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Archive for the ‘Words’ Category

Honestly

This is not an issue that directly relates to any form of rights I’ve spoken about. It’s about boundaries, finding an ethical code that won’t tear you up inside with hypocrisy, and protecting yourself.

I was, like a lot of people, brought up to believe that honesty was one of the biggest virtues someone could ever have; at least where I grew up, kids were inundated with feel-good stories about “doing the right thing,” and not getting punished because they had the goodness of soul to stand up and proclaim The Truth. No, the world doesn’t work like that, which makes it an even shittier propaganda tactic to use on children, but the idea of honesty as paramount still looks awful good until you take a look at it in the context of reality—power, prejudice, inequality and defense.

Much like pacifism, the people most likely to benefit from widespread “honesty” are also the people least likely to have to practice it, because the power imbalance is heavily tilted to their side. The rich, the powerful, the white and the dickled have much less to lose from practicing (or not practicing) pacifism and honesty; there’s less of a line between a choice to do so or not to do so for them.

What’s the worth of a white person’s choice to be a pacifist in a society that does not target them with violence, inequality and disenfranchisement? It’s not like that white pacifist won’t be hurting the people of color who do suffer those things; they’re institutionalized. One white dude’s symbolic gesture of non-participation—especially while zie is still participating in other oppressions that highlight and entrench racism like capitalism, carnism, technocentrism, for a start—doesn’t do a whole lot to reduce the impact of racism on actual people. Not even talking about it will stop that shit; it’s not in your hands.

And what does pacifism symbolize to the power structure when taken up by a person of color, except a willing acceptance of victimization?

I’m not asking about the personal value of these beliefs, whatever they may be. I’m asking about what they do. I’m asking where these supposed “subversions” of the power structure become actual subversion, actual sabotage. Especially since I do want to enact violence against the power structure—I want to destroy it utterly. Again: I’m trying to chop down the tree of oppression. You don’t have to join me, but you had better stay the hell outta my way while I’m swinging the axe.

What effect does honesty have on the power structure? How does it help, or harm?

The first time dishonesty as a political act, instead of as simple self-protection, was driven home to me was when Aslan and I were homeless together, living out of a tent bought with the money I’d saved up as our last vestige of hope. We had an average income of $0/mo. I’m the black sheep of the family and have never had any kind of financial support from them; Aslan grew up on the streets under a welfare mother and zeir working-class stepfather was seven hundred miles away, assuming he’d be willing to help the kid he abandoned at four. No trustifarians we. So you can imagine how we got food. Not through a dumpster; they’re mechanizing them all nowadays. Anyway.

We ate better than we had in months, even walking a minimum of 30,000 steps every day. Not particularly because we got “a lot,” but because we managed to get enough. It helped that we’re vegan—carnist foods are much riskier to shoplift than anything else. Some karma thing, I dunno. But it struck me, the first time I went in with Aslan with a goal in mind, just how much capitalism has invested in imbuing this strange, distorted “honesty” into you: the entire structure of a corporate grocery store is designed to hide the underhanded shenanigans occurring on every level of the capitalist establishment while at the same time trying to make it so that you do not have the ability to hide anything from them.

And most of that attempt consists of psychological tactics. Most people don’t know not to twitch, to act as if you have a right to be there, and to do your best to remain as invisible, unforgettable, and impersonal as possible.

There is a direct line from one to the other here. You have to ask: who is profiting from these beliefs? In other words, who is profiting off of making you too nervous and guilt-ridden to ensure that you can eat, regardless of whether or not one of the upper caste will accept your petition to work? Because the answer is fairly clear. Instilling the belief that honesty is a necessity, even and especially when it harms yourself, in order for those who hold power over you to cement that dynamic straight into the ground.

Put another way: if you are honest, who is going to hurt you?

As a matter of policy, I don’t particularly believe that anyone is obligated to tell the truth when they are long the power imbalance. There are a few caveats to that—the consideration, for example, of whether or not you’re going to be directly hurting someone else by lying—but the rest stands. In many cases, I see lying as an obligation, such as with the quintessential “he went thataway!” misdirection of oppressors in search of a revolutionary. The only person you should ever make a policy of total honesty with is yourself. And maybe your best friend/long-term lover, but I’m pretty sure that requires negotiation. A lot of people start “opening up” and then take it way too far because they have no experience with what is an acceptable and desirable limit to that.

