Perhaps it’s a blogger cop-out, but I have to do it. Instead of writing something myself I am posting an amazing interview with Steven Best and Peter Young that recently aired on a Salt Lake City radio show, Radio Active on KRCL. It is seriously good. Why else would I have had a 45 minute radio show transcribed for you? (If you’d rather just listen to it, you can stream it online). Get a cup of coffee and enjoy the read!
RadioActive! 31 March 2010 – Animal Action
A Radio Interview with Steven Best and Peter Young
SALT LAKE CITY, UT (KRCL) – Peter Young spent several years hiding from the FBI after raiding fur farms in Iowa. Dr. Steven Best is an outspoken writer, philosopher and activist, dedicated to liberating animals from human industry. How far should humans go to rescue creatures who have no voice? Young and Best offer a pro-animal worldview at Utah Valley University’s Animal Ethics Conference
Flora Bernard: The subject of animal rights is a hot topic, and one that has only warmed over years of debate. The topic runs a broad range of related controversy, calling into question the treatment of animals across all walks of human life, from companionship to industry. Clear and passionate voices for the fair and moral treatment of animals have emerged in recent years but, what exactly does the fair and moral treatment entail?
My guests tonight are committed advocates for animal rights and have endured the consequences for living their beliefs. One is a seasoned intellectual, author and environmental philosopher and an activist dedicated to animal rights and other interconnected causes. Dr. Steven Best, welcome to RadioActive.
Steven Best: Thanks. It’s an honor.
FB: My other guest was in hiding for seven years and in prison for two after helping release thousands of captive animals from American fur farms. Peter Daniel Young, welcome to RadioActive.
Peter Young: Hi, thank you.
FB: So my first question that pops right to my mind, not knowing either of you guys on a personal level, is, what inspires a dedication of this magnitude? Do you have some kind of formative, influential experience that drove you to this cause?
PY: You know, I can tell you, when I decided I needed to make this my life and my passion, when I decided this was going to be something that could possibly send me to prison, it was probably the first time I visited a slaughterhouse. It was a chicken slaughterhouse. And I watched several hundred chickens getting killed right in front of me. From that point I began to visit various animal exploitation facilities around the area where I lived at the time, which was Seattle, including laboratories, egg farms . . . one of the most horrific things you will ever see in your life is an egg farm. They pack six chickens into a cage barely half the size of a sheet of newspaper. And I remember looking at those animals and deciding I was going to dedicate my life to saving them.
FB: How about you Dr. Best?
SB: I started my path to consciousness as a young college student in university and I started becoming aware of U.S. imperialism in Central America and the CIA and contras and death squads and I really thought I had really seen the heart of evil when I studied fascism and people who catch babies on bayonets in Central America, funded by the U.S. congress and corporations. So, I thought I’d pretty much seen all the evil there is to see in the world. I became a vegetarian, largely for health reasons, and my consciousness took a quantum leap forward when I read Peter Sanger’s book, Animal Liberation, around 1986 or 87. And I realized that the most oppressed beings on the planets, those who are most desperately in need of the help of activism, and those who cry out for justice and peace and democracy and rights, these are the millions of other species that we inhabit this planet with that we have put under our boot in every possible way. So, when I read that book and I became aware of the enormity of animal exploitation and how we have throughout our history crushed them in every possible way, and how this is hidden from us, and how we are complicit in this. This just rattled my world. When you learn, you become an ethical person, a compassionate person and an active person, when you see something is wrong, you do not and you cannot turn away from it. You look it directly in the eye and you say, “What can I do?” And, I have dedicated my life to just stopping oppression and exploitation in all forms, particularly with a focus on animals because I realized that all of these are interconnected. They come from some very basic problems in the human psyche and human history.
FB: I want to come back to that, but, first of all I wanted both of you to define the term animal rights or animal liberation, depending on which one you prefer, in your own view.
SB: Well, animal rights is saying animals are equal to us, after all, we are animals, we’re just talking about other animals, and that we all have an interest in living a life of freedom and free from pain and torture and death and free to be with members of our family. To be in the natural world. to fulfill our wishes and desires. When you have these interests taken seriously and an equal value, and you have a legal system, such as in capitalist society, that backs those rights as guaranteed, they cannot be for-fitted, they are inalienable rights, they protect these basic freedoms that you have as defined in this society. That is what a right does.
So if humans have rights, animals have rights for the same reasons. It’s the exact same reasons. You must be consistent in applying this concept of rights. But liberation takes us a step further because liberation is not waiting for a legal change. It’s not waiting for the legislature to bring these rights to animals. Liberation is more involved with direct action and directly taking a role in freeing animals yourselves from these conditions of oppression and opening up and smashing every damn cage and door that you can that is oppressing an animal. That is animal liberation.
