* Crisis and the Crossroads of History: The Need for a Radicalized Citizenry *


Richard Moore

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Crisis and the Crossroads of History: The Need for a Radicalized Citizenry

Steven P Best, Ph.D.
University of Texas, El Paso

        ³The hottest places in hell are reserved for those who in
        times of great moral crises maintain their neutrality.²
        ‹Dante Alighieri (1265-1321)

        "To remain silent and indifferent is the greatest sin of
        ‹Elie Wiesel

Martin Luther King said that if a person hasn¹t found something to die for, he 
isn¹t fit to live. He is suggesting two things: first, that do we gain meaning 
and purpose in life when we find and fight for a cause; second, that we have 
strong obligations to help others and therefore ought to embrace a cause. Ethics
calls upon us not only to avoid doing harm to others, but to actively work to 
bring about the good, and therefore change social arrangements. The ethical life
is inseparable from the political life.

A ³cause² is a goal or principle one serves with passion and dedication. As a 
general value, a cause transcends the wants and interests of the individual who 
gives voice to it. Indeed, persons who champion causes often subsume or 
sacrifice their own life to that of a cause. Marx, Gandhi, Malcolm X, Martin 
Luther King, Cesar Chavez, and Dian Fossey immediately come to mind.

Despite the nobility of a cause, people often are suspicious if you advocate any
value other than yourself, your country, or your favorite sports team. In a 
pathologically individualist, narcissistic, and greed-oriented society such as 
ours, those who champion rights and justice causes often are derided.  Anyone 
who has stood on the street with a protest sign has been regaled with the cry, 
³Get a life!² -- as if real life were realized in being a worker and consumer 
rather than a concerned and engaged citizen. Political advocacy breaks with 
polite protocol, apolitical norms, and rigid boundaries between the personal and
political. It threatens those who cling to prejudices of one kind or another, 
whether racist, sexist, elitist, homophobic, or speciesist.

The contempt for causes is evident in the vilification of progressive values as 
³PC,² as if struggles against racism, sexism, and classism were Nazi propaganda 
rather than legitimate justice issues. Such ridicule inspired the classic Elvis 
Costello song, where he asks indignantly, "What's so funny about peace, love, 
and understanding?"²

The depoliticization of everyday life is dramatically evident in academia, where
young minds are trained to do research that is self-serving, abstract, 
apolitical, and largely meaningless to social problems and moral progress. 
Workers in research factories, specialists in fragmented knowledge, oblivious to
the social and ecological crises that demand our attention, professors take 
their designated place in a one dimensional society that presents what ³is² as 
what ³ought² to be.

To help solidify the attack on rights and liberation movements, mass media frame
activists as weirdoes, extremists, alarmists, and even terrorists -- when they 
consider their viewpoints at all. Journalists refer to animal rights and 
environmental activists as eco-terrorists, as if the corporate-constructed term 
were objective; conversely, the media portray the real terrorists who exploit 
animals and the earth as respectable business interests threatened by thugs and 

The Ethical Life is a Political Life

Not all causes are good causes, of course, as fascism, totalitarianism, 
imperialism, genocide, racism, speciesism, and environmental destruction are 
causes that corporations, governments, and many people have affirmed in thought 
and action.

In fact, it¹s the prevalence of bad causes that make it urgent that as many 
people as possible struggle for justice and ecology. As noted by Edmund Burke, 
³All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.²

If we define ³evil² as the willful exercise of violence, destruction, and 
domination, I think it is quite apparent that evil forces prevail over those 
that seek to establish peace, cooperation, democracy, and respect for life and 
the earth.  The hegemony of Thanatos over Eros is manifest in rainforest 
destruction, species extinction, global warming, factory farming, genocide, 
military build-ups, nuclear proliferation, the G8, NAFTA, the WTO, ExxonMobil, 
Pat Robertson, Ann Coulter, and, of course: Bush, Rove, Rumsfeld, Cheney, Rice 
and their neo-con, Manifest Destiny agenda of ³regime change² and spreading 
³democracy² to the world.

