“Let’s make a world with less suffering today!” PETA president and founder Ingrid Newkirk – Sentientism Episode 123

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

Ingrid is an animal activist & the president of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), the world’s largest animal rights organization. She is the author of several books, including “The PETA Practical Guide to Animal Rights”; “Animalkind” & the 30 year updated edition of “Free The Animals”. Ingrid has worked for the animal-protection movement since 1972. She has been given the following awards: Washingtonian of the Year, 1980; Courage of Conscience Award, 1995; Shining World Compassion Award, 2007; Ahimsa Award, 2014 & the Peter Singer Prize for Strategies to Reduce the Suffering of Animals, 2016.

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 also on our Podcast here on Apple & here everywhere else.

We discuss:
00:00 Welcome

01:24 Ingrid’s Intro

  • Building PETA, the world’s largest animal advocacy organisation
  • Writing 14 books including “Free The Animals” about the Animal Liberation Front

03:39 What’s Real?

  • “We are all creatures of our upbringing”
  • A strict, “victorian” father & a very kind mother
  • “I was shipped out to boarding school & raised by some disciplinarian nuns”
  • Nuns took out their bitterness on the “little rich girls” in their care
  • Rejecting the nuns’ oppression helped motivate Ingrid to be rebellious, to fight for the powerless & seek justice
  • Earliest memory: Family dog “was like my brother”
  • Church on Sunday, but “it never really stuck with me”
  • Being lured into religiosity, but “it was a passing phase”
  • “I rejected what the nuns said because they were so ghastly”
  • Roman Catholicism. Praying at 6am every morning, “a lot of silence”
  • “We didn’t respect the nuns… they were barbaric… even of the little kids… 5 & 6 year olds who would cry themselves to sleep”
  • A visiting Jesuit priest got one of the school-girls pregnant
  • “For a while I would cross the road if I saw a nun coming the other direction”
  • Later re-engaging with Christianity (bible, church)… “ultimately I completely rejected it… it made no sense at all… if there is a god it’s… a cruel god or a powerless god”
  • Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster
  • “I’m not afraid to say I’m an atheist”
  • “Ricky Gervais & Bill Maher… are not kowtowing… are not intimidated”
  • The imperative to speak out (where others can’t)
  • Being told to accept “mystery” on face value, “absurd” stories & blind faith
  • Lisa Kemmerer’s views on religious compassion for non-human animals
  • “A lot of religion is really based on discrimination”
  • Pope’s apologies for child abuse & first nations oppression
  • Even Jains’ run slaughterhouses
  • Kaporos done by rabbis
  • “Religion has a lot to account for… it’s quite hierarchical”
  • At school, catholics would get cake, church of england children wouldn’t
  • Even the St. Francis of Assisi monks eat animals

19:07 What Matters?

  • Galsworthy: “be kind” x3! “If you can grasp how to be kind… you’ve got the most wonderful, solid moral grounding… you don’t need anyone else to endorse it”
  • The Golden Rule
  • Mirror neurons, empathy, psychopathy & trophy hunters… “We can’t always blame people for not caring”
  • Animal expressions of emotion & sentience research
  • Epistemological failures “animals can’t suffer, farming is humane”
  • Culture, norms & the normalisation of violence

26:03 Who Matters?

  • “I was an incredibly slow learner… at 19 I had a fur coat”
  • Taking horse-drawn carriages in India
  • Going fishing, eating animals
  • “I loved animals from the moment I was growing up with that dog… but I ate them, I wore them…”
  • Reading Peter Singer
  • “Individual cruelties… were stepping stones”
  • Helping an abandoned pig, cooking pork chops that evening, “then the penny dropped”
  • Bio/ecocentrism
  • “If you’re worried that plants are sentient, then don’t eat cows”
  • “Environmental concerns are almost entirely selfish”
  • Brigid Brophy
  • “Managing populations” vs. recognising the perspectives of others
  • Wild animal suffering would remain in a perfect vegan world
  • Wild animal suffering: “it’s too thorny & is none of our business until we’ve cleaned our own house”
  • Insect sentience

42:22 A Better Future?

  • “We’ll probably never reach a utopia”
  • “How to reach anybody & everybody… with practical ways they can change the world for animals”
  • “Any social movement has to grow… take personal responsibility”
  • Guilt, anger, empowerment, making it easy
  • “Almost everything we do offends somebody… We try humour, we try sex, we try seriousness, we try shock… we’ll show you how… practically”
  • “As a feminist… I find it extremely sexist for people… to say ‘get your clothes back on’… This isn’t Afghanistan”
  • The limits of activism: property damage, breaking the law, violence
  • “I’ve certainly been beaten up myself”
  • The abortion debate
  • The moral imperative to destroy torture devices “If my dog were in there…”
  • “Do what you can… where it will end up… who knows?”
  • “Do what we can today & tomorrow & for long as we’re around to make a world in which there is less suffering, less injustice, less oppression, less needless violence…”
  • Joaquin Phoenix has bought the movie rights to “Free The Animals”
  • PETA resources

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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