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In Defence of the Defenceless


Title: In Defence of the Defenceless: Why Violence on Behalf of Non-Human Animals is Justified

Animal rightsists (ARs) can broadly be divided into two camps, according to their stance regarding the use of violence in prosecuting the animal rights cause. Some deplore the use of violence and are wedded to the resolutely non-violent doctrines of Ghandi and King, while others (a minority) believe that they are justified in acting violently on behalf of animals. In this essay, I shall come out in favour of violence -- not because I am a violent person by nature (I'm not; in every day life I deplore the violence committed against both human and non-human animals), but because I think the use of violence is sanctioned by basic and intuitive moral principles. Moreover, I shall demonstrate that ARs have hitherto seriously underestimated how strong the case for violence in defence of animals actually is. Furthermore, I shall perform a reductio ad absurdum on the belief -- held by the majority of ARs -- that violence on behalf of non-human animals is illegitimate, by demonstrating that it leads (if one retains the core belief of the animal rights community -- i.e. that humans and animals are equally valuable) to conclusions whose untenability are obvious. I shall also argue that, since there is a qualitative difference between the situation non-human animals face in their liberation struggle and the situations Ghandi and King faced in their respective liberation struggles, it is misguided for ARs to adhere purely to the non-violent doctrines employed in those past struggles and to "legalism" (i.e. the view that the only legitimate means of change are those that are pre-approved by the state, such as peaceful demonstrations, political lobbying and educational drives). I shall conclude by arguing that there is only one credible position vis-à-vis the legitimacy of violence in defence of non-human animals, and that is that it is warranted.

There are two paradigm instances in which violence is justified: in self-defence and in defence of the innocent. The violent defence of non-human animals uniquely involves both the notion of self-defence and that of defence of the innocent. With regard to self-defence: since animals are incapable of defending themselves, we must act as their proxies. Thus when we act violently on their behalf, we are in fact acting purely defensively. Despite the media portrayal of violent ARs as being the aggressors, violent ARs are in fact not the aggressors, since they are acting as the proxies of beings who have the right to defend themselves, with violence if necessary. Violent ARs exercise the right non-human animals have to self-defence on their behalf -- it is as though the animals are acting through them -- since they are merely doing what the non-human animals would undoubtedly do if they were able to. Furthermore, non-human animals are innocent (in the same way that young children are all innocent), since they lack the ability to act in accordance with universal moral principles; they have done nothing (and by definition never can do anything) to warrant the violence that is routinely visited on them, since they are unable to do either what is right or what is wrong. Hence they cannot be 'blamed' for their actions. Non-human animals are therefore radically innocent beings. Thus violence in defence of animals falls squarely and centrally under the rubric of 'defence of the innocent'.

I shall now lay down some basic and intuitive principles from which I shall deduce the conclusion that violence in defence of non-human animals is justified. First principle (i): violence in defence of the innocent is justified. An innocent party has by definition done nothing to deserve the violence that is being inflicted on him/her; it is totally unjustified. Therefore, since the innocent party has done nothing to deserve his/her fate, the person who is inflicting the violence on him/her is acting illegitimately, and we are therefore justified in intervening (with violence if need be) on the innocent party's behalf.

Second principle (ii): the obligation to intervene on an innocent party's behalf is proportional to how able or unable the innocent party is to defend himself/herself, such that the obligation to intervene is relatively strong if the innocent party is unable to defend himself/herself; and relatively weak if the innocent party is able to defend himself/herself. For example, if a 6 month old baby or a two week old puppy dog is under attack from an abusive father/owner, the obligation for intervening on his/her behalf is maximally strong (i.e. as strong as it could possibly be), since the baby/puppy is utterly incapable of defending himself/herself. However, if an innocent but healthy adult man who has a black belt in karate is under attack, then we are less obligated to intervene on his behalf, since he is eminently capable of defending himself.

