by Dr. Steve Best

I. The Vegetarian Ventriloquist for the Flesh/Dairy/Egg Industries

“You’ll get freedom by letting your enemy know that you’ll do anything to get your freedom; then you’ll get it…when you stay radical long enough and get enough people to be like you, you’ll get your freedom.” Malcolm X

Despite the millions of dollars of cash, the endless campaigns, and the armies of activists on the beat, often it all seems like “sound and fury signifying nothing.” We are losing ground in the war to stop a ten thousand year reign of speciesism and hierarchical domination of every kind. Capitalism, a nihilistic, grow-or-die system of planetary plunder and seven billion members of Homo rapiens have precipitated the sixth great extinction crisis, the destruction of oceans, rainforests, and ecosystems everywhere, as the irreversible and rapidly accelerating effects of climate change begin to take their deadly toll.

Not only is the miniscule vegan/animal liberation movement outnumbered by carnivores and wholly dominated by the corporate-state-media-security-system complex, we are our own worst enemies and limit ourselves in even more debilitating ways. Far too many embrace the naive Socratic belief that people will stop doing wrong when they learn what is right. This view is erroneous and limiting enough without being extended to support being buttressed by the Gandhian myth that love is stronger than hate and that soul force (satyagraha) is more powerful than physical force. Obviously this is false.

The majority of people in the vegan/animal liberation movements, moreover, are far too tolerant of the ubiquitous forces of violence killing peoples, raping nature, devastating biodiversity, and perpetuating the animal Holocaust which spreads like a cancer across the planet. Pacifists quote the rhetoric of Gandhi and King without following their practice of civil disobedience and mass demonstrations. Today’s passivists betray the tradition they claim to honor in their tolerance of the ever-intensifying war against animals and the pogrom led by various industries, from agribusiness to Big Pharma that tortures and murders well over one hundred billion animals. Liberationists and saboteurs do far more to honor this tradition.

Without doubt, one of the most blatant examples of the Stockholm Syndrome, of internalizing the oppressor’s ideology, that I have ever witnessed can be found, in all its incomprehensible idiocy, in an essay by Mark Fergusson, entitled, “Respectful Dialogue and Education vs. Forcing Views on Others.”[1] This pacifist defense of speciesist violence, this default acquiescence to and refusal to stop it, was not penned by a soulless CEO of Conagra, trying to dupe the world through disinformation, propaganda, and Orwellian doublespeak, but rather was written by a touchy-feely, tree-hugging, aging tie-dye hippy, Mark Fergusson — “Chief Vegetarian Officer & CEO of “Down to Earth All Vegetarian Natural and Organic Stores” – in his blog, “Down to Earth News.”

While most reluctant to impose his values or demands on the Animal Holocaust Industry and its global army of corpse consumers, Fergusson has no problem telling the entire “vegetarian” community to obediently acquiesce. He implores vegetarians to abandon their ethical principles and yield to a higher norm of tolerance by steering clear of any possible “coercion” that might arise should we “force” agribusiness and its carnist clientele to honor, not destroy, life. Anything beyond polite discourse, such as protests and demonstrations, is dismissed as coercive tactics that “disrespect” the capitalist totem of “freedom of choice.” Championing tolerance and ahimsa Ȕber Alles, Fergusson urges every vegetarian to recognize the absolute need to “respect the right of meat eaters to eat meat (as abhorrent to us as that may be), and we respect the right of vegans to be vegan.” And though the vegan lifestyle itself is hardly pure and innocent of destruction consequences in its own ways, he never considers the obvious problem that vegetarianism spawns far more violence and destruction and that the very premises of his limited paradigm render him a hypocrite from the start.

Understand that the animal Holocaust has offered CEO Fergusson a lucrative niche within the consumerist paradigm: his franchise is the manifestation of his commodification of the cruelty-free ideology. And it appears that in order to perpetuate his business, he is bowing down before the altar of Profit, unwilling to stand on any principled position for the holocaust victims. Rather, he gratuitously sells them out in a concerted effort to be an inoffensive vegetarian who doesn’t offend his corporate board, fellow capitalists, peacenik and lifestyle veghead customers, and the complicit masses.