FB: Peter Young, do you have anything to add to that?
PY: As Steve said, animal liberation is simply understanding that animals have sentience, animals have the same desire to live that we do, they feel pain, and animal liberation . . . if I could add anything to what Steve said it’d be that it applies to all species, humans as well. And it is an all-encompassing belief.
FB: So, that kind of leads into another question I have for you guys. I’m just curious, to each of you, are there degrees of sentience? For example, I was reading about recent animal rights issues that have come up and one American animal rights advocacy group got really angry because Barack Obama swatted a housefly on national television and I am wondering, to you personally, and I’m not going to do a judgment call here, but, does a housefly have the same degree of sentience as a housecat? Does a housecat have the same rights, or right to be treated, as one of the great apes?
SB: Well, let’s just be real clear that the animals that are so deep in the grip of human power are animals that very clearly are sentient and therefore have brains and central nervous systems, and we’re talking about chickens and pigs and cattle and cats and dogs and whales and dolphins. There is just no doubt whatsoever that these animals have a very complex and similar world as ours. So much of this is beyond controversy and has to be stopped. And if we’re going to start talking about the houseflies and oysters and these kinds of things, these are philosophical questions and as we find out more through the science of sentience, we see just how far this extends. We have very good scientific data now that lobsters do feel pain, and when you put a lobster in a boiling pot of water, you’d might as well put a child in a boiling pot of water, because that lobster is trying to crawl up the side of that, and trying to get out of intense pain. And we’ve found out that insects have sentience. And I say that whether a living being has sentience or not, if it has a will, if it has a life, if it has things that it has done throughout natural history, or wants to do in some sense, then they should be respected. And if we are in doubt over whether say an oyster or a cockroach are sentient or not, we should be morally generous and give it the benefit of the doubt, and just stop interfering with the other life forms on this planet.
FB: Peter Young, you want to add to that?
PY: As Steve said, benefit of the doubt I think is what’s most important. There is simply no justification for most of the life that we take in this society. You know, we call a cow food. There is no justification for that. That is something that’s completely unnecessary. I would call swatting a housefly unnecessary, I would give it the benefit of the doubt. When it comes to the sort of collateral damage of insects that my be killed in agriculture for example, that’s something that we simply don’t have a roll in directly and is something that is unfortunate but again, the question of sentience is a very difficult one and there are a lot of grey areas.
SB: Yeah, let’s not talk about the housefly as much as we should be talking about factory farming. So, people want to take an example like that and I would disagree with what Obama did, but they want to take an example like that and blow it up into some major skeptical issue when there should be no skepticism or doubt about, that factory farming is the most hideous, obscene and entrenched system of evil that is destroying all forms of life on this entire planet. It has to be shut down. And every person who eats meat helps to sustain and participate in this, and the very minimum thing that we have to do is to go vegan and then to begin dismantling every other system of oppression that we can find in this planet.
FB: Ok. I want to come back to factory farming for sure, but first I want to kind of lay some groundwork out there. So, I’m wondering, once each of you established your own personal philosophy and started practicing animal advocacy, how hard was it, I mean practically speaking, to align you lives with your beliefs in the context of the modern American society? How hard is it really?
PY: I find that to be one of the most difficult things. Well, first of all the first step as Steve said is to become vegan, so at least you do not have a direct role in the suffering of animals. But, I began to, at that point, I was a vegan but I was a life-stylist vegan. What was I doing to back up my beliefs? It was simply economic non-participation, but that’s all it was. So I began to go to protests. And after a couple of years of doing that I began to survey my achievements, or lack thereof, and realized I really had not accomplished a whole lot. You know I’d sort of bought into this classic protest formula where you’d stand outside various buildings with signs, and you express your discontent to the few people driving by, the people inside shut the blinds, and they ignore you. And so at that point it became a question of . . . a tactile decision. And I began to ask myself, you know . . . we were very hard on ourselves as activists but we never actually asked the question, “Are we saving animals?” And that’s why we’re here, right? And the answer really was no, with the exception of the people I convinced to become vegan. You save an average of 95 animals a year being vegan. I felt great about that. But, when it came to my actual activism, had I directly intervened in this system of oppression that we’re fighting against? Well, the answer was no.
So, at that point, to align my beliefs with my lifestyle, I began to escalate my tactics. We would go to fast food restaurants and breakout the windows. And I realized after a little bit of doing that, I realized the same question would apply to ourselves and I would get the same answer. I wasn’t doing anything. I began to escalate my tactics higher which ultimately lead to me going to fur farms, cutting down the fences, releasing the animals back into their native habitat, which ultimately lead me to prison. But I can say that I felt that my beliefs were never so aligned with my life as when I was on a fur farm opening those cages.