Question these social norms you are given at their premise. Why is honesty desirable? Why is pacifism? Why is femininity? Why is carnism? Why is nationalism? Why is the human race? Ask not just why but how—how are these things desirable, and whose interests do they serve?

Your ethical code needs to be informed of this, to be malleable, so that you needn’t sacrifice yourself to the power structure in order to live by your ethics, and so that you needn’t betray your ethics in order to protect yourself. Revolution is not an easy path to walk: you need to set aside a lot of your honesty for yourself, so that you will be neither willing nor able to tolerate or make excuses for yourself when you veer too close to being the kind of person you do not want to be.

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I Ain’t Dumb III: Intelligence Can’t be a Quantitative Measure!

At some point I found myself having to seriously consider the idea of “intelligent” or “smart.” I don’t know if it was because of my veganism, my primitivism, or my utter repulsion to the very idea of mandatory schooling, but it inevitably had a lot to do with the school I went to.

It was an alternative public school that’d been around for about thirty years running an individualistic curriculum—basically, you could just go to classes and write your evaluations and be done with it, but there was one extra piece to it: the Passages. There were six Passages in all—Career Exploration, Logical Inquiry, Creative somethingorother, Global Awareness, Practical Skills and Adventure. Social debate and peer review was built right into the grid: you had to have meetings with your “triad,” which could consist of at least three people, and your advisor (a teacher/counselor) before you could either “propose” (start) or “wrap up” a Passage.

The interesting thing about this, and the difference between this and most traditional schooling, was that there were no templates for the Passages. You couldn’t just pull it out of thin air: you had to work. If you wanted to learn, you had to reach for it.

The past few years I’ve come to realize that much of the school’s benefit to students was that it was a sort of anti-school. It was a detoxification center for students who had been taught to hate learning in traditional schools. And the emphasis was always on learning—as an active, not a passive, ability. You don’t go there to “get educated”; it wasn’t a choice someone else could make for you. You weren’t encouraged, as you are in 99% of other classrooms—including ones that “have good teachers!!!1″—to just lie back and think of England, so to speak. Learning was something you did for you, indigenous to your soul, and as such no one could give it to you or force you to endure it. You had the right to learn; therefore, it was your responsibility whatever you chose to learn. Choice. Freedom. Not compulsory. Not mandatory. No excuses, no shortcuts.

And honestly, I just kind of sat around for three years and then got incredibly fucking bored and decided to do something about. From what I hear, that’s not unusual, though it doesn’t make up the majority of the students. That was basically the point where I realized that learning is inevitable because, hell, it’s fun, isn’t it?

In my fourth year I met a German temporary student, Fabienne, with whom I’d be staying in Germany (for the most part; I had family there, too). She had… this attitude. My peers were used to people from other schools looking down on ours because it was so “easy,” I mean, they didn’t force you or threaten you into going to classes and learning. We were irritated about it, but it’s sort of like most fruitarians I know: Bob Torres will bitch at them and they’ll just roll their eyes and be like, “whatever dude, like you’d know anything,” and then they leave it.

While I was in Germany, Fabienne told me that our school was “easy.” (I’d retort and point out that no, actually, most traditional school systems are just fucking prisons—but eh.) She thought that the students there were stupid because they weren’t being challenged—that is, forced into “learning” things they didn’t want to learn and had no use for.

“Fabienne,” I said, “do you like learning?”

“No. Who likes learning?” she replied.

I’m aware she disagrees, but honestly, I won that debate right then and there.

What my “alma mater”—typically reserved for universities, but I think “soul mother” fits this situation perfectly—taught me was something slow and growing, like a seed gestating in warm, damp soil, as veganism and primitivism were for me. Learning had much more to do with joy—with the will to learn—than it did with how much you learned. And as such, learning couldn’t be measured by how many things you knew; it had to be measured by how gleefully you went after them.

And that’s where I broke from the idea of intelligence as quantitative.