Burke is right. It¹s not enough not to do harm, one has to actively work to 
bring about the good, which means struggling against forces that oppress and 
destroy life and the earth. Good intentions and good will mean nothing unless 
put into action.

Some think it is enough to be merely opposed to something: ³I¹m against 
discrimination! I hate racism! What kind of society allows poverty and 
homelessness!² Great, but what are you doing about it?! Progressive opinions are
idle café chatter unless put into action.

Some think that they fulfill their civic duties obligations by writing a check 
to Amnesty International or Greenpeace. Others believe they¹ve done enough by 
adopting a particular lifestyle. I once heard such a self-serving victim of bad 
faith argue: ³Why should I join an animal rights group? I¹m vegan! I¹m already 
done my share!²

Becoming a vegan, in fact, is one of the most important things anyone can do to 
improve life on this planet. But it is only a necessary condition of the 
ethical-political life, and not a sufficient condition. It is still a 
fundamentally selfish and apolitical existence that doesn¹t contribute enough to
the planet. The ethical life requires that we put our own house in order, and 
that we become active in a cause and social movement.

The Animal Rights Cause

I want to speak a bit about my cause, which is animal rights. It is a peculiar 
type of cause in that many people do not see it as a legitimate or the best 
cause. They fail to appreciate that the enormity of animal suffering and death 
merits our fullest attention, and that activism is not a zero-sum game whereby 
helping animals we are not also helping humans. The fate of all species stands 
or falls together, and succor to animals benefits human beings in profound ways.

In my own personal evolution, I moved from being a carnivore to a vegan, and 
from a human rights activist to an animal rights activist. As a newly awakened 
vegetarian in the early 1980s, I was also becoming heavily involved with Central
American and South African liberation issues. Although alert to the health 
impact of meat and dairy products, I had no clue about the innumerable barbaric 
ways human beings exploit animals. Even while researching the evils of juntas, 
death squads, genocide, fascism, and imperialism, my picture of humanity was 
still too rosy.

That changed in the midst of a second stunning epiphany when in 1987 I read 
Peter Singer¹s book, Animal Liberation. Like so many other people, that book 
changed my life in an instant. I became ill from the emotional stress of 
learning about the exploitation of animals in factory farms, slaughterhouses, 
vivisection labs, and other human-manufactured hellholes.

Realizing that animals suffered far more than human beings in the quantity and 
quality of their suffering and death, and lack any means to assist themselves, I
shifted from human rights to animal rights activism. Whereas most human beings 
have at least some rights, no animals have the most basic right to life and 
bodily integrity. When I studied the impact of meat production on world hunger 
and the environment, or how vivisection impedes medical progress, I realized 
that by helping the animals I would also be helping humans in the most 
productive way possible. I saw animal rights as the most radical, complete, and 
holistic form of activism.

Yet I also found my political commitments ridiculed far more than ever before, 
as animal rights provokes hostility from human supremacists who boost themselves
by demeaning animals. I took heart in the words of Emile Zola: ³The fate of 
animals is of greater importance to me than the fear of appearing ridiculous; it
is indissolubly connected with the fate of men.²

The ridicule I received for defending animal rights was particularly harsh from 
the Radical and Left communities, who have uncritically assimilated the 
anthropocentric and speciesist ideologies of modern science, the Enlightenment, 
and Marxist Humanist traditions. I grew tired of their gross inconsistencies and
hypocrisies. Too many times, I found myself at a table full of ³radicals² 
denouncing capitalist exploitation, while devouring the tortured carcasses of 
cows, pigs, chickens, lamb, and other animals that suffered for their callous 
palette preferences. Although priding themselves on systemic critiques of global
capitalism, Leftists fail to grasp the profound interconnections among human, 
animal, and earth liberation struggles.

