Archive for the ‘Animal Dharma’ Category


September 11th, 2012 No comments

Writing this on September 11, I cannot but help think of it as a sad day. Not only for everyone who was affected by the terrorist attacks in the United States in 2001, but also for the people in South America, when a military coup in Chile in 1973, deposed the democratically elected government. As difficult as it can be, life marches on relentlessly. We have to keep up and with its consequences. There is no option available here.

Toro de la Vega, where a bull is killed by a mob with spears

Even today, as I worked from home this morning, I followed the live developments of the Toro de la Vega in Tordesillas, which is in the province of Valladolid in central northern Spain.

The Toro de la Vega consisted of killing Volante, a five-year-old bull weighing 622 kilos, by spearing him to death with lances. The Toro is known in Spanish culture as a ‘tournament.’ But it’s impossible for me to think of it as that. It is violence toward animals.

Terrorism, regardless of the victim’s species, has no place in the world, if we want to think of ourselves as civilised.

Being in the fortunate position of working full-time for animal rights as long as I have, all too often every day is a sad day. Of course, I know I am not alone in feeling this. It’s true for everyone whose hearts and minds are open to animal cruelty and exploitation. Somehow, we cope with all the sadness, which is often softened by the joy we experience sharing our lives and homes with other animals. I like to think of these rescued animals as refugees. Citizens who are lost in a profound way who we must take in. Even if it means frequent cleaning of the litter box and walks when we’d rather have an early night.

Shelly, tucked in and asleep

Speaking of which, Shelly continues to settle in well. Her time spent in my office working with me is increasing. But she gets easily bored there, as my attention is focused on my work. Even though she can sleep for as long as she likes. And there’s always someone around who is happy to make a fuss of her. So, now, I spend some days, like today, working at home on the dining room table.

Now that we’re in September I have begun to focus more on planning my trip to the USA for the month of November. My itinerary includes New York, Washington, DC, and Ann Arbor, MI. I will be working closely with my colleagues, Ken Shapiro and Bee Friedlander, at the Animals and Society Institute. Also, I will be speaking at a conference at Wesleyan University in Middletown, CT celebrating the life and work of ecofeminist philosopher Marti Kheel. In Troy, MI, I will be speaking as part of the ASI/Michigan Humane Society Speaker Series on ‘What Does It Mean to Care Deeply About Animals?’ The next day I’m also speaking at the Michigan Partnership for Animal Welfare on ‘USA/UK: Who is Making Progress and Why.’

Last week, I gave a paper, ‘Animal Rights: Moral Crusade or Social Movement?’, at the Universsity of Manchester which hosts MANCEPT, the annual forum in political theory and philosophy.

I also heard back from the folks at Lantern who read the manuscript of my first book. They made insightful comments and we’re presently working on making further improvements to the text. John Sorenson at Brock University also made positive comments about the chapter I submitted to the anthology he’s editing on critical animal studies.

So, perhaps, I shouldn’t feel so sad after all because, slowly but surely, all of us who working for animal liberation are making progress.

Well, it’s a long, long time

From May to December.

But the days grow short,

When you reach September.

And the autumn weather

Turns the leaves to gray

And I haven’t got time

For the waiting game.

Extract from September Song. Lyrics by Maxwell Anderson. Music by Kurt Weill.

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August 20th, 2012 1 comment

August always feel like the end of one year and the beginning of another. It’s a bit like New Year’s Eve. But it lasts a month. And without all the celebrations of one evening, which usually disappoint because of unrealistic expectations. August becomes a period of transition. Things past are completed. Things new started. Well, that’s the plan. And sometimes it even works!

For example, this month I sent the manuscript to my first book to Lantern for their review. Starting life as Animal Dharma but later renamed Not for Beasts, Lantern will give me their assessment soon. Of course, I’m anxious about what they will have to say. I make no assumption there is any guarantee they will publish it. Even though that’s my preference, as I greatly admire them. Nowadays, however, the technology is available for authors to publish themselves respectfully. So, I know, one way or another, Not for Beasts is going to see the light of day in 2013. Yay!

