Compassion and Forgiveness: A Non-Violent Approach to Achieving Animal Liberation
An Animal Rights Article from


Stephen Kaufman, MD
Edited and published with author's permission
17 February 1999
(This article was originally sent to an e-mail discussion group)

Hello, all.

I would like to add my thoughts to the discussion. Fundamentally, I see animal liberation as a spiritual movement that strives to embrace compassion and nonviolence by helping people transcend whatever motivates them to harm innocent animals.   Therefore, the spiritual concerns of compassion and forgiveness are central to animal liberation.

I agree with some others that we cannot forgive victimizers on behalf of their victims.  But, I suggest that we should still have compassion for the victimizers, even as we condemn what they do.

First, since we have no perfectly objective frame of reference for determining right and wrong, we are ill-prepared to ascertain who among us are "good people" and who are "bad."  Indeed, I am sure that, by some peoples' lights, the world would be better off without me, and I cannot say with certainly that they are wrong.   Was the dairy treat deliverer (who was killed when 500 lbs. of treats fell on him) an evil person?  I don't know, but I have my doubts.  What was his financial situation, and what was his responsibility for that situation, that had him working for an industry that harms innocent animals? Perhaps his educational background made him ill-prepared to know about the cruelties associated with the dairy industry.  One can think of myriad "mitigating circumstances" that reduce his culpability.  By the same token, getting self-referential again, I am a physician who prescribes medicines that were tested on animals.  If one were to find this action evil, does that mean that I am an evil person, whose death should delight animal advocates?  If I also promote animal advocacy, is that a mitigating consideration?

Second, psychologists and cultural anthropologists, including Norman Brown, Ernest Becker, C. Fred Alford, Otto Rank, and many others, have argued (and I think convincingly) that human destructiveness--evil, if you will--reflects human reactions to deep-seated psychological fears, including fear of death, fear of abandonment, and fear of meaninglessness.  If they are right, even if only to a degree, then it means that animal abusers are often deeply troubled and suffering spiritually.  In my opinion, this describes most people--suffering greatly under the conflicting psychological burdens that are inherent to human existence. Consequently, compassion for their suffering would be an appropriate response.  Let me emphasize that this does not mean that we should condone their evil actions, nor that their own suffering exceeds the suffering they visit upon others.  But, while we may justifiably hate their actions, there is good reason not to hate them.

There are practical considerations for embracing universal compassion and avoiding being judgmental (about people, not actions).  First, people will embrace animal liberation only if we make our message simple and accessible.  Hating some people (such as dairy treat drivers) makes us seem to be advocates only of non-human animals.  As such, we become just another interest group trying to promote the interests of a segment of society, with little consideration for others' needs.  Why should advocates for African-Americans, women, etc. embrace animal liberation, if they perceive animal liberation as only concerned with nonhuman animal welfare?   Similarly, we should not eat animals, even if they were raised in relatively nonviolent conditions.  Although this may be defensible (though personally I side with those who say it is not), eating animals undermines animal liberation by confusing the message.

Similar thinking leads me to advocate avoiding sexist, speciesist, etc. language.   However anti-sexist, anti-speciesist, etc, we might be, and however harmless who feel such language might be, it undermines our credibility as spokespeople for animal liberation.  Personally, I appreciate when people point out that a particular term is sexist, but I resent those who claim that I am sexist, if they have little grounds besides my inadvertent use of a sexist term.

We are the beacons of light, who, hopefully, will guide people towards animal liberation.  We should work hard to avoid attitudes and behaviors that obscure our beams.


Readers are encouraged to visit Stephen Kaufman's web site, Biospirituality

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