Activists try to bring about change in others’ beliefs, attitudes and behavior. Naturally, since people tend to be resistant to change, people often do not like activists. This dislike sometimes leads to bad arguments.
When people are unhappy with activists and what they do, they sometimes seem to think that this has some bearing on the morality of the actions that that the activist is concerned with. For example, you might hear someone say something like, “It’s OK to eat meat. After all, vegetarians are so pushy and self-righteous and ‘in your face’ about it all.” Or, “Animal research is clearly a good thing. After all, animal rights activists are so obnoxious in their protests and some of them even break the law and try to intimidate scientists.” Activists – for animals and many other issues – often get called a lot of bad names and are thought poorly of.
These responses, while unfortunately common, are extremely poor, if they are given to try to show that some use of animals is, contrary to what the activist argues, morally permissible. This is because no moral evaluation of actions follows from evaluations about people. Think about the abortion controversy. Suppose someone said, “Some anti-abortionists threaten and even murder abortion providers; these activists are bad people.” If they then said, “Therefore, we should think that abortion is morally OK,” the conclusion simply doesn’t follow. And it never follows elsewhere: whether an action is morally permissible or not is not determined by any activists’ behavior, good or bad. The issues are separate and logically distinct.
“Smear campaigns” against activists are also typically based on false generalizations about activists. Yes, some animal activists are rude, obnoxious or whatever, but surely some animal use advocates are also rude, obnoxious or whatever. And some animal advocates are also quite nice, friendly and respectful, as are some advocates of animal use (at least to human beings). But we must keep in mind that none of this has any bearing on the moral status of any animal use.