When I began the project more years ago than I care to admit, I realised some time into it I was writing two books. This revelation led me to dividing it into two. So, the first became my personal take on what it means to care deeply about animals. The second, which I call the Animal Rights Challenge, is a critical evaluation of the animal rights movement in the UK and USA between 1975 and 2010.

So, for the last few years, I have been writing and researching two books. Book one is now moved on from creation to the next stage of publication. This means that I can focus more on book two.

Last year John Sorenson at Brock University in Canada kindly invited me to submit a chapter for an anthology on critical animal studies he is editing. I am using this chapter, which I will be finished by the end of August, as the foundation to book two. Also, I gave a paper recently to conferences at universities in Barcelona, Exeter and Utrecht addressing the issues that I explore in book two. The chapter and talks were very helpful. They provided opportunities for people to comment on what I had to say. You can read my talk here. Please send me your thoughts at My paper will be included in the proceedings of the Exeter University conference currently being prepared by the organisers, Critical Perspectives on Animals in Society. The Sorenson anthology is scheduled for publication next year.

My opportunity to write books and give talks is made possible by my work as a consultant to such organisations as the Animals and Society Institute and Compassion In World Farming. This is in addition to the voluntary work I do for Minding Animals International and East Sussex Wildlife Rescue.

ASI, which I co-founded with Ken Shapiro, is a think tank which develops human-animal studies, addresses the relation between animal cruelty and other violence, and promotes the development of public policy.

Shelly sleeps while I work. Surely, there’s something wrong here?

I return to the USA in November to work on various ASI projects. I will be speaking at the annual conference of the Michigan Partnership for Animal Welfare and at a conference in honour of ecofeminist Marti Kheel at Wesleyan University in Connecticut.

I advise Philip Lymbery, Compassion’s CEO, on matters related to editorial content (blogs, book reviews, interviews, etc.) which are used in various media locations.

I am excited to announce that this month I began work as a consultant to Joe Duckworth, Chief Executive at the League Against Cruel Sports, to advise him on matters related to their international campaigns.

So, August is a month of transition. On a personal level this included our adoption of Shelly, an eleven year old Jack Russell mix, who, as I write, is asleep in the armchair in my office. Watching sleeping dogs helps to focus the mind.

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Open Door for Vegans

April 13th, 2012 1 comment

Toward the end of 1975 the BBC began an innovative series of community-based television programs called ‘Open Door.’⁠ They selected a handful of organisations to help them make programs about themselves. Among the first was one by and about The Vegan Society.

I recall watching the program as a vegetarian. My Mum also watched it as she had become a vegetarian too. We agreed that the vegans featured on the program had a point or two. But, we thought, they were all rather, well, odd. Looking back, it was clearly original programming and an ambitious step for the Vegan Society to take. The BBC programme generated some 9,000 enquiries and added about 1,000 new members to its books.⁠

Two of them were Mum and I, as we went vegan on January 1, 1976. I subsequently got to know some of the vegans who appeared. They were not odd at all, but dedicated pioneers. (Perhaps by then I had become odd, too.) For example, I am eternally grateful to Kathleen Jannaway who was the society’s secretary and played a prominent role in the program. She had a profound impact on many people through her indefatigable work for the society for many, many years. She was a quintessentially English vegan who personified stoic determination.

I have not watched the Vegan Open Door since 1975 until today, as it is now available on Youtube. I encourage everyone to watch. It is truly amazing to see how these vegan pioneers presented themselves so well. They are articulate, thoughtful and confident. Nevertheless, they are all a bit odd. And I love them all the more for it. Everyone who is vegan today and hereafter has much to thank them for. They were originals who developed the case for veganism which resembles in many way the one that we make today.


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Animal Dharma Update

March 20th, 2012 No comments

After a two-day period of self-imposed isolation at home, an important landmark was reached on Saturday with respect to my first book, Animal Dharma.

Draft Two is finished!


