Christopher Sebastian is the director of social media for Peace Advocacy Network, sits on the Advisory Council for Encompass, is a senior fellow at Sentient Media, is co-founder of VGN, and lectures at Columbia University in the Department of Social Work for the graduate course POP: Power, Oppression, & Privilege. Using a multidisciplinary approach that includes media theory, political science, & social psychology, he focuses on how human relationships with other animals shape our attitudes about race, sexuality & class.
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.” In addition to the video above, the audio is on our Podcast via Apple and the other platforms too.
1:20 Christopher’s Intro – journalism, mass comms, digital research
1:40 What’s real – From christianity to atheism
- Growing up in a religious family (Catholic, African Methodist Episcopalian) in the USA south
- Attending Catholic school
- Questioning Christianity particularly as a queer person “I knew I was very different from the other little boys”
- Asking lots of questions. An early journalistic instinct?
- Being shocked when a teacher refused to pray for a child’s parent who had committed suicide. Universal compassion & love but “not for her!”
- The binary contrast between a benevolent god & the vengeful, vindictive god
- “The interia pulls you back to what’s safe & comfortable”
- Becoming atheist “I couldn’t make sense of it”, but still following Christian traditions
- The social/family challenges of queerness & leaving religion
- “Black church is really different – it’s fun” music, dancing, sheer jubilation. “You can’t avoid being caught up in the energy & fellowship”
12:31 What matters morally?
- “If you don’t believe in god then you’re just running around murdering, pillaging & raping like some sort of pirate!”
- “We can be moral agents without believing in a higher being”
- Without god there’s an even greater obligation to treat each other with respect and compassion
- If this is the only life we have isn’t it even more valuable?
16:55 Extending compassion
- The more minoritised identities you have, the more aware you are of the need for being just & kind
- Race, queerness, femme of centre
- “You’re aware there’s a hierarchy. It requires us to be more benevolent to one another”
- Including other animals was “just obvious”
- Who gets to be in the club re: “personhood” (like “whiteness”), can move arbitrarily
- Going privately vegan, then “taking an active choice to be part of another out-group”
- Recognising speciesism as a type of bigotry
- Plants rights activists
- “Right now, based on the best information we have, don’t be a lunatic”
- White & male fragility. Whataboutism
- Taking wild animal suffering seriously
- Eco-feminism & Carol Adams
- Health-care as a right for all sentients
33:44 A Better Future
- A Star Trek utopia (vegan, anti-oppression, post-scarcity, presented in a non-confrontational way)
- “We don’t have to wait for the 24th century for it to happen – we already have the tools”
- Teaching through pop culture
- The limitations of capitalism. Marxism?
- COVID & climate change are teaching us
- Political pluralism
- How to move beyond/abolish capitalism without causing new forms of authoritarian oppression?
- “Let a thousand flowers bloom”
- “I just want people to not die”
- The insidious waste of our current system
- “Capitalism is tied to race & anti-blackness”
- “We have to be more adventurous or face horrific consequences”
- Sentientism is only a baseline. It’s not enough. We need socio-political answers too
- Intersectional analysis. Groups, identities & individuals
- Crenshaw’s perspective doesn’t extend to non-humans
- People within one “group” (e.g. ableism) can have radically diverse, sometimes conflicting needs
- There’s a need for us to be able to have productive discussions instead of shutting discussions down. I don’t see that happening very frequently
- “If we come to the table with good intentions we can find out how we can cohabitate”
- “Using identity as a weapon” vs. finding common ground
- “Our understanding of each other needs to be improved”
- Recognising that we all have compassion but “we apply compassion differently” but has transformed my thinking
Everyone interested, Sentientist or not, is welcome in our groups. Our biggest so far is here on FaceBook.
Thanks Graham for the post-prod. Follow him @cgbessellieu.