FB: How about you Dr. Best?
SB: I think it’s a very basic principle of ethics that it’s not enough not to do harm. You must actively do the good. So if you withdraw from factory farming and the leather industry and the pharmaceutical industries to the extent you can by going vegan. Please do not dilute yourself into thinking that you are morally sound and safe because you have taken the first step but not the only step. Peter mentioned a lifestyle of veganism, this is something I have a strong contempt for because that is not doing enough. You cannot stay in the confines of your home, back and forth between Whole Foods and Thai restaurants, and think that you’re actively opposing these systems of evil. We have to actively oppose these and we have to intervene at increasingly radical levels. Why? Because the oppression, the destruction of life and of this earth, is becoming increasingly radical. We need to do more and we need stronger and fiercer tactics to resist this. And so, I found myself also evolving more and always fearing that I wasn’t doing enough. And recognizing that I had to be more involved and I had to get more involved in protests, and then I realized the protests were also a form of control and I had to find other ways of interfering with the systems of power and domination. I started going direct action. And I started recognizing that we have to be more involved not just as individuals, as lifestyle vegans, but as political beings involved in social movements and resistance movements, and actively trying to transform this entire planet, this madhouse that we live in, into something sustainable and sane, and something that we could be proud to call a human creation or a community that we belong to. You see, that’s the key thing, what I call the Moral Copernican Revolution, when we recognize that the world does not belong to us, we belong to the world. And we live in a larger community that we belong to. And if you ask, what roles have we played in this community? And have we been good citizens in this equal community? This planetary community? My God, we’ve been barbarians. We’ve been invaders. We’ve been plunderers. We’ve been evil fascists playing with life on bayonets. We have to pull back from this planet. We have to reduce our numbers, our impact, and we have to allow other species to regain their foothold, and the diversity of this beautiful planet to flourish.
FB: That’s . . . amazing. Sorry, that’s . . .
SB: Well we do. The responsibilities that we have, especially at this point in history, this incredible point in time, during climate change and the sixth extinction crisis. And the last one, do you know when the last one was? 65 million years ago. This is just giving an indication of what the moment in time we’re living in now . . . it could not be a greater crisis. And people are acting as if nothing is happening.
FB: It’s true. So, the idea of animal rights advocacy has been around for a pretty long time. I’m thinking, Jeremy Bentham, that kind of thing. I haven’t studied that much . . .
SB: It goes back to the beginning of philosophy, Pythagoras. The first western philosopher was a vegan, and he didn’t use the discourse of animal rights.
FB: Pythagoras was a vegan?
SB: Yeah. And he advocated respecting the intrinsic value of animals. Philosophy begins with veganism and what we call animal rights but it all got f’d up, if I can say, with Aristotle who was the first theorist of hierarchy.
FB: Alright, well, we have to take a brief break right now . . .[Break]
FB: Welcome back … So both of your guys are obviously advocates for direct action, we’ve come to that conclusion in the last ten minutes. So I’m wondering if this has proven to be an effective technique for combating animal injustice and whether or not it was worth the consequences. Let’s start with you Peter Young, since obviously you’ve experienced some of those consequences.
PY: Sure. And we’ve seen tremendous victories for animals achieved by groups like the Animal Liberation Front. If anything, just in the direct liberation of animals themselves, you have two people who are fighting a court case right now for releasing mink from a fur farm right here in Utah, and that’s a similar crime to what I went to prison for. And I think I never got such a glaring example of how the achievements that can be achieved through animal liberation in groups like the ALF is, this summer when I went to visit, back to the fur farms that I visited many years ago in 1997, and I got to visit those places for the first time in 12 years, and what I found was of those six farms that I had been convicted of visiting, two of them had shut down. And, the farmers both attribute their closure, partially or in whole, to the actions that I was convicted of and I think that . . . and I just seeing those places with my own eyes and seeing it grown over the sheds, and I know I don’t have to be vindicated by courts. I don’t need to be vindicated by anyone in the public, although I think the public by and large does support things like that. I don’t need to be vindicated by my parents or anybody else. It’s those animals that will never be imprisoned at any of those farms again that I answer to.
FB: Excellent. Dr. Steven Best?
