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. Melissa says:

    Wow I’m glad you posted this!
    I just did a some vids on youtube about similiar topics.
    I use to be a vegetarian, quit because I was sick after three years, and then years later on the advice of Kathy Freston and her book decided to do Veganism and after 2 months I looked like hell and I dropped it!
    Of course it took another year for me to realize I was a protein type- whoops!

    Anyways on older vids I got this comment from some vegan when I was talking about Lierre Keith that I had failed to protect the planet because I had a child! Apparently Lierre said something that having children wasn’t good for the planet??? I’m not sure.

    There was other comments on there talking about how having children was bad for the environment and that we should stop having children to reduce (eliminate???) the populace or adopt. This was a solution to environmental problems. Apparently there is a group of people who are anti having children because they think it’s a solution.

    Although it doesn’t explain any current problems they are creating!
    Boggled my mind.

    Lierre does mention not having children as a step towards saving the planet. Since I have two lovely daughters, I clearly don’t agree. (Then just the stupid people will have kids … ever see “Idiocracy”?) But since I’m not a True Believer, I can set that disagreement aside and embrace most of what she says in her book.

  2. Lowell says:

    Wonderful post; thanks, Tom. However… I was with you all the way until the last two paragraphs. I think there are just as many True Believers on the right as there are on the left, it’s just that- likely- because you more closely agree with them they aren’t quite as visible or distasteful to you. Neocons, radical evangelicals, pro-lifers, tea partiers… there are certainly those amongst them that have ideas, not beliefs, and are based on rational thought. Same for the left wing as well. But as someone who largely agrees with most of your libertarian views but tends to lean to the left, I would strongly dispute the statement that most True Believers have ended on the radical left. I see True Believers on the radical right all the time. On the left too. Let’s be fair here, this isn’t something indicative of the left. Everyone can suffer from this particular disorder.

    There are nuts on both sides. But in the past twenty years or so, a whole bunch of speakers have been shouted down, had pies tossed at them, had speeches canceled because of violent protests, etc. Every one that I can remember was due to leftist kooks. Let me know if you can, but I can’t remember a single instance of a leftist speaker being attacked by conservatives. I’ve never heard a leftist college student facing charges for violating campus PC speech codes.

    I’ll expand on this next week, but in a nutshell, the intellectual heritage of libertarians and small-government conservatives (not religious conservatives) goes back to the Enlightenment thinkers. It’s about individualism, objectivism, and reason. The intellectual heritage of the left goes back to philosophers who preach subjectivism and collectivism. They are anti-reason. It’s in their texts. If you believe reality is subjective, that logic is a white male construct, it’s WAY easier to maintain your true believer status, because logic and reason roll off your back. Also, as Hoffer explains, the true believers favor the cause over the individual. That’s a leftist concept, not a libertarian one.

  3. Rob says:

    Love your FatHead blog.

    I’m about 2/3 the way through The Vegetarian Myth now, and it really is quite excellent. I did a couple years as a vegetarian, though I’d abandoned it living in Japan these last 5 years, and the book does show, much to my chagrin that some of the ideas I had, while well intentioned, were naive, at best.

    Read Hoffer’s True Believer years ago, and it’s as excellent as you make out. Certainly key in understanding the state of the world, particularly the religious and political. I’d like to force everyone to read it, but that’d just make me another zealot 🙂

    A favorite quite, along similar lines – “Belief is the death of intelligence. As soon as one believes a doctrine of any sort, or assumes certitude, one stops thinking about that aspect of existence.” – Robert Anton Wilson

    Though I wouldn’t mind seeing Coulter get pied. Sans cayenne, of course. ‘Cause that’d just be funny.

    Then to be fair, you’d have to ask yourself if you’d laugh if Bill Maher got a pie in the face.

  4. Auntie M says:

    I’ll have to check out that book. When I teach Nazism and WWII to my students, most of them can’t understand why people went along with Hitler. This gives me some ideas on how to better explain it.

    Also, Coulter recently published a health care plan on her blog that sounds surprisingly like the one you created a while back. You might want to look. Maybe she’s reading your stuff. I don’t know much about her, so it’s also possible she has a functioning brain.

    The most influential German philosophers in the generations before Hitler preached collectivism and worship of the state. Blind loyalty was the result.

  5. Cynthia says:

    Well, I agree with Lowell. But you’re right about the conservatives not pie-ing people- they are more likely to resort to bombings and shootings. They don’t mess around with sissy symbolic gestures.

    Certain types of people just feel most comfortable when conforming to a set of rules. They need the certainty, and they usually need companionship in their beliefs. (People who are strong and independent enough to think for themselves don’t need anyone else’s approval.) So at one extreme, you have vegans self-righteously believing in their ability to heal the planet. At another extreme, you have conservatives trying to “save the family” by trying to prevent gay marriage, or “saving the unborn” by protesting at abortion clinics (or blowing them up). White supremacists try to save America and keep it run by whites only. The unifying principle is a belief that what you are doing makes the world better (but only you have it right), and therefore you are morally justified in whatever actions are necessary to effect that change. I agree with most of what you said above, but if you want to accuse the left wing of extremism and ignore the right wing extremists, then you are just wearing blinders, IMO.

    I don’t ignore right-wing extremists. Blowing up an abortion clinic is inexcusable and those who do it are nuts. But protesting isn’t nuts. Voting for a marriage amendment isn’t nuts. Having strong beliefs isn’t nuts. Resorting to violence, shouting down a speaker, considering anyone who disagrees with you evil, that’s nuts.

    As for conservatives being more likely to shoot or set off bombs … huh? Plenty of bombs went off in the 1960s and 1970s, remember? They were set by radical leftists.

  6. J4140 says:

    To the first comment: You can’t lump “neocons” and tea party people in with true believers. None of theses people try to destroy the rights of other people. They want to advance their beliefs but not at the expense of free speech of others. There’s no pie throwing or militant behavior. People are allowed to disagree and just because they don’t agree with you doesn’t make them a True Believer.

    Indeed, let’s not confuse commitment and strong beliefs with True Believer status. I have a friend who organized some Tea Party protests. He’s outraged at the trillions of dollars being wasted on bailouts and expanding government, but he would never, ever try to assault a leftist speaker, shut down a leftist newspaper on a college campus, etc. It would go against his principles.

  7. pjnoir says:

    Nice post but we are all true believers of one thing or another- we all need to feel that we are doing the right thing. Accepting change is very tough but HOW you handle the big curve ball reflects the CORE values your true believer values were build on. They failed. I support they ‘free speech’ rights (pie throwing, protests flag burning) but not their criminal act (pepper). Free speech works with an educated population. Violence is the desperate last resort.

    I consider throwing a pie in someone’s face an assault, period. Your right to swing your arm ends at my nose, etc. Flag-burning is not the same thing. It’s disgusting to me personally, but you have the right to disgust me as a protest. You don’t have right to toss a pie in my face.

  8. Fred Hahn says:

    Tom nice post. Hoffer is great. This of course carries over to the lipophobes at the NIH, ADA, AHA, PCRM, etc.

    As Mark Twain said “The truth is easy to kill but a lie well told is immortal.”

    One Twain’s many, many great quotes.

