I take it that a good number of animal rights supporters feel that their position is philosophically well-grounded, intuitively appealing, and compatible with the flourishing of humans as well as of non-human animals.
As such, I would argue that animal rights supporters can, and should, advance their position without resorting to tactics that depend on harassment, intimidation, or violence. (At least some animal rights supporters agree.) Especially since the hope is to win the hearts and minds of the larger public to the cause of animal rights, supporters of this position might want to hold on to the moral high ground.
How can they do this? Here are four options that leap to mind:
1. Present the philosophical grounding of your view to the public.
Make that basis, whether it be an animal’s ability to feel pleasure and pain, or an animal’s being a subject of a life, or what have you, as clear as it can be. You found it persuasive. Trust the others to whom you are reaching out to find it persuasive.
If people don’t find your view persuasive, then what? Are they at fault for resisting the coherence of the view? Probably it’s good to ask why they do not find it persuasive, or what the philosophical grounding of their differing view might be. You may not agree with that differing view, but you may have to admit that the disagreement is an honest one, rather than one driven by selfish reasons.
2. Help to develop the alternatives you want people to adopt, especially in the scientific arena.
Work out effective and ethical animal-free ways to evaluate new drug compounds for safety and efficacy, to discover the neurological bases for addiction, to develop new surgical techniques, and to help build basic knowledge about physiology, metabolism, genetics, development, etc. (And, help to develop animal-free media for growing tissue cultures.)
Animal-based research is expensive, and dealing with the regulatory oversight can demand significant amounts of time and effort from researchers. If you build animal-free alternatives that work — that provides reliable data relevant to the scientific questions researchers are investigating — researchers will use them.
Of course, you’ll need to demonstrate (with scientific evidence) the efficacy of the alternatives you’re helping to develop. And, if you’re not scientifically trained yourself, you’ll have to work with people who are. To the extent that you draw on the expertise of others, you’ll also have to trust their expert opinions of what is possible and what is feasible. The scientific experts who help you will, in turn, have to trust their fellow scientists to evaluate the alternatives they’re offering. That’s how science works.
3. Vote with your pocketbook as well as your voice.
Don’t buy any animal-based products. Don’t buy any products that are the result of animal testing (and, recognizing that the cruelty-free label may indicate that the testing required by law has been outsourced to another company, write letters or make phone calls to establish where in the chain animal use has taken place). Let your health care providers know that you will be refusing all treatments that were developed with the help of animal research. Write to pharmaceutical companies and health insurance companies to tell them that you will not be using any new therapies they might develop with the help of animal research.
Companies that are trying to make a profit will drop products for which there’s no demand.
4. Work to make a lifestyle free of animal products more accessible to others, especially those with less freedom to exercise “consumer choice”.
Work with your local school district to help ensure that their lunch program offers vegan options and plenty of fruit and vegetable options so appealing that all the kids will want them. Write to your lawmakers and to government agencies (like the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Health and Human Services) to support aid to farmers and aid to hungry people that is focused on a plant-based diet. When supporting businesses that make animal-free products, buy extras to donate to the local food pantry, clothes closet, or shelter.
Each of these strategies is a plausibly effective way to engage the larger society (including the research community, the private sector, the schools, and the government) to make your case. And none of these requires making incendiary devices, donning a mask and banging on a researcher’s windows, or following anyone’s kids to school.