Radical activist sentenced to read Malcolm Gladwell

A punishment cruel and unusual: A jailed 90's environmentalist faces a harsh, moralizing sentence

Published January 28, 2014 6:43PM (EST)

Malcolm Gladwell        (AP/Evan Agostini)
Malcolm Gladwell (AP/Evan Agostini)

A radical environmental activist in the 90's, Rebecca Rubin was sentenced Monday for taking part animal rights-related arsons allegedly perpetrated by the collective "The Family" over a decade ago.

Rubin has refused to give evidence against any other activists to federal prosecutors, accounting, some say, for her considerable sentence of five years in prison (determined by minimum sentencing laws -- a scourge of the legal system).

The details of Rubin's punishment are nothing short of cruel and unusual. She was ordered to pay more than $13 million in restitution upon her release and perform 200 hours of community service. Add to this the bizarre requirement that she read Malcolm Gladwell's "David and Goliath" -- the author's sweeping work of pop science with a message to "misfits and underdogs" that essentially combines non-violence and capitulation, undergirded by an appeal to a scientific method with far-reaching topic matter, and little argumentative strength.

Of "David and Goliath"'s core message, Gladwell himself said: "The fact of being an underdog changes people in ways that we often fail to appreciate. It opens doors, and creates opportunities and educates and permits things that might otherwise have seemed unthinkable.”

Demanding a jailed activist -- who has remained resistant to years of state intimidation -- read such a work seems not-so-subtly dystopian. Gladwell as state-enforced antidote to rebellion.

One hopes that Rubin's supporters send her ample countervailing reading supplies, too.

By Natasha Lennard

Natasha Lennard is an assistant news editor at Salon, covering non-electoral politics, general news and rabble-rousing. Follow her on Twitter @natashalennard, email nlennard@salon.com.

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Related Topics ------------------------------------------

Activism David And Goliath Environmentalism Greenscare Malcolm Gladwell Prison