conscientious participators brings up an interesting question that goes back to the post about "the tipping point." Larry Carbone is a vegetarian veterinarian who works in an animal lab. If it makes sense to boycott the meat industry, why doesn't it make just as much sense to boycott animal research? Should he quit not only meat but his job?
Of course, this reasoning presupposes that animal research should all come to a halt. Carbone doesn't have that view, and in fact I don't have that view either (see chapter 8 of my new book). But leave that aside--suppose animal research really should come to an end, and imagine a vegetarian veterinarian who's come to believe this--and let's call her Terry. Should Terry quit her job?
Here's the way she may have thought about meat-eating. Given the way the meat industry works, one vegetarian doesn't do any good. The meat industry doesn't lower production until there's a big shift in demand. So abstainers only make a difference in combination with other abstainers. Still: there are enough abstainers for vegetarians to see themselves as effective. So the question is this: shouldn't Terry qua lab vet go through the same reasoning? Shouldn't she quit her job, and figure that her abstention will combine with other abstentions to slow down the animal research industry?
The reason I don't think so is because the research will simply go on without her. Veterinarians don't keep animal research in business in the way that meat-eaters keep the meat industry in business. With fewer meat-eaters, there fairly soon has to be a smaller meat industry. But with fewer veterinarians, animals will just receive worse care. The AWA mandates their involvement in animal research, but there's plenty of latitude--they can be heavily involved or relatively absent. You'd have to have a massively successful boycott to close down labs or reduce their size.
But wait. If Terry figured her meat-boycott could be effective, even though she didn't know exactly how many other boycotters there were, why shouldn't she be equally sanguine here? Well, it's different. In the meat case, she doesn't know if there will be enough other boycotters for her boycott to make a difference. In the second case, she actually knows there will not be enough to make a difference. She knows that even if she quits her job, the animals will continue being experimented on. Her reason to not eat meat just can't be retrofitted and turned into a reason to quit her job.
So: she shouldn't eat meat. But it's not true that she should quit her job. In fact, we may even have to say something stronger. If she's an exceptionally good vet and she thinks nobody would take her place right away, or nobody as skilled, then she should stay. While not eating meat is at the very worst ineffective, and can't be bad for animals, quitting her job could be bad for the animals in her care.
Now some people will say the reason to avoid meat and avoid animal research is not related to impact to begin with, but to our own character. You taint yourself by being involved in bad business. So Terry really should quit, to avoid that taint. But how can that make any sense? If Terry is doing something good, and nothing bad, by keeping her job, then there's no taint to be avoided. We shouldn't have the primitive notion that if we stand close to bad things, then they defile us. It has to be psychologically difficult to be a conscientious participator in something you regard as wrong, but you hardly wind up defiled if you're doing the right thing for the victims of the practise.
A fringe benefit of Terry's remaining on the job is that she stays in a position to tell the world what's going on in the lab. She can be a relatively non-judgmental "explainer" like Larry Carbone. Or, if she thinks she has evidence that can close the lab down and make a real difference, she can become a whistleblower. She can smuggle videos out to PETA, if it comes to that. (And hurray for people who do, when necessary.) She doesn't have the same reason to immediately quit her job that she has to be a vegetarian.