Ronnie Lee Interview
27 March 2010
In the late 1960s, Ronnie Lee’s life was changed forever by his sister’s boyfriend: He was athletic, very fit, and threw javelin for his county. He was also a vegetarian, and Ronnie Lee was kept awake nights trying to find an excuse for meat eating. He couldn’t and became a vegan by the 1970s. Ronnie is a veteran of the animal liberation movement and even his fiercest critics, such as journalist David Henshaw, describe him as charismatic and influential. Ronnie was a founding member of the Band of Mercy in 1972 and then the Animal Liberation Front (ALF) in 1976. He has been sent to jail a number of times, first for three years in 1975 and then for ten years in 1987
Kim Stallwood writes that Ronnie wrote in Peace News in 1974 that militant action should be, “limited only by reverence for life and hatred of violence.” In a 1979 edition of Freedom, Ronnie wrote (with Gary Treadwell) that “The ALF is not violent in that much care is taken to prevent injury to people and many raids have been called off because of possible confrontation. In any case our aims are for human as well as animal liberation.” Stallwood claims that there was a change in the 1980s – “the ALF moved from a position of non-violence to support violence to people” – and this lost them sympathetic media coverage. However, as late as 2004, Best and Nocella stressed the ALF’s continuing commitment to non-violence, quoting an “ALF website”: “ The ALF does not, in any way, condone violence against any animal, human or nonhuman. Any action involving violence is by definition not an ALF action, any person involved is not an ALF member.” Those who expressed a wish to be violent toward other human beings were encouraged not to use the ALF name, and typically used names such as ‘Hunt Retribution Squad,’ ‘Animal Rights Militia,’ and the ‘Justice Department.’
In a recent interview, Ronnie appears to have rethought and revised his views on violence and now says the ALF’s long-standing non-violence policy was a mistake, arguing, “Most animal rights and animal liberation activity needs to be educational and therefore non-violent, but I don’t see anything morally wrong in using violence against animal abusers.”
What is the definition of violence? Can it ever be justified? Who is an “animal abuser”?
ARZone: Prior to today’s chat, ARZone invited both Ronnie Lee and Professor Gary Francione to have a short one on one debate We’re very pleased that both Gary and Ronnie were happy for this to take place today, and will precede our normal chat segment with Ronnie Lee.
This debate will, of course, be moderated as per any normal chat, and we ask that all members reserve their comments until the conclusion of this short debate, which will be limited to 10 minutes. I’d now like to call on Gary Francione to ask Ronnie a question, Gary?
Gary Francione: Putting aside the moral/spiritual aspects of violence, those who promote violence seem deeply confused about the basic economics of animal exploitation.
Institutional users engage in animal exploitation because the public demands it, institutional users are, for the most part, indifferent to whether they are selling beef or bananas. They will put their capital wherever they’ll get the best return.
Most people regard animal use as “normal” in the same sense that breathing and drinking water are considered as “normal.” They demand animal products. If you destroy ten slaughterhouses today, as long as demand remains, ten more slaughterhouses will be built or ten existing ones will expand production (and probably make production more economically efficient). If you shut down a supplier of animals used for vivisection, and the public continues to support vivisection, which it clearly does, then another supplier will emerge.
So as a purely practical matter, violence is a strategy that *cannot* work. I should add that despite MDA activity in Britain, animal use is increasing dramatically and the public approval of vivisection has increased.
As long as animal use is regarded as normal and as not raising a fundamental moral question, nothing will ever change. But we are not going to get people to think about animal use through intimidation, fear, and acts of violence. Education, if it is to be effective, cannot be violent or seek to intimidate or make people fearful. It must open their hearts and their minds.
The non-violent strategy is anything but passive; it involves our working actively, constantly, and creatively to shift a fundamental paradigm—the notion that animals are things, resources, property; that they are exclusively means to human ends. What is your reaction to this?
