31.7.07

From Dock to Doctor.

When I was at Neil Lea’s funeral (see previous blog entry, “Thanks Neil, R.I.P”), I met many old friends and faces from the days I was a full-time, full-on, activist, which I guess we could say amounts to the whole of the 1980s. It was comforting and comfortable to be among so many vegan animal advocates (not to mention being surrounded by piles and piles of delicious vegan foods). I was able to renew contact with long-time colleagues such as Karl, Alison, Robin, Brendan, Terry, Keith, and the General, Ronnie Lee.[1]

I also got a copy of Keith Mann’s new book [2]. Given the subject of the book, it includes activities and demonstrations I was involved in back in the 1980s, and cites initiatives I had helped to launch, such as the campaign against Manchester-based Edelson Furs, the Hazleton laboratory campaign (now Covance), grouse shoot sabotage and opposition to the Waterloo Cup hare coursing event in Liverpool. Of course, there is also a chapter on ‘the Sheffield Trial’ (pp, 139-43) in which I was sentenced along with others to four years in prison. I say ‘along with others’ but in fact I did a runner from the court or, as convicts say, I was ‘on my toes’ for three years. While we were getting to the end of the trial our barristers told us that Ronnie could expect something like 16 years in jail and the ‘lieutenants’ in the case, such as Brendan, Vivian Smith and myself, might get 10 years each. I was the only defendant with children at the time and I realised we were talking about most of their school years, and there was also another reason why I was harbouring a fierce feeling of injustice.

In the run-up to the Sheffield trial I had no serious criminal convictions against my name – I had been arrested plenty of times including on one occasion when some people used a car registered in my name to travel to smash windows associated with a circus visit in Merseyside. The original idea was that all these charges would be dealt with at Sheffield but some prosecutor must have recognised it would be much better if I appeared before the Sheffield court with previous convictions. Therefore, as the main trial got near I was transferred to Walton prison in Liverpool and found myself on trial for the circus windows.

Because I knew what was going on, and how much the prosecution desired the conviction, what infuriated me the most was the main prosecution witness. He was a respectable-looking retired military man, who testified from the witness box that he had clearly seen me driving the car and sat behind the wheel when it was parked up. In fact, the driver was female and I was not even in the area and did not take part in this event. I never knew what the authorities had on this guy to make him blatantly lie but his lies certainly got to me and I lost my temper in court. I stormed out of the dock, saying that I did not recognise the court or the authority of the strange bloke at the front dressed in a funny wig and Batman cape.

The prison officers supposedly guarding me were virtually dropping off to sleep at this point, so they totally panicked and ran after me into a room attached to the court. They begged me to return before the judge and seemed pretty anxious, possibly because they were supposed to have kept me in court in the first place. When I eventually did return, the beak sentenced me to three months for breaking windows I did not touch in a place I did not go to - with an extra 14 days for contempt of court. I was subsequently sent back to Sheffield as a convicted prisoner, therefore put into a blue uniform instead of a brown ‘remand’ one and then back to brown once the time was served. At the trial itself no longer could my defence team point out that I was a man of good character.

Keith’s book is full of stories like this and will be a real eye-opener for those who have not witnessed the ‘wheels of justice’ in action. However, I digress!! The main reason for this blog entry is to say something about some of the people animal advocates are fighting against. There is a strong tendency within the abolitionist animal rights approach to assume that human beings are generally speaking moral agents open to rational debate and discourse. In this sense, then, abolitionist animal rights holds onto a good deal of what might be termed a commitment to Enlightenment values as we believe and/or hope that enough people can be persuaded of the case for animal rights through an exchange of ideas and rational discourse.

