Earlier this week on the Fat Head blog, I wrote about the attack on Lierre Keith by some vegan nut-jobs who consider her a traitor and a threat.  For those of you who don’t already know, Keith was a dedicated vegan for 20 years but had to rethink her beliefs when her health declined and she realized, after some comical attempts, that she couldn’t grow her own food without killing living creatures.  No longer able to hide behind a simplistic, child-like love for nature, she set out instead to understand it.  The result was The Vegetarian Myth, in which she argues (brilliantly) that agriculture and a plant-based diet will not make us healthy or save the planet.

Nonetheless, her core values remain the same:  she loves animals, she abhors the cruelty of factory farming, and she wants us to feed ourselves in a manner that supports the environment instead of depleting it year after year.  As she writes in her book:  “What separates me from vegetarians isn’t ethics or commitment.  It’s information.”

Ah, but there’s the rub:  it’s the information that has made her a target, not the change in her beliefs. 

When I heard about the attack, my first reaction was to chalk it up to the “vegan rage” Keith writes about in her book.  But after thinking it over, I decided I was confusing a correlation with a cause.  Yes, they’re enraged and they’re vegans, but I don’t think they’re enraged because they’re vegans.  I think it’s more likely they became militant vegans in the first place because they fit the personality type described so eloquently by Eric Hoffer in his book The True Believer.  It was published in 1951, but still rings true today.

First, a little background on the author:  Hoffer was born sometime around 1900 in New York City to Jewish immigrant parents.  His father was cabinet-maker.  When Hoffer was five, his mother fell down a flight of stairs while carrying him.  She never fully recovered and died two years later.  Soon afterwards, Hoffer went blind, perhaps from the emotional trauma.  Amazingly, his sight returned when he was 15.  Afraid he may go blind again someday, Hoffer educated himself by reading as many books as he could. 

After his father died around 1920, Hoffer left for California and worked a series of odd jobs, including a stint as a migrant farm worker, before becoming a longshoreman in San Francisco.  When his books became popular, he was dubbed “The Longshoreman Philosopher.”

Deeply troubled by the horrors of Nazism, Fascism, Stalinism, the Holocaust and World War II, Hoffer thought long and hard about the roots of fanatical movements, then began writing down his insights.  The result was a slim (176 pages) but brilliant book, The True Believer.  If you haven’t read it, I hope you will someday.  But in the meantime, here’s a very short summary:

Fanatical movements attract a particular personality type.  They are typically dissatisfied with their own lives and have low self-esteem.  (Can you say “prone to rage”?)  Fanaticism appeals to them because it provides a sense of identity, the ego-boost of idealism, and the psychological comfort of certainty — thus relieving them of the need to resolve life’s doubts, contradictions, and moral ambiguities for themselves. 

The appeal of a fanatical movement for this personality type lies only partly in the movement’s stated beliefs; the deeper appeal is in the fanaticism itself.  That’s why, as Hoffer noted, fanatical groups often find it easiest to recruit new members from other fanatical groups, even if their beliefs are at odds:  Fanatical communists have become fanatical Christians, fanatical Christians have become fanatical Nazis, fanatical Nazis have become fanatical communists, etc.  (Plenty of fanatical communists became fanatical environmentalists when communism didn’t work out so well.)

Hoffer labeled these people the True Believers.  The need to believe in something — completely, and without question — defines their lives, because fanaticism makes them feel special and important. 

Not surprisingly, then, the biggest threat to their identities is doubt.  All contrary evidence must be stifled or rationalized out of existence.  All logical inconsistencies in their beliefs must be ignored.  Anyone who doesn’t share their beliefs is an enemy, and anyone who raises questions about their beliefs must be silenced. (But enough about Al Gore.)

Now, doesn’t that description sound just a wee bit like a militant vegan?  Ego boost?  Heck yes …  I’m now a morally superior human being because I don’t eat animal products. 

Sense of identity?  Gee, do you think?  I once asked a waitress in a restaurant if the pork chops were any good.  Turning up her nose just a bit, she replied, “I wouldn’t know.  I’m a vegan.”  I’m mildly hard of hearing, so at first I thought she said, “I wouldn’t know.  I’m a virgin.”  After some momentary confusion, mentally rifling through my old catechism lessons looking for a prohibition against virgins eating pork, I figured it out.  Either way, it was more than I cared to know about her.  “I’ve never tried them” would’ve sufficed.

The comfort of certainty, relieved of the need to resolve life’s moral ambiguities?  Most definitely.  It’s easy to just declare that a fly and a pig and human being are all equal.  (I’ll buy that idea when a pig writes a symphony or a good joke.)  It’s a bit tougher to finally admit, as Lierre Keith did, that eating meat enhances your health, then have to deal with the morality of killing to be healthy.  The Dalai Lama eats meat now, so I guess he’s got it figured out.

Years ago, I heard Dennis Prager debating some animal-rights nut.  Prager asked a hypothetical question:  if a boy and a dog are both drowning, who do you save first?  The nut wouldn’t answer.  He weasled out by saying that since he’s a vegan, he’s strong enough to save both of them.  (Then a fly landed on his shoulder, and he fell out of his chair.)

Before anyone gets his or her macramé underwear in a wad, I’m not suggesting all or even a majority of vegans are True Believers.  But the ones who throw blood on women wearing furs or smash a pepper-laced pie into an author’s face definitely fit the profile.  Here are some quotes from Hoffer himself, with my comments on how they apply to the True Believer nut-jobs who attacked Lierre Keith.

A man is likely to mind his own business when it is worth minding. When it is not, he takes his mind off his own meaningless affairs by minding other people’s business.

Bingo.  Mentally-healthy vegans don’t scream “murderer!” at meat-eaters.  They don’t toss pepper-laced pies at meat-eaters.  They just don’t eat meat.  (Heck, I even knew a vegan who was married to a meat-eater.)  But the True Believer vegans — including the Center for Science in the Public Interest and the Physicians Committee For Responsible Medicine — can’t resist minding other people’s business.  And when their meddling turns out to be a disaster, as when CSPI harassed restaurants into switching to hydrogenated vegetable oils for frying, it doesn’t faze them a bit.  They don’t even admit they were wrong; they just keep meddling.

Hatred is the most accessible and comprehensive of all unifying agents.

Three men in masks attack a 45-year-old woman from behind.  People in the room cheer.  Other people praise the attack online.  A website posts a video of the attack with the Benny Hill music playing for comic effect.  Is that enough unifying hatred for you? 

In order to be effective a doctrine must not be understood, but has to be believed in. We can be absolutely certain only about things we do not understand.

Keith did a bang-up job of pointing this out in her book.  She recounted a suggestion by some scientifically illiterate vegan that animals in nature should be separated by a big fence — the carnivores on one side, the herbivores on the other.  That way, ya see, there wouldn’t be any killing.  Keith then explained, using actual scientific facts, what the result would be:  all the animals would eventually starve to death.  But this unbelievably stupid suggestion drew nothing but applause from other True-Believer vegans.  They were just certain it would work … even the carnivores don’t really have to eat meat, ya see, because dogs and cats sometimes eat grass!  In other words, these goofs could only believe what they believed because they had zero understanding of nature.

The uncompromising attitude is more indicative of an inner uncertainty than a deep conviction.  The implacable stand is directed more against the doubt within than the assailant without.

That’s why anyone who can plant a seed of doubt is such a threat.  Lierre Keith isn’t just any ol’ author promoting an omnivorous diet; she’s a former dedicated vegan.  She knows all the vegan arguments inside and out, and she now disputes them with facts.  She can shake up the beliefs of people whose very identities depend on those beliefs.

Passionate hatred can give meaning and purpose to an empty life. Thus people haunted by the purposelessness of their lives try to find a new content not only by dedicating themselves to a holy cause but also by nursing a fanatical grievance.

Yup … I’m pretty sure if you’re satisfied with your own life, you don’t feel the need to toss blood or pepper-laced pies at people who don’t share your beliefs about animal rights — especially considering that 99.9% of all people who’ve ever lived also didn’t share those beliefs.

All active mass movements strive, therefore, to interpose a fact-proof screen between the faithful and the realities of the world. They do this by claiming that the ultimate and absolute truth is already embodied in their doctrine and that there is no truth or certitude outside it. The facts on which the true believer bases his conclusions must not be derived from his experience or observation, but from holy writ.

It was experience and observation that caused Lierre Keith to change her mind.  Her health failed.  Her spine degenerated.  She was depressed and fatigued.  A Chinese-medicine doctor she trusted told her what she already knew:  her vegan diet was killing her.  Now she’s sharing those experiences with other vegans, and that’s why the True Believers want to shut her up — her personal story is compelling and some vegans might just believe her.

Free men are aware of the imperfection inherent in human affairs, and they are willing to fight and die for that which is not perfect. They know that basic human problems can have no final solutions, that our freedom, justice, equality, etc. are far from absolute, and that the good life is compounded of half measures, compromises, lesser evils, and gropings toward the perfect.  The rejection of approximations and the insistence on absolutes are the manifestation of a nihilism that loathes freedom, tolerance, and equity.

Militant vegans dream of a world where everyone is a vegetarian, nobody (and no animal) has to kill to eat, and the planet is saved in the process.  If only life could be that pretty.  Now Keith is telling them that farming kills countless animals, and mono-crop agriculture — all those lovely fields of wheat, corn and soybeans — is destroying the environment.  In other words, you can kill some animals on purpose to eat them, or you can kill even more by farming … but you cannot live in your absolute, perfect world because it’s not possible.  She has accepted the compromise — what she refers to as becoming an adult.  The True Believers are children, and they can’t stand hearing what mommy has to say.

