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On Pacifism

Please do something for me if you have the time. Please read the following and then go to the source (or not, that would be doing two things for me), and let me know your thoughts on the following quotes.

Vivisectors, animal researchers, factory farmers, furriers, and their ilk condemn their victims– living beings who feel and suffer, just as we humans do– to a life that is so “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short” it would have appalled even Thomas Hobbes. Socially conditioned to believe that we are the master species, most people condone the exploitation of animals “for the good of humanity.” Others apathetically look the other way. Some, however, opt to oppose this abomination with tactics appropriate to the evils inflicted on animals, and yet they are as scorned by many in the animal advocacy movement in the same language and tone that one finds in the discourse of the FBI and SHAC’s prosecutors.
 . . . .

Ironically, the relatively few animal defenders who carry out the struggle against the monstrous animal-industrial complex through militant direct action (MDA), such as property destruction and liberating caged animals, often find that animal exploiters are not their only opponents. In a perverse twist, a surprisingly large number of people whom the casual observer would assume to be allied with direct activists often align themselves with animal oppressors in their rush to show they “reach across the aisle,” “remain civil,” “work within the system,” and above all, “adhere to non-violence.” They become perfect puppets of the corporate-state complex.
 . . . .

One can stop wondering why the animal advocacy movement is losing the fight, as meat consumption skyrockets, animal exploitation increases exponentionally, the sixth great species extinction crisis rapidly accelerates, and the planetary ecosystem irrevocably comes undone.
. . . .

For the state rarely lifts a finger to stop ineffectual forms of dissent, such as animal rights activists who do nothing but chant and hold signs outside of research laboratories. Thus, the provisional absence of such legislation hardly indicates successful tactics. Moreover, the original version of the AETA, the “Animal Enterprise Protection Act,” became law in 1992, 8 years before the SHAC movement crossed the Atlantic into the US, and so one could just as easily argue that it was legal and peaceful tactics that were the catalyst for state repression. In fact, any significant challenge to animal exploitation — legal or illegal, aboveground or underground – will provoke a harsh state response. So the question is not how to avoid state repression but how to break through it, using a variety of effective tactics without hindering the movement by fundamentalist fallacies and pacifist dogmas.

. . . .

While many non-violent, legal tactics are often necessary and useful to advance animal liberation, they are impotent without being supplemented by radical direct action, as they pose no immediate threat to the global capitalist system that enables the moneyed elite to prey upon billions of non-human (and human) animals each year to fuel growth and profits. CEO’s don’t lose much sleep over a student petition campaign, a weekly vegan outreach program downtown, or a Sunday potluck dinner with a vegan speaker, as these efforts barely break past 1% of the US population.
. . . .

“Pacifism is generally considered to be a morally unassailable position to take with respect to human violence. … While it can seem noble enough when the stakes are low, pacifism is ultimately nothing more than a willingness to die, and to let others die, at the pleasure of the world’s thugs. It should be enough to note that a single sociopath, armed with nothing more than a knife, could exterminate a city full of pacifists. … Here we come upon a terrible facet of ethically asymmetric warfare: when your enemy has no scruples, your own scruples become another weapon in his hand.” Sam Harris
 . . . .

Today we lionize Nelson Mandela as a great hero, but he and the ANC used violence to win their freedom. People forget that the much-heralded Suffragettes in England and the US used arson and bombs to help win the emancipation of women. Few if any movements for social change have succeeded without a radical fringe, without civil disobedience, property destruction, and even violence — so why should one expect it to be any different with the animal liberation struggle?

It is incredibly naïve to believe that a revolution of the scale and complexity such as needed now can come about through education, legislation, and prompting veganism on a mass scale. From our pluralist, pragmatist, and contextualist position, we can surely see these as important tactics, but they need to be supplemented by direct action and, more importantly, by a revolutionary social movement propelled by numerous groups in an anti-capitalist alliance politics.
 . . . .

