Steven Best (b 1955)
Steven Best's critics brand him as an American militant animal rights activist on the extreme fringe and a spokesman for terrorists. More sympathetic people describe him as an associate professor of philosophy at the University of Texas, El Paso, and a scholarly, although outspoken, voice on animal rights.
After leaving school Best drove trucks and worked in factories for some years. Then after studying film and theatre he took degrees in philosophy and joined the staff at Texas University. In 2002 his colleagues recognised his talents by appointing him to the chair of the philosophy department. But after three years of ups and downs they unseated him after a vote of no confidence. Best claims this academic reversal was because of his animal rights activism, an assertion his colleagues reject.
The road to animal liberation began for Best one day in his mid-twenties. While eating a burger at a fast food restaurant he was smitten by a revelation. He made the connection between what he was eating and animals; he converted to veganism. Revelation struck again a few years later while reading Peter Singer's book Animal Liberation
. Best was already a human rights activist and now he became an animal rights activist. By working for animals, he says, he is also working for humans.
Best is a controversial figure partly because of his involvement with the British originated Animal Liberation Front (ALF). ALF, for its hundreds of actions to rescue animals and destroy the property of companies that harm animals, is often denounced as a terrorist group by the news media and government bodies (such as the FBI and the US Department of Homeland Security). So when Best co-founded the North American Animal Liberation Press Office in 2004 he was a marked man. As for his academic career, he accepts that in a conservative, conformist academic world his open support for ALF will retard his prospects. But he insists that academics must speak out and that it is time to show support for ALF.
Best says he supports ALF because of their effective and fair methods of fighting the real terrorists - the people who violate and kill animals. Best professes he is not an ALF activist and that his ALF press office simply gives information on ALF activities. But he believes that educating the public and legislating for animal friendly laws cannot by themselves succeed in abolishing animal abuse. Animal activists, he says, must attack the animal abusers directly. For justification he cites the human slavery abolitionists' attacks on slave traders in the 18th and 19th centuries.
So Best was surprised one day in 2005 by a Home Office notification from Britain that he was banned from entering Britain. Best had been arranging a trip to Britain to address an animal rights meeting marking the effective campaign to shut down a farm that had been breeding guinea pigs for experiments on animals. Apparently, the Secretary of State, on the strength of newspaper reports, had listed Best as an advocate of violence and terrorism and therefore as a threat to ‘public order’. The ban was part of the British government’s action to control extremists and terrorists as a result of the 9/11 terrorist attack on the US. After considering an appeal by Best, however, the Home Office rescinded and let him in - but still banned his fellow animal activist colleagues from entering Britain. To Best’s knowledge this was the first time anyone from the US had been prevented from entering another country for advocating animal rights.
Steven Best is a philosophy professor who lives with his rescued cats, but his objective is revolutionary politics. He intends to annihilate social injustice and humanity’s lethal control over animals and nature that are, Best says, intrinsic to capitalism and civilization. He wants to wake people to action and motivate them to transform the world into a true democratic, libertarian and socialist society.
I always prefer a conversation to a war, but we are in a battlefield not at a bargaining table. (1)
However, one critic replies:
What makes Best a caricature rather than a serious dissident is not his intellectual vapidity, colossal as it may be, but his unwillingness to distinguish between the life of a human and that of a rodent. (2)
Some of Best's animal liberation books are: Terrorists or Freedom Fighters?
(editor, with Anthony J Nocella Jr), 2004; Animal Rights and Moral Progress
, 2006; and Igniting a Revolution
, (editor, with Anthony J Nocella Jr), 2006.
(1) The Epiphanies of Dr Steven Best
, Claudette Vaughn. Vegan Voice. 2004. (Accessed online February 2007.)
(2) Staff Editorial
, The Daily Iowan, January 2005. (Accessed online February 2007.)
Other sources include:
Igniting a Revolution: Voices in Defense of Mother Earth
, Claudette Vaughan. Abolitionist Online. 2005. (Accessed online February 2007.)
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