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On Pluralism, Lies and Mink

A dozen people who apparently think I’m a member of the ALF want to know why I’m writing about this controversial topic and were fearful of commenting publicly. That terrified me but demonstrated the effect the US government has had on our freedom. This, the free world, has become a place where people are afraid to have a discussion about a controversial (un)organization that they don’t even support!

Here’s why I’m writing, and the idea for today came from Bea’s most recent comment: the importance of pluralism. I’ve yet to read an interview or a chapter regarding direct action where the activist says that property damage–or boycotting, for that matter–is the only answer. Every situation is different and requires a different strategy–that’s pluralism. As Steve Best often says (and I’m paraphrasing): We shouldn’t be wedded to one dogma or another. Instead, we should look for what works in different situations. There is no universal rule to cover all situations.

I’m merely interested in thinking critically about an easy target (the ALF). I’ve had all the same preconceptions as everyone else, but the more research I did, the more I discovered I was wrong about a lot of them. One particular fact that many people aren’t aware of, is that many campaigns by the ALF in the UK were successful and put breeders and other exploiters permanently out of business (think of the Greyhound track Ronnie Lee mentioned). It’s not true that exploiters will always replace animals and recover from "attacks." There is often enormous economic impact that forces them out of business.

Another fact that we all should have no problem believing, is that when direct action campaigns are reported on in the media, the result is often a pack of lies. One lie I’ve seen on blogs (including my own) in comments and posts (and I by no means think the author of the post or comment is aware that what they write is not true), pertains to the mink liberation effort in 1997 in Ontario. The common comment is that the activists "liberated" the mink only to have them all die overnight, by starvation, getting hit by cars and freezing to death, and because they were raised in captivity they didn’t stand a chance when liberated (specifically, they contracted stress-induced pneumonia as a result of being liberated).

In Gary Yourofsky’s essay "Abolition, Liberation, Freedom: Coming to a Fur Farm Near You" in Terrorists or Freedom Fighters? Mr. Yourofsky, who was part of the mink liberation effort, writes:

Let’s look at the facts. (1) Mink are clothed in natural fur coats that make it impossible for them to freeze to death; also note that the Ontario raid took place not in the dead of winter, but in April. (2) It takes several weeks for a mink to starve to death. It cannot happen overnight. . . . . (3) Mink do not spontaneously contract pneumonia or stress when they are not in cages. Being kept in a cage for your entire life causes stress and neurosis. Freedom is the cure for cage-induced stress and neurosis. (4) There are no cars on rural roads at three in the morning, except for those of fur farmers and police who are trying to recapture the liberated mink. . . . According to the fur industry, 400 mink instantly died after my Easter Sunday raid. Yet, on my request, the lawyers asked them to provide proof . . . . [W]hen I was convicted and sentenced to six months in prison, the furriers brought in photographs of two dead mink who had allegedly died the night of the raid.

That fur farm has since gone out of business.

I don’t know Mr. Yourofsky (who says he always prefers nonviolent activism), and I do know how controversial he is (read more of his thoughts here). But that shouldn’t take away from the reality that we often don’t have the facts of a situation, as any reader of Will Potter knows. All I’m asking is that if you are going to be for or against something, especially if you’re going to make your case as passionately as many animal rights activists do, it behooves you to refrain from quick judgments–even those based on instinct–and think critically about what you are being told and what you read.

My life isn’t set up to include breaking the law and going to prison for it. Not because I have the utmost respect for the law, but because I have made choices that don’t allow for certain kinds of direct action. In addition, I have heard and read about activists who advocate for physical harm of exploiters, and though we might be waging a war, in my mind it shouldn’t include harming anyone (and remember not one person has been injured or killed so far, but there is some amount of talk of that nature and that makes me very uncomfortable).

My hope is only for activists to be open to at least learning about the variety of actions they can take–or support–to put a dent in the machine that brutally massacres billions of sentient nonhumans each year for no good reason.

11 Comments Post a comment
  1. Joseph #

    Hi! I have a quick question (maybe some clarification) about your stance on harming (or rather not harming, animal exploiters). Do you hold the same stance if someone was doing physical harm to people, especially more than one person? I'm not trying to look for inconsistencies in your approach to activism, I am just curious.