But if discussion turns to the use of property destruction or physical violence to liberate animals from oppression, suddenly there is outcry that this tactic is wrong, violent, and counter-productive. Appealing to critics to overcome the fallacy of speciesism and to think in a rigorously consistent manner, we simply ask: why? Why are the anti-Nazi resistance fighters heroes while the ALF are terrorists? Why is economic sabotage and violence acceptable to use in defense of human beings but not animals? This gross inconsistency ought to embarrass every unprejudiced and logical person and it is a scandal when paraded about by a so-called “animal advocate.” It is just a disguised form of speciesism whereby extraordinary actions are courageous and laudable if done on behalf of human animals but despicable and deplorable if taken for nonhuman animals.
. . . .

To be clear: We are not advocating the use of physical violence as a first strike measure or pivotal tactic for animal liberation, but nor are we taking it off the table as something that has to be dogmatically excluded on fundamentalist pacifist principles alone. We prefer not to disarm this struggle against monumental evil and destruction of life in any way.

For more (a lot more), go to Thomas Paine's Corner's new home.

9 Comments Post a comment
  1. Angus #

    Speaking of violence, here's a disturbing news item about the disappearance of a woman who ran an animal sanctuary in Hungary:

    February 8, 2009
  2. Dan #

    Well, I’m simultaneously amused and put off by Steve Best’s rhetoric and hyperbole. His writing style is certainly entertaining, but I think it is also counterproductive to logical, clear, calm thinking.

    One might scoff at pleas for logic, clarity, and emotional coolness when innocent nonhuman beings are being literally tortured and slaughtered by the billions, but intelligent discourse and action is what will ultimately be most effective in ridding society of the speciesism which is at the core of all of the torture and murder.

    I highly recommend that readers consider both sides of the militant direct action (MDA) debate before jumping in as an ardent fan of either side. Unlike the question of abolitionism versus welfarism, which is straightforward and has no dilemmas, the question of MDA is a complicated one with dilemmas and has strong arguments on both sides.

    Best is right on his view that humans will always conflict violently with each other – it’s a proven biological fact written into our genes. As my wife is fond of saying: “Humans aren’t rabbits.” To believe in a permanent peace within our species is naïve. The individuals in our species are on a bell curve: the principled pacifists are on one far end of the curve, while the Hitlers and Stalins are on the other far end. The fat middle of the curve is occupied by the vast majority of us who generally and often strongly oppose violence, but would gladly fight violently to protect ourselves or those whom we perceive to be innocent others (i.e. innocent nonhumans) from tyrants, as long as it is either a practically feasible and winnable war, or we have nothing to lose.

    The key question on MDA is how much MDA is practically feasible and winnable, in terms of effectiveness at any given time in history and level of public prejudice versus understanding. Right now, animal advocates are grossly outnumbered and out-powered in terms of the public relations battle that inevitably ensues whenever a big ALF attack occurs. Animal advocates as a whole are wrongly branded as “the bad guys” by the media and the majority of prejudiced, speciesist citizens, and because their voice is so much louder than ours due to sheer numbers, we lose.

    On the other hand, this is no reason to dogmatically oppose all MDA whatsoever at this time. There might be certain situations where carefully planned MDA might have a positive effect, both short-term and long-term, as long as the public relations battle can be controlled and managed to the animal advocates’ advantage.

    In the big picture, vegan education – specifically, fighting speciesist prejudice – must be the foundation and 98% of the movement, and MDA always on the fringes, representing a certain very small fraction of the movement’s activity (if we ever actually create an abolitionist movement). Steve Best is correct to point out the history of violence behind peace movements, but the MDA sector has always represented the fringe – a very small fraction – of each and every movement, not the bulk.

    In concluding, I’d like to see less personal attacks and name-calling, less emotional rhetoric and hyperbole, and more thoughtful discussion from Steve Best. “Franciombies” is funny and amusing in an immature, schoolyard way (see the source of Mary’s quote), but it contributes nothing intelligent to the discussion. Best misrepresents Francione a number of times, and only magnifies this in his hyper-rhetoric. The biggest misrepresentation of Best’s is that Francione sees veganism as a “diet change”. Francione does NOT see veganism as merely a diet or a diet change (Francione has said this dozens or hundreds of times), but as an entire moral paradigm shift. Francione’s also presents his arguments against violence much more cogently than the arguments Best sets up as straw men, a brief summary of which one can read at the following link: . Best focuses on the “evil corporate-state complex” and “the man” as the culprit, but 98.6% of the individuals in our society share the blame. Corporations and governments make bad decisions, but ultimately they are little more than a reflection of our nasty society (i.e. individuals) in the mirror.