Third principle (iii): the strength of the justification for violent intervention is proportional to the level of violence being inflicted on the innocent party, such that if the innocent party is being subjected to a relatively low level of violence, then the strength of the justification for acting violently on his/her behalf is correspondingly weak; and if the innocent party is being subjected to a relatively high level of violence, then the justification for acting violently is correspondingly strong. (The threat of death is an extreme form of violence, since death involves the greatest loss -- the irrevocable loss of one's life, and hence of all the opportunities one has for realising one's plans, for satisfying one's desires and wishes, etc.; therefore, if the innocent party's life is threatened, the justification for violent intervention becomes maximally strong.) For example, if a playground bully is threatening to pinch an innocent girl's arm, then the strength of the justification for acting violently on her behalf is relatively weak, since she doesn't stand to be injured very seriously or to loose any opportunities for satisfying her future desires/realising her plans etc. -- although one is still justified in intervening in some sense, since an innocent party is being threatened. However, if a maniac is threatening an innocent woman with a gun, and there is every likelihood that he is going to use it, such that the innocent party will either be killed or at least maimed very seriously, then the justification for violent intervention on her behalf becomes maximally strong, since the innocent party's life is endangered.

Fourth principle (iiii): the level of violence one is justified in using in defence of the innocent is proportional to the level of violence being visited on the innocent party, such that if the innocent party is being subjected to a high level of violence, then one is justified in using a correspondingly high level of violence; and if the innocent party is being subjected to a relatively low level of violence, then one is justified in using only a correspondingly low level of violence. (If the innocent party's life is threatened, then one is justified in using a high level of violence (the threat of death being an extreme form of violence.)) For example, if our gun wielding maniac is threatening to kill an innocent baby boy, and there is every reason to believe that he will carry out his threats, then we are justified in using decisive force in defence of the baby, since he stands to loose his life. However, if the school bully is threatening merely to push over an innocent boy, then the only violence we would be justified in using is that which would prevent the bully from pushing the innocent boy over -- nothing more, nothing less. We certainly wouldn't be justified in using extreme force, since the bully doesn't pose a threat to the innocent boy's life or stand to injure him very seriously; rather he merely stands to hurt the boy in a fairly trivial way.

Fifth principle (iiiii): violence against the innocent is never justified. Since the innocent have by definition done absolutely nothing to deserve having violence inflicted on them, violence against them is never justified (except in cases where the innocent party poses an immediate and genuine threat to us, i.e. in cases of self-defence. For example, if a rabid dog attacks a jogger, then the jogger has the right to defend himself/herself -- although he/she is constrained by the principles enunciated above. However, workers in the various animal abuser industries cannot use this defence. Any injuries suffered by these workers as a result of contact with non-human animals are justified, since the animals are forcibly imprisoned against their wills, are innocent, suffer horrendously and are in mortal danger. Thus, since the workers in the animal abuser industries facilitate the suffering and early deaths of the non-human animals in their charge, the animals (in causing injuries to workers) are acting purely defensively; they are exercising (in whatever limited way they can) their legitimate right to self-defence. Hence the workers are the aggressors, not the animals.)

Now let's apply the above basic and intuitive principles to the violent defence of non-human animals. (1) Non-human animals are innocent. Thus, according to (i), violence in defence of them is justified. (2) Animals are utterly incapable of defending themselves; they are literally and metaphorically voiceless; they are entirely dependent on us to help them. Therefore, according to (ii), the obligation to intervene on their behalf (with violence if necessary) is maximally strong, since they completely lack the means to defend themselves. (3) Non-human animals are subjected to horrendous levels of violence in the various animal abuser industries. In vivisection laboratories animals are inter alia burnt severely; electric-shocked (sometimes until they die); operated on without anaesthetic; kept in tiny, individual cages or isolation units for years (sometimes decades); deprived of food, water and companionship; infected with fatal diseases; crippled; broken psychologically; and ultimately killed. On factory farms non-human animals are incarcerated in horrendously cramped and confined conditions; all of their natural instincts (to move, to socialise, etc.) are frustrated; they become psychologically ill because of the abject deprivation of their environments; and they are all ultimately taken to slaughterhouses and killed. Thus one could not act more violently towards non-human animals than the various animal abuser industries do (at least it is difficult to conceive of how violence against non-human animals could be any worse, since it involves the infliction of hyperacute levels of pain (both psychological and physical) over protracted periods of time and inevitably results in the animals' early deaths). Non-human animals find themselves in what I shall call a 'maximally terrible' situation -- i.e. a situation that simply couldn't get any more desperate; a situation where certain innocent beings (in this case non-human animals) have no rights (not even the right to life) and that involves the mass slaughter, the mass torture and the mass incarceration of these innocent beings. Therefore, according to (iii), the justification for acting violently in defence of animals is maximally strong, since non-human animals are in a maximally terrible situation and are therefore in mortal danger. Furthermore, according to (iiii), one is justified in using an extreme level of violence in defence of animals since non-human animals are in mortal danger. Also, according (iiiii), violence against non-human animals is never justified, since they are radically innocent and pose no credible threat to us whatsoever.

