We’re still on page 16. Keith makes the argument that because she is not “smug and hostile,” despite the fact that she has repeatedly demonstrated the fact that yes, she is, we should treat her arguments as having more heft than most anti-vegans.
I know from experience that the issue of plants and their sentience is thrown at vegetarians by detractors all the time. I know how smug and hostile those detractors usually are.
What Keith doesn’t understand, though, is that her own contempt for veganism is shown by her consistent usage of the same simplistic, insulting arguments that those detractors use. I can’t speak for everyone, but I can say that I honestly don’t care how you say it—I’ve been known to laugh at insults directed at me if they were witty enough. If you give me a new argument, I will listen. I listened to anarchism and I looked around and observed that those anarchist criticisms of capitalism were right. I thought about anarchism and, even though I know that I, personally, and every person I know and love would vanish from the Earth this very instant if humans were to suddenly and magically return to a natural, primitivist state, you just gotta face the truth. A life where you don’t keep thinking about things is not a life worth living. It’s not interesting enough to keep living.
Keith believes that, since she tries to frame herself as not being smug or hostile despite her behavior, she should be taken more seriously than those other “detractors.” But the issue isn’t her tone (or rather, not just her tone). It doesn’t matter how nicely you speak gibberish if it’s still just gibberish—the content of the argument matters, and Keith isn’t making an argument significantly different from those other “detractors” she wants to be seen as separate from.
But ultimately, Keith sees vegans the same way as those “detractors” do: as ignorant, naive, and possibly “angry” and “unwilling to question their beliefs” if they don’t allow themselves to be persuaded by her. Like so:
I hear a plea in the words of vegetarians, a plea that borders on a prayer. Let me live without harm to others. Let my life be possible without death. [script emph.]
Keith sees herself as a savior. She wanted to save the world by becoming vegetarian, she wanted to “be an arrow into the heart of oppression”; now she’s decided that, because everyone is the same as her—again, she cannot conceptualize a vegan who holds beliefs different from hers—she needs to save the vegans, instead.
What is actually an inner mantra of, “Let’s figure out the best way for me to live my life so that I am true to what I believe is right and that I minimize the oppression of others this system forces upon us all,” a sort of self-promise or bargain—let me work together with me—Keith hears distorted and imagines it’s a prayer to her. To me, “I am responsible for the effects of my choices.” To her, “Help me, Keith. I don’t understand anything about nature and I am torturing myself over trying to change the world all on my own.” She doesn’t truly hear it because she doesn’t think anything reasonable, knowledgeable, and self-respecting can exist inside veganism: fundamentally, she does not respect vegans, or trust them when they say, “I’m quite sure this doesn’t hurt.”
The arrogance is simply astonishing.
Keith goes on to assert that because she’s grown apple trees, she knows what goes into them—apparently because she’s read the ingredients on the labels of organic fertilizer. (Note: fruit trees don’t actually need fertilizer with a good, veganic composting plan. I’d know—I’ve grown them, too.) “It’s not in my nature to skip the fine print,” she tells us, after repeatedly ignoring the fact that cellulose is not the only form of carbohydrate in the world, that lions and hyenas have vastly different gastrointestinal systems as compared to humans, that her own symptoms were indicative of simple caloric starvation than anything to do with her faux-vegan diet, and perhaps most importantly, that what you show is more important than what you say—that merely because you assert that you are not smug or condescending does not in any way detract from the smug and condescending behavior you have displayed, and that furthermore, asserting your lack of smugness and condescension does not entitle you to having your readers look the other way when you contradict such a declaration in almost every paragraph you write.
She continues on with the sob story. I’m not sure how this is supposed to prove anything at all—after all, I have sob stories of my own. I would be more lenient if it weren’t so clear Keith is trying to get us to sympathize with her in lieu of actually proving what she’s claimed. And even then, she continues with magical thinking:
There was knowledge that I sought, but then refused: I wasn’t the only one eating. The plants were hungry, too.
In my experience, people who animalize plants like this are the worst gardeners. I’m successful at gardening without having to simper about how plants are just like me. I love my plants, but I’m one of those people who won’t pet the corpse of one of my companion animals: there’s no point in it. They’re gone. Sentiment should be saved for those who can benefit from it.
In addition to that, plants don’t actually, uh, eat like that. They’re autophytic—they “eat” sunlight; they absorb water and the nutrients that have dissolved in that water through their roots and use it to reconfigure atoms and molecules into new leaves, buds, etc. Plants need nutrients from the soil—I’m not questioning that—but I think that calling this process “eating” is, first, an oversimplification that I wouldn’t expect from anyone with a large enough vocabulary to explain otherwise (and Keith is fifty or so—she damn well has that vocabulary) and second, a really cheap emotional tactic that won’t work here. All this simpering about how plants are hungry and whimper don’t you take pity on them whine they’re just like you moon eyes—it’s pissing me off. I feel as though Keith is directly insulting my intelligence by using this as if she thinks it takes the place of an actual argument. I haven’t seen any ’til now.