  9. Rick says:

    Tom, you are one witty and smart guy, I enjoy your writings Like Lowell, I was following along until the end until you claimed that most true believers are on the left. I see it exactly opposite. The most egregious example of modern times is the German Nazi party. I don’t think anyone would call them leftist. When I think of true believers in our time I see the Republican party and its quashing of any internal dissent and its call for “purity”. Sounds familiar?

    I have to admit I just don’t get this fixation you have with “leftism”. I see a little bit of a True Believer in you in your comments. I look forward to your next piece to learn where you are coming from on this.

    I’m not sure what you mean by Republicans quashing internal dissent. Both parties attempt to maintain some party discipline, but no one is prevented from speaking out, and the 2008 Republican nominee, John McCain, had a reputation for breaking with the party.

    The historical revisionists have done a marvelous job associating the Nazis with a right-wing belief system, but it simply isn’t true, not if you consider small-government conservatism and capitalism right-wing. Quote from Hitler himself: “Basically, National Socialism and Marxism are the same.” Goebbels was a strident anti-capitalist as well. If you read the Nazi party platform, you can remove the references to Jews and “inferior peoples,” and the rest of it sounds like something that came from a convention of Democrats.

    As a libertarian, I’m against much of what leftists believe. But let’s not confuse having strong beliefs with True Believer status. I don’t consider people on the left evil (my parents and one of my best friends voted for Obama, much to my disappointment), I don’t try to shut them up or shout them down, I happily engage them in debates (which sometimes end with them sputtering and calling me a Nazi). Nor do I by any means support everything Republicans stand for, or even everything the Libertarian party stands for.

  10. Mike says:

    Well Tom I must say I appreciate Ms. Keith’s application of facts and reason to her prior vegan philosophy and I am certain it took some courage to publicly refute the claims of the fanatics. However Ms. Keith will I hope continue her quest for knowledge and eventually she will discover the fallacies inherent in some of her currently held beliefs; “factory farming”, that our current agricultural production model depletes the environment “year after year”, or that “monoculture” is deleterious. There is plenty of science that refutes or diminishes these claims (also frequently supported by “true believers”) if Ms. Keith will simply continue her search for truth.

    She has made significant progress; and I admire her for it. I just hope she will not stop at releasing one intellectually malformed belief while maintaining her faith in another.

    She’s clearly open to changing her mind in the face of new information.

  11. “Though I wouldn’t mind seeing Coulter get pied. Sans cayenne, of course. ‘Cause that’d just be funny.

    Then to be fair, you’d have to ask yourself if you’d laugh if Bill Maher got a pie in the face.”

    I probably would!! But, like the poster said, without cayenne….that’s what makes this appalling. It’s not the pie that makes this an attack….it’s the pepper in it.

    Okay, I’ll admit it. If Bill Maher got a pie in his smug face, I’d laugh … but I’d still be against it. Pushing a substance into someone’s face is a violation, even if the substance is whipped cream.

    I’d feel less hostility towards Maher if he didn’t insist on calling himself a libertarian despite having abandoned nearly all libertarian ideas years ago. Now I tell people I’m a libertarian and get responses like “Oh! Like Bill Maher!” Not hardly.

  12. Benpercent says:

    “What separates me from vegetarians isn’t ethics or commitment. It’s information.”

    Someone once said, “Humans are willing to create hell on earth if they think it’s moral.” If information is all that separates Ms. Keith from vegans then she puts herself up for more scrutiny. To add on to your post, one of the problems in the philosophical culture today — of true believers if you will — is that when a theory amounts to a failure in practice it’s reality that often gets blamed and the theories that continue to be practiced regardless of consequences. If Ms. Keith still accepts the vegan ethics, then one could still argue that despite the health consequences of not doing so it’s still wrong to eat meat, and that humans just ought to go extinct since their biological mechanisms render them “innately depraved.”

    When a theory clashes with reality we should always take to questioning the validity of our ideas. If the vegan ethics lead to disastrous practices, then we should reexamine morality instead of resorting to saying “It’s noble in theory but bad in practice.” Once you give your opponent the moral high ground you’ve lost the debate, no matter how practical you are.

    I’m hesitant to speak on her behalf, but based on her book, she still shares the ethic of respecting life and avoiding needless cruelty, as opposed to believing killing to eat is wrong.

    Very true about theories and reality. Some communists were actually happy when the Soviet Union went away because it was providing a rather embarrassing example of the theory in practice.

  13. Tom, you write, “Fanatical movements attract a particular personality type. They are typically dissatisfied with their own lives and have low self-esteem.”

    That made me wonder what effect Obama and the Democrats will have on young adults over the next 10 years. Increasing government power, less individual freedom, confiscatory tax rates, stifling bureaucracy, little power to influence politics – sounds like a formula for producing people who are “dissatisfied with their own lives and have low self-esteem.”


    I don’t think the Obama administration will last past 2012, and there’s a good chance the Democrats’ majority in Congress will be gone a year from now.

  14. WD40 says:

    True believers tend to be leftist in this modern era? I’d say true believers tend toward both liberal and conservative extremes. Fox news, Ann Coulter (and other right-wing talking heads), Tea Parties, the Birthers, etc all smack of True Believing. And yes the left has its fair share too. I’m interested to see how you’re going to expand this thesis but at the moment I disagree. Lovely piece though!

    We need to distinguish between being dedicated to cause and having strong (or loud) beliefs, versus being a True Believer. I find Bill Maher just as offensive as some people find Ann Coulter (who also offends me at times), but I’ve never heard Coulter or Maher suggest censoring the other side or engaging in physical attacks. They’re highly opinionated and frequently offensive, but I don’t categorize them as True Believers.

    By contrast, conservative newspapers have been shut down on campuses, conservative speakers have been shouted down on campuses or canceled by the university because of student protests, conservative teachers have been denied tenure and hounded out of their jobs (see “Indoctrinate U” for some lovely examples), conservative students have been brought up on hate-crime charges for expressing their opinions in class, etc. A student in California wrote an essay supporting the Iraq war; he not only received an F, his teacher insisted he seek psychiatric help. (I’d say it was the teacher who needed a shrink.)

    If there are analogous incidents of the same thing happening to left-leaning teachers and students, let me know. I’m not aware of them.

    Jane Fonda spoke at my campus when I was in college. There were protesters carrying signs outside. Some conservative students asked her pointed questions during Q&A afterwards. But nobody threw anything at her, no one demanded the university cancel the speech, no one yelled insults at her from the audience, no one tried to shout her down.

  15. Lowell says:

    Tom, J4140-

    I think you’re both picking examples of the non-True Believers on the right, while selectively picking on the True Believers on the left. Just because some, or even most, of Tea Partiers are not True Believers does not mean that none of them are. Just because some animal rights folks are (PETA, etc) does not mean that everyone who advocates for “animal rights” is either.

    Tom, I think your points about intellectual heritage are great, and I generally agree that left-leaning folks tend towards the good of the many at the expense of the individual (socialism, etc), but I think that is largely independent of the True Believer tendencies. There are plenty of right-leaning kooks too. That doesn’t invalidate people like your friend who organizes Tea Party rallies… and I think it does you a disservice to say that left-leaning kooks would invalidate the left arguments as well. There are crazies on both sides… I’ll get back to that in a second.

    First, of course, the left/right spectrum is a vast oversimplification of political views. Just because radical environmentalists and PETA folks are on the left doesn’t mean that all other causes generally lumped in with the left have the same characteristics or lack of rational basis… plenty of people have some “left” views and some “right” views. It’s not a single axis, and it presents a false choice.