Live and let live is the message of this laissez-faire lunatic and pacifist protector of predation. If vegetarians expect the meat mob to honor our “freedom of choice,” then we must grant them their freedom in turn. Chief Officer of Fallacious Reasoning, Fergusson dwells in a spiritual darkness that precludes him from making crucial and wholly valid moral distinctions, and his covert love for oppressors leads him into a cul-de-sac in which all values, choices, and lifestyles are allegedly equal.

This relativist, morally and intellectually-bankrupt capitalist-determined passivism, so horribly scarred by self-interest, skewed ethical priorities, and internalization of the capitalist superego, is clear evidence of what twentieth-century critical theorist Herbert Marcuse called “repressive tolerance.” [2] Although normally admirable to tolerate the difference and diversity of other peoples and cultures, Marcuse showed how capitalist recoded this liberal virtue into an authoritarian vice, such that tolerance becomes repressive when it acquiesces to violence, domination, and murderous mayhem, and fails to act decisively against it. In this case as countless others, “non-violence” is transparently complicit in violence, and “violence” and aggressive resistance may be necessary to stop aggression; no cosmic law – despite pacifist platitudes — guarantees that violence only leads to more violence, rather than to peace, by taking necessary measures to stop the carnage once and for all.

I wonder if paragons of tolerant, respectful, and “peaceful vegetarians” like Fergusson, who drift aimlessly on lotus leaves in ponds of stagnant thought, support the rights of serial killers, rapists, and pedophiles as well, lest we “impose” our values on them to stop their barbarities as the only means to a safe and sane society. Since surely the Fergussons of the pacifist community would respond to this suggestion with a thundering “No!” they expose themselves as the speciesists they are, as Stockholm Syndrome hypocrites who apply two different moral and practical standards: a resolute interdiction against those who assault and murder human animals, and a respectful tolerance of those who torture and butcher nonhuman animals.

Like all dogmatic pacifists ignorant of the limitations of human nature and realities of social change, Fergusson works to limit our options and effectiveness by trying to palm off a false dilemma: we pursue either dialogue or resistance, education or agitation, legal or illegal tactics, and non-violence rather than aggressive defense against violence spiraling out of control. Of course education is an ideal path to social transformation, but, unfortunately, pacifist ideologues ignore the limitations of human nature the structural constraints blocking freed expression in schools and universities, and the overwhelming hegemony and ruthlessness of the corporate-state-media-military-industrial complex.

It’s hard to believe the mass delusions and denialism that inform “progressive” communities, their steel-reinforced dogmas and childlike naiveté, and the disempowering effects of their liberal values. Pacifists affirm the double disaster of the Socratic-Gandhian fallacy. Nonviolence should never be advanced as a tactic unto itself — as if gains in rights, justice, and democracy have been won voluntarily, without mass pressure and coercive actions of various kinds and degree – but rather as only one tactics in an arsenal of options necessary to bring about any possibilities for peace and justice.

To those whose who fetishize ideals and idols at the expense of strategic strength and flexibility, I reply that education, moral persuasion, and nonviolent resistance should be applied in any situation in which such tactics can work, but that the realities we confront demand that in some or most situations and contexts, resistance needs a sharper and bolder edge, such as requires sabotage, aggressive confrontation, and even armed struggle. If history shows anything, it is that people almost never “persuade” an exploiter to voluntarily end violence and murder when it advances their social and economic positions, and that coercion of one kind or another is indeed necessary therefore to make exploiters and violent killers end their reign of terror.

But Fergusson and countless other victims who internalize the oppressor’s ideology and code of “repressive tolerance” vividly demonstrate why our movement is pathetically week and ineffective and why total war and the animal Holocaust exact ever greater tolls on humans, animals, and the earth. It is a human right, after all, Fergusson informs us, to murder billions of animals, and the job of vegetarians and animal advocates is not to annul this right, but to respect it!

II. From Repressive Tolerance to Liberatory Intolerance

“Starve not your epithets against slavery, through fear or parsimony: let them be heavy, robust and powerful. It is a waste of politeness to be courteous to the devil; and to think of beating down his strongholds with straws is sheer insanity. The language of reform is always severe—unavoidably severe; and simply because crime has grown monstrous, and endurance has passed it bounds.” William Lloyd Garrison

I believe this movement would greatly benefit if it put down its dog-eared copies of Gandhi and King anthologies to learn instead from repressed, counter-voices such as Malcolm X and Franz Fanon. Against pacifists, I insist on the need for a discourse that includes terms such as “war” and “enemy.” I reject all promiscuous and vague definitions that conflate aggressive violence with defensive-violence. To identify, know, and fight against an “enemy” is not to reproduce the discourse of the dominator culture we need to overcome; the term rather is vital for staying awake and attentive, for destroying the illusion of unity and common goals and purpose, and to tune out the siren song of co-optation that seduces us into reform rather than revolution, into playing by their rules rather than inventing our own.

