The Dragons of Distraction (An Activist Parable)

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Prologue: “The function of the police is social control and protection of property.” (Michael Parenti)

Once upon a time, there was a very evil class of humans that lived in a massive luxury castle on a hill surrounded by fields of (GM) crops. These humans regularly kidnapped, tortured, and murdered those who lived beyond the castle gates—gates diligently guarded by ever-evolving legions of fire-breathing dragons.

The humans outside wanted so badly to rescue their doomed comrades but never seemed to agree on how to proceed. More often than not, they spent more time placing blame on and attacking those non-castle humans lower on the social totem pole.

Meanwhile, the kidnappings, torture, and murders proceeded…uninterrupted.

Every so often, a group of non-castle humans (with the means to do so) would stand outside the castle to express their supreme outrage. Inevitably, the dragons would appear and chase them away. 

Meanwhile, the kidnappings, torture, and murders proceeded…uninterrupted. 

The non-castle humans spent hour upon hour fixated upon conjuring up ways to outsmart the dreaded dragons. Some began to hate the dragons and created unique chants and signs to give voice to this hatred.

Meanwhile, the kidnappings, torture, and murders proceeded…uninterrupted.

The dragon-haters would occasionally grow in number and this subtle show of strength and solidarity usually provoked the dragons to greater and more brutal violence.

Meanwhile, the kidnappings, torture, and murders proceeded…uninterrupted.

Some folks, of course, sympathized with the poor, misunderstood dragons and felt they could be reasoned with, even “converted.” Other folks were obsessed with tricking and humiliating the often dim-witted dragons. Still others felt it was a noble act to stand their ground and willingly allow the dragons to scorch them with their fiery breath.

Meanwhile, the kidnappings, torture, and murders proceeded…uninterrupted.

One day, a dragon breathed so heavily on such a protestor that he was burned to death. This incident led to far more non-castle dwellers than ever to join those massed outside the gates. Some even dared to sleep there (but only in the spaces designated by the dragons, of course).

Meanwhile, the kidnappings, torture, and murders proceeded…uninterrupted.

Meetings were held, petitions were signed, candles were burned, and angry promises were made. More dragons appeared outside the castle.

Meanwhile, the kidnappings, torture, and murders proceeded…uninterrupted.

Finally, the humans inside the castle announced from high that they’d reprimand the dragon in question and talked openly of perhaps removing the beast from its post. Oh, how the angry masses cheered and sang as they danced their victory dances.

Meanwhile, the kidnappings, torture, and murders proceeded…uninterrupted.

All along, the vast majority of non-castle people dutifully paid their castles taxes and some (claiming poverty) even went to work as “procurers” for the castle. The castle ruler would be changed from time to time and these transitions were deemed valuable to the outsiders since they were allowed a chance to help choose their new overseer.

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Meanwhile, the kidnappings, torture, and murders proceeded…uninterrupted.

As time went by, however, the number of humans outside the castle gates dwindled and dwindled—until there was but two of them left. Not even the dragons were around much anymore and when they were, these once-feared demons appeared to be weak and starving.

First non-castle human: “We finally won! We’re holding our ground and those damn dragons are losing strength!”

Second non-castle human: “I don’t know. Do you think it’s actually possible we’re the only two left—”

Before she could finish her question, black hoods had been slipped over both of their heads and off they went as the dragons scuffled amongst themselves for a few remaining scraps of food.

The End

Postscript: “Know your enemy.” (Zach de la Rocha)

#shifthappens

(Occupy this Book: Mickey Z. on Activism can be ordered here.)

Living Life Out of Balance

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Balance: A harmonious or satisfying arrangement or proportion of parts or elements

In early 2000, I was walking through Manhattan with three friends on our way to meet a fourth member of our party. This was well before cell phones had become so completely pervasive, yet I was the only one in our group without one. I sarcastically commented on this and was prompted mocked as a Luddite. Then it was on to the essential business of figuring out how to meet up with friend #4.

Out came a cell phone. A call was placed to another cell phone. A meeting place was agreed upon and we were on our way. Friend #1 hung up his phone and turned to me, declaring that this was “one of those times” when a cell phone was indispensable. To which I replied:

“If we didn’t have access to your cell phone or any cell phones at all, we would’ve simply been more creative and previously come up with a plan to get all of us together without a major hassle. Instead, the phone made us lazy because we knew we could just wing it. Instead of problem-solving, we opted for reliance on consumer electronics.”

A similar rant, of course, could realistically be applied to calculators. Not to mention, the spell-check function on your computer, most software programs in general, and yeah…the computer itself.