Animal Dharma explores four key values in our relationship with animals, which are:

  • Compassion, our motivation to helping animals
  • Truth, our ethical relationship with animals
  • Nonviolence, our values in the relationship we have with animals
  • Interbeing (the interconnectedness of all), our commitment to social justice for animals

Animal Dharma is part memoir and personal self-reflection, as well as animal rights history and movement strategy. Animal Dharma is written with myself in mind. It is the book I wish I could have read when I was 19, when I became a vegetarian after working in a chicken slaughterhouse, and 21, when I became a vegan and campaigns organiser for Compassion In World Farming in 1976.

Of course, I could not write Animal Dharma without the experience I am fortunate to have had since then with the animal rights movement in the United Kingdom and United States. Nevertheless, writing a book is a long arduous process, consisting of a series of decisions, ranging from macro concepts, to where should that comma go in this sentence?

Draft Two consisted of completely rewriting the first. I am most fortunate in having a small group of readers who generously read the first draft, and some of the second, and shared their comments with me. I am in touch with them about the completed second draft, which I have also shared with another small group of readers. Of course, I have to wait for their feedback; however, my fingers are crossed that Draft Three will not be a major rewrite (like the second), but more along the lines of fiddling, adjusting and tackling anomalies and improving any confusing bits. The readers, who I will recognise in the book when it is published, have been marvellous. Indeed, there are many others whose thoughtfulness and kindness continue to help and inspire me along the way.

In fact, this project began in another form; but I suddenly realised one day that I was writing two books. I had to divide the manuscript in half and start again. The first became Animal Dharma, which I often refer to as Book One. Book Two, The Animal Rights Challenge, is already underway with writing and research. Hopefully, Book Two will be an easier project, having completed one, and its focus not being in the first person. To write about oneself well is more difficult than writing about others!

I can not say when Animal Dharma will be published; however, the completion of Draft Two makes that day not seem quite so far off after all.

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Which Needs? Whose Interests?

February 12th, 2012 No comments

The animal rights movement is a social movement.

Sociologists define social movements as a ‘collective, organized, sustained, and noninstitutional challenge to authorities, powerholders, or cultural beliefs and practices.’⁠ (Jeff Goodwin and James M. Jasper. 2002. The Social Movement Reader. Malden, MA: Blackwell. 3.)

From my research I discovered there were many similarities between social movements, including the animal rights movement, but there are two significant differences which makes our movement truly unique.

As political scientist Robert Garner explains

Moreover, for humans to campaign on behalf of them requires an altruism that is much more profound than for other social movements. Not only does it involve action to seek the advancement of the interests of another species, there is also a potential conflict between the interests of animals and those of humans. (Robert Garner. 2005. The Political Theory of Animal Rights. Manchester: Manchester University Press. 164.)

Animals can not organise themselves into their own social movement. Unlike humans, animals cannot be the agency of their own liberation. We have to do it for them on their behalf. This onerous responsibility makes it even more important for us to understand how to achieve animal rights.

Further, we have to tackle the complex issues of the benefits we accrue from our exploitation of animals if we are serious about establishing animal rights.

I tend to think these benefits are over stated by the animal industrial complex, which manipulates public opinion to fear any change in their use of animals. When the public think about their relations with animals they are reluctant generally to give up any pleasure (e.g., eating meat) or benefit (e.g., curing disease) they may feel is their entitlement.

But as anthropologist Barbara Noske asks ‘which human needs are being fulfilled and whose interests are promoted by the existing animal industrial complex?’ (Barbara Noske. 1989. Humans and Other Animals. London: Pluto Press. 23. Emphasis in original.)

Whatever may or may not be at risk, the benefits we do accrue from not relying upon animals to produce food and manage disease are considerable. History shows that social movements are accused routinely of seeking change which will adversely impact society if they achieve their objective. But it rarely, if ever, turns out to be true. Indeed, it is any wonder that we have made the social and economic progress that we have, given these outrageous claims.

