Over the past year, several actions by animal liberationists
have caused controversy and what I would describe as a hysterical
reaction within the movement, because they have involved a
danger to life. The following articles constitute a discussion
of various aspects of this situation.
More and more often we hear animal rights representatives
condemning the actions of the ALF, etc., on the grounds that
they are "violent." But is the dividing line between
violence and non-violence (wherever that may be) really the
dividing line between right and wrong?
First it might help to define "violence." According
to my dictionary, it is something that involves “great
force or strength or intensity,” and thus it can cover
a great many situations. In animal rights terms, however,
"violence" is normally used to refer to actions
where property is damaged or where the lives of others are
harmed or threatened.
This inevitably leads to some confusion because, in moral
terms, actions that only damage property are surely different
from those that harm or threaten life. It is, therefore, really
not helpful for people in the movement to describe them both
as "violence." "Property damage" would
be a far better term to describe the first kind.
Moral arguments concerning damage to property are really
rather straightforward. If such damage directly saves animals
from death or suffering, or if it does so indirectly by helping
to drive animal abusers out of business, it would seem very
difficult to raise convincing arguments against it. After
all, life must be held to be more valuable than mere inanimate
The real difficulty comes when the "violence" harms
or threatens life. In the next section, "Endangering
Lives," I intend to deal with situations where life is
unintentionally, or perhaps recklessly, endangered. Here I
will deal with actions that are deliberately intended to cause
injury or death.
Firstly, though, I'd like to expose some of the hypocrisy
that surrounds the condemnation of "violence." Many
animal rights campaigners purport to be non-violent and vociferously
criticize the "violent" actions of others in the
movement. But if one is to stake claim to non-violence, one
must be consistently opposed to violence, and with many "non-violent"
campaigners this seems not at all to be the case.
To begin with, what is the position of such people regarding
violence used for human liberation? Would they have opposed
the use of force by the slaves who fought in the West Indies
for their own emancipation or the use of weapons and explosives
by the French Resistance? Today, would they oppose the violence
of the ANC or that used by the people of Nicaragua to defend
themselves against the contras? If the answer to any of them
is "no," then there is speciesism afoot, for it
surely must be speciesist to oppose violence for animal liberation
but not to oppose it when used for the liberation of humans.
Secondly, how many of these lovers of non-violence campaign
for strong legislation to outlaw particular forms of animal
persecution? Most of them, I'd bet, and there's nothing wrong
with that-- except that those who do so cannot claim to be
non-violent. If such legislation is passed, what will happen
in the final analysis to the abusers of animals? Well, the
answer is they will be put in prison. And isn't imprisonment
just another form of violence? I certainly know what I'd choose
between a prison sentence and a punch on the nose!
Bryant of the LACS rejoiced (quite rightly) over the jailing
of a couple of fox-torturers and then talks about his "abhorrence
of violence." His abhorrence apparently does not cover
the violence of the state and concerns itself only with the
violence of animal rights campaigners. Like that of many others,
his is a hypocritical position. Whether carried out by the
state or by the individual, violence is violence is violence.
Therefore it would seem wrong to condemn actions merely because
they are "violent." After all, there are some violent
actions, such as the jailing of animal abusers, which almost
all of us would support. Thus it makes no sense to use "violence"
as the dividing line between right and wrong.
But what of the deliberate killing or injuring of others
by animal liberation campaigners or attempts to do such things?
Nobody ever has been killed or seriously injured and such
attempts are few and far between, but this is still an important
question for discussion.
It is a very strong tenet of the animal rights movement that
the end doesn't justify the means. Thus we hold it wrong to
carry out painful experiments on animals no matter what would
be the benefit to humankind (if indeed there be a benefit,
and many would argue that there isn't). By the same token
it must be wrong to deliberately kill or injure an innocent
human (or other animal) as part of a campaign for animal liberation.
A problem arises, however, when we are not dealing with innocent
victims. Let's take the following imaginary situation:
We live in a society where the torturing of babies is perfectly
legal. I discover the location of a baby torture chamber.
I could campaign for baby-torture to be outlawed, but that
will do nothing to save babies from being tortured today or
tomorrow or for many months, even years, in the future. I
could smash up the torture chamber, but I know the torturer
is determined and will soon set up another one. I do not have
the facilities to imprison the torturer. Therefore, I kill
him. Is my action to be condemned?
If not, then it is very hard to condemn the Animal Rights
Militia for making attempts on the lives of vivisectors without
being guilty of gross speciesism. One can criticize them for
not taking sufficient care to not endanger innocent life (if
ordinary people are put at risk}, but how can one find fault
with the main intention of the act? If vivisectors are not
to be disposed of, then neither is the imaginary baby-torturer.
I am not advocating here the execution of animal abusers,
for in that imaginary society it may also be wrong to kill
the torturers of babies. What I am trying to point out is
that things are not really as clear-cut as they may first
of all seem. Should people in that imaginary society show
understanding and compassion for those whose concern for the
helpless and the innocent leads them to kill the baby-torturers?
Or should they condemn them with the same vitriol that many
in our movement have used against the ARM?