It is the true believer’s ability to shut his eyes and stop his ears to facts which in his own mind deserve never to be seen nor heard which is the source of his unequalled fortitude and constancy. He cannot be frightened by danger, nor disheartened by obstacles, nor baffled by contradictions, because he denies their existence.

Vegans insist they don’t kill to eat.  When someone like Lierre Keith points out that farming kills countless creatures per acre (and remember: a pig, a fly and a human are all equal!), plus countless more who die because the mono-crop farms destroy their environments, the vegans still insist they don’t kill to eat.  Well, not really, you see, because … uh … because … well … it’s not really killing because we didn’t do it on purpose!  By that logic, we need to pardon everyone who caused a fatal accident by driving drunk — they didn’t mean for anyone to die, after all.

The excuse makes no sense.  It’s a contradiction.  But the True Believers aren’t baffled by contradictions.  They’ll simply shut their eyes and close their ears.  And if that doesn’t work, they’ll shove a pepper-laced pie into someone’s face.

When I wrote about the attack on the Fat Head blog, one of my readers left this comment:

I am not at all surprised that this happened in the Bay area, although it could have easily happened on a college campus. This is what happens, though, when the extreme leftists among us (let’s call them what they are) get agitated.  Look at the treatment of conservatives on college campuses: That Ann Coulter (love her or hate her) travels with body guards and has nearly been pied is just one more example. There is an element of our society that is all in favor of free speech until they don’t agree with it; then they try to shut it down.

In the modern era, most True Believers have in fact ended up on the radical left.  Why exactly that’s the case will be the topic of next week’s post.

92 Responses to “The Vegan True Believers”
  1. Don says:

    “If you accept and tolerate everyone, I wouldn’t classify you as a True Believer … It’s the desire to impose one’s beliefs on others or at least shut them up that makes for a True Believer in my book.”

    Of course I would *like* everyone to believe as I do. But then, who could say otherwise, whatever their beliefs? EVERYONE would *like* everyone else to believe as they do – else we wouldn’t believe it ourselves. That’s the only reason I said everyone’s a TB about something; I was just defining it a bit differently.

    You’re correct in pointing out that, despite decades of propaganda to the contrary, leftists have been and still are the ones who have been quickest to force their own preferences upon others and destroy all who resist reprogramming. I remember how Jerry Falwell used to be accused of that all the time. Iit was a lie. For all its flaws, the Moral Majority sought change through constitutionally established channels by trying to sway the will of the people. Leftists/statists now seek change (and hope!) apart from those channels, apart from the will of the people, if necessary. They are truly the True Believers. I’m really hoping more and more Americans are seeing that now, even if they don’t want to. If they don’t…game over, man.

    Great blog, man – I’ve got a small libertarian streak in me, too, so keep firing.

    Some members of the religious right would happily force their moral preferences on others, but for the most part, the people called “right-wingers” are agitating for the right to be left alone. The Tea Party crowd may sometimes be loud, rude, obnoxious, etc., but they’re not trying to force a way of life on anyone; they’re angry about having the left’s way of life forced on them.

  2. Don says:

    “… trying to sway the will of the people at the ballot box,” I meant to write…without engaging in vote fraud, btw.

  3. Don says:

    “Some members of the religious right would happily force their moral preferences on others”

    True, as I’ve had leftists tell me. To which I always respond, “Name the last time members of the religious right sought to use government to force their views onto you, without their already having had leftists use government to force leftist views onto them.” I’ve yet to receive a coherent reply. It’s like Falwell said when he was oft accused of seeking to ‘legislate morality’ (I paraphrase):

    “Let’s be honest: ALL law is the legislation of someone’s morality onto everyone else.”

    I’ve had to make that point myself several times. What the heck are laws against “hate speech,” if not an attempt to impose morality? So are laws against fraud, murder, incest, etc. As a libertarian, I support laws that protect life, liberty and property from those who would take it by violence or fraud, but not much else.

  4. Mark says:

    I want to add this quote from Ms. Keith in the San Fransisco Chronicle article, which sums it up nicely.

    “Keith said her values are similar in most ways to those of her attackers. She believes in militant action, even property destruction, if it can lead to change.”

    That is the bottom line in the progressive movement. This core value is reinforced by Andy Stern, head of the SEIU, “… If we can’t use the power of persuasion, we will use the persuasion of power. Workers of the world unite.”


  5. Steve D says:

    “In the modern era, most True Believers have in fact ended up on the radical left. Why exactly that’s the case will be the topic of next week’s post.”

    Really ? This seems sloppy reasoning to me. You can’t direct ‘true believers’ to any one political bent, after all they tend to hop from fanatical group to fanatical group. I think you are conflating government regulation and fanaticism.

    A more interesting topic would be to explore how these ideas of hoffer’s would apply to the broad spectrum of deniers which exist on the left and the right – anti-vax, global warming, 9-11 theorists, birthers, and the like.

    True Believers want to impose their beliefs on everyone else. Now, does that mentality draw more people who support collectivist ideas, or more people who support individual rights over group rights?

    If the terms “left” and “right” produce emotional reactions based on party loyalities, fine, drop those. Let’s call them collectivist/authoritarian versus individualist/libertarian. Most True Believer movements have clearly been collectivist/authoritarian. Libertarian beliefs are derived from philosophies that are specifically anti-collectivist and anti-authority.

    Now look at politics in modern times and ask yourself if it’s the groups commonly labeled as left or right who are collectivist and favor government coercion to impose their views on others.

  6. notalibertarian says:

    Not a libertarian here – although I used to be. I was a super conservative Christian with very conservative political/ideological beliefs. I don’t any more…but that’s another story. I read the previous post in addition to this one. I believe it was probably in the last post where you insisted that only those on the left have ever shouted down anyone in an attempts to stop them from speaking.

    There are plenty of them on the right – what about the folks mentioned here (http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/03/20/AR2010032002556.html?hpid=topnews) or the folks who attempted to shut down town hall meetings last fall?

    As far as this post is concerned…you make the claim that only those on the left want to use the power of the government to silence those who disagree with them….the right has their fair share of those. How about the Quiverfull/Christian Patriarchy types? I can’t get my fingers on the name of one of the notable gentlemen associated with the movement, but his quest is to get the US in line with “Biblical” (read here Levitical) law. This world has their fair share of crazies – the issue isn’t quite as simple as you claim it to be.

    I didn’t say ONLY the left shouts people down or draws True Believer types. I said a majority of True Believers have ended up on the radical left. People have mentioned several examples of right-wing groups shouting people down, but for every one of those, there are several examples from the left.

    And keep in mind, even when the Tea Party folks shout down a representative, they’re not trying to impose their system on anyone. They’re protesting having the left’s system imposed on them.

  7. Maria Minno says:

    I think that nutrient deficiencies inherent in the vegan diet makes people angry and violent, and this proves the point. Vegans try so hard to be the most peaceful people on the planet, and they often end up being mean, nasty, and violent. Furthermore, they damage their own health and that of their children irreversibly because of their diet and rigid beliefs. I don’t think they want to be violent or destructive, they can’t help it once they get such severe deficiencies.

    I know many alternative health providers, and many of them have stories about the vegans who were the most vicious people they’ve ever tried to work with. Many of the deficiencies of the vegan diet are the same deficiencies found in prison populations. Mental health comes from physical health.

    In her book Primal Body, Primal Mind, Nora Gedgaudas notes that all the therapy in the world can’t replace a missing nutrient. Good point.

  8. Beth says:

    I was with you 100% right up to the part where you lay it all at the feet of the radical left. Sorry, but the teabaggers and the crazy vegans share the same True Believer mindset you describe.

    I didn’t say “all.” I said the majority of True Believers have ended up on the radical left. As for the tea-baggers, I believe you are confusing True Believers with people who merely disagree loudly with your politics.

    Who have the tea-baggers physically attacked? And what exactly are they trying to impose on you? They are, in fact, protesting against having the left’s collectivism imposed on them through “stimulus” packages and health care “reform.” You see the difference, right?

  9. Kris says:

    I also disagree with the statement that most “True Believers” are on the radical left, or are collectivists. I don’t think it is worth fighting about so strongly that someone’s feelings are offended, but it is important enough to register dissent to that notion. There can be libertarian true believers. I think an example is the guy who flew into the IRS building.

    Furthermore, this statement, written by Don, necessitates response: “Name the last time members of the religious right sought to use government to force their views onto you, without their already having had leftists use government to force leftist views onto them.”
    I mean absolutely no offense to Don, who is clearly thoughtful and intelligent. However, the nature and definition of imposition should be debated. If I am living under a status quo that I find deplorable, then I feel it is imposed on me. I then make a change, and someone else feels imposed on.

    Don states that it is always leftists doing the first imposition, but conservatives by traditional definition, are merely people who believe in and try to maintain the status quo. The status quo itself can be an imposition on those who are treated unfairly.

    Abolitionists were leftists, and they were trying to impose their views on slave-owners, and slave-owners could have claimed that they were just fighting back after those irritating abolitionists started imposing their views. But, whose human rights really imposed on here? The slave-owners, or the slaves? Clearly, the people who were slaves are the most abused.

