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
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.
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
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
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
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.