Posts Tagged ‘Animal Dharma’


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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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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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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February 21st, 2011 No comments

As I wish to complete the manuscript for Animal Dharma by a non-negotiable imminent deadline, I am unavailable by email or phone, including Skype, until further notice. Pre-existing appointments will be honoured. The best way to contact me is by email. Please mark it URGENT in the header if you need me to get back in touch with you quickly. Thanks for your patience!

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The Way of Vegan Part Four of Four

January 7th, 2011 No comments

The Buddha taught the Noble Eightfold Path as the way to extinguish suffering. It describes how to live ethically, thereby redressing the in-balance we experience in the world. I have adapted the traditional descriptions of the Noble Eightfold Path to include specific references to the practice of animal advocacy.

  1. Right Understanding. Study the Four Noble Truths to deepen your understanding of the nature of suffering. Apply this insight to address our complex relationship with animals. Recognise the existence of suffering, comprehend its origin and understand how to end it. Make the magical connection. Learn and understand. Think and solve. Imagine an honest, compassionate, peaceful society and your place within it.
  2. Right Thought. Recognise selfish and violent thinking. Reject these negative thoughts as they lack truth, compassion and prevent interbeing. Nurture positive and altruistic thinking. Discard selfish, negative and violent thoughts, including hatred, misanthropy, martyrdom, violence. Cultivate selfless, positive and nonviolent thoughts toward extending the magical connection and compassion to all beings. Think your vision.
  3. Right Speech. Do not lie, foster hatred, foment violence and feed alienation. Speak the truth to inspire compassion, nonviolence and interbeing. Do not speak selfishly, negatively or encourage violence. Do not speak maliciously about animal advocates, organisations and the movement. Speak positively and constructively. Be a leader in your thoughts and words as they will foster compassion for everyone. Speak your vision.
  4. Right Action. Do not destroy life. Cease other negative behaviours. Live by positive example. Inspire others to lead honest, compassionate and peaceful lives. Be a vegan but understand that thoughts and feelings also destroy life. Be a leader in your actions as they will foster universal love and compassion for all beings. Act your vision.
  5. Right Livelihood. Develop a lifestyle that is ethically right for you which not only makes a positive contribution to society but also makes the least impact on animals and the planet. Live by a profession that is honourable, blameless and innocent of harm to others. It is vital that volunteers and employees of organisations act professionally, responsibly and honourably. Encourage compassionately those who profit from animal cruelty and exploitation to understand their actions. Inspire them to change. Let your vision be your work wherever you are employed.
  6. Right Effort. Be positive, creative and altruistic. Be steadfast in your altruistic commitment to animal rights to not only free them from our subjugation but also to bring about benefits for our selves and the planet. Learn how to develop your practice of vegan, cruelty-free living to include the cultivation of a loving and compassionate mind. Let your vision be your motivator.
  7. Right Mindfulness. Work diligently. Be mindful of your relationships with others. Lead by example with your practice of animal advocacy. Be mindful of the body and to not abuse it. Be ever conscious of one’s thoughts and feelings so that they are loving and compassionate. Be ever vigilant in cultivating a loving and compassionate heart and mind. Be mindful of keeping your vision.
  8. Right Concentration. Be disciplined but not self-reproaching. Be honest, compassionate, nonviolent and embrace interbeing. Imagine those animals who we cruelly treat and place them in your thoughts and give them refuge in your heart. Always concentrate on your vision.

Learn more about my forthcoming book, Animal Dharma, here.

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The Way of Vegan Part Three of Four

January 6th, 2011 No comments

Issues surrounding suffering, not only experienced by humans and animals but also by myself as someone who spends a lot of time in melancholic thought, are something that I think about most of the time. I was impressed with how the Buddha answered these fundamentally important questions about the nature of suffering.