    May 29, 2008
  2. Hi Joseph,

    I was waiting for you . . . .

    This is where I have a problem, and part of the problem is fear that this country's laws are so unjust, and our values are so backward, that I actually fear getting thrown into jail. If the SHAC activists can be imprisoned for running a website, it's clear that dissent–words–in this Orwellian era, can have an impact we never thought possible in what is supposed to be a free world.

    Would I have murdered Hitler during the Holocaust given the opportunity? I don't know, but the idea doesn't repulse me. Why do we stand by when a Holocaust occurs under our noses every day when we wouldn't if people were the victims? Well, we do stand by when humans are concerned, at least some of the time or until we can think of a good economic reason to intervene (I'm talking about governments, here). We stand by as humans are mistreated all the time.

    I am not a supporter of the death penalty, as the message that murder is so bad that we'll murder you if you murder someone is ridiculous.

    Is that different from killing Hitler or targeting an animal abuser? I don't know. Frankly, this is the one area left (other than sorting out the capitalism thing) where I am of two minds. I don't know if I would advocate for the killing of a person–ever. Even someone at the helm of genocide. I'd rather see justice through imprisonment and financial penalties.

    Ah, but the premise there is that there's a law that protects the innocent, and though there are laws that protect innocent humans, sentient nonhumans have no such protection.

    And thus I've come full circle to pursuing legal rights for animals as the only way to justice IF one refuses to consider property damage or violence.

    In short, if your question is: am I a hypocrite? I think the answer is I'm not sure. I assume you're saying the answer is yes.

    May 29, 2008
  3. the bunny #

    Not sure if you are referring to my post/comment where I write about how large numbers of *liberated* minks have difficulty surviving once they are *free* from mink farms:


    I'm not given to randomly commenting on stuff I don't know about. As you may deduce from my posts, if I do not know the facts, I will willingly admit it is so. I willingly admitted that I had never heard about "open rescue," and thanked you for introducing me to it.

    I have never heard of the mink raid in Ontario a decade ago.

    But I do know there have been many raids across the US on mink farms since then.

    There have been and are a number of mink farms not only in Washington State, but some of them are located very close to where I live here. My information comes directly from someone close to me (deeply involved in animal welfare) who knows about mink farms firsthand. This person has been on a certain mink farm, and when this mink farm was raided by activists, yes, many of the minks did die and suffer. She witnessed this herself.

    In an article in The Animal Voice (Winter 08'), an AR magazine, Peter Young writes about how he was part of a mink farm raid in Sultan, WA, releasing 10,000 minks (ALF claimed responsibility for this raid). He talks in a way that glorifies and glamorizes the act of nightly raids, and details the thrill of it all (a heroics complex). He talks of how he feels so good, and how he's done such a wonderful thing.

    What he does NOT say is that many of the minks were simply retrieved (in worse shape than previously). Many of the mink were, however, not recovered, and I think it is only common sense to assume that thousands of mink suddenly released in the wild will affect the balance of the environment, with changes that can be unforeseen. Minks released in 90 degree weather will be searching for water and food in a terrain in which they are unfamiliar and can not find their way around. Subject to the elements, other predators, and people (on whom they are imprinted) is not really a suitable mix for the survival of animals that were previously caged all their life. It's also not terribly great for other wild animals and the already established chain of food either. Any mass introduction of animals (particular those that were captive) into the wild should come with some serious forethought and research into how it will affect the environment.

    The farm, as far as I have read from articles continued to exist anyway (recovering most of their minks). And instead of changing the mind of the owner of the mink farm, she waged a public war to get the laws tightened and longer jail sentences for fur farm raiders. Her voice was more exposed than ALF and was considered the more "sympathetic" to public ears.

    And if you do your research, you shall find that in response to this particular mink farm raid, it prompted politicians to propose stricter laws against "animal rights/eco-terrorists" and placing the more respectable and peaceful local animal rights activists in a negative light, making it harder for them to do their good work. Other mink farms have cropped up since (there is one right down the road from me), and these farms have simply developed air-tight security on their premises, now preventing any possible raids or undercover work to be carried out.

