But there is a third axis along which we can judge movements that engage in violence to enact change: The link to and articulation of the rational argument. ALF does not have one. ELF does not have one. Their arguments are based on misconceptions, misinformation, crappy logic, bad planning, and political ineptitude. Their arguments are shit. ALF and ELF have probably done more harm than good, in terms of the politics and public opinion, in the areas of animal care and environmental concern. The environmental movement and the animal 'rights' movement have progressed to the extent that they have despite, not because of, ELF/ALF.
Becca asked the following question in the comments.
Do you think ALF and ELF are irrational because their goals are irrational or because their means of achieving them are counterproductive?
It's a question that needs to be asked, I think, simply because of the causes these groups align themselves with. Implicit (and I speculate, in part, because I know Becca will correct me if I'm wrong) is a certain sympathy with the cause that bleeds over to the group. However, I also think the answer is important, so I'm putting mine here to make sure it isn't buried forever in a comment thread.
We've got a related post at QM that's been sitting in the queue waiting for this to be done, so I've been thinking about this a while myself.
I'll start with the first part. For the ELF at least, their aims are irrational. I'm not talking about the loving the Earth part. That may be their motivation, but it isn't their goal. Their goal is to decrease the cost to the environment by increasing the cost of development--because development costs are paid by the environment. To put it more succinctly, firebombing is bad for the Earth, both by itself and in the cost of replacing what was damaged.
On to their means. My first reaction on hearing about this was to be pissed at the ELF for screwing up another life. Yes, I know they haven't killed anyone, but all too often, they end up hurting the good people.
When they decide to torch a condo construction project, it makes a big splash and a big statement. However, the people put at risk are firefighters and the neighbors who have chosen to live in high-density housing. The people who lost financially were, again, those living in high-density housing, plus those who were getting ready to move into high-density housing and those who saw their insurance rates go up to cover the costs of additional materials to rebuild.
Then there's what they do to their own people. Take a kid like John, someone who presumably was driven by a passion for the environment. He wants to help. Other environmental groups are telling him that we need to continue to do ecological research so we understand the decisions we're making, that we need to press politically for the action we already know is needed, that we need to engineer more efficient production and transmission of alternative energy, that we need to figure out how to slow or stop population growth.
Those are all good things to be doing. They also take time and perhaps some education that John hasn't achieved yet. So what does he do? Does he buckle down and get that education and try to enlighten his fellow students as he goes, despite the fact that they're more interested in Friday night's party?
He's, what, eighteen? What do you think he does when he has the ELF over here telling him he can help in a big way, right now, by playing with fire?
So now we've got another kid doing prison time instead of working on our problems, another extremist for political opponents to point to (only this one actually did extreme things). And Greg didn't mention it, but it's in the news. John will have to pay restitution, so he'll be the one helping to pay for the environmental resources to replace those destroyed by the ELF.
Irrational top to bottom.