“A pastor said ‘we’re all born with sin’… I just thought ‘that’s not true'” – Alexandra Paul – Actress & Activist – Sentientism Ep: 165

Find our Sentientist Conversation here on the Sentientism YouTube and here on the Sentientism Podcast.

Alexandra is an actress, activist and health coach. She has appeared in more than 100 feature films and TV programs starring alongside actors including Tom Hanks, Pamela Anderson, Pierce Brosnan, Kevin Costner and Dan Ackroyd. She is internationally recognized for her 5-year starring role as Lt. Stephanie Holden in the TV series Baywatch. She has been a lifelong activist for animal liberation, human population reduction and a range of other environmental and social justice causes. She is an accomplished endurance athlete competing in long distance swimming and Ironman races including the World Ironman Championship.

In Sentientist Conversations we talk about the two most important questions: “what’s real?” & “what matters?”

Sentientism is “evidence, reason & compassion for all sentient beings.” In addition to the YouTube video above the audio is on our Podcast here on Apple & here on all the other platforms.

We discuss:

00:00 Clips & Welcome

Crystal Heath episode (thanks for the intro, Crystal!)

02:30 Alexandra’s Intro

– Acting, #baywatch , marriage, activism

– “I am an actress by trade but I feel like I’m an activist – that’s the thing that feeds my soul… gives me purpose & meaning”

– Human population, animals

– Moving to Oregon

#YesOnIP13 ballot initiative & David Michelson episode

04:55 What’s Real?

– Growing up in a Christian #protestant household. Church every sunday.

– Boarding school with church every morning

– “It drives me crazy when our President swears on the Bible because I thought there was separation of church & state…”

– Confirmed into the church at 12 yrs old “When in doubt do what Jesus would do – the kindest thing”

– Midnight mass at 17 yrs old “A pastor said ‘we’re all born with sin’… I just thought ‘that’s not true’… that was pretty much the end of me and religion”

– “I also felt that religion didn’t deal with the things that needed to be done on earth – like the environment”

– “So I never went back to church after that”

– “The tenet about Jesus doing the kindest thing has evolved into Ingrid Newkirk’s… ‘be kind, be kind, be kind'” Ingrid Newkirk episode

– “I personally don’t have a god”

– “I’ve got a lot of work to do on earth… I’m not even going to deal with religion because it’s just a waste of time.. I need to fix things on earth… I don’t consider myself a spiritual person.”

– Visiting the Vatican “horrified at the riches in that place”

– “Also the anthropocentric view of the bible – that humans are the centre and we have dominion over everything else… and very male-dominated”

– Protesting the Iraq war & being arrested with the Catholic Workers “They put into practice what is talked about in the Bible about loving your fellow man”

– The meaning, solace & community some get from religion and how activism can provide the same

– “I will not join a religion because of the exclusiveness & the hierarchy… and humans are at the centre”

– “I don’t believe that people are born bad… circumstances can twist them… humans get damaged”

– #Moralluck , blame and retribution. #Sentientistjustice

– “How good a person would I be” if I’d been born in different (tougher) circumstances

– “I worried that my character was weak… I think that’s one of the reasons I’ve become an activist… I remember being afraid that I was a bad person underneath.”

– “It distracts from the pain & suffering that people and animals are feeling now – so that’s why I don’t have much interest in #spirituality “

– The universe “just seems to small to just be us” #aliens ?

– #Health and #wellbeing and the dangers of wishful thinking / motivated reasoning re: #veganism

– Slippage from scepticism about pharmaceutical industry / medicine into #antivaxx , over-stating dietary health claims, #alternativemedicine , manifesting #thesecret / prayer instead of effective medical care

– “I believe in the science”… “A lot of my vegan friends think Dr. Fauci is terrible… the devil… it’s because they were looking at different information [via social media]”

– “I don’t know if being plant exclusive is a lot healthier than eating meat and dairy… I’m pretty clear that dairy is bad for you… red meat has a lot of issues [inflammation, antibiotics] … but if you have some of it I don’t think it’s going to hurt – maybe?”

– “It [animal agriculture] just causes so much suffering to animals… a lot of problems with climate change… it really is an inefficient way to feed humans”

– “The consensus between everybody except for the carnivores is that eating plants is good”

– Carnivores: “Where are they getting their fibre… are they incredibly constipated… I’d like to see their lipid panels”

– “The thing about being a rational human being is that we can rationalise anything” 😊

– “Even carnivores would agree that the factory system produces a lot of suffering with animals… There’s some basic tenets that all humans could agree on”

30:21 What Matters?