    The same analogy can be made to organized, denomination specific prayer in schools. Yes, the left argued against it. After the McCollum Decision, that was declared a violation of Constitutional rights. From the (religious) right’s perspective, The left has just forced an awful change upon them, and imposed upon their practices. From the left’s perspective, an imposition of the status quo has been lifted, and Catholic students, and Jews, and Seventh Day adventists now longer have to pray in a Protestant manner.

    All I am saying is the “Who forced what upon whom first” question is a matter of perspective, just as the “Whose rights have been abused?” question depends on where you start your inquiry.

    All said, DESPICABLE actions towards Ms. Keith.

    You and Hoffer have rather different definitions of True Believers. I’m using his definition, and by his definition, True Believers are collectivists. They value the group more than the individual. Hoffer was a champion of individual rights.

    Interesting concept, that if you don’t like the status quo it’s being imposed on you. If freedom is the status quo, it’s not being “imposed” on you. Freedom doesn’t have to be imposed … although Hoffer wrote specifically about how True Believers aren’t comfortable with freedom.

    Economic freedom does not exclude collectivists from living as collectivists. They are not prevented from building communes, pooling their resources, giving to each according to his need, etc. It’s happened many times in this country. However, collectivists will happily exclude economic freedom, thus imposing their preferences on others.

    Abolitionists were leftists? The Republican party was founded on the anti-slavery movement. The slave owners were fighting for the “right” to keep others in bondage, which is goes against everything those who believe in individual rights stand for.

    As for those who want to impose prayer in public schools, we’re in agreement: those are the True Believers on the right. As I said before, a majority of True Believers have ended up on the radical left, but not all of them.

  10. Dave says:

    “I believe property owners should be able to rent to whoever they choose. If they’re being disciminatory, then the solution is to expose them and boycott them.”

    Gosh, if only all of those black people, women, families with children, elderly, and disabled had thought of that, we wouldn’t have had to waste all that time writing and enacting the Fair Housing Act.

    And why would anyone try to expose someone for being discriminatory if they were permitted to be so in the first place?

    Huh? We expose businesses who practices are shoddy but legal all the time. Look at the charities that changed their compensation practices after being exposed in the media; what they were doing wasn’t illegal.

    Gosh yes, if not for those laws, nobody would rent to blacks, old people, the disabled, women, families, etc. Those evil businessmen just love to cut themselves off from most of the market.

    It wasn’t the almighty and all-knowing government that convinced people discrimination is wrong; it was a change in attitudes brought about by inspirational leaders such as Martin Luther King Jr. We’re a white-majority country that elected an African-American to the White House … does that sound a like country full of racists to you?

  11. Kris says:

    Perhaps I do diverge from Hoffer on how I understand a “True Believer.” I’m sorry, I have inadvertently changed or expanded the definition in my own head. Perhaps I’ll have to find a word that means something similar to True Believer but can describe people who are not collectivists, since the TB is by definition a collectivist. I think there is such a phenomenon of people. (Like the IRS plane guy.)

    Quote: “Abolitionists were leftists? The Republican party was founded on the anti-slavery movement. The slave owners were fighting for the “right” to keep others in bondage, which is goes against everything those who believe in individual rights stand for.”

    I’d argue that abolitionists were leftists. They were also republicans. They were radical republicans. Abolitionists wanted to radically change the prevailing notions of property and ownership. They were on the very left of the political spectrum in their day.

    Slavery does go against everything that those who believe in individual rights stand for. And the support of, or denial of, individual rights is not synonymous with the definition of leftist as I am using it. I am saying that yes, there are leftist collectivists, leftist socialists, and there were, historically, leftists who were not collectivists.

    Quote: “If freedom is the status quo, it’s not being “imposed” on you. Freedom doesn’t have to be imposed … although Hoffer wrote specifically about how True Believers aren’t comfortable with freedom.” I agree, IF freedom is the status quo, Then it is not being imposed on you. But we also agree, I think at least wrt the school prayer example, that sometimes freedom is not the status quo.

    I’ll stop commenting for the day, I don’t want to argue too much with I guy I respect.

    Well, I suppose we pick defintions that suit us. I like Hoffer’s, for obvious reasons. But don’t think of it arguing; think of it as a healthy debate. I’ve had quite a few spirited debates with people I like, and we still like and respect each other.

  12. Dana says:

    This is why I have a love-hate relationship with your Fat Head blog and hardly ever venture over here, but I wanted to see what you had to say about the vegan idiots who attacked Ms. Keith. This remark in one of the comments, though, takes the cake:

    “Leftists/statists now seek change (and hope!) apart from those channels, apart from the will of the people, if necessary.”

    Um, hang on a second. I guess it is time for me to write that essay I’ve had simmering in the back of my brain for a while. I think I’ll title it, “For America To Live, Conservatives And Liberals Must Die.” (That’s a parody of an essay with a similar title written by Russell Means, I believe. Will have to verify.) I don’t mean they have to *literally* die, but we need to get this idea out of our heads that one side ALWAYS means statism, while the other side ALWAYS means liberty.

    For instance, this idea your commenter put across that leftists are statists. Some leftists ARE statists. Granted. I can’t stand them either. But some OTHER leftists are actually quite libertarian. Only they don’t normally use that term. Oftentimes they will call themselves anarchists instead.

    Anarchists get a lot of crap for what they call themselves, too. The usual argument is, “How in the world can we have a society if we don’t have rules?” And although their writings can be hard for me to follow (I have good reading comprehension, but I HATE having to read million-dollar language when ten bucks’ worth of words will do), I kind of get the notion that anarchists are fine with the idea of government, as long as it is very decentralized and everyone can participate. What they’re not OK with is imposed hierarchy. Again, very libertarian-sounding.

    Of course, the term is often abused, such as by those idiots who pelted Ms. Keith with pies. But you see the word “conservative” abused a lot as well. It’s a language war, really–some kind of sick game in which the prize is public acceptance and political legitimacy.

    But it’s NOT correct to say all leftists are statists. Never has been.

    You *are* right to say that some leftists want to impose certain things on everyone else. I wonder, though, what the difference is between that and, say, imposing anti-murder, anti-rape, and anti-theft laws on thugs and criminals. Because in the aggregate, a lot of the behaviors that leftists try to curb cause loss and/or damage to the people they target, just as murder, rape, and theft do.

    Take smoking for instance. I’ve seen you complain about anti-smoking laws. Well, my little girl’s dad has asthma. I’ve known at least one other person who was allergic to tobacco smoke. How do you even begin to have a normal life if everyone around you is allowed to smoke in public and you can barely even breathe? How is it reasonable to impose extra health-care costs on a person and confine that person to their home more than is normal or acceptable, just so you can indulge a habit you never needed to acquire in the first place? Even with non-smokers who do not react badly to tobacco smoke (well, beyond the normal responses of gagging, coughing, and feeling like you’re coming down with a cold–smokers and those who live with them don’t have those responses, but people who don’t live around smoking do), how is it a “libertarian” value to force someone else to imbibe your drug against their will? It’s not legal to spike someone’s drink with alcohol without their consent. It shouldn’t be legal to spike their lungs with nicotine either–and while the smoker at least benefits from a filter, the non-smoker does not.

    Or how about private businesses being allowed to fire an employee, or refuse to hire someone, for reasons not related to job performance. I can think of only one job I could possibly do that would be affected by my having a uterus: motherhood. Every other job should be open to me if I’m able to do it. I shouldn’t be counted out of the running because some idiot who was barely smart enough to pay for a business license has stupid, outmoded ideas about what a woman can and cannot do. But apparently the business world couldn’t figure this out on its own. Apparently, the free market does nothing for gender equality unless Uncle Sam holds a gun to its head. So, gender-related civil rights law it is.

    I mean… in the end, a girl’s gotta eat. Starch or steak, it all costs money, and that doesn’t grow on trees.

    I think and hope that we can all discuss these matters like intelligent, caring people and come to some kind of agreement that benefits everybody. Demonizing either side of the debate, though, is not how to get there.

    Oh, and one more point: It was once the “will of the people” that black people should be owned as slaves. It was the “will of the people” that women should not be able to vote. This is why we have a Bill of Rights–to protect us all from the tyranny of the majority, because “the people” are quite capable of being wrong. If we had a consensus-based government in which everybody had to agree on a law before it was passed, it would be one thing, but our country is too big to pull that off on a national scale. So this is what we’re left with. Sometimes “the people” DON’T know what they’re doing, and usually when that occurs they aren’t even all of the people, and sometimes not even a majority–just the ones who were angry enough to yell a lot. Why do they get to run the show with no opposition whatsoever? Where do you turn when your supposed “own people” are against you? So I’m glad when it comes down to a human rights issue and someone finds a way to do an end run around “the people.” I shudder to think where this country would be today otherwise.

    Well written and quite reasonable. Thanks. To clarify, I don’t believe all statists are leftists. I have no patience with right-wing statists either, and yes, they do exist. However, I still believe — for reasons I’ll get into later this week — that more lefists are statists overall and more lefists are attracted to True Believer movements.

    True anarchists are indeed close to libertarians. The problem is that many people who like the term “anarchist” because it sounds so radical and cool have no flippin’ idea what they’re talking about. In Greece, “anarchists” are protesting cuts in the welfare state. Huh? A true anarchist would be demanding the end of the welfare state.

