“Punk music was my gateway into politics & ethics” – Sociologist Nick Pendergrast – Sentientism Episode 88

Find our Sentientist Conversation on the Sentientism YouTube here or on the Sentientism podcast here.

Nick (@NickPende & theconversation) is a Sociologist who researches social movements, social change & Critical Animal Studies. He is a member of The Institute for Critical Animal Studies, the International Association of Vegan Sociologists & The Australian Sociological Association. Nick co-hosts the Freedom of Species podcast & radio show on Melbourne’s 3CR community radio station & also co-hosts the Progressive Podcast Australia podcast with his partner Katie.

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 on all the other platforms.

We discuss:

00:00 Welcome

01:22 Nick’s Intro

  • Animal advocacy & social justice activism – doing them & studying them sociologically
  • Hosting the Freedom of Species podcast & radio show

04:50 What’s Real?

  • Growing up non-religious w/agnostic (or atheist?) parents
  • Joining a religious friend at Sunday School
  • Being very anti-religious at 5-6 years old (a mini Richard Dawkins?) “This doesn’t make any sense at all”
  • “Religion or spirituality has zero impact on my ethics”
  • Softening somewhat…
  • “Myq Kaplan probably started off where I was before taking mushrooms… I’ve just never taken the mushrooms”
  • Non-supernatural analogues for spirituality/supernatural: Flow states, rituals, habits
  • The ethical problems of believing without evidence e.g. anti-vaxx
  • Harry Potter & the Methods of Rationality fanfic
  • Being open minded but not wasting our time on every implausible claim
  • Religion as a brake on social progress (sexism, homophobia, speciesism…)
  • Religion’s positive & negative functions in society
  • Reforming religions to conform w/secular ethics
  • Threatening children w/eternal torture

22:35 What Matters?

  • A Christian friend: “You seem like quite ethical people but you’re not religious!”
  • Socially progressive, liberal parents, so ethics came naturally
  • Apathetic & apolitical as a kid. “I was more into ice hockey”
  • Punk rock as a gateway into ethics & politics. Bad Religion
  • Protesting the Iraq war
  • Anti-war, pro-env, human rights, then animal rights & veganism “It just made total sense”
  • Justice first, then compassion. More a rational than an emotional response
  • Challenging hierarchies. Human & non-human
  • “It didn’t make sense that I was above my dog”
  • Parents had been vegetarian in the 1970’s
  • “I was always pro animal… but hadn’t really made the connection”
  • “Punk celebrates being an individual – in a positive sense”
  • Going vegetarian (central to most campaigns) then vegan (learning about eggs & dairy – “Liquid Meat” by Propagandhi
  • Anarchism. Rejecting arbitrary hierarchies (class, ethnicity, gender, species…)
  • A sacred indigenous tree was cut down in Victoria. It mattered because of the impact on the people, not the tree itself
  • Light/dark green environmentalism
  • “Circle of Life” as a justification for eating animal products
  • Sentiocentrism as the only moral, non-arbitrary discrimination
  • Grey areas of sentience (bivalves, simple insects). Prudence & “benefit of the doubt”
  • Links between forms of oppression, human & non. Caution required – both philosophically & practically
  • Intersectionality including species
  • Kimberlé Crenshaw, Carol Adams
  • Risk of instrumentalising forms of oppression for other ends
  • Marilyn Decker: While advocating for non-human animals… at least recognise human oppression & don’t contribute to it
  • Two way conversation & learning not just “I’m going to push the right answer at you” in both vegan & atheist outreach
  • Are vegans & atheists so convinced they’re right on their topic that they assume they’re right about everything else?
  • “Most people eat animals because most people eat animals”

01:03:00 A Better Future?

  • Are human psychology & social norms the biggest problems?
  • From welfarist to vegan advocacy. Vegan Freak radio. Francione, Yates
  • “I was more effective because I was talking about what I believed”
  • Animal Rebellion. Systemic change.
  • When faced w/cognitive dissonance people adopt strategies instead of changing
  • Involving non-vegans in driving for a plant-based system
  • Claiming perfection/purity opens us up to criticism
  • No new animal agriculture
  • “People have different levels of opportunity to make ethical decisions”
  • Companies generate demand, not just consumers
  • Marxism
  • Veganarchism: “Living the world you want to create”

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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