Ronnie Lee: First of all, I’d like to make it clear that I don’t promote unlawful violence. I would not suggest or advocate the unlawful use of violence against animal abusers. For personal and tactical reasons, it’s not something I’d be willing to do myself, so I would consider it unethical to encourage other people to do it, especially when they would be putting themselves at risk of severe judicial punishment.
Basically, I think people engage in animal exploitation because they get pleasure from it. That can be direct pleasure, as in the sadism of a foxhunter, dog-fighter and many vivisectors, or indirect pleasure, through the comforts they can buy through the money gained from animal abuse.
When you talk about “institutional users”, I take it you mean companies involved in animal persecution.
Gary Francione: Yes.
Ronnie Lee: I think it’s important to remember that a company is just a façade for a group of individuals (the directors) who make decisions about what that organization is going to do.
I agree with what you say re the destruction of slaughterhouses. Tactically, the best way to get rid of the meat industry is to educate people to be vegan. I also share your view that companies will do whatever they can to maximize profits (and therefore to maximize the pleasure the directors/shareholders gain from those profits). I agree that most people regard animal abuse as “normal” and therefore feel it’s OK to consume animal products. That’s why I feel that overwhelmingly the focus of our movement must be educational.
Gary Francione: Well, then, you and I are in agreement: we both reject violence and support nonviolent vegan education?
Ronnie Lee: I agree with you re the vivisection suppliers. It depends what you mean by “reject violence”, but we can talk more about that later.
Gary Francione: Well, then, we’re in agreement. Do the MDA types send you hate messages as they do me because vegan education is “passive”?
Ronnie Lee: No they don’t, but maybe, you never know. It concerns me that you get hate messages. Why direct their hatred to you when there are so many animal abusers out there?
Would you like me to continue with my prepared answer to your question, as I still have a bit to go?
Gary Francione: Sure.
Ronnie Lee: It follows on from “I agree with you re the vivisection suppliers.”
However, it could be argued that if vivisectors themselves were deterred by fear of violence from wanting to carry out vivisection, then vivisection suppliers would close down through lack of demand for the animals.
I see vivisection as a rather different issue than the meat industry. The meat industry can be boycotted by the public (through people becoming vegan), whereas it would be very difficult to persuade people to boycott pharmaceutical products produced by vivisection companies. Therefore some sort of force will have to be used to end vivisection. Although I don’t advocate the unlawful use of violence to do this, I do support the lawful use of force through an elected government making vivisection illegal, so that any potential vivisector is deterred by the threat of violence by the state.
Gary Francione: But is that in any way realistic? The support for vivisection has never been higher. I agree with you about using the political/legal process but that won’t go anywhere until the public wants vivisection to end and the public strongly supports vivisection.
I think it’s the only way it can be done, but people need to be educated in order that an anti-vivisection government can be elected. I don’t disagree with what you say. I will be in touch, Ronnie.
ARZone: Thanks to both of you.
Ronnie, if you could only pick one group to join, to make the greatest difference for the innocents, which group would it be- a local group, national, international?
RonnieLee: Because the biggest area of animal persecution is the slaughter of our fellow creatures for food (plus the appalling conditions in which they are often reared/kept) it would have to be a group that was educating people to be vegan. I’m not sure how important the locality would be, because even an international group promoting veganism would need people on the ground in local areas to educate the public.
If violence against an animal experimenter is morally permissible, then isn’t violence against my next door neighbor or any confirmed non-vegan also permissible? And if not, where do we draw a line on who is “fair game” for our infliction of violence? And why is the line drawn there instead of somewhere else?
I don’t see animal experimenters as being the same as people that are just non-vegans. To me there’s a difference between someone who’s a hands-on animal abuser and somebody who supports animal abuse as a consumer.
To make a bit of an analogy, a very large percentage of the German people supported Hitler and the Nazi party before and during WW11, thereby enabling them to seize and hold on to power, with all the horrors that came from that. Were those ordinary people in the same category as Hitler or the Gestapo or Dr Mengele? Of course not.
