An interview with Lierre Keith
Lierre Keith lives in western Massachusetts,
where she writes books, grows her own food, and dreams of revolution,
with 29 chickens and a duck named Miracle.
This poster, drawn by Lierre when she was seven, reads
"This is beauty. Let's keep it that way. STOP POLLUTION."
Aric McBay: Your novels are filled with strong women who
recognize that they and their communities are actively being harmed
by controlling, violent and patriarchal attitudes and institutions.
And having recognized that fact, they act on it, struggling to protect
themselves and to expose, dismantle and destroy those attitudes and
In a complex, convoluted and propaganda-filled society like the
dominant culture, recognizing the sources of harm can be difficult
(especially if the harm is caused indirectly or at a distance, like
cancer from a pesticide factory). How can we recognize these sources?
And once we've done so, how can we effectively organize our communities
in resistance against them?
Lierre Keith: That's a huge question. Basically, you're asking:
how do we make a revolution happen? Naming the power and the agents
of power is the first step, and most people stumble right there. And
for a multitude of reasons: personal cowardice, the intellectual pitfalls
of liberalism, the tremendous seductions of conformity and privilege,
psychological identification with the powerful and their values, and
a very real fear of retaliation, to name just a few. This is one of
my favorite Andrea Dworkin quotes, "Feminism
requires precisely what patriarchy destroys in women: unimpeachable
bravery in confronting male power." That bravery is the linchpin
of resistance. Without it, there's no possibility of hope.
One individual may grasp the full horror of the situation, from
the micro to the macro, both her collusion in her own oppression and
the massive and institutional brutality of systems like patriarchy,
industrialism, capitalism. But the problem with politics is, it's
a group project. One woman or one small group of women isn't going
to transform the culture of rape. And while consciousness raising
and political education are key components of any revolutionary movement,
if our goal is simply "education" then we're still firmly
liberals, not radicals.
I think it's crucial to understand what differentiates liberalism
from radicalism. I think we can avoid a lot of useless discussions
and group traumas by understanding the underlying philosophical currents
in various approaches to social change. One cardinal difference is
idealism vs materialism. Liberalism is idealist; the crucible of social
reality is placed in the realm of ideas, in concepts, language, attitudes.
And liberalism is individualist. The basic social unit is the individual.
In contrast, radicalism is materialist. Radicals see society as
composed of actual institutions--economic, political, cultural--which
wield power, including the power to use violence. The basic social
unit is a class or group, whether that's racial class, sex caste,
economic class, or other grouping. Radicalism understands oppression
as group-based harm.
So for liberals, defining people as members of a group is
the harm. Whereas for radicals, identifying your interests with others
who are dispossessed, developing loyalty to your people, is the first,
crucial step in building a liberation movement. Liberals essentially
think that oppression is a mistake, a misunderstanding, and changing
people's minds is the way to change the world. That's where you get
this tremendous emphasis on education as a political strategy. So
for instance, instead of identifying the institutions that destroy
communities of color and strategizing how
to dismantle them, we're supposed to go to Unlearning Racism workshops
and confess to being racists. Please don't misunderstand, this is
not an excuse to avoid examining whatever privilege we have. And if
we've behaved dishonorably, we need to make amends. My point is that
however important personal accountability is, it's not political action.
Another example. One time at an activist conference I brought up
some basic statistics on rape and male violence. And immediately another
woman stood up and said--in that tone that's in the border area between
earnest and self-righteous--"We need to educate."
I replied, "I don't want to educate men, I want to stop them." This
was, of course, met with horrified silence--what exactly was I suggesting?
But there is no therapy, no rehab program, that works to change perpetrators.
By now, everything has been tried. Nothing works. They don't ever
learn to see women as human beings. They don't ever stop feeling entitled
to women's bodies. So not only was her suggestion liberal, it was
And I think that's true of people--men and women--in industrial
cultures as well. They feel entitled to consume the labor and, essentially,
the lives of the poor, and the body of our planet. And no amount of
education makes a dent in that entitlement. Hell, the Democrats had
a platform in the last election that said Americans had the right--the
right--to drive whatever kind of car they wanted, including SUVs.
That's not a right. That's sociopathic behavior.
It's destroying the planet. It's insane.
I think that to make the leap to radicalism takes three insights.
The first is that there is a thing called power, social power, political
power. The second is that some people have it and some people don't.
The third is that there is a causal relationship between those groups:
some people have it because some people don't. Once you've got that
down, you can pretty much apply it to any situation.
I'm not saying we can't work together. There may be coalition projects
that both progressives and radicals can engage in, but the philosophical
underpinnings are going to make for permanent tensions in terms of
both analysis and strategy.
Okay, so let's assume everyone reading
Aric's website is a bona fide radical of
whatever stripe. You asked about identifying the sources of harm.
I'd say start with the most obvious, the most egregious harms. A fist
in the face is pretty obvious. So is a hungry belly night after night.
Now trace it back: who's attached to that fist? Now, name an agent.