Any sense of conflict between human and animal interests is questionable depending upon your point of view. Those who maintain that we must, for example, use animals to produce food and fight disease will say any rights animals may have must be subordinate to dominant human interests. This is to succumb to framing human and animal interests as a competition. A strategic dichotomy all too prevalent in human history: men superior to women; whites to blacks; natives to immigrants; heterosexuals to homosexuals; and so on. In our case, it is humans are superior to animals, which is called speciesism.

As society evolves and we become aware of our superiority prejudices we seek to resolve them as we become more aware of the resulting injustices. We readjust, accommodate and move on, in all likelihood, all the better for it.

The same, I have no doubt, will be true for animal rights; particularly when we understand if we want to feed the world’s population and encourage well-being that animal exploitation in factory farms and research laboratories are not only fundamentally problematic but also significant contributing factors to aiding famine and disease in the first place.

This is why it is vital animal rights is understood as part of a progressive agenda of social justice alongside other liberation movements.

Notwithstanding the need for the animal rights movement to enact Lord Houghton’s advice, animals are already in the political arena. It is the representatives of the animal industrial complex whom we should be concerned about.

Powerful commercial interests that profit from animal exploitation are well established political players. Their involvement in the political process helps to maintain the status quo, adopt regulations and pass laws that help animal users more than the animals. This political bias in favour of animal exploitation is reinforced by our continued institutionalised, commercial use of animals as property and disposable commodities.

There is a lot of money to be made from animal exploitation and many other non-financial gains. It is, therefore, not surprising that most of the regulations and laws relating to animals is more about protecting our interests in what we do to them than in us defending them from our actions.

Animals are represented in public policy by those who benefit from the power and control they exert over them. Animal researchers (not anti-vivisectionists) and factory farmers (not vegans) are more likely to be members of the policy-making networks which determine regulations and laws governing our relations with animals.

Consequently, animal-related public policy is more about how to use animals than protecting them from us.

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Which to Support?

February 6th, 2012 2 comments

I have in front of me three appeals for funds. The first is from a national animal rights organisation which promotes vegan, cruelty-free living and exposes institutionalised animal exploitation with undercover investigations. The second is for an animal sanctuary which rescues not only cats and dogs but also farmed animals such as chickens, goats and sheep. The last request is from a local refuge which works in practical ways to help people, including their children and companion animals, who are abused by their partners.

Each one wants me to support their work by making a donation. But my funds are limited. It is not possible to help everyone. Which one should I choose? Which is a priority? Which lives or dies?

Here, then, is the dilemma for those of us with limited funds who care about animals when we read the mail and E-mail sent to us by various organisations. But this quandary is not restricted to animal advocates and the animal rights movement. It is also true for those who care about social justice and generally support charities, non-governmental organisations and not-for-profit groups.

I must determine whether I can support any or all of these appeals. Is one more urgent than the other? Or more important? Whose need is greatest?

Finding answers to these questions prompts more in turn.

What am I seeking to accomplish with my donations? To help genuinely? Instant emotional gratification? Assuage guilt? Seek long-term solutions to entrenched problems? Do I have a personal mission that guides me? If so, what is it? How much difference can I really make? Is this the best way to help? In order for me to help animals must I also support the work of advocacy organisations and sanctuaries and refuges for people and their children and companion animals who are abused?

Personal questions such as these also inspire similar ones directed toward social justice movements.

What are their missions? Are there any long-term objectives? Short-term goals? Is it, for example, intervening in abusive situations? Bringing public attention to egregious examples of abuse? Attracting the media’s attention? Challenging institutional exploitation? Promoting alternatives?

It is all of these things and much more.

But this questioning prompts yet more. This time it is deceptively simple but demands a complex answer.

How is accomplishment to be measured?

Is it by public opinion? Quantity and quality of media coverage? Growth of organisations and their influence? Public policy? Policy statements and election pledges made by political parties? Regulations and laws passed and their enforcement? The practices of industry and commerce? Academic research? Statistics? Lives saved?

Even before they can be answered, there is still one more question. Again, deceptively simple but complex to answer.

Who is responsible and should be held to account?

