Sunday, March 28, 2004

This semester, I signed up for a Buddhist ethics class because I thought it would be sixteen weeks of Zen meditation, sound-of-one-hand-clapping, at-one-with-the-universe tranquility. The professor, Bob Thurman, is one of Columbia's "star" professors, the first Tibetan Buddhist monk (now ex-monk) from the West, and personal friends with the Dalai Lama; apparently, he's the celebrity within the Buddhist academia community that his daughter Uma is in the real world. In his mind, however, he's the real celebrity, and that entitles him to be pompous, intolerant, and pigheaded and, to be honest, for a Buddhist, he's a bit of an asshole. It can't help that his class is full of sycophants and toadies.

Anyway, the reason I told you that is so I could tell you this: Columbia receives millions of dollars in federal research grants for the purpose of torturing monkeys. PETA is duly up in arms over three experiments in particular. In one, monkeys smoke cigarettes in order to determine (a) whether smoking is bad for monkeys and (b) whether the audience of Comedy Central's "The Man Show" thinks cigarette-smoking monkeys are funny. Now, it's obvious to anybody with the intelligence and good taste to read my blog that the answers to those burning questions are (a) "monkeys don't smoke, silly" and (b) "yes, but smoking monkeys don't elicit the same false self-esteem that a midget in a beer keg does," but you have to understand that this is science and scientists don't read my blog. At least not yet.

The other two experiments involve surgically removing one of a monkey's eyeballs and then cackling maniacally, or performing a caesarian section on a pregnant monkey, implanting a metal plate in the monkey fetus's skull, and then stuffing the fetus back inside its poor mother. To what nefarious end this research will be put, I can only imagine. (Maybe they're looking for a way to keep monkey fetuses from getting through airport security.) PETA claims that this research serves no purpose whatsoever; I'm a bit skeptical of that position — no one gives away millions of dollars for something that serves no purpose whatsoever — but I have a feeling that whatever the end goal of this research is, it doesn't justify monkey torture.

Now, Buddhists believe that all sentient life is to be respected because, in one or another past life, every sentient creature was at one time your mother. (So that means in a past life, your father was your mother. Eeeewwww.) And Bob Thurman's reaction to the news that Columbia was sponsoring monkey torture was characterized by the non-violent Green Party fervor that characterizes just about everything he says or does. In class, he told us that he sent a letter to some faculty research advisory committee that reports directly to Satan, er, I mean Columbia's president Lee Bollinger (I sometimes confuse him with Satan), saying that if Columbia did not withdraw its support of monkey torture, he would have to resort to quote activist channels unquote. Specifically, he would lock himself in a cage in the middle of College Walk until the monkeys were free.

God, it still makes me laugh.

Okay, first of all, if you really believe that it's immoral to keep monkeys caged in a lab for the purpose of giving them cigarettes or ripping out their eyeballs or implanting metal plates in their poor simian fetus skulls, then wouldn't you also believe that it is moral to break into the lab late at night, free the monkeys, and send them to a refuge where they can live out the rest of their grossly deformed lives in peace? Why waste time sending letters to an apathetic administration when monkeys are being mutilated as we speak? Oh, yeah, my idealism almost made me forget: consequences.

But, but... he's going to lock himself in a cage in the middle of a public street (and order a hamburger, just so the PETA people don't start thinking they can take advantage of him). Am I the only one who sees something a little ironic here? I mean, if I were evil enough to torture monkeys for my own amusement — and I'm not, okay? — then I'd definitely be evil enough to torture monkeys for the pleasure of walking to work every day and passing this distinguished professor, fifty-something years old, a wild man with a lazy right eye screaming at me from inside a cage, possibly throwing his own waste around. Gee, it's almost enough to make me hope they come up with some more repugnant experiments they can perform on monkeys, or better yet, the audience of "The Man Show."

Besides, with Thurman locked in a cage — no class. 8-)