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Aug 05

Violence and Animal Rights (see Press Office rebuttal below post)

By James McWilliams

It’s commonplace to denounce the lunatic fringe of the animal rights movement for its advocacy and, at times, perpetuation of violence. This denouncement makes perfect sense and is something that anyone who cares about the fate of animals in modern society must do.  There’s no room for violence–against people or property–in the animal rights movement.

It would seem that the discussion should end right here. Unfortunately, I don’t think the matter of violence in general is that simple. Many people simply state, as a axiomatic principle, that violence is never the solution, resting all cases on this sweeping imperative. The problem, as I see it, is that violence—in certain contexts—sometimes is necessary. It’s rare, and it’s awful to acknowledge, but I would think most of us could invent a hypothetical scenario in which a violent response is morally justified.  As a result, I think that our rightful and categorical denunciation of violence as a tactic in the cause for animals needs to be grounded in a set of justifications more complex than the dubious claim that violence is ipso facto wrong.  Exactly why is it wrong?

The easiest and most superficial (but important, still) reason for denouncing violence in the animal rights movement is that it ruins our overall reputation. It allows loose cannons on the fringe to define the movement as a whole. A single act of violence—say, sending a bomb to a practitioner of vivisection–enters the media machine and tarnishes the overwhelmingly peaceful approach to ending animal exploitation with the stigmata of terrorism. This is, in a way, already happening. The Southern Poverty Law Center has an entire watchdog division dedicated to chronicling cases of violence among “animal rights extremists.” Such a focus is disastrous. It places our movement in the company of neo-Nazis and the Klan, which, needless to say, isn’t so hot for the image.

A more substantial reason for categorically rejecting violence in the quest for animal rights is the paradox of seeking non-violence through violence. Essentially what animal rights advocates seek is the end of violence systematically perpetuated against animals. How absurd, then, to seek those means through violence. Frustration is no excuse. It’s imperative that, rather than succumb to the lowest and most visceral and non-thinking reaction (violence), animal rights advocates fight our war with the utmost intellectual integrity, maturity, and hard diplomacy. To lash out violently might feel good for the pent-up advocate, but it’s a childish response that’s terrible for the cause of animals, in part due to the sheer impetuosity and hypocrisy of the act. The violence, in this context, is therefore little more than an act that benefits the human at the expense of the non-human, which is exactly what we’re working to end.

A final reason that I abhor the idea of violence in the animal rights movement is that the kind of violence we’re up against is state-sanctioned violence and, as a result, affirmative of a status quo that will never condone animal liberation and will, by contrast, eagerly espouse coercion. This is kind of complicated, but I’ll try to sketch it out clearly. The state, even the democratic state, is an entity that does a lot of things right, but waging war is generally not one of them. Regrettably, it is waging unjust wars through the most vicious forms of violence that states ultimately derive their pervasive authority, be it at home or abroad. War, due to the violence it conspicuously displays, allows the state to coerce its citizens during times of peace. When animal rights extremists deploy violence they fail to question, and instead strengthen, this state-defined idea of violence. In so doing, they reveal not only a remarkable lack of creativity, but an inadvertent sympathy for the state that sanctions violence and coercion and uses it to ground its ultimate authority over people and animals.

To me, the most revolutionary thing we could do through peaceful activism would be to reinvent the meaning of violence. In other words, take it away from the state. Steal it. And then turn it into a productive tool of the people–people who want peace and justice in this world for animals, for people, for trees, for falafel shops, for whatever. By taking violence away from the state we can redefine violence to mean justifiable and thoughtful resistance rather than crude displays of force intended to instill fear and loyalty. The only violence we should condone is the kind of violence that violates the current state-defined idea of violence. We could go all reverse Orwellian and turn war into peace, the state into the people, and evil into goodness.

Seems better than acting in a way that, while seeming to oppose the status quo, actually affirms its worst aspects.

 

Embracing Tactical Violence in the Struggle for Animal Liberation

North American Animal Liberation Press Office
By Camille Marino

In a recent critique of tactical violence, James McWilliams writes:

It’s commonplace to denounce the lunatic fringe of the animal rights movement for its advocacy and, at times, perpetuation of violence. This denouncement makes perfect sense and is something that anyone who cares about the fate of animals in modern society must do.  There’s no room for violence–against people or property–in the animal rights movement.

http://animalliberationpressoffice.org/NAALPO/2012/08/05/violence-and-animal-rights/

As a card-carrying member of the so-called “lunatic fringe,” I agree that it is commonplace to denounce progressive Animal Liberation activists who employ or defend tactical violence. However,  Mr. McWilliams fails to understand that  this mainstream view serves only to reinforce  the state’s agenda. Said another way, by seeking to eliminate a valid and effective tactic from the arsenal available to activists, McWilliams seeks to disempower animal liberationists and render us impotent. Therefore, it is necessary to distance oneself in the strongest terms from those pacifists who, unwittingly or not, position themselves as collaborators with the enemy.