With ordinary non-vegans, the road forward is obviously education, as most of them are basically decent people who have just been misled (and I literally mean mis-led, by bad leaders).
But what about people who are so evil in terms of their negative attitude towards animals that they cannot be educated? Can someone who has it in them to torture an innocent and harmless creature, like a guinea pig, for instance, or to watch with glee as a fox is torn apart by dogs, ever be persuaded to respect the lives of non-human animals?
OK, so you may well say that laws could be passed to imprison such abusers, but isn’t that just invoking the violence of the state? And how is that different, in moral terms, to the violence of the individual? My position is that if someone used unlawful physical force (call it “violence” if you like) against an animal abuser, I would not consider that person’s actions to be morally wrong. That’s in the same way as, if someone had assassinated Hitler or Himmler or Mengele, I would not consider that person’s actions to have been immoral
In fact, to say that the killer of a vivisector acted immorally, whereas the killer of a Nazi people torturer didn’t, is to be guilty of speciesism. That’s because it would be saying that the torture of humans merited more serious action than the torture of other animals.
In your abolitionist-online interview you posted in ARZone, you seem to have some issues with PeTA. You say they are just money making machines. Do you think the days of big organisations are over?
I don’t think big organizations are solely money making machines, but making money is very often their first priority.
This is because they have to pay staff, rent for offices etc. before they can do anything else. Thus they will often do what’s best in terms of bringing in money, which is often not what’s best in terms of campaigning.
There have been occasions, for instance, where such organizations have dropped ongoing campaigns before they were won, in order to replace them with new campaigns. This is because they are aware that when a new campaign is launched, it brings in extra money.
One of my issues with PeTA is their involvement in animal rescue, which has caused them huge problems over the issue of them having animals “put down”. It would have been better had they remained solely as a campaigning organization and avoided all the pitfalls that rescue can bring.
I don’t think the days of big organizations are over. I’m sure they’ll continue to exist, but they’re probably not the most cost-effective way of campaigning against animal abuse.
You have written, “The best way to combat [animal abuse] is to educate people to become vegan and that doesn’t involve direct action at all. I’m not going to criticize anyone who wants to put a brick through a butchers shop window but a more fundamental way is to educate people.”
People might be a bit shocked to see you say that, Ronnie. If education is fundamental, doesn’t that mean that acts of MDA need to be such that educating the public is not harmed – if we concentrate on frightening animal users with violence, aren’t we in danger of frightening away potential supporters who will read and hear only that we are terrorists and thugs – “by any means necessary ” is not a goer in this light is it?
Although I don’t like the idea of education being harmed, I’m wondering to what extent “frightening animal abusers with violence” really would do that.
My experience in the field of public education is that hysterical media stories about animal rights “terrorists” do not stop members of the public from rejecting animal abuse. If someone is going to be moved by a leaflet to become vegan or not wear fur or to boycott the circus, they are going to be moved irrespective of whether a vivisector’s head has been punched in or not.
In my view such stories just cause people who are fundamentally animal-haters, and therefore almost certainly beyond the pale, to shout louder. I don’t think they make much difference in terms of educating people who already have it in them to care about other creatures. When I do information stalls, I get far more members of the public agreeing with violence against animal abusers than I get imbeciles ranting against it. I think it’s a mistake to think that ordinary people are nonviolent in their outlook. Most would be very happy, for instance, to read in the paper about a paedophile being beaten up. Therefore, if people have moral qualms about violence towards vivisectors etc., I try to point out the similarity between animal abusers and child abusers in terms of the innocence of their victims and so on.
None of this means that I would encourage unlawful violence against animal abusers, however, as I have already pointed out.
Human beings’ attitudes and behaviour toward nonhuman animals is guided by a set of deeply speciesist ideas. Animal liberation must challenge these social values if it is to succeed – in practical terms, what can we do?