We no longer have to learn how to spell or remember phone numbers or do math in our heads or memorize directions or even walk up a single flight of stairs. Thanks to the marvels of industrial civilization, we happily delegate such tedious tasks to technology so we can have time to focus on the truly important stuff, like…um…well…uh…removing 93 percent of the large fish from the ocean, perhaps?

Harmony: Agreement in feeling or opinion

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We each possess a physiology that evolved to negotiate the Stone Age. Unfortunately, we live in the Space Age. There’s the rub. We are modern day cave dwellers — overmatched in our daily battle to navigate an artificial reality because we have lost contact with our instincts.

“Pediatricians nowadays see fewer kids with broken bones from climbing trees and more children with longer-lasting repetitive-stress injuries, which are related to playing video games and typing at keyboards,” writes Sally Deneen at The Daily Green

Richard Louv, author of Last Child in the Woods, calls this “nature deficit disorder.” As a fourth-grader quoted in Louv’s book explains: “I like to play indoors better, because that’s where all the electrical outlets are.” 

Nature deficit disorder is obviously not a medical term; it’s more of a social trend, a trend that manifests in factoids like this: American children between the ages of 8 to 18 spend an average of 6.5 hours a day indoors using computers, video games, television, and smart phones.

The payoff for all this spectatorship is a lifestyle based on imitation, competition, materialism, and self-delusion. 

The dominant culture keeps us inactive while our biology desires movement. 

The dominant culture sells us junk food while our bodies crave nutrients. 

The dominant culture trains us to be obedient while our minds yearn for freedom. 

The dominant culture teaches conformity while our souls demand individuality. 

The dominant culture denies our biology and puts us out of balance with nature.

Among many others things, it can be posited that we did not evolve to experience artificial light after sundown; live inside four walls under that artificial light; eat processed, refined, and GM food products; ingest chemicals and pharmaceuticals; drive cars; travel in an airplane across time zones with such rapidity; remain sedentary; consume animal flesh or secretion; usurp our immune system with toxic vaccines; exist on a man-made time schedule; be surrounded by copious human-induced electromagnetic radiation; climb giant mountains; travel to space or underwater; develop hypertrophied muscles; give birth lying down; live in a world devoid of top soil and nutrient-rich food; smoke cigarettes; be exposed to toxic pesticides; use cosmetics; exist without community; or manage the high level of stress and noise that is synonymous with our so-called progress.

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Koyaanisqatsi…this is what the Kogi Indians of Colombia call “life out of balance” and this is what we have created as our culture—a culture that has quickly fucked up the entire planet. So much so that the elusive Kogi have issued a warning to us, their Younger Brothers.

Equilibrium: A condition in which all acting influences are canceled by others, resulting in a stable, balanced, or unchanging system

Even the eyes of veteran activists glaze over when I talk about 78 percent of the world’s old-growth forests being gone. They want to debate the latest political minutia while all life on this planet is under relentless assault.

It’s cliché to declare that our problems cannot be solved by the same type of thinking that created them. Cliché, but accurate. 

Elections, legislation, protests, petitions, and so on will not stop the flow of pesticides or the use of nuclear power or the glorification of war and its volunteer soldiers or our culture’s relentless march toward total destruction.

Life on Earth is out of balance. Corporations, politicians, judges, cops, and soldiers can’t fix this. In fact, most of them can’t even perceive the imbalance. The change has to come from somewhere else. The change will come from somewhere else, of that we can be sure. The details of outcome, however, are far less certain.

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Symbiosis: A relationship of mutual benefit or dependence

The aforementioned Kogi have no written language. In part, this is to assure they remember. They talk, they pass down stories, and they remember.

“The Kogi attach great importance to memory,” explain the editors of Ode Magazine. “The memory of events with which the community has been confronted, the memory of social regulations within the group and so forth. ‘Memory,’ they say, ‘is like eyes which were made to see. If they close, everything becomes darkness.’ For them, this memory cannot be written down, it must be spoken, passed down by members of the group. In writing, memories are separated from the people and lose their effectiveness.”

So, I ask: what memories are we creating and what are we doing to ensure there will be someone left to appreciate and remember them?

Synergy: Cooperative interaction among groups

#shifthappens

(Occupy this Book: Mickey Z. on Activism can be ordered here.)