If you're talking about male violence, that's hard. Not intellectually
hard--it's easy to see who's attached to that fist. But emotionally,
psychologically. One reason it's hard is because there are consequences
to naming men and male power. You will be ridiculed, silenced, maybe
physically threatened. You might be raped. You might be killed. When
the Taliban took over in Afghanistan, women
who refused to wear burkhas, refused to
stay entombed inside their houses, were lined up by the hundreds and
shot. In Algeria, the Islamic fundamentalists have murdered 80,000
women who have resisted their demands, and the fundamentalists don't
even control the government. I've heard from someone who's traveled
extensively in Iraq that the same thing is happening to women there:
men are picking women off one by one, any woman who looks like she's
educated or has a job or is independent is a target for rape and murder.
Another reason it's hard is because there's a tremendous psychological
identification with the oppressor. There's an absolutely brilliant
book called Loving To Survive: Sexual Terror, Men's Violence, and
Women's Lives by Dee Graham. She's come up with the concept of
Societal Stockholm Syndrome. Her basic thesis is that just as captives
bond to their captors in hostage situations, women--and any group
that's oppressed--will bond to men or the group that has social power.
Everybody should read this book. It's incredibly important.
Once you've named the owner of the fist, because you're a radical
you look for patterns. Who else is getting a fist in the face? And
you find out: in the USA, every 18 seconds a man beats a woman. Keep
tracing it back. Do the police stop him? Do the courts, the laws?
Does god? Or do they in fact support his right to hit you? Who says
he has a right to hit you? It's in the bible, you're supposed to submit
because it's all Eve's fault. Why don't you count as a human being?
You see that you're surrounded by images of women as objects, chopped
into body parts, on display, for sale. In fact, women are being brutalized
in millions of pictures and it's called sex. The clothes you're supposed
to wear put you on display, make it impossible for you to run or even
walk. They turn you into an object, a victim, and that's called "sexy."
Why are you wearing these clothes? Why do you want this attention
when every 18 seconds it ends with a fist in the face?
What you find is a whole web of institutions and cultural practices
that support male violence: religion, laws, the police, the mass media
and pornography, heterosexuality, the very definition of masculinity.
He didn't put that fist in your face because of who you are as an
individual. He did because he belongs to a class of people called
men, and you belong to a class of people called women, and that describes
a set of power relations.
Likewise, if you're hungry, why? Why don't you have access to land
to grow food, or enough money to buy food? Who owns the land? Who
decides who owns the land? And what will they do if you decide to
take some land back? Answering those questions will lay bare a network
of interlocking institutions that have the power to starve you.
So I'd say we identify the harm by asking : where does it hurt,
who else is being hurt, who's doing the hurting, and what institutions
grant the perpetrators the power to hurt us? And we have to have the
courage to face the answers, and then the stamina to live with the
answers. Political consciousness can grant you some measure of sanity,
but it's also knowledge that can destroy you with its burden of horrors.
So, how do we change the world? Persuasion is for liberals, so I'll
leave that to them. Political action is ultimately about force. There's
a continuum of tactics between nonviolence and violence, but they
all start with the understanding that institutions only change when
pressure is applied. In the immortal words of Frederick Douglas, "Power
concedes nothing without a demand. It never has and it never will."
There's an underlying truth here as well, that doesn't get articulated
as often as it should. I learned this from Gene Sharp's work, especially
The Politics of Nonviolent Action, which every activist should
immediately, run don't walk, read. His books are profoundly important.
His ideas have been used in liberation struggles all over the world,
from South Africa to Eastern Europe. He points out that power depends
on obedience, and we don't have to obey. The moment the oppressed
withdraw our consent, the powerful are left with nothing. Sharp identifies
a range of tactical approaches, but they break down into two categories:
acts of omission and acts of commission. Omission includes things
like boycotts, strikes, nonparticipation in illegitimate governments.
Acts of commission would include sit-ins, obstructions, and occupations
like the forest defense elves in the trees. But either way, nonviolent
action is an attempt to coerce an institution that holds power to
change. There's a tremendous misconception, particularly in the USA,
that nonviolent action is about somehow trying to educate or convert
those in power. It's not. That's pacifism, not nonviolent action.
I mean, does anybody really think that the owners of the bus company
in Montgomery, Alabama had a sudden epiphany? We've been so terrible
to Black people, oh my god, segregation must end! Of course not. The
boycott brought them to their knees. There may or may not have been
individuals whose consciences were awakened, but that wasn't the point.
People withheld their economic power until the institution--in this
case, the bus company--caved in.
I think this is so important because the main divide isn't between
violence and nonviolence. It's between action and inaction. Properly
understood, both militancy and nonviolence are direct confrontations
with power, confrontations backed by the threat of force. Both strategies
require planning, discipline, and sacrifice. Both kinds of activism
will bring the full weight of the wrath of the powerful down upon
the actionists. The moment you're successful, the moment power is
threatened, you will pay, sometimes with your lives. The divergence
is that proponents of nonviolence chose tactics that don't physically
The left in this country has come completely unhitched from any
notion of actually being effective. Activism has turned into one big
group therapy session. It doesn't matter what we accomplish--what
matters is how we feel about it. The goal of the action isn't to change
the material balance of power, it's to feel "empowered". For fuck's
sake, who gives a shit how I feel. Our planet is dying. And radicals
are just as guilty of what I call "emotional activism." It may feel
good to smash that Starbucks window, but does it actually do any good?
