Rebel Hell!

rebel hell imageIn Rebel Hell: Disabled Vegan Goes to Prison, A Memoir, Jan Smitowicz offers ‘Dear Readers’ a deeply honest, intimate, detailed, first-person portrayal of his two-year prison bit. This is so overarchingly the case, there’s no other way I could have started this ‘review’. I usually don’t get so personal in my book reviews, but Jan’s unchained creativity with literary devices & comic cunning inspires me to explore & expand my writing boundaries. Ya see, much of his philosophies, dreams, and lifeways reminds me of my own ten years back. So as his ‘now voice’ went back to chat with his ‘then voice’, my ‘reader voice’ engaged in a one-way conversation with them both. I’ve never chatted & chortled & cheered with a book this much. Jan’s story, especially the ‘prison plot line’, has a one-of-a-kind specialness to it that stole my heart, and my life for a ‘bit’. I had to clarify which ‘line’ because there are numerous intertwined lines performing a nimble dance. An example, his ‘identity line’: he recaps and reasons a litany of standpoints, writers and past experiences, weaving them through happenings in his forced subculture context. {Here I debated: subculture, culture, subsubculture – finally opting to erase one ‘sub’ considering the enormous number of beings baselessly behind brutalizing bars.} His ‘identity line’ harmonically two-steps with his ‘philosophy line’, enlightening the reader on the analytic grounds justifying the essence of who he chooses to be.

I keep wondering, who is the audience here? It isn’t until after I read the final sentence that I realize – there is no intended audience. The making of this tome was his therapy, his medicine, the crux of his coping while he planned out the book as he lived it, and part of his post-release healing in writing it up. But instead of burying it in a secret spot to protect any vulnerabilities mainstreamers would ploy and pounce upon, Jan’s emotionally strong enough to share it with whomever in hopes that it might ripple into better humans and a better world. This memoir is a sword striking at structures of power affecting him and all. This leads me to ponder his vision, on which the foundation he might be building I rowdily bicker.

Anyone who reads Rebel Hell is no doubt going to bicker with Jan, each on our own preferred topics, which is a great exercise in critical thinking. See Socrates: The unexamined life is not worth living. As for my preferred topics, well let me first fess up my lens. I identify as a vegan anarcho-primitivist. Here’s a sampling of how I wrangled with Jan: You’re an anarchist who wants to smash the system and “build” something anew on top of its ashes. Yeah, it’d break too far from your focus, but I long for more on what you want humans to ‘build’? Oh, how I howled to know. For example, do you merely prefer a green lifeway with reduced human population, vegan agriculture, rescuing and loving ‘companion animals’, etc.? Do you believe humans have a rightful dominating place in the world to say, shuffle species (animal, plant, etc.) wherever we prefer, or breed them into what we crave, essentially attaching our affection and/or control at the center of landscaping Earth? Are you anti-agriculture? Is your vision a softer human supremacy (that slows to a gentler creep toward human-caused ecosystem collapse, imo), or a world of wildlife (including humans. human wildlife.) in thriving natural communities and habitats (wild human habitat range limits included)? As early Jensen elucidates on the definition of civilization, the moment a human clan has a lifeway other than self-sustaining, they become an exploiter, a dominator who invades Earth. Are you anti-civ, and how do you define it? Have you explored the depth of your wilderness awareness? Do you have an instinct to rewilding yourself, to manifest your animal self? Forage from plants and mushrooms?

I’m also a restoration ecologist forest steward who sees, deals with and cries over encroachments and impacts of not only humans, but their extensions, dogs and cats, on wild life and wild places. When a dog runs through the forest, do you see the impact of its sound, scent, presence and energy on wild animals and their habitat? Akin to antinatalism, we’re at the point where you’re either pro-pet or pro-wildlife, no squirming out of it. Hard choice for domesticated companion lovers, and hard to sell in a pet-mania culture. On & on my one-way dialogue went with Jan’s written words. No matter your answers to my wild questions, thanks Jan for inspiring me to remember where I came from, to remind me of why I do what I do, and that life fluctuates, be humble, embrace change. I sense Earth calling writers and all to signal a return and giving back to Earth.

The coolest thing about Rebel Hell is the scope of strata via shifts in style. Jan takes you from raw antics in sordid or sexual or asinine prison subsubculture (indeed, subsub), to higher forms of philosophical contemplation. This brings us back to the question of audience. Firstly, this is required reading for anyone involved in the prison-industrial-complex in any way, on every side of the power spectrum, and not just reformists, but abolitionists, and specially prisoners [sic]. Vegans of all stripes, especially those who question or support animal rights activism. People with disabilities, particularly unseen disabilities, will take solace in struggles to cope with operose plights. Anarchists and pre-anarchists (you know who you are – flirting with an identity is fun, but action takes you all the way). Speaking of flirting, all those who are flirting with hazy boundaries of today’s marijuana laws, who too often choose not to look too closely at exactly what you’re risking, heed this lesson from what they did to Jan, at least so you make your choices clearly knowing your risks, to get out while the getting’s good, or to clamp down on vigilance in your protection strategies.