Buddhism and Engaged Buddhism offered me new insight into why we treat animals the way we do. And what can be done about it. I discovered it is possible to combine together what I learnt as an animal advocate with what I read in Buddhist ethics to form a new enlightened strategy to achieving moral and legal rights for animals. This influenced how my Animal Dharma came into being. This is why I chose truth, compassion, nonviolence and interbeing as my four key values. The foundations for my Animal Dharma are my social justice political advocacy combined with Buddhist ethics.

The Buddha taught about suffering in the Four Noble Truths.

The First Noble Truth is to acknowledge suffering as an integral part of the nature of life. The sorrows and joys we experience; life’s imperfections, frustrations and dissatisfactions; and the seeming impermanence of life, which is often in conflict with our attachment to things — they all contribute toward producing the suffering we experience.

The Second Noble Truth is to understand suffering as desires which occur like a “thirst” that accompanies all our emotions and thoughts. First, we acknowledge suffering’s existence and then we recognise our actions result in suffering for our selves and others.

The Third Noble Truth is to understand that suffering can be only stopped when we quench the thirst for desires, things and attachments. Buddhists call this perfected state Nirvana. Suffering can be prevented and stopped if we become more aware of ourselves and our actions.

The Fourth Noble Truth is the Middle Path which leads to realisation of Nirvana. It is insufficient to simply understand the Four Noble Truths. Nirvana can be attained only with effort. True selflessness and altruistic behaviour will help to prevent suffering and promote justice.

So, we can acknowledge suffering as something which is real in our lives; that suffering comes from our desires; that it is possible to end suffering; and there is a right way to extinguish suffering. These are the Four Noble Truths as taught by the Buddha, who also taught that the way to extinguish suffering is by following the Noble Eightfold Path, which describes how to live ethically, thereby redressing the in-balance we experience in the world.

Learn more about my forthcoming book, Animal Dharma, here.

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The Way of Vegan Part Two of Four

January 5th, 2011 6 comments

My spiritual connection with veganism is with Buddhism and Engaged Buddhism. So, my spiritual approach to being vegan is material or, rather, my material vegan lifestyle is influenced by the spiritual message of Buddhism. Can I please be a secular-non-practicing-Buddhist-spiritual-grumpy-vegan?

This is why I find myself writing about the Way of Vegan, which is inspired by my learning about the Way of the Buddha. So, being vegan today is more than the material veganism of my past. But it has not become a spiritual practice either. My material cruelty-free vegan lifestyle is now influenced by my understanding and interpretation of the practical ethics within the practice of Buddhism. I want to keep one foot in the material vegan world and reach over with my other foot to touch with my toe a new world, the secular, ethical Buddhist vegan world. This is important to me today because I wish to infuse my life with my key values of truth, compassion, nonviolence and interbeing. It is not because I want an enlightened spirituality tomorrow.

The Way of the Buddha is the Middle Path taught by the Buddha to develop equally compassion (karuna) and wisdom (panna). The Middle Path inspires, in part, my commitment to achieving the moral and legal rights for animals by balancing the utopian vision of animal rights with the pragmatic politics of animal welfare. Buddhism inspires my animal advocacy practice because it offers important insight into understanding suffering. All suffering is my concern but it is how we treat animals that I particularly care about. We have already seen how the animal industrial complex is responsible for the exploitation of billions of animals annually. We are, of course, complicit with this exploitation because it is our consumerism which drives the consumption of animals that the animal industrial complex provides. Ourselves and the animal industrial complex are to blame for animal exploitation. But there is more to understand about animal exploitation than this view of it as a market place phenomena, with all its attendant issues of the alternative vegan lifestyle and animal advocacy.

The deeper understanding I sought about why we treat animals the way we do inspired me to read books about Buddhism, which lead me to also discover Engaged Buddhism, the application of Buddhism to the advancement of social justice. It was intriguing to learn, for example, the Buddha asked, What is suffering? What causes it? Is it possible to stop suffering? And, if so, how do we prevent suffering from occurring?

Learn more about my forthcoming book, Animal Dharma, here.

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