– Trade-offs and choosing a wedding dress

– “My guiding principle is to be kind… then everything falls into place”

– Looking back on earlier generations “I can’t believe they were so homophobic or misogynistic… in a few decades we’ll look back and be horrified at how we treat animals”

– “What am I doing now that I’m going to be horrified at in 20 years?” Maybe insufficient kindness to the homeless

34:25 Who Matters?

– “When I was a kid I thought everybody counted”

– “There is a speciesism inside me and a hierarchy in terms of people whom I would save if I had to triage”

– “I wouldn’t want to do anybody harm but sometimes by neglect you can harm somebody”

– Peter Singer’s challenge re: Effective Altruism (Peter’s Sentientism episode)

– Giving locally vs. globally

– “I loved animals”

– Mother’s ethic of “not wasting anything… very un-American of us in the 60’s and 70’s” and volunteering, giving blood

– “I saw her… that was my ethic…  you help people and you also save resources”

– Starting to care about environmental causes in the 1970’s “You save resources because the earth is finite”

– “I became a vegetarian because of the environment” at 14 yrs old via the book “Diet for a Small Planet” by Frances Moore Lappé

– Reading Peter Singer’s “Animal Liberation” at 16 yrs old “I widened my view of why it would be good to be vegetarian to animals”

– Becoming more aware of veganism “not exploiting animals”

– Giving up wearing animals in 20’s “not easy being an actress in the ‘80s”

– “I had it in my contract… that no makeup would be tested on animals”

– Becoming vegan 33 years after going vegetarian

– “When I did become vegan… I did change as a person – a lot”

– “The scales fell from my eyes about injustice”

– Exploitation and speciesism

– Not feeling much social pressure re: drinking, vegetarianism or veganism

– Being asked on Baywatch to visit Sea World in a scene with Pamela Anderson’s character “I asked them to take me out… that was an oddball request in the early ‘90’s but the producers were very respectful”

– “Pamela Anderson is an amazing animal activist – now I know she wouldn’t go to Sea World”

– “They knew that it was a values thing and not me being a diva”

– Riding horses as a teenager. Refusing to do so for a film

– Animals and sentience

– Someone says “pigs are so smart”… “I thought ‘that has absolutely nothing to do with it’”

– Perception, intelligence and sentience

– “I don’t take intelligence at all”

– “I still notice I have a hierarchy.” Dealing with ants compassionately in the house

– Dealing with a termite infestation

– JW: Not needlessly harming/killing as a minimal baseline for moral consideration and compassion

– Animal freedom e.g. dogs on leashes

– “People are so afraid… It would change our society so much if we really had to give, legally, animals certain rights”

– Are free-ranging dogs happier than dogs in our captivity?

– Arguments against boycotting South Africa in the 1980’s due to apartheid “it will hurt the people of colour in South Africa… just ask the South Africans what they want… they wanted us to boycott”

– “A lot of times we can get rid of our moral dilemma if we just ask the people… or the beings we’re trying to help”

54:37 A Better Future

– “Humans have to stop thinking that we’re the centre… and that the whole planet should serve us… and stop procreating like we’re procreating”

– “Our population has gotten so large that we’re taking over all natural things… when I was born there were only 3 billion people on the planet… we’re going to go up to 10 billion”

– “I’m not saying we should stop procreating… but everybody needs to have fewer kids”

– “The people in the west – even though we have smaller families – we are so much more destructive and greedy in taking resources of the planet”

– “Most people won’t talk to me about it. Journalists won’t make the link because they’re so uncomfortable”

– “… religion – which tells a lot of people to ‘go forth and multiply’ – maybe then [e.g. Biblical times] it was a good idea but now it’s not”

– “Our circumstances often determine how good a person we can be… the bigger our population the less ethical and generous we’ll be able to be to other species on this planet and to nature”

Carter Dillard and Nandita Bajaj episodes re: population

– “Coercion [re: birth rates] never works… but people bring this up and they use it as an excuse not to deal with the issue at all”

– 18 years of helping register people to vote in LA

– “Of course, Carter Dillard and Nandita and myself – we don’t want people to suffer – we’re all vegan by the way”

– China’s 1-child policy “they were so desperate not to have 400 million people starve to death – yes, they did it wrong… Iran lowered their birth rate by just as much without any coercion”

– Demographics, economics, growth, funding retirement, radical re-distribution etc?