Similarly, pacifists renounce the discourse of “war,” as well as, of course, tactics of “violence,” as reactionary products of the dominator culture we must renounce through the “true revolution” of non-violence; against this I insist that the full-scale assault on the planet and all life can only be characterized as a bona fide war and that any term short of that (such as “conflict”) is a mystifying euphemism. It is only when we grasp the fact that oppressors and capitalists are waging an implacable total war of exploitation and annihilation that we begin to think straight about the tactics needed to stop their pogrom once and for all.

Against the totalizing distortions of history and the caricatured accounts of social change, along with the phony, feel-good fantasies that invoke the false utopia future of an undivided Human Family devoid of deep conflicts and contradictory purposes, I prefer the frank truths of realpolitik and a pluralist and pragmatist approach that expands rather than limits our options and understands that social change is the result of diverse tactics, including counter-violence and defensive force rather than education, moral persuasion, and non-violence alone, In an essay that refreshingly focuses on the insights of Malcolm X over the half-truths, at best, of the Gandhi-King paradigm, Denis Rancourt reminds us what pacifists intend we forget or never learn:

The oppressor by nature is your enemy. You cannot collaborate with your enemy devoted to your oppression and come out ahead. At best, you will be used and transformed into your enemy.

Malcolm X’s psychology of liberation is one where you recognize that the oppressor is an enemy that you cannot integrate, where you know that this enemy can only be deterred by your strength and your willingness to defend yourself.

In this psychology, like in [Paulo] Freiere’s, you do not fight the enemy in order to replace him in a hierarchy. You fight for liberation, not for an opportunity to create your own system of oppression. But you fight. You understand that this is an enemy and that all hierarchies can only violently oppress…

As soon as you lose sight that you are dealing with an enemy, then you are part of the oppressor. All the internal and external forces will make every attempt to confuse you on this point and to buy or to force your cooperation.

For the pacifist, however, one only breaks with the dominator culture and its fetish of violence by breaking with the oppressor’s psychology, language, and culture overall.[3]

In the guise of pacifism, truth, integrity, and principled non-violence, the Stockholm Syndrome has a deadly grip on activists’ thinking in virtually all contemporary social movements, and certainly dominates the vegetarian, vegan, and animal advocacy communities. Until we cleanse the oppressor’s values and superego from our minds, replace dogmatic pacifism with flexible pluralism, comprehend what the true urgency of global social and ecological crisis unfolding throughout the planet today, relate it to a dysfunctional, destructive, and unsustainable social system; and grasp the scale and intensity of the resistance we need to mount to transform Thanatos into Eros, we will always be prisoners of the dominator culture and the pathology of pacifism.

Totalitarians and tyrants know full well that dogmatic pacifism legitimates their effective use of double standards (we reserve the sole right of force and violence for our purposes and deny you everything that can undermine our hegemony). They know that it ensures a docile population taught to love not to hate their oppressors; that it masks escalating conditions of total war; that it sends the message corporate exploiters are not our enemies, but rather fellow humanity; and that the differences which divide us are misunderstandings we can resolve peacefully through dialogue and negotiation. Contrariwise, they know the dangers of an aware and enraged populace in solidarity against them, hell-bent on defending an entire planetary community under attack, fighting the war of all wars for total liberation, and by any means necessary.


[1] Mark Fergusson, “Respectful dialogue and education vs. forcing views on others,” February 4, 2010, (http://www.downtoearth.org/blogs/2010-02/down-to-earth-news/respectful-dialogue-and-education-vs-forcing-views-others).

[2] For his important 1965 critique, see Herbert Marcuse, “Repressive Tolerance” (http://www.marcuse.org/herbert/pubs/60spubs/65repressivetolerance.htm).

[3] Denis Rancourt, “Roundabout as Conflict-avoidance versus Malcolm X’s Psychology of Liberation” (http://dissidentvoice.org/2010/08/roundabout-as-conflict-avoidance-versus-malcolm-x%e2%80%99s-psychology-of-liberation/#more-21248).

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