“We need to imagine a different world” – Emilia Leese – author of Think Like A Vegan – Sentientism Ep:198

Find our Sentientism conversation here on the Sentientism YouTube and here on the Sentientism podcast.

Emilia is co-author of the book Think Like A Vegan and host of the Think Like a Vegan podcast. She is involved in the Birchfield Highlands re-wilding project in Scotland, edits the quarterly magazine for The Heath & Hampstead Society in London and has developed life skills and ethics workshops for underserved youth. Professionally, she has been a corporate finance lawyer for over 20 years.

In Sentientist Conversations we talk about the two most important questions: “what’s real?” & “who matters?”

Sentientism is “evidence, reason & compassion for all sentient beings.” In addition to the YouTube video above the audio is on our Podcast here on Apple & here on all the other platforms.

00:00 Clips!

01:25 Welcome

– Shared Sentientism guests with @thinklikeavegan  :

Troy Vettese episode

Josh Milburn episode

Aysha Akhtar episode

04:41 Emilia’s Intro

– Corporate finance, vegan writing / podcasting, rewilding in Scotland, magazine editing

05:45 What’s Real?

– Growing up in Italy

– #catholic  school “which I hated… it never made sense to me that only some people… would go to heaven”

– Letting teachers know at 5-6 years old “this doesn’t make any sense”… “they kind of stopped asking me questions”

– Dad is an Indian philosophy professor

– Investigating eastern and western traditions and religions “I said ‘none of it matters’… it matters what I do here and now”

– “People have their traditions and I love that…but for me ultimately I don’t need to have any of that”

– “The fundamental of all of them is love… just practice it”

– “That love then turns in to a respect and a valuing… of sentient life… and everything that’s around us”

– “Plants & funghi… even minerals and mountains… they may not feel anything but that doesn’t matter… it’s all connected”

– “The fate of the least among us… is extremely important”

– “Bees and insects… how they go, we go”

– “I don’t need an outside force to tell me to do the right thing”

– “A certain basic fairness… treat everyone the same unless there’s a morally relevant reason to treat them differently”

– “I have personally witnessed things that I cannot explain… there’s lots of things I don’t know… so I’ve decided that’s fine”

– “You have to leave space for changing your mind… we learn everything!”

– JW: How broken epistemology can lead “good” people to do terrible things

– The ethical and epistemological errors that justify animal agriculture

– Maneesha Deckha’s “beingness” concept

– “We as advocates have to be better at our own rhetoric”

– “We live in a capitalist, non-vegan world… so there will be inherent things that you are not going to be able to solve”

– “You don’t need to be well versed in philosophy… we can all get there”

– Examining what’s driving our actions… fear (of others, change, deistic reprisal, social norms, admitting we were wrong)

– JW: Uncommon common sense re: ethical and epistemic basics

– Humans building convenient hierarchies “as long as you’re at the top”

– “Animal agribusiness has never been nice… 10,000 years ago… 5,000 years ago… there’s always objectification, exploitation and death… that doesn’t change”

– “To the being – you only have one life”

26:20 What Matters?

– JW: Are nihilism, relativism and divine command theory more “amoralities” than moralities?

– “You have to realise there is an other”

– Doing talks at a Himalayan vegan festival in Nepal

– “You have to be able to move forward… the facts on the ground now” (as opposed to just doing what we’ve always done)

– Ethics that focus on moral agents (virtue, care) vs. moral patients (suffering, freedom)

– “For me a right is something that is inherent – you have that by virtue of being alive and being a sentient being… beingness”

– “You have to have the interests… a subject of a life… you exist”

– JW “They [your perspective/interests] matters to you… and a right is… just saying… they should matter to everyone else too?”

– Gender, sex etc… “aren’t morally relevant”

– “There’s a variety of different rights… but the fundamental right of being free from exploitation number one… if you don’t have that you can’t get any of the other ones”

– “Being free… to exist unfettered in the most basic way… that’s the fundamental. Everything else builds on top of that… [e.g.] the right to vote…”

– Freedom/autonomy vs. suffering/flourishing

– “Animals are considered objects all over the world… its codified in laws… it’s either going to be the state that owns you or a private individual or a corporation… you’re an object like my phone… you have zero rights”

– “When people talk about animal rights and they connect that with how the animal is treated they’re not talking about animal rights. Because the right has already gone… You’ve skipped right over the question as to whether you’re entitled to use the animal full stop.”

– “’Treatment’ isn’t their right…”

– “Without actually having a right… to their existence… where they are not objects… they cannot have anything else… that’s the foundation”

– “If your existence is always vis a vis ‘the owner’ you cannot have an existence because the owner is always going to determine your existence”

– “You have to have the actual freedom and the actual autonomy to not be an object”

– “We have to challenge that a lot more… We have to go back to that foundation… [instead of] fighting about treatment when we should be fighting about use”

– “If you don’t fix the pollution [use/ownership/objectification] you’re continuously going to get ill [suffering]”

– “It is a continuous mass scale of horrors that we live with and are perfectly fine with [society as a whole]… Why are we entitled to do that?”

– Speciesism and intra-human discrimination “you’ve decided someone else doesn’t get their rights because you’ve got more power over them”

– Free-ranging/wild animals that might be suffering “in their own spheres” without being exploited by humans?

– A starving polar bear in a wildlife documentary “They are free… they are suffering… That bear is starving because we have created this world… that has brought upon these conditions… loss of biodiversity… warming of the seas… overfishing… we have done that… we’re responsible for that too… full stop!”