    Peter Young served two years in prison for "liberating" mink.

    Personally, I think people get a little hooked on heroics (and "being right") and unfortunately ignore the consequences of what they say and do.

    But what do I know.

    May 29, 2008
  4. I wasn't, bunny, but thanks for the info. I don't know anything about what you're referring to.

    I was referring to a misinformed public making judgments and/or decisions about what they believe based on faulty information, and the Ebert Fur Farm raid is a great example of that. It's also a great example of how direct action can dramatically affect the business of animal exploitation (which shut down soon thereafter).

    May 29, 2008
  5. the bunny #

    My apologies. I have a tendency to think everything is about me. 🙂

    I would have posted anyway, though, since what you say may go both ways in terms of being misinformed (meaning even animal advocacy activists and organizations can spew misinformation and propaganda). You're right in that it is up to each of us to filter the information we receive, not just from the media, but from just about anyone (organizations, leaders, books, web sites, blogs). It is best practice to view every piece of information with a critical eye, and make an attempt to research the facts to the best of one's ability.

    Bunny Out. 🙂

    May 29, 2008
  6. A national radio news story from CBC Newfoundland (home of the clubbed baby seal), May 27, 2008:

    'Step in to control waste, stink at mink farms, report says'

    Newfoundland and Labrador's rapidly growing mink farming industry has little enforcement to deal with manure and rotting carcasses, a new report has found.

    The report, completed in March by Halifax-based researchers with Dalhousie University's School for Resource and Environmental Studies, found that the majority of fur farmers bury dead animals at local landfills.

    As well, the researchers found that some farms have piles of manure that are not properly covered, not all farmers are cleaning cages properly, and some farms do not have a large enough buffer zone with their closest neighbours.

    "Due to the overall lack of enforcement of waste management practices, mink farming has become what some consider a non-controlled industry," the authors concluded.

    CBC News obtained the report through provincial access to information legislation.

    The mink industry burst from having just 1,000 breeding animals in 2001 to 60,000 in 2007, the report said. Direct sales now top $17 million annually, and the industry is valued at $38 million.

    The report calls for better regulations that can be enforced, and suggests that the Newfoundland and Labrador government cap the number of breeding animals.

    As well, the report said the provincial government needs to ensure that farmers start composting dead mink on their own farms.

    The report, which was completed for the provincial Department of Natural Resources and Sir Wilfred Grenfell College, was launched after neighbours of some farms complained about strong odours and infestation of flies.

    Merv Wiseman, president of the Newfoundland and Labrador Fur Breeders Association, said rules are needed to govern the industry, which he said could grow to be worth $60 million this year.

    However, Wiseman cautioned against over-regulation.

    "It's up to us now to achieve some level of balance between what they put out as a report and what the needs of the industry might be, and what it takes to move the industry forward without being encumbered by regulations and the costs associated with regulations," he said.

    "The industry has been moving and developing very rapidly here, and in fact, it's been hard to keep up with it, quite frankly, from a regulatory perspective," Wiseman said.


    The lowlifes at Fur Council of Canada bring you the 'Fur is Green' media campaign:

    May 29, 2008
  7. Porphyry #

    My silence on the recent blog topics shouldn’t be mistaken for fear of commenting publicly. It is good that that you are critically discussing the topic.

    By and large freedom fighting and direct action and those sorts of campaigns are in conflict with principals of veganism, a philosophy based on ideological underpinnings that (should) override such reactions as, “That bloody bastard. I want to stop them.”

    Fear? Coercion? Sounds like tools animal husbandry uses to control others. (And slave trading, and patriarchal oppression, and homosexual discrimination, etc.)

    Brain Cass of Huntingdon Life Sciences was beaten by a group of some ones and the evidence lead to animal rights activists. Regardless, that “no human person was injured so far” needs to be added is a big problem with the ideology of attempting to wage a just war. Silent and ambivalent moderates of a group give license and share responsibility for violence done in the name of the group’s extremists.

