Opinion continues to be expressed in the aftermath of the announcement of the Hall family that they would be closing their Guinea Pig farm, at least partly because of a 6 year long campaign of intimidation, coercion and vandalism launched against them and their neighbors by Animal Rights activists. In this piece, the author links the AR campaign of cruelty, violence and intimidation to broader social issues:
What's the difference between an activist and a terrorist? Britain has a proud and rather noble tradition of people agitating for causes they strongly believe in (Catholic emancipation, votes for women) and against things they can't abide (nuclear weapons, foxhunting), and there has always been a comprehensive disparity between those who want to blow up the Houses of Parliament and those who would settle for chaining themselves to its railings or petitioning its members.
Yet nowadays every outraged minority seems inexorably to be heading towards the formation of its own militia. Why is this? Why has fear and mortal threat become the new currency of negotiation in this country? When people speak of fundamentalism, they ought now to look beyond the fear of young, "home-grown", brown-skinned men carrying backpacks: there is another brand of intolerant Britons whose aim is to get their own way come hell or high water, and most of them would have no trouble whatsoever passing Norman Tebbit's obnoxious "cricket test". [My emphasis . . . ed.]
Of course, we're seeing the same thing on this side of the pond . . . and we have for some time.
These people have "English values" to burn, and they will burn them in bonfires the size of St Paul's if people don't obey their ferocious command to free the nation's guinea pigs.
The new-style animal rights nutter is as English as cream teas, and he or she is willing to engage in every sort of intimidation, issuing death threats, carrying out fire-bomb attacks, and basically indulging in a species of barbarity different only in degree from the "foreign" terrorists whose actions they find so incomprehensible.
Barbarity is a key word for these nutters: they think it is barbaric to sacrifice the life of small animals for the benefit of scientific research, but think it's OK to dig up the corpse of 82-year-old Gladys Hammond, as they did last October and then boast about where the parts of her body are hidden. [My emphasis . . . ed]
Yes — it is incomprehensible for most of us that others of us would act this way . . . It is a chilling reminder of how uncivilized people can be in the pursuit of a fantasy utopia.
But I still suspect that there is much more going on than just adherence to a wacky ideology — I think every population has it's share of misfits who are fascinated by violence, get off on power trips and feel compelled to show in particularly egregious ways that they aren't going to be constrained by traditional mores.
The AR ideology is a license that provides them with an excuse to act out in behalf of their barbarous instincts, and to do so with a clear conscience.
While the rest of society sees them as thugs, misfits and malcontents, they see themselves as crusaders — as Holy Warriors who are acting out of noble motives in behalf of a glowingly pure AR ideology.
The nation's leaders are fond of saying that intimidation, criminal behaviour and terrorism will never work, but it has worked very nicely for the guinea pig lovers: the late Mrs Hammond's relatives, John and Christopher Hall, who have farmed animals for more than 30 years, will close their business at the end of this year due to the sheer extremity of the "protests" mounted against them.
Yes, it has worked. And this will only embolden the AR activists to redouble their efforts . . . is there anyone, anywhere, who doubts that?
Simon Festing of the Research Defence Society pointed out that work on the bodies of guinea pigs had led to 23 Nobel prizes in medicine. I'm not in love with the idea of inessential testing on animals to produce make-up, but, through the years, the Hall brothers have run a business more ethical to my mind than Gap or Starbucks, providing the means by which human life can be improved and scientific knowledge enhanced.
Mr. Festing and the Nobel laureates are correct — but that is irrelevant. This approach is in isolation simply an appeal to authority, which lacks intellectual clout. Why should I support science? Because Dr. Smith, who does things I don't understand and couldn't care less about, said I should . . .
In fact, the AR activists can and do parry his point with ease: they can claim — and have — that the discoveries for which the Nobel laureates won their prizes might have been achieved sooner had non-animal alternative methods been used in place of misleading and wasteful animal studies; or that while animal research might have been useful "back then" it is no longer useful today; and they claim that scientists and the institutions they serve are greedy, power hungry yahoos who want only to enhance their own reputations and pocketbooks, even at the expense of helpless animals — so it's natural that they'd try to defend their respective turfs against the enlightened and pioneering AR suggestions for improving both the conditions of animals and the quality of research in one fell swoop.
And they wrap all that malarky in loaded words like "torture," "abuse," "cruelty," and "poisoned bodies."
It is preposterous, of course, but it works, which is why the RDS exists, the Hall family is out of business and why I'm writing this blog.
