punishing dissent

a note for those who don’t know – veg*n means vegetarian/vegan.

so i was at the anarchist bookfair on saturday, and went to see lierre keith speak (author of the vegetarian myth). i had been unsure about attending her talk because i tried to read the book and it only frustrated me. although she makes some interesting arguments about agriculture being the root of all evil, i found her logic overall to be really faulty and i disagreed with her conclusion (essentially, that nobody should be veg*n and all veg*ns are delusional). but i decided it would be really interesting to see what kind of questions people asked and how she responded, and maybe ask her a question or two myself.

the room was really full and she was up there talking talking talking, when all of a sudden three people emerged from the stage curtain behind her and one, two, three pies hit her in the head and face. some of the audience cheered, keith screamed something as she stumbled away from the mic, and a slight tussle broke out in the front of the crowd with some people screaming pro-vegan things and others screaming at the pie throwers. after a short delay, the rest of us recovered from the shock and started booing. a man took the mic and said something about how anarchism is about letting everyone have a say, and we shouldn’t be silencing people we disagree with. there was widespread applause.

i’m bothered on so many levels by this action.

i mean, it’s annoying that so many people are sponging up her faulty logic and offensive views of veg*ns. she’s no anarchist and her book is detrimental to veg*nism. she’s disingenuous and judgmental – in her book she claims to harbor no negative feelings or opinions toward veg*ns, yet implies multiple times that veg*ns are dangerously deluded, naieve, disconnected from reality, and frankly not worth listening to. but it’s not like she’s dick cheney – i don’t know that she deserves to be physically attacked for her opinions. she’s generally on our side. she is explicitly against factory farming, has an intense desire to fix the planet that most likely everyone at the bookfair shares, and shortly before the pieing, had been discussing how destructive capitalism is and expressing appreciation for the fact that nobody in this space would argue that point with her. i think we should be challenging her with ideas, words, reasoning – not bullying her and throwing tantrums (see “words not pie” link in my comment below).

as a vegan, i’m disappointed that one of keith’s negative assertions about veg*ns was proved in that moment. in her book she talks about the sometimes violent, fiery anger demonstrated by veg*ns who are religiously attached to veg*n philosophies and lifestyles. whenever i read something like that i bristle, because it’s such a reversal of the way things usually are. dominant culture in this country is very pro meat-eating. many people become defensive and angry when confronted with the idea that eating meat is deplorable to some. sometimes even simply sitting at a table with a quiet veg*n is enough for someone to launch into a defensive speech about why they love meat. so when people diss veg*ns for being defensive or protective of their choices, i think, “well, of course they are! they’re challenged and minimized all the time. what’s your excuse?” but i also think about how i and most other veg*ns i know are very capable of having, and prefer to have, calm, intelligent discussions with people about our dietary choices. it has been my experience that only a very few veg*ns exemplify the “crazy veg*n” stigma, yet it is applied with a broad stroke to the whole community by people who either have an agenda or who happen to encounter a lot of the crazies due to the nature of their public work. as a former vegan of 20 years, keith should know this. in fact, she should know a lot that she appears not to – like the fact that being vegan will not cause your spine to collapse. but i digress.

as an anarchist, i’m incredibly frustrated with the hypocrisy of this pieing. someone was punished for expressing an unpopular opinion in an anarchist space – shutting up people we disagree with by physically attacking them smacks of dictatorship, not anarchy. i value dialogue and was looking forward to the challenge of listening to her openly and contributing to the inevitable debate to follow during the question and answer period. obviously, that never happened. a message that could easily be taken from this incident is that veg*ns and anarchists have no solid theoretical ground to stand on, because if we did, we wouldn’t need to shut down dissenting opinions with pranks. newsflash: all of humanity will never share all the same opinions and values, so we need to be able to tolerate dissenting points of view unless we plan on recreating totalitarianism under the banner of anarchy.

there’s a gaping rift i often feel in anarchist spaces. on one side, there are people who seem to be attracted to anarchy as the ultimate individualistic approach to life. people who want to be able to do whatever they want without having to consider what anyone else may want. people who think anarchy means the utter absence of accountability – i.e. chaos. and then there are those, like myself, who believe the exact opposite. i believe that the only hope we have for success lies in strengthening interpersonal connectedness and building supportive communities. maybe we don’t need laws to tell us how to behave, but what we do need is mutual respect and a willingness to try and understand each other. do we want to reinforce the state’s idea that the absence of their “protection” means hordes of unfriendly people will be creating violence and chaos in our communities, or do we want to demonstrate how mutual support, community dialogue, and owning our responsibility to care for one another could replace the false security imposed upon us through oppressive state control? btw, to clarify, my feelings of frustration with this perceived rift were brought up by this incident, but i don’t mean to imply that the pie-ers are individualistic, uncaring jerks. i don’t know them. maybe they just don’t think it’s that big a deal to cover someone’s face in pastry, and i could see that. but i still think it was an ineffective action that created more publicity and book sales for keith, yet will save no animals and convince nobody who wasn’t already inclined to disagree with her.

i guess we don’t all want the same thing, but that’s kind of the point. it’s supposed to be okay for us to not all want the same thing. we’re supposed to be fighting for our right to want different things, to live different ways – as long as we don’t get in anyone else’s way or oppress or harm others with our choices. aren’t we? and if keith is harming other beings with her choices and her opinions (she is), how are we to deal with that? by oppressing and harming her? how do anarchists propose to deal with folks who cause harm in the absence of a police presence? ultimately, the result of this pieing was that the police were called… the police. were called. to the anarchist bookfair. to handle a dispute. something has gone terribly wrong here. i feel that this approach to dealing with dissent was counterproductive and should not be encouraged in a prefigurative anarchist community.


March 15, 2010. Tags: , , , . Uncategorized. 7 comments.