    I am also absolutely, positively against justifying any new law simply because it’s “the will of the people.” That’s exactly what the Founders feared, and it’s why, as you point out, we have a Bill of Rights. Owning slaves or refusing the vote to women can never be justified as “the will of the people.” Neither can campus speech codes.

    I’m not against smoking laws that prevent people from blowing smoke in the faces of non-smokers in public places. I’m against laws that tell restaurant and club owners they can’t allow smoking on their own property. In that case, the non-smokers have a simple option that doesn’t require government coercion: don’t go there. Some of the comedy clubs where I performed had smoking nights and non-smoking nights. It worked well, and I couldn’t help but notice the audiences on non-smoking nights tended to be more intelligent.

  13. Dave says:

    “…the non-smokers have a simple option that doesn’t require government coercion: don’t go there.”

    The smokers had a simple option that didn’t require government coercion; go outside. Why is polluting everyone’s air the normal, default position?

    If they’re ordered to go outside by law, then yes, it’s government coercion. If the bar owner requires them to go outside, then it’s NOT government coercion. People keep debating this issue as if it’s a case of smokers’ rights versus non-smokers’ rights. It isn’t. The rights belong to the bar owner. If you attended a party in my home, would you feel any justification whatsoever in demanding I not allow smoking inside because you don’t like it? If not, then why do my property rights fly out the window as soon I start charging for the beer?

  14. Dan says:

    Interesting article until the end. Take all the violence committed by true believers in the world and I guarantee most is committed by religious zealots. That, of course, would be the ultra right wing in America. What is happening on capital hill right now. Congressman are being spit on, offices vandalized because conservatives are so frightened their true believers into thinking helping anyone is communist(or socialist or fascist…) Violent liberals are a small group and are not supported by the majority. I think you would have a tough time arguing that point about violent conservatives.

    I don’t excuse violence by religious zealots, but are you suggesting Islamic extremists, for example, are right-wing? Based on what?

    I’m not suggesting most liberals support violence. I’m suggesting that most True Believers in modern times have been on the radical left. We’ve had plenty of violence committed by left-wing radicals in this country and around the world. (I’m assuming you’ve heard of the 1960s and 1970s.) The Weathermen, United Red Army, SWAPO, ALN, Red Brigade, Red Army Faction, SLA … any of those groups considered right-wing or religious?

  15. Dave says:

    So, it’s a bar owner’s right to decide whether smoking patrons can pollute everybody’s air? Why is that? Why should anyone have that right? I could understand this idea if it were 1955 when most people didn’t understand the dangers associated with smoking and breathing smoke-filled air, but today? Your home is not a public bar or restaurant. If I’m driving down the interstate with my family and I want to stop for some food, if the only restaurant for miles is one loaded up with smokers, then my ‘choice’ is to either subject myself and my children to the smoke or to get back in the car and keep driving? BTW, this has happened to me, in Oklahoma.

    You mean you would’ve had to drive farther, or get a meal to go? Why, that’s awful. It’s certainly worth taking away someone else’s property rights, perhaps costing some business in the process, if it makes your life more convenient. The restaurant owner certainly owes you a smoke-free environment, if that’s what you really, really want.

    It’s not “everybody’s” air. It’s air inside a building on private property. The restaurant owner isn’t a freakin’ public utility. He’s a private citizen offering a service. If you don’t like the service, you leave. You don’t (or shouldn’t, if you gave a hoot about property rights) demand the government force the restaurant owner to provide his service in a manner acceptable to you.

    What other rights should we give up when we open a business? Is, say, searching a bar without a warrant okay? (It’s not a HOME, after all.) Can the government prohibit free speech inside a bar? If not, why is it okay to violate only the privacy rights that aren’t convenient for you?

    As for the studies that claim occasional second-hand smoke causes cancer, they’re hogwash. They’re as bad as the “fat kills!” studies. And even if you believe them, no one is putting a gun to your head and making you sit in a smokey bar or restaurant. If someone wants to open a bar where smokers can hang out and drink and smoke and socialize, why is that any of your business?

    Clearly, you have little respect for property rights, or believe that your convenience outweighs them to the point that it’s okay to apply government force to compel others to give you what you want. We obviously have very different views on those matters.

  16. Anna says:

    This is a pretty intelligent discussion.
    I agree Lefties tend to be intolerant. I do think that’s true. But the tolerance of the Right hides an even greater judgmental-ness.
    EXAMPLE: These days the intolerance of Atheists is stinking up the news. But you have to remember that the religious believe in deeply judgemental things such as eternal damnation. I think maybe this provides a sort of pressure- release valve for their personal enmity.
    If I watch FOX news for 15 minutes I am repelled by the subtext of personal superiority underlying most news coverage. Why would they need to engage and with people they can just avoid, hiding behind contempt?
    Screw them all, Left and Right, for spending a life feeling vain and superior to the Others, (whatever the particular In- Crowd vs. Out- group) — instead of getting their hands dirty improving human life and helping save the earth.
    When the petroleum runs out, if we could use it, there would be plenty of Hatred to keep our motors running.
    ‘… the best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of a passionate intensity…” — WB Yeats, The Second Coming

    Interesting, but can’t say I agree with Yeats. The country was founded by people with convictions, and if you lacked conviction on issues such as, say, murder and rape, I’d say there’s something wrong with you.

    • George D. Henderson says:

      I don’t think you need convictions to outlaw murder and rape. Instinct and tradtion will do for those two. theft too.

  17. Elenor says:

    Dana wrote:
    “Or how about private businesses being allowed to fire an employee, or refuse to hire someone, for reasons not related to job performance. I can think of only one job I could possibly do that would be affected by my having a uterus: motherhood. Every other job should be open to me if I’m able to do it. I shouldn’t be counted out of the running because some idiot who was barely smart enough to pay for a business license has stupid, outmoded ideas about what a woman can and cannot do. But apparently the business world couldn’t figure this out on its own. Apparently, the free market does nothing for gender equality unless Uncle Sam holds a gun to its head. So, gender-related civil rights law it is.”

    Except it’s not that simple. If some idiot is too stupid to hire the best workers he can get, then he will likely go out of business. He should not have the govt come in, counting heads and telling him he must hire someone because of color or sex or any other thing. The market will decide if he made the right hiring decisions.

    And your insouciant “civil rights laws it is”” has resulted in the Army having to *lower* the standards for how far a soldier must throw a hand grenade, because way too many girl soldiers were not able to throw one far enough away to avoid killing herself and the soldiers in the foxhole with her. (That may not have been caused by her “having a uterus” — but it was fer shure a result of her being a woman!!) But the *leftists* insisted that “numbers of women in the service” was a more important metric than: “can she keep from killing herself and others (whom we don’t want dead)?”

    And, I don”t know about you – but *I* don’t want to be rescued by a “firefighting woman” who is unable to carry a stretcher down a staircase. Oh — you said if a woman CAN do the job? Well, too many women could not do the job — so the leftists demanded that the fire departments lower the requirement that ALL firefighters be able to carry a stretcher down stairs. (More important to have the “right” numbers of women than then the right numbers of effective firefighters…. And it was not the Right who demanded that!)

    And this applies to race and national origin and so on — it seems it matters to you not what rights and freedoms of others you crush (or have the govt crush); it matters to you that everyone you like gets to have what they want whether or not they qualify for it! And I include in that “qualification” – whether or not some business owner *wants* to hire them or not. You don’t like business owners who have different desires than you want them to have, so you think the govt should force them to have the ones you want them to have. Freedom for whom?!

    The business world has absolutely figured this stuff out on their own — and so the govt had to come in and force them to do something else. (And yes, I am a woman, and I COULD carry a stretcher down the stairs most of the time; and I was in the Navy, and I could do a lot of things a lot of women couldn’t, but not all — and that was a detriment to the mission, and to the injured or ill and to my shipmates.

    Someone who gets that whole “free country” concept! Thanks, Elenor. (And I believe my sister could carry me down the stairs if need be.)

  18. Dave says:

    I’m really not talking about “convenience” here. It’s more a matter of public health. You are really fortunate to not have children who have allergies or asthma made worse by pollution. Applying your arguments to the disabled, I suppose no business owner should be compelled to have ramps or handicap-accessible toilet facilities. What I believe that you are overlooking is that in all of these cases, there was significant need for these laws, as the landlords, business owners, etc. didn’t give a rat’s patoot about accommodating people with regards to housing or health.

    Okay, let me try this one more time to see if you have any objective principles as far as property rights:

    I’ve left restaurants and bars because the music was too loud. I HATE loud music. And it’s a medical fact that loud music can damage your ears, even after a few exposures.

    Therefore, I propose that all bars, restaurants and clubs — every single one of them — be prohibited from playing loud music. They shouldn’t be able to fill everybody’s air with dangerous and annoying sound waves. They can do it at home if they like, but these are PUBLIC PLACES and I shouldn’t have to suffer possible damage to my ears just because I want to have a drink in a bar, or go dance in a dance club, or sit down in a nice restaurant for some Asian-Cuban fusion cuisine.

    I’ve even been to bars and restaurants that cater to a young crowd where they play hip-hop music full of foul language. I shouldn’t have to listen to that. What if my kids were with me? Once I was driving through Nebraska and the only restaurant around for miles was playing hip-hop on the jukebox. Why should my kids have to listen to loud, foul language just because we want to sit down for a meal?

