In the light of the recent series of violent attacks perpetrated against butchers by so-called “vegan advocates” in France it seems all-the-more urgent to reassert the importance of non-violence in furthering the cause of animal rights. This notion of “ahimsa” merits our concern because it encompasses many of the core arguments attached to veganism as a movement. Moreover, by attacking members of our society we in turn paint ourselves as not only “extreme” and thus inaccessible to the majority of mainstream society, but also deeply hypocritical and logically inconsistent in our shunning of speciesism and violence towards animals while simultaneously condoning violence towards various classes of humans. Veganism is in essence an “extension of the peace movement to include non-human animals” and does not grant an individual license to use others as a means to an end, regardless of whether they are human or not.
Instigating acts of violence and destruction against others for the sake of a supposed “greater cause” is both counterproductive for the cause and in the case of animal rights deeply counterintuitive as it undermines everything that the vegan movement is supposed to stand for. As aptly noted by Professor Gary Francione, “violence treats others as means to ends rather than as ends in themselves. When we engage in violence against others—whether they are human or nonhuman—we ignore their inherent value. We treat them only as things that have no value except that which we decide to give them”.
Furthermore, perpetrating acts of violence against animal exploiters is inherently illogical as it suggests that all the blame for a systematic, structured practice ought to be imposed upon a group of individuals no worse in their use of animals than any other non-vegan (see We Are All Michael Vick) It makes no difference to the life of an animal whether one pays for it to be killed or decides to kill it themselves. The animal will die either way. It is a basic case of supply and demand. Thus, if we are going to start attacking the exploiters we might as well be attacking our non-vegan parents or family members; both groups are just as viable to blame, just as active in their contribution to animal exploitation.When positioned in such a light it becomes all-the-more transparent how futile and dreadfully nonsensical such acts of violence truly are.
Resorting to “extreme tactics” in the face of frustration at the seeming ignorance of mainstream society serves to paint a violent, distasteful image of veganism, reinforcing a narrative in which the majority of society would quite understandably refuse to partake. We must shift our focus to non-violent education; to chip away at the violent conventions with the power of debate and basic one-on-one conversation. We are all in essence human beings and we must treat each other as such in order to open up the conversation to the case of the animal other. As Francione frequently asserts, most people, whether they realize it or not, already agree with the basic premise of veganism; that it is wrong to inflict unnecessary suffering on animals and establishing this point alone with a fellow non-vegan can open up many psychological avenues, far more than spray painting a butchers with violent messages ever could. Moreover, most of us vegans can recall a time when we too consumed meat, when we too remained ignorant or reluctant to consider the plight of the animal-other. Thus, we have a reference point; an insight into the reasons others may still consume meat, and that is not because they are callous, amoral monsters or tyrants but rather that they perhaps merit a push in the right direction as we all once did.
Finally I implore all vegan advocates to remember to judge behavior, and not the person themselves when starting the conversation and always to respond, not react to their replies and refutes. Avoid being patronizing or emotional and exercise stoicism as well as calmness. Try to recall your non-vegan days and the barriers to veganism that presented themselves at that time and use these as reference points with which to chisel away at the non-vegan perspective. My final and most important point is to always promote veganism as a moral baseline and know that every small win is powerful and revolutionary.
For more information on non-violence and veganism please see the following: http://www.abolitionistapproach.com/a-comment-on-violence/