SB: Anytime you resist the norms or mores, practices, habits and cultures of society, there will be consequences. Anytime you standout as a non-conformist or critic, there will be consequences. You have to accept that upfront. And you have to have the courage to follow your principles and your convictions and not back down and not apologize and take them to logical conclusions. And this is why I admire Peter so much. He’s worth to me a million philosophers, and that’s a slight figure. This is somebody who puts his ideas into action and has taken the consequences for it, and came out of jail swinging. Came out of jail unapologetic and stronger than before. And I think he’s a model for anybody that has any beliefs that they consider to be true and worthy of fighting for. So, you have to decide right upfront that you are going to defend your beliefs, you are going to fight for justice, and you are going to take what consequences come. And this could be going to prison, as happened to Peter, this could be losing your position as chair of the philosophy department, or maybe getting fired from a tenured academic position. That’s the first thing that happened to me. I have my own set of consequences. I was thrown out of the United Kingdom, I was almost subpoenaed to appear before the Eco-Terrorist, neo-McCarthy hearings in the senate, I was completely ostracized from my university environment, probably my academic career is over. But you know what? It doesn’t deter me. And the most important thing to me is not advancing my career, not getting the accolades of society because they’re worthless to me, but fighting for is important on this planet.
FB: Ok, I want to take a call now from Jenny in Park City. Jenny are you there?
Jenny: I’m here.
FB: Welcome to RadioActive.
J: Thank you. I was listening and I have kind of the same, novice approach to factory farming and food corporations in that my main approach is to just not participate, not buying, not eating. But I agree, it doesn’t really make a big difference. I’m not stopping from what’s happening. And I [unclear word] much to voting. A lot of people feel defeated in their vote, that their one vote won’t make a difference, I see that type of participation in the same, that I’m not participation but it’s still happening. And I was wondering, how do you make a bigger effect on factory farming and food corporations? Because, to my knowledge there are a lot of people who work for the EPA and other places in office that have places in these food corporations that produce a lot of the food that we really shouldn’t be eating and support a lot of this factory farming that’s going on that we shouldn’t be supporting but that is pretty much the economy of the country.
FB: So you’re doing what you feel like is everything you can, but it still doesn’t feel like enough. Is that kind of the gist of it?
J: Yeah, but what I would like to do is have the few people that are involved with these companies could be fired that hold government offices where they control the bills that get passed and laws that determine what goes and what doesn’t because I feel like as long as they have control and the people that we’re fighting against are the people that they’re fighting for, that our efforts won’t ever make a difference.
FB: So, there you go. Peter, Steven, this is great. Are there any opportunities for direct action here in Salt Lake City? Or Park City?
PY: Well, I’m not going to give people a list of addresses but there is no shortage of animal abuse facilities in Salt Lake City. There’s laboratories, you’ve got the University of doing animal research, they’ve got private labs, there are many, many fur farms, you’ve got hatcheries, factory farms of all kinds. So, certainly there’s no shortage of things to do if somebody wanted to take that route and that’s going to be the case in Salt Lake as well as anywhere else. There first think I want to say to the caller is I really don’t want to downplay the significance of veganism. I don’t look at it as a boycott. I believe that there’s a direct translation between the lack of consumption, you know your abstinence from animals products, there’s lives being saved there’s a direct relationship. So, don’t be hard on yourself or feel like it is as wasteful as you might feel a vote is. But, ask yourself how, from that point, with that as a starting point, ask yourself how you’re going to actively throw yourself into the gears of the machine and be an agitator and get out and find out. And also, one of the most important things I ever did, was actually just looked up addresses of where animals were being abused and just going to these places, looking these animals in the eyes, whether . . . I’d dropped through skylights, I’d pried open doors, just to see these animals, and that to me gave me the motivation as an activist to last forever. I so I would encourage you to just go out there, know what’s in your neighborhood, and then just sit down and make a sober assessment about how you’re going to disrupt it.
SB: By the way, there are publications online and I’d be happy to steer people to them that do list abusers and their addresses and anyone could look up this information and inspect these places for themselves. And I want to reaffirm what you’re saying. Veganism is direct action. Direct action is when you take action yourself to stop oppression. You don’t ask the legislature or politician for help. So when you go vegan you are actively stopping oppression yourself. You’re doing everything you can immediately in your own life. But don’t expect politicians, indeed, to stop factory farming because all they’re going to do is regulate it, and the regulations are a joke. We’ve had for instance, on the law books since 1956, the Humane Slaughter Act. It’s not enforced. These animals go to death brutally. They’re cut apart violently, piece by piece. And the regulations of this system by government agencies, these are completely controlled by corporations, and there’s a revolving door between the meat industry and the regulation industry, the EPA, the FDA and all these things. You can read a book by Gail Eisnitz called Slaughterhouse and she documents what a fraud the government regulations of factory farming is and this whole idea of humane slaughter. This has to be completely rejected.