I'm speaking here as someone who's smashed my share of windows. This
rerouting of the goal from political change to inner change is the
reaction of both a spoiled, self-absorbed people, and the utterly
desperate, desperate to do something, anything.
What any movement needs is an effective strategy. That means identifying
two things: where is power weak and where are you strong? The overlap
is where you strike. One problem with nonviolence is that it depends
on huge numbers of people to be effective. Rosa Parks on her own ended
up in jail. Rosa Parks plus the whole Black community of Montgomery
ended segregation on the public transportation system. Without a mass
movement, the technique doesn't work.
Here's another example. In my area there's a small community of
Tibetan immigrants. Tibet is a Buddhist country and they take their
nonviolence seriously. A friend of mine worked at a local store that
employed a number of Tibetans. One of the men had immigrated to American,
saved up some money and helped his wife immigrate. But he'd obviously
assimilated a little too well, because when she arrived, he hit her.
Three things happened after that. One, she left him and never went
back. Two, everyone in that community was prepared to take her in
for as long as she needed. And three, the community shunned this man
completely. If he talked to any of them at work, they would turn their
heads or even shield their eyes and refuse to acknowledge him. He
was totally outcast. This had been going on for two years! I find
that incredible. But my point is that nonviolence works as a deterrent
to male violence only when everybody is willing to participate. I
can't imagine that happening anywhere in American outside of that
So we're faced with two choices. One is to keep trying to build
toward the number of people necessary for nonviolence to work. But
in the meantime, men are brutalizing woman and girls on a mass scale.
So the other choice is to start providing consequences on our own.
Because clearly the laws aren't stopping male violence. And yes, this
makes you an outlaw. You still have a choice as to whether your extra-legal
means will involve physically hurting perpetrators. I personally don't
consider property destruction to be violence, since inanimate objects
don't feel pain and by definition can't be deprived of their lives.
But for me the moral question is not about violence or nonviolence.
The moral imperative for me is to decide what is going to actually
stop the war against women and the earth, and then find the courage
to do whatever is necessary. If my spiritual beliefs stop me from
effective action, then I think those beliefs are immoral. My spiritual
and moral life take as their starting point that injustice and brutality
have to be stopped.
Derrick Jensen always asks in his lectures for a show of hands on
who thinks this culture is going to willingly make the transition
to a sustainable way of life. No one raises a hand. So if we all know
that a mass movement isn't going to happen in time to save the planet,
why are we bothering to consider nonviolence? Nonviolence only works
Look, I have friends who are Quakers. I have a tremendous respect
for their long, honorable history of fighting injustice. Their spiritual
practice, besides being quite beautiful, is what has inspired them
to be agents for change. And north on their moral compass is nonviolence.
Nothing I say is going to change that. There are lots of people who
are going to reject militant action for many different reasons, ranging
from familial responsibilities to spiritual beliefs. But even if we're
personally not on the front lines, there are many other ways to use
our talents and skills to support the people who are willing and able
to do what's necessary. Somebody needs to do the political outreach
and proselytizing. Somebody always needs to do the dishes. And there's
a huge task of building a life-affirming culture that's in opposition
to the dominator mode. This involves everything from setting up alternate
economic systems and sustainable food production networks to creating
matrilinial family structures. All of that has to be done if we have
any chance of planetary survival. And we're out of time. I guess what
I'm urging here is for all of us who share a basic analysis of the
problem to accept the necessity of militant action. We don't all have
to do it. But it's a crucial component of whatever chance we have
to stop the horror and destruction.
We have to get serious about proselytizing. Political education
isn't the goal, but it's a necessary task. It's my observation that
there are basically three kinds of people. The first, which includes
most people, are never going to step out of line or question anything,
let alone stand up and fight back. Forget them, it's a waste of time.
Then there are those who really don't know that oppression is happening.
They may have experienced abuse or deprivation, but they have no political
analysis, no language to speak their experience, no context to understand
it. They may carry the smoldering heart of a radical, but they need
exposure to radical ideas like fire needs oxygen. This is where radical
pedagogy comes in.
The third is people who may profess to be anywhere from middle-of-the-road
to radical. And they know that things are basically really bad, but
they don't want to hear about it because they feel like there's nothing
they can do about any of it. More information isn't going to help
mobilize them. A serious strategy will. These people would join in
a heartbeat if we present them with something that at least has a
chance of succeeding.
So I'd say we need to get serious about strategy. The most militant
or extreme action isn't necessarily the most radical. The question
is: what's most effective? Where are the vulnerable targets on this
monster that's devouring our planet alive?
AM: What sorts of things could that strategy include?
Where can we start? What are some places where the weaknesses of the
powerful and the strengths of radicals overlap?