Quantitative intelligence is a factor that underlies almost every fucking prejudice in the world. Using adult humans as property has been justified with, “they’re not as intelligent as us.” Same for non-human animals, and children; they’re stupid and unintelligent because adults are too self-obsessed to realize that the knowledge they have isn’t basic or even valuable for the real world. The natural one. No; they’re stupid, obviously. And you could tell that, see, because they didn’t know as many things as us! At least, they didn’t know as many things that “we” considered “important.”

A line between meaningful and non-meaningful knowledge was drawn and, in general, the more abstract the knowledge, the more valuable it was. It was harder to get—like eggs and dairy used to be—and therefore prestigious. And, as with eggs and dairy, this society is still built from the top down off of no longer pertinent concepts of prestige. Baked goods “need” eggs, despite the fact that they were included only because it was a “rich” thing to do. If you want to be smart, you “need” to read Judith Butler and Plato and some other godawful-dry, self-absorbed authors.

I am just so fucking tired of the idea that intelligence and smartness is quantitative. Let’s talk about what intelligence really is.

Intelligence is basic, and expressed in behaviors that allow an animal to navigate the world. The presence of greater intelligence in someone does not make them more valuable; having less intelligence than that person does not make you less valuable. Okay? Good. Now we’ve gotten the excuses for carnism out of the way.

I think the behaviors of intelligence are intensity, curiosity, critical deduction and observation. These all have different parts that make a whole.

Intensity refers to passion, emotional/mental; having emotion enables someone to process and remember information gathered. I disagree that emotion automatically makes you less reliable and trustworthy—after all, the most “objective” people have also historically had the privilege to agree with the present power structure; they had the least to lose from its perpetuation and as such generally didn’t much care to exert the energy to change it.

From my observation and critical deduction, I have come to the conclusion that animals have the capacity for emotion because it is an excellent way to store information about the world in which they live, although significantly less so in cases of trauma. You’re not supposed to be God, here. Your best guess is all that’s required.

Also in my observation, I’ve noticed that the smartest people I know are also extremely emotionally intense. That’s not data and I don’t intend to present it as fact, but simply because you cannot base an entire argument off anecdote doesn’t mean that anecdote is worthless and contemptuous. Something that is not A is not necessarily B if C is present.

Curiosity is the drive to learn things—that’s pretty obvious. It doesn’t necessarily apply to books, either. A hunger for information will drive you to learn, and you will learn much more than those who aren’t very curious.

Lierre Keith, for example, isn’t very curious. She spent twenty years trapped in an eating disorder and even though she had misgivings from the first few months, never seriously questioned them. She was never curious about veganism, or she would have went looking and found out that eating only brown rice and soy wasn’t healthy, and she would have found out that eating eggs and dairy about once a week doesn’t count as “twenty years of veganism.” She was never curious about women’s rights and feminism, or she would have stumbled into the discussion of eating-disorder-as-patriarchal-ideology and realized that the symptoms she was attributing to “veganism” were the symptoms that describe the lives of anorectics.

By the same coin, parrots are hella smart. As is my cat.

Critical deduction allows you to question what you’ve observed and found, and to trace together the lines connecting supposedly disparate topics and phenomena. When a cat does a trick someone meant to teach to the dog, that cat is employing critical deduction. Similarly, when you realize that transphobia is yet another form of patriarchal sexism via gender-policing, you’re employing critical deduction.

At the same time, critical deduction is necessarily critical. Reading a condemnation and carnism or intellectualism and thinking, “But animals aren’t humans—they’re obviously inferior to us,” or “But there’s only one kind of intelligence and reasonable deduction,” is employing the very antithesis of critical deduction. Genuinely thinking about it and saying, “Might be right. Have to seriously think about that, and if I decide they’re right then I’ll have to change,” is critical deduction.

Observation allows you to actually receive information from your experience of life. It can be, and often is, distorted through a lens of ideology—for example, thinking of children as stupid or less intelligent because they express themselves in a limited way.