I was thinking about this when I read pages 444-45 of Keith Mann’s book. He gives an account of the live exports campaign in Britain in the 1990s. One aspect of the campaign was a focus on Coventry Airport when ‘farmers’ turned to routes other than by sea to send calves to mainland Europe. This was also the time when Jill Phipps was killed on one of the demos.[3] The company that took on the calf trafficking and rights violations contract was called Phoenix Aviation under the directorship of one Christopher Barratt-Jolley. We get a flavour of the Barratt-Jolley operation, the man himself, his associates, and therefore some of the people financially as well as culturally involved in organising the exploitation of nonhuman animals in this section written by Mann, and I’m left wondering just how much rational discussion means to people like this:

First, in March 1993, one of [Barratt-Jolley’s] pilots was convicted of smuggling cocaine and heroine. The following June, Phoenix Aviation were flying dairy calves to Europe and firearms to South Yemen to fuel a vicious civil war, which was tearing that country apart. Questioned about irregularities in the paperwork, Jolley insisted his weapons were going to save lives. At the same time, he was flying arms to Angola, where right-wing rebels had re-ignited a war that would cost a million [human] lives and last ten years. In August 1994, he was sued for stealing fixtures and fittings from Packenton Hall, which he was renting. Then in December, when the company’s five-crew Russian cargo plane was returning for more calves, it slammed into waste ground dangerously close to a housing estate near Baginton Airport, killing all on board. The assessment was that this had been due to pilot error or fatigue, but it was more ammunition for the terror journalists who, unbelievably, suggested the plane might have been sabotaged by animal rights activists.
A day earlier, the same plane, whose ancient navigation equipment wasn’t able to read the airport navigation aids, had narrowly missed a passenger jet en route from Brussels to New York. In January 1995, Jolley was arrested after shooting one protestor (whom he wished to prevent from filming) and attacking another with a crowbar. He was also prosecuted for defrauding the Norwich Union, but all of this paled into insignificance in comparison with the trouble he and his co-pilot got into when they were caught dropping five suitcases of smuggled cocaine worth £22 million from his plane as it landed in Southend from Jamaica in October 2001. The pair were convicted amid a flurry of desperate lies, including once again, with staggering audacity, trying to blame ‘the animal rights’;[4] Jolley even claimed in court he was working for a CIA agent codenamed ‘Mr J Phipps’ … Jolley and kin were sentenced to 20 years each.

For me, this sort of account raises the issue of who the audience is that will listen to abolitionist animal rights messages. My answer at the moment, however unsatisfactory, is that we do not know YET. The reason we do not know who will respond to abolitionist claims is that hardly any rights-based claims about human-nonhuman relations have ever been made.

In the main, the public and the media have been subject to welfarist claims about cruelty to animals – most of the militant voices in animal protectionism present their claims within the conceptual framework provided by animal welfare. For example, there are over 650 pages in Keith Mann’s new book. I have yet to find one single reference to rights violations or the notion that nonhuman animals are rights bearers: there is plenty of talk about cruelty - and I think it is fair to acknowledge that the focus of the book is the Animal Liberation Movement. If one asks animal advocates why they do not make claims that nonhuman animals are rightholders and what humans do to them are rights violations, a range of answers are offered.

Some very straightforwardly reject the whole notion of individual rights, perhaps informed by Marxist or anarchist principles. Some ecofeminists (but not all of them) are critical of rights-based arguments. Others, especially those with experience of grassroots contact with the general public, argue that the public are ‘not ready’ for animal rights – they understand animal welfare and ideas about not being cruel – but notions of rights and rights violations are too abstract and vague. Others do not like the road down which rights-based abolitionist views lead, i.e., they shy away from the notion of the end of the human domestication of nonhuman animals. Some think that’s a hard sell – others are too committed to having pets that they don’t like to think ‘that far ahead’ (and they satisfy their putative radicalism by calling their animal property ‘companions’ or commonly, ‘my babies’ and ‘furbabies’ – please pass the sick bag.)

Anyone who makes the effort to read this blog will know that I do favour rights-based abolitionist claims. I think this is the theory that can best guide our advocacy, our claims-making, and our veganism. It will certainly militate against the current trend of vegetarians returning to meat because they do not have the principles to know what to do with ‘more humane’ claims.