    “The machine that brutally massacres billions” is or was at some point each and every one of us. Even if someone was never or is not a part of the machine, their immediate family, loved ones, and friends likely are.

    The problem with "the enemy of my enemy is my friend" is that it sets up the completely artificial and binary “us vs. them,” “goodguys vs. badguys,” “heroes vs. evildoers.” A war needs “an enemy” and that requires reducing and objectifying others and removing their inherent pluralistic existence. The reality is every “enemy” is a potential ally (e.g. Howard Lyman). Very nearly every single vegan was once “the enemy” and it would be difficult, if not impossible, to find a “pure” vegan.

    Even with the best intentions, there are far too many caveats with direct action that make it indefensible.

    I should probably condemn direct action a bit more vehemently, since my relatively soft criticism implies complacency and even complicity.

    – I’m absorbing the information and keeping an open mind incase I see anything new. (I don’t)
    – I really can appreciate the reasons behind direct action (not agree with, but I get it).
    – Plurality, sure, but if it conflicts with principals, it is undermining.
    – I haven’t been able to coalesce all my thoughts into a concise post (this post is fragmented and grossly incomplete).
    – I realized that I would only be scratching the ideological surface.

    In short:

    Social movement not war. It isn’t reasonable to discuss plurality and waging a war as convergent when those concepts are largely in opposition.

    Social movements allow for a good deal of plurality besides martial approaches. Waging a war, even a metaphorical culture war, does not allow for very much plurality, or tolerance for that matter. While some proponents are winning hearts and minds for the cause others are hardening hearts and minds against it.

    In a social movement, in particular, this social movement, it is imperative that the means are the ends. Global non-exploitation of all animals by humans is not going to be fulfilled in any one’s lifetime that is reading this. Non-exploitation of all animals in the just the United States won’t happen anytime soon. No way. And yes, I am being optimistic by assuming there will be progress at all.

    There may be perceived “battles” to win but there is certainly no end in sight to the perceived “war.” No means can justify a non-existent end. It is paramount to demonstrate and advocate, exemplary, consistent, practical and possible ethics.

    May 29, 2008
  8. Thanks, Terry. It's such a shame that the industry has been moving and developing rapidly. Several readers recently commented about how hopeful they feel and that abolition is near. But I just don't see it, unfortunately. All I see is that things are getting worse, for activists and for animals.

    The reason I (and others) often mention that no person has been harmed or killed by the ALF is to immediately clear up a misunderstanding. Often, anti-abortion activism is compared to animal rights activism to further clarity (the former target–and kill–their enemies).

    It's unclear what your definition of direct action is. Here's what pattrice jones has to say in Mothers with Monkeywrenches: Feminist Imperatives and the ALF in Terrorists or Freedom Fighters?

    "Direct action includes only activist tactics that, like boycotts and sabotage, are intended to have an immediate impact on a problem or its causes. In contrast, indirect action aims for future change through more circuitous routs, such as education, legislation, and symbolic demonstrations of opinion. . . . Ideally, direct action will illustrate or illuminate the problem at the same time as it interferes with its causes or effects. The very best direct action contributes to a long-term strategy for future change even as it offers tangible results in the here and now. . . . People who have integrated segregated lunch counters, put their bodies int he paths of troop transport trains, distributed illegal clean needles or birth control devices, boycotted chocolate or Coca-Cola, staged rent strikes, or built "tent cities" for the homeless have all taken direct action against one or another form of oppression. Direct action for animals is similarly diverse" (137-8).

    Is is direct action you want to "condemn a bit more vehemently," or physical violence against people?

    I'm going to continue this in a post, as not everyone follows comments, and this might be helpful to some people new to this discussion.

    Always glad to hear from you and appreciate your comments . . .

    May 30, 2008
  9. Dan #

    On what are arguably the two most controversial topics among those who would like to see a vegan world and the property status of animals abolished, namely, 1) abolitionism versus new welfarism, and 2) peaceful means only versus property damage and other harm, I have certainty beyond a reasonable doubt about #1 that abolitionism is the only way to abolition, while I am quite uncertain about #2, particularly as a practical matter regarding effectiveness at this time in history.

