"Humility should underpin our efforts to understand" - Journalist Marina Bolotnikova - Sentientism Episode: 114

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Marina is a journalist, currently focusing on factory farming and the criminalization of activists who fight it. Marina has written for Vox, The Guardian, The New York Times, The Intercept and many other publications. She used to be an editor for Harvard Magazine. Before that, she wrote and edited for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, The Toledo Blade and The Harvard Crimson.

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.” The audio is on our Podcast here on Apple & here everywhere else.

We discuss:

00:00 Welcome

01:25 Marina's Intro

  • Zeroing in on animal-focused journalism

03:20 What's Real?

  • Raised by a single mum
  • Jewish but not v.religious (like many Soviet jews)
  • Emigrating from Belarus to the USA at 3yrs old
  • Growing up in St. Louis
  • Orthodox Jewish school to 8th grade but "feeling like an outsider"
  • "I was sceptical of the religious stuff from a pretty young age"
  • Updating "my religion" on FaceBook as "The Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster" in middle school
  • Gender segregated classes
  • Hearing anti-Arab racist statements in class
  • "A profound sense of justice"
  • Going vegetarian at 11 yrs old "if we don't have to kill animals… then it's wrong to do that"
  • School-mates "did not understand vegetarianism… god gave us dominion over animals… they're happy to be killed & give us sustenance."
  • Secular, progressive high-school, but "I wouldn't say that people's attitudes… were particularly different… different reasons… protein, animals not intelligent…"
  • Moving to veganism
  • "I see everything through an animal liberation lens"
  • Secular/scientific/naturalistic worldviews don't guarantee good ethics either
  • "I feel a profound connection to alll of life on earth, particularly animals & sentient life… it's something I can't express in material terms"
  • Animal ways of understanding can transcend what humans are capable of. Birds navigation, dog smell capability…
  • "Respect for non-human life & epistemological humility should underpin our efforts to understand the world - rather than the assumption that humans have the right to manage & dominate"
  • "I still identify as Jewish… an important part of who I am"
  • Atheists/agnostics within religious communities
  • "The way I feel about life & animals can definitely be described as spriritual"
  • Human dominionism "is totally at odds with my worldview"
  • The harms that can come from religious or naturalistic worldviews
  • "Science is responsible for a lot of evil stuff too"

24:00 What Matters?

  • Justice
  • "I reject any form of violence… & that's what animal agriculture is"
  • Different animal intelligences
  • "I don't believe there is this single hierarchy of intelligence with humans at the top"

28:37 Who Matters?

  • Learning the history of injustice & atrocities & seeing the modern parallels
  • "I don't believe in this doctrine of progress…" but things they thought were normal we now see as evil… things we're doing today that will be seen the same way"
  • Watching Earthlings ( at 13. "It was awful"
  • "I don't really trust humans to come up with an legitibate unbiased… criteria"
  • "Knowledge is inextricable from power"
  • Post-rationalisations for self-serving hierarchies
  • "Sentience probably comes the closest to how I would explain who matters"
  • Fishes, octopuses, bees
  • Animal research
  • Degrees/dimensions of sentience?
  • Minimal moral consideration? Avoiding needless harm & death
  • Ethical guard rails & prudence

41:48 A Better Future?

  • Human psychology & social norms
  • Factory farming vs. "humane" "family" farms & the "one bad day" idea
  • Commodification, ownership, exploitation, power, control
  • "They're treated as machines"
  • "People's minds don't work like perfect rational proofs"
  • Pluralism of tactics
  • "Direct action is essential"
  • "The industry claims it's reforming… it's lying"
  • "A positive vision & example… can be more influential"
  • "People don't want to think of their food as being about violence & injustice"
  • Purity vs. power & effectiveness
  • The role of journalism
  • Bird flu & "depopulation" via ventilation shut-down "cooked to death"
  • "It doesn't really matter as long as people don't stop buying their stuff"
  • Vets & researchers enabling animal harm

Sentientism is “Evidence, reason & compassion for all sentient beings.” More at

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Thanks Graham for the post-production.

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