Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Violent vegans

“Violence is the last refuge of the incompetent.” - Isaac Asimov

This guy has a piece of celery in one ear, a carrot in the other ear and a zucchini up his nose. He goes to the doctor and asks him what’s wrong. The doctor tells him, “Well, for one thing, you're not eating right.”

Okay, maybe not the funniest joke in the world but I just wanted to show you that I do have a sense of humour. But what I read last week wasn’t funny to me at all. In fact, I thought it was quite appalling.

The incident I’m referring to is the pie-ing of Lierre Keith, former vegan and author of The Vegetarian Myth, by three hooded vegan extremists.

According to the San Francisco Chronicle, the assault took place at an anarchist book fair, where Keith was promoting her book, and the pies thrown at her were reportedly laced with chili peppers. For the complete story, click here:

A similar occurrence happened here in Canada a few months ago, when a pie-wielding PETA member attacked the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans because she supported the annual east coast seal slaughter. PETA claimed responsibility for the pie assault and the woman, an American from New York City, was charged. Here’s the link to that story:

Now there are a lot of things that people say and do that I disagree with, but I don’t go around throwing pies at them. It’s not only childish; it’s an act of violence. Veganism is supposed to be about NON-violence.

And while a number of people have applauded the pie-throwing episode in San Francisco, some vegans don’t even consider it an act of violence. According to a person who witnessed the assault:

“I was there and perhaps I should have snickered in silence, and I am the first one to condemn ‘violence’, but I firmly feel that this was not a violent act, but a clever and effective direct action. The only thing the pie throwing ninjas bruised was her ego. Lierre Keith's book is very dangerous to the vegan movement.”

For the record, hitting someone in the face with a pie IS a violent act. It’s a display of force meant to embarrass or humiliate someone else, and it’s doing something to someone else against their will - a violation. It doesn't matter that Keith wasn’t physically or seriously injured.

So what are these people trying to prove? Do they think they’re going to win the public over or be taken seriously by hitting people in the face with pies? What message do they hope to impart on society, other than if you support acts of violence against animals (or even write against vegetarianism/veganism), you will become the target of violence?

Some animal activists used to do the same thing to people who wore fur, but instead of throwing pies, they threw red paint (and apparently still do on occasion). But the tactics, and the message, are still the same: the use of violence to raise awareness of violence. It’s all pretty stupid if you ask me.

And it’s counter-productive. Throwing pies at people doesn’t make them think about animal suffering or animal rights. It will however, make them think that animal activists are a bunch of crazy idiots.

Since 99% of the population doesn’t see anything wrong with using or eating animals, a lot of people will use this stunt (and others like it) to denounce veganism, and label us all as angry, militant and irrational hypocrites, even though it's not true.

If these violent outbursts continue, the progress we’ve made as agents for peaceful change will suffer. We’ll be branded extremists and terrorists. Never mind Lierre Keith’s book; it’s the pie-throwings and other senseless acts of violence that could do the vegan movement the most harm.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

In defense of James Cameron and Avatar (sort of)

Stephanie Ernst over at Animal Rights & AntiOppression recently wrote that James Cameron’s new film Avatar, despite what the critics, or even some of the big animal rights organizations say, does NOT show respect for animals.

She takes particular offence to a scene in which the lead character forces himself onto (and into) another creature in order to control him. For Jake to become a full warrior, he must overpower and subdue an ikran, one of Pandora’s flying beasts. Stephanie writes:

“It is Jake’s duty, while the animal fights him off, to “bond” with the animal by overpowering him, tying him up, climbing on top of him, and inserting a part of his body into the body of the animal while his victim desperately fights him off.”

Click here for the full story:

Stephanie also has a problem with the film’s message that as long as you pray or pay your respects to other animals, it’s alright to kill them (although we don’t actually know why Jake kills the animal and we never see the Na’vi eat animal flesh).

I saw Avatar twice and I personally thought it was an amazing movie. I loved the computer graphics, the music and the way the film brought attention to the environment, capitalism, the use of the military and the way we’ve treated (and continue to treat) indigenous peoples.

Nevertheless, I too was bothered by the “rape” scenes. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it at the time but something about it made me uncomfortable. I was reminded of the way wild stallions or elephants are “broken” but I think I saw it more as some kind of mind control than rape. I’m grateful to Stephanie for making me see what it really was.

I also found it disturbing that PETA would honour a film that promotes the exploitation of other animals, awarding James Cameron with a Proggy (PETA’s progress award) because of the film’s compassion and understanding towards animals.

According to PETA Senior Vice-President Lisa Lange, “We hope viewers will come away from Avatar with a new way of looking at the world around them and the way we treat our fellow earthlings. For helping animals with the positive message of this film, James Cameron is PETA’s ‘King of the World.’”

What? Okay, whatever. I learned long ago that PETA will do or say just about anything (or ride on anybody’s coattails) to get a headline. Remember CloFu (George Clooney sweat-flavoured tofu)?

But I don’t blame Cameron for making a film that promotes the slaughter, subjugation and rape of other animals. After all, Cameron isn’t a vegan or an animal rights activist. If he was, then I’d take issue with him exploiting animals in his films. But he’s not.

A friend of mine was also concerned that the use of violence towards the creatures in Avatar was going to send a message to the public that it’s okay to exploit and kill animals.

I had to remind my friend that the public ALREADY thinks that it’s okay to exploit and kill animals. We live in a society where it’s commonplace and acceptable to use animals for any reason whatsoever.

We kill them for fun, we kill them for food, we kill them for scientific curiosity and we kill them because we think we look good wrapped in their skins. We rape cows, we torture primates, we drown rats and we grind baby chicks alive.

We bash in the heads of turtles with hammers to study their heart rates and drill holes into the heads of hamsters to analyze their sex drives! We even cook and eat animals while they’re still alive. I could go on and on.

Aside from vegans, who make up a whole 1% of the population, everybody else eats and uses and kills animals.

So Cameron wrote and produced a film that depicts animal exploitation. Why are people surprised? Why would he write anything else?