It therefore follows from the above basic and intuitive principles (i -- iiiii) that: (1) violence against non-human animals is never justified (since they are radically innocent); (2) we are justified in intervening (violently if necessary) on behalf of animals (since violence inflicted on the innocent is always illegitimate); (2) the obligation we have for intervening on behalf of non-human animals (with violence if necessary) is maximally strong (since they are incapable of defending themselves); and (3) we are justified in using a extreme degree of violence in defence of animals (since they are in mortal danger).

Thus, violence in defence of non-human animals, far from being unjustified or reprehensible, is in fact a paradigm instance of where violence is justified. Yet the majority of ARs remain acolytes of the contrary view -- that violence in defence of the radically innocent who are defenceless and who are in mortal danger is illegitimate. Bewitched by the non-violent doctrines of Ghandi and King (and legalism), ARs remain in a state of torpor.

In opposition to the claim that violence in defence of non-human animals is legitimate and justified, some ARs tells us that violence is justified -- but not yet. What one must do (so these ARs tell us) is exhaust all avenues of non-violent change first. And since people in the animal rights movement haven't yet exhausted all avenues of non-violent change, it follows (for these ARs) that violence on behalf of non-human animals is unjustified. Adherents of this type of view usually point to the civil rights movement in America and the Independence movement in India as being instances of where non-violent change has triumphed, the implication being that the animal liberation movement can triumph using the methods of Ghandi and King, too.

In opposition to this way of thinking I want to make the following point (there are others that can be made - for example, that neither of the human social justice movements mentioned above were in actuality completely non-violent; and how does one reliably tell when one has exhausted all means of non-violent change; since there is probably always going to be something more that one could do, this tactic merely seems to delay violent action indefinitely -- but I want to concentrate on one point): ARs shouldn't blindly ape the tactics of Ghandi and King since there is a qualitative difference between the three (i.e. the struggles for animal liberation, black civil rights and Indian Independence) liberation struggles; namely, a qualitative difference in the level of oppression and exploitation faced by the oppressed groups -- i.e. non-human animals, blacks and Indians respectively.