    Now … do you support my law? If not, you’d best be able to explain why not, because it’s based on exactly the principles as your beloved anti-smoking laws. If you don’t support my law but also cannot explain why it’s NOT based on the same principles, then you have no actual principles when it comes to property rights, other than “It’s okay to outlaw behaviors I don’t like” and “If I want it really, really badly, I have a right to it.”

  19. asad says:

    I just want to point out that Lierre Keith is a member of the radical left. Please don’t caricature an unorthodox political view; you are trying to get people to take an unorthodox nutritional view seriously. A radical leftist, like Lierre Keith, argues that private business interests and the corporate-owned media that represent them have caused in widespread illness and have misled the public with anti-fat propaganda because they place profits before people and their health.

    She’s quite honest about her radical views. But the nutjobs who attacked her and those who cheered afterwards are True Believers and fit the description entirely.

  20. Don says:

    Don’t know if Kris is still around buy in response to your (Tom’s) response to him/her (I know male and female Kris’):

    “As for those who want to impose prayer in public schools, we’re in agreement: those are the True Believers on the right. As I said before, a majority of True Believers have ended up on the radical left, but not all of them.”

    Again, as a far-right fundamentalist, I have never believed, do not now believe, and never will believe prayer should be IMPOSED onto public schools (odd selection of that word, “impose”). I know of no right winger in modern America who has said government should IMPOSE prayer onto school students…if you are aware of any, name them.

    However, I do not believe prayer in schools should be FORBIDDEN, either. If someone – teacher, student or both – want to do it, apart from instructional time, they should have the liberty to do so. If others do not, they too have that liberty. Neither side should care what the other does or doesn’t do. It’s up to the individual.

    Now…who is more tolerant: me, a biblical fundie who thinks prayer in schools should be freely engaged in, or not, depending on personal choice? Or are allegedly tolerant lefties more tolerant, when they say NO ONE…EVER…UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCE should have that liberty within a PUBLIC schoolhouse, under penalty of law?


    There’s a case of school-led prayers mentioned in this documentary promo:


    I haven’t seen it, so I don’t know much more about it. I don’t think schoolkids should be prevented from praying independently as they choose. Nor do I think they should be prevented from forming, say, a Bible club. The cries of “not on school property!” are stupid. If kids can form a chess club, a French club, whatever, they can form a Bible club, as courts have correctly ruled. That doesn’t establish a religion, force anyone to support a religion, etc. It’s just kids forming a club. The Founders wanted to make sure there wasn’t an American version of the Church of England, not prevent people from praying on government property.

    And people forget the second part of that clause … “or prohibiting the free exercise thereof …” If I don’t lose my right to free speech on government property, then I don’t lose my right to pray on government property or voluntarily talk with other kids about the Bible.

    I once had friend in L.A. go livid because the local school was renting parking lot space to a company selling Christmas trees. Yeah, that sure takes away your freedom of religion … the school rents that space to all kinds of businesses.

  21. Don says:

    PS In fact, there is currently no law that says staff and students may not pray, if they choose to, as long as it’s non-disruptive, not coerced and is done apart from instructional time. I believe the SCOTUS has affirmed this more than once, so it’s really a non-issue. Or should be.

    I believe that’s correct. Of course, I went to Catholic schools, so praying was part of the program.

  22. Don says:

    Tom, a specifically libertarian question for you (asked at the risk of lighting a firestorm of replies)…you wrote above,

    “As a libertarian, I support laws that protect life, liberty and property from those who would take it by violence or fraud, but not much else.”

    Agreed…what about laws protecting citizens from those who also would take violate the rights of others through deliberate but perfectly avoidable recklessness? You probably know where I’m going with that…it’s a favorite issue of many (not all) libertarians I meet these days…*koff* *koff*


  23. Don says:

    If anyone wants to know what official USDoE guidelines are – you know, like, the law – jump to page 2 of the link below. It’s a quick rundown on the possible situations involving of prayer in schools:


    Clearly, it is not illegal to pray in schools, as some would want everyone to believe. Never has been. It’s another “Big Lie.”

    Re: smoking…yes, but smoking pot.

    Oh, that one. I’m against the anti-drug laws, but if your recklessness causes someone else harm — you cause an accident because you’re high — I’d treat it the same as a DUI.

  24. shannon Mace says:

    True believers are not only on the radical left. They are on the radical right too. (Ever hear about the christian right?) The True Believer being a radical, I think is kind of a precondition to being a blind faithful follower, no matter what “truth” is being spouted.

    I said the majority of True Believers in recent times have been on the radical left. There have been some on right as well. However, I would not paint all or even most members of the Christian Right as True Believers, since most of the religious conservatives I know have no desire to impose their beliefs or lifestyle on anyone else, which was part of Hoffer’s definition. By contrast, the radical left will happily impose its preferred way of living on everyone else.

  25. lindberg says:

    Whatever my sympathies or antipathies (mostly the latter) towards political vegan/vegetarian/animal rights activists are, i have to say that the slam against the left is pretty off-base analysis, and really not very insightful. The much more plausible and telling comparison is with ANTIABORTION ACTIVISTS. In both cases, the people in question suffer from what I call clinical PMCS. That’s not Post Menstrual Stress, in this case but PRESUMPTUOUS MORAL CLAIMANT SYNDROME:

    Nobody is entitled to appoint themselves the political representatives of somebody else.

    This is true regardless of who the worthy, “voiceless other” is whom someone purports to be representing.

    Regardless whether somebody appoints themselves “defender of the poor”, “defender of God,” “defender of virtue,” etc, there is an inherent arrogance in claiming this title without consulting the “other” whom one claims to represent.

    So, if one claims to represent “the poor,” then one had better actually be getting their consent and consulting with them.

    If one claims to reprsent God well, that is inherently problematic, since what that really entails is claiming that one has superior knowledge or understanding than everybody else, since no one has yet produced any authenticatable documents of agreements entered into and signed by God with themselves.

    Having compassion is admirable, and expressing that compassion in human ways is admirable, too. But arrogating to oneself a certain moral authority by claiming to speak “on behalf of” some out-group, with no tangible proof, is highly presumptuous and problematic. It’s completely inevitable that anyone doing this will have their credentials questioned.

    One way of sidestepping this problem would be, in the event you can’t produce signed documents, to drop claims of “representation,” and simply and humbly claim nothing but to express one’s own human sentiments and feelings. Nothing wrong with that at all.

    To claim “moral authority,” however, is to immediately run afoul of demands for such a “credentials check.” And, for certain categories of claims (eg, “rights of the unborn,” “rights of God,” etc, etc), the credentials will never be producible. Claimants for such authority, in these cases, therefore will always come up short, every time, guaranteed.

    Therefore, for people who feel strongly about such things, it would simply be better to dispense with such claims altogether.

    Likewise, it is no coincidence that the widespread public feelings of general disagreeability expressed towards people who assert such claims, be they of the most disparate political persuasions (religious righteousness, anti-abortion, etc) bear so much resemblance to each other. People quite simply resent being preached at by anybody else with a tone of authority and superiority. It really is that simple.

    Compare the sharp contrast with someone like a Martin Luther King, or even a Malcolm X, asserting rights for a group of people, whether humbly and modestly, or loudly and militantly, to which the one making the assertion can straightforwardly claim membership.

    No one could accuse such people of having been presumptuous from the standpoint of whom they claimed to represent. And in MLK’s case, no one could detect even a hint of arrogance. The claims being made are straightforward and relatively unproblematic, from the standpoint of what legal scholars call “standing,”* even if you don’t agree with them or don’t want to hear them.

    An important example of a mistake that presumptuous moral claimants typically make: it does not follow that anyone who objects to the “standing” of someone making a claim is necessarily automatically opposed to the claim altogether, nor to the interests of the party on whose behalf the claim is made.

    For example, people can agree with the goal of reducing the need for abortions, and even of the desirability of treating the “unborn” with some degree of moral scruples, but not agree that antiabortionists have the right to be the “defenders” of the unborn. People can agree that we ought to give due regard for the demands of morality without agreeing that religious preachers are asserting a genuine, credible agenda on behalf of God, or that they necessarily always have any better clue what God wants or needs from us than the people against whom they are asserting these “rights.”

    This is a key discord that most such “proxy” advocates practically always overlook: they will assert that such-and-such “right” is equally undeniable and inalienable, as, say, the right to freedom from slavery, to take an example. But they invariably overlook the crucial fact that, even in the case of the most oppressed and put upon historical slave in human history, it has always been possible, at least in principle, to directly consult that slave him or herself in order to directly and unambiguously assess in a straightforward way the precise preferences of the slave him or herself in the matter.

    No such test can be made in the case of the type of “proxy” claims we are discussing here, however.

    This, again, points to the crucial importance of a measure of humility on the part of anyone inclined to assert “proxy” claims of this kind.

    The astonishing and disturbing thing to observe, though, is how precisely the reverse of such humility seems to characterizes the tendencies of these “proxy” claimants.

    It is one thing to loudly and militantly claim this or that right when you are a Malcolm X, even though people still might hate you for it. But how much more problematic is it for you when your very standing for doing so is so much in question — but without any seeming acknowledgement on your part about such doubts?

    Take the antiabortionist claiming to represent the “unborn.” Plenty of people who doubt it will say, “Well, what’s to stop me from claiming to represent the millions of potential future unloved, abused, and neglected children, born into broken families, often suffering hideous deformities resulting from problems like fetal alcohol syndrome? If abortion can help limit the fallout and suffering from these effects, then why couldn’t I claim to represent them in FAVOR of it?”

