“Commitment to solidarity and a stubborn commitment to hope” – Defending Animals Author – Kendra Coulter – Sentientism Ep: 178

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

Kendra is a professor of management and organisational studies at Huron University and a fellow of the Oxford Centre for Animal Ethics. She is a leading expert on animals and work, animal protection organizations and policy, and gender equity. Kendra has led multiple research projects enriching our understanding of human-animal work and animals’ own forms of labour in important new directions including through development of the concepts of humane jobs, interspecies solidarity, and ecosocial reproduction.

Kendra’s latest book is Defending Animals: Finding Hope on the Front Lines of Animal Protection. She is the author of dozens of scholarly articles, book chapters, and public reports, as well as the path-making Animals, Work, and the Promise of Interspecies Solidarity. She is the co-editor of Animal Labour: A New Frontier of Interspecies Justice? Kendra has also published more than sixty columns including for The Globe and Mail, Toronto Star, Salon, Ottawa Citizen, Winnipeg Free Press, Edmonton Journal, The Conversation, iPolitics, and National Observer. Her work has so far been translated into French, Swedish, Japanese, Korean, German, and Bahasa Indonesia.

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!

01:17 Welcome

– 3 previous guests did blurbs for Kendra’s new book: Ziya Tong, Marc Bekoff, Jeff Sebo

03:02 Kendra’s Intro

– “I’m not related to Ann Coulter… we have slightly different worldviews” 🙂

– “The primary purpose of my life is to improve and save animals’ lives”

– “Cultivating empathy and compassion”

– Discriminatory “isms” and proactive, agitational, generative “isms”

– “Foregrounding sentient beings is a very powerful mobilising way of thinking about the positives… trying to find unity and common cause”

– JW: “Just rejecting the negative isms isn’t quite enough… we also some sort of positive stance about what we do care about… who should matter.”

– “We need to critique the problems… we also simultaneously need to be developing and proposing alternatives and solutions”

05:55 What’s Real?

– Riding horses before walking, “learning how to be kind to animals”

– Raised by left-wing atheists

– “To this day I maintain a very progressive worldview… however… I have become less ideological”

– “Crucial to have an ethical core… but that the process of inquiry… evidence gathering and analysis… is absolutely essential”

– Dialogue with groups who have different views “while recognising that certain worldviews are antithetical to justice and equity for humans and other beings”

– Field research “experiencing things with your body… being out engaging… not reclining into the ivory tower”

– Amplifying and communicating with broad audiences “Public intellectual is one of the best compliments you can give someone… your ideas matter… using ideas to inspire action”

– Open mindedness based on evidence and data “but never losing those core commitments… equity… solidarity… justice”

– Atheist, but recognising the opportunity for people from many diverse religious backgrounds to find a compassion for non-human animals: e.g. Andrew Linzey, Claire Linzey (Christian), Margaret Robinson (indigenous worldviews)…

– “It’s encouraging that people around the world, from different cultures, from different religious and spiritual approaches, still are able to recognise the importance of caring for others – and caring for other sentient beings”

Lisa Kemmerer episode and religiously motivated compassion for non-humans (e.g. #ahimsa #stewardship)

– “Where can we find common ground and where can we work together?”

– “If the goal is to improve and save lives and reduce violence whatever the reasons…”

15:11 What Matters?

– Politically active mother. #feminism #labour movements “fighting for underdogs”

– Canadian high school. Reading about Jane Goodall, Dian Fossey “working to save the great apes”. Environmental awareness.

– Individualism and collectivism “you can be selfish or you can care about others”. Reading fiction and #scifi of Margaret Atwood, Ursula Le Guin

– A deep interest in gorillas

– “At that time if you liked animals you had to go through science” (before the days of so many animal-oriented, multi-species relations courses and degrees like those Kendra teaches today!)

– Doing research on female bonding among bonobos… “I recognised value in that approach [scientific tables and charts] but I felt like their lives deserved more… the stories of who they were… their subjectivity… their personalities… who they truly were was not being captured in those charts and graphs”

– Questioning the sexist (and other) biases within primate study

– “It was too early… It was not possible to really study and advocate for animals through the social sciences and humanities so I delved more deeply into scholarship on progressive movements that were focused on people”

– “Young people are in this absolutely extraordinary moment… study animals not only as scientists…” but also via social sciences, animals’ narratives / stories, “animals as subjects”

– Building the world’s first major in animal ethics and sustainable leadership at Huron University (subject to approvals) “a unique opportunity for students”

– “I see the horror… need to be clear about what we’ve done to the planet, what we’ve done to each other, what we’ve done to animals. But along with horror hope co-exists.”

– Both empathy/compassion and justice/fairness

– “At the very core… what propels me most is that I recognise that animals are someone… their sentience… they can think and feel… I recognise and I see them… I empathise with what they are experiencing”

– People deeply concerned with justice that don’t feel much of an empathic/compassionate connection “especially in law enforcement and social services… can be a coping strategy”

– Correlations between animal abuse and abuse of humans… e.g. domestic abusers using love for companion animals as leverage

– The difficulty of working on the front lines defending animals

26:36 Who Matters?