The civil rights movement and the Indian independence movement were unquestionably social justice movements of huge significance -- for blacks and Indians in particular and for human (moral) evolution in general. On the one hand, Blacks in America were fighting against a vicious and entrenched system of prejudice, and for the right to be recognised as fully the equals of their white oppressors. Indians, on the other hand (in their respective struggle), were fighting against imperialism and for the right to govern themselves. Their oppressors -- the British -- could be brutal and native Indians undoubtedly suffered severely. However, the importance of the Civil rights and Indian independence movements -- and the high levels of oppression faced by blacks and Indians respectively -- notwithstanding, the animal liberation movement is fighting for something even more fundamental, and against oppression even more brutal. Whereas Blacks and Indians had at least some basic rights (like the right to life and right not to be the property of another) and were fighting for the right to equal treatment (in the case of blacks) and the right to govern themselves (in the case of Indians), non-human animals have absolutely no rights and ARs are fighting (on their behalf) for rights that are more fundamental: for inter alia the animals' rights to life and their rights not to be the slaves of their human tormentors -- for their rights to breathe the fresh air (not the fetid air of the factory farm) until the end of their natural lives; to roam the fields freely and to move uninhibited by total confinement crates; to have their bodies left alone and not ruthlessly exploited for the milk or the eggs that they produce; to not be forced to ingest huge quantities of bleach or oven cleaner in vivisection laboratories, or to have burning substances dripped into their eyes; not to have the flesh ripped of off their backs in slaughterhouses in order to satisfy the capricious tastes of human beings. And while blacks and Indians were undoubtedly subjected to severe oppression -- police brutality, beatings, blacks were lynched, killings etc. -- non-human animals are oppressed, exploited, brutalised and dominated in ways that blacks and Indians never were. In fact, the situation for animals is so desperate that, whatever words one uses -- however evocative -- they fail abjectly to convey the full horror of what their lives are filled with -- from the moment they open their eyes in the morning and remember with heart-stopping horror that they are in a vivisection laboratory or a factory farm to the moment they fall asleep at night, thereby snatching a few moments (appallingly brief) of blessed oblivion. As mentioned earlier, in vivisection laboratories animals are inter alia burnt severely; electric-shocked (sometimes until they die); operated on without anaesthetic; kept in tiny, individual cages or isolation units for years (sometimes decades); deprived of food, water and companionship; infected with fatal diseases; crippled; broken psychologically; and ultimately killed. On factory farms non-human animals are incarcerated in horrendously cramped and confined conditions; all of their natural instincts (to move, to socialise, etc.) are frustrated; they become psychologically ill because of the abject deprivation of their environments; and they are all ultimately taken to slaughterhouses and killed. struggles. Non-human animals are (and always have been) the most wretched and abject beings in existence.

Now none of the atrocities mentioned above vis-à-vis non-human animals were committed against blacks and Indians in their respective struggles. Thus there is a qualitative difference -- a radical difference in kind -- between the oppression to which non-human animals are subjected, on the one hand, and the oppression (although brutal) to which blacks and Indians were subjected, on the other. Therefore, since there is a qualitative difference between the three respective struggles mentioned above, the inference from the fact that purely non-violent tactics were appropriate for Ghandi's and King's struggles to the fact that they are appropriate for the animal liberation struggle is invalid. It is therefore wrong for ARs to blindly ape the non-violent tactics employed in these past (human) liberation struggles, since they were qualitatively different from the animal liberation struggle in important respects.

In fact, I would go so far as to say that the animal rights community's absolute allegiance to the non-violent doctrines of Ghandi and King (and to legalism) and their blanket refusal to engage in violence on behalf of non-human animals is reprehensible and has had the result of letting incalculable animal suffering and death go unchecked. Thus "experimenters" can cut out baboons' hearts -- without first giving the animals any anaesthetic -- in vivisection laboratories with impunity. Chimpanzees can be infected with terrible diseases and locked up in tiny isolation chambers (so small that they can't even lie down properly) with no contact with anyone or anything (neither another chimpanzee nor another human) for years -- sometimes decades -- without fear of reprisal. Millions of animals are sliced up in slaughterhouses every year whilst still alive and fully conscious, yet ARs remain supremely unperturbed in their almost religious conviction that non-violent action is the one true path, and that those who engage in violent acts on behalf of animals -- in order to try to stop the suffering for at least some of them now, this minute -- this second! -- are the misguided ones.

Now the proceeding is not to say that purely non-violent change is always inappropriate. Far from it: it is probably the most appropriate method of political change for the majority of situations that one can think of. For blacks in America fighting against discrimination, non-violent change was appropriate. For Indians fighting for independence from the British, non-violent change was appropriate. For women campaigning against sexual discrimination in the workplace, non-violent change is appropriate. For workers campaigning for better wages, non violent change is appropriate. But would purely non-violent change be the appropriate response if blacks and Indians found themselves in the same situation in which animals now find themselves, such that hundreds of millions of innocent blacks and Indians are inter alia having their throats slashed in slaughterhouses -- some are even being disembowelled whilst they're still alive and fully conscious, because they have to be processed at such a rate in order to satisfy the other (privileged and powerful) humans' insatiable desire for human flesh that not every black and Indian is able to be stunned (and hence rendered unconscious) properly before he/she is sliced up into dinner-plate-sized pieces -- millions are being slowly tortured to death in laboratories in order to try to find cures for diseases, millions are incarcerated in hellish conditions on factory farms, and millions of flaccid blacks' and Indians' corpses are being consumed every dinner time?

