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Selected articles from Arkangel No.4
Winter 1990

 

 

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Sentientism

by Richard D. Ryder

(Author of "Victims of Science" and "Animal Revolution: Changing Attitudes to Speciesism")

I am against violence done to humans on the same grounds that I am against violence done to nonhumans; it causes suffering. Causing suffering to humans in order to prevent suffering to nonhumans is as wrong as causing suffering to nonhumans allegedly to prevent suffering to humans. Both are speciesist.

If people feel impelled by conscience to break the law gently, that is one thing, but violence against persons (lawful or unlawful) is quite another. If the conscientious break the law, they know they will have to face the consequences. But violence always risks causing suffering. And pain is evil.

Most animal rightists are very interested in ethics. Unlike some of our critics we have a heightened sense of right and wrong. We do not, however, accept the old unthinking moral values of the past - for example, that it is good to experiment on animals, hunt them, farm them, eat them and so on. We question the basis of ethics and pose to ourselves the two perennial puzzles of morality: should we be moral and what moral code should we follow?

The first question is really a matter for psychology. What is moral capacity and why do we have it? All human societies have rules of conduct covering such things as property, human life, family organisation and truth telling. However great the diversity of such rules (one culture, for example, may condone, polygamy and another condemn it) the fact remains that rules of some sort always exist; morality seems rooted in human nature. I suspect that this is because the considerable brain development of our species makes our behaviour highly flexible. Unlike an insect whose range of behaviours is probably very limited, our own range of possible actions appears to us to be almost unbounded . If someone insults me while driving I can either ignore the insult, retaliate by flashing my lights, make a rude gesture, shout back one or more of a hundred different terms of abuse known to me in a myriad possible alternative combinations, report the incident to the police, write a letter about it to The Times or smile indulgently, and so on. How does one select from such a repertoire? The answer is morality. A strict upbringing and the moral conditioning that went with it might prohibit a large proportion of the possible reactions and in so doing reduce the anxiety and personal disorder associated with conflicts of choice.

Severe legal, and indeed, possibly lethal complications are also avoided socially. I am not saying that the human species is the only species with a moral code. It is surely true that the parents of many species teach their young that certain behaviours (biting mummy's ear or paw, for example) are wrong. Different societies of the same nonhuman species can have different cultures just as ours do. But human moral codes are probably far more complex and diverse than most not only because of our large brain (no larger, proportionately than that of the whales) but also because of the complexity of our language.

What I am saying, then is, that the capacity for morality helps us to make decisions. We do not have to think so much in a crisis. This can accelerate reaction times and generally it reduces anxiety. Almost certainly it also helps create a cohesive society in which individuals tend to react in the same way to events. Maybe there is some survival value in morality.

The second question is "How do we choose a morality?" Are there objective criteria for right and wrong or is morality just a matter of taste? Well, personally, I cannot accept that right and wrong are out there waiting to be discovered like archeological remains. But I can try to base my conduct on some sort of rational programme like, for example, being consistent or following rules that are, as R.M.Hare says, universalizable, eg. that if somebody holds that it is wrong to inflict suffering solely for financial gain then this rule should be applied consistently, not just to relatives and friends, but also to foreigners and those of other races and species. Secondly, I can listen to the inner voice of conscience not the sense of guilt which has been conditioned into me since childhood "Don't do this, don't do that, you naughty little boy". No, I am referring to the genuine voice of conscience which is based upon empathy - the ability we all have to perceive that others are suffering. This capacity is, I suspect, innate and can be found in all children from infancy. They know that the other animals can suffer rather as humans do. They are right. In the past adults tried to brainwash the children, just as they themselves were brainwashed by their own parents into believing that the other animals were entirely different. This allowed children to grow up as speciesists without constantly feeling the discomfort of guilt about their exploitation of other species.

So what I am saying here is that as I know that pain is bad from my own point of view I believe it is bad for other sentients too. I make that essential altruistic jump. How far I jump has in the past been conditioned by my familiarity with others, my fear of them and my own needs for security, territory and food. Gradually, the moral circle has widened from family and tribe to include strangers and then those of other races. Now we must include those of other species. Morality is all about altruism.