Observation can only be free when not fettered by the paradigms we are taught to believe. Fundamentally, these ideologies—racism, sexism, ageism, carnism, capitalism, intellectualism, etc.—are invalid because they are taught: you are predisposed to them from a very early age, the shrapnel lurking in the back of your mind. I am always unimpressed by microbiologists that start believing in “a” creator, because even Hinduism is fundamentally monotheistic in its creation story. Come back with something that isn’t floating around in preality and we’ll talk.

Intelligence can only be measured by behaviors, and you might rightly argue that they then can’t be measured at all. But hell, that’s just honest—psychology, at least, recognizes that you can only know what’s going on inside someone’s head via the conduit of their body language, behavior and/or speech.

Ought to come down from your high horse, ffs. Y’can’t smell nothin’ but horseshit from up there.

No Word for Young Rebels

Still thinking about love, this time in the context of Western language norms and prejudices.

It’s been apparent to me for years that English is a language made by the powerful, for as much as many survivors’ words have been co-opted into the language for use by “regular people.” It’s ridiculously strict and shallow: a word can have many meanings, but there are no words for the depthless things.

I can describe joy in terms of behavior: that joy is a feeling that resists being kept private, a feeling with its own impulse to share, with generosity implicit in its nature, not of the thing that gave you joy, just of joy itself. That joy creates this radiant aura so you think you’re grinning out your eyes… When I hear capitalists speak of “joy” as a private experience, I know they’ve never experienced the thing I have. It transcends happiness. But in the wake of a society that cripples your emotions with civilization, imprisonment for indoctrination, carnism and technological mind-thinning, people apply the word “joy” to the only experiences they’ve had—ones that, to me, seem pathetic and muted, although I used to think the same things when I accepted and submitted to the system.

The value of limited vocabulary is something restricted to the privileged and powerful, because it is a privilege associated with power to be interpreted in the blandest and least-incriminating way. The words of those who aren’t white, who aren’t male, who aren’t rich are looked at with an eye that is thousands of times more critical.

A white man is allowed to say, “White people are privileged, and this privilege is killing people of color.” He’ll even be applauded for it in many circles. But Pele forbid a Black or Hispanic woman say the exact same thing… because that white man’s very whiteness and maleness suggests that he is not a serious threat to the system—he is part of the system, and those benefiting from a power structure very rarely actively dismantle it. The same damn words will get a woman of color FBI notice.

Those holding power are given the benefit of the doubt: their words are taken at face value. Look at the interactions between MRAs and feminists—when the MRA says he’s not a misogynist, that he doesn’t hate women, it’s taken as truth even when he goes on to call women whores, manipulative fuck-holes; when the feminist says she’s not a misandrist, she’s assumed to be lying for the benefit of her feminazi agenda, even repeating over and over and fucking over again that men are people too, she just wants them to act like they are—for them to act like they, too, are bound by all the interpersonal responsibilities and care that women are.

Words mean all of jack shit for those fighting the system. Truth means all of jack shit, because someone who is fighting the kyriarchy is automatically assumed to have sinister ulterior motives. People who suffer from the system are untrustworthy. People who want to fight the system are absolute liars.

It’s a remarkable self-perpetuation scheme.

Words mean different things depending on who uses them. What does love mean when a man says it, as opposed to a woman—what if they’re white, Hispanic, Black, first nations?

My experiences have taught me that words mean a whole fucking lot when white men use them, because they can correct someone who “misinterprets” them and be taken at face value—oh, that’s okay then, it was just a misunderstanding. People who challenge this—um, you say that, but your actions and other words prove you do actually think that—are taken as so mean, so unreasonable, so volatile, so angry.

Because they’re allowed to tell someone seeing the truth that it’s all a “misunderstanding,” words essentially mean whatever the powerful—white, rich men—want them to. It just compounds the problem of a limited vocabulary.

The oppressed aren’t allowed words for their experiences, thoughts, feelings and beliefs: I’ve had people argue with me that Biting Beaver’s Rapist Checklist wasn’t right because of the definition of rape that was in the dictionary. He actually pulled out a dictionary and showed me, as if it meant anything—as if it weren’t constructed by white men, as if it meant more because it was constructed by rich white men.

