Archive for the ‘Nonviolence’ Category


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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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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Trailer for New Film on Nonviolence

February 10th, 2011 No comments

Here is the trailer for an interesting new film, Nonviolence for a Change, which is commissioned by the Turning the Tide programme of Quaker Peace and Social Witness. There’s also a report in The Guardian about this which is written by Zoe Broughton, an undercover investigator who has worked at a number of facilities, including Huntingdon Life Sciences and for Compassion In World Farming.

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