LK: Your strategy is going to depend on your primary emergency,
on which oppressive system you're targeting. Male supremacy is organized
very differently than racism, for instance. And technological fundamentalism
and the industrial jihad are fueled by separate institutions as well,
though there are certainly ways these systems feed off each other.
But as a general suggestion, I think we need to study contemporary
military strategy. Start with the October War in 1973, when 170 Israeli
tanks with 60 pieces of artillery and 6,000 soldiers routed 1,400
Syrian tanks with 1,000 mortar and artillery pieces and 45,000 troops.
Not a single Syrian tank that crossed the Purple Line remained in
This battle changed the way strategists think about war. "It makes
no difference who is outnumbered and who is outnumbering," writes
Col. Donn Starry. "I realized we had to delay and disrupt, deep into
the enemy's battle area. The orderly advance of their follow-on echelons
would have to be stopped. We wouldn't have to destroy them all. It
would be nice if we could. But all we really had to do was prevent
them from getting to the battle."
This was how the Persian Gulf War was fought. Combat no longer takes
place just at the front, but deep into the rear, interrupting the
movement of troops, supplies and especially information. The earliest
attacks hit microwave relay towers, telephone exchanges, fiber optic
nodes, and bridges that carried coaxial communications cables.
Globalization is utterly dependent on these same computer and communication
networks. The giant corporations that are stripping the earth bare
and dispossessing local subsistence economies the world over can't
function without two things: computers and electricity. Those two
things are like the central nervous system and the blood flow of corporate
power. And that's where they're vulnerable. These networks could be
disrupted manually or through computer hacking. But anyone who wanted
to attempt this would have to approach it like a war, like a serious
resistance movement. Hitting Weyerhaeuser's computers once might be
fun for a day or two, but it's not going to have any long term effect.
But a coordinated effort of attacks against the electric grid, the
biggest financial markets, and a list of the worst environmental offenders
would. It would require planning, discipline, and tremendous self-sacrifice
on the part of activists. But it could be done. It would create social
upheaval and possibly civil unrest. The average American city has
enough food to last 13 days. Economies would have to go local again,
and fast. But this is one of the places where the progressive sustainability
folks should be working in tandem with the militants, helping to jump
start and coordinate local food production networks while the militants
bring down globalization.
I don't want to sound naïve about this, because there are very
deep problems in cultures around the globe that have to be addressed.
Humans have been intensely destructive without the use of fossil fuel.
Whole bioregions have been turned to deserts with only animals for
draft power. Deforestation was done with stone tools. Why so many
human cultures have seen fit to destroy the natural world is a question
we have to answer. And there are plenty of cultures with sustainable,
subsistence lifeways that practiced torture, rape, slavery, war, even
genocide. Civilization and male supremacy are separate phenomenon.
Embracing a more sustainable level of technology isn't going to stop
men from raping women. So bringing down the techno-industrial hegemony
is only a first step. But it's a really good step, because we won't
have a planet left unless somebody takes it.
AM: One of my favourite quotes is something Dietrich Boenhoeffer
wrote while was in prison in Germany during WWII, as he awaited execution
for resisting the Nazis:
"We have spent too much time in thinking, supposing that
if we weigh in advance the possibilities of any action, it will happen
automatically. We have learnt, rather too late, that action comes,
not from thought, but from a readiness for responsibility. For you
thought and action will enter on a new relationship; your thinking
will be confined to your responsibilities in action."
Radicals often like to construct imaginary models of their hypothetical
utopias and sketch out the improvements they want to see in the future.
But as we know, if industrial civilization doesn't come down soon
-- very soon --there
is no future for us.
(And I'm still surprised at how determinedly oblivious even radicals
can be to this simple fact. They really just don't want to hear it.)
What does it take to move people beyond mere strategizing and
philosophy? How do people acquire a real "readiness for responsibility"?
LK: I think the biggest reason otherwise radical people don't
want to face the necessity of ending industrial civilization is privilege.
We're the ones reaping the benefits. We've sold out the rest of life
on earth for convenience, creature comforts, and cheap consumer goods,
and it's appalling. I'm sickened by this bargain. It's immoral. It's
a true sacrilege. And what's been frustrating to me for twenty-five
years is conversations with people who agree, who know the planet
is dying, who've done civil disobedience, who've wept over the destruction.
And when I say, "We're going to have to learn to live without electricity,
without cars," they say, "But I like the convenience. I like having
a car. I like air conditioning." I don't know what to do with these
people. That was worth destroying the planet? Their hesitation isn't
even about real survival needs like food. Nobody has once said to
me, "But what will I eat?" It's always really stupid shit like
There's a tremendous lack of imagination here. If humans hadn't
deforested the planet, the shade and transpiration provided by trees
would make a hot day a lot cooler. And if we weren't stuck inside
the demands of capitalism, we could spend hot afternoons lounging
about beside a body of water. Doesn't that sound like a lot more fun,
not to mention a lot saner, than being essentially imprisoned inside
a cement fortress where you will broil alive without a huge input
of energy? We could also build houses that stay temperate year round
with almost no input besides the sun. Passive solar heating and cooling
are not difficult. The basic principles can be learned in a morning
workshop. So I don't understand why everyone imagines life as unbearable
without technological gadgetry. You mentioned all the utopian visions:
maybe these are the people who need to read more of those visions,
to see that life could be a fine and good thing after the fall of
Then there's another group of people. These people don't think they're
access to ice cream 24/7 is more important than life on earth. That's
good. But they're sunk in despair, a rational, realistic despair.
