Leftist Martyrdom Syndrome

Last night I watched the movie Bidder 70 a film about Tim DeChristopher an American environmentalist who essentially placed fake bids during an auction of public lands to both bring attention to the auction and to prevent oil companies from owning and destroying the land. (I wont go into the details of his actions or case, the movie and the Wikipedia link I just gave does that fine) While the arrest and incarceration of DeChristopher was certainly unjust I kept getting distracted by the actions of other environmental activists in the movie, namely the ones suffering from Leftist Martyrdom Syndrome.

The movie paints a portrait of a young man who is so dedicated to the environmentalist movement he is willing to go to jail for it (which he ultimately does). Countless references are made to Martin Luther King Jr, Ghandi, and in general their and other non-violent protest movements that have happened in America and world wide. What is so heart breaking about the DeChristopher case, and the cases of other environmentalist and animal rights activists (see the SHAC 7 for another specific example) is that the US government will consistently make an example of individuals as to discourage others from committing similar actions…despite what public opinion is on the subject. So while DeChristopher was sent to jail for 2 years (he was possibly going for 10) the movie shows dozens of of his supporters and associates protesting and ultimately getting arrested.

I want to talk about these other arrested individuals, because the movie seemingly equates what DeChristopher did (and he alludes to this directly as well) with those of the protesters who got arrested for blocking traffic after his hearing. Of course what we all know is that they are not equal. Progressive issues of the past that lead to arrests of protesters were political, people of color were arrested for being a place they were not allowed and Vietnam protesters were arrested for burning their draft cards. The point of getting arrested for a protest is to point out that the very fact you are getting arrested for what you did is wrong.

When you are getting arrested for blocking traffic you are not helping, you’re suffering from Leftist Martyrdom Syndrome. Leftist Martyrdom Syndrome is what happens when a leftist (usually young and white) participates in a protest, or does something within a protest, with the explicit purpose of getting arrested. All leftists know this behavior, and while we may not all wish to admit it, we’ve all been overcome with it at least at one point in our lives (whether we followed through or not does not matter). Ingrained in our cultural memory is the idea that being arrested for protesting somehow equates to the ultimate good that a leftist can achieve. This however is not the reality we live in, as I stated above, being arrested as a result of your protest only has meaning when an outside viewpoint can look at your protest and agree you were in the right. One of the countless famous examples of this is Rosa Parks, a black woman who was arrested for sitting at the front of a bus and not giving up her seat to a white person. Parks’ actions have had such a historical resonance because the fact that she got arrested for her actions strikes us as a horrible injustice that is beyond the ridiculous (imagine if a white person asked a black person to move to the back of a bus today!).

Yet, when you have a group of environmentalist protesters take to the streets and sit down in front of automobile and streetcar traffic and refusing to move (as there is in one scene of Bidder 70) there is no possible conclusion to that action other than them being removed and probably arrested by police. Making signs and taking to the streets is certainly vital to most political and social movements in global history, but doing so with the explicit end goal of being arrested does not actually accomplish anything. The reason why the DeChristopher case is so compelling not because he got arrested, but because he did something awesome and righteous (and then got arrested for it). Until the Left understands that being arrested purely for doing something that will inevitably lead to arrest that has no other direct consequence we’re going to continue floundering, especially on issues of environmentalism and climate change.


[NOTE: The term and concept of “Lefist Martyrdom Syndrome” does not actually originate with me but rather a friend of mine, Albert Gaudio. I have used the term and expanded on it here without speaking to him first. I have used the term before (primarily describing the actions of many young protesters during the student movement in Quebec of 2012 which I participated in) and have tried to always not take credit for such a disturbingly apt term and description of a problem many of us on the Left suffer from more often than we ought to.]

The Canadian right’s racism and speciesism

stanley-harper-canada-first-cat-600x430This past Thursday Laureen Harper, the wife of Canada’s prime-minister Stephen Harper, hosted “Just for Cats: Internet Cat Video Festival”. The event was, as one can surmise from the name, a viewing of internet cat videos that was held to raise money for homeless cats. The event was overshadowed by Toronto’s mayor Rob Ford hosting his official re-election campaign launch event and if it were not for the work of a single activist the cat video festival would have faded from the collective memory of Canada very quickly.

Before I continue, I have to make it clear that the issue of homeless cats is indeed important. Basically anywhere there are cats in the world there is overpopulation, which in turn leads to the suffering of the cute little furry animals and the killing of millions of birds by what is essentially an invasive species. As I’ve talked about in previous blog posts it’s important for humans to rectify problems involving animals that are our fault, and we can solve this problem by spaying and neutering our cats, as well as stop breeding and selling them for profit. Especially when there are cats euthanized every day at shelters because no one will adopt them.