    Due to my certainty on issue 1 (abolitionism), I frequently and often forcefully comment. Due to my uncertainty about issue 2 (property damage/harm as a means), I rarely comment anymore (as of the past few months) and in the future plan to mostly ignore the issue. There are strong arguments on both sides of the harm-as-means issue and I’m not going to pretend that I know how to go about reconciling them.

    BTW, I’m swamped at work and that is why my comments have dropped off significantly during the past month.

    May 30, 2008
  10. Bea Elliott #

    From Karen Dawn's book "Thanking the Monkey":
    I read about Compassion in Action: a story that took place in 2003, where in California, militant's trashed a resturant specializing in foie gras. $50,000 of damage was reinbursed by insurance, equating only to a minor "disruption". But it was the news coverage by a local ABC affiliate that generated several stories about the ducks plight – consequently public awareness and negative impact grew. quote:"It was not the economic damage inflicted by the act, but rather the damage in public opinion inflicted by the media, that made the difference".

    Another example Karen Dawn makes compares (covert and hooded) ALF activism of freeing caged animals to "open rescues" – where the same "offense" is commited but when evidence is turned over to the media – the act becomes one more of citizens attempting to expose dis-order and abuses in the most legal and prudent ways as possible.

    If the FBI is infiltrating "vegan pot luck dinners" – rest assured, the meat industry and animal agriculture is kept ultra-secret and protected under "Privacy Act regulations": If government "laws" can help them hide – why can't media exposure help the animals?

    Porphyry corrects me that this is not a "war" – I can rephrase: ….. this is a cultural "debate" of ideas and…. I welcome my "opponent's opponent's on my team". As you mentioned too, none of us is "pure vegan"….. we were all the "enemy" once – and different messages go to each of us in different methods – Short of physical harm, some of these messages (though they don't jive with how each of us defines effective) may result in lasting change for someone else.

    Certainly when slaves were liberated from the chains their masters kept them in, there was violation of laws, there was violence and destruction of property. I dread to think where former slaves would be now if abolitionists then, tip-toed around those laws in a "peace at all costs" frame of mind. I agree that this effort will probably not end in the here and now….. but rather see a future engaged in increasing confrontations -destined to philosphical arguments and in radical action as well. "Revolution" comes to mind. For now, individuals who parade in chicken costumes trying to make people aware of factory farm and slaughterhouse cruelties do not warrant my disproval.

    And one last "Thanking the Monkey" gem: "We should present our movement as peaceful but devote more energy to disavowing the animal abusers than to disavowing the activists."

    May 31, 2008
  11. Porphyry #

    “It's unclear what your definition of direct action is… Is it direct action you want to ‘condemn a bit more vehemently,’ or physical violence against people?”

    “Then bang, bang, bang, the ALF carried out three damage attacks on the stadium…”

    The language is appalling. It is not even described what was done exactly, but it clearly was violent.

    Moral of the Compassion in Action:
    Violence was ineffective. Getting messages to the media is effective and there are many more ways besides violence.

    If you prefer terms like “cultural debate”, “opponents, and “teams” there doesn’t seem to be much room for association with “damage” or “attacks.”

    "We should present our movement as peaceful but devote more energy to disavowing the animal abusers than to disavowing the activists."
    You cannot present a movement as peaceful if the violent activists associated with the movement are not disavowed. How would that that even work? “I’m for nonviolence, but so long as it’s not done by me I give violence for my benefit a green light.” Sounds like a compassionate carnivore picking up some ground beef in the supermarket.

    There may be a time during a revolution when violence is necessary. This time is not now (if ever) for animal concerns. A revolution needs a tipping point of some sort of popular support before violence can be meaningful. Let’s assume the United States goes vegan in the near future (surviving a civil war)? What’s next, justified war against the world for the sake of animal liberation and vegan utopia? The US won’t kill anyone; just damage their property (with bombs). And here I was naïve enough to assume that the point of not exploiting or causing suffering of animals was to demonstrate living a life free of violence.

    Since the position have been polarized into an absolute, it’s even easier to argue for erring on the side of “peace at all costs” rather than “free license for war.”

    June 9, 2008

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