On the Virtue of Temper: Nasim Aghdam
From All-Creatures.org Animal Rights Activism Articles Archive


The Peaceable Table
May 2018

Nasim's dire lack of temper certainly demonstrates the folly and evil of letting righteous anger boil over into hatred and killing.

Hattie Morahan
“[Elinor] had an excellent heart:--her disposition was affectionate, and her feelings were strong: but she knew how to govern them....”
Photo is of Hattie Morahan as Elinor Dashwood in the 2008 BBC TV miniseries Sense and Sensibility

“Temper” is one of those curious English words that has virtually reversed its former meaning. Two hundred and more years ago, it referred to the capacity for emotional discipline: the person with Temper was one who habitually controlled, tempered, his or her emotions. Reasons for developing temper may have varied--to refrain from harming or overindulging others; fear of the wrath of an authority figure; to conform to common notions of proper behavior for one’s position, sex, or class; to avoid distractions and concentrate one’s energies on achieving a personal goal. One who lost her temper was making a rare slip from a usual disciplined state. A person who went into frequent rages, or other self-indulgent emotional displays, did not lose his temper--he had none in the first place. But over time, the “temper” of the expression came unmoored from “lose,” so that the present-day person with a temper is one who, ironically, lacks the virtue of Temper.

To cultivate that virtue is a particular challenge for an activist. Faced with terrible evils that cause immense pain and grief to the innocent--evils that cry out to High Heaven to be ended--we feel vicarious pain and anger ourselves. We need to harness this painful energy in order to work toward freeing them, a huge order. But as we have all learned, people who profit (or think they profit) from the status quo are often looking for excuses to stifle the message by putting down the messenger. If we show anger about the cruel exploitation of animals when we relate to people in the mainsteam, we may be dismissed as just another angry vegan or animal nut, who obviously doesn’t care a bit about human suffering. Or even as a dangerous (nonviolent!) terrorist.

We have--and need to have--strong feelings about animals, but must relate to our unawakened acquaintances and relatives as good listeners, approachable, sensitive, and reasonable: in short, we must be Superwoman and Superman. But--surprise!--none of us is. Some of us may even suffer from PTSD or STSD (Secondary Traumatic Stress Disorder, from close-at-hand witnessing of others’ trauma), and may not have found treatment and healing. And even if we are in more or less sound psychological health, we are still fallible human beings. All of us have to work hard at cultivating Temper. The importance of this virtue cannot be overemphasized, particularly in these times of intense and widespread divisiveness and animosity.

Nasim Aghdam

One unTempered activist who lets mental and verbal anger accelerate into physical violence can do enormous harm to the animals’ cause, as we saw in the case of Iranian-born Nasim Aghdam last month. On her personal website, in Instagram, and in a series of theatrical video clips on YouTube, she had sought to promote good health by encouraging exercise and a vegan diet; she had passionately opposed violence against animals.

Nasim Aghdam

Many of the videos were sexy; a few of them had gothic tendencies, showing her face made up in disturbing ways. In one, a lot of lipstick splashed around her mouth depicted the horrors of devouring raw flesh. She also showed graphic photos of slaughtered animals. She had a huge following in her native Iran, though some watched chiefly to ridicule. Asked if she were mentally ill, she denied it, but said she lived in a diseased society; she held both Iran and the US to be deadly living environments.

Ms. Aghdam had long-simmering rage against YouTube because she was convinced they had deliberately restricted or blocked access to some of her videos, and weren’t paying her her arranged share of proceeds. At the beginning of April she set out with a handgun for their headquarters in San Bruno, California. About midday on April 3 she invaded their outdoor dining area and shot three people, then killed herself.

The event, traumatic for those involved, made a sensation, though brief compared to other recent public shootings; this despite her origins in the Middle East and her having made liberal use of her sex appeal, both flags for public notice. On the other hand, being of the Baha’i faith, she did not fit the stereotypical mold of the Muslim terrorist. That the public soon dropped the case may be mostly because she did not shoot many people, and all three she hit did survive, thankfully. But during the brief period the event was bruited about, there were commenters eager to credit her unbalanced personality to her vegan diet. The compassion for exploited animals that she evidently felt, and acted on for years, was eclipsed by her theatrical, hate-filled act. Not only has she given her beloved cause a bad name, her death means that a talented person who cared passionately about animals, and who needed healing she never received, is lost to us.

The Myth of Redemptive Violence

Nasim’s dire lack of Temper certainly demonstrates the folly and evil of letting righteous anger boil over into hatred and killing. Her plot seems to conform to the pattern that the biblical scholar Walter Wink calls the Myth of Redemptive Violence. There are innumerable exampl/es: folktales and religious stories like the Israelite conquest under Joshua and the visions in the Book of Revelation; political revolutions and wars; ethnic “cleansing;” fantasy stories; novels and films, and children’s cartoons from Tom & Jerry to Popeye.


The hero is beset by gigantic villains and other evil forces; he (seldom she) is attacked and seemingly lost, but through his courage and cleverness, the power of a magic talisman, a guardian animal or angel, or other help from Beyond, he wins out and brings about a new state of things in which wrongs are all righted. Despite the fact that most real violence and evil leads only to more violence and evil, the human confidence in Redemptive Violence seldom falters, and there are always many ready to plunge into it again, with high hopes that this time, when the debris settles, things will be much better.

Nasim’s vengeful act gained nothing and did much harm. However, I suspect that very few if any animal activists need this dire a warning to refrain from violence on behalf of the animals. It is more useful to see her sad case as showing, writ large, the harm that can be done by mental and verbal violence in common situations. We need not be prospective killers to see that when we have no Temper in our dealings with one another or with those we would like to reach, we are in danger of harming them, ourselves, and our cause.

It also helps to bear in mind that one reason for the increasing rarity of Temper in our day is that rapid Internet exchanges with many persons we have never met (and considering that some of these writers may be mere bots) tempts many of us to consider these faceless others as relatively unreal. The less real they seem, the less need we may feel to imagine ourselves in their place, in being on the receiving end of whatever verbal violence we may throw at them. This perilous tendency can invade even our face-to-face conversations and make loving our neighbor as ourselves harder and harder. (In the goode olde days, of course, it was easy!)

However out-of-style it may be to cultivate Temper, our fellow animals--furred, feathered, or human--need us to do just that. May God help us.

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