What can I do about it, any of it? It's all going to hell, and nothing
I personally do is going to make any real difference. Why bother to
take down a cell phone tower when there's thousands more across the
country? They understand that personal action is ineffectual and often
foolish. Again, I think a serious resistance movement would attract
these people. It's not useless to take down that cell phone tower
if I know that tonight five hundred other people are doing the same
thing. Now it's worth the risk. Now my action has meaning, has impact.
But radical environmentalists haven't moved to that level of organization
I guess there's another questions you're asking here, and that is,
why are some of us desperate for a truly revolutionary movement, desperate
for an opportunity to act? I don't know. I only know that my whole
life I have wanted to stop the war against women and the earth. I
don't know what's wrong with everybody else. I don't know why they
don't feel it. I don't know how anyone can look at pictures of women
being tortured and care more about their own sexual arousal than what
happened to that woman. I don't know why they don't hear the earth
crying. Maybe there's an identification with every living thing that
some of us have and some of us are missing. We share 50% of our genes
with plants, 25% with bacteria. We are all related. We're their descendants.
And all humans are cousins. Once you know that, how can you not act
to protect them? I think the readiness to act is born from two sources:
rage and love. And we have to have the stamina to keep loving even
when what we love is being destroyed, and we have to have the courage
to make that love be an action, a verb.
So if you're talking about proselytizing and education, it means
asking people to break through denial and feel very uncomfortable
emotions, like rage and despair and powerlessness. It means asking
them to give up privilege. It means asking them to revitalize their
imaginations, to replace television and pop cultural numbness with
an active search for better ways to live.
But if you're talking about recruitment, I wouldn't bother with
anyone who has to be coaxed into action. I'd say focus on the people
who want to act but don't know what to do. Give them a serious plan
for action and maybe we have a hope.
AM: How do you define "patriarchy," and how
does patriarchy fit into all of this?
LK: Patriarchy means societies where men dominate women.
Like all systems of domination, it ultimately depends on violence
to extract consent from the subordinated. In patriarchal societies,
men rape, batter, buy or trade, torture and murder women. Other forms
of coercion may include economic, legal and cultural institutions,
but sexual violence is at the core of patriarchy. Mary Daly points
out that patriarchy is the ruling religion of the planet. It's all
variations on the theme of masculinity asserting itself by killing
women and pretty much everything, usually for a sexual thrill. In
The Chalice and The Blade, Riane Eisler writes that "underlying
the great surface diversity of human culture are two basic models
of society." The first she calls the partnership model, societies
that are egalitarian, nonviolent and life-affirming. The second is
the dominator model, which values the power to establish and enforce
In her ground breaking article "The socio-cultural context of rape:
a cross-cultural study," anthropologist Peggy Reeves-Sanday studied
95 band and tribal cultures and found that 47% were rape-free while
18% were rape-prone. In rape-free societies, women are respected and
influential members of their communities; sacred beings are conceived
of as both male and female; economic and political power is held equally
between the sexes; nurturing and childrearing are understood as the
basis of human interactions; and there is an attitude of reverence
instead of dominance toward the earth. In these cultures, rape is
considered abhorrent and there are severe consequences for perpetrators.
In West Sumatra, the subject of Reeves-Sanday's book Women at the
Center: Life in a Modern Matriarchy, a man who rapes has disgraced
himself and all his kin, and will face assault, exile or death.
In contrast, in rape-prone societies, women hold limited economic
and political power; men express contempt for women as decision makers;
god is male; masculinity is predicated on an ideology of toughness
and cruelty; and violence is an acceptable method of settling disputes.
Welcome to America.
The basic psychological dynamic of masculinity is that men are men
because they aren't women. Women are the hated Other. Hating her,
hurting her, is how boys become men. Masculinity breeds a personality
based on entitlement, arrogance and cruelty, which is compelled to
prove itself again and again. Inherent in masculinity is a violation
imperative: in acts of invading and conquering, men become men. The
brilliance of male supremacy is that it links acts of political oppression
to sexual response. Not only is the soldier-rapist rewarded with orgasm
when he dominates/rapes, but his action feels "natural" rather than
political. This welding of domination and subordination to sexual
arousal, and the accompanying normalization of oppression, is the
deep heart of patriarchy. And these acts of oppression become what
sex is--how sex is practiced, how arousal is experienced--under male
For instance, researchers tried to show male viewers a film scene
depicting violence--not sexual violence, just regular old violence--against
women. And they found that they couldn't. No matter what the film
showed (hitting, punching, kicking) at least 25% of the men would
get an erection. Sexual domination and subordination are institutionalized
into the very concepts of masculine and feminine. Masculinity is simply
a conglomeration of the personality traits necessary for the patriarchal
soldier-rapist: physically strong, emotionally cauterized, rational,
domineering, cruel. All of this is supposed to add up to "handsome"
as well. Likewise femininity is ultimately a description of the personality
that results from trauma and powerlessness: weak, passive, yielding,
emotional, hyper-vigilant to the needs of the dominators and desperate
for the dominator's attention.