So you begin with veganism. You begin to find other ways to stop these systems of factory farming. Some people have done what you might call closed rescues, the classic ALF tactic where you go in anonymously, break into laboratories or into fur farms or mink farms and release animals and get as many out as you can. Another tactic that’s quite interesting is called open rescues. People don’t hide. They go in daylight and document what’s going on like in a chicken factory farm, they take out as many animals as they can, they send a press release to the media and say, “this is what we found. Here is how animals are treated inside these cages. We’re taking these animals, nobody owns these animals, they’re not anyone’s property.” And they’re quite open about this. Unfortunately, the legal system now is treating this a little more seriously. But find every way that you can to stop it in your own life, to educate others, and whatever way you can accomplish animal liberation, take those means to that end.
J: I do definitely believe that educations the key because that’s what got me started. But, do have suggestions about a better, greater way to spread the word and bring these images to peoples’ eyes and this information to their heads, to really change their perspective? Because I don’t think hardly enough people understand what goes into making their fast-food hamburger.
SB: Right. Well, there’s so many resources on the internet, there’s so many videos and empirical information studies of factory farming, it’s not difficult to show this to your friends and family. There’s so many videotapes out there now about animal oppression that are quite easy to get such as Earthlings. This is very powerful, show it to your friends, and this is a very effective strategy. That’s the education strategy and you bring this to as many people as you can but be ambitious about it, have a vision about it. Don’t just show it to your friends or to your family, do a community screening. Do organized screenings of films like The Witness on campus. And, just also understand that education is not enough, legislation is not enough. What we need is agitation. What we to ultimately do is, look, we need a social revolution. We need to really confront the systems of corporate and political power in this country or nothing will ever stop.
PY: Let me also just add in, when it comes to something like outreach or education, whatever your education efforts are, make it actionable. Always follow up at the end and say, “now that you know this, what are you going to do about it?” Whether you are sitting somebody down, showing them a video, whether it’s a speech . . . everybody needs to be confronted with what’s the obligation that comes with this information you’ve just been given. What are you going to do about it? And whatever you decide to do, make sure it is commensurate with the urgency that 10 billion sentient lives are being killed every year in this country alone, what that demands.
FB: Jenny does that help you?
J: It does. Thank you guys so much.
FB: Thank you so much for calling.
J: Thank you. Keep up the good work.
FB: Thank you.
SB: I’d like to say one thing quickly if I can. People always say, “What difference can I make?” One classic answer is, “Well, look at Martin Luther King, and look at Gandhi. They made a huge difference. And look at Mother Theresa and any of the great figures in history who are moral leaders. Absolutely. But, I want people to go to a show that’s online, and I show this to my students often, it’s CNN. It’s called Heros. They have a whole section on ordinary people who do extraordinary things. And in each case what happens is that they see something wrong and they decide they have to do something about it. And they will use what resources they can or they will get funding, and they will try to help people who are homeless, they will try to help repair the coral reefs, they will try to help the sea turtles from being driven into extinction, and they have made a powerful difference in the world, each and every one of them. There are dozens of them. And I’ll tell you one other thing. When you look at these people and they’re being interviewed and they’re talking about what they did, they’re vibrating. These people are vibrating. They are on another spiritual level because they know that they are in the world in a responsible way and that their presence is important in this world. They are not parasites. They are important to the world.
FB: Excellent. Alright so, there are all kinds of activists all over America fighting for a myriad of different causes, but it seems to me that animal rights activists, far and away have the worst reputation as “extremists.” And I know that both you, separately in different incidences, have been described as terrorists by at least a couple different sources. How do you respond to that kind of labeling? Where do you think those misconceptions come from and how can we combat those?
PY: I don’t think it is a misconception. I would wear the word extremist as a badge if means that I’m actually being disruptive to those industries that I’m trying to stop. So of course that’s an easy term to throw on somebody. It let’s you know you’re doing something right. So, extremist well, let me tell you what extreme is. Extreme is, as I said, killing 10 billion animals every year for food. It’s taking a knife to the throat of a cow simply to satisfy humans’ very selfish taste for flesh. I would consider that to be very extreme. Going into a factory farm and rescuing a veal calf and giving it a home, that seems to be a very practical response to a very urgent problem. I don’t see that as being extreme at all. People who are in prison now for actions ranging from . . . there’s one man in prison right now named Jonathon Paul who’s in prison for burning down a horse slaughterhouse. That horse slaughterhouse never reopened. That was, again, a very practical approach to a very urgent problem. So to call him an extremist, I mean, it’s no more extreme than walking by a house and seeing a burning building with a baby inside and going in and rescuing that child. That’s not extreme. That’s sort of a reflexive response that you see injustice, and you’re going to intervene.
