Consciousness in Action: The Power of Beauty, Love and Courage in a Violent Time by Andrew Beath

 

 

CONTRIBUTORS

The Psychology of Nonviolence: Introduction by Andrew Beath
Lorin Lindner's comments below

This article is an excerpt from Andrew Beath’s book Consciousness In Action, the Power of Beauty, love and Courage in a Violent Time (Lantern Press, 2005)

If you sow corn, you reap corn. If you sow beans, you reap beans. Why do we have to go through so many trials before we realize this?
--Thich Nhat Hanh

Introduction

Kindness in the midst of passion is often a tall order, especially when the passion is generated in reaction to the destruction of something one loves. Commitment to nonviolence can be difficult, but empathy allows us to see how we are all culturally conditioned. This reduces the tendency to blame others.

Lorin Linder is a teacher and clinical psychologist who, as a teenager, took up activism on behalf of animal rights. Her efforts have grown to include the protection of forests and advocacy for homeless veterans. She recognized the importance of nonviolence from the beginning, but dealing with the anger of righteous indignation was difficult. Over time, her professional training and her own psychological process helped her to transform these feelings into compassionate understanding.

In talking with Lorin, I asked her to describe what influenced her to become an activist and to discuss some of the psychological dynamics at play with those who are committed to social change. Anger played an important, if passing, role on her way to more productive emotional wisdom. Eventually, as a result of working with her psychotherapy clients, she began to use love as a prime motivator. Her story shows a remarkable depth of connection to the blight of animals and trees. In her words:

Though I was born and raised in New York City, every summer my family stayed in a cabin in the country. That was an important component of my connection with nature. I loved the tall grass. Cows were my great love from the age of three or four, and horses took over at five or six. When I was seven, I remember my mother defrosting the tom turkey the night before Thanksgiving. I came downstairs and started hugging and rocking this turkey because it dawned on me that it once was a living animal. So I didn't eat any more birds or fish unless my mother disguised them well enough to delude me.

I started joining animal rights organizations as a teenager. I couldn’t understand how we could torture animals. I always loved them so much and cosmetic testing, vivisection, and hunting were torture. It often requires the experience of this situation on a level that is below the neck to mobilize people to action. We say this all the time in the world of psychology: Self-knowing does not mean intellectualizing the awareness; it has to trickle down into the rest of the body.

For me, the real turning point was adopting a macrobiotic diet at seventeen. I started studying things in school like organic gardening and foraging and became part of a local group of people who knew how to challenge the system. This was right after the alleged oil crisis of 1973, and we were just laughing at it, because we rode bicycles and grew our own food, and we thought, “Let this culture collapse. We know how to survive without the cultural accoutrements.” I got rid of my television at that point and was on my way to a bit of soul liberation.

In fact, on my first day at college, I knew I was going to be involved in the health professions in some way. I went to the chair of the biology department and declared my major, but told him I would not experiment on animals. He told me I didn’t have to, which was unusual then.

I think the sixties prepared us for that, especially the music, which was very much a part of me. The sexual revolution also expanded our perspective. There was a certain kind of liberation that flourished then. And I got that, because I didn’t understand why girls and boys were treated differently. Even books that reference everyone as “he” dismiss half of the population.

So my next form of activism, when I came to California in my early twenties, was volunteering for the National Organization for Women. But I came to realize that they weren’t going far enough. They were working for women of the middle classes and weren’t looking at multicultural participation. That would require addressing the needs of women from other socioeconomic strata. I felt that their focus was almost biased. That’s when I became involved with a local group called the LA Vegetarian Society. Then one day, I went to a meeting and they showed a videotape of a rainforest being cut down. It was the first time that I felt the same way about a non-animal as I did about animals. I experienced the cutting down of a tree as though I was watching an animal being vivisected.

Prior to that experience I don’t think I was ready to be emotionally aware of a tree as a living being. Eventually, I became more centered and open to that kind of experience. When you live in our material world, you are acquiring things and using resources at tremendously rapid rates compared to developing societies. You know on some level that you are part of a destructive culture. For me to participate in that subculture, in which people are acquisitive beyond their needs, I had to defend myself against knowing. I insulated myself from the knowledge; otherwise, how could I reconcile it? It was a case of cognitive dissonance. To continue to perform that behavior, I had to say, “Well, it can’t really be THAT bad.”

If you’re doing something that you know is not okay, you will rationalize and justify it so that there won’t be discord in your mind. If you did not rationalize it, you would have to say to yourself, “I can’t believe I’m ripping off the earth like this.” Then you would have to stop.

