculinity. I'm sure countless other tall, lanky boys had strolled into the barber shop, wearing their Nike shoes and long, I'm-an-athlete-please-accept-me-socks, demanding a faux-hawk that requires at least one bottle of hair gel. I'm sure the same woman has asked, "So what are you playing this season?" and I'm sure they've responded with a cocky, "Football, basketball, baseball, and water polo," smirking in the mirror at their own physical prowess. I'm sure that most boys who go into Sport Clips either play sports, or do their best to lie about playing sports, but because I had essentially said, "No I don't play sports, I'm here for a cheap haircut," I was shunned as a peasant.
I got out of the car and shut the door, walking inside behind my mom and splitting off to go to my room. I sat down on my bed, still thinking about the fact that I quit football because I probably just couldn't handle it. Krystal, or Diamond, or whatever that woman's name probably was made me realize that it might not have been such a good idea to quit. I thought about the athletes at school, who could seemingly do no wrong (in the eyes of both their peers and their teachers), and I thought about the college athletes, getting free education for their skills, all the way up to professional athletes like Peyton Manning, the large headed quintessential American athlete, the everyday nice guy, and the expectation. I looked at my "Most Sportsmanship" Award that still hung on my wall, half for my own amusement and half because I didn't know what else to do with it. It obviously meant the "Nice Kid Who Didn't Want to Play" award, but in that moment, I wondered how many other awards I could have gotten. I wondered, if I had only kept playing, if I could've walked into Sport Clips with my head held high, proclaiming with confidence that, "Yes, Krystalina, I do play football." I started to think back on the conversations that I had with my parents both before and after I decided to quit football, and I remembered a specific instance very clearly.
I was talking to my mom, waiting in the Chick-fil-A drive thru line. I was in third grade, had just recently retired, and was still grappling with the fact that my parents might want me to keep playing, to carry on that honorable Marley "tradition". I said, "Mom, do you want me to play football?"
"Well you don't have to," she said with a smile.
And lying on my bed, staring at that plaque, which read “Ethan Marley on the Ohio State Buckeyes for Sportsmanship, 2006 season,” I thought of that, "Oh," again. I thought of all of the things I had been interested in after football, and I was satisfied with the fact that I had left the sport behind for things that were actually enjoyable to me. Drawing, movies, books, and all of those small things that I hooked onto and loved, and that took the place of football. I liked not playing, not having to pretend to care when my team lost, when really I was just hungry and ready to go home, and I liked that I didn't make it all the way to high school football, where I would've been paraded around like a muscular, red and white clad beauty queen. I thought of the feeling of relief I had when I quit, and the elation there was of finally not having to lug my oversized pads and water jug to practice every other day. That was the far past, over half of my life ago, and I was free.
I walked out of my room satisfied with the fact that quitting football didn't make me less of a man, it probably just made me a little bit lazy and more prone to "academic pursuits" (like drawing stick figures hitting each other). I thought that I would rather do what I want to do and be happy than do what I feel I'm supposed to do and feel accepted by people I don't know. I walked out to my living room, with a newly un-furrowed brow, and my mom said, "So you like your haircut now?"
"Yep," I said, in a much better mood.
And then, with a grinch-like, twisting smile, I thought of her family parties.
"So are you still cutting hair at a chain store? You know, the one place, where they make you wear a referee costume?" her dad probably asks.
"Yeah, I still am."
Madison Hodges "Us Vs. Them" Silver Key
Tribalism, "loyalty to a social group, especially when combined with strong negative feelings for people outside the group" (Merriam Webster), is the foundation of all rivalries. People with shared experiences, cultures or geographical location share a common identity which differentiates themselves from others--outsiders, not us, but them. Predating the Agricultural Revolution, tribalism originates in the hunting tribes of Southern Africa. Loyalty to the tribe was in one's best interest, as it guaranteed protection, food and an increased chance of survival. Current situations have evolved greatly; food is plentiful, health care decreases chance of death and shelter is stable, yet tribalism still prevails in modern societies. While dependence on a literal tribe is no longer relevant today, tribalism's true bonding forces, "natural impulses such as fear, desire, necessity, or ethnic distinctiveness," have withstood the test of time (International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences). Despite an increased accessibility to basic necessities, humans as innate social beings crave a sense of belonging and naturally group together.
As with most sociological patterns, tribalism is complex and should be treated as such. Advancements throughout history would not be possible without tribalism and its competitive nature. In efforts of beating rivals, companies innovate new technologies and advance in their respective field. Nation-building is a result of a geographically-joined group working together for a common cause. Based off the simple explanation of tribalism, "us vs. them," the benefits of tribalism usually lie within the "us": the unity, empathy and connection. The dangers lie within the rivalry. In Barry Brownstein's article "Is Tribalism the Worst Idea in History?", Brownstein summarizes a World War II-era philosopher's views on tribalism. According to Martin Buber, the philosopher, the divisive mindset is not so much "I vs. Thou," as he calls it, but more of "I vs. It," where "others are seen as less than us, either as objects who help us or obstacles that get in our way." Such thinking dehumanizes and induces apathy towards those with differences.