Tactics have a half-life (part 2)

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(Part 1 here)

In her excellent 1995 book, Bridge of Courage, Jennifer Harbury quotes a Guatemalan freedom fighter named Gabriel, on the topic of non-violent resistance:

“In my country, child malnutrition is close to 85 percent. Ten percent of all children will be dead before the age of five, and this is only the number actually reported to government agencies. Close to 70 percent of our people are functionally illiterate. There is almost no industry in our country—you need land to survive. Less than 3 percent of our landowners own over 65 percent of our lands. In the last fifteen years or so, there have been over 150,000 political murders and disappearances… Don’t talk to me about Gandhi; he wouldn’t have survived a week here. There was a peaceful movement for progress here, once. They were crushed. We were crushed. For Gandhi’s method to work, there must be a government capable of shame. We lack that here.”

#shifthappens

(Occupy this Book: Mickey Z. on Activism can be ordered here.)

Kendall Jones: Lessons to Learn and Share

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For the purposes of this post, I’m assuming you already know at least a little about the teen hunter/Texas cheerleader named Kendall JonesThus, I’ll get right to my question: What can we learn as activists from yet another episode of yet another human who finds pleasure in the murdering of non-humans?

Lesson: Cowardice

“Don’t let her diminutive size fool you,” writes Ryan Grenoble in the Huffington Post, “Kendall Jones, a cheerleader at Texas Tech University, has faced down some of the world’s fiercest animals.” 

Reality: Hunting and shooting an animal in the “wild” is not about “facing down” anything except sheer cowardice. Click here for a photographic explanation

We must never stop challenging—using facts, not hyperbole—the enduring mainstream narrative of “fierce animals” and “brave” human hunters. Speciesism thrives thanks to propaganda. It’s our job to offer a documented and accessible alternative.

Lesson: Extinction is Forever

“Traveling halfway around the world to shoot some of the world’s most magnificent, and threatened animals is shameful,” says Nicole Paquette, the Humane Society’s vice president for wildlife protection. “Many of the species that Ms. Jones has killed face declining populations due to loss of habitat and poaching. Amidst this crisis, trophy hunting only adds to the threats to the survival of these iconic species and is nothing more than a thrill kill.”

Reminder: Each day, 150-200 plant and animal species go extinct.

Do you really wanna be part of the human generation responsible for the largest mass extinction event in 65 million years? If not, what are you willing to do in the name of preserving the future?

Lesson: Ben Tre Logic

“This is a conservation effort to assure [sic] that they never do become extinct,” Kendall Jones recently declared on Facebook. Where could she have possibly come up with such a paradoxical approach, you wonder?

It was during the Vietnam War that AP correspondent Peter Arnett, writing about the destruction of the provincial capital of Ben Tre on February 7, 1968, was told by an unnamed U.S. Air Force Major: “It became necessary to destroy the town to save it.” 

As a result, the phrase “Ben Tre logic” is commonly used to describe the logical [sic] conclusion to destroy something out of the perceived best interests of everyone involved.

Context: Kendall Jones did not appear, fully formed, out of a cultural vacuum. She is the product of a heavily conditioned society constructed upon a foundation of violence and hierarchy. What role can each of us play in taking down this entire system?

Lesson: White Supremacy

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Playing into a long and sordid history of white invaders claiming to be motivated by an altruistic desire to “save” the backwards inhabitants of Africa, Jones posed in a photo with the carcass of a murdered elephant. She was surrounded by humans she claimed were “part of the village that showed up to take a little protein home.”

Crucial: Connect the struggle against speciesism with the struggle against racism (and all forms of oppression).

P.S. Protein is vastly misunderstood and overrated. Spread the word.

Lesson: How Not to Respond

Jones’ despicable behavior has presented animal rights (AR) activists with a powerful teaching/learning opportunity. We can and must use her example to reach out far beyond our own tiny, often marginalized circles. Of course, we can commiserate and vent our shared outrage on social media but how can we translate that outrage into some much-needed results in the real world?

How do we effectively connect with the vast majority of humans, people that rarely (if ever) ponder such issues?

As mentioned above, a good start is to cultivate and present a well-reasoned and accurate argument (not always a strong point within the AR crowd). But there’s another related and urgent angle we must address within our own ranks.

Since the story broke, I have witnessed AR activists hurling horrifically misogynistic insults at Kendall Jones. It’s sad to have to explain this in 2014 but here goes:

Words like c*nt and b*tch are unacceptable. They will not help our cause (or any cause seeking liberation), will not grow the movement, will not make women (or any non-cis-man) feel safe within our movement, and will not help save a single animal’s life.

Such a patriarchal response guarantees that both non-human and human animals will continue to suffer and die.

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Crucial: Connect the struggle against speciesism with the struggle against misogyny (and all forms of oppression).

Lesson: Evolve or Perish

The time is long overdue for our activism and our vision to evolve, comrades. Which side are you on?

