Violence can only breed more violence

Peter Singer wrote a book called Animal Liberation in 1975. It has been updated and reissued a number of times since, and it’s widely considered a classic of the animal rights movement. The following excerpt is from the preface to the 1990 edition. It was written about the animal liberation movement, but you can obviously apply the same principles to any campaign for social change – and with so many people applauding or at least condoning violent actions like the killing of George Tiller, there’s no time like the present to take an appeal for non-violence to heart.

“It would be a tragic mistake if even a small section of the Animal Liberation movement were to attempt to achieve its objectives by hurting people. Some believe that people who make animals suffer deserve to have suffering inflicted upon them. I don’t believe in vengeance; but even if I did, it would be a damaging distraction from our task of stopping the suffering. To do that, we must change the minds of reasonable people in our society. We may be convenience that a person who is abusing animals is entirely callous and insensitive; but we lower ourselves to that level if we physically harm or threaten physical harm to that person. Violence can only breed more violence – a cliché, but one that can be seen to be tragically true in half a dozen conlficts around the world. The strength of the case for Animal Liberation is its ethical commitment; we occupy the high moral ground and to abandon it is to play into the hands of those who oppose us.

“The alternative to the path of increasing violence is to follow the lead of the two greatest – and not coincidentally, most successful – leaders of liberation movements in modern times: Gandhi and Martin Luther King. With immense courage and resolution, they stuck to the principle of non-violence despite the provocations, and often violence attacks, of their opponents. In the end they succeeded because the justice of their cause could not be denied, and their behaviour touched the consciences even of those who had opposed them. The wrongs we inflict on other species are equally undeniable once they are seen plainly; and it is in the rightness of our cause, and not the fear of our bombs, that our prospects of victory lie.”

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