Recently, I stumbled across one of those NowThis-esque videos on Facebook and was appalled by what I saw. The video, intended to highlight the horrors of animal cruelty, was called “Activists Go to Extremes to Expose Animal Cruelty.” It showed disturbing images of people literally getting branded with hot irons as cattle do before they get slaughtered. They were put on leashes to mimic the human-animal dynamic, covered in blood and laid on plastic trays to represent the reality of the food production business.
These protestors, who perform these acts in the middle of a street in broad daylight, have good intentions, but their methods are questionable. They are advocating for the betterment of animals like cows and pigs in the food production process but in doing so are putting on a very graphic display to the public while also enduring permanent physical damage. I have no issue with people fervently advocating an important and necessary cause, but I do find fault when the actions are taken to the extreme, blurring the intentions of the protestors.
It is entirely all right to be passionate and dedicated in what you believe, but when it causes too great a scene and disrupts the flow of everyday life, it is a social issue. Philosopher and economist John Stuart Mill famously said, “my right to swing my fist ends where your nose begins.”
This means these people have the right to express their opinions through freedom of speech but can not impede others by putting on such an explicit and graphic display.
Surely this scene would scar innocent people walking by, especially young children who are clueless as to what is going on and could barely process the images they are seeing. Signs of protest like this are intended to be effective by way of shock value, but the message generally gets lost in translation as it is masked by the images presented.
These activists might argue by saying that they display these shocking images to accentuate the horrors and reality of the food production process. Although this may be true to a certain extent, standing in the middle of the road and scowling in pain to mimic animal suffering is definitely not the right route. There is a much more humane way of telling the public about the treatment of animals, such as providing statistics of how many are slaughtered annually. Informing the public is the best way to enact change that does not involve going overboard with devotion.
Hardcore devotion to this extent for a cause, no matter how noble, appears to be the result of some sort of cult following. It seems as though this group of animal rights activists are brainwashed into believing and doing whatever they are told. This is troubling in that it is reminiscent of the incident at Jonestown, or the Peoples Temple Agricultural Project, led by Jim Jones. The religious cult’s followers simultaneously consumed cyanide, resulting in over 900 deaths, the largest mass suicide ever recorded.
Now, I’m not positing that these protestors are going to die for this cause by any means. But they are causing irreversible bodily harm to themselves. We’ve seen more effective signs of protest for animal rights all over the web, whether it be through legislative change, which has a larger platform and reaches a bigger audience, or by joining an organization like the Animal Justice Program or People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA). In the end, the crazed actions of the branded protesters will not effect change on the basis of shock value alone. There need to be other methods that rely less on visual stimulation and more on policy reform and structured protest .