Therefore, the abolitionists’ audience may be something of a mystery right now. We will never, ever, find it until we make our claims about nonhuman animals being rights bearers and argue that what happens to them at the hands of human beings are rights violations. And, claims like that need time to ‘sink in’, so we have to make ‘em and keep on making ‘em. Enough animal advocates need to have the confidence to carry on making rights-based claims and, once people get used to them, then they might contemplate them. Until that time, rights-based claims have a problem getting past the smirk factor, the ‘humans have rights but nonhumans cannot’ syndrome (which is already mistaken because human animals have rights so, therefore, it not such a stretch to imagine that nonhuman animals can also be rightholders).



[1] I spent many weeks on remand with Ronnie – as one-time press officers for the ALF SG we still got bundles of press cuttings delivered to our cells. Ronnie liked to make fun of me by suggesting to people that I had a cardboard phone so I could pretend to be in contact with journalists [this is way before the time prisoners could use phones in prison, and before the time of mobile phones]. We used to bride those would needed to be paid in the prison admissions system to be allowed to share the same cell at Hull prison whenever we were returned there from a court appearance in Sheffield. The reason for the ‘general’ tag dates back (if I remember the details correctly) to the time of Ronnie’s arrest for the offences that would eventually lead to his ten-year prison term. The Sheffield police arrived at Ronnie’s London home (he was in the bath at the time), hammering on the door, shouting in thick Yorkshire accents, “We’ve come f’ t’general, General Ronnie Lee”. Due to the hierarchical nature of the police force, it was difficult for them to really understand the ‘organisational structure’ of the ALF. It only made sense to them if they could locate ‘generals’, ‘lieutenants’ and ‘foot soldiers’ and, thus, each of us were duly labelled.

[2] Keith Mann, From Dusk ‘til Dawn: An Insider’s View of the Growth of the Animal Liberation Movement (London: Puppy Pincher Press, 2007).

[3] http://www.jillphipps.org.uk/

[4] The odd phrase ‘the animal rights’ was used by Alan Newberry-Street, a hunter who planted a nail bomb on his own vehicle and claimed it in the name of the British Animal Rights Society. Newberry-Street later admitted to the court that he had planted the bomb to discredit ‘the animal rights and its associations’ - cited in Keith Mann, From Dusk ‘til Dawn: An Insider’s View of the Growth of the Animal Liberation Movement (London: Puppy Pincher Press, 2007), at 158. Newberry-Street was jailed for nine months and asked for other similar offences to be taken into consideration.

3 comments:

  1. I could not agree more that animal rights advocates must consistently make rights violation claims.

    I see at least two major problems with eschewing rights-based language and concepts in favor reactionary welfarist discourse and ideology. First, it amounts to the incoherent belief that the most efficacious way of implementing animal rights in society is either not to mention it or to pursue a strategy that negates it (by promoting a qualitatively different and incompatible paradigm -- animal welfare).

    Second, in eschewing rights-based language and concepts, we do not inculcate in people the ideas they need to see why all animal use -- irrespective of the level of cruelty and suffering incidental to it -- is inherently wrong -- a violation of nonhumans' basic, prelegal right not to be property.

    Animal rights is fundamentally a mass educational effort. If we do not educate people (through vegan/antispeciesism outreach and education) to see animals in noninstrumental terms -- as rightholders -- we will never see any significant change in the human-nonhuman relationship. Any time spent not advocating strict veganism and ethical animal rights is an opportunity cost.

    The animal rights movement should be informed and normatively guided by the abolitionist theory of Gary Francione, as laid out in books like Rain Without Thunder: the Ideology of the Animal Rights Movement.

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  2. On the occasion of commenting on the latest entry, I’d like to express my high appreciation of this blog in general.