Firstly, we have to educate people about the extent of animal persecution, why it is wrong and what they can do, even in a small way, to put an end to it. We need to use effective ways to bring this education to the public, such as info stalls, library exhibitions, peaceful demonstrations and the use of the media. Local animal protection groups are an excellent way of getting the message out at a grass roots level, so we need to encourage and stimulate an extensive network of such groups. Secondly, we need political action. We need to harness the support of those people we have educated so as to enable animal liberationists to gain political power. That way, we can pass laws to prevent the persecution of animals by those people we have been unable to educate. Done
Can you tell ARZone members the story about the delivery man at the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection (BUAV) who asked the “posh” secretary about her small dog?
In the late 70s/early 80s I used to work voluntarily at the BUAV offices in Central London. Janet, who was the poshly-spoken receptionist there, was a great admirer of Mahatma Gandhi and named her little dog, which she used to bring to work, after him.
One day, when I was in the reception area, a delivery man came in, and, from the way he spoke, it was obvious he was a right thicko. The little dog was running around and getting in his way, so Janet called out “Gandhi, come here Gandhi”. Which provoked the question from the delivery man “That’s a weird name. Why d’you call her Gandhi?”
Being aware of the level of his intelligence, I immediately said “Because she’s brown and thin” “No, no, no” said Janet in her posh voice, “she’s named after the great Mahatma Gandhi, who campaigned to free India.” To which Mr Intelligent replied, as I had expected, “They’re alright in their own country. It’s when they come over here I don’t like it.” Janet was very much a lover of Asian menfolk.
One day I was helping her with a BUAV stall and an Indian man came up and started arguing. He turned out to be a vivisector and soon departed with his tail between his legs once I started on him. “Animal torturing bastard should be strung up”, I said to Janet. “Yes, I know”, she replied “but wasn’t he a hunk!”
Animal exploitation and all of the misery associated with it are symptoms of the disease of speciesism as a cultural prejudice against nonhuman animals. Does MDA reduce or eliminate speciesism? If so, how does this happen?
As I already explained in a previous answer, this would be mainly through the deterrent effect it has on animal abusers.
Of course, it’s better that people stop abusing animals because they’re taught to realize it’s wrong. However, where this isn’t possible, it’s important that animal abusers are deterred from persecuting other creatures.
Although I advocate that this should be through the passing of laws banning animal abuse, it would be dishonest of me to deny that MDA cannot also have this effect.
Unfortunately, the reason for animal persecution is far more than just cultural prejudice. To say the human species, in general, is “prejudiced” against animals is the same as saying that the Nazis were “prejudiced” against the Jews, which is a massive understatement, to say the least.
ARZone: What is the most effective thing a person can do to make the greatest difference for the innocents, after becoming vegan= working locally, where one can help in a hands-on manner.
RonnieLee: Do you know, I’m so pleased you used the word “innocents”. It’s not mentioned enough in discussions about animal liberation or in public education, as far as I’m concerned.
To me, the innocence of animals is a very important concept. They are innocent, pure, incapable of moral wrong. In my mind, this makes the crimes committed against them by the human tyrant even more horrendous.
In terms of thinking locally, I feel one of the most important things that can be done to help animals is to set up or get involved in a local animal protection group that can get out on the streets to educate people to be vegan etc. If enough people did this it would also have the global effect of gradually bringing the industries of animal persecution to an end.
Can I first say what a privilege it is that you are here and that I think you are the most inspirational person in the AR movement. I am very concerned about the continued oppression of ARAs with repressive laws such as SOCPA. What in your opinion is the most effective action that we can take to try and stop this oppression and help those brave ARAs who are currently incarcerated? I’ve already written to MPs with no avail and I do support AR prisoners individually and by supporting ALFSG and VPSG but is there anything else I can do?
Thank you so much for your kind words. If you are saying that I am inspirational because I was involved in starting the ALF, it’s important for people to be aware that the Band of Mercy (which later became the ALF) was actually founded by 5 other people, apart from myself. People tend to think of me as Mr ALF, but, if the ALF is to be regarded as a positive step in the struggle for animal liberation, those others also deserve credit.
