Saturday, 9 August 2014

Animal liberation: An end to isolationism!

One of the difficulties with us humans is that we have (or certainly most of us seem to have) a deeply engrained tendency to fail to see the bigger picture.

Sadly, this is a tendency that has been ruthlessly encouraged and exploited in their own interests by capitalists and the Right, who have had little difficulty in encouraging people to consider their own wellbeing and that of their families, nations and ethnic groups to be more important than that of other individuals, nations and races.

So instead of a far-sighted community, based on caring and sharing, equality, fairness and selflessness, we have a myopic society, where greed, competition, selfishness, lack of concern, prejudice, division and appalling inequality between rich and poor hold sway.

Of course, this same failure to see the bigger picture has also been exploited to cause appalling suffering and slaughter of other animals, by those who profit financially and otherwise from such abuse.

However, it’s not just ordinary members of the public who fail to see the bigger picture, but animal liberationists too – and by animal liberationists I’m talking about all of us who want to see an end to the oppression of other animals by humans, not just those folks who take direct action against laboratories, etc.

Seeing the bigger picture in relation to the animal liberation struggle is coming to understand that we will not succeed in obtaining the widespread emancipation of other animals from human tyranny, unless we rid a large percentage of the general public of human supremacist attitudes.

This changing of people’s attitudes can only be done through vegan education, according to the broad definition of veganism, as meaning opposition to the use of other animals for any purpose, but starting with diet, because the food industry is by far and away the largest area of animal abuse that is bought into by ordinary people.

Doing such education isn’t exciting and very rarely yields immediate results, as it tends to take a while with people for the vegan message to sink in and you’re really not going to get a “eureka” moment at the info table of a meat-eater immediately vowing to go vegan!

This means that difficulty in seeing the bigger picture tends to draw animal protectionists towards taking part in and supporting activities, such as animal rescue, Sea Shepherd, hunt sabs and even the ALF, which yield much more immediate results.

Now all these “immediate results” activities are extremely praiseworthy and honourable, because they have saved a huge number of animals from death and suffering and continue to do so. However, I would describe such activities and the groups who carry them out (even the direct action ones) as “rescuist”, rather than “liberationist”, as they seek to save individual animals without attempting to change fundamental human supremacist attitudes which prevent animal liberation from being brought about.

And it isn’t just that vegan education can bring about an eventual widespread change in human attitudes that rescuist activities cannot, it’s also the case that persuading people to be vegan can spare more animals in the short-term than rescuism, through the reduction in the demand for animals to be reared or caught for slaughter that will occur as veganism increases.

A microcosm of this situation occurred just a few years ago when I worked as National Co-ordinator for a UK greyhound protection group called Greyhound Action (GA).

Now GA courted controversy by refusing to get involved, as an organisation, with rescuing greyhounds (although, as individuals, those of us who ran the group all had rescued ex-racing dogs in our homes). Instead we concentrated totally on educating the public to boycott greyhound racing, because we saw the bigger picture and understood that rescues would be having to desperately try to snatch what discarded dogs they could from the death needle or gun provided for them by the racing industry until the seas froze over, unless concerted action was taken to bring that industry to an end.

So we picketed the tracks and staged info stalls in city centres – and through the reduction in public attendance at and betting on greyhound races this caused, helped shrink the industry to such an extent that more dogs were. spared from suffering and slaughter than all the rescue people, who were much more numerous than us, could ever have saved.

This was a lesson for me in the importance of seeing the bigger picture and tackling the root of a problem, rather than just dealing with the symptoms, that I’ve carried with me into the campaigning I do today.

In addition to not having sight of the bigger picture, rescuist activities are isolationist in that they tend to just involve the activists and the animals they seek to rescue with little or no dialogue or interaction with ordinary members of the public. In fact, I believe that is what attracts many animal protectionists to them, because there is no need for any involvement with those “nasty ordinary people who eat meat and don’t care about animals.”

It’s interesting to note that nearly all the ex-ALF activists I know who are still working for animal protection do so in the world of rescue, rather than as campaigners or educators who have involvement with the public, which I feel is a continuation of the isolationist mindset that attracted them to the ALF in the first place.

Another form of isolationism exists within the vegan community, where there are so many groups that just spend their time swopping recipes, telling one another about the latest new vegan product in Morrisons and scoffing vegan cake, without any real attempt to get out there and educate ordinary people to be vegan.

Thirdly, there is the widespread isolation of the animal liberation movement from other movements for radical and progressive social change, whom we need to make alliances with if ever we are to create a decent world for all its inhabitants, both human and non-human alike. This form of isolationism is very eloquently challenged by Dr Steve Best in his excellent Total Liberation talk.

Here in Britain, I feel that one of the best ways animal liberationists can ally themselves with members of other progressive movements is through involvement with the Green Party, where they can work to eventually bring about a government that will pass strong and far-reaching legislation for social justice and animal protection (see my previous article for more on this).

With over 30 rescued animals of various species in my home, I am certainly not opposed to animal rescue and I salute the brave activists of Sea Shepherd, the ALF and the Hunt Saboteurs Association, all of which groups I have helped, either actively or financially in years gone by.

I also love being in the company of other vegans and feeling the camaraderie of people who have the same compassion in their hearts for other animals as I do, and the consuming of delicious vegan food (including cake!) is wonderful too.

But the bottom line is this – unless far far more of us become involved in vegan education in the world of ordinary people and unless our movement becomes integrated as part of the Left, animal liberation will continue to be a far-off dream.

There comes a time to see the bigger picture and to end our isolationism – and that time is now!

(First published on the Species and Class blogsite at

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