#shifthappens

(Occupy this Book: Mickey Z. on Activism can be ordered here.)

Tactics have a half-life

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In his book Endgame, Derrick Jensen tells of a discussion he had with a longtime activist.

“She told me of a campaign she participated in a few years ago to try to stop the government and transnational timber corporations from spraying Agent Orange, a potent defoliant and teratogen, in the forests of Oregon,” Jensen writes.

All too predictably, the dedicated demonstrators assembled to protest the toxic spraying were, “like clockwork,” ignored by the helicopter pilots.

Both humans and landscape ended up thoroughly doused with Agent Orange—time and time again. The protest campaign obviously had no effect, so a different approach was taken.

“A bunch of Vietnam vets lived in those hills,” the activist told Jensen, “and they sent messages to the Bureau of Land Management and to Weyerhauser, Boise Cascade, and the other timber companies saying, ‘We know the names of your helicopter pilots, and we know their addresses’

“You know what happened next?” she asked.

“I think I do,” Jensen responded.

“Exactly,” she said. “The spraying stopped.”

#shifthappens

(Occupy this Book: Mickey Z. on Activism can be ordered here.)

How to be an infamous underground writer like Bukowski

Reporter: 'And tell me John, what's the hardest thing about being an underground writer?' Writer: 'Having to put up with all the darn moles and earthworms.'

You know those “agreed-upon” societal standards of “beauty”? Yeah, those. Well, imagine a woman who embodies the “ugly” range of that specious spectrum. “Ugly as sin,” as the saying goes.

Now imagine this woman came of age in 1950s America and during that time she wore her alcoholism like a badge; couldn’t hold a job; had sex with anyone not repelled by her looks and lack of hygiene or social skills; barely, if ever, paid the rent on any of her filthy flophouse apartments; regularly engaged in drunken brawls that ended with her either in an ambulance or handcuffed in the backseat of an LAPD cruiser; and flippantly neglected her only child.

Let’s also imagine this woman fancied herself a writer—a street poet, if you will. Her work was sometimes profound but just as often, was rife with images of misanthropy and misogyny. 

Do you believe a woman such as this could’ve ever attained underground credibility by the 1960s which would ultimately—after she’d passed the age of 50—result in a literary press offering her a monthly stipend so she could concentrate solely on her craft?

Do you think her words would end up being published across the globe, translated into dozens on languages, and inspire a handful of films?

For Charles Bukowski, the description above not only added to his “mystique” but was virtually indistinguishable from his art. More than two decades after his death, he remains a revered and widely-read literary legend.

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So, you wonder: How do you become one of those cool, edgy, infamous, underground writers like Buk?

While talent and luck and good networking skills and being based in the U.S. all have something to do with it, of course, here’s the first and most important step: do not be a woman.

Next: How to be a cool. edgy, infamous underground writer like Hunter S. Thompson (hint: do NOT be black)

#shifthappens

(Occupy this Book: Mickey Z. on Activism can be ordered here.)

Vegan Outreach: We Need Longer Arms

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“If we want a beloved community, we must stand for justice, have recognition for difference without attaching difference to privilege.” (bell hooks)

Reality: The vast majority of animal rights (AR) activists are middle class or upper middle class, able-bodied, and white.

Reality: In the realm of AR activism, our numbers are growing far too slowly and we remain relegated to the fringes—not just in mainstream society but also within activist circles.

Reality: Non-privileged communities and people of color (POC) have every reason to distrust any movement made up primarily of middle class white people. (That’s why comparing animal abuse to “slavery” can sometimes be semantically correct, but it sure won’t lure many newcomers to our cause.)

So, comrades, how do we begin addressing these (and so many other) counterproductive and often self-sabotaging realities?

In the name of seeking “answers,” I submit the following food for thought… 

Diversity of Tactics/Tactics of Diversity

Sure, we’ve seen some progress and some increased awareness but let’s face it: If we want to grow the movement and appeal to a broader base, well…we have to seriously rethink, enhance, and diversify our methods and our ranks.

A few factors to consider:

  • At most vegan/AR events and conferences, almost all of the speakers are white (typically more men than women)
  • POC in general but African-Americans in particular might cast a wary eye at loud, aggressive, almost all-white protests/marches. (Look up “stop and frisk” if you’re not sure what I mean)
  • Too many of our events are not accessible. In fact, accessibility is rarely, if ever mentioned.

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As I wrote in a recent post, the next wave of AR activism lies less in holding signs and chanting and more in breaking bread and connecting with potential allies in oppressed communities.

Define “Easy”

How often I’ve said it. How often way too many of us have said, but yeah…here it is: “Going vegan is so easy!”