    Tom, back to your reply above– you say “I can’t remember a single instance of a leftist speaker being attacked by conservatives. I’ve never heard a leftist college student facing charges for violating campus PC speech codes.”. Leftists are attacked all the time, physically, verbally, or via threatened rights and restriction of speech. I’m honestly a bit shocked that you can say that.

    Abortion clinic bombings, anti-gay brutality, racial beatings/murders… there’s the Olympic Park Bomber from 1996. He was apparently involved in this “Christian Identity” thing, a “radical right” agenda… David Lewis Rice, murdered 4 people in Seattle in 1985, same association. Scroll down to the US on this page: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christian_terrorism.

    “On July 12, 2007, three members of [Operation Save America] (Ante and Kathy Pavkovic, and their daughter Christan Sugar) tried to shout down a Hindu clergyman as he offered the traditional morning prayer on the US Senate floor. [7] The protesters denounced the prayer as an “act of abomination” and “gross idolatry”.”

    Also, not overt violence, but what about the “right” editing/spinning history (the left does it too, don’t get me wrong), redefining capitalism, american exceptionalism, etc? They’re clearly true believers who can’t let opposing views be heard. They believe their views and interpretation should be the only one taught to students.

    Anti-abortion radicals, anti-gay marriage and generally anti-gay radicals…

    Oh, and let’s not forget censorship of offensive language and content. Restrictions on swear words, etc. There are certainly many who have rational thought process and arguments here, but a great many of the most strident advocates here are definitely True Believers. Your reply above mentions PC speech codes… how about this kind of censorship on the other side?

    You’re picking on the worst examples of leftist radicalism, while cherry picking the most well-supported and rational of right-wing radicalism. This is not something more common on the left.

    Also… I hate to argue with you on this, as I have so much respect for nearly everything you’ve written and the vast majority of the positions you’ve taken. I hugely appreciate the amount of work you’ve put into all of this. I just think you’ve gone a bit too far on this point.

    No apologies necessary for arguing with me. I encourage it and expected it when I raised this topic. Call me on my selection bias any ol’ time. (I have a liberal Democrat friend who’s pretty good at that. Keeps me honest.)

    To clarify — and I’ll get into this next week — I don’t think all leftists are True Believers by any means, nor I do believe right-wingers are immune to it. But the dominant True Believer movements in the modern era — Nazism, Fascism, Stalinism, Communism — were all socialist/collectivist/anti-reason movements. Hitler and Mussolini both had legions of fans in the U.S. before WWII, nearly all of them members of the American “progressive” movement. FDR and Mussolini even exchanged letters of mutual admiration for each other’s economic policies.

    And since the True Believer mentality requires immunity from logic and a belief that the group is more important than the individual, more leftists — whose intellectual heritage is subjectivism and collectivism — will fit the profile. The glaring exception is religious fanatics, who can be left or right but would more likely be on the right in today’s political climate, because religious fanaticism also requires immunity from logic, as Hoffer pointed out himself.

    Censorship of offensive content is hardly limited to right-wingers. It was the Clinton administration that insisted on the V-chip, it was Tipper Gore who went after “offensive” lyrics, broacasters who are hounded off the air after uttering something “offensive” have usually ticked off some self-proclaimed victim group on the left, etc. I don’t like it when either side does it. I’m no fan of Bill Maher, but I thought it was stupid when he was dumped by ABC for supposedly unpatriotic statements.

    — Forgot to mention: I agree that a left/right view of politics is overly simplistic. That’s how religious conservatives get lumped in with small-government conservatives and pro-choice liberals get lumped in with big-government liberals, etc. I wish our system wasn’t dominated by two parties. As a libertarian, I’d be considered far right on some issues and far left on others. Niether label really works.

  16. Allen says:

    I think the anger and the pie-throwing was more about the fact that the Vegetarian Myth book is filled with inaccurate information that will nonetheless be used to fuel attacks against vegans by The Carnivore True Believers.

    If you’re aware of a carnivore attacking a vegan for advocating veganism, please let us know.

  17. Rainier Wolfcastle says:

    The vast majority of True Believers (of any stripe) do not commit assault. How many militant vegans are there? Hundreds of thousands at least. How many pies are thrown each year? A dozen, maybe?

    There are millions (literally) of True Believers on the far right in this country. Google “willful ignorance” for more discussions of same than you can possibly read. These people fit every single aspect you quote from Hoffer. The fact that they’d rather eat pie than throw it in no way disqualifies them as True Believers. This is a typical meta-discussion:

    Far Rightist:
    FR: I don’t believe that. And how about ?
    FR [confused hostile glare]: I don’t believe what you’re saying is true.

    continue in the same vein until I give up.

    Just because far leftists are more shrill and strident than far rightists in many cases does not mean there are more True Believers on the far left. I believe (hah!) that it is quite the contrary.

    Anyone who can simply dimiss away a provable fact by saying “I don’t believe that” is probably a True Believer. I’ve had the same meta-conversation with a lot of lefists. I’ve also had good, energetic, logical debates with leftists. Those are the ones I like.

  18. Gene Splicing says:

    Scientists say veganism led to Neanderthal downfall:


    Tongue-in-cheek, very funny.

  19. Tim Starr says:

    Neocons are “liberals who got mugged by reality,” in Irving Kristol’s definition. IOW, they’ve already changed their ideas when their ideas conflicted with the facts. Thus, while they may still have plenty of ideas one may disagree with, one thing they almost certainly can’t be accused of is True-Believerism. If they were True Believers, they’d still be liberals.

    I was a liberal as young man (my parents still are) but changed my mind after reading rather a lot of history and economics. In fact, my parents are still trying to figure out how they ended up with three “right wing” kids, although all three of us are more libertarian than anything.

    That being said, I think there are True Believers among both liberals and neocons. Nixon’s people certainly fit the bill, since they had no qualms about intimidating and censoring those who disagreed with them.

  20. Kennedy says:

    ‘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,’

    You know it’s not hard to understand the ins and outs of all the Vegans arguments. After all Eades shows us how eating meat gave us our big brains. Without it we must surely lose our brains, never mind talking about the degree to which you are stupified by eating wheat. I imagine the wheat factor seriously influences whether you gradually become a complete insane moron like that girl on the video you posted not too long ago. The amount of brain-building components found exclusively in meat is staggering, I won’t attempt to write the list here. I can’t see how understanding their nonsensical arguments makes her anymore of a threat IMO.

    And Lierre, if you’re reading, why continue to give talks if the bulk of your audience are not fans but haters? From the video angle on that short clip, nobody seemed to even flinch when you got pied by a group of losers. Man if I was doing a book tour, I’d be expecting adoring fans sitting their wide-eyed and admiring.

    I will be reading the book shortly too.


    If anyone needs to hear what Lierre has to say, it’s other vegans. She’s courageous for facing what is bound to be a hostile crowd.

  21. Tom,

    Brilliant post. Just another book to add to the reading list after 10,000 Year Explosion. Next thing you know they’ll find a gene for such tomfoolery and, in a bout of anti-disgenics, our children will steer clear.


    10,000 Year Explosion — that was a good one, too.

  22. Don says:

    Truth be told, *everybody* is a True Believer about something, so the tone if not the premise of the book (i.e., the implied ever-reasonable “we” vs. the irrational “them” of the TBs) is debatable. The issue isn’t what each goes TB over; the issue is what each of us does – or doesn’t do – with it.