She goes on about how soil is living—yeah, I guess, good soil is, though she probably doesn’t realize that most conventional (pesticided, overfarmed, synthetic fertilizer’d) soil is actually just barely not dead soil—devoid of organisms. Then we get another doozy:
How far down did I have to dig to stop finding living creatures? Because if it was alive, I couldn’t kill it.
This is something that cannot be fixed by writing a crappy livejournal/highschool-research-paper mash-up. This is something that needs therapy.
What the unexplodey crap is this, anyway? Keith really doesn’t grasp that vegans aren’t vegan because of any opposition to death—I’ve met vegetarians who are, but you have to be kind of dumb to not realize the fuckuppery that goes into dairy, eggs, honey, vivisection, etc. too. So maybe vegetarians are actually vegetarian because they don’t want to kill; Pele only knows I used that as my bullshit excuse, too. Then I realized how full of shit I was and went vegan.
Most vegans I know are vegan because of this little factoid: animals have a nervous system to feel with.
Then the logic goes like this: you should not cage, imprison, exploit, slaughter, etc. anyone who can feel you doing that to them. Not because they’re intelligent in the same way you are, but because they can experience their own quality of life and that is worth more than every IQ point in the friggin’ universe.
Don’t torture anyone who can feel it. That seems pretty damn reasonable to me.
But of course, Keith lives in Magical Singing Inanimate Objects Land, so she doesn’t really have a solid grasp on this reality.
Holy eruptions, I mean, she actually thinks that plants feel hungry. Why? Why would a plant feel hungry!? It’s not like they can move to get food! What’s the use? So nature can frigging torture them, especially given what we know about the agonizing, horrible fucking nature of hunger and starvation in animals? Photosynthesis for plants is like vitamin D synthesis in humans—it happens automatically when sunlight directly hits our skin; it happens in plants when even ambient light and sunlight hit their leaves. There is no reason for plants to feel hungry, and every reason for them not to! Hunger makes you unhappy! Unhappiness makes you sick and frail! Sickliness and frailty makes you die! Lierre Keith, this is not Magical Singing Inanimate Objects Land!
I read that “[v]ery small animals are able to live a basically aquatic life in soil, in the water found attached to soil crumbs.
NOT THE WATER BEARS!!!1 OH THE HOOMANITY!!!111
*sings* Every cell is saaacred, every cell is great…
There was a whole world under my feet, a world that included its own ocean.
Oh no she didn’t. Keith, the ocean is fucking awesome and so complex it would make your brain explode like a paradigm shifting without a clutch and you are soooo not gonna smack-talk it in front of me.
A world where the real work of life—producing and degrading—was being done. Animals like me were just consumers, hitching along for the ride. I couldn’t photosynthesize—turn sun into mass—nor could I turn that mass back into carbon and minerals. They could and they did, and because of them, life was possible. I was made humble.
And this is why human supremecism is bad: because it produces fucknecks for whom this is actually a surprise.
I’m hostile because this still isn’t an argument, and it’s nothing new to me, not even the inaccuracies. I’ve known about mitochondria for a while—they are the actual energy-producers inside your cells, and they’ve become symbiotic with eukaryotes (or maybe just multi-celled eukaryotes; I’m not clear). Mitochondria are the ones that actually produce energy for your cells, so, like, color me bored. If Keith is going to act like vegans are all dumber than shit, the least she can do is introduce things I haven’t already heard of.
She’s putting organisms in a hierarchy—something she rails against in the next paragraph—by assuming that “producing and degrading” is really impressive. Maybe this is the nihilist in me, but I’m not seeing that. All things are all things; I don’t understand the point of valuing the processes that single-celled organisms go through over a wildebeest that’s just living their life, or that wildebeest’s life over a predator who’s hungry and looking for a meal. Or a human’s life over any other’s. I don’t even place value on these things—they are. But I guess that’s primitivists for ya: maddeningly, convolutedly amoral.
I don’t even value an animal’s life over a plant’s, but here’s the thing: animals deserve to not be used as property because they experience being used as property. I don’t feel the need to go into a more complex argument than that with plants: they don’t need consideration because they do not individually, first-person experience the effects of any consideration and/or lack therein. Animals do. So, for me, even the “nice” farming that Keith espouses is fucking wrong. She’s talking about herding—animal agriculture with another label slapped on top of it. So no one gets to pull this “she’s anti-agriculture” crap on me.
But I had bet my whole moral system—and built my whole identity—on the idea that my life did not require death.
Way not my problem.
I’m going to leave off there, since I think that’s actually a good summary of this book, and skip to something interesting in the next installment. Because she just keeps going on about how stupid she was, and I’m exhausted with rolling my eyes so much at the implication that all vegans are like that because all people are fundamentally Lierre Keith. This would be an interesting autobiographical case study if Keith showed the slightest shred of actual self-awarenesss. Sigh.
For a good autobiographical case study/memoir, you should go read Wasted: A Memoir of Anorexia and Bulimia by Marya Hornbacher. Great writing, very poignant, self-introspective. Ah, a breath of fresh air!