A dictionary could wipe out an entire populace’s experiences because the book meant more. I realized then that words—not the use of them, but their definition and their limitations—can be genocidal and gynocidal. You don’t kill someone by using words. You kill them by making it so that there are no words for them. You just… erase them, make them stop mattering. Words mean so fucking much in Western cultures: sometimes your entire value can rest upon using them correctly, in a way and a manner that the kyriarchy is sympathetic to. You need to be “articulate” and “well-spoken” if you’re not white; “rational” and “logical” if you’re female. Without words that win over the kyriarchy, your value is nil.

An absence of words doesn’t stop the experiences that would be named by them: they just stop those experiences from mattering. Do I need to point out how this benefits the power structure, again? Lacking words for my gender doesn’t stop my “flavor” from exiting the mainstream entirely. It’s never stopped anyone from feeling anything, but it’s stopped them from being heard.

So love means what it is appropriate to mean for the kyriarchy: ownership, a power dynamic, sexual preoccupation. It’s popular in the BDSM community to think they’re “deviant.” I could laugh until I coughed blood. There are no words for the feelings I have for my friends and my lovers: in the face of the overwhelming glory and intensity of those sensations, “love” is pale and anaemic, washed out. The Japanese color (roughly) for death is white; for life, red. My love needs a red word, my life a new language.

It’s why words need to be made up. The English language has no words for these things. But making up words and changing the meaning of existing ones is a power given only to the privileged and even then, only to the most privileged. I have been told so many times that “carnism” is not a word by carnists who thought they were radical and anti-oppression. If we didn’t make up words where there were none, no oppression would ever get noticed. Ultimately, their resistance to carnism was the same as the resistance to sexism and racism… they benefited from it, and they didn’t think it should matter or be heard: so any word that named it for what it was had to be inherently illegitimate. Rape has always been illegitimate… from its very beginnings, rape was about men. A property crime: rape was about men. It’s still about men; to make it about those who survive it and those who don’t has always been illegitimate.

Love has always been a privilege of the powerful, too—its definition and its use. Love your wife; serve your husband. Love is not necessary from an inferior; after all, it’s not like you have a choice. And while they may want to force you to love them, the fact that you can’t escape—you can’t escape from their love—is enough.

The more I think about this, the more convinced I become that we need a new language, one full of red words to give voice to all the brittle and tender nuances of thought and feeling that are the right of all animals: the birthright of experiencing your life.

Orthorexia: A Primer

Orthorexia, as you probably know, means “healthy eating.” However, orthorexia is an eating disorder predicated on a life-crippling obsession with healthiness: it has very little to do with veganism, raw foodism, or any other form of actual “healthy eating.” The similarities between anorexia nervosa and orthorexia are stark. I want to lay out a small primer on this because Aslan has struggled with orthorexia for most of zeir life.

The reason orthorexia is an eating disorder is that it has nothing to do with actually being “healthy”; that’s just the pretext for the mental agony. Anorectics obsessively fear fat and being fat and they count calories and exhaustively exercise, starving themselves, so they won’t be fat. Orthorexics obsessively fear unhealthiness and being unhealthy and they count sodium/carbohydrates/etc. grams and exhaustively exercise, starving themselves, so they won’t be unhealthy.

Also like anorexia nervosa, orthorexia is largely dependent on the health crazes of the time. This is why I am unrepentantly supportive of the Fat Rights/Acceptance movement, and would be even if I did hold the mistaken belief that dieting makes you not-fat, because they’ve hit the “bad foods” ideology right on the head. There is a serious difference between, “I choose not to eat this because of my concern and consideration for those exploited to produce it,” and “I won’t eat it because it will make me impure.” Anorectics will often display a sometimes bizarre relaxation with regards to chicken, grapefruit, or some other food—because those foods were culturally approved as “not fat” foods while they grew up. Orthorexics do the same thing. Aslan grew up during the sodium craze of the ’80s and ’90s and no matter how hard zie tries, can’t shake it. Others (like Lierre Keith, perhaps) have a neurotic fear of carbohydrates: I knew one once who would eat, at most, half a chicken breast a day because there wouldn’t be any carbohydrates from it. There are others, ones who won’t eat anything but tomatoes and lettuce because they’re terrified of fat grams; still more who try to almost exclusively eat protein.

