Why Jeffrey Masson can't write about insects, yet why someone must
I watched a video interview with Jeffrey Masson recently. I love how he has evolved through his writing and become more radical over time (though there are still areas where I'm hoping he'll continue to evolve!). I greatly admire him for being able to make a living writing books for a general audience, as it would be very difficult for me to tone down my ideas enough for that.
He starts discussing the publishing world around 14:26. He describes a hypothetical meeting with his agent, running book ideas by him: "I'd love to write something on the emotional lives of insects." Agent: "sucks, never sell it." Alas!
That is precisely why this Kickstarter project is necessary. Insects are not commercially viable, not just for books, but nonprofits as well. Why do some vegan nonprofit corporations tell people not to worry about bees and other insects? They don't want to marginalize themselves by speaking up for marginalized animals. They want to hang on to mainstream status rather than challenge it. I understand their predicament – it's tough to challenge the hand that feeds you – but I think that we as a movement do need to support the more status-quo challenging ideas as well.
Going to extremes
Howard Zinn points out that
in any given political situation, there is a very large number of possible alternatives, both in desired goals and in the means of achieving them. The actual alternatives put forward in any one situation are usually much fewer than the total range of possibilities. And the most extreme suggestion put forward at the time will be labeled "extremist" even though it may be far less sweeping than other possible courses of action.
If we think our ideas are too radical to be accepted, the solution is not to water them down to make them more appealing, but rather to present our ideas that are even more radical. Dan Ariely explains in Predictably Irrational that humans make decisions by comparison. Presented with two competing ideas about animal rights, the more radical version will not result in the total rejection of the concept – it will only make the less radical version more acceptable.
Normalizing radical and radicalizing norms
Rather than retreating as society changes, social movements like veganism need to keep in front of it. In response to the charge that radical slavery Abolitionists retarded the progress of emancipation, James Russell Lowell pointed out that were the Abolitionists "to go back to the position from which they started, they would find themselves less fanatical than a very respectable minority of the people. The public follows them step by step, occupying the positions they have successively fortified and quitted, and it is necessary that they should keep in advance in order that people may not be shocked by waking up and finding themselves Abolitionists."
Only by being "radical" animal rights activists can we actually create social change. Our movement need not to pander to what people already believe in order to succeed. By simply articulating and implementing our alternative vision its wild fullness, the radical becomes the mundane, and the world shifts by our presence.
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