I realized that the ³radical² traditions in no way are a liberating philosophy 
or politics from the standpoint of animals and the environment. I saw Leftism as
merely another form of Stalinism toward animals. The Left doesn¹t grasp the deep
roots of human power pathologies and would only replace capitalist 
anthropocentrism with socialist anthropocentrism. I came to the conclusion that 
a truly revolutionary social theory and movement will not just emancipate 
members of one species, but rather all species and the earth itself. I rejected 
the humanist cliché -- ³We Are All One Race, the Human Race² ­ for a broader 
vision: ³We Are One Community, The Biocommunity.²

Landing a position at UTEP in 1993, I started right off by teaching radical and 
controversial ideas. Unlike the vast majority of my professional colleagues in 
philosophy, I believe that teaching and research should be linked to activism 
and the urgent issues of the day. I believe that in a world of environmental 
ruination, species extinction, and predatory global capitalism, academics should
not have the luxury to pursue abstract issues that are not related to social 
transformation and revolutionary change. Rather, academics ought to use their 
skills to understand, communicate, and change what is happening with global 
genocide and ecocide.

I taught all the ³isms² ­ Marxism, anarchism, feminism, postmodernism, 
post-colonialism -- but I soon learned that the most radical thing I taught was 
animal rights. I reached two conclusions why this was so.

First, it alone demands a radical transformation in everyday life. After the 
Marxist or anarchist seminar, students can talk at the dinner table about 
revolution while dining on the bodies of tortured and murdered animals. After 
the animal rights seminar, they often find themselves staring at their plates, 
questioning their most basic behaviors.

Second, animal rights probes to the core problem in the crisis in our social and
natural worlds, as it relates to our alienation from nature and values of 
domination. Animal rights calls into question ancient anthropocentric and 
speciesist worldviews whereby humans define themselves apart from other animals,
define themselves as apart from and superior to them, and declare themselves to 
be Lords and Master of the wild earth. Animal rights challenges people to 
realize that power demands responsibility, that might is not right, and that an 
enlarged neo-cortex is no excuse to exploit other species and rape the earth. It
describes the fundamental equality among all animals, human and nonhuman, such 
that they are sentient, have preferences and lives important to them, and out to
be able to live those lives without interference.

The global Animal Liberation Movement is an abolitionist movement that demands 
the end to all forms of animal exploitation, not merely reducing suffering; like
its 19th century predecessor, it demands the eradication of slavery, not better 
treatment of the slaves. Stolen from the wild, bred and raised in captivity, 
held in cages and chains against their will and without their consent, animals 
literally are slaves, and thereby integral elements of the contemporary 
capitalist slave economy.

Because the Animal Liberation Movement poses not only a philosophical threat to 
modern society, but also an economic threat, it has come under fierce attack by 
industries and the state. In the US, the ALF, along with the ELF, is considered 
the number one ³domestic terrorist² threat ­ not because they are violent or 
threats to public safety, but because they are threats to the corporate bottom 
line. In the US and UK as well, the animal liberation movement is the target of 
draconian repression.

I have endured my own troubles for speaking up for animal rights over the years.
In just the last summer, for example, I was removed from my position as 
department chair, denied promotion to full professor, pressured to testify 
before the Senate eco-terrorism hearings, and banned from the entire UK. But my 
tribulations are only a small part of the sustained assault on liberties, 
rights, dissent, and resistance of all kind in the post 9-11 world of wars on 
terrorism and the Patriot Act.

The Urgent Need for Mass Resistance

We are currently living amidst the invasion of Iraq debacle, the dismantling of 
the Constitution, class warfare on the middle and lower classes, unprecedented 
political corruption, and catastrophic ecological meltdown. In light of growing 
crises in all sectors, I have to ask:

Why is there not a revolution in this country right now? Why are people cruising
the malls rather that rioting in the streets? The tyranny we face today is far 
greater than what the colonists suffered at the hands of the British, but the 
colonists fought back with sabotage, armed struggle, and revolutionary warfare. 
How has the most ignorant and incompetent president in US history gotten away 
with so much deception, lies, law-breaking, and corruption at home and abroad? 
Why aren¹t Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Rove, Rice, and the entire US government 
behind bars? Among other things, the Bush administration has:

€ waged an illegal and devastating war against Iraq on the basis of lies and 
false evidence, a war that has cost the lives of 2, 300 US soldiers and a 
hundred thousand Iraqi civilians

