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According to the Buddha, right speech is a statement that is timely, true, kind, helpful (connected to liberation), and spoken with a mind of good-will. Let us all try to observe this precept.
I became friends with radical feminist activist and author Lierre Keith four years ago when my husband and I began working to raise awareness of women's oppression by prostitution and pornography. (See our website NoPornNorthampton for more information.) Lierre's latest book is The Vegetarian Myth: Food, Justice, and Sustainability. In this controversial work, she argues that vegetarian and vegan diets are actually not as good for human health, or the planet, as an omnivorous diet that is based on more sustainable agricultural principles. The first chapter is online here.
As anyone who reads the New Testament knows, food taboos are a powerful cultural marker. Challenging them threatens people's identity. Many left-liberal folks get a significant self-esteem boost from the belief that their culinary self-denial makes the world a greener and more compassionate place.
I don't know whether Lierre's right, though I plan to read her book and find out. What I do know is that violence against women is never acceptable. Silencing unpopular speakers through assault and intimidation is not liberal, compassionate, or progressive.
Some folks at last weekend's San Francisco Anarchist Bookfair haven't figured this out yet.
As Lierre was reading from her book at the SF County Fair Building in Golden Gate Park, three young men rushed the stage and hit her in the face with pies containing cayenne pepper--the equivalent of pepper spray in her eyes. The IndyBay website, which bills itself as "a non-commercial, democratic collective of bay area independent media makers and media outlets", has posted a flippant story approving the assault, along with a video replaying the incident while slapstick music plays in the background.
I wrote this letter to IndyBay asking them to take down the video. If my readers would like to follow suit, please send email to email@example.com .
As a friend of Lierre Keith, who has worked alongside her to defend women's rights, I am appalled that you would post this video, which repeatedly shows her being hit in the face with a pie containing cayenne pepper, accompanied by a comical musical soundtrack:
Violence against women (and cayenne pepper in your eyes is certainly violence) is never a joke.
I have no opinion on the great vegan debate. I simply think that it trashes the credibility of the left-liberal and anarchist movements to allow young men to assault and silence women, and then publish the video as entertainment. If we want to reduce the power of the state, we need to show that we're fit for self-governance, not acting like kindergarten bullies.
[Update: The video has been posted on YouTube, so if you come across it, please hit the "Flag" button to report it as abusive content.]
To add insult to injury, some commenters at the fair and on the IndyBay website derided Lierre for filing a police report. Anarchists don't call the cops, they said. (For the record, Lierre does not identify as a member of the modern anarchist movement, though she admires the early 20th-century anarchists who fought against fascism.)
Personally, I don't have enough faith in human nature to be an anarchist or a communist. Power corrupts, so power needs to be decentralized--distributed in a balanced way among individuals, private institutions, and the state, with constant adjustments to the balance as one or another group learns how to game the system to its advantage.
In a misogynistic society, which all societies have been to some extent, a power vacuum at the state level simply leaves individual men's physical power over women unchallenged.
Perfect freedom for some people always means less freedom for others. It sounds nice in theory, just like the First Amendment: "Congress shall make NO law...abridging the freedom of speech". Yet Congress does this all the time with laws regulating antitrust, copyright, securities offerings, and many other areas. However, when it comes to videos of women being attacked and humiliated for men's entertainment (and Lierre has pointed out the similarity between the IndyBay video and gonzo porn), suddenly everyone's a free speech absolutist.
Except, of course, the women who aren't allowed to speak at all.