Jan, I’m profoundly moved that you shared your ordeal. How strong-minded and big-hearted to open your life this way. May your good intentions come to fruition, giving humans and all beings a better life. You’re such an avid reader, I’d like to offer you a customized list of entertaining book recommendations: Lee Hall’s On Their Own Terms: Animal Liberation for the 21st Century, Yi-Fu Tuan’s Dominance & Affection: The Making of Pets, Jim Mason’s An Unnatural Order: Uncovering the Roots of Our Domination of Nature and Each Other, John Livingston’s Rogue Primate: An Exploration of Human Domestication, John Zerzan’s Future Primitive, and Douglas W. Tallamy’s Bringing Nature Home: How You Can Sustain Wildlife with Native Plants. Now I’m adding Rebel Hell to my ‘highly recommend’ book list. Much gratitude for inviting us along on your bodily and cerebral escapade into the depths of hell… I mean civilization’s bureaucratic terrorism. It serves as inspiration to resist, rise & smash!

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3 cases for indigenous veganism

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Writings by feminist scholar Margaret Robinson describe Mi’kmaq legends and their relationship with animals as was one of dependence, not dominion. According to Mi’kmaq legends, human beings are intimately connected with the animal world and only survival can justify the killing of animals. These legends depict animals as having an independent life, with their own purpose, far away from simply existing for human consumption. Robinson contrasts this with the white hunter, whose view of animals requires population control, turning slaughter into a service. Many of the Mi’kmaq legends come with their own set of problems, such as the gendering of food production. Even the Mi’kmaq word for food is the same for beaver, embodying the meat-heavy food culture. However, within the legends the nonhuman animals are always characterized as independent peoples who have rights, wills and freedoms. As Robinson rightly points out, “if animal consent is required to justify their consumption, then it opens the possibility that consent might be revoked.” Not only are nonhuman animals capable of thought and speech in Mi’kmaq legends, their personhood is equal to humans: “the value of the animals lies not in its utility to man, but in its very essence as a living being.”

Many of the Mi’kmaq food traditions also empower women to be gatherers of fruit, vegetable and nuts. Robinson argues that if we recognize those traditions to be fully Native, then we can form Indigenous counter-narratives to the promotion of meat. Embedded in Mi’kmaq narratives is the personhood of nonhuman animals, their self-determination and our regret at their death. These traits allow the Mi’kmaq not to ask for their sacrifice, making a meatless diet a traditionally sound option. As Veganism testifies that the consumption of animals for food, clothing and shelter is no longer necessary; consequentially Mi’kmaq tradition suggests that the hunting and killing of our animal siblings is no longer authorized. If we desire to find a place for contemporary Indigineity, unchanging traditions need to be re-evaluated. As Robinson puts it: “There is more to my culture and to our relationship with the land, particularly as women, than hunting and killing animals.”

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Dr. Rita Laws has written on the historical connections between Native Americans and Vegetarianism. Laws begins with the ironic fact that Indians are strongly associated with hunting and finishing, when, in fact, modern day plant agriculture “owes its heart and soul to Indian-taught methods of seed development, hybridization, planting, growing, irrigating, storing, utilizing and cooking.” The same cultural learnings do not exist between Indigenous ways of hunting and the modern, industrialized meat industry. With the introduction of horses and guns, colonial powers spread quickly among the Indians. The extinction of the buffalo came at no surprise. The settlers changed the Buffalo hunt from being about survival, to being about profit. It was the white man who profited from the Buffalo extinction, making life for the tribes who did not cooperate with whites much harder. Laws observes that the tribes who depended little or not at all on animal exploitation for their survival, like the Cherokee, Choctaw, Creek and Chickasaw, are thriving and growing, having assimilated without surrendering their culture. It is the introduction of European meat-eating customs that has forever changed contemporary Indigenous relations to eating animals. Laws observes that the stereotype of the Indian as a “killer of buffalo, dressed in quill-decorated buckskin, elaborately feathered headdress, and leather moccasins, stranger to vegetables” is historically inaccurate and in fact the direct result of European influence.

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Artist and activist Linda G. Fisher makes the following observation of Indigenous culture: “We almost always associate the Indian – even today’s Indian – with wearing and using nonhuman animals’ hides, furs and feathers.” Fisher emphasizes that although she avoids hides, furs and follows a vegan diet, her Indianness is still critical to who she is. This highlights the struggle of linking Indingeneity to the “hunter”. Fisher continues to explain that it is not what she eats, how she looks or what she wears that makes her Indigenous. Instead, it is her commitment to the teachings of her ancient Ojibway ancestors. She continues to describe her ancestors’ relations to nature and that killing animals was instituted only by absolute necessity. Nature had agency, nature had interests, nature made the decisions. Although this attitude towards nature is re-emerging, even amongst non-Indigenous peoples, there are still Indians today who slaughter whales, eagles and all kinds of other nonhumans in the name of “tradition”. Fisher goes on to say “I have often wondered why some people witness pain and suffering, yet turn and walk away, never giving that suffering another thought, while others empathize, are affected, and are changed by such suffering forever.”

