I first came across the work of Carl Rogers over thirty years ago, shortly after I’d managed to jump out of the net and finish my connections with the psychiatric services. I read his well-known book, On Becoming a Person, and was struck by how his theories were utterly and completely the opposite of what I had been subjected to during my years as a psychiatric patient. Wonderful! I have a continuing admiration for Carl Rogers. Indeed, I wouldn’t be helping to train people in person-centred counselling skills if I didn’t believe it could be used for good, in the way that Carl Rogers practised. However…
I’ve been reading A Way of Being – Carl Rogers (Houghton Mifflin, 1980). It’s not the counselling theory in this book that has left a nasty taste in my mouth. It’s this one short extract on p.255:
I am not suggesting that we “know” there is a separate reality (or realities). What I am saying is that we would not be demeaning ourselves if we became open-minded to such a possibility and started investigating it, as the Russians and British are doing.
To be sure, much more study is needed. I would wish to see a replication of the experiment on the mother rabbit and her litter. The mother rabbit, her brain hooked up to electrodes, was kept on shore. Her infants, far off at sea in a submarine, were killed one at a time at varying periods by investigators. At each synchronized instant of the death of one of her babies, the mother rabbit reportedly showed clearly registered electronic reactions . What do we make of this?
So what do we make of this? What do I make of it? I think it gives a good example of an apparently otherwise caring, compassionate person becoming so wrapped up in his interest in something and the desire to research it that he becomes oblivious to cruelty. I don’t suppose he would be wishing to see a replication of this experiment if it had involved a human mother and her babies. But, as the experiment itself indicates, animals are also sentient beings. I can see no way that such an experiment could be ethically justifiable.
This throws up the whole question of ethical issues surrounding counselling, science, and life in general. On what principles and/or basic assumptions should we base our morality? I’m finding myself continually having to examine and re-examine the stand I take on various ethical issues.
Returning to the Carl Rogers quote, suffice it for now to say that I can see I am in no position to ‘judge’ him about it. A vegan could (rightly) ask of me: Do you agree that it’s cruel to keep hens in battery cages? Yes, I do. But why, then, do you sometimes eat food with egg in it and not even bother to find out if the egg is from battery hens? Well, why do I? Why do any of us ignore a whole lot of things? Why do we sometimes not see, not do, not think about…?
Because there are some things we just don’t want to know.