– “You wouldn’t… just go onto the next frame… if that were human suffering”

– Seeing a bird of prey kill a pigeon “I’m not responsible for that suffering… can I feel bad about it as a person – yeh… can I say ‘that bird shouldn’t have done that’? – no. I have zero right to do that… that’s just how it is. I can’t do the same thing with regard to the polar bear… collectively with every other human on earth… we are responsible for that.”

– “The empathy is there… we all have the raw materials inside us to feel… it’s just we selectively apply it wherever we want”

– Josh Milburn’s work re: wild animal suffering and feeding companion animals

– “When you’re dealing with the wild… there are some uncomfortable decisions that you have to make… uncomfortable compromises”

53:13 Who Matters?

– “The human stuff was easy… self-evident”

– Animals: “How it started for me was through dairy”… a Gary Francione poster? “Dairy takes babies away from their mother.”

– Sitting in a doctor’s office for IVF treatment: “Of cows have to give birth to lactate because they are mammals… sitting there with a variety of different reproductive choices… here I am exercising my privilege but yet I am literally harming another being who has no choices over their reproductive world…this is appalling… how did I miss that?… I’m done… I was done with all of it.”

– A pescetarian husband “Eventually he came round. He’s been vegan… for a long time”

– Friends and family “Especially in the beginning would ask the classic questions.”

– “Ultimately the aggro I get from people is nothing in comparison… for me to say ‘I don’t want to get aggro… so therefore I’m going to take someone else’s life?’”

– “You’re upset that I’m vegan – that’s your problem. I’m not going to hurt another being just to make you feel comfortable. I literally wouldn’t do that with respect to a human.”

– “We have to look at who is actually affected. Put them in the centre then consider everything else… whatever the issue is.”

01:00:42 A Better World?

– The world if everyone thought like a vegan? Requires debate and discussion “real conversation”

– “If you want a better world the least you can do is be vegan”

– Veganism as a minimally demanding non-maleficent baseline vs. the public perception that it’s extreme and highly demanding

– “Don’t be sexist, don’t be racist, don’t be ableist, don’t be homophobic – these are basics…”

– “You’re not a hero for being a vegan… but the thing is it does change everything… it brings everything in line… justice & fairness… the environment… being vegan just ties it all together”

– “Just sometimes existing as a vegan is enough activism. Activism is a very, very broad term.”

– Thinking critically about media “not cynically…” but critically “who is benefitting and how?” It’s not hard

– Getting to a better world “It takes time – It’s a slog”

– “There’s no such thing as profound change that happens quickly… especially when it comes to animals. We’ve been doing this for 10,000 years – that’s when we started farming”

– “Change… You just have to do it – day in, day out… every time that you have a conversation with somebody.”

– Interpretations of veganism re: non-human animal and human animal causes

– “Look at the shared sources of oppression – they’re always the same… the objectification of someone else or the othering of someone else whether it’s a person or whether it’s an animal”

– “People get very muddled in their thinking when they are using an over-expansive definition of veganism when there’s actually other definitions… we have plenty of words… [e.g.] labour and worker exploitation… racism and sexism…”

– “Veganism is about animals… but then there are entanglements with everything else… they [human animal & non-human animal issues] all exist at the same time… because we live in an entangled world”

– “Labour should be a lot more expansive… most of the labour is completely exploited and oppressed because they are non-human… at once the producers and the product”

– “We need to be comfortable with all of these terms and use them all. If we use one to exclude the others then we have a different agenda… what are you trying to say?”

– “If there is just this one box… you’re missing a lot of stuff that’s going on around you”

– “I’m always very suspicious when somebody just wants to focus on one thing at the exclusion of everybody else… generally capitalism does that… compartmentalises everything”

– “If we don’t extend our solidarity across all groups and all people and all animals and all conditions…” we’ll be looking to blame others instead of the system or those in power

– “You have to look at things in a connected way otherwise it’s a very lonely existence”

– Could there be a compassionate form of capitalism or is it inherently exploitative?

– “Capitalism has gotten us where it’s gotten us and clearly that is not good”

– “No one owes me compassion. I’m owed my rights.”

– “You can be nice to me… you can hate my guts… I don’t care – give me my rights. And capitalism isn’t going to do that. Shareholder value does not work with people’s wellbeing.”

– “If you’re maximising shareholder value – who’s paying for that… someone else is.”

– “We have billionaires. They literally could solve all the problems of the earth right now. We could be done… Are they doing that? Absolutely not.”

– “It’s not working for 99% of the planet… but we’re all propping that up.”

– “What we could have instead? I don’t know… some sort of socialism… but it’s not this.”

– “Animals have been used since even before capitalism was even invented… it’s not like we’re going to have a socialist society and animals are going to be alright.”

– Animal rights are at a deeper level than political economy. “That’s where Maneesha Deckha’s work really comes into play… questioning how we are defining society at all… who gets a say… beingness… different entities have different levels of being… and how we relate to one other… not as resources, not as objects” but as fellow beings

– “It gives us space also for trees and mountains and rivers… everything is valued in a very different way”

– Troy Vettese’s work “They are imagining a different world… we really need that too”

– “We have to imagine a different world in order to create that different world”

– “I would hope… valuing of everything that surrounds us… not just money”

01:22:00 Follow Emilia

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Thanks to Graham for the post-production and to Tarabella and Denise for helping to fund this episode via our Sentientism Patreon.

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