– “You’ve really encapsulated some of the key frustrations of my life and my career” (people only caring some of the time, in some ways about some of the animals)

– “great potential for progressives to include animals in their webs of compassion”

– “I’ve had progressive colleagues say ‘I accept that the chicken is a commodity’ even while spending their career combatting the idea of human labour as a commodity”

– Talking about veal calves and having colleagues say “that just doesn’t move me”

– Going vegetarian at age 3 “at the day care they brought out a chicken carcass and I made the connection between chicken being chickens… I was inconsolable”

– “We know children are taught a range of very contradictory ideas… happy stories about pigs (e.g. Charlotte’s Web) then being fed pigs”

– “Farmed animals were always within my web of concern”

– “My mother was largely supportive”

– “I love animals therefore I don’t eat animals”

– “Now it’s a lot easier for children… that is hopeful… institutions like schools, universities and colleges have a role to play”. Western University is moving towards 60% plant-based food in halls and residences by 2024

– “These larger institutions… play a particularly significant role… because of their larger purchasing power…”

– “The individual journeys still matter… crucial… the decisions we make every single day matter in really powerful ways”

– JW: At least Andrew Tate and “might makes right” people are consistent when it comes to oppressing non-human animals…

– “Because I became vegetarian so early I didn’t do a lot of research into farm animals… I simply didn’t know… there can be an advantage of coming to these issues later in life… you have the full facts.”

– Seeing the “Uncooped” exhibit in Los Angeles about the lives of farmed chickens “I was very affected”

– Reading an article about dairy cows “I felt somewhat embarrassed that I didn’t know… I thought I was doing good for animals by not eating animals… I didn’t understand eggs, I didn’t understand dairy”

– Seeing an image by Joanne McArthur (previous guest) of a veal calf being wheeled away from his mother “capturing pain that is difficult to fathom”

– “This combination of learning and thinking and feeling… made me then reject these industries [eggs, dairy…] as well… instead of retreating or regressing I actually advanced the more that I learned”

– “I include animals in my web of solidarity… defending animals itself is a powerful expression of solidarity with animals and with people on the front lines working to save them”

– “Solidarity… it’s rooted in empathy, not pity… while simultaneously not requiring sameness… your struggle may be different than mine but I support you in yours”

– “Working across species… Animals don’t need to be like us or we don’t need to be like them for us to know that they matter”

– “Solidarity is a feeling but it can’t remain internalised – it too is a fusion of reason and emotion which invites and challenges us to act – to do something…”

– “Solidarity necessitates connection and movement and ideally change”

– “It’s not intended to be a one size fits all blueprint… it’s an invitation for people in different contexts and situations to question business as usual and to take animals’ interests seriously”

– “The world of work… the large majority of harm to animals is done in spaces of work… for economic reasons”

– The idea of “Humane jobs… work that is good for both humans and animals”. Helping both animal defenders and creating alternative jobs for those involved in exploitative industries

– “It’s predominantly poor people from all countries of the world who are trapped in the most violent workplaces like slaughterhouses”

– Just transitions

– Should humanity just withdraw from the animal world given our terrible track-record?

– Can there be a humane form of animal labour? “In some cases animals can ethically do certain kinds of work for and with if very particular kinds of conditions are met”

– “Relationships and work are not synonyms. Work and suffering are not synonyms either… work is not inherently damaging.”

– “Of course there are many animals who deserve the right to be left alone or the right to engage in their own forms of care work for their own babies… in the wild with as little human interaction as possible”

– “We are here already… we are going to be affecting them… there is a place for us providing emergency and responsive care to individual wild animals who are harmed… the public sector could be playing a role”

– “Do we need to end all human relationships [with non-human animals]? – That’s a defeatist claim I think it’s a totalising claim – it denies the nuance and complexity of human-animal relationships… there are so many examples of positive, genuinely reciprocal and respectful human-animal relationships”

– “I’m a progressive – we can progress… trying to cultivate true multi-species communities”

– Accepting imperfection “I’m not a purist – I want to see us doing the best that we can”

– Economic developments re: alternative products (plant-based, lab grown) “These strategies are extremely important… the business of animal protection”

– “The food system is going to be dramatically restructured in the next 20-30 years”

– “There are certain changes… that don’t require people to be as moral, ethical, compassionate and as full of solidarity as we would want them to be”

– Will alternative products be an ethical bypass or enable ethical transformation?

49:10 A Better World?

– “If we take the short-cuts animals lives are being saved… and if that’s ultimately the goal… if we simply wait for people to achieve a higher ethical standard… while simultaneously not addressing harm that’s being caused right here and now through these economic channels… we’re doing a disservice to animals”

– Kendra’s book “Defending Animals”… about people and animals on the front line

– JW: “The purity thing – wanting people to do the right things for the right reasons… but if you’re a victim of these systems you just want the suffering and the death to stop – you’re not so worried about the motivations of the humans”

– “For those who are suffering within these individualised or corporatised systems of violence they need us to act to minimise and ideally eliminate their suffering as quickly as possible – and to keep them at the centre”

– Dr Jane Goodall sent her quote about “Defending Animals” from the Amazon

– Stories of people in the field, courtrooms and boardrooms of people trying to “express care”

– Helping victims downstream but “there are also people working upstream – to try to stop problems before they start – to try to get to the root causes of interpersonal violence, of economic violence”

– “The wellbeing of people and animals is fundamentally interconnected”

– “The multispecies nature of abuse is one we need to recognise”

– Global leaders and champions: “Poor black people around the world and especially in a continent like Africa are literally giving their lives… are being killed in defence of some of the world’s most endangered species”

– Poverty, violence, justice “they are all intertwined… to support solidarity with animals you are simultaneously expressing solidarity with other people”

– “It is a book of hope, it is a book of possibility… I hope… it gives people food for thought, food for action… and most of all inspiration”

– A lot in common between intra-human and multi-species ethics: “People are the problems but people are also the solutions”

– Language and the media “animals referred to as ‘it’”

– “We are all interconnected… our suffering is intertwined and so are the possibilities of our joy and our mutual flourishing”

– “I wrote this book but the story of animal protection is ongoing”

– “A commitment to solidarity and a stubborn commitment to hope”

01:02:04 Follow Kendra

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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.

“Commitment to solidarity and a stubborn commitment to hope” – Defending Animals Author – Kendra Coulter – Sentientism Ep: 178

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