FB: Rescuing the baby, yeah. Lighting the house on fire, not so much. I’m not speaking personally, I mean in the public eye, that might be viewed as slightly extreme.
PY: Tell it to the horses. Tell it to the horses that were saved by Jonathon Paul’s actions.
FB: Do you think that’s what makes the difference; why it’s so hard for people to wrap their heads around the idea of animal advocacy, is because they can’t speak to us in English, or . . .
SB: Well look, the movement has some publicity problems and I don’t think PITA is helping. And everything gets identified as PITA, and we’re not PITA . . . or the ALF. People see the movement as ALF, if they understand that at all, or PITA. This is a very diverse movement and it has a long history, again, this goes back to Pythagoras and Pythagoras was influenced by the ancient eastern traditions. There’s nothing weird or bizarre or extreme about compassion. This is only about compassion and taking action. And I agree with Peter that extremism is something that they want to hang out people that become activists as a stigmatization, as a scarlet letter, and they use it to make us fear being involved. And I don’t want to be stigmatized as extreme or crazy. Martin Luther King got this so much that he finally said, “ Yes, I’m an extremist. I’m an extremist in my love for justice and for passion. I’m extremist in my hatred of violence and injustice.” Yes, I’m an extremist. I’m a creative extremist. And we have to wear the terms radical and extremist as badges of honor. But I will never wear this badge of terrorist with any honor, because this is . . . if Orwell were alive today, he’d have his hands full in this post 9/11 environment because everything is upside down. And when you can rescue animals from conditions of confinement, of holocaust in Auschwitz-like conditions and be called a terrorist, and the corporations who are brutalizing these animals, and who are ripping down the rainforest, are treated with honor and dignity are defended by the law, you know that this world is upside down and that nothing is right. And part why this happens is because speciesism is so deeply embedded in the human brain. For at least 2.5 billion years since we . . . or million, sorry, since we started living Homo Erectus with the use of fire and controlling environments and hunting on a very small scale, we started separating ourselves from other animals and the environment and seeing ourselves not a part of nature but apart from nature. This is almost wired into our brain. so when you challenge speciesism and you say we are not the most important animal, you say we are animals and we are equal to other animals and we ought to respect them as we respect one another. This touches a very deep nerve center in the human brain and people react very powerfully to this. and this is where the education comes in.
FB: Alright we have to take another break . . .[break]
FB: Welcome back . . . So, jumping back to what we were just talking about, in terms of animal advocacy and direct action, I want to hear straight from you guys, how far is going too far when it comes to direct action?
SB: Well, the animal liberation front considers itself a non-violent group. That’s part of its credo. And in thirty years of actions it’s never harmed a single human being. On the other hand, corporations have destroyed countless billions of animals and police have killed many animal activists, so the violence is all coming from one direction. And I don’t see destroying property in order to save life as violence or terrorism. We’ve got our priorities skewed here. Property is more sacred than life in this society. I’m sorry. Life is more sacred than property. If I . . . an animal activist has to break down a door, has to smash into cages to liberate these beings who are no one’s property and no one has a right to take life away from them and exploit them for their own profit, then I think I anyone who does that is perfectly within right.
You can take this further. You can take this further into using, if you like, violence to defend an animal. Real violence. Armed struggle. Physical assault on vivisectors. Let me insist that no one is doing this in the moment. But I look at this as a philosophical question. Let’s say that there were. Would it be wrong? Every other social movement has had these components. They had it in the abolitionist movement in the 19th century. Some of that movement has survived as a glorious and noble movement. But it would be self-defense for the animals. I coined a term, extension of self-defense. If we represent the interest of animals and the animals would kill anyone or hurt anyone that was trying to hurt them because they are innocent, what would be wrong if someone actually took serious action against a vivisector, against an animal exploiter, to stop that and to defend that animal? And I say this as a hypothetical because I want people to think about this consistently. And you know, when people killed Nazis to liberate people who were held captive in concentration camps, nobody thought that was wrong. The animals are in concentration camps and suppose we kill human Nazis to liberate them, why is that wrong?
FB: Well, I’m just going to venture a guess here. It might be more difficult for human beings to speak on behalf of the animals on whose behalf they’re acting when there’s no overlap of language.
SB: Well that’s speciesism. It’s inconsistent that humans are worth saving with violent means but animals are not. I just like consistency in my thought.