These are the questions which run through people’s minds when they are confronted with appeals for funds.

Which to choose? Whose need is greatest? Is this the best way to help? What are their missions? How to measure effectiveness? Who is responsible? Are donations used well?

I am familiar with all of these questions and more. Over the years many animal advocates have asked them of me. What do I think, for example, about a particular organisation? Do I support them? Should I give them money? I have heard such and such, they say, and ask me, What do I know? I also ask myself the same questions when I consider the groups I support.

My four key values in animal rights — truth, compassion, nonviolence and interbeing — guide me on how to answer all of these questions. They help me to understand the problem of animal cruelty and exploitation and determine effective ways to act for animals. They also lead me to reason that the problem is not with the animals themselves but with us.

We are the problem. We cause the suffering.

I believe the fundamental problem of animal exploitation is us. Human attitudes, behaviour and beliefs are the cause. Animal exploitation is the effect.

The animal rights challenge begins and ends with us.

We are the solution. We can stop the suffering.

So, which one, if any, or should I support all three of the appeals in front of me?

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My Relationship with Violence

January 19th, 2012 No comments

One very cold morning in the winter of 1975 I heard trees scream as I set them alight.

After I abandoned my career in the food service industry, I worked as a labourer in a commercial tree nursery. I did not know which direction my life and my concern for animals were taking me.

As I watched the flames engulf the pile of trees I built, I heard a scream which was like no other sound I had ever heard before or since. There is, most likely, a scientific reason why the trees screamed. Perhaps it was to do with the tree sap burning on that cold morning. Regardless, I heard trees scream as they burned. Their cries forced me to ask myself if they were alive. Was I responsible for their murder? Even though, rationally, I knew that this was impossible. Even ridiculous. Trees may be living things but they are not sentient beings. Nevertheless, it was a profound experience that continues to haunt me. It was a personal transformative moment in my relationship with violence.

I have always opposed war and military action of any kind. They demonstrate human failure in diplomacy and our inability to live with each other compassionately, honestly and peacefully. I understand the case made for ‘just’ wars but I wonder how many were truly so. A just war is when military action is permissible with legal or moral reasons, including self-defence and assisting another. As with society so with the individual. The only morally acceptable violent behaviour for an individual is to act, including in self-defence, when no other options are available.

Burning a pile of trees is one of the very few occasions when I behaved violently. Although I did not think so at first. In my defence, I make the case that I would not have set the trees alight if I had not been told to do so. I am not a pyromaniac. The reason why I did not challenge my supervisor is because I saw nothing wrong with burning trees. My mind changed, however, when I heard the trees scream. Was I behaving violently, I wondered, by setting a stack of trees on fire?

Trees are objects. Yes, they grow and, in that sense, they are alive. But they are not subjects like humans. They do not suffer as we do. Any noise they make when they burn is no more than like the chiming of a clock. Screaming trees burning in a fire does not mean they are sentient. Yes, I like trees. My appreciation is because of their beauty, evocation and necessity. I am pleased to see in certain situations trees are protected by law. But they are not sentient like us. We grow trees. We cut them down. We use their wood. Trees are a crop, like other plants we grow and use and, in some cases, eat.

My anecdote about burning trees may appear ridiculous to some. It may resonate with others who experienced something similar. Regardless, it reminds me to be thoughtful (I admit to not being always successful) of how I handle all plants, including those I grow and harvest at the allotment I share near my home. Further, I appreciate particularly the majestic beauty of the wooded East Sussex countryside since I moved there to live in 2007. Certainly, I would not want to see any of it destroyed by fire.

Thinking about trees reminds me of two silly arguments I have encountered over the years when I have made the case for animal rights.

First, there is no point in worrying about animals because it leads to anxiety about whether plants feel pain. Second, what is the point in worrying about animals when plants also feel pain? On both counts, it is better to take no action. This is hypocritical nonsense and beyond any reason but needs to be considered briefly.

