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Selected articles from Arkangel No. 10


Animal Rights and the Easy Option

by Black Sheep

Campaigners for the rights of women and of the ethnic minorities in this country have got to be admired for the progress they have made in their respective causes. Of course, they'd be the first to point out - and I'd be the first to concede - that they've still got a long way to go; but what they have already managed to achieve, in the old, hard struggle to open/change minds of the great 'British Public', is nothing short of phenomenal, especially when you consider the relatively short time-span concerned.

When I was growing up, in the 6O's and 7O's, it seemed that little had advanced on those fronts since the time of the abolition of slavery and women getting the vote. Black people were still regarded as alien and inferior; women were thought of as being next-to-nothing (completely negligible outside of their 'traditional' roles as 'chattels'). These atrocious attitudes were not only perfectly 'respectable', they were the norm.

By the end of the 80's, however, things had changed a great deal for the better, thanks to the campaigners. By this time, it was the people who held those views who seemed to be in the minority - alien, primitive and 'negligible'. The change in attitudes had been so marked that further, far-reaching legislation came unavoidably.

As I've already pointed out, I'm very much aware that these causes haven 't by any means reached the ends of their roads yet. Prejudice is still disproportionately strong where it does most harm - particularly in the workplace, government and the most deprived levels of society. But it's still not a bad distance to have covered in twenty or so years. What have we in the animal rights movement managed to achieve in that same span of time'?

It can, of course, be argued - and with good reason - that the comparative success of the 'equal rights movements has more than a little to do with the fact that they are campaigning for the rights of fellow human beings. Fighting for women's rights, it could be said, will automatically get half the population on your side - and no-one in this country is seriously going to argue back, any more, that there are 'grades' of human beings who merit different grades of treatment.

Convincing human beings (by which I mean junkcultured, McDonalds - munching, scientist-worshipping consumers) that other species are worthy of equal respect is a much harder task - especially when (and this is another point of difference) to do so means them having to make a large number of personal, practical, fundamental changes to their lives; what they eat, what they wear, what they buy, who they trust to deal with their health, and so on, as well as what jobs and businesses they should allow to exist.

Nevertheless, I believe that looking at the campaigning strategies of these movements can teach us a thing or two about how to go about things, especially in that we have twice the job to do.

The most important lesson we can learn, it seems to me, is a political one: work from within. No group (unless it has an army behind it) can change society from an isolated position outside of it. It's no good occupying the moral high ground and trying to persuade people they should come up and join you. The equal rights movements made sure that the moral high ground was set up everywhere in the media, the office, the factory and the home, they forced people to face the issues, talk about them, make their choice and made them feel like social lepers if they got it wrong.

The Animal Rights movement has tried to do that, but in such a wishy-washy sort of way that its effects have been far weaker than should have been the case. We have also, in my opinion, made several mistakes which have made sure that the issues have never reached deeply enough into the British social 'psyche' to be un-ignorable in the same way that sexism and racism are.

The equal rights movements managed to achieve this because they realised they had to be deliberately populist. Now, before you reach for your guns, I want to stress immediately that by populist I do NOT mean the "don't upset anyone" compliance and compromise adopted by so many of our 'Nationals'. I am talking about its dictionary definition: "claiming to represent the whole of the population".

The equal rights campaigners NEVER had the mental attitude of people who hold a "minority belief". They worked on the assumption / knowledge, that their causes were self-evidently right to the vast majority of the population and deliberately set out to corner everyone into admitting it. They did this by bombarding us with the issues, encapsulated in jargon, until everyone was forced to face them and decide where they stood. That way, the fact that it was their opposition who were in the minority was highlighted and emphasised, to the point where it was they who became isolated, and hardly dare open their mouths.

One of the main ways in which they managed to do this was to use the old trick of labelling and pigeonholing - for which we have always been suckers. Each of the movements managed, as outlined above, to encapsulate their issues into an easily swallowed form: the buzz words "racism" and "sexism". They repeated the words to us ad nauseam (even to those who sympathised), but in reality they were quite readily accepted by the ever-lazy British public as the easiest of tools with which to pass on the message to others. How many times did you hear an argument actually concluded with the magic words, "Oh, that's just sexist" or "You're just a racist". The fact that these labels were weighted with pejorative associations of, respectively, women-hating / sexual insecurity and Fascism / genocide, meant that everywhere (and I mean everywhere) such arguments took place, the conclusion of the argument was already decided before it took place. Out with the magic words and the opposition are left with nothing further to say, except to feebly try to deny the label.

These simple words managed to do the job because the use of them manipulated certain common characteristics of people within this society: laziness, the taboo factor, fear of non-acceptance, etc. Pretty soon, the herd were all following this lead; few daring to contemplate disagreement. The introduction of these words even managed to oust a few old ones from the thesaurus. It may not seem much on the face of it, but when a movement can actually alter the language, it is a sure sign that it is really getting somewhere.

This use of words is a strong weapon, but it is also indicative of the strong position of the groups who used them. What I've described above could never have been done by any movement whose supporters were seen to be apart from the society they were trying to influence. I believe that, although our cause does have the potential, fundamental sympathy of the majority, our arguments, issues, jargon (Richard Ryder's buzz-word "speciesism/specism") and associated taboos (death camps, holocausts, etc.) have not reached a similarly influential and all-pervading acceptance because we have got ourselves into the position of being perceived as isolated and apart - a fringe concern.

I think there is, specifically, a danger at present of our movement being 'swallowed' by - and being seen to be 'just another part of' - the 'alternative', pagan, New Age counter-culture, call it what you will.

I know that a lot of our support comes from this quarter and I'm not by any means denigrating it as a movement in its own right - but I still think it's a big step in the wrong direction. There's nothing wrong with this alternative culture - who knows, it may be a blueprint for a much better world, one day, but one day is the operative phrase.

If we want radical change as quickly as possible, then we've got to influence as many people as possible. That way, the decision-makers are either influenced in their turn, or they are by-passed. It's as simple as that.

The alternative culture's principles may be spot on, but their power to influence is nil. This is probably because they don't want to influence, they just want to be left alone to live as they wish. They want to separate themselves from society; we cannot afford to, for the sake of the animals. We are in the business of conversion, not opting out.

Thus, in the here and now, I don't think we can afford the luxury of being identified with an amorphous, aimless body who, if they survive at all, will have no real sway for many, many years to come; and who, in the meantime, have proved to be a ready target for media scorn and general fear and/or contempt among the people we're trying to change or activate.

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