This is especially the case for two of them who are still devoting their lives to the protection of animals and a third, who did so until she sadly passed away a few years ago. Unfortunately, I don’t think I have been much of an inspiration in recent years, mainly because of the low-profile I have been keeping. This is because I have been involved with helping animal protection organizations whose work involves educating the public and I want people’s focus to be on the message these groups are putting out, rather than on my involvement with them.
Helping with the administration of these groups has also landed me with a very heavy workload, which means my appearance at animal rights events has been very limited. In the fullness of time this is likely to change though, and enable me to take a more active part in the movement as a whole.
Anyway, on to your question (which relates to the UK, but a similar situation is emerging in other countries too). The repression you talk about has come about almost entirely in relation to campaigns against vivisection. Such campaigns were starting to become very effective and companies involved in vivisection began squealing to the government to give them greater protection. Because such companies are very rich and powerful and the British government is massively pro-capitalist and right up the arse of big business, this resulted in draconian measures being brought in to curtail the activities of anti-vivisection campaign campaigners.
The only real solution is to get a government elected that is socialist in outlook and which will abolish vivisection. In my view, this would be best achieved by supporting the Green Party and helping them to eventually attain power.
In terms of helping the imprisoned ARAs, I think you are already doing great by writing to them, as I know from personal experience that such letters of support mean so much. The best way you can help them though, is to carry on campaigning for animal protection, in whatever way you can, so that they know the struggle they have given their freedom for still goes on.
Ronnie, you’re an advocate of radically reducing the human population, what are the best ways of ending or questioning what you call “human supremacy”?
Yes, I think human overpopulation is itself a form of animal persecution and we need to find ways of massively reducing the occupation of the Earth by the human species, so that other creatures can have their fair share of the world’s habitat.
The term I use is “human supremacism”, which is the totally selfish, arrogant, immoral and illogical view that human beings are somehow more important than other animals. It’s on a par, in terms of wickedness, with notions of white supremacism and Aryan supremacism, as advocated by the Nazis.
Once again, the best way of ending human supremacism is by educating the public not to be part of it and to live their lives free of animal exploitation.
Do you follow the debates in relation to welfare -v- rights? Do you think this is an important discussion – what are your views on this topic?
Yes, I do think it’s important. It can be argued that better welfare for animals is a good thing, i.e. it’s better for animals in vivisection labs to be kept in bigger cages or for animals bred for slaughter to be reared in better conditions. There are problems with this approach, however.
Firstly, it does not challenge the immorality of vivisection, meat eating etc. and allows people to feel that somehow these things can be acceptable, if the animals are treated “more humanely”. What would people think about campaigns for human slaves to be given more comfortable shackles or to be only beaten twice a day instead of three times? Not a great deal, I’m sure.
Campaigns for animal welfare (as opposed to liberation) are on a similar level. This can make the struggle for animal liberation even more difficult to win. Also, the resources that are put into campaigns for bigger cages, “more humane” meat etc. could be more effectively used if put into campaigns to abolish vivisection, persuade people to be vegan and so on.
What do we do about welfare campaigns and how do we get those involved to campaign for animal liberation instead?
First of all, we need to recognize that there are two types of animal welfarist. The first type are convinced human supremacists who reject animal liberation and believe that it’s somehow OK to exploit animals, provided that’s kept within certain limits. The human supremacist ideas of such people need to be challenged, with the hope that they will realize the wrongfulness of their attitude towards animals.
The second type are people who genuinely would like to see animal liberation, but fall into the category of “Oh ye of little faith” in that they believe the enemy is too powerful and an end to animal exploitation is impossible to achieve. Therefore they go for a welfarist alternative, which they believe is realistically achievable and which will, at least, do something, albeit often small, to alleviate animal suffering.