    I write this as a Biblical fundie to the right, in all senses of the word, of most professing fundies. I accept and tolerate everyone. Except Swedes.

    If you accept and tolerate everyone, I wouldn’t classify you as a True Believer (except in Sweden). 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.

    That’s why I’m often hostile towards leftist ideas. In the economic sphere, at least, it’s the leftists who want to impose their will on everyone else. Nothing in small-government conservatism prevents leftists from living their economic lives as leftists. Want to pool your resources, give according to each one’s ability, receive according to each one’s need? No one’s stopping you. Want to pay higher taxes? The government will happily accept your money. Think health care would be all fabulous and wonderful and affordable if there wasn’t any profit involved? Go for it … start a non-profit insurance company, don’t turn anyone down, don’t deny any procedures. No one’s stopping you. But don’t take away my private insurance because you think profit is icky and then force me into your system. I don’t want any part of it.

  23. Clair Schwan says:

    It’s funny how our beliefs can drive us to do illogical things and then support the insanity with concocted arguments, lots of shouting, pepper laced pies and such. If only we would realize that there is very little reality in life, it’s mostly perception, and very little truth that we can know with certainty, only a set of beliefs based on our perceptions. That might make us all a bit more accepting of the views of others.

    As one man remarked to me, “people believe odd things in an effort to justify their behavior.” This leads me to believe that our friends at PETA and other on-fire vegans must think that all those bugs smashed on their windshields, grills, front bumpers and radiators have been planted there by “those meat eaters.”

    The key to getting beyond our own fixed perception of the world is to be able to articulate rationale arguments supporting what we believe, sit down with others to discuss the issues with a genuine desire to understand what they believe and why, and then to see how our thoughts and arguments match up with theirs. It also takes an open mind and a willingness to see that others may have better insight and a more reasonable view on a particular subject. That means we might have to admit that we’re mistaken about something and make changes in what we think and do. That would require maturity, and perhaps that’s asking too much — pies are easier.

    It’s coincidental that I was just remarking to my sweetheart this morning that the left leaning in our society are the first to demand tolerance, and they often are the least tolerant among us, especially if what is being said or done flies in the face of their beliefs.

    I applaud all that have the courage to be free, however, you only earn the respect of others when you show the courage and civility to let them be free as well.

    Clair Schwan

    Spoken like a gentleman. Thanks.

  24. matt says:

    @Clair- just thought I should point out the irony in your statement:

    “If only we would realize that there is very little reality in life, it’s mostly perception, and very little truth that we can know with certainty, only a set of beliefs based on our perceptions.”

    So then is your own comment something YOU KNOW with certainty? Or is that your belief based on your perception?

    Sometimes people get caught up in “letting everyone be free” in the name of tolerance, but that doesn’t always provide the best outcome in situations where there is right and wrong. Not everything is based on perception.

    As a teacher, I’m not going to let little Jimmy slide when he says 2+2=5, even if he tells me that is his perception. In that case, it is unloving of me to be “tolerant” of his answer for the sake of letting him “be free”. There are such situations in life that mimic this logic on a grander scale, thus require an “intolerant” response.

    That said, those extremists of any side (left, right, vegan, religious, Raider’s fans, Beetles fans, Trekkies, etc) that feel it is ok to harm someone else just for the sake of their beliefs, are obviously in the wrong.

    I’ll let Clair answer for himself, but your comment reminds me of something Dennis Prager once said in response to one of those “all morality is relative and we shouldn’t judge” types: So, let’s see how deeply you actually believe that. Some guy breaks into to your home, rapes your wife and kills your children. Are you telling me your response would be, “I don’t really agree with your morality, but it’s not up to me to judge it and say you’re wrong”?

  25. Bob Collins says:

    I am disappointed that, while pointing out the characteristics of fanaticism, you completely miss that it is truly apolitical. The extremism you refer is evidenced in every area of human endeavor. To even suggest that the left is more guilty than then right undermines the argument and dilutes the message. But maybe you are just preaching to your true believers?

    It is apolitical to a large degree. That’s why True Believers can flip their loyalties. But that doesn’t change the fact that the major True Believer movements in modern times — especially those that justified killing a LOT of people — were leftist. It’s easier to kill people when you believe the group matters more than the individual. German philosophers especially viewed people as having importance only in their ability to serve the state.

  26. Bob Collins says:

    Fascism is leftist? Nationalism is leftist?

    My considered guess is that you may be confusing authoritarianism-libertarianism with left-right. I agree that _dangerous_ True Believers correlate with authoritarianism as opposed to honoring individual liberty, but there is as many authoritarian-rightists as there are authoritarian-leftists.

    And even within the libertarian movement, in the form of the Free State Project (which I support), there are plenty of fanatical True Believers. They are unlikely to force you to conform to their belief.

    Authoritarians vs. libertarians is a more accurate description. The left-right labels don’t always fit, I grant you. My views on drugs laws would be considered to the left (thus putting me with William F. Buckley Jr., who was also against them).

    I’m quite disappointed that the term “liberal” has come to define those who favor big government and the welfare state. Back in the day, a “liberal” supported strictly limited government and free markets, so now we have to call that “classical liberalism,” kind of like Coke classic. Today free-market capitalists who want a strictly limited government are called “right wing.”

    Since I’m passionate about economics, I view leftism largely as supporting collectivism and government control of the economy. Fascism was most definitely leftist in that regard. Mussolini was a socialist agitator and a journalist for a socialist newspaper. Hitler declared National Socialism to be basically Marxist. Their fans in the U.S. were “progressives” (which I always put in quotes because I don’t think there’s anything progressive about expanding government control over our economics lives).

    The big beef between the fascists and Nazis vs. the communists was over nationalism. The communists wanted the workers of the world to rise up together, never mind nationalism. But that’s a bit like the fierce battles between Catholics and Protestants; they had a heck of a lot more in common with each other than they did with Jews or Muslims.

  27. matt says:


    I may have written my comment poorly. I was actually writing that while going back and forth with an IRS agent on the telephone disputing a bill they sent me. Not that it matters, but I was right. Score one for the average joe.

    My comments were meant to make this point; there IS such a thing as right and wrong. I believe that the phrase “tolerance” is thrown around too much nowadays where we are encouraged to be tolerant of everyone and everything, even when something is clearly wrong. Morality is absolute- not relative. Does that clear it up?

    For Clair, I was just pointing out that his statement which claimed there was little we could know with certainty inherently implies that he CERTAINLY knows what he is talking about with that statement.

    Hopefully that makes my point more clear, and if I’ve misunderstood your response then please let me know.

    I might not have expressed myself clearly either. I brought up Prager’s response because I also believe there’s such a thing as right or wrong, which was his point. I didn’t put his example of the rapist-murderer, beginning with “Let’s see how deeply you actually believe that” in quotes, but that’s what he said to the moral relativist, not what I was saying to you. Like you, I believe refusing to label any behavior as right or wrong is the intellectual coward’s way out.

  28. David says:

    “None of theses people try to destroy the rights of other people. They want to advance their beliefs but not at the expense of free speech of others.”

    Tom: 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.

