Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Post Modern Extremism: Steven Best, Civil War and Animal Rights

A post modernist world view is full with important conversations. The world as we know it is rife with uncertainty and instability is a way of life. The status quo of the Western world is political upheaval, economic turmoil, cultural clashes and a growing discontent with political and traditional social institutions. It is bleak picture, chaotic and at times simply terrifying. For some the obvious choice is to latch tight and hard to the familiar - religion, patriotism and a past who's sun has set. For others it is obvious that we must accept change, while working hard to minimize the chaos of inevitable extreme social transformation - holding onto the past as we develop viable new paradigms. But for some, nothing short of total revolution will suffice. A complete shredding of the past for a presumably bright new future, heretofore only viable on paper and in the classroom.

For some taking the important discussions fostered by postmodernism to an extreme is the
only answer.

A couple of posts ago, I linked a clip of Dr. Steve Best discussing terrorism, which he euphemistically described as "direct action." The shorter clip I embedded in that post provides a taste of the linked clip from which it was edited. If you have not watched it and don't want to spend ten minutes of your life with Dr. Best, I highly recommend that you check it out now - it is only about three and a half minutes. The longer clip actually makes for a much more intensive watch, but the shorter clip encapsulates the points that I want to touch on here quite reasonably.

There are a lot of things that jumped out at me, but the most obvious and I suspect the most important involve the past of Dr. Best. As the chair of the philosophy department at the University of Texas, El Paso, Best teaches Anarchism, Marxism, Feminism and Postmodernism. Yet he feels that none of these philosophies is radical in the sense that animal rights is radical. What is striking is that he virtually throws the rest under a bus, completely marginalizing them with the statement that unlike animal rights activism, none of these philosophies requires us to change our daily habits.

While I am not an anarchist, Marxist or ultimately a postmodernist (I am, as I consider it, a feminist), I have a fair grounding in all of these. And ultimately I believe that if the human race survives, a responsible anarchy is inevitable - though a very long ways off. The thing is, one needn't even fully embrace any of these philosophies to find them changing their daily habits and behaviors. While the only one of these I would consider a part of my identity is feminism, all of these have changed my daily habits, in that they have significantly influenced my thinking and the decisions that I make. I suspect that I have rather more respect for the philos that Best has spent his life teaching, than he does.

What really strikes me and is rather a continuation of this point, is when best describes his relationship with his university, in the context of teaching animal rights. While I have little doubt that Best is a true believer, I also have little doubt that part of his reason for embracing animal rights, is that he finally found a philosophy that created conflict with his university. His whole demeanor changes when he is describing this, his mouth turning up into a smirk of obvious glee.

To be clear, I do not think that Best bases his support for animal rights on the controversial nature of his teaching. Nor do I think that Best has completely rejected the rest of what he has taught. I have no doubt that Best is passionate about human rights philosophies. What I suspect is that the quest for controversy has largely driven his movement through radical philosophies, until he landed on animal rights and the advocacy of full out civil war. I believe his passion for it is genuine and unwavering. But I suspect what brought him there was being a radical extremist in need of a Cause, a priest in need of a Faith.

The other thing that Best does that is extremely important, is that he is wedding himself and the AR movement to several other causes. In the video he is wedding it to the larger environmental movement. In this essay, he weds it to a great deal more, including the very important and very real struggle for civil liberties. This is a very important tactic to take, because it garners him and the AR movement peripheral allies. People who disagree with virtually everything that the AR movement stands for, are standing with him and with the AR movement on certain issues. This creates the illusion that the AR movement carries considerably more weight than it actually does.

Words define reality, and the animal and Earth liberation movements must resist being defined as violent fanatics and extremists. They must defend themselves rhetorically and philosophically, establishing a sharp distinction between animal and Earth liberation, property destruction, protests, and demonstrations on one side, and bona fide violence and terrorism on the other side.

Notice that he is including property destruction on the side of non-terrorist actions. This is important because the primary tactic of AR terrorists is to burn down or blow up cars, labs and businesses. These are actions that are meant to intimidate scientists and businesses that exploit non-human animals, to terrorize them into submission. And these actions are not happening in a vacuum. Right along side this, is rhetoric about escalation - Best engages in this himself, calling for acts of violence directly against scientists, businesses and institutions that use or engage in animal testing and other people who exploit animals.

It is one thing to engage in peaceful protest and even engage in acts of civil disobedience. It is quite another to terrorize people with carbombs and arson and threats against their person. While he is calling for a sharp distinction, the extremist AR movement (as well as the extremist environmental movement) actually does it's best to blur the lines and obfuscate, so that when the political arm of the movement is attacked by law enforcement, they can cry foul and scream about their civil liberties being violated. By mainstreaming the soft target terrorism, leaders of the AR movement create martyrs of virtually every member of the movement.

When this is all wedded to the very legitimate fight for civil liberties that we in the U.S. have seen destroyed by the patriot act and the war on terror, it often brings people like myself into the fray. And no matter how the AR movement has orchestrated it, when it comes to the issue of civil liberties, I cannot help but come down on the side of liberty and on the side of vast swathes of the AR movement.

What this does is create a critical need on the part of advocates for civil liberties and the freedom of expression to a) be well educated about the people and movements they are defending and b) to make very clear distinctions between defending and supporting. I defend a great deal of expression I strongly disagree with, that does not mean that I support it.

1 comment:

Becca said...

So in the Vorkosigan saga (excellent series of books by Bujold) the main character finds himself in a genetics laboratory at night.
This particular genetics laboratory happens to be the place of storage of DNA samples for people who want to make clones of themselves. Specifically, they want clones of themselves for the purpose of a brain transplant- they get a new, younger version of their body, the clone's brain discarded as biohazard waste (generally they grow the clones up to about 12 years of age, but with accelerated hormones and whatnot they have adult bodies- often with plastic surgery type modifications built in; it's basically murdering children).
Miles pulls the plug on all the freezers- knowing that by morning when it's discovered everything will be thawed and useless (granted, pure enough DNA can nearly always be saved on the benchtop overnight, but we'll make allowances for artistic license).

In a purely capitalistic society with no restrictions on what is allowed (which is the world in which this part of the saga takes place), the only way to impact anything is to cause economic damage. In the society we live in, I can understand the temptation to hit the rabid capitalists in the pocketbook.
I'm not sure property destruction isn't sometimes legitimate.

Granted, there's a reason Nobel prizes exist. Dynamite is frickin dangerous.