    It is very informative that in “From Dusk till Dawn“, a book about “An Insider’s View of the Growth of the Animal Liberation Movement“, on 650 pages, there cannot be found “one single reference to rights violations or the notion that nonhuman animals are rights bearers“; instead, “ there is plenty of talk about cruelty.“

    To me, this seems to be exemplary of the nonabolitionist animal rights discourse – and by nonabolitionist I mean the discourse that is not founded in abolitionist theory – in that there is a mental gap between the idea that animals have rights and the notion that every nonhuman individual is a rightholder, and using her as property is - apart from being unkind, not compassionate, and cruel - a rights violation.

    As for the “strong tendency within the abolitionist animal rights approach to assume that human beings are generally speaking moral agents open to rational debate and discourse“; that abolitionists “believe and/or hope that enough people can be persuaded of the case for animal rights through an exchange of ideas and rational discourse“, to confront this belief and hope with the example of an institutional animal exploiter violating the law reflects the strong tendency within the anti-abolitionist approach to focus on and single out cases of criminal offenders in a majority of law-abiding rights violators, consisting of all responsible humans that don’t live vegan. As if the fact that there are still rapists and murderers of human victims around proved wrong the values of Enlightenment where humans are concerned.

    However, Roger Yates does not mean to confirm a stereotypical welfarist reflex against aboltionists‘ supposed *utopianism* but negates it by pointing out that “the reason we do not know who will respond to abolitionist claims is that hardly any rights-based claims about human-nonhuman relations have ever been made.“ As long as animal advocates, those who claim that animals have rights, shrink back from making the claim “that nonhuman animals are rightholders and what humans do to them are rights violations“, the notion that there is no broader public resonance to animal rights remains a selffulfilling prophecy.

    In the “range of anwers... offered“ by animal advocates when asked why they stick to the cruelty argument while talking about animal rights, perhaps the most most common one is that the gneral “public is ‘not ready‘“ for the message, and that people get *scared* by *maximal* demands which, therefore, have to be put on the back burner in favour of what is *achievable*. I used to belong to those arguing like this – until I understood what a moral imperative means: to speak out for what is morally required – irrespective of consequential considerations that conflict with the former, and that making the latter the criterion of action rests on the very mental ground as does animal exploitation.

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  3. "I used to belong to those arguing like this – until I understood what a moral imperative means: to speak out for what is morally required – irrespective of consequential considerations that conflict with the former, and that making the latter the criterion of action rests on the very mental ground as does animal exploitation."

    For new welfarists, there is always some consequential or instrumental consideration - from people's supposedly not being "ready" for veganism and animal rights on the one hand to welfare reform and "humane" animal products allegedly being able to "reduce suffering" on the other animal - that justifies treating animals instrumentally and negating the moral imperative of antispeciesism. But new welfarists think no differently - at bottom - from vivisectors. Both new welfarists and vivisectors view animals instrumentally, in light of the property paradigm. Vivisectors think that it's acceptable to treat animals instrumentally for the "greater good" of humankind. New welfarists think that it's acceptable to treat animals instrumentally for the greater good of "animal rights."

    Thus the answer to question, "Why haven’t the new welfarists made any progress toward animal rights?" is simple and devastating. It is because animal liberation hasn't even begun in the heads of the new welfarists. Ostensibly polar opposites, new welfarists and vivisectors are in fact as close as twins. They both view animals instrumentally (in light of the property paradigm) and correspondingly reject antispeciesism as a moral imperative. In short and to quote Karin again, the new welfarist mentality "rests on the very mental ground as does animal exploitation.”

    An indispensably necessary precondition of animal liberation is thus that we reject -- at the roots -- the instrumental property conception of animals – in short, the property paradigm. We must instead embrace the view that animals are inherently valuable bearers of moral rights and treat them - in everything we do and say - pursuant to that view. We must give up the idea that it’s acceptable to promote vegetarianism not veganism; welfare reform not antispeciesism; animal welfare not animal rights. Only then can we claim that animal liberation has begun in our heads, and only then can we claim to be the beginning of the end of animal exploitation.

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