    Seriously? Right wing nut cases regularly try to prevent women from receiving birth control from pharmacies. They try to prevent women from receiving reproductive health care from clinics that provide abortions (which are legal, BTW). They’ve denied civil rights to African Americans and are still trying to keep gays from having equal rights. They aren’t just protesting. And

    “Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Chris Hedges was forced to cut short a commencement speech at a private Illinois college on May 17 [2003] after right-wing hecklers shouted him down and rushed the platform. The hooligan attack was directed against Hedges’ sharp condemnation of the US invasion and occupation of Iraq.”

    Republican campaign events denied access to people they just suspected of being Democrats. I must agree with Lowell here. There are crazies on both sides.

    Wasn’t aware of the Hedges event, so thanks for letting me know. Those would certainly qualify as right-wing True Believers.

    I am of course opposed to laws preventing pharmacies from selling birth control, but I’m also against laws that ORDER pharmacies to sell birth control if the owner chooses not to, which has happened.

    As far as denying civil rights to African-Americans, you’ll have to give me your definition of civil rights and right-wing. I consider voting a civil right, but not affirmative action or welfare. If you’re refering to the Civil Rights Act passed in the 1960s, it was 1) nearly a clone of a law proposed by Eisenhower but defeated by Democrats, and 2) received support from a higher percentage of Republicans in congress than Democrats. (Al Gore’s father was among the many Democrats who voted against it.) I suppose we could call those right-wing Democrats, but since they were also New Deal supporters, it’s a strange fit.

    I’d also like to know what you consider a “civil right” for gays. Marriage? If that’s a civil right for gays, is it also a civil right for bigamists? Is telling two consenting men they can’t marry a violation of civil rights, but telling a man he can’t marry two consenting women okay? Are my civil rights denied if I can’t marry my first cousin?

    In other words, is denying marriage between any and all consenting adults a violation of civil rights, or are you only willing to expand the definition to one more group? If you are talking about marriage, you’re surely aware that Clinton signed a defense of marriage act, and I don’t consider him a right-winger. I don’t care if gays marry each other, but I’m little iffy on the “civil rights” label.

  29. Bob Collins says:


    I cringe when you say “there IS such a thing as right and wrong,” mostly because it is so often associated with the pontificating of a True Believer.

    That said, there IS objective reality such as arithmetic. 2 + 2 = 5 is always wrong.

    There is no objective reality in religion. If ones concept of “right and wrong” is based entirely on ancient writings then I suggest they keep their judgements to themselves. The religious among us are the original True Believers.

    Matt may have his own reply, but I have a question of my own: Is raping a woman ALWAYS wrong? Is killing a child for the enjoyment of it ALWAYS wrong? If so, then there is such a thing as right and wrong, whether you’re religious (or a true believer) or not.

  30. Tom Naughton says:

    Amazing … I’ve spouted off on a variety of topics for nearly a year, many of them hot-button issues, and gotten a few responses. Now I just mention the topic of next week’s post in a closing paragraph, and raging debate ensues over that one paragraph. I love it.

  31. matt says:

    @Bob- I would actually like to hear your response to what Tom wrote in response to your post. Couldn’t have said it better myself.

  32. Katy says:

    “I’m also against laws that ORDER pharmacies to sell birth control if the owner chooses not to, which has happened.”

    I am not comfortable with granting pharmacists, counter clerks, or owners of drugstores the power to deny people drugs prescribed by their physicians. What about people who have limited means of transportation or funds to get to another pharmacy that will fill the prescription? What if the owner decides that pain killers containing narcotics are verboten? Birth control preparations are often prescribed for many conditions, not to just prevent pregnancy. I don’t want members of the general population substituting their judgment for my doctor’s, and that includes insurance companies.

    They’re not denying anyone birth control. They’re just deciding not to sell it. There’s a huge difference. And it wouldn’t be up to the pharmacist or the counter clerk, it would be up to the store owner. Nobody should be forced to sell a product he finds morally objectionable. Even in our little town, there are dozens of places to get a prescription filled, many with signs that read WE DELIVER.

    I’ve yet to hear of anyone who has a moral objection to painkillers or any other prescription medication, with the possible exception of Christian Scientists, who don’t generally open pharmacies.

  33. Mark says:

    As a vegetarian, I enjoyed your article. I have not read Ms. Keiths book.

    I must emphasize, as I think you indirectly acknowledge, that because one is a vegan or vegetarian, does not make one a leftist nut case. But I do agree that there is heavy peer pressure to become radicalized, once one takes the step to vegetarianism.

    I became a vegetarian over 35 years ago and a vegan over 10 years ago. But I did it for health and because it was right for me. I do try to educate others about improving diet, but only if asked. I do not try to convert anyone. I disagree with those who think vegetarian diets are inherently unhealthy, but politely. I also understand that many people are not suited for it.

    What I encourage is for people to change their diet to exclude/drastically reduce salt, sugar, refined flour, excess fats, etc. I never arbitrarily recommend a long term vegetarian diet.

    The reason I removed dairy from my diet was health, I am much better off without it. But I don’t get all smarmy if, for example, Indian food is cooked in Ghee.

    Is being a vegetarian for everyone? no. It does concern me though, to see our overweight and obese society, with many illnesses preventable by healthier eating, more exercise, and a more varied diet.

    I lived in England for 5 years and most of the idiots who called themselves vegans were just that. Fanatical, radical, and yet, it was perfectly fine to eat bags and bags of chips (french fries), and other total junk food, as long as you did not kill any poor defenseless animals. It was absurd. That was my first exposure to the radicalized vegetarian.

    Kids are “taught” to be vegetarians/vegans, and then radicalized. The modern vegetarian/vegan lifestyle contains an irrational hatred for anything traditional, masked in superiority. The modern leftist is a natural extension of this vegan radicalism. There is a certainty that education will uplift society and rid the world of backward thinkers, those meat-eating, gun-toting religious fanatics. The fallacy is that the very “education” they have so much faith in, is what creates the left’s radicalism.

    I have been kicked off vegetarian mailing lists for not going along with irrational, fanatical hatred of Pres. Bush, for not agreeing with their socialist agenda. I have had incredibly violent reactions from vegetarians, for daring to try to discuss the roots of their leftist belief systems. Try to suggest in a discussion of the poor, that there may be truth in the biblical “feed someone, and they will be hungry tomorrow, but teach them to fish, and they will feed themselves”, and the reaction is often spectacular. Interesting how those who preach “peace” are so incredibly violent!

    In 1980, most of the vegetarians I met became friends. In 2010, very very few of the vegetarians I meet become friends.

    It’s somewhat lonely being a fiscally conservative, post 9/11 vegetarian. 😉

    I’m not suggesting all vegans or vegetarians are radical nut-cases, or even a majority of them. But you’ve been there, you’ve seen the radicalism and the rage, you’ve seen how militant vegans also tend to be militant leftists. Thanks for commenting.

  34. Bob Collins says:

    Tom & Matt,

    There can be absolutely no excuse for the behavior (rape and killing) that Tom used as an example. It is always wrong. They are violations of other human beings. I also doubt that you will find too many people who disagree.

    Oh, wait, maybe I do have an example. What about the father or the brother who believes it is “right” to kill their daughter/sister because she was raped?

    “Men never do evil so completely and cheerfully as when they do it from religious conviction.”
    — Blaise Pascal

    I believe that humans are basically moral and instinctively know right from wrong. Unfortunately, many get swept up be cultural, religious, or charismatic influences and are “taught” to be inhuman. The True Believers are just more susceptible than most.