In patriarchy, political oppression is thus experienced as normal
and natural. It's easy to turn the rapist into the soldier--the template
is already in place. Instead of "woman," fill the Despised Other category
with the racial or ethnic group of your choice, and watch men--good
soldiers all--rise to the occasion. Sheila Jeffries names this the
erotic roots of fascism. This ethic of domination and violation extends
beyond interactions between humans to human relations with animals
and the earth. Animals aren't seen as sentient beings capable of suffering.
They are instead mechanical units of production to be used in factory
farms and laboratories. Or they aren't seen at all, as their habitats
are destroyed for more agribusiness plantations, oil wells and suburban
sprawl. The earth isn't a complex web of interdependent life forms
co-creating a living home, deserving our humility, reverence and respect.
It's instead so many board feet of lumber, so many gallons of crude:
one part garbage dump to two parts profit margin. The violation imperative
inherent in masculinity finds its full expression in modern science--invading
the boundaries of the atom with nuclear physics and of life itself
with genetic engineering.
It's heretical to name men. It's blasphemous to state the simple
facts. Around the world and across time men have beaten, raped and
incested us; burned us as witches and widows; demanded that our feet
be bound, our genitals mutilated, our bodies starved; bought and sold
us; kept us captive and veiled; and simply tortured us to death. With
the advent of technologies of mass communications, they've also filmed
it all and made a fortune while creating a population of serial sex
killers. The first step in stopping these atrocities is to name who
is doing what to whom. And that's hard, psychologically. It's not
intellectually hard. The facts are overwhelming, indisputable. But
psychologically it can be terrifying. And you will be punished. Still,
if we want anything like liberty, we are going to have to do it. There
was that famous speech by Russell Means, "For America to Live, Europe
Must Die." I agree. And I'd add, for the earth to live, masculinity
must die. If we want to end rape, stop racism, save the planet, men
have to stop being men.
I'm going to end with a comment addressed specifically to any men
who are still reading this. You can be traitors to your class. You
don't have to be good soldiers, good Germans. You can shift your loyalties.
You can learn to identify with women. It's even to your benefit to
do so. Growing up, I saw what happened to turn my brother from a child
into a boy and then into a man. It was brutal. Male socialization
is pretty ghastly. And as long as there is war, the rich, old men
will sacrifice the young men on the altar of power and profit. Men
may not be defined a priori as victims, as fuckable, like women are,
but you can be fucked. 1 in 11 boys are sexually abused. That's a
lot of abuse. As long as domination is eroticized, as long as violence
and violation constitute masculinity, you aren't free either. My question
is: how many of you will face that and cast your lot with us?
AM: I'd like to tie
this in with taking down industrial civilization. I've heard a number
of moral arguments against taking down civilization; some people say
that conditions for women would be seriously harmed by that, and that
the associated social upheaval would increase the exploitation of
women. They might also point out that industrial civilization currently
provides many adaptive devices like voice-recognition programs, and
electric wheelchairs, that aren't possible without large-scale industrial
infrastructure. As a woman and a person with a disability, what are
your thoughts on those arguments?
LK: Let me take this one piece by piece. First, technology
is not a variable in whether a society is rape-free or rape-prone.
There are hunter-gatherer, pastoral, and agricultural societies all
across the spectrum of egalitarian to male-dominated. Anyone who thinks
that technological societies are somehow more egalitarian needs to
look at the numbers on male violence in the USA, where battering is
the most commonly committed violent crime, incest is basic female
socialization, and rape is ubiquitous. Technology doesn't cure patriarchy,
nor does it cause it.
I think what women are getting at here is a very real fear of how
men from rape-cultures behave when the social order breaks down. Which
is that they become public predators. They're already assaulting women
in private. But when civic society melts down, like during wartime,
men rape women en mass. Women are assessing the situation realistically
when they respond with fear to the idea of civilization coming apart.
So let's talk about where the planet is headed right now. Peak oil
is here. If the earth can sustain one billion humans, that means that
the other five billion are only alive because of fossil fuel and fossil
water, and they are going to die. I don't know how to comprehend the
level of social disruption that we're looking at over the next fifty
years. Now add to that global warming and climate change. If the gulf
stream keeps slowing, northern Europe and the northeast USA will be
plunged into an ice age. Meanwhile, agricultural areas in the American
Midwest, central Africa and Asia will be
too hot for agriculture. For every millimeter that the ocean rises,
the shoreline retreats by 1,500 meters (almost a mile). And if the
Greenland ice sheet melts, sea levels will rise 7 meters (23 ft.).