Yes, it’s way, way easier than the anti-vegan crowd will ever admit but I suggest we non-poor vegans take a few minutes to look up the term “food desert” and then learn to listen carefully and compassionately when someone uses it to describe their situation.

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In addition, being vegan is much more than just new food choices. When it comes to clothing, for example, we eschew cruel and unnecessary animal-derived products like leather, fur, silk, down, and wool. However, can we realistically expect to connect with financially-strapped humans if we flippantly suggest they just “throw away” their animal-based clothing and get new stuff?

It’s about process, not purity.

Speaking of process/purity, it’s not revolutionary to move away from animal-derived clothing yet remain silent about clothing made from exploited labor (child, sweatshop, prison, slave, etc.). 

Also not revolutionary: corporate veganism. All those pricey “green” products at all those pricey “green” festivals won’t win over anyone who’s not privileged enough to partake.

Of course, we all must make the changes we are able to make as soon as possible but it’s highly counterproductive and insensitive to assume everyone can make the same transitions at the same pace.

A Single Step in a Long Journey 

Reality: Becoming a vegan/animal rights activist is not a righteous path towards a singular focus on non-humans. Rather, it’s a journey capable of teaching us invaluable lessons about recognizing and challenging oppression in its myriad forms.

All our grievances and all our solutions are connected… 

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Opting for a vegan/AR lifestyle is merely one component—albeit an essential component—of a radical worldview. However, this planet-saving gesture can be rendered virtually meaningless without a concurrent connection to other struggles against oppression, e.g. patriarchy, misogyny, racism, white supremacy, ableism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, classism, ageism, hetero-normativity, and more. 

Reality: If we do not connect our struggle against speciesism to other anti-oppression struggles, we are failing ourselves, our fellow humans, and the non-human animals in a major way.

While some vegans take to social media to rant about “single issue activists,” ironically, we are sometimes prime examples. We chuckle when we’re accused of choosing non-humans over humans, but unless we reach out beyond our comfort zone—our privilege echo chamber—we are devaluing the 24/7 struggles so many of our fellow humans have no choice but to live. In doing we, we virtually guarantee that neither group—humans or non-humans—will thrive or perhaps even survive.

Yes, environmentalists who eat animals (an industry that stands as the top source of human-created greenhouse gases) are behaving hypocritically.

Yes, humans who worship their “pets” but eat and wear a wide array of other animals are behaving hypocritically.

Yes, activists whose idea of liberation only includes one of the 8.7 million known animal species are behaving hypocritically.

But also yes, vegans who talk of freedom and compassion yet refuse to embrace intersectionality are behaving hypocritically.

I have a wacky idea: How about we each exchange some of that denial, ego, and hypocrisy for a giant dose of solidarity in the name of collective liberation and holistic justice?

For the Animals

Within my local AR community, I’ve met some of the most passionate, compassionate, enduring, and resourceful humans around. This article is certainly not about demanding any of them to become “politically correct.” Instead, I’m urging these dedicated souls (and myself) to dig deep and find new and better ways to stand up for all life on Earth. 

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“I think that in terms of emotion, our culture allows men to be angry,” writes Carol J. Adams. “The animal rights movement gives men a legitimate reason to be angry. … The animal rights movement should not be the place to give men more reasons to be angry. That is not what we need in the world.” 

Reality: If the AR movement merely reproduces the same oppressive, hierarchical, and earth-killing structures as the dominant culture, we’re doomed. 

Trust me, I’m fully aware of how being a vegan activist is a powerful form of self-identification. I admit: when this identity is challenged in any way, my first reaction is often to become defensive. What I’m hoping is that we can all do a better job of listening by choosing evolution over ego.

Reality: Activism is not a product, but a process. We don’t graduate and get a degree. We don’t ever “finish” our training. We remain a perpetual work-in-progress. Activism is an aspiration—perhaps even a state of mind.

Evolve or Perish 

Perhaps what I’ve written above has you seething or rolling your eyes or about to delete me from your Facebook friends list. Perhaps you’re ready to scream something like: 

  • “But I’m good person! I’m not racist/sexist/(fill in the blank)!”
  • “Not all men exploit their privilege!”
  • “I know a black person who says it’s okay to use the word ‘slavery’!”
  • “Stop criticizing your fellow vegans!”
  • “I don’t worry about all this shit! I’m just here to kick ass for the animals!”

If so, I’ll close by asking you to consider one more frightening reality

The global AR movement’s unwillingness to embrace intersectionality is guaranteeing that the animals—non-human and human—will continue to suffer and die…until there are none of us left.

#shifthappens

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