A Modest Proposal for Establishing a Strategic Toddler Reserve

For the purpose of maintaining adult friendships, protecting household pets, saving monkeys, and benefiting biomedical research — prompted by a recent, reckless article in the NYTimes

(With Apologies to Jonathan Swift)

How many times have we had the unfortunate experience of visiting the home of a dear friend or colleague, only to discover everything changed. The warm embrace is replaced by a distracted, beckoning wave; the smartly arranged chambers are now an untidy mess; the well-crafted libations have changed into beer in cans or wine from a box; engaged dinner conversation about politics, art and letters is now a litany of complaints from the host about lack of time, constant exhaustion and frequent bouts of influenza. The source of the unwelcome change is soon apparent; lurking behind our hosts’ skirts and trousers is a child of 1-3 years of age, the toddler.

Such painful experiences as these are made even worse by still another doleful spectacle, one as painful to behold as almost any other that can be contemplated: cruelty to our non-human friends and companions. The innocent dog or cat, formerly considered a dear sibling or even a beloved child, is now treated as a nuisance. Its basic needs – food, clean water, access to the out-of-doors, play time and especially love – are begrudged, treated as an obnoxious importuning. And if, as a result of the pet owner’s obliviousness, the animal happens to make a mess somewhere in the house, then it’s as if all the furies of Hell were loosed! Yelling and gnashing of teeth, physical chastisement with hands or a rolled-up newspaper, or even – most painful of all — an extended foot, causing the poor unfortunate to seek a secluded place to hide and nurse wounds to body and even worse ones to pride. And what is the reason for this cruelty toward the formerly cherished pet? Once again, it is the greedy toddler; she has exhausted all of her parents’ reserves of patience and good will. The iron law of the toddler is “Me, mine and no other!”

Is there a more selfish, dominating and morally corrupting force in the world than the cherubic, ingratiating toddler? Is there a more cunning and devious creature? The answer is no; thus I set out below a proposed remedy for this dolorous state of affairs that has for so long confounded society. It’s a solution that will protect human friendships and at the same time conserve an innocent primate species currently subjected to the worst depravities that human medical science can devise. (I’m speaking about rhesus macaque monkeys – test monkeys — lately the subject of irresponsible reporting in The Times.)

Establish a Strategic Toddler Reserve where children between the ages of one and three may be interned and used for essential biomedical research. Unlike rhesus monkeys, a shortage of which, according to scientists at the Tulane National Primate Research Center in New Orleans, has hindered progress on the treatment of Covid-19 and other diseases, human toddlers are abundant: there are at least 12 million children in the U.S. aged 1-3, far in excess of the projected annual monkey shortfall of about 50,000. The even distribution of boys and girls ensures that any experimental bias can be eliminated by robust sample size. Moreover, whereas monkeys share only 90% of human DNA, toddlers share 100%, thus making them ideal test subjects.

The use of human toddlers over monkeys may also be justified on animal welfare grounds.

Adult rhesus macaque monkeys are highly intelligent, sociable beings, requiring large troops with which to interact and bond, if they are to thrive. This is difficult to achieve in a laboratory setting, or even in the outdoor enclosures set up at the Tulane facility. Toddlers on the other hand, are content to walk and crawl in confined spaces – under beds, tables and chairs – and are thus easier to house. Compared to the dietary needs of monkeys – fruits, vegetables and peanuts – the provisioning of toddlers is cheaper and simpler: rice cakes and boxes of apple juice will amply satisfy their needs and wants. And because the average adult monkey is more intelligent than the average toddler, the latter require less enrichment activities. A few wooden blocks, a ball, some crayons, and a sand box with brightly colored plastic shovel and pail will keep the child fully occupied between medical procedures.

The idea has already begun to gain support from the research community. “The Strategic Toddler Reserve is exactly what we need to deal with Covid and other infectious diseases”, said Prof. Ivan Cutemup, lead investigator at the Harry N. Killim Center for Biomedical Research at Northwestern University. The hope is to replace the current, seven national primate centers with at least as many national toddler centers where the children can freely range in large indoor and outdoor cages with multiple enrichment opportunities, such as watching cartoon videos on ipads and bouncy rooms.

Concerned about possible criticism from toddler welfare advocates, Professor Cutemup emphasized that adult needs must take precedent over the interests of mere toddlers: “The currently available non-toddler research substitutes, for example computer models, volunteer studies and cell cultures, are simply not what we are used to. And frankly, however effective, they are not much fun.” Another research physician, Dr. Mora Slicin from the Harvard Animal Research Laboratory, added that scientists would “make the most of each toddler, using them for at least a dozen scientific or biomedical experiments.” Unfortunately, she added “toddlers infected with Covid-19 or other diseases cannot be safely returned to live among other healthy children and must be eventually euthanized.” But with almost 4 million births year, the supply of toddlers aged 1-3 is nearly unlimited. And deployment to the Strategic Toddler Reserve will at the same time protect adults and animals from the malevolent thrall of this particularly dangerous subset of children.

Allow me in conclusion, to assure the reader that I am not so arrogant as to reject alternative proposals to address the over-population and harmful impact of the 12 million toddlers in our midst, ensure the protection of monkeys, and end the severe shortage of research animals. Some have argued that affordable childcare; monthly payments to parents to relieve the financial stress of parenting; nationwide, free pre-kindergarten; and better national nutrition standards would improve the health and disposition of toddlers and allow their parents more time for relaxation, sociability and intellectual or political engagement.

Protection of primate species in the wild will require the creation of large, wildlife reserves and payments to communities that could suffer from their establishment. And at the same time, new advances in biomedical research experimentation involving computer models and cell and tissue tests in vitro have obviated the need for animal or toddler testing altogether. But implementing any of these new programs and procedures would require the expenditure of money that would otherwise go to our most worthy citizens, the population of millionaires and billionaires that rightly run our political, industrial and commercial system. Unless we are prepared to enact these other programs and reforms, I must insist upon the beauty and necessity of this modest proposal.

Stephen F. Eisenman is emeritus professor at Northwestern University. His latest book, with Sue Coe, is titled “The Young Person’s Guide to American Fascism,” and is forthcoming from OR Books. He can be reached at s-eisenman@northwestern.edu