One of the great problems in ethics, in my opinion, has been due to the confusion of two quite different things: theories of behaviour and moral codes. Of course all sentient creatures seek contentment and try to avoid pain - that is a fundamental law of all theories of behaviour. But morality is not about what we tend to do naturally, it is about doing what we think is right. Morality may go against our natural impulses very considerably and may be opposed to our own personal interests. Sometimes our sympathy for others will make it easy for us to act morally but sometimes this sympathetic motive will be weaker than other drives motivating us in the opposite direction; it is in these latter circumstances that my rational cognitive sense of right and wrong must strive to overcome temptation. Basically, morality is about how I treat other sentient beings. It is about whether we cause pain or pleasure; about whether I do to others what I believe pleases them. As Confucius said - "What you do not want done to yourself, do not do to others".

How then do we define "others"? Surely we must define others to include all sentient beings human, nonhuman and even the machines of the future if we have grounds for suspecting that they are conscious. This is what I mean by sentientism. It does not allow the trading off of the pains and pleasures of one group against those of another. The weakness of the utilitarian trade-off model is that it allows, for example, the intense pleasures of a sadist to outweigh and justify the agonies he inflicts upon his victims. Surely consciousness or sentiency is limited to the individual; it is not transferable to others. You thus cannot aggregate across individuals. Each individual sentient therefore is sacrosanct; this is sentientism. And I believe it is the greatest moral challenge of the millenium.


Is Violence In The Pursuit Of Animals' Rights Morally Justifiable?

by Robin Webb

(a member of the RSPCA's National Council and former Assistant Director of Animal Aid)

"VIOLENCE": 1) The exercise or an instance of physical force... 2) Powerful, untamed or devastating force... 3) Great strength of feeling... (Collins English Dictionary, 2nd edition, 1986)

Much has been written by individuals, local groups and national societies, particularly during the past year or so, about violence in and by the animals rights movement. Although open discussion is healthy, as in the series of public debates between myself and John Curtin, some of the attacks on direct action have caused deep divisions. This can only detract from any progress we may have made for our fellow creatures had we not channelled precious energy into arguing with each other. Let us then pause, stand back, and take a calm look at what we mean when we argue the validity or otherwise of using violence and what we actually define it to be.

The use of what some in our movement term 'violence' is usually outside the (political) law. The RSPCA clearly cannot condone the use of unlawful acts in pursuance of its aims while its front line of defence for non-human animals is the inspectorate, working with and within the law. To support breaking the law would destroy the credibility of this vital force - how could inspectors try to enforce the law, however inadequate the law may be, if the Society that employs them excuses actions contrary to such principles? However, although the RSPCA itself works strictly within the law it confines criticism of those who choose differently to condemnation of "actions of animal rights groups that endanger life". When the policy was adopted it was made clear that the actions referred to were premeditated ones. This offers clear guidance and highlights how vague the stated policies of some other national societies seem.

One example of attempted clarification causing yet more confusion through lack of proper thought was the article 'Policy on Violence' in issue 5 of 'Animal Aid Campaign News'. Paragraph I of the piece made it clear that violence should, from Animal Aid's point of view, be taken to mean "the threat or actual infliction of physical injury to a sentient being". An admirable and acceptable definition. However, paragraph 2 then condemns the Animal Liberation Front for "actions which are violent, OR (my emphasis) which threaten or endanger life" We are therefore back to a situation where, in Animal Aid's view, a violent act may be something other than that which endangers life.

So, where should our movement stand? We usually make quite clear when arguing the rights of non-human animals that there is a moral law which transcends the political law. Space prevents me offering evidence to support such a philosophy so may I ask you to accept it based on Professor Tom Regan's 'The Case for Animal Rights' and similar works.

If we therefore believe that human and non-human animals share a claim to individual rights and that the higher moral law should prevail then we must also believe that violence is violence whether it is performed within or without the political law. For example, capital punishment would not be condoned even within a legal framework.