If Mr. McWilliams sincerely wants to denounce violence, then he must first recognize that the entire bloody animal holocaust is a manifestation of the state-sponsored, profit-driven, violent war on animals. This holocaust is the definition of oppression and violence. But, nonetheless, the author chooses to condemn guerrilla tactics that may be employed on behalf of the victims while excusing the mercenary industrial-state complex.

The easiest and most superficial (but important, still) reason for denouncing violence in the animal rights movement is that it ruins our overall reputation. It allows loose cannons on the fringe to define the movement as a whole. A single act of violence—say, sending a bomb to a practitioner of vivisection–enters the media machine and tarnishes the overwhelmingly peaceful approach to ending animal exploitation with the stigmata of terrorism.

Yes, the viewpoint that violence tarnishes our reputation may be the easiest way to denounce it. But it is also a wholly invalid position and totally without merit. The obvious implication of this critique is that the reputation we vegan animal liberationists currently enjoy in the mainstream  –  tree-hugging, cumbaya-singing hippies  — is somehow flattering and/or constructive. This is pure nonsense. We exist as a marginalized and fringe movement. Let’s accept this and move on.  The enemy and its propaganda machines have their own set of rules and we should not be modifying our behavior or stifling dissent – in whatever form it may take – to appease them or placate the masses.

The public can be understood as an organism that succumbs to groupthink. They believe what they are told to believe. If we ever gain enough momentum and force them to take notice, they will follow the momentum we create.

We need to recognize that the corporate-controlled media is anything but objective; it exists to indoctrinate the masses, keep them apathetic and uninformed, and promote the status quo. So should we even care if we are framed as tree-huggers or terrorists? Let’s just be sure that they perceive us as something more than a movement that does nothing more than pray and beg the oppressors to be decent. I’d rather we be out there blowing up their concentration camps, liberating their victims, exposing the war criminals, and making it clear that the days they murder and terrorize animals in anonymity and with peace of mind are behind them.

And, as long as we become a true threat and are effective, they can frame us in their media as anything they like. It is irrelevant.

McWilliams continues:

A more substantial reason for categorically rejecting violence in the quest for animal rights is the paradox of seeking non-violence through violence. Essentially what animal rights advocates seek is the end of violence systematically perpetuated against animals. How absurd, then, to seek those means through violence.

Simply put, our objective must be to win, not be politically correct.

Would McWilliams suggest that liberating the Jews from their holocaust in Nazi Germany through violence was somehow a “paradox” and morally indefensible? Did it hurt the reputation of the Allies of WWII?   Other than speciesist reasoning and a collaborationist disposition, I fail to see the difference when the violence perpetrated is against animals and must be addressed by any means necessary. The use of ineffective strategies is itself morally indefensible, to paraphrase Nelson Mandela.

Finally, a somewhat substantial, yet woefully misguided, observation:

When animal rights extremists deploy violence they fail to question, and instead strengthen, this state-defined idea of violence. In so doing, they reveal not only a remarkable lack of creativity, but an inadvertent sympathy for the state that sanctions violence and coercion and uses it to ground its ultimate authority over people and animals.

When progressive Animal Liberationists employ guerrilla tactics against the state, it is not strengthening or legitimizing state-sanctioned violence… it is acknowledging that the correct response to an oppressor is to do whatever is necessary to stop it.  It is no different than when the Viet Cong employed tactical strategic violence against the South Vietnamese Army or when freedom fighters in the middle east employ “terrorist” tactics against imperialist forces occupying their countries. Those who are at a glaring disadvantage in the struggle for liberation need to embrace every available tactic – including violence – if oppressors are ever to be overthrown.

In reality, substantial violence has yet to be employed by Animal Liberationists; property damage does not entail violence , and so this discussion remains largely theoretical.  In fact, the only incident that remotely resembles violence on animal activists part was when Brian Cass, the Managing Director of HLS, who has made a fortune condemning 300 animals daily to grotesquely-torturous deaths, was gently roused out of his complacency by activists with a strategically employed baseball bat. Justified? Absolutely! Bad for our reputation???  Or bad for Brian Cass???

If we want to avoid controversy, then let’s stick to lighting candles and signing petitions.

If we want to liberate animals, however, let’s do whatever we have to and ignore all the irrelevant noise from our critics…