Not too long ago, I reported on the First International Animal Rights Conference, held in Great Britain. You may recall that Dr. Jerry Vlasak, an American AR activist given to particularly virulent rhetoric, had been planning on attending the conference where he was to have spoken, but in the event was banned from entering the country by home secretary David Blunkett on the grounds that his presence "would not be conducive to the public good."
Of course, through the miracle of modern video techniques, those gathered at the event were treated to a lengthy and predictably uninspired list of unsupported assertions, clichés and falsehoods masquerading as a serious polemic. Though Dr. Vlasak directed his slings and arrows mainly against the use of animals in research, he nevertheless demonstrated his breadth by attacking the meat industry, the dairy industry, universities, pharmaceutical companies and scientists, all of which are greedy and corrupt.
His speech is truly a target-rich environment. But what I find most revealing is the spiritualism of his rhetoric, which surfaces several times:
For at the heart of this movement, is a simple but profound change of perception; animals are not machines, animals are not things, animals are not tools, animals are not commodities, they are not resources for us! Animals are living, sentient beings, with their own dignity, their own worth and yes their own RIGHTS! We protest against the blindness and spiritual impoverishment of those who cannot see that there are individuals of worth beyond the barrier of our own species.”
A few paragraphs later, we read this:
Those who perpetrate these still “legal” crimes, their utter and complete violence, callousness and indifference against non human animals, can’t and don’t want to see that what they are doing is not only a crime against God, Allah, Buddha, nature and life itself, but results in the suffering and death of millions of humans.
And much later, there is this:
Feeling the suffering of animals is no aberration, no abnormality and no extremism. That you can feel it at all, and that you are willing to do everything you can to stop that suffering, is a sign of grace.
The most terrible thing of all, the most demonic, the most evil thing of all is what is so loudly proclaimed and seen in all those appalling undercover tapes from inside animal labs and slaughterhouses.
My take on the religious tone of this rhetoric is that Dr. Vlasak is one of the extremist AR/Eco spiritualists (like Tre Arrow and Rod Coronado) - a guy who honestly believes he's taking his lead from one supernatural entity or another.
To Dr. Vlasak, using animals in ways he finds objectionable is a crime against not just one god, but all of them: God, Allah, Buddha, nature and life itself. Those of us who don't toe his fundamentalist line are nothing more or less than blasphemers - people who insult and offer offense to his god by word or sign.
To any fundamentalist holy warrior, be he Christian, Islamic, Animal Rights or Eco, blasphemers are obvious targets, and the positive effects resulting from a few being killed is worthy of consideration, especially in light of a greater good:
A top adviser to Britain's two most powerful animal rights protest groups caused outrage last night by claiming that the assassination of scientists working in biomedical research would save millions of animals' lives.
To the fury of groups working with animals, Jerry Vlasak, a trauma surgeon and prominent figure in the anti-vivisection movement, told The Observer: 'I think violence is part of the struggle against oppression. If something bad happens to these people [animal researchers], it will discourage others. It is inevitable that violence will be used in the struggle and that it will be effective.'
Vlasak, who likens animal experimentation to the Nazis' treatment of the Jews, said he stood by his claim that: 'I don't think you'd have to kill too many [researchers]. I think for five lives, 10 lives, 15 human lives, we could save a million, 2 million, 10 million non-human lives.
Now, keep in mind that the good Dr. didn't actually call for the killing of scientists ... he just planted an idea, proposed an hypothesis ... . Should some anonymous useful idiot, entirely unknown to him, test Dr. Vlasak's hypothesis and cap a few scientists, it certainly wouldn't be Dr. Vlasak's fault! And should such a thing happen, I'm sure Dr. Vlasak would be amongst the first to proclaim strongly that he didn't condone the action, however much he might understand the motives that led to it, and value any chilling effect the killings might have on the activities of scientists.
Of course, if you believe in the moral equivalence of humans and non-humans, then Vlasak's equation of 15 humans sacrificed to save 1, 2, or 10 million animal lives makes sense (in fact, you don't have to postulate millions of animals saved ... if animal and human life really is morally equivalent, then just one more animal saved than the number of humans killed would justifiy the murdering of the humans ...).
UPDATE: I neglected to credit David S. for the heads up. Thanks, Dave.