When I recall my thoughts and emotions about the burning trees, I feel guilty, distressed and confused. What if the trees I burnt did fee pain? Is not my assumption that trees are insensate akin to what people say about animals? That animals and trees do not have the capacity to feel and if they do it does not matter. Does all this somehow make animals and trees less important and more permissible to harm? Further, if we are to stop worrying about it, well, where would it lead us?

I do not know whether trees and other flora experience pain and capable of suffering. There is no evidence of a central nervous system to indicate such an ability. This does not mean, however, that we have licence to do whatever we want with the environment. The way I distinguish how I feel about animals and the environment, including trees, plants and all other flora, is that I give the former the benefit of the doubt as they are clearly sentient whereas the latter has the potential for sentiency. I believe we can use the environment but that this must be done in conjunction with my four key values of compassion, truth, nonviolence and an awareness and sensitivity to the interrelationships of the natural world.

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Sue Coe

December 30th, 2011 2 comments

The good folks at Our Hen House have produced an excellent short film about Sue Coe. Sue describes herself as an artist whose work is reportage. To learn more about her work, go here and here.

Sue Coe: Art of the Animal from Our Hen House on Vimeo.

My first recollection of Sue Coe’s work was during the turbulent Thatcher years of the 1980s, which we appear to be reliving under the present Tory-led coalition government. I recall seeing copies of her ‘How to commit suicide in South Africa’ for sale in Compendium, the Camden Town independent, leftie bookshop beloved but now lost. Then, Sue received controversial coverage in the media for her drawings of the IRA hunger striker Bobby Sands. I did not catch up with her work until I had moved to the USA and saw the exhibit, Porkopolis, in Washington, DC in the late 1980s or early 1990s. I wrote to her then as PETA’s Executive Director expressing admiration for her work and offering any assistance I could. Many years later, I went along to hear her speak in Baltimore when she was a guest lecturer at the local art institute. Her talk was like a breath of fresh air with all its insights, controversies and humour. Afterwards, I introduced myself and we went for coffee. Since then, we’ve become friends and colleagues.

She is the most important living artist in our time. The craft in her work is truly amazing. There is, also, a subtle cleverness in her referencing to the artists and their work that inspires her. I am proud of the fact that Sue was a regular in The Animals’ Agenda magazine I used to publish.

In the film, Sue describes herself as a worm turning over the soil reporting on the world she sees. I like to think of her more as someone who holds up a mirror to society challenging us to consider our stupid ways. But, in doing so, it is done with such an uncompromising vision that is remarkable if disturbingly beautiful.

We’re all the better for seeing the world through Sue Coe’s eyes.

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Categories: Animal Rights, Truth Tags: ,

Friday Afternoon

June 3rd, 2011 1 comment

I’m embarrassed to admit that my last post was nearly two weeks ago. Between then and now I’ve looked at this Web site every day (sometimes several times a day) and thought, I must post something. And I haven’t. And once you’ve stopped, it’s really difficult to pick up on the momentum again.

So, why the gap?

Been busy.

That’s all there is to it.

But if I have to blame any single one thing, well, it will be writing. And when I say, writing, I mean writing, thinking, re-writing, deleting, staring into space, eating, laundry, the allotment, cooking dinner, sleeping and every other activity I do, some of which I’m not willing to share here.

Writing is all I’m ever thinking about. Well, that’s not true. As I left one thing off the list of things I do. Reading. I read an awful lot. But, then, there’s different types of reading. Scanning. Reading selective bits. Looking through reading. And so on. But I don’t get enough time to read what I want to read. Or need to read.

And whoever invented the Internet should be shot.

So, this is why there’s been a silence. Or the appearance of a silence from yours truly.

Because yours truly has been busy. But not here.

And what’s prompted this public apology and vain attempt to get back onto the blogging schedule?

Something I just read.

Here’s the link. If you’re a writer, you’ll love it. If you’re a reader, you will find it interesting. If you’re neither, fix a drink because you need it.

Even if you don’t think so.

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Oscar Ciutat

May 16th, 2011 No comments

Truly amazing photographs from Oscar Ciutat. See also comment from Andrew Sullivan.

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