    Of course, as humans we are entitled to make any such substantive arguments for or against any such proposals. But we should make no mistake of claiming that we speak as anything BUT humans, rather than “for,” and therefore with the weight of superior moral authority “on behalf of” this or that voiceless group.

    The worst of all is the recently converted fanatic. Nothing makes for a worse, more self-righteous hypocrite than the one who thinks, thanks to his recent “born-again” status, that he has special insights and can “see both sides” with special clarity, and therefore knows all the better “the wrongness of his former ways,” which, he assumes therefore, that anybody else who disagrees with his new orthodoxy must share identical errors with.

    Of course, I have really only painted the bare surface of the matter when it comes to the nature of “standing.” Even in the case of a Martin Luther King vs. a Malcolm X, there are innumerable subtleties. Because really there is no such thing as a “black man.” There are infinite subtleties of class and social standing. MLK himself was attacked relentlessly by some of his fellow anti-Jim Crow activists for being too elitist and insulated from the realities of people who really had to bear the brunt of American racism. Indeed, some say that he was only really goaded into participating in the Selma March that led to his arrest, from which the famous Letter from a Birmingham Jail came forth, thanks to the shaming of SNCC activists who accused King of being all bark but no bite.

    So if the problem, say, of “who speaks for the rights of Black people” can in fact be a subtle and tricky question, even in the case of people who are demonstrably of African American ancestry and by all outward signs would seem to have legitimate claims, how much more problematic is it when we are talking of the “born” vs the “unborn”?? Or different lifeforms even??

    Consider this important example of the perversities that must be faced by the presumptuous moral claimant:

    Imagine the preacher who denounces sinners for the crimes against God, but declares to any who dispute his interpretations of virtue, “Ah, but I know that in your heart of hearts, you know I’m right and you’re wrong. It’s because you care and worried about the matter. Otherwise, why would you carry on so debating with me about it?”

    Nothing tends to infuriate most people more than such pompous claims of superior moral knowledge. If they carry on arguing with him, it does not necessarily imply any secret acceptance of guilt, contrary to the preacher’s hypocritical expression of noblesse oblige towards his moral inferiors.

    Indeed, the presumptuous moral claimant will sometimes have to contend with a perverse pleasure taken by those against whom he directs his sermons, in which they may deliberately indulge in the practices he rails against, not even for their own sake, but for the very offense he takes in it. This is merely a not-so-subtle act of defiance against one who is perceived to have arrogantly claimed authority to which he was not entitled.

    Thus the “sinner” sometimes will deliberately engage in lascivious conduct: drinking, sex, etc, chiefly to annoy the “preacher.” The carnivore will eat meat in the face of the vegan fanatic. Etc.

    The “perversity” of course is that the presumptuous claimant can actually precipate more of the conduct he was opposed to, indeed by the very presumptuousness of the stand he has taken.

    The presumptuous one, however, rarely notices this. Instead, he is usually merely reinforced in his preexisting thought patterns, or deliberately reinforces it in himself by repetition, the “sinner’s” conduct simply confirming for him what he suspected all along: the sinners are unredeemed, just as he thought.

    The fact that the presumptuous party usually then perceives himself as the aggrieved party in the dispute further precludes the probability of his noticing these dynamics at all. Since his own presumption is simply invisible to himself and never occurs to him at all, afterall, his identification with his claims being so complete, he perceives the actions of the sinner as a deliberate, gratuitous offense against HIMSELF, naturally.

    The interesting thing about this phenomenon, again, is that it doesn’t even require anything like modern political examples to illustrate all the crucial points of its dynamics. It is a problem as old as moral preaching of any kind whatever. The PREACHER of the IDEAL is always self-appointed. His ideals are always absolute. The sinner always resents him for his presumption. The arguments tend always to resemble each other in the way they play out, from time immemorial. Particulars of language and style will change. In the past, preachers asserted their claims in the name of what was fashionable in their time: God, divine rights, nobility, destiny, etc. Today, they preach in the names of the deities and ideals of our times: Science, Reason, Political Rights. The preacher always claims to embody and speak with authority for the principles that are the fashions of his day.

    The Presumptuous Moral Claimant, though, so far from perceiving any problems in his position, actually counts the distance between himself and the object of his claims to his advantage. Though he speaks “for God” and is not himself God, in his own mind, this is so much the better for him. For, in his way of thinking, it proves that he is above petty self-interest. Not for him the conniving and calculating of advocating merely for his own unambiguous interests, no. He has a Nobler Mission.

    The Presumptuous Moral Claimant is, however, in the eyes of everybody else above all a colossal busybody. And people the world over tend to reserve a special place of contempt in their hearts for busybodies.

    It follows that the PMC finds himself at perpetual odds with most of the world, and accordingly often develops and reinforces a peculiar persecution complex over his own perceived unjust status and treatment at the hands of his fellows.

    * “Standing” is the technical term used in legal proceedings for establishing whether a party bringing a legal matter before the courts has qualified to do so. In the context of court proceedings, meeting the requirements of “standing” can involve a variety of tests. They boil down to deciding whether the party bringing the case has a “substantial interest” in the case at hand. “Substantial interest” in legalese has to involve something more substantive than mere personal sentiments. It can mean, for instance, that they have or might be subject to a significant loss, of rights, of resources, or other matters of substance that pertain to them, depending on the outcome of the case.

  26. Jimbo says:

    Great article until you dropped that line about the radical left. I tend to quote a former co-worker who escaped communist Poland: “I hate wackos. All the way right, or all the way left; you’re a wacko.” Yes, if you’re “radically” on either side chances are you’re a wacko, but I have to argue that in California we saw the religious right (which is millions of people) work together, lobby and promote a smear campaign of lies and BS commercials to impose their beliefs upon everyone else with the YES ON PROP 8 campaign (outlawing gay marriage for those who aren’t privy). Had this prop been shot down, gay marriage would have in NO way affected anyone other than homosexuals, so trying to argue it was the gays who were imposing their beliefs on everyone else doesn’t hold up.

    We even had churches from out of state (Mormons) pumping millions of dollars into the California campaign, simply because they had to impose their religious (aka fanatic) beliefs upon everyone else because otherwise it would “threaten marriage” (I always say that with a southern, redneck accent… not sure why). Apparently the drive through, Elvis Presley impersonator wedding chapels in Vegas don’t threaten marriage, and the 60% divorce rate in the U.S. doesn’t either, but that’s another issue.

    That is a perfect example of the religious right, which is millions of people, trying to impose their fanatical beliefs onto other groups by making something they truly believe into law. They would rather “shut [their] eyes and stop [their] ears to facts.” I know you said the majority are leftist, but I’m just not seeing it through the cloud of “Yes on Prop 8 – Save Marriage” bumper stickers I see – still – on the 101 every morning. Add to that the attempts to impose their beliefs regarding abortion (or simply kill abortion doctors like Scott Roeder) and prayer in school and you have a very, very large group of people on the right trying to impose their “true beliefs” upon the rest of us.

  27. Carmen says:

    I remember the post vote on Prop 8 in Los Angeles when mobs of angry gays ran through the streets terrorizing innocent bystanders and hurling rocks and hateful racial slurs at orthodox jews, blacks and anyone else they came across while destroying public property. I was frankly horrified by their behavior and it certainly didn’t win them any fans. This is just one example of the left’s terrorist type approach to rule of law. Status quo is based on the will of the majority and the majority spoke in that case and gays refused to accept the outcome. Instead they chose to exact their revenge in a violent and uncivilized manner. There will always be winners and losers in a democracy and how any particular group loses is a good indication of what those people are made of. Nothing against gays here but just an example of when one group goes too far when the majority doesn’t bend to them. I have seen many other leftist groups use this same form of tyranny in order to further their agenda. Either we are a civilized nation or we are not and without the “Status Quo” or rule of land we are nothing but a bunch of anarchists running amok.

  28. S says:

    “Now Keith is telling them that farming kills countless animals, and mono-crop agriculture — all those lovely fields of wheat, corn and soybeans — is destroying the environment. In other words, you can kill some animals on purpose to eat them, or you can kill even more by farming…”

    Taken on its face, the above statement makes absolutely no sense. Most of the meat we eat is factory-farmed. And most of the animals that Keith refers to (“kill even more by farming”), that are getting taken out by agriculture, are not animals that we’d be eating anyway — they’re more along the lines of snakes, small rodents, birds that go away due to loss of their habitat. (By “go away” i mean reproduce less successfully, causing their populations to diminish).

    Also, a large percentage of monocrop agriculture goes _toward_ supporting the production of livestock.


    A good deal of the corn and soybeans are fed to livestock which are then fed to us. Energy-wise, that is not an efficient system, because you lose energy when you go through a middleman; in other words, it’s more efficient to feed the veggies directly to the humans, rather than feeding them to a cow and feeding the cow to the humans. It takes less _land_ to feed the veggies directly to the humans. (Except, that’s a vast oversimplification, because humans don’t want to live off of livestock-grade corn and soybeans; we want to eat lettuce and crap like that, that’s not as efficiently produced. But you get my drift, i hope.)

    You can take me down though if i am being an idiot though, because i am right now being one of those ass-bastards that’s all, “Oh, i don’t have time to read the original article but i’m going to spout off anyway because i think i’m brilliant.” I’m being That Guy.