Do people in the animal rights community truly believe that purely non-violent change would be an appropriate response to such a dystopian, nightmarish situation as the one faced by the counter-factual blacks and Indians? Do ARs really believe that they would be unjustified in resorting to violence on behalf of the innocent blacks and Indians if they hadn't first been scrupulously careful to exhaust all avenues of non-violent change? Is there really anything meritorious in patiently pursing to the bitter end all non-violent alternatives before engaging in violence to free the enslaved blacks and Indians? Is purely engaging in demonstrating, letter writing, political lobbying and civil disobedience really an appropriate response to such a tragic and desperate life and death situation?

Yet this is exactly the kind of situation in which non-human animals find themselves, and have found themselves for decades. ARs therefore face a dilemma: If ARs truly believe that which they profess to believe -- i.e. that humans and non-human possess an equal amount of inherent value -- then they should be willing to do for non-human animals exactly that which we would be willing to do for humans, and visa versa. Therefore, if ARs want to retain their professed belief in the equality between human and non-human animals -- in the equal value of humans and animals -- and remain consistent and non-speciesist, then they have to agree that violence in defence of the counter-factual blacks and Indians and the non-human animals who are in exactly the same situation is either justified in both cases or unjustified in both cases. And since most ARs claim that violence in defence of non-human animals who are in the same situation as the blacks and Indians is unjustified, then they must also claim that violence in defence of the Blacks and Indians is unjustified. Thus most ARs are total and absolute dogmatic pacifists, since there isn't any situation in which they could think that violence in defence of either innocent humans or animals is justified, since they deny that violence is justified for both of them in cases where hundreds of millions of innocent, utterly defenceless human and non-human animals are in immanent mortal danger and whose situations simply couldn't get any more desperate, involving as they do mass slaughter, mass torture, mass incarceration of innocent beings, mass eating of innocent beings and appalling suffering on a gargantuan scale (i.e. in maximally terrible situations in which the justification for violence is maximally strong)

The counter-factual situation involving blacks and Indians outlined above exceeds in horror the Nazi extermination of European Jewry -- the Holocaust -- involving as it does much vaster numbers of human victims. Now, given that most of the world thought that the Holocaust was a sufficient reason in itself to start something as tremendously violent as a world war, those ARs pacifists who persist in their belief that violence on behalf of the counter-factual blacks and Indians and the real life non-human animals who find themselves in the same situation, although consistent and able to retain their belief in human and animal equality, are thus exposed as subscribing to a decidedly eccentric opinion (to say the least).

I take the preceding to be a reductio ad absurdum of the view that violence in defence of non-human animals is unjustified. Since -- if one retains the core belief of the AR movement (that humans and animals are equally valuable) -- the belief that violence in defence of non-human animals who are radically innocent, helpless and in maximally terrible situations is unjustified entails that violence would also be unjustified in the case of innocent humans who found themselves (and who have found themselves, such as the Jews during WWII) in the same kind of (maximally terrible) situations, it follows that the belief in the illegitimacy of violence in defence of non-human animals is an untenable one, since it logically leads to the absurd conclusion that violence would be illegitimate even in situations (such as the Holocaust) in which violence is the only conceivable way of preventing humans from being killed in genocidal numbers.

Thus, the belief that violence in defence of non-human animals is illegitimate should be renounced by ARs, and its antipode -- that violence on behalf of non-human animals is justified -- should be adopted.

However, I don't think that the majority of people in the animal rights community would in fact claim that violence in defence of the counter-factual blacks and Indians is unjustified -- in the same way that I don't think the majority of ARs would say that violence to liberate the European Jews from the Nazi concentration camps was unjustified -- since I don't think that it is credible that a movement as large and diverse as the animal rights movement is comprised mainly of a breed as rare as the out and out dogmatic pacifist.