  € aggravated the problem of global terrorism they pledged to reduce

€ defended torture tactics and used them in Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo Bay, and 
clandestine torture camps throughout the world

€ dismantled the Bill of Rights, unleashed the FBI and NSA on all political 
dissent, and created a surveillance society and police state without parallel in
our history

€ waged war against the lower and middle classes and social sector to pay for 
his war and tax breaks for the rich

  € displayed shocking indifference to victims of Gulf coast hurricanes

€ attacked science and secularism on behalf of Christian fundamentalism and the 
Far Right

€ stood virtually alone in the world in his denial of global warming while 
attempting to silence dissenting scientific voices

  € gave industries carte blanch to pollute and exploit the environment

How much more corruption, violence, repression, and exploitation is necessary 
before people wake up and begin to act? How many more species have to pass into 
oblivion? How many more rainforests have to fall? How much more must the planet 
heat up?

Ecological systems are collapsing rapidly and right before our eyes. We live in 
the unprecedented era of global warming and the sixth great extinction crisis on
this planet, the last one being 65 million years ago in the age of the 

Why then are we not responding to these crises with appropriate concern and 
levels of struggle? Are Americans like the ³good Germans² who went about their 
business in the midst of Nazi genocide?

The environmental crisis is inseparable from the political crisis, which is a 
crisis in democracy. It seems we reached the end of politics where citizens are 
consumers, critical thinking is overwhelmed by propaganda and mass media miasma,
public concern is negated by private worry, and political action is nullified by
mindless consumption of mass media and entertainment spectacles. Rather than a 
realm of rational and participatory debate, the political sphere has become a 
site of propaganda, manipulation, disinformation, and spectacle. Unlike in the 
ancient Greek polis, citizenship today means no more than being a taxpayer, a 
consumer, and a voter free to choose between two bland brands of corporate 

We are in fact reaping the consequences of liberal democracy which is grounded 
in the pursuit of private good divorced from concepts of the social good and 
civic virtue. Public affairs are to be organized for private advantage, and (in 
Locke¹s influential formulation) citizens consent to government only for mutual 
preservation of lives, property, and liberty. Rights are negative rights to be 
free from interference in the pursuit of private good, rather than positive 
rights to basic social goods such as work, housing, education, and a healthy 
environment. Whereas Aristotle saw human beings as political by nature, Locke 
and the liberal tradition viewed politics as an artificial convention necessary 
to safeguard private interests from clashing with one another. The liberal model
of democracy -- along with the steady rise of state, media, and corporate power 
it promoted, and the rise of mass culture and a society of spectacles and 
entertainment -- spelled the demise of citizenship.

To be sure: there is resistance and organized protest against Bush, capitalism, 
and the exploitation of animals and the earth. For instance, 4 states and over 
300 communities have passed measures declaring the Patriot Act unconstitutional.
Cities and towns across the land are passing resolutions demanding that Congress
impeach Bush and Cheney. From LA to New York, mass demonstrations against right 
wing immigration policies have erupted to demand rights and justice for 
immigrants and the disenfranchised.

But all of these struggles are too weak, and none directly challenge capitalism 
and its ecocidal logic. Working conditions for students and laborers is far 
worse in the US than in France, yet the exploited masses in the US passively 
bear their burden. The world responds to a whale trapped in the ice, but not the
melting of ice and glaciers. The vast majority of people now oppose Bush¹s war, 
but more in opinion than action. And there is still no major action on the most 
important issue of the day, which is global warming.

Who will rise to the challenge? Politicians are too corrupt, cowardly, and 
beholden to corporate money to act; they are part of the problem, not the 
solution. The media have long ago abandoned their responsibilities to inform. 
Themselves giant corporate powers, they uphold elitist agendas and respond to 
ratings and profit imperatives not public interest. Their business is 
entertainment not enlightenment. Mainstream organizations such as Greenpeace 
publicize much and accomplish little, absorbed in the task of collecting the 
money that fuels their bureaucratic machines. Organizations such as the United 
Nations Conference on the Environment commission research, hold conferences, 
release reports, and warn of catastrophe. But the media doesn¹t cover it, the 
public doesn¹t hear about it, and the Corporate Titans turn a deaf ear.