Tribalism is abundant in the modern world. The sports industry is entirely dependent on competition, and team fanatics become emotionally invested in wins or losses that have virtually no effect on their everyday life. School spirit, a microcosm of America's patriotism, encourages students to have pride in their community and support their peers. On a more serious note, prejudice, whether it be on race, sexual orientation or religion, stems from fear of unlike people. For example, some Americans who are afraid of Middle Eastern-based terrorism blanket stereotype all Muslims as criminals and advocate for rash measures based on their fears. When campaigning, President-elect Donald Trump proposed he would "suspend immigration from areas of the world where there is a proven history of terrorism against the United States," enact police surveillance on U.S. mosques and keep a registry of American Muslims (Zurcher). Insidious thoughts such as these divide the Earth's inhabitants in unspeakable ways, and when acted upon, can end in massacre and genocide. Tribalism unites but also widens the differences between diverse groups.
While tribalism affects numerous areas in the modern world, a prevalent negative example in America is nationalism: blind devotion to one's country often resulting in aggression and superiority aimed at other nations. Patriotism, while similar, lacks the aggression and divisiveness nationalism creates so easily. As 20th-century American journalist Sydney J. Harris eloquently states, "the difference between patriotism and nationalism is that the patriot is proud of his country for what it does, and the nationalist is proud of his country no matter what it does."
The United States has a dangerous concept of inherent patriotism, that by living in a country, one must be grateful for it. Expectation is where nationalism rears its ugly head; pride is a healthy feeling when deserved, but forcing others to support a cause shows that perhaps the cause itself isn't as virtuous as believed. For example, the pledge of allegiance is routinely recited at the beginning of school days and before sporting events throughout the country. According to a 2003 report by the Education Commission of the States, forty-three states have requirements regarding student recitation of the pledge of allegiance, and in six of those states, pupils are not given the option to sit out. Pledging allegiance to a national symbol has serious implications, insinuating devotion, trust and obedience. Teaching students as young as five to recite such a loaded statement prevents young minds from questioning commonly-accepted beliefs later in life and leads to a blind trust in their country.
While faith in the government and democracy as a whole is imperative to America's success, blind trust stifles diversity of thought and implies that America can do no wrong. Nationalists use anthems and pledges to convey the American agenda and demonize anyone who disagrees, but a group can only get so far with one perspective. Skepticism and discussion often leads to progress; by ignoring contrasting opinions, nationalism unintentionally regresses in its endeavors.
Refraining from subscribing to nationalist ideals often has repercussions and widespread pushback. When Manuel Martinez, a fourteen year old boy from New Jersey, decided to sit down during the pledge in response to a presidential nominee's controversial comments, he received backlash from teachers. Despite parental permission, a constitutional right to refrain from participation and his respectful approach, Martinez said "there are certain teachers who don't respect me for it. One of them [questioned] my character" (Riordan). Martinez pointed out a flaw in the system, and in efforts of keeping the tribe unified, others suppressed his voice and questioned his loyalty. What critics may not realize is that Martinez, in refusing to accept subpar behavior from a more-capable country, showed an investment in the country's future rather than disrespect. When Colin Kaepernick, a quarterback for the San Fransisco 49er's, knelt during the national anthem before a game in protest of police brutality, thousands of Americans erupted in outrage. Critics accused him of disrespecting the military and being ungrateful for the freedoms he's been given, even though his protest was on a completely different matter. Kaepernick shed light on an important racial issue by exposing the injustices against black Americans. Instead of paying due attention and attempting to improve the nation's police-citizen relationship, the country ignored the issue and instead focused on Kaepernick's criticisms of his fellow Americans.
In these cases, tribalism's harm stems from the unity side, not rivalry. When independent thinkers question American ideals, fellow citizens often see it as betrayal to the tribe, when in reality, discussion often leads to deeper understanding and advancement. In a circumstance similar to Martinez and Kaepernick's, when an Orthodox Jew from New York reported the sexual abuse of his son at a Jewish bathhouse in 2012, the Jewish community shunned him for harming the group's reputation (Otterman and Rivera). Instead of listening to criticisms of the religious community's conduct or apologizing for the lapse in judgement, the community valued loyalty over morality. As journalist David Ropeik on Big Think states, "Tribe first. Morals second." Nationalism suppresses conversation on America's complex issues, whether it be race or sexual assault, and prevents the country from peacefully disagreeing. If America's faults are acknowledged, the tribe's superiority is threatened, and to some, that's too large a risk to take.
Nationalism's consequences affect foreign relationships as well. Citizens ranging from politicians to Olympic athletes commonly declare America to be "the greatest country on Earth," claiming superiority over other countries and cultures. Despite America's diverse background, prejudice against foreigners, particularly those of non-Western cultures, is prevalent. Illegal immigration practices and potential terrorism feed into beliefs that outsiders will infiltrate and contaminate the country's streets, leading some to peg entire groups as rapists or criminals. In the 2016 election campaign, a photo posted by a presidential candidate's son compared Syrian refugees to Skittles, asking "If I had a bowl of skittles and I told you just three would kill you, would you take a handful?" (Hauser). The analogy stereotypes an entire group on the basis of a few's actions, but also dehumanizes refugees by comparing them to inanimate objects. Tribalism's divisiveness is evident in the photo, a prime example of Martin Buber's "I vs. it" theory. The analogy devalues outsiders to be objects or statistics, not humans with feelings and desires just like Americans.
Tribalism unites communities under shared identities but also divides them via competition, rivalry and prejudice. The phenomenon has survived through all of human history and has had profound effects upon society, both positive and negative. Tribalism's primary form in modern America, nationalism, stunts the country's progress and creates a divide between Americans and other global citizens.
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