Before going further let us address the argument on whether or not damage to property may be classed as violence. It has been put to me that one cannot be violent to property as property does not have feelings. Here I am assuming that the reader accepts that one sentient creature cannot 'own' another sentient creature and therefore no sentient creature can be classed as 'property'. It has also been claimed that, for example, breaking down a door constitutes violence as someone may be standing behind or near the door and thereby suffer injury. Both points of view appear to have certain merits.

In the former example we should consider that whatever good an inanimate object - battery cage, leghold trap, stereotaxic device - is doing the human user it will be having an adverse effect on the non-human used in conjunction with the inanimate object. If the property (inanimate object) is used to inflict or support the infliction of distress, suffering or death then we have a clear moral duty to free the sentient creature from such inflictions so long as other sentient life is not harmed. Similar moral concern cannot be extended to inanimate objects; therefore the destruction of such objects is morally justifiable.

The latter argument against, for example, breaking down a door does not appear to have similar moral justification. Let us consider that, unless already injured, a human could move away from the door and a non-human animal would be disturbed by the preceding noise and also move away. Thus it is unlikely that harm to a sentient being would result from such damage. Further, if one refrains from such acts the result could be additional or continuing suffering. If, as discussed earlier, there is no moral difference between lawful and unlawful violence then even a joint RSPCA/police raid on an illegal dogfight which necessitated breaking down a door would be open to condemnation. Surely this cannot be right?

In my opinion, arson does not fall under the classification of 'damage to property' but rather, actions that endanger life. The ALF is proud of its claim never to have harmed human life but arson has, almost undisputedly, taken life, whether it be mouse, rat or spider. One cannot check every nook and cranny of a department store or broiler shed; the presence of a small creature is not so obvious as that of a human and they do not understand fire alarms and emergency exits. If one does not or cannot take at least as great a care to ensure that spiders are not present as one does to ensure the absence of humans then that is not only endangering life but also practical speciesism.

So is damage to property violent? If so, is all damage to property violent? If only some damage to property is violent then where should a the line be drawn? The latter two questions should be clearly answered by those who condemn damage to property as violence.

My feeling is that damage to property does not constitute violence as our movement understands it. Whether premeditated damage to property can be justified as a tactic to achieve animal liberation is, however, a separate argument for another time.

Violence against the individual is a much clearer situation. If we are in the movement because we subscribe to the Schweitzerian ethic 'Reverence for Life' then violence against human and non-human animals must be equally abhorrent to us. If we consider it morally wrong to harm a non-human animal to benefit a human then it must be also unacceptable to harm a human animal to benefit a non-human. Therefore, premeditated violence against any sentient creature must be inadmissable. To me this is quite straightforward and does not require further clarification.

So, premeditated violence against individual is wrong but what about violence and self-defence? Three illustrative situations would be

a person using a hedgehog as a football and doesn't stop when requested to do so...

a walk in the woods reveals a badger digger about to kill a badger by using a spade as an axe...

a group of youths stoning a swan turn on you when you try to intervene...

Here we are talking about the harshness of the real world, not some cosy armchair philosophy. Is anyone seriously going to condemn you for using 'physical force' or 'great strength of feeling' to prevent what is happening? If so, does such condemnation equate to tacit support for the act you were trying to prevent? It is certainly unfortunate that Animal Aid consciously removed the word 'premeditated' from its resolution denouncing the use of violence. At what point on the scales of moral justice does pacifism become violence by consent?

In conclusion I believe that

* damage to property does not constitute 'violence' as understood by the animal rights movement...

* premeditated violence against a sentient individual or group of sentient individuals is contrary to the moral arguments which are the foundation of the animals rights movement...

* both spontaneous violence and self-defence, wheresoever they occur during the pursuit and protection of animals rights, are at least understandable and in most cases fully justifiable.