    Sorry to pick on a point that is mostly irrelevant to the main thrust of your article, but i see this all the time — this totally illogical dichotomy, “Should we grow meat, or should we grow vegetables?” — and so i guess it is something of a pet peeve… It looks like a fascinating book, though. Added to my list. =)

    In response to one of your readers’ comments:

    “Lierre does mention not having children as a step towards saving the planet. Since I have two lovely daughters, I clearly don’t agree.”

    I don’t see why that would be so clear. I am in the process of changing my life around for the purpose of having children (used to work as a habitat restorationist — so there’s my bias right there! — and am learning a trade that will allow me more flexibility with my time, and will also allow me to work while pregnant. My old job was physical in nature and there was some element of physical risk). Clearly i want children. However, to my mind, there is simply no argument that more children means more detrimental effect on the planet. I readily admit the conflict between my values and my actions, and i am certainly not saying this makes me better than anyone — How could i possibly claim that, when my actions and my beliefs don’t even line up? But it really bothers me when i see people _rationalizing_ their choices and not admitting that that’s what they’re doing… it is the rationalization that bothers me, rather than the belief itself. I can’t tell, from your short statement, whether that’s what you are doing.

    Anyway, despite my little complaints, i actually really enjoyed the main thrust of your article (oh, but you’ll miss that little point amidst my giant sea of bitching). It is something i have thought about briefly but never with as much clarity as what i just read.

    Sorry if i duplicated a comment somewhere. I can’t actually _find_ all the comments to this post. I may be computer illiterate.

    It would be better to read the book, and I hope you do, but to answer your points:

    1. Keith starts with the vegetarian beliefs and then shows why they don’t actually hold up to scrutiny. One of those beliefs is that a vegetarian diet is morally superior because vegetarians don’t kill to eat. Another belief, at least among the PETA crowd, is that all animals are equal: a pig = a child = a rat. Put those together, and it doesn’t matter if my farm equipment only kills rodents I wouldn’t eat in the first place; I’m still killing thousands of animals in order to raise crops to feed people. As she demonstrates in the book, for humans to eat, other creatures have to die, and there’s no getting around it.

    2. Yes, we feed corn and soy to cattle. THAT’S the problem, not us eating the cattle. Cows were never meant to eat corn and soy. Put cows in a pasture where they belong and feed them grass, which is what nature intended, and all that vegetarian math about how many more people we could feed if we just ate the crops instead of feeding it to livestock goes out the window, as she demonstrates clearly in the book. And when cows are raised in a pasture, they preserve topsoil, as she also demonstrates.

    And I’ll toss in a point she didn’t make: There is no food shortage. In the U.S., we have massive food surpluses. Even if the land could produce more food if we didn’t raise livestock, we don’t need more food production. In countries where people are starving, it’s not because the world doesn’t grow enough food. Show me a country where people are starving, and I’ll show you a country with 1) a government-run economy that isn’t capable of delivering food, 2) a dictatorship in which starvation is used as a weapon against dissentrs, or 3) both. Even Bono eventually figured out that sending crates of food to those countries doesn’t fix anything. It’s seized by the ruling junta or it rots on the docks.

  29. S says:

    By the way, i’m not a vegetarian, though i ate a mostly-vegetarian diet (ate fish every so often) for a number of years for environmental reasons. But i wasn’t a dick about it. If someone asked me about it, then i’d answer their questions.

  30. S says:

    Tom, thanks for your response, and we are super on the same page on this subject.

    I apologize if i came off as Mr. Obvious to you. Unfortunately i am not sorry i posted, on the chance that someone happens upon these comments and learns something. I think that makes me a militant telling-people-about-habitat, um, person… that does that. So that’s not a good sign.

    No apologies necessary.

  31. Jason says:

    Thank you for this fascinating article. I’m a vegetarian for personal reasons alone (I just don’t like the taste of meat, so I don’t) and I’ve always been really annoyed with anyone who tells other people what to eat. I’ve always thought the “evangelical” types of people out there had some sort of, um, well, psychological disorder, especially when they’re fanatical about it.

    Interestingly, I’m trying to figure out how I will balance my particular taste for certain foods with the fact that most are not particularly healthy. Eating meat would make me healthier, but I don’t like it. Yes, the exact opposite of what we’ve been brought up believing, but it’s the truth.

    I don’t have any beef (pardon the pun) with people who choose not to eat meat for ethical reasons or even because they believe (wrongly) that it will make them healthier. I just don’t like the fantatics, as you don’t.

    If you don’t like meat … eggs? Fish? Whey protein?

  32. I find myself watching HGTV like an old ass man

  33. A says:


    Your blogs are about as drab as your stand up. You’re merely pushing an agenda, the same as everyone else. You attack the “left” because you’re on the “right” side of the ideological spectrum and vice versa. You can believe whatever you’d like but diets that are low in saturated fats and LDL cholesterol are healthier and lead to lower risk of heart congestion.

    I don’t know why I don’t like you. Maybe it’s your pretentious, smug, and somewhat dickish attitude. Or maybe it’s your awful films. I don’t know.

    That could be it. Or it could be that you’re a left-wing moron who’s never actually examined the evidence. (Dickish enough for you?) Several large clinical trials were conducted that attempted to reduce heart disease by lowering saturated fat and cholesterol. They were big fat failures. The Swiss and the French have the highest saturated fat consumption in Europe, and also the lowest rates of heart disease. I’m not the one believing whatever I like. You are. I changed my mind after carefully reading up on the science. Since you took the time to respond to a very old post about vegans, I’m guessing you’re one of them. If so, you’re probably about as open-minded and as rational as the average Hezbollah member. You want to believe saturated fat and cholesterol are killers because that would support your religious belief that eating meat is baaaaaaaaaad.

    And what the hell do my libertarian political beliefs have to do with whether or not saturated fat causes heart disease?

  34. Aparna says:

    You are so anti vegetarian. There are entire cultures in the world like India, pakistan, srilanka that are largely vegetarian and do not feel WEAK.
    I agree with you on almost everything else. They should not tell us what we should or control organizations. But stop with the vegetarian bashing.
    Other cultures make nutritious vegetarian food that they eat all the time and do just fine. Or should I say they are only as unhealthy as the rest of the world.
    Stop the hate

    I’m not anti-vegetarian. I have vegetarian friends (including my best friend’s wife) who think my views on nutrition are nuts. We all get along fine, even when we go out for dinner.

    But I’m very much against anyone who tries to impose his or her preferred diets on others or commits violence against people who have differing views on diets. If you can name a group of meat-eaters who’ve tried to impose “Meat-Only Mondays!” on restaurants, or gone into a grocery store and smashed the vegetable counters, or thrown a pepper-laced pie into a vegetarian’s face in a fit of righteous anger, please do so.

    • Laura says:

      I’m commenting late and it may be irrelevant now- but I wanted to point out that there is a significant difference between limiting your diet to not eating animal FLESH (and in some cases fish is still eaten) and to not eating animal foods of any kind (veganism). Fish, eggs and dairy supply a significant amount of animal protein and fat, as well as necessary B12. The reasons vegetarians don’t feel weak is because they eat animal food.

      There are no thriving vegan cultures (no animal foods) anywhere in the world- there never have been.

  35. g says:


    Interesting blog. I have been watching ancestral seminar videos on vimeo, where I saw you. I have watched dozens of them now, very good, and thanks to the people who made this information available. I’ve been reading “paleo” type blogs and familiarizing myself with this world. I find it interesting and have a lot in common with it. It has adjusted my views somewhat. I now no longer villify fat itself so much, or cholesterol. My suspicion, which is probably impossible to “prove” scientifically, is that why people crave or need fat is not that it is necessasrily better than carbohydrate. My suspcion is that “it is the calorie stupid” and the calorie value is the main value that drives us. Having been a raw vegan for a while, I know that is the main concern. The main drive people may have for fat or animal foods I think is their high caloric density first, and perhaps special cases where vitamin D can only be gotten from seafood in the far north, for example. I suspect food choices are less driven by nutrition (esp micronutrients per se) than energy. My thesis is that “as long as one eats only whole foods are whole foods (and one lives a balanced healthy lifestyle getting the non dietary factors right) and eats enough (isn’t an anorexic vegan e.g.) and does not fit relatively rare special cases and avoids, they will have top health. In other words my thesis is that “it is the whole foods stupid” and people eat fat rich foods for convenience- having to eat less bites, especially where there are finite resources of time and energy. I do think people must fine tune their diets to their own bodies. I can handle gluten very well but I avoid nightshades, for example.

    So I used to be raw vegan, low fat high fruit. I gave that up not because my body got unwell. Frankly it was well but it took a lot of energy and effort and money and attention. I did it for health, with ethics as a side benefit I imagined I was getting. I realized then it is fine to base your diet on your identity, but not base ones identity on ones diet, how one eats. For example, I am a compassionate person, therefore I will eat a compassionate way. Versus, I am a “vegan”, I am a member of the wise and compassionate elite- mirroring the fanatics described in the true believer above, which I agree with. Then I became vegan in my diet. I’m using that label now for two reasons though I dislike its use in certain contexts and can give misunderstanding. I use it because it characterizes that I was eating only plants, and second because ethics and compassion was a part of my purpose, although not contradicted by my health beliefs in the vegan diet, based in my mind on science. I thought of things as win-win-win or winfinity, as nature’s direction. Whether that is true or not, we could debate endlessly, and I don’t like to argue. Here now I am simply sharing. During this time I felt well. It was during this time that I felt more energetic drive to be active, to exercise, to spontaneously do pushups. I felt well and realized this is close to the way I always wanted to eat. This is expecially true when I made the nightshade connection. i never really liked tomatoes, and I don’t miss potatoes either. I need my vitamin D, and hydration, but my key to success on “vegan” was eating and eating until finally sated.. and then (unlike on raw) I could go hours without thinking of food. If I ate too much though I’d get reflux, but only when I pushed pass my body’s warning. I also don’t really eat oatmeal.

