Can There Be Accountability Without Accusation?
Animals: Tradition - Philosophy - Religion Article from


Stephen Kaufman, M.D., Christian Vegetarian Association (CVA)

Can There Be Accountability Without Accusation?

Last week, I posed a dilemma. It is crucial to hold people accountable when they cause harm; otherwise, there will be little impediment to violence. Yet, accusation lies at the root of scapegoating. If we abstain from accusation, how can we hold people accountable for their actions? I offer some thoughts.
First, I suggest that we focus on how actions harm other individuals. Often, people feel entitled to punish those who show “disrespect” for institutions, such as religious institutions, cultural norms, or the government. This attitude entrenches traditions that might or might not be desirable. I think we should encourage respect for institutions, but we should not enforce that respect with ostracism or punishment. We should recognize that, throughout history, people have had “blind spots” where injustices have gone unseen and unnoticed, and we have been indebted to those who bravely spoke truth to power. Among contemporary examples of unseen injustices is the way animals are treated – so obviously wrong to those who are willing to look but largely invisible to society-at-large. Therefore, we should aim to stop those who would harm real individuals, and we should accept and sometimes even encourage those who challenge institutions that countenance or promote harming individuals.

Second, we should avoid the common mistake of presuming others’ intentions. People readily attribute bad intentions to those who do things with which they disagree, and people generally attribute good intentions to their own actions, however contemptible the actual intentions might be. The difficulty of assessing intentions is complicated by the fact that humans are complicated creatures, and we often have multiple motivations for our actions. Therefore, we are often mistaken in our attribution of intentions. Finally, if we are trying to win hearts and minds, then suggesting bad intentions will often be received as offensive, regardless of how accurate the analysis might be. Therefore, calling people who harm animals greedy or selfish might actually be inaccurate and would almost always be received as insulting. Instead, I suggest prefacing criticism of animal agriculture with, “Many people don’t know that…” and I point out that the lies of institutions that harm animals are self-serving rather than point fingers at individuals.

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