When doing the right thing makes you a criminal

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For most of his life, Wayne Hsiung was a typical overachiever. He attended the University of Chicago, started his PhD in Economics, became a law professor at Northwestern, was mentored by Cass Sunstein. But then, something snapped. In the midst of a deep, overwhelming depression, Hsiung visited a slaughterhouse and was radicalized by the immense suffering he saw. He now faces decades in prison for rescuing sick, injured animals from slaughterhouses.

Hsiung is the founder of Direct Action Everywhere, an organization best known for conducting public, open rescues of animals too sick for slaughter. These rescues are, in many cases, illegal, and Hsiung and his fellow activists are risking years of imprisonment. But the sacrifice is the point: Hsiung and his colleagues are trying to highlight the sickness of a society that criminalizes doing what any child would recognize as the right thing to do.

In our conversation, I wanted to understand a simple question: How did he get here? What leads someone with a safe, comfortable life to risk everything for a cause? What does society look like to him now, knowing what he faces? And the big question: Is Hsiung the weird one? Or is it all of us — who see so much suffering and injustice and simply go about our lives — who have lost our way?

References:

New York Times story on a DxE rescue mission

Video of the mission to save Lily the piglet

Book recommendations:

Everything is Obvious by Duncan J. Watts

The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky

Grit by Angela Duckworth

My book is available for pre-order! You can find it at www.EzraKlein.com.

Want to contact the show? Reach out at ezrakleinshow@vox.com

You can subscribe to Ezra's new podcast Impeachment, explained on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, Overcast, Pocket Casts, or your favorite podcast app.

Credits:

Producer and Editor - Jeff Geld

Researcher - Roge Karma

Engineer - Jeremy Dalmas

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300 episodes