Animal rights protestors: It’s not what you think.
When I was at university in Oxford twenty years ago, students were rallying against the decision of the Thatcher government to allow the Reagan administration to site nuclear warheads at Greenham Common and on television was a show called Threads, which depicted a nuclear attack and the holocaust it unleashed. There was also a new disease, called AIDS, to get freaked out about. These days, it’s animal rights—as Oxford University plans to build a $30 million biomedical research laboratory and various organizations, such as SPEAK and the BUAV are protesting it.
What will take place in the animal labs has been overshadowed by the activity of some activists who have taken their campaign against the vivisection industry to the contractors and others who are involved in the building and financing of the laboratory. They have made death threats, picketed houses, and generally acted in such a way that—lo and behold—the issue of vivisection and of the horrendous cruelty that takes place in these labs has now become an issue of freedom of scientific inquiry and not being subject to terror if you disagree with someone.
Things reached their absurd heights last week when an organization named Pro-Test was formed by sixteen-year-old student Laurie Pycroft. Pro-Test campaigns for animal testing and the building of this laboratory. Scientists who had been told by the government to keep their heads down are now standing proudly for animal experimentation and being applauded. According to a recent poll, three-quarters of the great British public supports animal testing and the building of this laboratory.
Things have come a long way in twenty years—especially on the issue of animal rights. The liberal Observer, where I got this information from, has an article on the glamour of fair trade, a selection of ten vegetarian recipes, and on most issues would favor liberation over torture and imprisonment. But, on the subject of Oxford’s laboratory, so runs an editorial, “A brave teenager shows the way on animal testing” by sending “a clear message to the extremists who are attempting to block [the laboratory’s] construction through acts of intimidation and violence.”
So, how did the animal advocacy community screw this one up so much, that an issue of wasting taxpayer money on a lab conducting useless experiments became one of academic freedom and fighting against bullying, intimidation, and extremism? How come the vast majority of animal advocates committed to non-violence and winning the argument are being forced to focus on the antics of those moronic few whose only interest is focusing attention on themselves and their pseudo-revolutionary activities rather than on the animals in whose name they pretend to act? Apparently, Laurie Pycroft—a kid who should be protesting against animal experimentation—has received thirty death threats. How has a movement self-confessedly committed to compassion and nonviolence allowed itself to degenerate into sending death threats to a sixteen-year-old boy?
Of course, this kind of thing affects all movements—the radical fringe grabs all the attention and allows the status quo to paint the entire movement as extremist. There’s also probably some counterintelligence and deliberate sabotage going on from the police and government. But, it’s really dispiriting to have to deal with the macho lunacy of threats and intimidation rather than the merits and demerits of debate and argument. And, once again, it’s only the animals who are going to suffer.