Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Animal Rights Activism and "Terrorism"

I'll come out first by saying I'm not willing to endorse bombing or destroying animal testing facilities or the automobiles or homes of those who commit animal testing.

Aside #1: Yes, I used the word "commit."
Aside #2: Let's not forget the probable irrelevance of Andrew Werling's endorsement or lack thereof.

Paul Finkelman, a professor at Albany Law School's Law and Public Policy, recently gave a lecture on the question of whether or not John Brown was the nation's first terrorist. You can watch it here: http://www.c-spanvideo.org/program/289567-1

This blog entry is not about that exact topic, but about Finkelman's definition of terrorists.

"Terrorists are willing to take lives, destroy property, without regard for the guilt or innocence of the people they are harming, without regard for whether innocent bystanders are harmed by these things."

In addiction to car bombings in the Middle East, he includes certain similar acts by anti-abortion activists and animal rights activists.

Now, as this was just a way to create a definition of a "terrorist," I'm not certain that his goal was to editorialize on these matters, though I do have to wonder why he chose to let out his own astonishment that, say, a car bomb in Los Angeles set off by a member of the extreme end of the "animal liberation front" (a misunderstood group too often blamed for such things) will destroy wildlife as collateral damage.

Moving away from Professor Finkelman's speech, I'd like to delve into this topic on my own. I don't want to suggest that anything I write from here on in this entry is something that Finkelman would disagree with. I don't know that, and that is not my concern in writing. Rather, impressions on animal rights activists are often colored by perceptions of the more extreme actions, and so that is what I would like to address. In briefly searching to discover how frequent such acts of violence committed by animal rights activists actually are, I couldn't find anything. I also don't know how common are similar actions by anti-abortion activists.

In debates on both topics, it is too common to point to such incidents as indicative of the nature of the respective movements. While I do not have statistics, I think it is fair to say that these are the extreme elements who engage themselves in such activities, and not anywhere near the majority. We see the same thing in arguments over religion, and censorship, and pornography, and drugs.

Not only is this dishonest, it's a way of denying the humanity of people who have heartfelt convictions. I see more power and harmony in trying to understand each other's passions and perspectives than in demonizing. As I am an animal rights believer, I can tell you my reasons are based on compassion, strong emotion, and logical reasoning. All mixed together. I am not a demon.

I don't endorse acts of violence or even necessarily acts of destruction of "property." If an activist knows what s/he is doing, however, the liberation of animals from factory farms, laboratories, and similar facilities, I am in full support of. If an animal is suffering in a lab or farm, then even euthanasia is better for them. They cannot free themselves, so they do need the help.

It's also true that, in a world so strongly based on profit-building, one of the best acts of change can be economically based. But such things are difficult to activate at a large scale. Certainly, if tons of people refused to buy any animal-tested product, animal testing might wither away as an accepted practice.

Changing social attitudes are frequently only semi-effective. While we have laws regarding civil rights, there are still significant numbers of people still opposed to them for various reasons. Sometimes its on the merits (or lack thereof) of specific policies, but sometimes it is still based on an -ism, a prejudice, even a hatred (we use that word too often). That's why direct action is frequently necessary. We are committing and supposedly benefiting from atrocious actions, and without a mass animal revolt, we are the only ones who can stop it.

Most of us - I would say a massive majority of us - do not seek these ends through violent means. Please stop associating the entire movement on those who do.

Peace and all good.

1 comment:

  1. I've often wondered: if testing stuff on animals were to wither away, how would that testing get done?


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