This text was written as a part of a debate in 2001 when animal rights activists were at their worst, threatening individual breeders and fur retailers as well as sabotaging for the breeders by releasing their animals. The text is available in Swedish on my website. The translation into English is new.


Animal rights activism and the democracy in a postmodern perspective (2001)

Breaking into a fur farm and releasing animals or terrorising fur shop owners is a form of criminality  that has a relatively high acceptance in society. “Rescuing animals” from captivity and suffering is seen as a higher goal, justifying these actions. Those who commit these crimes usually belong to different networks of animal rights activists and justify their actions with ideological and humanistic arguments.

The largest of these networks in Sweden, the Animal Liberation Front (DBF), describe on its website their actions as: “broadening democracy to include animals other than humans.” In essence, according to animal rights activists, it is a question of democracy when they, with criminal means, seek to persuade actors in the fur industry and others to cease their business through harassment and vandalism. And certainly it can be tempting to agree with the activists in their fight for the animals. We humans do not always treat animals humanely, but the question is what a society based on the ideology of animal rights activists would look like. Would we like to live in such a society? The following article shall discuss this issue.

Animal rights activists are often seen as representatives of good as opposed to the evil animal breeders, fur retailers and scientists. However, “goodness” has a less pleasant side as it is based on a vision of a society in which a small “enlightened” elite is allowed to stand above democracy. Animal rights activists believe there are higher values that justify non-democratic and criminal means.

In society, there will always be individuals or groups who, in some respects, consider themselves to be more ‘enlightened’ on moral or etic grounds and who, through this, consider themselves entitled or even have an obligation to act by any means at their disposal in order to achieve something for them perceived important. Examples of other such groups are anti-immigrant and Nazi organisations, anti-globalisation groups and left-wing autonomous groups. In this respect, there is no difference between a Nazi group that, with criminal acts, seeks to protect the country from unwanted elements that are considered in various ways degenerate the white race, left-wing autothonous groups that aim to save the country from globalisation by smashing shop windows or the animal rights activists releasing minks. What unites these groups is that they feel they have a mandate to define which objectives should be considered justifiable criminal acts. However, none of these objectives can give the right to stand over democracy because in a democracy, there is nothing above a democratic decision. When the special interests of a minority are allowed to take precedence, we approach a type of social system that few of us want to live in.

But the motives of animal rights activists have even some more interesting additional dimensions. They are  considered, for example, to be taking the case of animals. However, only some of the animal species. Very few of the activists, for example, seriously believe that the right of perch not to get caught on the hook or the right of mosquitoes not to be beaten to death, should be defended. The activists therefore believe that they have a mandate to determine the value for  different kind of animals and decide which living beings should have the right to live. Only some species are worth defending and the limit is most often set at mammals and animals that are “cute”. The question here will be whether we should accept that self-proclaimed small groups of “experts”, with the help of violence and threats, should be allowed to decide where this limit should go. The fundamental question here is who should decide where the line between life worth defending and life that can be sacrificed should go. Animal rights activists also believe they have a mandate to decide who should be born. Most animals born in captivity would not have been born if man had not considered himself in need of them. In other words, these animals would not have had a life if it had not been for man. The question of whether life is better than non-life and the question of what should be considered a dignified life are issues that cannot be determined objectively. However, the ‘enlightened’ animal rights activists believe they have answers to these questions. Their position is that in some cases non-life is better than life. The Animal Liberation Front writes about this on its website: “It should also not be forgotten that sometimes future generations are saved as farmers have sometimes been forced to close down after actions against them.” What they’re saved from is being born. If living conditions do not match the way activists value what a dignified life is, then it is better not to be born. Applied to humans (according to animal rights activists, humans are an animal among other animals), this reasoning could be interpreted as, for example, that children in developing countries who grow up under starvation and all kinds of oppression should not be born. But animal rights activists can   hardly experience a mink’s life from a mink’s perspective.

What they do (but also most of us other) is to humanize the animals and interpret their behavior from a human point of view. It is tempting, for example, to assume that a life of freedom, based on what we humans perceive as freedom, is also important for animals. Animals, however, certainly have completely different perspectives. Their existence is about trying to escape starvation and being killed and eaten by other animals. Maybe a good life for an animal is freedom from starvation? A protected life in a cage may be preferable to an uncertain and painful life in freedom, from the perspective of a animal. The romantic image of the free animals happily running across the open fields may have more to do with ourselves than with the animals that the activists (and the rest of us) want to defend.

The reasoning that man is an animal among other animals also becomes problematic in further ways. Cruelty in animal species and between different animal species are very common. As an example, our usual house cat which, in a seemingly cruel way, catches and “plays” with the mouse before it kills and eats it. When we talk about the cruelty of other animals, we interpret that this is in their nature and that they cannot therefore be blamed for their actions. Evolution has chiseled out certain behaviors favorable for the survival of the species. If man is an animal among other animals, then our cruelty should also be interpreted in these terms. What we perceive as free will and consciousness then becomes just an illusion and we are guided by much more basic urges. Man then acts, like other animals, by its nature and thus cannot be accused of being cruel. Culture becomes an illusion here; it’s all nature.

Another issue here is the utilitarian positions of animal rights activists; that it may be right to sacrifice a few to save several. For example, minks are released from mink farms even though you know that many will quickly die in their new freedom. One reason is that if you release the animals, you cause the owner of the business so much financial damage that he eventually ceases the activity. This saves other minks from being kept in captivity (and from being born). Representing such a utilitarian approach while claiming that animals and humans have the same value would lead animal rights activists to advocate death sentences (among humans) if it can be demonstrated that this can save human lives. A classic example where the death penalty would probably have a good general prevention effect and save hundreds of lives a year is if it were applied in traffic to speed infringements. Under the threat of execution, most would law-abidingly stay within speed limits. Those who are not deterred would sooner or later be “taken out of traffic” permanently. Sacrificing a few could ultimately save many lives.

In other words, it could be argued that animal rights activists who engage in illegal methods to achieve their aims are not only anti-democratic and advocates of a fascist society, they also believe that they have an almost divine mandate to govern and control life and death. The consequences of drawing their reasoning to the fore are that they are both in favour of the death penalty and that some people should not be allowed to be born. What at first glance looks like laudable goals and ambitions, on closer examination, proves to be the risk of leading towards a society in which few of us want to live.

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