Now, with the above said, Laureen Harper’s event just seems odd. It’s well known that the Harper’s love kitties. Stephen Harper, a cold robot-like man who’s public appearance is of stone and, rumor has it, in private is actually paranoid and manipulative has benefited somewhat from the various pictures of him cuddling cats. What’s odd however is that at the same time of hosting an event for homeless cats, the Harper government has outright refused to put any efforts into investigating (let alone stopping) the hundreds of missing or murdered indigenous women across Canada. There’s not much need to go into the details of how Harper’s (and basically the entirety of Canada’s right) have completely terrible positions and track records when it comes to even acknowledging the issues that Canada’s indigenous peoples have been put through. If you are reading this and for whatever reason are unaware of Canada’s track record with the indigenous peoples then just Google “Idle No More”.

To put it quite bluntly, Stephen Harper and the rest of the Canadian right (and, unfortunately, some of the middle and left) do not care about the consistent and terrible injustice all indigenous peoples are subjected to in Canada…yet they care about cats. I find it extremely odd that someone can so consistently be challenged on their ridiculous terrible position towards a group of other humans and refuse to give ground, yet will put efforts into protecting another species. The only possible logical explanation for this is an extreme form of racism. When Laureen Harper was confronted about this by an activist during her event she responded with “That’s a great cause (missing or murdered indigenous women), but that’s for another night. Tonight we’re here for homeless cats.” I’m not much of a gambler, but I’m willing to bet pretty much anything that Laureen Harper will never host an event to benefit missing or murdered indigenous women.

All of this comes in the middle of two significant animal abuse stories coming out, the first being the abuse of baby chickens by Maple Leaf Foods employees including the boiling of chicks alive. The second being the deplorable conditions calves being raised for veal are put through, and the abuse they suffer. Related to this is the delays and opposition Harper’s government has taken to the proposed Bill C-232 that essentially would ensure animal abusers are sent to jail.

So for those keeping track, for the Harper’s and the rest of Canada’s right it goes: cats > indigenous peoples/all non-cat animals (it’s hard to determine if indigenous peoples are valued more than non-cat animals). While cats are certainly awesome, this hierarchy isn’t. It’s hypocritical and extremely racist and speciesist. The hierarchy isn’t arbitrary however as some would think, those who are valued are ones it’s easy to value. It’s just as convenient to ignore the abuse that happens to farmed animals while cuddling cats as it is to ignore the oppression of indigenous peoples.

The Millennials as the New New Left

I recently read Peter Beinart’s piece on The Daily Beast about the rise of the new new left in America and how Millennials (pretty much anyone under 30 at this point) are significantly more liberal than the rest of the country. It’s a long, well researched and cited as well as eye opening piece about my generation that I really recommend to anyone who A) Is a Millennial and is perhaps feeling a bit pessimistic or B) Not a millennial and thinks we’ll all grow out of it.

Beinart doesn’t touch on something major however that, at least for myself and others I know, that is a driving force in pushing me to the left; environmentalism. While he certainly references polls in which young people say they think corporations have too much control over their lives, he doesn’t mention that in virtually all polls (or at least all polls on the subject I can find) Millennials are significantly more likely to support or agree with environmentalist sentiments. This ranges from US Millennials more likely believing in climate change, as well as it being man made/influenced. Millennials more likely to support renewable energy research and implementation. The list goes on.

Many have stated that despite Millennials having strong feelings of environmentalism, they don’t do anything about it. This is skewed as Beinart points out, Millennials are in a recession right now and are probably trying to find work. Volunteers spend their time at organizations when they can, and I’m not convinced that Millennials have as much free time on their hands (or free money) as many would like to assume.

This apparent lack of activism can also be explained in a fundamental way which would support Beinart’s article, that being any real change of impact that has to be made in terms of protecting or benefiting the environment needs to arise from government. I worked with a fellow Millennial who described himself as a libertarian in all aspects, except that government is required to regulate business and protect the environment. My generation is not only more likely to think that environmentalism is good, but we also know from a lifetime of experience and observation (think of how many environmental disasters have happened since the early 1980s identified by the corporation responsible) that corporations are the biggest exploiters and biggest risk to the environment, and the only solution that seems viable is government intervention and regulation.

Of course, I’m not trying to claim that environmentalism has been the driving force of the “new new left” but it certainly has helped.