ARs therefore have three options: (1) ARs can claim that violence is justified in the case of the blacks and the Indians but not in the case of the nonhuman animals who find themselves in the same situation. However, they will then have to give up their belief in human and animal equality (since they are according equally valuable beings starkly differential treatment) -- and therefore admit that they are speciesists; (2) ARs can claim that violence isn't justified in the case of either the blacks and the Indians or in the case of the non-human animals who find themselves in the same situation. However, although they can then retain their belief in equal value of humans and animals (since they aren't treating equally valuable beings differentially), they will have to admit that they hold beliefs that (a) entails untenable, absurd conclusions and are (b) eccentric dogmatic pacifists (since, if one doesn't support violence in defence of helpless innocent beings who are in maximally terrible situations where killing and torture are ubiquitous, then there aren't any situations in which one could think that violence is justified); (3) ARs can claim that violence is justified in the case of both the Blacks and the Indians and in the case of the non-human animals who find themselves in the same situation. If ARs choose this option, they can retain both their belief in the equal value of human and non-human animals (since they aren't treating equally valuable beings differentially) -- and their credibility.

Now (1) isn't a viable option, since it requires ARs to renounce their belief that humans and non-human animals are equally valuable -- one of the core beliefs of the animals rights movement. And since (2) entails absurd consequences (like that we wouldn't have been justified in resorting to violence in order to liberate the Jews from the Nazi concentration camps) it ought to be discarded also. In an irredeemably violent and speciest world, dogmatic pacifism (which (2) entails) simply isn't a viable option. As Paul Watson says, "if we eschew violence for ourselves, we often thereby tacitly allow violence for others, who are then free to settle issues violently until they are resisted, necessarily with violence." Moreover, it is not as though resorting to violence on behalf of non-human animal is unjustified. Quite the contrary. Remember, animals are radically innocent beings who are defenceless and who are in mortal danger. They live in a nightmarish world in which torture, suffering and death are ubiquitous -- a world of factory farms, vivisection laboratories and slaughterhouses. Thus violence on their behalf (to liberate, to rescue, to save) is legitimate. It therefore seems that (3) is the only viable option. Unlike (2), it doesn't entail absurd consequences, and -- unlike (1) -- it allows ARs to retain their core belief in the fundamental equality of humans and animals. However, embracing (3) means that people will have to discard (to a certain extent) the non-violent doctrines of Ghandi and King (or at the very least begin supporting those who do engage in violence). This will require as it were a strong dose of smelling salts, since the animal rights movement is heavily narcotized by them at present; and it will require the recognition that, although purely non-violent methods are appropriate for many situations (e.g. when women are campaigning for equal pay, or when workers are campaigning for better wages), purely non-violent methods in maximally terrible situations (like the one involving the counter-factual blacks and Indians, like the real life cataclysm involving the European Jews in WWII, like the one in which non-human animals currently find themselves) -- where millions of defenceless innocents are being killed and tortured -- are inappropriate. And since non-human animals exist in just such a nightmarish and desperate situation -- a world fraught with appalling suffering and death -- it is wrong for ARs to adhere rigidly and dogmatically to non-violent methods; to transpose the tactics of Ghandi and King from their respective (human) liberation struggles directly into the animal liberation struggle, ignoring the fact that the situation for non-human animals is qualitatively different in terms of the level of oppression and exploitation they face, as compared to the level of oppression and exploitation endured by blacks and Indians respectively. In a desperate and tragic situation such as the one in which non-human animals find themselves, one's actions should be guided by a different moral imperative: Not to remain non-violent, but to save as many lives and to mitigate as much suffering as possible, with violence if necessary. However, a loss for Ghandi and King means a win for the animals.

In conclusion: once one realises that the violent defence of non-human animals is the proxy defence of the radically innocent who are incapable of defending themselves -- beings who have the right to self-defence but are unable to exercise it -- and that non-human animals are in a maximally terrible situation (one where killing and torture are ubiquitous) and who are therefore in mortal danger (their early deaths are inevitable), one can readily see with what justification violent ARs act. Far from being unjustified and reprehensible, violence in defence of non-human animals is in fact the antipode of this -- it is a paradigmatic or exemplary instance of where violence is justified. The conclusion of this essay is thus abundantly clear: ARs who act violently on behalf of non-humans animals do so justly. The animals deserve nothing less.

 

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