PY: When I hear this question of the term violence applied to animal rights activists I just . . . how utterly disgraceful of these animal abusers to call us violent when their hands are just washed with blood. These people make a living . . . their very is existence is dependent on violence; on suffering. These people kill for a living, and yet they have the nerve to call us violent. They should be considered very fortunate that it’s not escalated to that level of violence at this point. These animals are suffering in some of the most horrific ways, and were there not cages between them and their killers, I think, especially when it comes to animals with very sharp teeth, it’d be a different story. And, as Steve said, they would certainly, if they had the ability they would act in defense and they would protect their own lives. So, it is our obligation to act in defense for them. And violence has never been a component of this movement. However, violence is completely inherent in what these people do for a living so, how dare they?
SB: We have hurt anybody. I don’t who I’ve hurt in my life to be called violent or a terrorist. We’re about compassion. We’re about non-violence. We want a world without violence. Without violence against humans, against other animals, and against the physical world if you will. We want to see this world with the best values or virtues that humans can have. But unfortunately with this economic system that encourages exploitation on a global scale, unfortunately with the darkness that lies within the human heart and soul, these are very difficult conditions to achieve. Hey will never come about automatically. They only come with fierce struggle.
FB: Ok so I have to ask this question, it’s going to be kind of tough for me to frame off the cuff. But, for example there are thousands of innocents, or at least, non-violent offenders in prisons in America. There are hundreds of thousands if not millions of people suffering from genocide in Darfur. There are humans beings who are being exposed to the most barbaric and inhuman and unbearable treatment throughout the planet right now. Why is it that you are compelled to offer yourselves, sacrifice yourselves, do time in prison, possibly die, and do violence against these people who are targeting and seeking out animals while there are fellow humans suffering the same degree of agony all over the planet? How can you justify that? And I am not trying to . . .
SB: It’s a fair question, go ahead Peter.
PY: These animals . . . I do it because these animals have no voice. Because they are utterly defenseless and it is our obligation of people that are aware of what’s happening to them to intervene. So . . . and I do it because the degree of what happens to animals is much more severe than just about anything you can name that happens to humans and the scale of it is much larger. So you really cannot compare anything that happens to humans to anything that happens to animals. Humans have a voice. They’re able to defend themselves. Animals simply do not. You could not get with doing to humans what we do to animals in this society. I feel like this is sort of the next evolution of human consciousness that we force people to realize that what we do to animals, we’ve done to humans in the past, and it’s time to move past that.
FB: Very interesting, thank you.
SB: Well since humans are animals, and since this is about compassion and justice, any animal advocate who could look at Darfur or Haiti or any of the endless forms of suffering and slaughter in history . . . I mean, history [unclear] is a slaughterhouse. And it’s barbarians running this planet. If you can look at this without compassion and fighting against that, ok, you’re not an animal rights activist because these are animals to. And you’re inconsistent, you’re misanthropic or something. You ask if we have compassion for that. Of course we do.
I started off with the left. I started off with political human rights issues and they evolved into this because I saw that this was a natural, logical, necessary extension, of human rights, of democracy, or the values of equality and peace. If you are a leftist, if you are a progressive person, and you talk about peace and non-violence and compassion and you are eating animals, and you are not concerned with what’s happening to the animal nations, then you need to check your head, ok? This is about consistency. We fight to . . . see I call this total liberation: we fight for humans and for animals and for the Earth. It’s all one. And we must stop from thinking that if you fight for non-human animals then you’re not fighting for human animals because it’s all connected. And it’s not a zero sum game in which if you help animals, or which if you can help animals then humans somehow have to suffer. Until we learn that humans will never live in peace and harmony on this planet until we stop slaughtering animals, until we learn that, we will never survive and we don’t deserve to survive.
FB: Excellent. I want to take a call now from Charlie in Beverly Hills
Charlie: Oh, hey. Good evening. I just wanted to make a quick comment, or a couple. First of all, I’ve noticed that the media largely labels the vegan, abolitionist movement, and even more moderate vegetarians, as militant. “The militant vegetarian” or “militant vegan.” It seems to be two words that role off the tongue really, really well but in fact, they’re rather contradictory to our goals and objectives. And I think that as a consequence of that, politicians, judges and society use these terms to disproportionately allocate judgments and what they consider to be justice against advocates who are either expressing their opinions or at times maybe they are in fact destroying property but there’s really never a danger to real human life. But they are in fact prosecuted and punished as if they were committing crimes against humans.
FB: Do you think that animal rights advocates get targeted in particular by the courts and the legal system in America, Charlie?
FB: Have you witnessed that yourself?
FB: Have you guys seen that?