That will dramatically shrink the land mass of the planet. We're staring
at an avalanche that's coming toward us and gaining momentum every
The idea of stopping industrial civilization now is to get proactive,
to slow the momentum of that avalanche as much as we can. It's not
that things are okay now and they're going to get better. Things suck
now, and they're going to get dramatically worse if we do nothing.
That "worse" includes a catastrophic melt down of civic society.
So regarding sexual predators, I've got two words: Smith and Wesson.
As industrial culture falls apart, we aren't going to survive as individuals.
We're going to survive as local communities, both economically and
civically. Community policing and defense are going to be the way
we protect ourselves from anti-social elements. Women and pro-feminist
men could take charge of that task. We could make sure that rape counts
as an atrocity and treat predators accordingly, both predators internal
to the community and threats from the outside. But it's up to us to
do it. If we continue to accept male domination, we'll keep getting
The facts are not easy to face. They're painful and gruesome. Vast
numbers of men are predators, and the looming industrial collapse
and civic chaos are going to provide them with more opportunities
to act like it. Perpetrators don't change. No form of therapy or rehabilitation
makes a dent in their sociopath entitlement. So to put it bluntly:
shoot them. When the bullets run out, I've got two more words: long
bow. The long bow is such a lethal weapon that the church tried to
ban its use in the middle ages.
And I've got a question here. If everyone knows that men are going
to behave this way, what are we waiting for? Bullets are available
now. Why are we accepting the unacceptable? We know who they are because
they're already preying on us. And yeah, every perpetrator is someone's
son, someone's father, someone's Mister Special. Get over it. Every
perpetrator has to be stopped.
My answer to the disability question is similar. The problem isn't
evil Luddites trying to take away life-enhancing technology from disabled
people. The problem is that technological society is about to come
crashing down. If I was dependent on anything electric, I'd learn
everything I could about how to fix it, and stockpile parts. Then
I'd learn how to generate electricity --probably small wind turbines--and
stockpile those parts and batteries as well. Because all the components
are dependent on an industrial platform that is going to start failing
soon. The more disabled you are, the more vulnerable you are to social
upheaval. It sucks. I would like to hope that humans would reconstitute
themselves into egalitarian, partnership model communities, where
the weak and vulnerable were protected, but I'm not optimistic.
If you need drugs, stockpile. My life is going to be harder when
I can't get cox-2 inhibitors anymore. I can't make them, I can't grow
them, and they don't reproduce on their own.
The more of us who know non-technological healing systems, like
Chinese medicine and homeopathy, the better. And we need to relearn
the nutritional wisdom of our ancestors. There are cultures where
the chronic and degenerative diseases that we now take for granted
were unknown. Let me introduce you to Weston Price. Price was a dentist
in the 1920s who saw the degenerative changes
that took place in the first generation of children raised on what
he called "the displacing foods of modern commerce." Corporations
had taken control of the American food supply, replacing traditional
nutrient-dense foods--particularly animal fats--with cheap vegetable
oil, white flour and refined sugar. They wrecked our collective health
and now nobody's alive who remembers different. Price traveled the
world, locating remote cultures whose traditional foods produced generations
of perfect health. Their teeth fit flawlessly with no dental decay,
they had a total absence of degenerative and chronic diseases, no
mental illnesses, and ease of childbirth which usually took 3-4 hours.
Sounds like a fairy tale, but it's our birthright. His research culminated
in his book, Nutrition and Physical Degeneration, which was
used as a textbook at Harvard for many years. You don't have to read
it. Just look at the photographs. Price's brilliance lay in seeing
the underlying nutritional principles at work. The macro-nutrient
ratios varied widely--he found hunter-gatherers, pastoralists
and coastal peoples who met his definition perfect health. But underneath,
the necessary animal fats, fat-soluble vitamins, and minerals were
always present and often considered sacred. The best place to start
is The Weston Price Foundation at http://www.westonaprice.org.
The book Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon is based on
Price's work. I've got my own testimonial, too. The disease I have
isn't supposed to get better, not ever, only worse. But I am better.
I haven't needed morphine in two years. I'd urge anyone with chronic
health problems to investigate this information. But it's really for
all of us. We're all going to be responsible for our own food soon,
and this is information we desperately need to reclaim.
AM: Above you talked about using violence and killing
if necessarily to stop sexual predators, writing: "Bullets are
available now. Why are we accepting the unacceptable? We know who
they are because they're already preying on us." A couple of
women I talked to about this agree (as, I would hope, all my friends)
that killing a perpetrator in direct self-defense is fine. But they
expressed worry about someone getting called a rapist, and then being
killed, even if that is not true. Or, that people would start killing
in response to various other problems for which shooting isn't the
best solution. What are your thoughts on this?