Orthorexia is essentially anorexia-NOS with a twist: “unhealthy” instead of “fat,” and nutrients—mostly—instead of calories.

The Weston A. Price Foundation is a lot closer to orthorexia than most vegans I know because of their obsessive fear of plant foods and carbohydrates. Unfortunately, vegans are more likely to be accused of eating disorders—even when they really, genuinely do not have them (though that’s about as common as it is in the general population)—because veganism is different and “not normal” like carnism is.

To me, Lierre Keith’s description of her symptoms smacks of a starvation-based eating disorder—all anorectics I know suffer from all the symptoms she’s described, but very few of the vegans I know suffer from any of them. The way she describes her eating habits—brown rice and soy while bingeing on eggs and dairy—smacks to me of orthorexia. Nobody eats almost exclusively brown rice and soy without having an eating disorder; it simply isn’t mentally healthy, completely leaving aside the idea of physical issues.

Eating disorders are very sad. That valid ethical considerations and healthy personal choices are swept under that rug is unacceptable, and the fact that they are swept under the “orthorexia” rug has killed some of my friends. I’ll write more about that on a later date.

Gets Their Savage On: The Vegetarian Myth, Part I

Chapter one, Why This Book? starts with a lie.

Unfortunately, I’m not joking.

I was a vegan for almost twenty years.

Keith uses a “different” definition of veganism than most vegans do. In her own words in radio interviews, she repeatedly binged on eggs and dairy “every chance she could get.” (Binged. A very eating-disordered word. Remember that, because it’ll come up later.) In the interviews, she recounts how just about every week, she would wake up after bingeing and swear she wouldn’t do it again.

Can you be a vegan for twenty years if you’re eating eggs and dairy about once a week?

The answer, for those of you too stupid to know better, is no. You cannot be a vegan while consuming animal products. Vegan police alert: the time you get to say you were vegan starts from the last time you deliberately ate animal products. Veganism is not a matter of “really really wanting to be vegan”; it’s a matter of action, and absolute action at that. If you deliberately consume animal products regularly—even once a year—you are not vegan. That is the fucking definition of veganism: a willing abstinence from the use of all avoidable animal products. Eggs and dairy are definitely avoidable.

So first off, Lierre Keith lied to start off this book. She wasn’t a vegan; she was a vegetarian, and there’s a reason that most reasonable vegans regard vegetarians with a sort of resigned disgust. They’re half-assed. Lierre Keith proves that rule: she’s so half-assed that she thinks regular consumption of animal products (but rilly rilly wanting not to!) makes her vegan.

The next few sentences don’t help much, either. Immediately, Keith begins small, subtle slander against vegans, coding them as naive, idealistic, and pathetic:

I know the reasons that compelled me to choose an extreme diet and they are honorable, ennobling even. Reasons like justice, compassion, a desperate and all-encompassing longing to set the world right.

She’s setting vegans up as idealistic, childish megalomaniacs. I don’t know a single vegan who thinks they’re going to save the world by being vegan—but quite a few of them believe that veganism is a necessary step towards making the world a better and less fucked-up place.

So this is opinion one: Keith has othered vegans. She doesn’t see them as people; she sees them as pathetically ridiculous and pitiful. That is not a tone you want to take with me. It also shows that, if anything, she never understood veganism in the first place: veganism is not an exercise in heroism, and no social justice movement can be. Maybe fror her it was different; then again, maybe that’s why she ended up utterly failing at veganism and remained a self-torturing vegetarian for twenty years.

So she waxes poetic on how she wanted to be a hero, which is understandable, but doesn’t exactly position vegans as naive—it positions her as naive. Then we get to this, and I find it an ominous sentence because of what these things have always meant to me:

And I want eating—the first nurturance—to be an act that sustains instead of kills.

Oh, goddammit.

Death is not wrong. It is not even slightly wrong. It’s neutral. The circumstances of death are what matter. If my veganism is committed to preventing atrocity, it’s done on the basis that I want as little to do with fucking torture and rape as possible in a fucked-up system. And hey, given that I’m not just dandy with using animals as property, I’m succeeding better at that than carnists are!

