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Selected articles from Arkangel No.9
Spring 1993


A Plea For Tolerance

by Tom

"I have striven not to laugh at human actions, not to weep at them, nor to hate them, but to understand them " Spinoza.

In a recent newspaper article about women in the animal rights movement, one activist - when asked if her views might make people think animal rights supporters had a screw loose said: "These days, I'm only interested in what people who think like us think." ('Who cares what happens to animals'?, The Guardian, 30th April 1992). The rest of the human race, then, has ceased to figure in her scheme of things. They are not even worth thinking about.

This seems like rather an extreme and cynical attitude to adopt; yet I have come to believe that this attitude is shared, to a greater or lesser degree, by many other activists. Few of us can deny, for instance, that we have felt the stirrings of something inside us - annoyance, disgust, anger perhaps even hatred - whenever we have seen other people tucking into veal cutlets, or queuing outside a zoo. Against the virulent disease of worldwide animal exploitation, we are a small army of antibodies; and because the disease is so rife, infecting virtually every cell of human society, it is easy for us to cultivate an attitude of intolerance towards other people: people who - perhaps for no other reason than sheer ignorance about animal abuse - do not yet comprehend or support our views.

This attitude may, then, be understandable - but does that necessarily make it acceptable'? The important question we need to ask ourselves is: does the adoption of such an attitude do anything to help persuade more people to "think like us"? After our conversion to the cause, the obvious rationality of it makes it easy for us to forget that we were - with very few exceptions - all once part of the disease ourselves. Now that we are part of the cure, we have a responsibility to ensure: that our message is passed on persuasively and incontravertibly. Instead of alienating others through dogma or affectations of moral superiority, it may pay many of us to take a mental step outside of our cocoon of self-righteousness, and to try to think ourselves back into our pre-animal rights frame of mind: to recall the things that served to re-shape our way of thinking.

Let me now state my own case, as I'm sure it echoes the experiences of many. I've been an animal lover since I was a child, but up until four years ago I saw no real contradiction between this and the fact that I ate animals, wore animals and watched them at zoos and circuses. I spent my childhood and early youth in South London, where I was comfortably isolated from the reality of things like factory farming and hunting; my only contact with farm animals had been at the butcher's shop, where one didn't buy a chunk of an animal's corpse - one bought a joint of meat. I like my parents and their parents before them, had been brought up to accept a particular set of beliefs regarding the use of animals for food: "They eat each other, so it's only natural that we should eat them... we couldn't survive without meat in our diet... and besides, the animals live contented lives on the farm, and they are killed quite painlessly" and so on.

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