    Tom, in your article you suggest that liberals should mind their own business: for example, advocating descriptive food labeling. Why don’t you take on the right wing nuts, who seem to be always worrying about what I may be doing in my bedroom? There is no “wrong” committed when two (or more) people get together _voluntarily_ for whatever turns them on.

    As I said initially, your argument would be much more effective if you left partisanship out of it. Especially as it is irrelevant to the point. I, for one, am sick of pontificators preaching to their own choirs. It’s divisive, distracting and discourages critical thinking.

    Sounds like agree more than we disagree. I think we instinctively know right from wrong because there is, in fact, such a thing as right and wrong. Religions or any other movements that advocate violating basic human rights are dangerous.

    As a libertarian, I completely agree the government has no business snooping into your bedroom … or your kitchen, your TV room, your library, etc.

  35. Rob says:

    “Then to be fair, you’d have to ask yourself if you’d laugh if Bill Maher got a pie in the face.”

    Oh, he could totally get one too 🙂 I happen to agree with him more often than Coulter [well, to be fair, I probably never agree with Coulter… I find her too screechy/crazy/dogmatic when I’ve heard her speak or interviewed…] but Maher drips of the dismissive sanctimony and self-righteousness of the guy who “knows better than you” as well.

    I consider myself an equal opportunity misanthropist 🙂

    That’s what I don’t like about Bill Maher. That, and the fact that for a supposed intellectual powerhouse, he’s only comfortable debating conservatives when he stacks his panel 3 liberals to 1 conservative, with an audience full of left-wing sheep who cheer everything he says. His lone conservative guest will raise a few actual facts, which Maher will then dismiss with some smartass comment (“Maybe you should read a book sometime,” something like that), followed by hoots and cheers and laughs from the sheep.

  36. Rob says:

    Man, this comment thread is rich with ideas…

    “the true believers favor the cause over the individual. That’s a leftist concept…”

    Actually, it’s fairly easily argued, I’d think, that it’s a concept not of the “left,” but of all mainstream modern political parties. While historically you can certainly make the case of leftistism as the collectivist over the individual – almost all modern politicians, and political advocates, and ‘reg’lar folks’ who identify with a political parties place party over principle.

    If there’s anything that’s seemingly self-evident in the modern age, it would seem to be that. [And by “modern age” I’d argue that goes back at least 70 years… if not longer. In fact you could make the argument that True Believer-ism is the underpinning of politics itself. But I digress.]

    But politics almost always trumps principle. It’s why “conservatives” support the Republicans, despite the fact they’ve presided over bigger deficits and greater government interference in our lives. It’s why “liberals” still support the Dems, despite their culpability in eroding wrecking civil liberties and war mongering abroad.

    “You can’t lump “neocons” and tea party people in with true believers. None of theses people try to destroy the rights of other people. They want to advance their beliefs but not at the expense of free speech of others.”

    This seems amazingly disingenuous to me. Neocons at the very least certainly count as True Believers. They don’t want to “destroy the rights of other people?” They were willing to cheerlead, spearhead and engage in an optional war in Iraq, resulting in the deaths of tens of thousands of people, all in their vain and vainglorious attempt to rejigger the political face of the Middle East more to their liking. I’d think being willing to trade off human lives for what they consider a more advantageous geopolitical construct the height of True Believer’ism and sacrificing others fundamental right – the right to be alive.

    “By contrast, conservative newspapers have been shut down on campuses, conservative speakers have been shouted down on campuses or canceled by the university because of student protest…”

    And liberal folks, in the immortal words of Bill O’Reilly, have been told repeatedly to ‘shut up.’ Just before their mikes were pulled. It swings both ways.

    And popular figureheads in the ‘conservative’ movement seem to enjoy calling for violence against the liberal menace and other assorted folks – and you know, I’d think calling for somebody’s death would count at least as much as a good “shouting down”:

    Rush Limbaugh: “I tell people don’t kill all the liberals. Leave enough so we can have two on every campus – living fossils – so we will never forget what these people stood for.”

    “We need to execute people like John Walker in order to physically intimidate liberals, by making them realize that they can be killed, too.” – “My only regret with Timothy McVeigh is he did not go to the New York Times building.” – Ann Coulter

    Glenn Beck – said he was “thinking about killing Michael Moore” – whether “I could kill him myself, or if I would need to hire somebody to do it,” before saying – “No, I think I could. I think he could be looking me in the eye, you know, and I could just be choking the life out… is this wrong?”

    But surely these folks don’t hold nearly as much sway as the college protestors, in terms of radical true believers. I mean, college kids, they probably have dozens of people who hang on their every word. Who listens to Glenn Beck, Ann Coulter or Rush Limbaugh? 😉

    On a more serious note, The Southern Poverty Law Center’s “Terror from the Right” is instructive – http://www.splcenter.org/get-informed/publications/terror-from-the-right – True believers indeed end up on the “radical left.” They don’t seemingly have the courage of their convictions the way those on the “radical right” do, however. Pie throwing and shouting down is obtuse, anti-intellectual and a violation, but if that’s the worst the “radical left” can manage, then it pales in comparison.

    [Of course, arson and other property damage by the environmentalist/animal activist ‘radical left’ actually constitutes some of the worst, and more comparable ‘radical leftist’ activity.]

    “…considering anyone who disagrees with you evil, that’s nuts.”

    Indeed. Which is why those who spent 8 years being told by the Bush administration and FOXNEWS that you were with us or against us, that questioning the government during times of [undeclared and neverending] war was giving aid and comfort to the terrorists, that they hated America and loved all things Islamic and evil – well, I’m saying those folks would have a hard time with the proposition that the vast majority of True Believers are radical leftists.

    “That’s how religious conservatives get lumped in with small-government conservatives”

    Actually, small government conservatives get lumped in with the religious right because the eminently logical, rational and objective small government types actively courted the conservative religious in the US in order to win elections. If it’s disconcerting now to be associated with these paragons of subjectivity and intellectual shortcuts, there’s something in one of their books about ‘reaping’ and ‘sowing.’ Which, despite the source, seems nevertheless appropriate 🙂

    “I’d also like to know what you consider a “civil right” for gays. Marriage? If that’s a civil right for gays, is it also a civil right for bigamists? Is telling two consenting men they can’t marry a violation of civil rights, but telling a man he can’t marry two consenting women okay? Are my civil rights denied if I can’t marry my first cousin?”

    Personally, for me [and I think this is a fairly libertarian point of view I’ve seen around the ‘nets] – I couldn’t care less who or how many they marry. Get government out of it and make it a contractual arrangement between consenting adults.

    Defense of “traditional marriage” is completely bogus, unless we decide to endorse multiple wives, concubinage, relations between 30 year old guys and girls just hitting puberty, marrying your brother or sister, official mistresses or sex with your slaves. All far more “traditional” – and Biblically endorsed! 🙂 – than this illusory 1950s Ozzie and Harriet fantasy that’s bandied about.

    “They’re not denying anyone birth control. They’re just deciding not to sell it. There’s a huge difference. And it wouldn’t be up to the pharmacist or the counter clerk, it would be up to the store owner.”

    Except of course, in all those reported cases it wasn’t the store owner, it was the individual pharmacist making that moral decision for someone else. Rendering your point kind of moot.

    “Nobody should be forced to sell a product he finds morally objectionable.”

    So a vegan working as a counter jockey at McDonald’s can refuse you your cheeseburger?