Action as an Antidote

I definitely insulated myself with lots of rationalizations and other defense mechanisms that people commonly use. That’s why I think that psychology can be helpful in self-liberation and in inspiring participation in social activism. One of the first things psychology will tell you is that you have to clean house in the place where you live the most: and that’s your mind. When you’ve cleaned your own house enough you will also want to make sure that in your larger identity, outside yourself, you’re cleaning up everything that you can. And we’re all responsible in subtle ways because we all are affecting everything that happens on the planet.

We use defense mechanisms to protect ourselves from this knowledge. Psychotherapy can help us to clean up enough of our own stuff so that we can see that we are part of a larger picture. Fulfillment comes from handling these responsibilities. Eco-psychology is particularly helpful here.

Earth First!

There was a pivotal Vegetarian Society meeting where I learned that the president of the Vegetarian Society also was coordinating meetings for the Los Angeles chapter of Earth First! So, I was at my first Earth First! meeting without even knowing it. That’s why the rainforest video was shown. I offered to do whatever I could. And within a couple of months, I was helping with the mailings for LA Earth First! One thing I learned is that, as Edward Abbey has said, “Action is the antidote to despair.” By becoming active in that small way I became increasingly aware of the issues. And then I was ready to take in information. I was doing whatever little thing I could to make a difference.

I began coordinating protest actions for LA Earth First! Charles Hurwitz and his Maxxam Corporation had started liquidating old growth forests in Northern California. His headquarters were three blocks from where I lived. So my home became operation central for direct actions targeting Hurwitz. We would practice locking ourselves in a strategic place as a form of protest by using my balcony doors to prepare for some of these actions. But it didn’t take long for members of the so-called “wise-use” movement to infiltrate our gatherings.

The Sahara Club was a group of wise-use types who began harassing us. Anti-environmentalists were also in the legislature. They were very powerful and were pushing the so-called “wise use” of all public lands for mining, grazing, hunting, and every imaginable extractive purpose.

Earth First! may look to outsiders like people just wanting to rush in and protest. But the truth is, demonstrations only occur after months or years of reviewing environmental impact reports, providing testimony at hearings, reading every law on how to protect habitat, laying it all out scientifically and legally. If we have to stand by and watch the Forest Service issue permits for clear-cutting or bulldozing so that evidence of the endangered species we had identified disappears, it’s upsetting. If we can delay the cutting long enough so that the issues are heard in court, then at least the case gets a fair hearing. We improve our chances of getting an injunction. Most often that is what the protests are about. They’re not just gratuitous opposing.

I have to emphasize that we were always non-violent, but our opponents were not. There were never any people injured by Earth First! actions. Yet many activists have been injured or killed. For example, two of the movement’s most dynamic and important spokespersons, Judi and Darryl, were car-bombed and seriously injured. There was no investigation. Instead, the FBI and Oakland police falsely tried to make it appear that the victims were carrying the bomb. Darryl and Judi sued the FBI and the Oakland Police. After an eleven-year battle, in June of 2002, they won an unprecedented $4.4 million judgment against both agencies for infringing on their civil rights. The mainstream media hardly reported this news. Judi Bari, who was my friend, was not on hand to celebrate since she had died several years earlier of breast cancer.

Anger as a Catalyst

It’s not unusual to become angry once you become aware of the issues. When I think of nine billion animals killed every year in this country for food, I feel that loss. The loss of a hundred million animals in vivisection labs and the clear-cutting of ancient redwood trees affects me. I wish I were better insulated in some ways. And when you initially go through the awareness of the loss, you also go through bereavement, and this often includes anger.

You can’t know these things deeply and do nothing. Many people love animals but don’t want to really know about what Procter and Gamble is doing in their research lab. They don’t want to feel the pain. They don’t want to stop using whatever products they’re using. They don’t want to significantly change their lifestyle. If slaughterhouses were made of glass and vivisection was done in glass labs these things would not be tolerated.

So yes, I did become angry when I learned of abuses. I became reactionary for a time, although I liked to consider myself a revolutionary. I’d learn about an issue and go out and protest it. I have attended hundreds of protests and demonstrations. I have participated in direct actions and civil disobedience, all of which are different expressions of disagreement with established forces. Part of where I finally have been moving, although I’m not quite there yet, is to learn not to take action only in opposition to something.