This book is written to further those passions, that hunger. It is not an attempt to mock the concept of animal rights or to sneer at the people who want a gentler world. [SR emph.]

Bite my violent, red-in-tooth-and-claw primitivist ass.

And those longings—for compassion, for sustainability, for an equitable distribution of resources—are not served the the philosophy or practice of vegetarianism. We have been led astray. The vegetarian Pied Pipers have the best of intentions.

im in ur potlukz feadin ur chillrenz!!!1

Okay, seriously? As someone who has a passion for political writing, I gotta say: that phrase completely misses the mark. “The vegetarian Pied Pipers” doesn’t come off as oogedy-boogedy; it comes off as laughable. Like, for real? I get this mental image of myself in a freaking Peter Pan outfit blowing on a pair of pipes and prancing and I cannot stop laughing.

Pele’s sweet potatoes. This book might be more fun than I thought.

Further down page 2 is this:

But the first mistake is in assuming that factory farming—a practice that is barely fifty years old—is the only way to raise animals. Their calculations on energy used, calories consumed, humans unfed, are all based on the notion that animals eat grain.

Well, I don’t know a whole lot of long-term vegans that think factory farming is the only way to farm animals; you have to be deliberately shielding yourself from reality to do that. And it’s also a vital misconception that vegans constantly have to batter against, thanks to PETA and other soft-in-the-head welfarists: farming that is not factory farming is not “kinder” to animals. It is not “more humane.” Many a lookatmegan has been seduced by the suicidal grin of Happy Meat.

Keith doesn’t do herself any favors by assuming vegans are as ignorant as she was; you go up against a well-prepared enemy or your argument’s not worth jack shit. This is one reason I dislike using red herrings and strawmen—it’s more satisfying and more real to take down one of their actual arguments. I mean, if you actually care about being right instead of just feeling like you are.

The Permavegan did a good debunking of Keith’s assertion that vegan opinion leaders are ignorant of other methods of animal farming. Adam Merberg over at Say what, Michael Pollan? linked in the sidebar also critiques the mathematical problems with a “sustainable” grain-based and “non-grain based” animal farm. Several other people have noted that Keith isn’t really familiar with any vegans, like, at all—or at least, that’s my conclusion; one thing that definitely made me think she’s just a bit disconnected from the reality of actual vegans is that she insisted, in her interviews, that all vegans eat beef once a week.

One of the ways you can tell your argument is worthless is that you have to call people who effectively disprove your thesis liars. Apparently, both me and Aslan are sleepwalking up to a 24/7 grocery store once a night, getting beef, eating it, and returning home, undressing, re-dressing, and laying down in bed. Without disturbing the cats. Hokay. If your argument rests on the idea that I—and all other vegans—are freaking pathological liars, you may have some problems there, cap’n.

You can feed grain to animals, but it is not the diet for which they were designed. Grain didn’t exist until humans domesticated animal grasses, at most 12,000 years ago, while aurochs, the wild progenitors of the domestic cow, were around for two million years before that.

Keith makes a really bad assumption here and I need to point it out: not all animals are like. You can feed grain to animals—it just depends on what animals they are. This seems awful nitpicky, but Keith has, to my mind, been doing an unnecessary amount of generalization.

Ruminants and grazing animals have, in fact, been eating grain for their entire evolutionary span. They were not the same types of grain, and they were not domesticated; but that doesn’t mean that they weren’t eating the seeds of seed grasses along with the grass. Grain has existed for fucking millions of years… domesticated grain has not, but grains are in themselves incredibly vivacious producers; that’s one of the reasons humans singled them out for intensive reproduction (aka “farming”) in the first place.

I’m unsure if Keith understands these nuances because her self-description so far has suggested her worldview is not very complex.

For most of human history, browsers and grazers haven’t been in competition with humans.

Yes. I barely see them as being in competition with humans now, except when humans make a point of putting their interests above the grazers’.

They ate what we couldn’t eat—cellulose—and turned it into what we could—protein and fat.

No.

Again, the situation is far more complex than how Keith is presenting it. Cellulose is a part of all plants; it’s basically the cell walls of a plant. We can’t digest cellulose and use it as energy, but we can use cellulose in other ways.