    [Wasn’t there a scene in FatHead – an animated bit where the person behind the counter was deciding you’d get a salad instead of what you wanted? Maybe I’m misremembering/thinking of another documentary I saw…]

    But the reality is, if you find the items you sell or your job morally objectionable, THEN QUIT. That’s your moral obligation. It is not, however, your moral right to make MY ethical life choices for me or decide you can become the moral arbiter of my existence. Provide the service you have been hired to provide and I am here to pay for, or find other employment.

    “Authoritarians vs. libertarians is a more accurate description. The left-right labels don’t always fit, I grant you.”

    Truly, which makes – “most True Believers have in fact ended up on the radical left” – seem a bit, ummm, inaccurate. 🙂

    Cheers! Awesome post!

    I appreciate you and everyone else pointing out my own selection bias. I’ll be more vigilant about looking out for the right-wing nuts as well.

    I agree completely on the marriage issue. People should be able to enter freely into contracts, including marriage. It shouldn’t be a government issue at all.

    A vegan who works at McDonald’s wouldn’t make the decision; McDonald’s would. When I say “forced,” I’m talking about about government force. If a vegan refuses to sell burgers, he or she is free to quit and find another job. There’s no “forced” in that equation.

    Same goes for the individual pharamacist who refuses to sell birth control. If his employer tells him to sell the birth control and he refuses, the pharmacist can be fired. I don’t support the rights of employees to refuse to do their jobs; I support the rights of business owners to decide which products they will sell, without any government coercion involved. Huge difference.

  37. Wes Hopper says:

    I read The True Believer years ago and after this I pulled it out of the bookcase to read again. My favorite Hoffer quote, from a speech, is “In times of change the learners will inherit the earth, while the learned find themselves fully prepared for a world that no longer exists.”
    On a local note, our Congresswoman, a Democrat, tried twice to have public meetings this year in the district, only to be shouted down by large crowds of disruptive tea partiers. I’ve been a libertarian most of my adult life (and voted for Goldwater for prez so that’s a long time) and would say that true believers are much more equally distributed than you want to admit.
    As a libertarian I find the expansion of government and the parallel rise of corporatism equally disturbing, especially since they feed on each other and are both destructive to liberty. The fact that we have two parties that both, in their own ways, support intrusive government and corrupt corporatism, is quite disturbing to me. The fact that society is becoming increasingly polarized between these two parties reduces the probability that anything significant will change, except perhaps the volume of the shouting match.

    I’m with you on the two-party problem. Crony capitalists really tick me off.

  38. elisabeth says:

    Ok. I’m chiming in here with the observation that everyone who talks about this story makes Lierre Keith sound like a little old lady. Forty-five is not old. I’m upset that she was assaulted at all, and by a group of young men even more. I don’t like what T. Colin Campbell has to say, but I certainly wouldn’t entertain the idea of physically, or even verbally assaulting him. But, I also don’t imagine that he is defenseless just because he is truly an older adult.

    Assaulting anyone for speaking is an outrage, even if the target is built like Sylvester Stallone.

  39. matt says:

    @Bob- Thanks for the response. As Tom said, it looks like we agree on some things, mainly that there are more occassions than just mathematical equations where there IS a right and there IS a wrong. Guess there is no need for you to “cringe” when reading that someone says this afterall.

    And P.S., you say that the “religious among us are the original True Believers”. Does that make you a True Believer that there should be no religious?

  40. ValerieH says:

    I just finished The Vegetarian Myth yesterday. Lierre experienced years of mood disorders she now believes were completely related to her diet. She said that when teenagers experiment with vegetarianism, they become nutritionally deficient. Those changes in their bodies can lead to obsessive behavior, which frequently turns into an eating disorder. According to her, veganism is one part cult and one part eating disorder. This offers another explanation to the rage. Their diet is making them act this way. Eating is a chemical process. They are starving and poisoning themselves, thinking it is healthy. Knowing that allows me to have compassion for them.

    This incident raises awareness for the book. I hope more people read it.

    I hope everyone reads it, vegan or not. The information about health and nutrition is excellent.

  41. Mark says:


    You are extremely disingenuous and selective with your quotes.

    I have been around the left. The left PREACHES hated. They disrupt. They destroy. They firebomb. They sabotage. And are cheered on by their peers. Radical leftists mean what they threaten and actually follow though. And this is mainstream in the left. Go on a friday afternoon Critical Mass bike ride in San Francisco. Tell me this is not typical of the left.

    The rare nut job who bombs an abortion clinic, or kills an abortion doctor is immediately condemned. By all. On the left, you hear cheers and boo-yahs when a testing laboratory is burned to the ground. After all, they just killed something “evil”. The foundational ethics of the leftist “true believer” are flawed. Not on the right.

    Remember Hitler, Stalin, Mussolini, Lenin, are products of the LEFT. (I love when Hitler is somehow called a right winger, despite his National Socialist party) Conservatives believe in small government, and limiting governments ability to control the people. And remember that Neo-cons are Leftist Republicans. They are closer to your thinking than to mine.

    The right commentators you are “Quoting” are taken totally out of context and are clearly satire. Rush Limbaugh never recommended killing liberals. He pokes and jabs, and loves it when he is taken out of context by the constant scrutiny of Media Matters and similar organizations. When Bill Maher makes a totally outrageous joke, its accepted that he is satirizing. But leftists do not allow the right to satire, make jokes or poke fun at their expense.

    Ann Coulter is often over the top, but she can occasionally deliver some crackup one-liners. The left would ban her and do try to when she speaks. Free speech (when off topic) is not allowed in the progressive revolution.

    Glenn Beck is educating people in a way that hasn’t been done in a hundred years. The populace is learning the philosophy behind liberals and progressives. And the public does not like what they are learning.

    The left cannot refute what Beck teaches in his TV program, so they resort to distortions and lies to try to destroy him. They may succeed, but Woodrow Wilson will not fade into obscurity .

    I’m amazed at the debate sparked by one paragraph that previews next week’s topic. I’d better wear Kevlar after posting it.

  42. Verimius says:

    Nothing upsets true believers more than an apostate.

  43. Joan says:

    I think Lierre Keith has just swapped out one set of beliefs for another. It’s annoying that she devotes a chapter of her book ridiculing some wacko animal rights bloggers- and so many reviewers cite this. She attacks some easy targets, then parrots many disputable points as “fact”. It seems like she is on a crusade against the nut-cases that she used to agree with, no wonder they are antagonized.
    It’s too bad that she was assaulted – this is wrong.

    I don’t think she’s on a crusade against vegans. She clearly shares many of their core values, but believes their methods won’t bring about what they desire.

  44. Rob says:

    “I support the rights of business owners to decide which products they will sell, without any government coercion involved. Huge difference.”

    Oh, absolutely. But the point is, as I think I pointed out before, but maybe I did it poorly, is that in every case that’s made the news [and if I’m wrong, please correct me] of “pharmacist refuses to hand out birth control/plan B” it’s is of an individual employee refusing to issue out medicines, NOT business owners setting a ‘no birth control’ policy. So it renders your “business owners” support kind of moot.

    And the story is picked up, spread and writ large, imho, due to the “radical conservative” anti-science, pro-religion, subjective morality bias present among the the religious conservatives and those in the media who pander to them.