LK: I think that's a valid concern. The rule of law is theoretically
a really good idea. The problem is that the laws were set up by rich,
often slave-owning men who wanted to protect their interests, their
property (including human beings) and their power. So we've basically
got two options. One is to change the law, which basically means changing
the constitution of every nation on the planet. The other is to make
justice ourselves, which by definition makes us into outlaws. Both
of these options are honorable and necessary. Option two could conceivably
be done nonviolently, but it would take massive numbers, as nonviolent
tactics do. Basically everyone would have to agree to utterly and
forever shun perpetrators. If there were severe consequences--if a
batterer or rapist lost his job, his apartment, his friends and family,
all social contact, all ability to support himself financially--there
would be a dramatic decrease in male violence, until the underpinnings
of rape culture and gender socialization were completely undercut.
We could break the chain once and for all. But we simply don't have
the numbers. Most women are too male-identified, and most men hate
Meanwhile, every eighteen seconds a man beats a woman, every three
minutes a man rapes a woman, and every day two men will murder women.
And that's just in the United States. Either that counts as a state
of emergency or it doesn't. And if it does, what are we each willing
to do about it? I would love it if we could do this nonviolently.
I personally find committing violence repugnant. I don't kill mosquitoes.
And I've had my own spiritual epiphanies. I don't think we were meant
to commit atrocities. I think on the deepest level it hurts perpetrators
to be who they are. But only one in a million of them is ever going
to wake up to that. I can't wait for the other 999,999, and I can't
build a political strategy around that one awakened soul. By using
violence, far fewer of us could provide the consequences to make men
think twice. And every perpetrator that's removed from the planet
is worth his weight in women's liberty, in the absence of terror.
The vast majority of crimes against women are committed by intimates,
by husbands, fathers, step-fathers, boyfriends. By men who claim to
love us, which I hope makes every one reading this question "love"
as a political institution. You're not going to have a case of mistaken
identity unless the perp is a stranger, and mostly they aren't strangers.
Crimes against women are crimes of access. Men hurt the women they
know, the women they love. So we know who they are. Their identities
aren't in question. What it comes down to is: do you believe that
when a woman is hurt, a person is hurt, a person who doesn't deserve
to be hurt? That's the question.
Look, if you're really worried about taking permanent action against
an innocent, here's my suggestion. Make a list of all the women and
girls you know and love. Then make a list of all the men who've violated
or assaulted them. There's your personal hit list. The vast majority
of them will be known to the survivors.
As far as a spillover effect, we make distinctions all the time,
as a society and as individuals. Speeding gets you a fine; holding
people up at gunpoint gets you jail. We all understand that there
are differing levels of anti-social and immoral activity. Israel didn't
have a death penalty, but it made an exception for Adolf Eichmann.
Some crimes--like genocide--are so heinous that only the most serious
consequences are an adequate response. Rape, battering, sexual torture
are those kinds of crimes and I want a culture where everyone agrees.
Right now we have a culture where those things are essentially entertainment.
The problem isn't consequences that are too severe. The problem is
there are no consequences at all.
AM: You gave a few suggestions for collapse preparation
for people with disabilities above. Do you have any broader suggestions
for preparation that you'd like to outline?
LK: On an individual level, any and all skills in self-sufficiency
are going to be valuable. Everyone who can afford it should sign up
for a permaculture course. Learn all you can about truly sustainable
food production, animals integrated into a perennial landscape. Natural
building and passive solar, basics of water collection and waste disposal,
clothes, tool making, non-technological medicine, we're going to need
But I don't think we're going to survive as individuals. We're going
to survive as communities. And I don't mean sitting in a circle and
crying about your abandonment issues or whatever crap. I mean feeding
your neighbors when their barn burns down, or sharing what food is
left when the drought comes. If you don't like the people who live
on your street, in your town, if they scare you, then move. Try to
identify places where that community ethic still exists or can be
rekindled, gather up your loved ones, and get settled there. Then
get to know everyone around you.
As for knowledge and cultural artifacts, there's some gorgeous music
and literature that I hope someone can preserve. And there's political
philosophy and social progress that I'd hate to see lost, like the
U.N. Declaration of Universal Human Rights. Whatever problems I have
with humanism, I'll take secularism and democracy over theocracy and
religious fundamentalism in a heartbeat. It took centuries--and the
loss of many lives--for those political ideas to take hold. A decimal
number system and the concept of zero, maybe some basic algebra and
geometry would be great to hang onto. The nature of infectious diseases--that's
a big one, too. Because the human eye can't see microbes. We can't
see viruses and bacteria so we've wasted tremendous energy and so
many lives blaming gods, or "sinful" behavior, or scapegoating the
reclusive old woman at the end of the road. And even if we don't have
antibiotics, soap and hot water can go a long way toward stopping
the spread of infections. Likewise, we may not have vaccines, but
we can make crude inoculations against some of the more ghastly diseases.
These can be either inhaled or scraped into the skin and they work
pretty good. These kind of inoculations were widely used in China
and India, and British army wives listened to the local women and
brought the practice back to Europe. If small pox every gets set loose
again, we're going to need this information and I sincerely hope future
generations can remember the basic concepts.
And pray. Get yourself right with the universe. Learn to listen
to everything around you, because everything is alive and we're a
part of it. As a species we're going to have to remember that if we
have any chance of surviving.