    I’d like to see less dogmatism on the MDA question from both sides. Best is right that there always will be some place for MDA in *any* social justice movement, *including* the animal movement, because of the biological and unchangeable (except through evolution) violent facts of our species, but Francione and Hall are right that, as a practical matter, too much MDA at any given time in history (like now) seriously erodes our moral credibility and does nothing to bring public understanding to our cause. Too much MDA for the level of public understanding is undermining to public understanding. Vegan education builds our moral credibility and brings public understanding (as Best implicitly admits). MDA can assist that understanding, but only in very small doses precisely proportionate to the existing public understanding. Without an adequate base of public understanding through peaceful vegan education, MDA has no foundation on which to rest and will only cause movement regression, public backlash, and severe and undue hardship for the heroes (and yes, they are heroes, not terrorists) who are willing to risk their freedom to help the innocent.

    February 8, 2009
  3. Mary Martin #

    Thanks, Angus
    "We are very unhappy that the police seem to have treated it as a missing person case and not as a crime."

    As I'm sure you surmised, I chose those quotes for a reason. When I look at them, separate from the name calling (and he's not the only one who does that), I am better able to work with the real message of not ridiculing (to put it mildly) those involved in MDA. At no point does he say that it should be the primary tactic, and that's the part people get stuck on. They go right to: He wants us to blow stuff up. And though those words are nowhere to be found, the tone is quite explosive.

    I'm as snarky as the next guy, maybe more. But I've grown less so, at least when I'm having a serious public or private debate, as I think that drags down the level of discourse and takes the focus off of the important issues, degenerating into something personal.

    And if it's legitimately personal, I think there's another way to do it.

    But that's me.

    February 8, 2009
  4. Dan #


    I think people get stuck on Best's rhetoric, which helps them misunderstand what Best is saying. If he went for more precision and clarity and less rhetoric, I think he would be better understood. I actually agree with much of what he says, but not the way he says it.

    As to Hall, I agree with Best that she's over the top in her criticism of MDA, the heroes who do it, and her ideas of some heaven on earth if we would all just be nice. That said, I think MDA is like playing with fire – one must be very careful about when, where, and how it is done and controlled.

    February 8, 2009
  5. My thoughts, in no particular order:

    a) I don't think it's fair to call anything "counter-productive." We can't predict the future, it's just that simple. Animals need all the help we can give them and I might choose not to join some activists, but I refuse to call them wrong or counter-productive.

    b) Violence can be justified. That's not enough reason for me to participate or promote, but it's certainly enough to prevent me from condemning.

    c) I prefer the Open Rescue, though I haven't done it myself. I see it as perfectly ethical as well as effective. I don't think the goal ought to be doing economic damage to the animal exploiters. I think the goal ought to be saving animals' lives. I think open rescue is the kind of thing that elicits public support because it is inherently kind and nonviolent, yet it ALSO directly attacks the root of the problem.

    d) "Few if any movements for social change have succeeded without a radical fringe, without civil disobedience, property destruction, and even violence — so why should one expect it to be any different with the animal liberation struggle?" is a valid point, but not persuasive. For me to participate, I want to hear that it works, not just that it happens.

    e) "CEO’s don’t lose much sleep over a student petition campaign, a weekly vegan outreach program downtown, or a Sunday potluck dinner with a vegan speaker, as these efforts barely break past 1% of the US population." But they could lose sleep over open rescue videos aired on National TV. They could lose sleep as that 1% grows to 2% and then to 10% and so on…

    February 8, 2009
  6. An inevitable increase in direct action is a certainty… How can it not be? As things progress in social awareness, the opposing side will of course, be compelled to defend their "rights" still. Confrontations will escalate in frequency and in degree. We are after all, going up against ancient institutions and modern economics. Nothing short of Revolution is at hand. But as Dan said, timing and numbers are critical. We must, through vegan education and information based activism, increase public awareness that our "platform" is based on "less harm" and not more. We must change a cultural view that sees Animal Rights not as radical but rational.

