"Freedom, equality & avoiding harm to others" - Psychologist Kristof Dhont - New Sentientist Conversation

Kristof Dhont is a social psychologist & senior lecturer at the university of Kent where he runs SHARKLab (Study of Human InterGroup & Animal Relations​). He is the author of "Why We Love & Exploit Animals".

In these Sentientist Conversations we talk about the two most important questions: “what’s real?” & “what matters?” Sentientism is "evidence, reason & compassion for all sentient beings." The audio is also on our Podcast - subscribe here on Apple or on all the other platforms​​​​.

We discuss:

  • The psychology of human-animal relations
  • Links between sexism, racism & speciesism
  • "Us humans are weird". We're not fully rational decision makers
  • Being sceptical of our own rationality
  • Knowing the right answer isn't the same as persuading others to agree or make changes
  • Growing up in Belgium, a largely Catholic country but with many who are non-practicing
  • Attending church, then becoming "strongly atheist" because of evidence, but also "the nasty stuff" (sexism, homophobia, racism)
  • Being raised with values of compassion & respect. Finding those values in Christianity, other religions and in Humanism
  • Moving to a more nuanced view of the good and bad in religion
  • Traditions & rituals have value for some people. As long as they don't cause harm to people outside or within the group
  • The abuse of power in institutionalised religion
  • Pre-human proto-morality
  • We don't need supernatural beliefs to justify compassionate ethics. We just need them too justify harmful ethics
  • Religious schooling
  • Being angry with the world as a teenager: religion; capitalism; animal products; injustice - then being led to study human behaviour
  • Taking teenage rebellion & applying it to social justice activism in academia
  • Moral intuitions re: "freedom, equality & avoiding harm to others"
  • Freedom & equality shouldn't just be left wing concerns. They're more widely shared
  • Sentience matters re: moral consideration, not intelligence
  • Are freedom and equality fundamental or important because of how they impact suffering/flourishing?
  • Caring about animals. Having companion animals as family members
  • The Meat Paradox
  • Seeing a family member killing chickens & rabbits
  • The hardcore punk music scene & Straight Edge. Bands with a clear, constructive message re: politics & animal ethics & anti-fascism (vs. more pessimistic grunge and 1970's punk)
  • "I can't keep eating meat any more", supported by the positive social pressure of the music scene & friends making the change
  • Parents initially resisting veg*nism, needing to learn DIY (it's easier now!)
  • Learning about dairy/eggs & going vegan at University
  • Wild animal suffering & how to prioritise it vs. animal farming/fishing. The risk of paternalism/hubris
  • Effective Altruism
  • Benevolent & hostile sexism
  • Sentientism's focus on inclusive moral consideration, even if we're unable to intervene or where we're uncertain
  • The challenges of rescue & sanctuary animals & predator companion animals
  • The default human answer of "kill them all" re: issues with wild animals
  • Animals don't care what category we put them in. They suffer just the same
  • Human defined categories are often self-serving. Only about human interests
  • The power imbalance between humans & non-humans re: defining relations
  • Biocentrism, Ecocentrism, Gaia
  • Environments are important because of the individual living sentients they support
  • Environmentalists that still consume animal products
  • Homicide & ecocide, but why not senticide?
  • Using animal ethical approaches for human animals shows the issues starkly
  • Systems and psychologies slow change, yet human values re: animals are changing positively & going vegan is so much easier
  • Defensive strategies: denying animal sentience; hiding/ignoring reality; natural/normal/necessary; identity; masculinity
  • Using research to improve activism (receptiveness to info, constructive engagement, lowering barriers, labelling, policy change, law)
  • Working within capitalism even while wanting a deeper paradigm change
  • How social justice movements connect. But how animals are different (role as products)
  • We haven't even agreed a UDHR concept for animals
  • Lifting the moral status of animals will improve intra-human ethics too (e.g. undermining dehumanisation)
  • Zero sum vs. win-win
  • Animal movements need to include human social justice concerns
  • Having compassion even for humans we disagree with.

Sentientism is “Evidence, reason & compassion for all sentient beings.” More at​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​. Join our "I'm a Sentientist wall"​ using this simple form.

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

Thanks, Graham for the post-prod: @cgbessellieu.

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