Unlike the first type, these are not bad people, they merely lack belief and confidence that animal persecution can be ended. To win them over, we need to convince them that liberationist goals are possible to achieve, by showing them how our tactics and strategy can succeed. We also need to show them how their advocacy of welfarism is actually making it more difficult for animal liberation to be attained.
Could you outline your vision of the future – what do you want – how do you see us moving towards it?
What I want is a society where humans do not regard themselves as superior to other animals, so that other creatures are no longer exploited, persecuted, enslaved and killed by human beings.
Of course I want an end to the commonly campaigned-against areas of animal abuse, such as the use of animal products for food, vivisection, hunting, the fur trade, zoos, circuses, horse and greyhound racing, the pet trade etc etc.
However, true animal liberation means more than that. It also means, as I have mentioned above, a massive cut in the human population. It means an end to the use of technologies that impact negatively on other animals. An end to the private car, because of the mass-slaughter of wildlife on our roads for instance. An end to travel by air, which I personally boycott already, because of the huge direct and indirect harm it causes to other creatures.
Also, an end to mechanized agriculture, because of the massive number of wild animals killed through the gathering of crops by combine harvesters etc. This means that most people would need to work on the land to provide food for the human population, but I think that would be a great thing for the soul and spirit of humankind.
How would you sum up the ALF’s achievements till now, its efficiency and consequences for our causes, and how does it’s future look, given the ever increasing crackdown on its activists with harsh penalties?
In the UK, I would say the main achievements of the ALF have been the decimation of the fur trade and a big reduction in the number of animals used in vivisection.
The heyday of the ALF has gone, however. Any chance of the ALF becoming a mass-movement (and I believe such a chance did exist in the late 70s/early 80s) was destroyed by the short-sightedness of ALF activists themselves. I won’t go into how this was right now, but if anyone wants to know, do ask me in the discussion later. It’s something I’ve never talked about before. I’m sure the ALF will continue, but I think it will only play a very small part in the overall struggle for animal liberation. Times have changed and people are just not into ALF-type action like they used to be. I don’t despair at that though, as I don’t think direct action is essential to the achievement of animal liberation, even though I accept that it can help.
I explained to Tucker why harsh penalties are now being imposed against activists and what needs to be done in terms of political change in order to remedy the situation. That same remedy would also see the ALF taken off the terrorist list, although I’m not really sure of the USA political situation.
What would it take to have the ALF taken off the terrorist list? Ronnie, how would you suggest dealing with the atrocities occurring in China in regards to animal abuse/neglect Brutalities against ALL animals there are beyond any imagination and all petitions / letters seem to fall on deaf ears! The internet brings these atrocities closer than ever, yet there seems to be so little we can do to make any impact.
Re the terrorist list, I’m not sure the ALF is on it? Is this in the USA?
The same sort of thing that led to the taking of Nelson Mandela/The ANC off the terrorist list. A radical change in the people who hold political power.
Re China. The best people to deal with these atrocities and to try to improve the situation in China are Chinese people themselves. Therefore we need to do our best to help and encourage the animal protection movement there.
Is China really worse than other countries with regard to animal persecution, though? Yes, absolutely horrific things do go on there, but is the sum total of animal persecution per head of population in China worse than in the UK or the USA? For instance? Despite the appalling scenes of suffering animals in the street markets etc., I’m pretty certain that Chinese people consume far less animal products than Westerners. Therefore when we add it all up, and take all the animals in Western factory farms and battery houses into account, per head of population the most animal abusing country in the world is probably the USA.
Ronnie, could you please tell us how on Earth you survived 3 months in the same prison cell as the hairy Dr. Yates? We have to put up with him being admin in ARZone, and we struggle!
Not all of me survived, sadly, which is the reason why I’m bald. The bugger was obsessed with trying to escape. Been watching too many episodes of Colditz. Has he tried to escape from ARZone yet? Keep an eye on him, as he’s probably planning something! My, was he hairy then. Myself and the other guys on the same charge used to call him “The Monster”. Mind you, he’ll probably accuse me of just being jealous!