PY: There’s no question. I saw that very clearly about two weeks ago when the FBI broke down the door to my house and spent the next 7 hours ransacking my house armed with weapons as well as a search warrant. So yes, you see that very clearly if you fight for animals and you actually make yourself a threat and you make statements as publicly as Steve does and as I have to be somewhat incendiary then yes, they’re going to come for you. You see that in the AETA 4 case where you have people who are being federally indicted for doing nothing more extreme than protesting at the homes of animal researchers. So absolutely, there’s no question that we’re in the middle of a tremendous amount of oppression that’s coming down on animal rights activists. What you see is that they can’t catch the people who are carrying out Animal Liberation Front actions. They can’t catch the people who raided the University of Iowa and rescued 401 animals. And that was the pretext under which they raided my house, speaking of investigations of that action. They can’t catch those people. So they come after people like me or people like Steve, who simply vocally support what the Animal Liberation Front does. Or people like the AETA 4 who protested at homes of animal researchers, who are doing a constitutionally protected act, yet, they’re the target of federal prosecutions. So there is no question right now that we’re seeing that.
SB: There’s a power system out there. I call the corporate-state-media-complex. And it’s all corporate. It’s all dominated by corporations. The state political system is an extension arm of corporate power, the media is a corporate media, and they represent corporate interests. And they drop the term eco-terrorists as if it we equal and objective. And the play their role, as you so well point out, in the demonization of people who are the true freedom fighters and not the true terrorists. And so this discourse of terrorism and extremism, you have to understand, it’s manufactured by corporations. There are laws that corporations made that label any kind of resistance now against animal or so-called environmental enterprises, if these activities somehow interfere with their economic profits, this can be, has been, is now called terrorism; eco-terrorism. Corporations made these laws and media faithfully dictate them to us. And if Gandhi were alive today, if King were alive today, doing the actions that they did, their boycott actions that did effect corporations and businesses, they too would be called eco-terrorists. So dammit, I guest we stand in some pretty good company.
FB: I guess so. Charlie, thanks so much for your call.
C: Thank you.
FB: Have a good night.
C: You too.
FB: So, if folks . . . we’re coming to the end of our show here, and I want you guys to plug your ethics conference and everything, but first, if people in the greater Salt Lake or Utah area, or really anywhere in America, are feeling fired up and passionate about this issue, and maybe a little helpless, like the lady who called about the vote-wasting was feeling, what do you say is the first step to really get involved with this issue and then what are the next, maybe three, logical steps if folks really are ready to take action? Where do you begin?
PY: Number one, become vegan. That’s a starting point. I think me and Steve are both trying to drive that home. Number two, you can get involved with a local animal rights group, we’ve got the Salt Lake Animal Advocacy Group right here in Salt Lake City. Get involved, meet other like-minded people. Get together and figure out what the hell you’re going to do about this horrific slaughter of animals. I would also encourage people to go to a website like finalnail.com, which lists the addresses of fur farms and slaughterhouses and other animal abuse facilities, and see these animals with their own eyes. Just go there and see and that will forever galvanize you to dedicate your life to fighting for these animals. I’m not here to spoon-feed tactics to people. There are . . . ask yourself what your strengths are. If you’ve got ninja skills, well, you might want to go in the ALF direction. If you are more of an intellectual, you may want to go into academia. But there’s no shortage of tactics you can employ to achieve the goal of animal liberation. But I think the first step is to be vegan and get together with other like-minded people.
SB: And if you have doubts about what we’re saying, if you think that this is not a holocaust, if you think that what is happening to our fellow animals on this planet, if you think this is not a matter of the greatest urgency and concern, and if you think that this doesn’t somehow implicate our fate and our future in the environment, think again. Do some study, do some research, and check it out for yourself. Now when you come around to the conclusion that we have no right to exploit animals, that we are destroying their lives, our planet and the whole planetary ecology and that this has to stop, and then you take the direct action by going vegan, education, you become involved by trying to get this message out to other people. You use what local groups and institutions are available to you, and you try to find the actions that are effective to stop something, not regulate it. Not make it kind-killing, but stop it altogether. And if . . . I want to reiterate what Peter said, it was a very important point. If you’re a teacher, if you’re an artist, if you are skilled in one particular area of life, if you’re a musician, then use your art, use your skill, use your talent, not to advance your own interest, but do it for the animals. Do it for the earth. Do it for the future. Do it for all life that is now in peril. And find a way to use the skills and talent that you have to awaken consciousness on this planet, because we need a revolution, and we need it now. We don’t have a lot of time. The scientists are warning us that this whole system is coming down and the consequences of it are going to be horrific. And so, we don’t have time.
FB: Ok, really quick, if people want to come see you . . .