Mariann Sullivan headshot

“Boom! – the entire world changed – everyone was questioning everything” – Mariann Sullivan – Sentientist Conversation

Find our Sentientist Conversation on the Sentientism YouTube here or on the Sentientism podcast here.

Mariann (@marisul) is Co-host with previous guest Jasmin Singer of the Our Hen House podcast and host of the Animal Law Podcast. She is a lawyer, lecturer, teacher and animal rights activist.

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.”

Find our Sentientist Conversation on the Sentientism YouTube here or on the Sentientism podcast here.

We discuss:
0:00 Welcome

1:40 Mariann’s Intro. An Animal life

  • Working as a lawyer in New York
  • Adopting a dog on impulse then waking up to animal issue
  • “He’d stopped eating meat because of the way animals were treated – and t was just like ‘boom!'”
  • Most people know there’s a problem – they just avoid thinking about it
  • Joining (later chairing) the Animal Law Committee of the NY bar
  • Connecting animal advocacy organisations
  • Meeting Jasmin Singer & starting Our Hen House

6:02 What’s Real?

  • Growing up Catholic
  • “I had faith but it was never a burden for me”
  • Not really being religious any more… “but those voices never really go away”
  • As a teenager “It just started to seem unlikely”
  • Getting comfortable with “I don’t know”
  • Ethics & evidence as reasons for abandoning supernatural worldviews
  • The tumult of Catholic college in 1968. From dressing for dinner & attending church to “men with beards living in the dorms”
  • “Boom – the entire world changed – everyone was questioning everything”
  • Leaning towards atheism but not being certain
  • “We’re connected to each other in ways we don’t understand”
  • Non-sentient living things
  • Woo! vs. naturalistic views of sentience & consciousness
  • Finding awe in a naturalistic worldview

18:01 What Matters?

  • “It’s all about suffering”… and about pleasure too
  • Suffering matters… “It’s so obvious”
  • “What kind of god – would create this planet – where animals eat each other”
  • Morality as compliance vs. concern for suffering/flourishing
  • Reading Peter Singer. He wrote down what many were already feeling
  • “Why did I get there and everybody doesn’t get there?”
  • “I don’t think it’s a philosophical problem… it’s a psychological problem”
  • “How can you not sound self-righteous when you’re right?”
  • “I don’t understand why this is this big moral journey”
  • The “all we have to do is tell everybody” stage of activism
  • The family & social challenges of going vegan
  • The risks of motivated reasoning even within a naturalistic worldview

28:48 The Future

  • Balancing despair & hope with the help of Our Hen House
  • Things have shifted. “It’s almost as if we have won the moral argument already.”
  • Using the need for institutional change as an excuse for personal inaction
  • “It seems so obvious that personal veganism is part of the process”
  • Being vegan has so much more influence than just what you eat
  • Melanie Joy’s carnism – normal, necessary, natural, nice…
  • “Maybe we’re just weird”
  • Social justice
  • Denial “is going to be our doom”
  • Tribalism & dogma
  • Personal, institutional, legal, transition levers of change
  • Alternatives to animal products aren’t enough
  • We need to “get the meat out of people’s ears they can start to hear these arguments”
  • Carol Adams: “Don’t have this argument at the dinner table”
  • Can religious compassion help with non-human animal ethics? Ahimsa
  • “How can religious people ignore this fundamental moral issue?”
  • The Animal Interfaith Alliance
  • “Whatever lever you can pull… we need them all”
  • “We’re trying to change the way the entire world works”
  • Greenwashing, ethicswashing, humanewashing
  • People need to hear the stories of animals
  • Anthropomorphism vs. “they are voiceless”
  • Alexa chips in on artificial sentients
  • How individuals can drive institutional/systemic change
  • “Obviously personal & institutional change go together – that’s how change happens”
  • Rising Anxieties & animal agriculture: “They’re frightened of us”
  • “What else are you going to do with your life?”
  • “Our audience is just grief stricken – it’s overwhelming – we just put it aside every day… what else is the cure?… only to try to do something about it”
  • “If we could take this scourge [animal farming] off the face of the earth”
  • “We just have to get everybody to agree with us!”
  • The law is a conservative institution, but look at Steve Wise’s work re: personhood!

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Thanks Graham for the post-production.

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