“Breeding into suffering is the root of the problem.” – Sentient founder Mikko Järvenpää – New Sentientist Conversation

Mikko is a tech start-up founder and CEO (now​). He founded & is now board chair of Sentient – an organisation dedicated to making the world a better place for all sentient beings through journalism.

In these Sentientist Conversations (subscribe!), we talk about the two most important questions: “what’s real?” & “what matters?”. Sentientism is “evidence, commitment & compassion for all sentient beings.”

The audio is also on our Podcast – subscribe on Apple here (& on most other platforms).

We discuss:

  • Growing up in a political family (father a Finnish Member of Parliament)
  • Early experiences with animals on the family hobby farm
  • Founding Sentient & how farmed animal perspectives are neglected in normal media
  • Studying philosophy of social change at the LSE
  • The default state Lutheran religion in Finland, including religious education
  • Learning science, evolution, astronomy as a child
  • Finding religions fascinating & getting perfect marks in religious classes (great stories!)
  • Learning to read from Dungeons & Dragons manuals
  • The relief of formally resigning from the church as a teenager (w/ cooling off period)
  • Evidence & ethics as triggers for challenging religion
  • Reading Nietzsche at 16
  • Trying on different religions. What would it feel like to believe?
  • Is picking a religion arbitrary, like picking a sports team?
  • Being overwhelmed by the idea of solipsism at ~10 yrs old
  • Morality as something fundamentally social
  • Utilitarianism. Measurement, probability, individualism, rationalism as “western”?
  • Sentientism’s neutrality re: moral systems
  • Early utilitarians often did consider non-human sentience
  • Utility grounded in sentience
  • “My best friends, as a kid, were the sheep.” Making assumptions about sheep. Then being accepted as part of the herd. Deepening understanding of “sheepness”
  • Annual slaughter of animals you had named & known
  • Asking “who are we eating?” as a taboo question for the family
  • Constructing justifications for animal farming (e.g. denying chicken sentience, human supremacy)
  • Going vegetarian then vegan
  • Supernatural, relativistic, nihilistic ethics
  • Taking the perspective of the other (human or otherwise)
  • The indoctrination of animal consumption
  • Are the moral arguments for naturalism & sentiocentrism already won, it’s just that nearly everyone is trapped by social norms?
  • Social & cultural factors alongside individual
  • “Rationalism itself isn’t value free”. It evolved for survival/social advantage & personal narrative construction
  • Evidence can just reinforce pre-existing bias & social norms
  • Many things that are true didn’t & don’t seem to make sense
  • Is it dangerous to assume we’ll win just because we think we’re rational?
  • Humility should be at the core of naturalism
  • Changing ones mind should be rewarded & respected. U-turns can be good!
  • Strong convictions, lightly held. Deeply held beliefs can be traps.
  • “Evidence” isn’t just narrowly scientific evidence
  • Rationalist thought can seem elitist. Important to bear that in mind in advocacy
  • Is compassionate advocacy more moral & more effective?
  • “Do we (& veganism) focus too much on individual blame & responsibility?” Like standing beside a freeway with a sign saying “don’t drive”
  • Recognising the systemic nature of animal exploitation
  • Incremental replacement of cheap, tasty, available animal products via free markets (reluctantly)
  • Social normalisation
  • Removing govt. subsidisation of animal farming
  • Intersectional causes with animal exploitation. Many entry points & angles
  • Sentient is trying to bring those various angles to bear
  • “Avoiding the stereotype of the ‘cranky vegans'”
  • Individuals can also drive institutional change
  • Killing can be the end of suffering. Breeding into suffering is the root of the problem
  • Behaviour often comes before moral justification/rationalisation
  • Human morality is deeply social. It’s not as individualistic as “western” rational models sometimes imply
  • Freeing latent human morality
  • Most human food choices aren’t driven by ethics. What do people think “as their hand goes into the cooler?”
  • The limitations of human rationality
  • Can there be beings more sentient than humans?
  • Avoiding “just so” stories in evolutionary psychology
  • Did animals develop theory of others’ minds before theory of their own minds? Did empathy come before self-awareness?

Sentientism is “Evidence, reason & compassion for all sentient beings.” More at Join our “wall” using this simple form.

Everyone interested, Sentientist or not, is welcome to join our groups. Our main one is here on FaceBook.

Thanks to Graham Bessellieu for his post-prod work on this video. Follow him at @cgbessellieu.

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