Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Perpetually Lost

I feel a twinge of shame when reacting negatively to an animal rights mailing. After all, I generally find the perspective agreeable and think that some of the movement’s voices are exceptionally articulate and sensible. The fact remains, however, that most animal rights activists and environmental extremists are young, confused idealists. There is nothing wrong with youth or idealism, but when one combines such naive energy with an ignorance of reality, the result is senseless noise. The “manifestos” written by kids who count themselves among the movement’s disciples are often troubling documents.

Recently, an animal rights advocate, who is also a member of a conservation group I support, sent out a group email detailing the plight of Chris McIntosh, a twenty-two year old activist who set fire to a McDonald’s restaurant in Seattle. The action was jointly “claimed by” the Animal Liberation Front and the Earth Liberation Front. The email sent to me included a note written by McIntosh, excerpted below.
“I am a Green Anarchist who believes in freedom for all life, by any means necessary, and a return to the "old way". There should be no compromise with a system that has no respect for nature, that worships shiny metal and green paper instead of the mother from whose womb we are sustained. I no longer see the use or satisfying results of petitions and demonstrations. The truth is the crunch has come, and it's time for a feral rampage in everyone's heart! Whether its wreaking drunken havoc upon the civilized pillars of society or some other way that gets you off, we are the barbarian hordes. Let's sack Rome!

When I was 16, I dropped out of and took off into the unknown to discover a life of freedom (until the pigs interfered). It had its hardships, but the good outweighed the bad. I have been educating myself with real knowledge since then.”

“What I'm into reading is anti-civilization theory, stuff about early european pagan beliefs. Anything along those lines or a simple letter goes a long way too.

Thank you and no compromise in the fight for the earth and animals!”
Reading this pedestrian rhetoric, I recall “Notes From Underground: Among the radicals of the Pacific Northwest,” an article by David Samuels, published in the May 2000 issue of Harper’s Magazine. Samuels addresses the surreal combination of energetic commitment, disillusionment and boredom endemic in extremist groups. How can we take seriously the well-intentioned kids dressed in Adidas track suits and Nike sneakers as they pry off the sign at Seattle’s Niketown to protest capitalism's cruel dominion?
“What the pictures from Seattle captured was an anger whose true sources had less to do with Nike’s treatment of its labor force or other objectionable practices than with a broader, more unreasoning sense of being trapped in a net…the more general principle that someone should be held responsible for the feelings of absence and compulsion that overwhelm us all at some point or another in our lives and that are not our fault, or even the fault of our parents, but are rather the products of the addictive vacuum that has manifested itself through the combined karmic energies of millions of cathode-ray tubes and digital cables.”
The “objectionable practices” do provoke anger, but I think that what separates the quiet activists – those that concentrate on changing their own lifestyles to lessen impact – from the Chris McIntosh variety is the ability to consider one’s actions thoughtfully, recognizing that personal choices do matter and that arson attacks, for example, only further misunderstanding and backlash.

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