Here’s a famous form of cellulose: fiber. Fiber is vital to human health, the lack of which has a long list of straight-up proven health consequences (IBS, colon and prostate cancer, constipation), particularly soluble fiber. It is a magic sponge that keeps your insides clean.

Furthermore, while we can digest protein and fat, that’s not very surprising: every animal in the entire world can digest protein and fat. These nutrients are necessary for survival regardless of species, though some (like humans) need a little less of it (or really, much much less). Even now, humans feed farmed animals like sheep and cows fish meal, although the practice of feeding bovines to bovines or sheep to sheep have largely stopped after the CJD/mad cow problem in the late ’90s and early ’00s.

Simply because humans can digest these things doesn’t mean they should in such large amounts. Cows can live off of animal flesh. The question is, what diet results in the optimum physical and mental health?

Keith goes on for several more sentences about how ruminants shouldn’t eat grains, and again, I partially agree—but I won’t jump on it, because it seems that my default definition of “grain” is the scientific definition (a seed from a certain plant type), while hers is the colloquial definition. No problem there.

However:

We are urban industrialists, and we don’t know the origins of our food. This includes vegetarians, despite their claims to the truth.

1. Using a “royal we” when asserting stupidity is not, as Keith seems to think, sympathetic. It is insulting.

2. Any vegan (or halfassitarian, I guess) who disagrees with her is either lying or ignorant. Only the great Lierre Keith has the real truth!

Nice.

And Aslan, who is Latin@, wants to say this: “Hey, man. I know where my fucking food comes from. I talk to the illegal Mexican who picks it everyday.”

The truth is that agriculture is the most destructive thing humans have done to the planet, and more of the same won’t save us. The truth is that agriculture requires the wholesale destruction of entire ecosystems.

Finally, something that I can agree with her on—sort of. There are a lot of absolutely Earth-devastating things humans have come up with, but yeah, agriculture is definitely up there. I view it as more of an “original sin” than the most horrible thing—agriculture was what allowed the human species to spread far out of their native territory without having the actual process of evolution to make sure we could survive without it, leading to the colonization of the entire fucking planet and yeah, what she said.

I take a thin line on tools, because in general it is a very bad idea (evolutionarily) for your genetics to try to account for them. Weapons and houses are not evolutionary strategies; they are ticking time bombs. If you find yourself in an area where you need tools to survive, you’re not supposed to be there; the instant you lose that tool or the ability to use it, you’re absolutely fucked. And furthermore, the things that are natural for you to eat will not require weapons and tools from you—everything that comes naturally with a healthy body of your species will allow you to obtain it.

I do expect this to be a sticking point. Keith doesn’t strike me as particularly primitivist. (Despite what I was promised. :\)

The truth is also that life isn’t possible without death, that no matter what you eat, someone has to die to feed you.

Why hello there, simplistic worldview! How you doin’?

Again, the concept of life requiring death isn’t a problem for me. I’m a primitivist; I know better. Death is not only an integral and necessary part of life, it is one of the underlying threads in my belief that nature is, if not benevolent, definitely not malicious. In natural habitats, without technological or human interference, suffering is generally short, whether emotional or physical. A depressed animal may be easy prey, but it might also just fall over dead—that’s been known to happen with people who have poor emotional health: they just die. Death does not always happen this way; I’m not stupid. But it happens too often for me to believe that death is wrong.

The un-nuanced and rigid belief sets Keith has laid out so far in this book worry me—and I’m only on the third page! The interlocking processes, beautifully and exponentially complicated, of life and death are not a cause-and-effect as Keith seems to imply here. She naturalizes the reality and consequences of human supremecism into an accusation, suggesting that the unjustifiable violation of agriculture is something that happens no matter what. And it’s just not.

She misses the choice and the violence. More than one cow was tortured and killed at the end of their usefulness for cheese, not because it was inevitable but because some human chose to treat them as property. An orange tree grows from soil made by the fully decomposed material of plants and animals, but provided it isn’t manured orchard, it is not the same thing.

It is not: someone had to die for this. It is: someone did die.

This distinction is not unimportant.

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