Philosophy - Index > AR Philosophy - General
Press Officer Lindy Greene on "Violence"

There has lately been quite a bit of controversy regarding the topic of violence as a potential strategy in the animal rights movement. This is a subject that will be inherently conflictual and contentious - but it needs to be addressed. Even the ALF - whose guidelines require taking measures to prevent harming any life, animal or human - have recently employed arson or explosives in the commission of underground direct actions. Groups like the Revolutionary Cells, the Justice Department, and the Animal Rights Militia do not disallow violence as a legitimate and morally justifiable tactic.

Animal rights activists are innately compassionate people who respect life. Violence of any kind runs counter to their natural dispositions. That is precisely why they are who and what they are. But the continuous and escalating abuse - particularly in the vivisection venues - has become so unbearable and untenable for some that their shattered hearts and irreconcilable moral outrage inescapably compel them to retaliate with increasing levels of vehemence. Still, violence for any animal rights activist would surely be a last resort - never undertaken lightly.

It is to its immense credit that the animal rights movement has been thus far so eminently able to remain non-violent in the face of such pervasive and ignoble abuse of innocent, defenseless sentient beings tortured and murdered - in vivisection and product-testing labs, on fur and factory farms, in circuses and at rodeos, in municipal shelters, and on the Canadian ice floes - for fraudulent science, fashion, the palate, entertainment, and industrial rendition.

The animal rights movement seems to have three segments - welfarist / rescue, above-ground / public, and underground / illegal. Considerable ideological debate reigns regarding the effectiveness and appropriateness of each of these advocacy purviews - and this has invited friction, divisiveness, and infighting. The welfare and rescue arm seeks to help individual animals by bailing them from shelters and securing legislative changes that provide better treatment or kinder methods of death. The above-ground faction employs an abolitionist approach and usually avails itself of the public demonstration in order to raise awareness of animal issues. The underground element strives to directly liberate animals from places of abuse and to inflict economic damage upon those who profit from and are responsible for such abuse.

Individual activists have always had to take into account their own comfort levels, personal resources, and philosophical perspectives in discovering and determining where along the strategic continuum they will elect to fall. Each arena confers its attendant complement of disappointments and rewards. The rescuer rejoices over the ones saved - but sadly contemplates those left behind. The welfarist is glad that the lab animal has a toy or the laying hen some additional cage space - but suffers the despair of knowing they will still live short, painful lives and die brutal, unsung deaths. The above-ground, legal protester enjoys the feelings of empowerment and connection standing shoulder-to-shoulder with fellow activists - but must expect success at the expense of protracted campaigns and law enforcement heat. The underground activist knows the elation of releasing wild, and rehoming domestic, animals - but endures the ever-nigh fear of arrest and incarceration.

If we can glance for a moment back through the lens of history, we will see that all social justice movements have contained their more "radical" or "extreme" elements. In fact, they most likely would not have succeeded without those "fringe" factions - and the same may ultimately prove true of the animal rights movement. From the Sons of Liberty who participated in the Boston Tea Party to protest taxation without representation and British mercantilism; through the Underground Railroad Conductors who liberated black slaves from the Southern plantations; to the Suffragettes who used arson in their quest to obtain the feminine vote, we observe that sociopolitical progress has been achieved exactly because some have been willing to circumvent or break the law. All of these people - whom we today adulate as visionaries and freedom fighters - were labeled "terrorists" in their own time periods.

People typically have no problem with violence used in defense of humans. No one would claim that the Allied Forces were violent when they battled the Germans to dismantle the Nazi concentration camps. But people do have a problem with violence in defense of animals - who are the victims of a holocaust no less malignant and monstruous than that unleashed by the Third Reich. What does this imply? That the suffering of animals is less important than that of humans? That species membership is a valid criterion for placing someone outside the circle of moral compassion and beyond the reach of effective defense? That the lives of torturers and murderers are more intrinsically valuable than those of their victims? It seems, unfortunately, to be an unattractive and ineluctable facet of human nature that the oppressors - luxuriating in the perks of power and privilege - are not motivated by courteous correspondence or emotional entreaty to make concessions to those whom they oppress. Such virtually always must be coerced with the threat - or actuality - of acute physical force. Indeed, it took a Revolutionary War to throw off the yoke of a tyrannical British king; a Civil War to force the plantation masters to free their slaves; and a World War to shut off the flow of Zyklon B at Buchenwald and Bergen-Belsen.