He got taken up to Liverpool to face further charges. I seem to remember he was done for smashing a car into a butchers shop and that he said “Fuck you, Judge” when he was sentenced, but I’m sure he’ll correct me if I’m wrong! Actually I’m envious really, as I never got beyond using a catapult. He was a boyyo in those days, let me tell you.
You said earlier that you had some misgivings about the Lab march. Can you expand?
You also said something about ALF in the 80’s being short-sighted. What did you mean?
Re the lab march, I’m wondering if it might be rather more for the benefit of the people taking part than for the benefit of the animals. In other words, it makes people feel good that they are doing something to stop vivisection, when I’m not sure that’s the case.
I can see what you mean bit I think it encourages a feeling of solidarity which might make people more pro active in other areas
The government isn’t going to take any notice of the march. Neither will it get any media coverage as it’s in London where marches are two a penny. Yes, it does encourage a feeling of solidarity to some extent.
Would you say the same for SHAC and SPEAK demos?
However, if the same energy, money, organisational ability etc. was put into street stalls and encouraging people to support a political party (i.e. The Greens) that would abolish vivisection, I think it would achieve more. Re SHAC and SPEAK. Yes, I would say the same for their big demos. Demos outside suppliers that put pressure on them not to support HLS are of much more value, I think.
Re the ALF shortsightedness thing (and I’m not referring to my own eyesight) bear with me as this may take a little bit to explain.
In the UK in the late 70s/early 80s there was a real feeling amongst animal protectionists for direct action. Lots of people wanted to get involved in the ALF. However, many of them lacked the confidence/know how to start their own groups. These people needed involvement in already existing ALF groups in order to learn the ropes. Then they could have gone on to form their own groups and the ALF would have expanded and expanded.
The problem was that to a large extent people in existing groups wouldn’t take these new people on. They’d say they had enough people already and were operating successfully and so didn’t need anybody else. They were only thinking about the success of their own operations and didn’t grasp the importance of training up new people if the ALF was ever to expand and become a mass movement.
Loads of potential ALF activists never got to be active and the potential for the ALF to become a mass movement died. This is the first time I’ve discussed this, so I never mentioned it to Keith, so maybe that’s why.
How do you feel about the lack of organization within the AR movement as a whole, with regards to hundreds of groups worldwide protesting various issues, which only seems to promote a fragmented argument to both the public & Government?
I don’t think the problem is groups protesting different issues, as long as they do it in the right way. I think some groups fail to analyse how particular forms of animal abuse work and so tackle these in a very inefficient way. The anti-vivisection march could be an example of this.
The public need to be taught how they, as consumers, can avoid giving support to animal abuse. It’s fundamentally important that people are educated to be vegan, as if a person is vegan, they are highly unlikely to support other forms of animal abuse. However, there are many examples of people being led to veganism through first of all joining campaigns against other abuses.
What do you think the repercussions would be to the AR movement if a vivisector was killed during an activists attack…as an example, several attacks have taken place at UCLA in California?
I think it would lead to police raids on activists and a certain amount of disruption to their work, so, in that sense, could harm the movement. This would have to be balanced, however, against the deterrent effect that the act would have on other vivisectors.
Yet another point to consider is in relation to the person who killed the vivisector. There’s a part of me, for instance, that would love to kill vivisectors. My fantasy is about meeting one in a lift and only one of us steps out alive at the bottom and it isn’t him.
The reality though, is that me killing a vivisector would be a very counterproductive thing to do in terms of the animal liberation struggle. That’s because I’d almost certainly be caught and jailed and most of the contribution I could make to the animal liberation movement for the rest of my life would be lost. Therefore, despite my feelings, I owe it to the animals not to kill a vivisector, so to speak, because I can save more by not killing one than by doing so.