Although anger made me more effective at first, I think it is often at the heart of burnout if you don’t transcend it. In the early years, anger was motivational for me. It propelled me in ways I normally wouldn’t have gone, like the willingness to get arrested. All I had to do was think back to those animals in labs, or to forests being clear-cut, and I felt I had to take action. Again quoting Edward Abbey: “Sentiment without action is the ruin of the soul.” So I wouldn’t dismiss anger as an unnecessary part of the process. But the anger became an obstacle because I started projecting it outward toward members of my own tribe.

I got angry with my companions because I disagreed with how they were doing things. And as a movement, we were being intolerant. So there we were blaming women for wearing fur coats rather than looking at the fact that systemically we have an anthropocentric, patriarchal life view that promotes the exploitative use of animals and values people according to their ostentatious show of wealth.

We were using individuals to target and not realizing that they were actually just symptoms of the underlying disease. It’s far more difficult to change a deeply entrenched system. But now I see that, for me anyway, it is necessary to keep the larger picture in focus.

A Larger Perspective

Clinical psychology, in particular Margaret Mahler, describes a stage that occurs in children at about the age of two or three, which is called, “separation-individuation.” In that stage, the child begins to have an identity that becomes separate from the caregiver. The child will challenge the adults in her or his environment to get a sense of the difference between self and other. No matter what the parent offers, the child will say no. This is a healthy stage for the child to go through; it’s a rudimentary form of establishing an identity. It’s a very important developmental stage for the child but it doesn’t create true independence. It is the beginning of learning how to say no. Metaphorically speaking, some activists are stuck in this developmental stage.

If you do not try to impose your own thinking on someone else, it leads to more lasting and meaningful change. People don’t take to a cause by being beaten over the head. There is always a learning curve. And to push somebody beyond her/his point of assimilation will not help, because it’s the person’s experience of what you’re trying to get across that solidifies the issue for her/him. One great way we can do this is by being role models for what we’re trying to help others to learn. So, I had to realize that I was still in a quasi-angry phase, requiring people to change so that I could feel successful.

But, as is said in couples counseling, if one person is right then both are wrong; if one person wins, then both lose, because you can’t have hierarchy in a healthy, egalitarian system. I had started to avoid talking to people who were ideologically different. If I had to talk to ranchers or trappers or loggers, I inevitably created an atmosphere of opposition.

It has taken me years to make the transition from acting out of anger to becoming more understanding of others. Gradually, it began to feel right to help people change in compassionate ways and to allow them to have their time to make whatever movement they were moved to make.

Love as Motivator

I used to be opposed to the concept of love being the impetus for change. I thought we didn’t have the time for that. Ironically, by giving people time to change it can come more quickly. When I started teaching at Santa Monica College I realized that, by being a good role model for what I believed and not trying to beat people over the head with my ideologies, they would come to me and say, “I want to do what you do.” Persuasion theory has long documented that you can be of the greatest influence if others want to identify with you.

I try to present the issues so that people receive the cognitive component in a way that stimulates their feelings too. Ultimately, I want to move people past their rational mind and into their emotional body where they can least defend against the inaccurate representations they receive from the culture.

When you provide information about things that are painful, people are going to defend against it. They don’t really want to be exposed to pain so they’re going to forget it, or block it out, or rationalize it with all the different defense mechanisms that protect us against pain. That’s what Freud described in his theories of the ego defenses. You can bypass that by getting people to feel it viscerally.

Deepak Chopra says it best. He explains that the brain has developed defense mechanisms to protect our egos from painful realities. But our gut, with its sensitivity and ability to guide our decisions (through what we call gut feelings) has not developed that same defensive structure. So, you need to get people to experience feelings in the body to help you to find answers to difficult questions.

The central nervous system consists of neurons that connect to every organ and muscle system. In effect the central nervous system is everywhere, which means that consciousness is everywhere in the body. That’s the first step. Then, as I said, the greatest mechanism to help people change is love—in its many manifestations.

Everyone has a capacity to transform. We are fundamentally social beings and relationships are what foster change. That’s true in psychotherapy no matter what the theoretical orientation. An effective therapeutic relationship involves letting people be who they are and, no matter where they are in the moment, connecting with them and trusting that with some help they will come to it in their own time.

More recently, I have become quite active with advocacy for the homeless. I helped to create three treatment programs for homeless people who have substance abuse problems. Here again I see that it is relationship that creates the transformation. And these loving relationships sustain and empower me, too. Giving people the means to make their own changes is very powerful for the giver as well as the receiver. Without this my efforts would not have been sustainable. When you are doing something that affects people in a positive way, then that fits with a higher purpose.

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