Born in Wilmington, NC, I have lived for the majority of my adult life in Bloomington, Indiana, where I teach psychology. I received my B.A. in Psychology and Anthropology from Duke University, and my Ph.D. in social psychology from the University of Illinois. I live with my son and two dogs, and in my spare time I enjoy playing racquetball, running, playing chess, watching various sports, and listening to an eclectic mix of jazz, classical, metal, and other forms of music.
But my primary hobby has for a long time been reading and thinking about politics and, to paraphrase Marx, attempting not merely to understand but also to change the world. I first became politically engaged as a college student in the early '80s, and have for most of the time since then been a political activist, attending or organizing political protests, writing letters to the editor, and organizing talks and video showings. By the late '80s or so, I considered myself a revolutionary socialist, and I have been a member of the US socialist organization Solidarity since 1992. In 2002, I ran for Congress as a Green Party candidate. There hasn't been one particular issue that's stood out in the years I've been politically active. I just do what I can to raise other people's awareness about whatever issues happen to be on my mind at any given time, helping them learn some of the same things I've learned about what the world is like and how it needs to be changed.
I've always read a lot, and there are many works that have shaped my outlook. One that particularly stands out from things I read back when I was first "waking up," so to speak, is A PEOPLE'S HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES, by the late, beloved Howard Zinn. Zinn describes in detail how, from its very founding, the US has been dominated by a wealthy and powerful elite who have arranged circumstances to their benefit by exploiting others--owning slaves, dispossessing Native Americans of their land, hiring workers for paltry wages under deplorable working conditions, etc., continuing on through today when the gap between rich and poor has never been greater. At the same time, a powerful message of Zinn's book -- and his work as a whole -- is the power ordinary people have to make a difference when a lot of them work together to change things, and how central to every positive change that's happened such efforts by "regular people" have been.
My outlook was equally shaped by histories of other parts of the world, classic works by such thinkers as Marx, Trotsky, and Luxemburg, and more recent work on the ecological impact of capitalism by Joel Kovel and John Bellamy Foster, to name just a few influences. A central thread in all of these works is that independent self-organization of the working class, and of people belonging to any specific oppressed group, is central to what it takes for social progress or revolution to take place. Mass social movements, not top-down policy changes, are the only effective means of fighting for a just and ecologically sustainable world.
In the mid-’90s, I read John Robbins' book DIET FOR A NEW AMERICA, which had a profound impact on me. Robbins makes a well researched and eloquently argued case that the standard Western diet, and the animal agriculture industry that makes it possible, are having a devastating impact on human health and the natural environment, as well as causing horrific suffering for billions of animals. Virtually overnight, I decided that I could no longer in good conscience consume animal products of any kind; that is, I became vegan. In fact, eventually, further reading (for example, Bob Torres’ book MAKING A KILLING) led me to the conclusion that using animals for pleasure or convenience was incompatible with my socialist principles. Allow me to explain.
As a socialist, I believe in the abolition of all forms of exploitation as well as of private ownership of the means of production. And although most humans are exploited to one degree or another as a result of their relative lack of ownership of the means of production or other factors, no other creatures are as exploited as the animals humans raise for food, clothing, or other products. In fact, legally as well as ideologically, nonhuman animals are regarded as the property of humans. One doesn’t need to watch a video of factory farms or slaughterhouses to grasp what that means for animals’ well-being; one only has to consider what life was like for humans who were others’ property in the days before the abolition of slavery. To me, a society that is just and free of exploitation cannot -- by definition -- be one in which humans own other sentient beings. My hope is that in the years to come, many more people on the left will come to agree with me than is presently the case.