The AR people use these tactics constantly, catching the public in a colossal game of "he said she said." As things now stand, scientists and their supporters are left trying to defend themselves and their mysterious enterprise against a constant barrage of false accusations, misinformation and outright lies. Inevitably, like water drip-drip-dripping on granite, the defense will be worn away incrementally.
The solution is to stop the water dripping, in addition to thickening the rock. It is beyond me why this is a difficult point to understand, but difficult to understand it clearly is . . ..
In whose great name and with what body of wisdom do the animal campaigners speak? Not the Bible's, for a start, where the general advocacy of sacrificing lambs would surely have caused the woolly-jumpered brigade to organise the burning down of Nazareth. And not with what is sometimes called the democratic will of the British people either, because most people will advocate the decent necessities of science if they result in findings that will alleviate the suffering of human beings from, say, osteoporosis or from cancer. To prioritise the feelings of the guinea pigs is to assert a quite spectacular failure of the human imagination.
Yet that is what it often comes down to with the animal nutters.
And yet . . . a quiescent public is the oxygen that sustains the nutters. And the tragedy is that the public need not be quiescent, need not be confused, need not be indifferent, need not be ignorant.
The public really can learn — and there's much to be learned by a close examination of what AR really is and a thorough exploration the fantasy future AR activists are hankering for.
For reasons that might better be understood by a good analyst, these people find their sympathies more in keeping with the interests of non-speaking, furry beings. In many cases, it is not that they have an overwhelming, cuddly appreciation of the creatures themselves, but that they possess a cynical and undervaluing feeling for the existence and progress of other human beings.
There are people, of course, who just love animals and feel concerned about their welfare, but the RSPCA will often find its officers turning up at the house of elderly "animal lovers", only to discover the beloved beasts living in a state of squalor and hunger.
Animal rights activists saddle animals with a warped version of the feelings they cannot express towards humans, and their overactive conscience on behalf of animals' rights is often no more than a needy over-compensation for their basic lack of humanitarian values.
Yes — but every society has its misfits, malcontents and religious zealots. You will not be able to change their minds — you cannot logic a person out of a position he didn't logic herself into. The goal of any anti-AR effort must be to change public perceptions from confusion, indifference, tolerance, ignorance — or any combination you'd like to select — to one of enlightenment.
The public really is smart enough to understand the issues — who's telling the truth, who's not, what the stakes are, what each side's core values are, where inconsistencies lie, etc. — and can be trusted to make intelligent decisions if given a chance.
As things sit, the research community is ducking and weaving, defending itself as best it can by absorbing punches on it's arms and body, but choosing not to throw any punches itself.
What sort of silly, self-destructive attitude is that?
[ . . . ]
These people are white and middle-class and living in a rustic idyll near you. Many of them will find it easy to speak about the inhuman behaviour of fundamentalist zealots, and they will be right to do so, as long as they can recognise their own over-zealous madness in relation to these creatures, dumb animals whom they use only to express some deeper dissatisfaction with themselves and a wider society that does not conform to their views. We all like animals. I don't know anyone who hates them, or who wants to hurt them for no reason, but it takes a fanatic to like them more than the long-term attempt to diminish human suffering.
"A fanatic is one who can't change his mind and won't change the subject" — Winston Churchill.
In the case of Animal Rights activists, the fanatical mind-set is that the life of an animal and that of a human is of equal worth, and to discriminate on the basis of a creature's species ("speciesism") is every bit as much a sin, every bit as immoral, as to commit racism. You can't negotiate with these people: you can't logic them out of a position they didn't logic themselves into. You can only try to change the environment they depend on for survival: public perception.
And the point that these are middle-class and upper middle-class people has long fascinated me: AR is a profound indulgence — a boutique attitude masquerading as an ethic in the fantasy world of a comfortably well-off group of warm and well-fed people, or people who could be warm and well-fed if they wished. Or so I would argue.
Those of them who have read this far will already be writing their threatening letters. They pretend to detest the spirit of the age, but these people are among its nastiest embodiments: people who would sooner militate against their opposition and threaten them with violence than make better and more convincing arguments.
I have heard from them before, a dozen years ago, when I described the culture of easy violence that surrounded the childhoods of the two boys guilty of murdering the Liverpool toddler James Bulger.
The animal protesters wrote in their droves to express neither sorrow nor care for the ruined lives of those children, but simply to express in heated terms their horror at the alleged killing of a cat. Two-year-old James Bulger didn't get a look-in.
That for me is the mentality of these home-grown vigilantes: they aim to target cruelty, while a much more serious form of cruelty plays itself out in the darkness of their own minds.
Well, yeah. Not much more to be said! Except thanks to Lisa A. for the heads up.
UPDATE 8/26/05, 2:35 PDT for clarity and consistency.