Exactly the same argument could be applied to any activist who killed a vivisector, of course.
What would you say is the main difference between humans and non-humans?
It’s the fact that humans have the power of choice (or at least a much more developed one).
If we have the power of choice, then we are morally compelled to choose right over wrong. Maybe that is what that symbolism means.
Because animals do not have that power of choice, they can therefore do no wrong in moral terms and live in a permanent state of innocence so to speak. That’s why I always prefer to talk about human wrongs rather than animal rights. We say it’s wrong for a human to eat a chicken. Does that mean though, that chickens have a right not to be eaten?
Well no, because it’s not wrong for a fox to eat a chicken, because the fox doesn’t have the power of choice over whether to eat the chicken or not.
Therefore the concept of human wrongs is more easy for the public to grasp than that of animal rights.
Perhaps focusing on the wrongs could draw unnecessary attention to the wrongs, as opposed to the solutions?
It’s not a question of focusing on the wrongs, but on being able to explain to people why a certain action is wrong.
To me the argument for veganism is a simple one. Can we live healthily by refraining from eating animal products? Yes, absolutely we can. Right, then we are morally compelled to choose to eat in a way that doesn’t involve animal death and suffering rather than to eat in a way that does. End of the easiest argument in the world.
But, to try to persuade people to be moral, we have to be able to put forward compelling arguments, such as the one I’ve just given for veganism.
Ronnie – if there was one song, or one quote that epitomizes the AR movement – what is it for you?
I like the one from Alice Walker in The Color Purple – “The animals of the world exist for their own reasons. They were not made for humans any more than black people were made for white, or women created for men.”
Ronnie, could you please describe some high and low points of your activism?
Low points were obviously being put in prison, but I always tried to make the best of it.
High points were when we had victories. Like the vivisection suppliers that shut down after we rescued 6 guinea pigs from them cos they were so afraid of what we’d do if we ever came back.
How would you best describe the vegan movement at the moment? and is targeting our school systems the best course of action?
The vegan movement is so much stronger than when I first became vegan nearly 40 years ago. I would never have believed then that it could grow so much. Lot’s more needs to be done though in terms of education.
This needs to be across the board, but educating children is very important as I would say they’d be mostly more receptive to the vegan argument than many adults.
Would you ever consider making a trip to North America? And, have you ever considered dong a speaking tour with yourself & other animal activists?
If I did I would go on the boat, but they’d never give me a visa to enter the States because of my “criminal” convictions.
You can’t enter the USA if you’ve been convicted of an act of “moral turpitude”.
When people show an Alf film on Facebook, people always say ‘Go ALF’ or Yea, ALF! I always tell them that if they save one animal from a life of pain and misery, they ARE the ALF. Is that true or false?
I don’t think it matters whether or not people are the ALF and I don’t think people should necessarily think it’s important to be the ALF. What’s important is to act in a way that saves animals from slaughter and suffering. What name is given to that doesn’t matter.
On the subject of the ALF in the 70s/80s, not sure what I can add to what I’ve said already. People in general are very bad at seeing the bigger picture. Perhaps that’s why the world’s in such a bad way. ALF activists are/were still people and so would have the same failings as ordinary people do, so they didn’t see the bigger picture either.
Animal activists have defended the use of arson saying e.g. that they were able to clear buildings of all animals. This is clearly untrue. Since every building is home to countless very small animals, e.g. insects, who could not be evacuated to safety and who would therefore be murdered, do you support the use of fire?
I would not advocate it and I agree with what you say. I think we were naive to think that animals would not be harmed.
I think it could easily be argued that the killing of a vivisector was more morally justifiable than the burning of a building, owing to the risk to innocent animals of doing the latter.
Thank you, Ronnie.
Animal Rights Zone (ARZone) is a voluntary, grassroots, abolitionist animal rights social network created in December 2009 with the aim of encouraging rational dialogue in the animal protection movement
- Animal Rights. What’s all that about then? (politics.ie)