Does ineffective action not constitute another form (albeit indirect) of violence? It would seem to suggest tacit cooperation or collusion. It sends the message, "You have nothing to fear from us. We have no intention of launching any kind of serious opposition against you. Keep doing what you're doing - secure in the knowledge that the most you can expect from us is a candlelight vigil, tabling event, banner drop, some street theater, a few polite letters, and a peaceful picket." We congratulate ourselves for "not sinking to their level" and "occupying the moral high ground," while the animals - whom we claim to represent - continue to suffer atrocities undreamed of even by Adolph Hitler.

So, what is the answer for the animals? When we come up with a supremely creative and effective legal tactic - such as secondary or tertiary targeting - the authorities froth at the mouth to quash it and jail its originators. "SHACtivism" was totally above-ground, which ironically enabled the government and its corporate henchmen to identify and cherry pick seven activists for persecution and prosecution. (For obvious reasons, they have a much harder row to hoe with clandestine underground activists.) Okay, then. If animal rights activists begin to engage in violence, the jackboots will have no one to blame but themselves. John F. Kennedy said it quite eloquently: "When you make peaceful protest impossible, you make violent revolution inevitable." When legitimate channels of redress of grievances are blocked or punished - or when working through the system produces negligible results - people get frustrated. And when their frustration reaches intolerable limits, the consequences are predictable. Yet we never seem to learn that lesson. From antiquity to modernity, the tyrants continue to let us know that they will not budge unless forced. And when the force finally comes, they act surprised and victimized.

This author would suspect that most activists have ambivalent feelings toward violence. Who among us hasn't secretly wished the same experiments visited on the vivisectors who wantonly torture innocent animals and retard true medical progress for humans? Who among us hasn't privately fantasized about an anonymous vigilante animal rights cell that would magically rise up to mete out glacial justice to those who bludgeon newborn harp seals just so that some hirsute human pelt princess can be villous in Versace? Fess up! We've all gleefully indulged in such musings and reveries!

We live in a topsy-turvy milieu where "researchers" can addict animals to crystal meth; "toxicologists" can lethally poison 500 animals a day; fur
"farmers" can skin animals alive; "shelters" can put down tens of thousands of animals every year; and the President (who by his very own definition of the term is a terrorist) can spy on his own citizens, commit genocide against the civilians of another sovereign nation, and - in defiance of Constitutional and international law - torture prisoners of war. But those who become disillusioned with penning polite posts to their Congressional representatives, making a few insignificant changes in the laws, and picketing - and who opt, instead, to engage in illegal direct action - are deemed the "criminals" and "terrorists."

Recognizing that violence may be morally justifiable does not necessarily equate to desiring or advocating it. Animal rights activists don't really want to hurt anyone. They just want the abuse to stop. Analogously, one can acknowledge that a despotic government should be overthrown - while simultaneously dreading, and seeking alternatives to, revolution.

On the other hand, there exists the moral obligation to objectively examine and realistically appraise whether the tactics of a social justice movement are...well...obtaining the social justice it purports to seek. Increasing numbers of animals are being gratuitously tortured in the labs, while millions that could be funneled into valid and progressive research are diverted to the bank accounts of vivisectors to provide them with luxurious homes and fancy cars. We had to confront and accept the fact that no amount of "diplomacy" or "good will" was going to convince His Majesty to grant the colonists their independence; the Confederate landed gentry to relinquish its free labor; or der Reichsfuhrer to stop herding Jews into gas chambers.

If someone were torturing or murdering your spouse, child, sibling, or parent, would you politely ask him to stop? Or would you use whatever force was necessary to disable him? If you were being tortured inside a lab, what would you want others to do? Stand outside and leaflet - or tear down the walls to get you out? Can peaceful approaches accomplish our goals? Or must they be inevitably strongarmed?

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