    Now I am in Germany taking a job as english teacher. The dairy quality is so high here so I am enjoying all types of dairy. Oh yes I did have one problem, tooth problems, but I have always had them. I needed a few fillings. But I should say in my arrogance or angst I avoided brushing and flossing. All my caries were where salivas doesn’t reach easily. I have tight teeth, and it is true only carbs can ferment and thus create acid by bacteria. so that is one downside I admit even to whole carbs. I was also low in vitamin D after winter in poland (23ngmL) but that should be easiest nutrient to attain if we weren’t so sun phobic. Also I had drymouth because not so many public toilets, I drank less water. My clean teeth are much healthier now and I think there are some alarmists out there regarding teeth and veganism but also a lot of good information but time will tell. I also eat a few high quality eggs (free range). They could be extra insurance in case I am missing some minor nutrient, they provide a lot of calories, I don’t have to be fanatic, but most importantly they are kind of tasty. I probably eat 2 a week, sometimes three. I think if I wanted (I don’t) I could go back to “vegan” or even raw vegan diet and thrive. Actually now with all this animal food I feel a little bigger in the gut. I mean more food in the gut, not actual fat. I’ve never had fat.

    They make a connection between veganism and leftism. I can see and understand that but it does not fit for me and also for others I know, who are conservative. Actually we might do well to actually define these terms instead of confusing things, but in most aspects I consider myself conservative and traditional. In fact it was my belief that (near) veganism/vegetarianism itself was conservative and traditional, if not by choice and decision then by necessity in many parts of the world. I’m told by some (McDougall) that virt. all civilizazions were grain/starch based. That makes sense, it can feed people. The exceptions are those on the environmental margins who needed animal food because ag was not so possible. Coincidentally I believe many of these were the same groups that W.A. Price visited. The same factors that made them isolated also made their land marginal and made them depend on animal foods. The fertile lands and easy climes were first overrun by culture and modern displacing foodsttuffs, thereby confounding. I would like to know for sure though that we were predominantly starch versus meat eaters in the past. Now I’m not as sure. Perhaps we were both, it depends. I believe we were most dependent on fire rather than plant versus animal food, starch versus fat and protein. I thank Richard Wrangham for totally blowing my mind and answering questions I didn’t know I was asking. A high fruit diet may be very healthy. Our biology has pathways in fruit metabolism I beileve. But I no longer believe it was our ancestral diet when we branched off, as such things just don’t exist like that in nature. But I believe they truly approach the status of superfoods.

    I am conservative in many aspects, for example gender roles, size of government, spirituality (the Heavenly Father, Yahshua messiah) und so weiter. I could be wrong. But I am also vegan and I don’t correlate to their leftism. Am I an outlier?

    I truly don’t want to kill animals for my food, least not when there is another choice. It is not the same as killing an animal in defense, or killing a fly. I don’t relate to the idea of needing animal foods to be healthy, I’m not sure I believe anyone does, least not flesh, and least not a lot, and if by small chance they do, they are rare. My “beliefs” based on a lot of reflection but always open to change. Lets not focus on the exceptions and absurdities. I believe in my view that since it is not necessary, it is morally wrong to take animal life for food, when not necessary, though many can be excused for ignorance and misinformation, and when necessary it may be another story. Agriculture displaces animals but you didn’t say most grain agriculture goes to feed animals. I know Lierra talks about this in her book, which I haven’t yet had the chance to read. Still I think the easiest way to reduce grain agricultues long shadow are among other things to stop eating animal foods that feed on grain.

    I believe in this morality because I believe there is a heavenly father, a creator. I mean to say by this not to share my religion but to say I don’t believe in morality without a living eternal creator, a heavenly parent. If such doesn’t exist, I don’t know how anyone can discuss morality. It is merely individual or group aesthetics, as I understand. I know my views on the Heavenly Parent cannot be either proved or disproved, as He is not an “object”, not an I and It but I and thou type mystery, in my view. But this is the source of my morality. Not my belief mind you but his actual existence, irregardless of belief.

    Animals kill other animals and is that moral? Well again they need to to eat or die. And yet I don’t believe we are made for such a world. I believe that this is not how it will be when the Kindgom of Heaven will come. I think animals have a choice as do human, where their souls will incarnate. I cannot prove this and it may sound ridiculous to some. What is true? Have you ever considered, truth may be what gives peace of mind, not because such truth is mere pleasure principle and denial of reality, but because our minds were made to interlock with truth, even when it hurts (yeah pain and peace of mind are not negatively correlated in my estimation). But I will admit this has more to do with faith than with reason. I will therefore not even attempt to defend it but only say there are others in the vegetarian (and mainstream christian meat eating!) world who think like I. As far as reason is concerned, and from experience, I cannot see how animal flesh or even animal foods are even (biologically) necessary for anybody (that is, if they have access to whole plant foods). I judge this based on how I feel and how other people I know feel and have lived, and by my belief, humans can’t be that different one from another, that one must depend on fauna the other flora. I’ll end with this but believe me I think a lot about logic and errors of logic, almost like a computer sometimes. I know what a fallacy is and I try to avoid them. At the end of the day one must place ones bet. But I’ve learned (actually I always sort of knew) that fat itself is not so bad if quality. Even food itself doesn’t make that much of a health difference, if it is whole food, not modern displacing foods, as Price suggests. Other things make a huge difference-outlook on life, play, nature, sun and air and water. I have been a food obsessed person for a long time, to make up for deficits in other life areas. Eventually I hope I know longer feel the obsession, it closes full circle. I get amused watching people debate things, including diets. But since it’s a lot of energy and time spent, I hope someday this drive will diminish and disappear, and I find another passion, like career and family and community and work… and I see that eventually happening though not yet. Right now I’m obsessed with the debates and the blogs and all such. Investigating the paleo community sort of closes it full circle, giving me things I didn’t get only from McDougall, Graham, Ornish and the other vegans. now I have seen Guyenet, Matesz, Masterjohn, Nagel, many other blogs and vids. Endlessly. Eat pray and love

    I apologize for the long delay in approving comments. I’ve been swamped and ended up ignoring this blog since I wasn’t writing anything new on it.

  36. Anna says:

    “Fanaticism appeals to them because it provides a sense of identity, the ego-boost of idealism, and the psychological comfort of certainty — thus relieving them of the need to resolve life’s doubts, contradictions, and moral ambiguities for themselves.”

    I was a vegetarian, then vegan, then raw vegan in my youth. Relax, I’m keto now, and much, much happier.

    For me (and many others, I’ve learned) it wasn’t “doubts, contradictions, and moral ambiguities” that sent me down such a bizarre nutritional road but a desperate attempt to cure a snowballing case of metabolic syndrome that doctors told me didn’t exist (it was the 90s), naturopaths said could be eradicated with more carbs, and the rest of society insisted was an open and shut case of American gluttony and sloth and I should be ashamed of myself.

    I was a power lifter running her own landscaping company and climbing mountains on the weekend for fun. Gluttony and sloth, my ass.

    I went vegan in a Hail Mary bid for physical relief, not for a “sense of identity.” I mean, okay, the not-hurting-animals thing was nice but it felt off considering what my ancestors had been chewing on for hundreds of thousands of years. The “idealism” gave me an instant membership pass to a lot of social groups but they were just as restrictive as they were protective and I chafe under most yokes. And that “psychological comfort of certainty” was a no-show because I felt worse and worse on a plants-only diet and there’s only so long you can keep up the self-flagellation before you have to say to almond burgers, “It’s not me, it’s you.”

    Yes, almonds. I don’t want to talk about it.

    Anyway, my point is that I was already familiar with and willingly navigating “life’s doubts, contradictions, and moral ambiguities” before I went vegan–anybody with metabolic syndrome in the current medical system is up to their eyeballs in all three–and I wasn’t looking for a crutch, I was looking for a cure. And like everything else in life, I found my own solution at the end of a long, interesting journey. Delightfully, the solution was bacon.

    So, just remember that there are others like me before making blanket statements about people’s character. You don’t wanna come across like a vegan.

    • Tom Naughton says:

      Indeed, and in posts on my other blog, I’ve distinguished between those who adopt a vegan diet because they believe it’s healthy or make a personal choice not to eat foods that were killed vs. those who consider themselves morally superior and become preachy about it. It’s the latter class who fit the definition of a True Believer.

      You seem to be doing a lot of catch-up reading.

      • Anna says:

        I just found your blog today and was inspired to join the conversation. Thank you for being so easy going, affable, and not implying that I might be an imbecile for not digesting your entire oeuvre before hitting Submit Comment.

        • Tom Naughton says:

          No surprise you just found it today. As you’ll notice from the post dates, I ignored this blog for a long time. I was too busy to keep up with it, since I have a job, the Fat Head blog, weekend farm work, a book project, etc.

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