Let¹s face facts: After decades of environmental struggles, we are nevertheless 
losing ground in the battle to preserve species, ecosystems, and wilderness. 
Increasingly, calls for moderation, compromise, and the slow march through 
institutions can be seen as treacherous and grotesquely inadequate. In the midst
of predatory global capitalism and biological meltdown, ³reasonableness² and 
³moderation² seem to be entirely unreasonable and immoderate, as ³extreme² and 
³radical² actions appear simply as necessary and appropriate. To borrow a phrase
from Martin Luther King, we need armies of ³creative extremists² who are most 
intemperate in their struggle against injustice, exploitation, and destruction 
of the earth.

Politics as usual just won¹t cut it anymore. We will always lose if we play by 
their rules rather than cast a pox on their house and invent new forms of 
struggle, new social movements, and new sensibilities. Causes require decisive 
and direct action: logging roads need to be blocked, driftnets need to be cut, 
and cages need to be emptied. But these are defensive actions; new movements 
must be built, ones that incorporate both social and ecological issues in 
multiracial and global alliances. Such approaches have been taken by Judi Bari 
and Earth First!, the environmental justice movement, the international Green 
movement, the Zapatistas, and alter-globalization struggles against 
transnational capitalism.

A new revolutionary politics will build on the achievements of democratic, 
libertarian socialist, and anarchist traditions. It will incorporate radical 
green, feminist, and indigenous struggles. It will merge animal, earth, and 
human standpoints in a total liberation struggle against global capitalism and 
domination of all kinds. Radical politics must reverse the growing power of the 
state, mass media, and corporations in order to promote egalitarianism and 
participatory democratization at all levels of society ­ economic, political, 
and cultural. It dismantles all asymmetrical power relations and structures of 
hierarchy, including that of humans over animals and the earth.  It is 
impossible without the revitalization of citizenship and re-politicization of 
life, which begins with forms of education, communication, culture, and arts 
that anger, awaken, inspire, and empower people toward action and change.

Ya Basta!

We live in a dark time ­ the post-9/11 era and the so-called ³war on terrorism.²
Since Bush took office, we have seen the return of McCarthyism, the revival of 
COINTELPRO-type surveillance programs, the replacement of the Bill of Rights 
with the Patriot Act, the construction of a surveillance society, and the rise 
of a menacing police state.

This is undeniably a pivotal time in history, a crossroads for the future of 
life. Windows of opportunity are closing. The actions that human beings now 
collectively take or fail to take will determine whether the future is hopeful 
or bleak. While the result is horrible to contemplate, our species may not meet 
this challenge and thereby drive itself into the same oblivion into which it 
drove countless other species.

There is no economic or technological fix for the crises we confront, the only 
solution lies in radical change at all levels. Whether our cause is human, 
animal, or earth liberation, we should recognize that we are fighting for the 
same basic rights and principles and opposing common enemies that include global
capitalism, state domination, and hierarchies of all kinds.

In today¹s political climate where one can be charged with treason for 
questioning the war against Iraq, or hassled by the FBI as an ecoterrorist for 
opposing vivisection, it is easy to be intimidated and retreat from action. 
Those who try not to take a position and to remain ³neutral² in fact throw their
support to the status quo. For as Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel noted, 
³Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the 
tormentor, never the tormented.²

We can draw inspiration from courageous activists in the past, whether Frederick
Douglass, Alice Paul, Mohandas Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, Chico 
Mendez, Dian Fossey, or Cesar Chavez. In times of doubt or fear it is always 
good to recall the words of Martin Luther King:

³Cowardice asks the question, 'Is it safe?' Expediency asks the question, 'Is it
politic?' But conscience asks the question, 'Is it right?' And there comes a 
time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor 
popular but because conscience tells one it is right.²

That time is now. It is time to take sides in defense of life and the earth. 
It¹s time to draw a line in the sand. Time to say ­ ya basta! There is nothing 
more patriotic than revolt against tyranny. As Thomas Jefferson said, ³Every 
generation needs a new revolution.²

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