– “Look at this ponzi scheme we’re doing”

– “With AI there’s going to be so many people out of work anyway… we’re probably going to have to move to some sort of minimum wage distributed by governments”

– “Economists don’t talk about… those humans 0-18 are not productive… I’m 60, my mum’s 87 – we pay taxes, we volunteer, a lot of us work”

– “This idea that people who are over 65 are suddenly a huge draw on the economy… yes they are but maybe not as much as the young people”

– “The economy is going to be terrible when we have no more trees to cut down… no more clean rivers… too much traffic”

– “I want to have a conversation with an economist… I believe they are myopic when it comes to this issue”

– “It will hurt beings when we have 10 billion people on the planet”

– “Even if a GDP [Gross Domestic Product] is high… it doesn’t mean that the people are doing well”

– JW: Maybe different nations would start to compete for migrants instead of attacking them

– Hungary’s “have more Hungarian babies” policy vs. “We all need to have fewer babies so our children and grandchildren can have a better life – and the animals can have a better life too”

– Human land use and animal agriculture land use  switching to a plant-based agri system “would free up 3/4 of all our agricultural land”

– JW: “When I think about the population problem – I zero more in on the 100 billion farmed land animals than I do the 10 billion humans – if we can fix that problem maybe the planet will have plenty of carrying capacity for the 10-11 billion humans which is the most we’ll ever need”

– “We need to do both [reduce human and farmed animal populations]”

– Electric vehicles and the need for mining scarce materials

Direct Action Everywhere (DXE) investigations and rescues “usual on farms now mostly because laboratories are so hard to get into now”

– “People only see this footage because activists take pictures of it – otherwise we would know nothing about what happens to animals in laboratories or in factory farms”

– “We don’t hide our faces… we don’t deny that we’ve been there… When we rescue an animal we tell the story about that animal”

– “We document their story so that people can see these animals as individuals”

– “It’s hard to humans to really see pain and suffering or understand that animals have emotions when they haven’t had a personal experience with one”

– “How they thrive when they’re in an environment that is more conducive to their natural behaviour and respects them as individuals”

– As a vegetarian – weeping at seeing a Mercy for Animals video of dairy cows being beaten yet “four hours later I got a frozen yoghurt – I was somehow able to separate and justify…”

– “Break down those cultural messages… that it’s OK to treat animals differently”

– “See if you would allow your [companion] animals to go through what they go through [on a farm]”

– “I have been arrested over 20 times for peaceful civil disobedience or rescues”

– The importance of going to court “but some people can’t do that… so you go as far as you can”

– “If you get arrested because you’re protesting… Hollywood does not mind… ‘thank god you weren’t caught for snorting cocaine or drunk driving’”

– “You don’t have to be this kind of activist – we need all sorts of activists”

– Rescuing two chickens from a slaughterhouse truck with Alicia Santurio

– “We refused… 5 deals they wanted to offer us… no jail-time”

– “We feel that Jax and Ethan, the chickens we rescued, deserved to have their stories heard”

– “The court of public opinion pretty much agrees with us – but the court of law does not protect these animals at all which is why we had to go in there”

– Being acquitted for financial rather than ethical reasons

– “This was a win – but even if we’d lost it would have been fine… the more the courts hear these cases… one day… they will deem them worthy of having some rights”

– JW: When health reasons are used as excuses for not giving up animal products

– “I became a health coach because I had struggled with body image and food in my teens and twenties. I was anorexic and bulimic for 12 years.”

– “I wanted people to feel better about themselves”

– “As a coach, we coach – I do not tell people how to eat… my job is to find out what they want and move them forward”

– “Most people if they ate more vegetables, fruit and whole foods would solve so many of their issues anyway… and it was pretty easy to say ‘don’t drink milk – it’s just bad for you’”

– Alexandra’s Switch4Good podcast “which does advocate for a plant-based diet… what are you already doing right and build on that”

– “Eating plant-based is so much different than being a vegan – an ethical vegan”

– “I got off Twitter… when Elon Musk decided that our national public radio was some kind of communist plot”

Follow Alexandra:
Alexandra on FaceBook
Switch4Good podcast

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Thanks to Graham for the post-production and to Tarabella and Denise for helping to fund this episode via our Sentientism Patreon.

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