“We can’t understand humans without recognising that we’re animals” – Dr. Diana Fleischman – New Sentientist Conversation

Dr. Diana Fleischman is an evolutionary psychologist & an author. Until recently she was a senior lecturer at the University of Portsmouth. Her field of research includes the study of disgust, human sexuality, hormones & behaviour. She is involved in the Effective Altruism & animal welfare movements & identifies as a feminist and a Sentientist. Diana’s 2018 Darwin Day Lecture, hosted by Humanists UK, was part of the inspiration for my work developing & raising awareness of Sentientism.

You can find Diana at @Sentientist​ (yes!) &​. Why not join her on our “I’m a Sentientist” wall using this simple form?

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 on Apple here​ & all the other platforms here. Reviews and ratings really help spread the word too!

We discuss:

  • Evolutionary psychology
  • Effective Altruism
  • Diana’s Darwin Day talk to Humanists UK
  • Whether Humanists are more likely to be ethical vegans
  • Whether “carnism” is socialised or a state of nature
  • Diana’s father’s German Jewish & Polish family history during WWII & since
  • “They fell in love because he fed her a lot of food”
  • Diana’s Catholic mother. Being baptised in Portugal
  • Going to synagogue with Diana’s grandfather & Catholic Sunday School
  • After first communion “I don’t like it & I don’t believe it”
  • Going atheist at 9/10 yrs after brother did at 7
  • Being fascinated by evolution – “I carried The Evolution Book around like a teddy bear”
  • Being teased as “Monkey Girl” for believing in evolution. The worst bullies seemed to be the most religious kids
  • Being told in the early 1990’s by a teacher “evolution is controversial – it’s not a settled idea”
  • We skipped the evolution chapter in the Biology textbook
  • Becoming stridently anti-religious
  • “I thought we couldn’t really understand human beings without understanding that humans are animals”
  • I met so many wonderful religious people in the vegan movement & became much less aggressively anti-religion
  • Religious arguments for why we should be compassionate are wrong but that compassion can still have good outcomes
  • Diana’s Hen Do turns into a witches coven
  • Weeping after being blessed by a minister & being moved by ritual
  • “I am exactly the kind of person who could fall into religious fervour”
  • Sam Harris: “Religions shouldn’t have a monopoly on reverence”
  • “Nature is a horrible place”
  • If our naturalism is robust we can let ourselves enjoy a sense of soulful aesthetic reverence. If we have to remind ourselves of it – maybe it’s fragile
  • Morality is about how we collaborate in groups but there are some absolute standards
  • The social & family resonance of consuming animal products
  • Sentientism is a coherent moral view but sub-cultures or even the wider culture aren’t going to be sympathetic to it
  • The challenges of trading off competing interests of different sentients
  • Rationalism, the value of Chesterton’s Fence & weddings
  • Being obsessed with animals as a child
  • Being disgusted by unfamiliar foods & family resistance vs. the desire to give up animal products
  • Learning about animal agriculture practices, hoping for a “humane” loophole & not finding one
  • Reading Animal Liberation, then going hardcore vegan the next day at 27
  • Eating practices get crystallised. “Everyone wants to eat what they ate as a child”
  • Predation is “natural” but so is compassion for non-humans
  • Children can be fascinated with animals for exploitative reasons (e.g. it’s common for children to torture/kill animals for amusement)
  • Children’s views on companion animals become de-coupled from their views of wild/farmed animals
  • Some people can’t yet thrive on a vegan diet
  • Diana’s “Practical Veganism” article
  • The global response to COVID has made Diana more pessimistic
  • The hope of clean meat, given how long it takes to persuade people to go vegan
  • Gary Francione & abolitionism
  • The risk of values blockers to clean meat progress (as happened with GMOs)
  • Is a certain level of intelligence required to improve our own morality?
  • Cognitive enhancement “I’d love, in my lineage, to be the dumbest person” might enable human moral enhancement? (Julian Savulescu)
  • “Trees are not sentient”
  • Taking breaks from Twitter.

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

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

Thanks to Graham for his post-prod work. Follow him: @cgbessellieu

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