Even if you don't agree with me let us keep the debate open, friendly and constructive. Never forget that the real enemy is animal abuse in its many forms and guises - beware also the 'enemy within' that tries to divert our energies from the real fight. Never forget the immeasurable vlolence that our own kind inflicts daily on those creatures with whom we share this world. Never forget Genesis ch 6 v 6 "And it repented the Lord that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him at his heart. . ."


A Sense Of Perspective

by Seamus Burke

The ALF has not got a policy of infanticide, but for the industries of animal abuse it is a daily ritual. After listening and reading various people's reactions to the events in which explosive devices were placed under the cars of two vivisectors, it seems that all sense of proportion has been lost. Violence is an emotive term defined differently by differept people at different times. It is hard to think clearly about it when some people in the Animal Rights Movement are only too willing to raise their hands in horror and can't get their statements of condemnation out fast enough.

Unless we want to fall into the trap of speciesism, then how can the fact that a child was injured accidentally get us so much more worked up about things than the many millions of animals that are not only injured brutally and deliberately, but murdered all the time?

The struggle for Animal Rights should come before any personal likes or dislikes amongst ourselves, so 1 don't want to waste time slagging off anyone, but I do think that Mark Gold's article "Animal Rights and Violence" which appeared in the August/September issue of "Outrage" ought not to go unchallenged. "Terrorist" is not a word that should be used lightly. However, it certainly seems to cloud one's vision when some Animal Rights activists are dismissed as "terrrorists" and yet the real terrorists, the ones truly with blood on their hands (the vivisectors, the factory farmers etc.) are spared any such terms of abuse. Ranting about the ALF seems to me to be a tragic waste of time and energy when we could be doing something really useful like shouting from the rooftops about animal abuse in all its guises. We get involved in the Animal Rights movement because we care about animals, not because of a desire to have anyone person's political philosophy rammed down our throats. Aren't we selling the animals short by doing this? Of course we need to discuss tactics in a rational and open manner (as in Arkangel) but these arguments ought to be voiced amongst ourselves and no one should run to the media in hysterics bandying insults left, right and centre. Nor should anyone feel that they have the mandate to take on the role of censor for us. Why was the sale of "Arkangel" stopped at the "Living Without Cruelty" exhibition because of "adverse publicity"? I suggest to anyone who feels confused about the nature of violence that they spend some time in an abattoir or a vivisector's laboratory.

Of course it was a pity that a child was injured. I don't think anybody would want to deny that. The child was innocent, but so too are all the animals that are suffering as a matter of course. Is the veal calf or the piglet that has its teeth smashed on being born somehow less innocent than the child? Are the male chicks that are crushed to a pulp "guilty" by virtue of being the wrong sex for the egg industry, or the hens that are debeaked routinely? Why do some people get more incensed about a minor injury to a child than about the massacre of animals that is taken for granted every day?

Also, the argument about the "sanctity of human life" needs to be looked at more closely. It seems to me that it is used in a very opportunistic manner, only when it suits the purpose of the person pontificating about it. Obviously, not all human life is sacred at all times, Mrs Thatcher was only too keen to send men off to be killed in the Falklands War, or in Northern Ireland. It is a stock phrase that the mouthpieces of the State churn out whenever it fits their purpose. "Non violence" is also a joke when we think about the activities of the police etc.

It is interesting that a lot of people sympathise with the African National Congress, even within nice middle class circles. Yet we all know that the ANC is involved in violent direct action, but somehow we see apartheid as being so wrong that we can go along with the actions of the ANC (as I agree we should). And innocent people do get hurt, which is always unfortunate. But you don't see the leaders of the anti-apartheid movement falling over themselves to condemn the people who have carried out the actions, nor to distance themselves from them. And we know too that the ALF has, to quote from a recent ALF SG newsletter, "a strict policy which all members adhere to when carrying out ALF actions. This policy is to take all possible precautions not to harm any human or animal life." Now perhaps with the car bombs (incidentally not claimed by the ALF) not enough precautions were taken, but we must balance the unintentional harm to the child as a result of this action with the trouble caused to the vivisection Industry (eg. increased security meaning less profit). Isn't it illogical that we can support the liberation/freedom movements of the people of Africa and Latin America, where violence is an everyday, occurrence, and yet find it so completely unacceptable within the Animal Rights movement? Is this not speciesism?