    The ‘oh, so brave’ religious pharmacist who’s decided to ‘stand up’ to that radical liberal and medical agenda. Who decided of their own personal volition to deny others things that are, you know, completely legal and medically endorsed… and whose only objection lies in personal, subjective feelings regarding religion and morality.

    And while the business owner could certainly fire an employee who refused to carry out, you know, THEIR JOB – could you even begin to imagine the sheer amount of nonsense we’d have to hear from the mainstream media about violating the religious beliefs of the employee who refused such a measure and the endless pundits going on and on about ‘why, oh god, why, does this evil business owner want to be in the business of killing babies?”

    You’re correct; most of the stories I heard were about employees refusing to do their jobs, then were portrayed by some goofs as a case of having their religious freedoms violated. That simply doesn’t hold up. You’re free to practice your religion, but not to apply it to my business in my store. If I sell birth control pills and you think birth control is immoral, there’s a simple solution: go work somewhere else.

    It’s just like the people who scream about First Amendment rights being violated when a publisher or broadcaster refuses to run certain content. That’s silly. Only the government can violate your First Amendment rights, and your right to free speech doesn’t require me to provide you with a printing press or a microphone.

    I thought I also read an article about a pharmacy being ordered to carry birth control against the owner’s wishes, but that could be due to faulty memory and advancing age. If anyone remembers a case like that, pipe in.

  45. Steve Wilson says:

    Hi Tom, just a possible correction for the record regarding Lierre Keith’s quoting vegans who wanted to fence off predators from their prey. As far as I’m aware this is incorrect, you see the thread Lierre took seriously (I can’t imagine why after reading it!!) was obviously meant as a joke. It appears to be lifted from a vegan forum called the PPK. Here are the links to the misinterpreted thread: http://www.postpunkkitchen.com/forum/viewtopic.php?id=19376 and the discussion of it in Lierre’s book: http://www.postpunkkitchen.com/forum/viewtopic.php?id=90752

    There’s no way anyone could read that and think ppl were serious. I mean come on! !
    For the record I’m an ex-vegan Type 1 Diabetic who discovered Dr Richard K Bernstein and has reaped the benefits of extreme low-carb as a result. My HbA1C has gone from borderline 7 to 5.9 at last check-up. So I’m on the road to reclaiming my health and undoing the damage done by the high carb diet advocated by NHS dietitians, and will never trust unscrupulous liars like Neal Barnard of the vegan PCRM again

    The clips of Fat Head on Youtube are great, informative and funny -hope it gets released over this side of the pond soon so i can see the whole film. All the best,

    Steve UK

    I’d be relieved to know they weren’t serious.

  46. Steve Wilson says:

    Me too, except Lierre posts in one of the threads herself stating: ‘I’m Lierre Keith, the author of the book under discussion. I’m gathering from this thread that someone posted in jest about a fence down the Serengeti at some point recently? Rest assured, that is not the conversation I was referring to in my book. That conversation happened eight or nine years ago on a forum that no longer exists, or I most certainly would have footnoted it. Sorry to disappoint you. Some vegans–myself included once upon a time–are seriously upset by the issue of animal predation.

    Personally given that Lierre doesn’t name the defunct forum and the fact the thread in question is essentially identical to the joke one linked to above i’m still doubtful. Maybe someone else from the vegan scene in the early tinternet can enlighten us? Probably not, so i’m filing it under ‘Humour’ until further evidence comes to light…

  47. Jared Bond says:

    Very insightful post. Best parts, imo:

    “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.”

    Yes, this is useful for understanding the extreme anger from the vegetarian crowd. I also agree with people here that lots of people fall under this definition to some degree… including myself.

    “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”

    Funny you should mention it– I think this actually applies to Lierre Keith, just like the former vegans at http://www.rawpaleoforum.com who now only eat raw meat. I’ve been a Matt Stone convertee in that I believe the truth (about food anyways) lies in an unfortunately more ordinary middle. I completely sympathize with Lierre Keith– after such a traumatic life experience, she needs to believe in a complete 180 reversal in order for her life to make sense. Unfortunately, the other extreme might not be so good either.

    Just look at her blog title: “Adventures at the end of the world”. Now, I don’t believe there will be an apocalyptic crash of agriculture- I think farmers would forsee it. But someone like Lierre Keith is prone to believing it, and stretching the evidence, because only such a tremendous revelation would justify the horrible pain she’s had to suffer. And her being vegan for 20 years demonstrates her “fanatic” personality. (Of course, if she’s right, I’m glad we have doomsday prophets like her to bring these issues to light.)

    On another note, (and I didn’t see anyone mention it here), this is unfortunately the best thing that could happen for her book and her cause. Eades writes: “It appears that militant vegans have secured Lierre’s name and other versions of her name on Twitter and are mounting a vicious smear campaign against her.” Great news. In spreading the word to all the other vegetarians to revolt against her, they will be informing some people that didn’t even know there are arguments against vegetarianism. This event also exposes the violent personalities of some vegetarians. I really hope it makes mainstream news in magazines or something. It’s a shame that Lierre had to suffer the pepper and the hatefulness of the crowd, but I hope she sees that there may be a much greater victory in the reprocussions.

    She did mention that her sales went up after the event, calling it the silver lining in the cayenne-pepper cloud. Certainly not the P.R. campaign she would’ve preferred, but I’m glad the word is getting around. It’s an important book.

  48. Kevin says:

    Great blog. Great responses to replies. Thank you!

  49. Katy says:

    So I’m guessing that mandating that property owners rent their business spaces or houses to any financially qualified persons, blacks and gays included, is wrong too? How about to single women? Please consider that there were valid reasons for many of these types of laws. When I was a child, the only black persons allowed in my neighborhood were if they were working as maids or trash men. The “morally offensive” rationale has been used forever to justify bigotry and discriminatory practices.

    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. Under those laws you’re championing, people have been fined or prosecuted for placing ads such as “Older woman seeks to rent room to a mature gentleman who can do handiwork and repairs.” Age discrimination! Gender discrimination! Discrimination based on abilities! Mike Royko, when he was still alive, wrote a column about one of those cases. If I can find it online (doubtful, it was a long time ago) I’ll post it.

    And here’s the real beauty of it: the government prosecutes you with taxpayer money, as they did with the old lady. You hire a lawyer and pay for it. Even if you win the case, you just lost a helluva lot of money.

    What does any of this have to do with business owners deciding what products they’ll sell, anyway? If my local Wal-Mart decides to stop selling guns because they’re concerned about gun violence, would you support me suing them because I have a constitutional right to own a gun?

  50. Thom Brogan says:

    When I read some of the statements about true believers and the right, I’m just amazed. Utterly amazed. I’m a true-believer “Randroid,” so I know some of us exist.

    As to “the left throws pies and the right shoots doctors” arguments: It was the Left that pushed for the ban of DDT on the world stage and allowed malaria to thrive and thousands of people each year (as well as other insect-borne diseases). Less than twenty doctors over thirty years versus tens of thousands every year isn’t the way to win one’s argument (unless claiming the Left is superior because they kill more humans…). It was the Left that killed over 100 million people over the 20th century (not counting tropical diseases previously prevented by DDT). It is the Left that convinced the president of Zambia to refuse genetically-modified crops to help keep his people from fatally starving.

    Oddly, the Left has no qualms whatsoever about factory-slaughter or humans, but their vegan component can’t stand it humanely happening to non-humans.

Leave a Reply