    We shouldn't jepordize the goal of abolitionism by premature or "unpopular" strikes… And I agree with Elaine that for now, open rescue has the most positive influence and is of help to all…

    But I can invision a time, when different lines are drawn. I think it's important for the most passive vegan among us to realize and prepare for more physical activities as circumstances will necessitate. We may for a time continue to (nicely) invite the public to look at the emperor… and to look into the mirror. But, at some point – there will be resistances that will not be conquered unless we are wiling to opt for all strategies. I think it's naive to think that this "war" of ideology will not eventually include grand-scale counter "violence". As for fighters who have awareness of this battle ahead, and who act in justified desperation now, how can one possibly not cheer them on?

    February 9, 2009
  7. I agree with the above comments, more or less.

    In her book Speciesism, Joan Dunayer says:
    "The test for speciesism is simple: If the victims were human, would you be speaking and acting as you are? If not, don't speak and act that way when the victims are nonhuman."

    I think the above quote is useful in thinking about this issue and all others we face as a movement.

    If we categorically reject the use of violence (defined as intentional physical harm to sentient life) to stop imminent harm to nonhuman animals, we must also categorically reject violence to stop imminent harm to humans. Unless we are speciesists.

    I'm not a pacifist, so I don’t categorically reject counter-violence. I don’t categorically support it either. Context matters.

    However, even if we agree that the use of violence is morally justified to stop imminent harm, it doesn’t necessarily mean it is a strategically sound action.

    Illegal direct action may save individual lives (every life saved is a victory), but in a society where humans treat other animals as exploitable commodities, it alone cannot stop their continued enslavement and murder.

    We must strike at the roots to eradicate the system of human supremacy that promotes speciesist oppression.

    Vegan education and genuine animal rights advocacy should be the focus of our movement. We need to vastly increase the percentage of abolitionist vegans if we hope to persuade the public to view all speciesist exploitation and the laws that protect such exploitation to be unjust. This is where I put my time and effort and I hope everyone else will do the same.

    February 11, 2009
  8. I wanted to add something to my last post…

    I believe illegal nonviolent direct action such as liberations and sabotage of the infrastructure and tools of oppression play an integral role in the abolitionist movement. The activists who risk their freedom to defend the life and liberty of nonhuman animals should be commended for their courage and bravery. While I do not engage in these actions, they are no doubt morally justified and should not be disparaged or condemned by anyone who supports animal rights.

    February 12, 2009
  9. I must speak up for the lifestyle of pacifism, both as a practical way for one to live one's life, as I do, and for the general use of pacifism as a tactic for achieving a specific goal, like stopping corporate profiteering and governmental genocide against native humans around the world, which is the two driving forces of the USA, and which always has been throughout the short history of the USA.

    I am an Extreme Pacifist, and I will always choose non-violence as a way to solve all problems, either personally, or in a larger, global problem, like war or poverty.

    To answer the first question that pops into one's head, after hearing that some one is an Extreme Pacifist; What would you do if some one came into your home to rape and kill your family? I respond: I don't know, I probably would try to stop them ( and then repent and ask Jesus Christ to forgive me ), but in my 45 years on this planet, I have not had to face that situation, as most other people have not, either.

    The point is, if some one has to defend themselves in their own home, from a violent attack, by using violence themselves, I understand completely, but that is much different than using violence to achieve a political objective.

    To criticize pacifism as a way to live and solve problems, is to concede to the real enemies, the people in power within governments and large corporations, who want the people to form small or large groups and encite them to carry out acts of violence , so that they may be labeled "terrorists' and then the government can sent in the troops to dis-arm and arrest the "terrorists".

    Pacifism, also, is not to be passive or docile. I am very passionate, proactive, and agressive in my activism and writing, I just choose not to use violence, or suggest the use of violence to acheive my goal, either in my personal life, or in fighting for a cause or belief.

    The ultimate way to achieve one's goal or objective, is to educate and inform the masses to the truth that is always hidden from them, and when enough people "wake up" to a specific truth, they will not participate in the supporting of the problem or crisis, like a war, or occupation, or acts of torture against animals, or humans (who are much more important to me, personally ) then it becomes too difficult for the people in power to maintain their control over the masses, and then change will occur.

    Think like an Anarchist, live like a Pacifist, Peace.

    February 28, 2009

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