Surely what we have got to do is to make the lives of the animal abusers as difficult and as unprofitable as we possibly can. The animals cannot afford for us to get tied up arguing amongst ourselves about linguistics, nor should we be afraid of dirtying our hands rather than sitting at home feeling smug because we are living a "cruelty-free lifestyle". "Public education" has of course got a part to play but on its own it is not enough. Without the ALF I wonder how many people would know what a battery egg is. I think that we ought to be offering our complete support to those brave enough to risk their freedom on behalf of animals rather than labelling them "terrorists" and saying that they can "play no part in what we are striving to achieve". I am of course not advocating murdering anybody, but we do need to be able to put things into perspective rather than let ourselves be manipulated by the media into knee jerk reactions. When people in the Animal Rights movement are approached by the media after events such as the car bombs, they have a choice as to what to say. All people that want to prevent animal abuse should expect them to make the choice that helps animals. But the Mark Golds of this world choose to slag off the ALF, the only effect of which is to worsen the image of Animal Rights activists in the eyes of the public. They could have chosen to say that the suffering of the child was infinitesimal compared to the suffering of laboratory and farm animals, while at the same time, if they wished, making clear their own personal preferences as to tactics. They did not make that choice.

Perhaps we ought to remind ourselves each day what is happening at this very moment to the animals imprisoned and tortured for profit. Please can we have unity between us instead of all this infighting and abuse? Please can we clear our vision so that we don't get diverted from the proper focus of our energies let's remember that the important thing is to work for animal liberation, by whatever means necessary, and that this should override everything else. Let's remember who our real enemies are - the enemies of animals - and let's get the bastards! (Whoops, I forgot to say - in their pockets).


The Real World

by Barry Horne

There have been several articles in the last 4 issues of Arkangel condemning incendiary device actions and the car bomb in Bristol. Quite frankly I wonder just who the authors of these articles really are. Do they live in the real world or just in their own private fantasy world where everybody plays by the queensbury rules? Animal abuse is carried out by sick perverted people who care nothing about right or wrong but only about profit and perverse pleasure. This is the real world. These sort of people wont be discouraged by peaceful campaigning but only by hitting them where it hurts most, ie. financially. Incendiary devices are designed to inflict this financial loss by destroying their property, be it department stores or livestock trucks. This is the only language they understand.

As for the car bomb, well the thinking behind that is plain for anybody with an open mind to see. The articles by people in the last issue on this subject amazed and disgusted me. Val Graham states that "a vegan AR supporter out walking a dog" could have been hurt. This statement is so ludicrous as to defy description. There is a war going on out there Val and in any war innocent civilians unfortunately get hurt, but of course the bomb was not intended for that purpose but was aimed at a vivisector. The only bad thing about it was that the vivisector walked away unharmed and free to continue torturing and killing animals. Is this what you want Val? Why not hand him a leaflet and ask him to change his ways? He'll laugh in your face as you well know.

Val then goes on to say "can we now expect those responsible to go the whole hog and start strapping explosives to dogs?" This statement is so ridiculous and confusing that I can only assume she was getting hysterical by this time. I wonder who you really are Val. Comments in your article about putting the movement back years, harm done to the movement etc, are classic Animal Aid, BUAV etc. type statements and have no place in a genuine animal rights magazine.

The comments by Ronnie Lee about the car bomb being both "tactically and morally wrong" also need challenging. The tactics of any action can only be gauged by the long term effect it has on the struggle. In this case the vivisector involved now has some inkling of the terror he causes every day to innocent animals and this action must therefore be viewed favourably. As for it being morally wrong, I would ask Ronnie if it is morally right NOT to try and prevent vivisection. The object of this car bomb was surely to prevent this particular vivisector from continuing his evil work. It was surely therefore morally right.





 
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