Gladwell, prison

In sentencing an eco-terrorist for arson, a federal judge threw in an additional sentence that arguably constitutes “cruel and unusual punishment”: Rebecca Rubin must also read Malcolm Gladwell‘s David and Goliath during her prison stint, as a way to teach her how to use “non-violent means to protesting systems she perceives as unjust.”

A district court judge in Oregon sentenced Rubin to five years after she pleaded guilty to conspiracy and arson charges in connection with a number of firebombings between 1997 and 2001, as part of several environmental and animal rights protests.

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According to The Associated Press, Rubin worked with the Earth Liberation Front and the Animal Liberation Front, which “burned a ski resort in Colorado, wild horse corrals in Oregon and Northern California, and lumber mills and Forest Service offices in Oregon. There were no injuries, and no one died.”

“I reached a point in my early twenties when I could no longer contain or appropriately channel the grief, despair, and powerlessness I felt in response to the mistreatment of animals and the natural world,” Rubin, who turned herself in in 2012 after spending seven years as a fugitive in Canada, wrote in a letter to the judge. “Although at the time I believed my only motivation was my deep love for the earth, I now understand that impatience, anger, egotism and self-righteousness were also involved. In retrospect, I recognise how immature my actions were.”

She was also ordered to pay over $13 million in restitution and perform 200 hours of community service after she gets out of prison. And, in addition to Gladwell, Rubin was ordered to read Nature’s Trust by Mary C. Wood, which “empowers citizens to protect their inalienable property rights to crucial resources.”

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Christopher F. Chabris, writing for The Wall Street Journal, sums up David and Goliath and the rest of the Gladwell oeuvre thusly: “One thing David and Goliath shows is that Mr. Gladwell has not changed his own strategy, despite serious criticism of his prior work. What he presents are mostly just intriguing possibilities and musings about human behavior, but what his publisher sells them as, and what his readers may incorrectly take them for, are lawful, causal rules that explain how the world really works. Mr. Gladwell should acknowledge when he is speculating or working with thin evidentiary soup. Yet far from abandoning his hand or even standing pat, Mr. Gladwell has doubled down. This will surely bring more success to a Goliath of nonfiction writing, but not to his readers.”

So that’s what Rubin is in for.

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