Fisher’s account of the colonizing process should sound familiar by now: “European influence introduced Native people to commercial trade, and fire power, and buffalo began to be killed in great numbers.” This is in part because Europeans believed that meat was an essential part of the human diet, whereas Native Americans had a much more varied diet. Fisher observes that today, white people and Indigenous folk are pursuing self-interests without listening to nature of nonhumans. She ends her essay by reflecting on what her ancestors’ “traditions” really entailed: “I believe, if my Indian ancestors could comment on our present “right to hunt” in a world with so many people and so few nonhuman animals, that they, who listened to the land and killed only as was necessary, would not be wasteful. I think my ancestors would tell us that it is time to stop the suffering and the killing.”

So, how do we move forward? Robinson suggests that Indigenous peoples must begin to feel empowered to embody their traditional values in new rituals. Previously, before settlement, Indigenous values of compassion and nourishment went hand in hand with occasionally hunting an animal. Today, however, this is no longer the case. Values of compassion and nourishment can be re-lived through new rituals, such as embodying a vegan lifestyle: “With the adoption of a vegan diet our meal preparation and consumption can become infused with transcendent significance, as we recall our connection with other animals, our shared connection to the creator and refigure a time when we can live in harmony with the animals.” Even though vegan choices may seem at odds with traditional practices, it is the traditional values that matter, which through daily vegan practices offer a sense of belonging to a moral community. As Robertson clearly advocates, Native culture must take on a living tradition that is more than existing as a shadow of white discourse. Indigeneity must respond to changing social and environmental circumstances, as would their ancestors. 

Re-claiming authority over their own culture and values can empower those in lower income communities to stand up for themselves and discover moral agency. Rita Laws ends her essay with the mission of “moving away from European influences that did away with a healthier style of living. We must again embrace our brothers and sisters, the animals, and “return to the corn” once and for all.” In other words, Veganism must lose its white framework and begin to empower impoverished people. Veganism must adopt an identity that is not linked to race, class, or status. Specialty expensive vegan foods must stop taking centre-stage in the Vegan community. Instead, values of nonviolence and compassion must be spread through direct action, education and empowerment. Rita Laws suggests that, if the ancient ways were still observed, it may be corn (not turkey meat) that would be celebrated Thanksgiving Day.

Why there is ‘no proof’ of bisexual cavewomen, homosexual cavemen, and vegan cavepeople:

polyScientific narratives that accompany scientific ‘facts’ are processed and molded through cultural values, as reflected in the popularized caveman story. To study your subliminal attachment to the story, monitor your reaction to another narrative: The clitoris is located outside the vagina to encourage female bonding with all others as a survival strategy, and to discourage vaginal sex and frequent impregnation to limit population and thereby decrease competition for scarce resources. Homosexuality is an evolutionary adaptation to reduce humans damaging their habitat through overpopulation. Likewise, instinctive disgust for hunting and eating animal flesh is an adaptation to maintain habitats with high species homeostasis, symbiosis and diversity.

Polyamorous cavewomen, homosexual cavemen and vegan cavepeople can have evolutionary narratives as plausible as the monogamous cavewomen, heterosexual caveman and meat eating cavepeople. Mainstream and marginalized evolutionary narratives are value-laden. But being that alternative narratives are silenced, scorned and sternly denied before considered, even if alternative ‘proof’ were discovered, would it be recognized for what it is, or explained away with acceptable mainstream values?

Scientific narratives are created, not described realities. Reenacting the myth of the heterosexual, meat eating caveman not only naturalizes patriarchy by projecting it into our species’ origins, but ignores and denies the possible existence of other ways of being.

The role of feminist primitivism is to naturalize a broader ancestral life narrative by undermining the values behind science and reject the rigidity of the evolutionary normative. Until the realm of potentials is open for consideration, the caveman experience will remain an oblique mystery.

“Las narrativas científicas son creadas, no son realidades descritas. Recreando el mito del humano de las cavernas heterosexual y carnívoro no sólo naturaliza el patriarcado proyectándolo en los orígenes de nuestra especie, sino que ignora y niega la posible existencia de otras formas de ser.
El papel del primitivismo feminista es naturalizar una narrativa de vida ancestral más amplia socavando los valores detrás de la ciencia y rechazando la rigidez de la normativa evolutiva. Hasta que el reino de los potenciales esté abierto a la consideración, la experiencia del humano de las cavernas seguirá siendo un misterio oblicuo.”

 

how we became an invasive species

invasivesBiocultural adaptation: the pattern of human evolution in which the effects of natural selection are altered by cultural inventions.

Culture can alter the direction of evolution by creating non-biological adaptations to environmental stresses (e.g., clothing, controlled fire, agriculture).

This potentially reduces the need to either remain within habitat boundaries or evolve genetic responses to natural limits. This has meant that we have been able to remain essentially tropical animals biologically while colonizing outside our natural habitat into non-tropical regions.