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“Welfare protections have failed animals” – Legal Academic Dr Jane Kotzmann – Sentientism Ep:173

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

Jane is an Alfred Deakin Postdoctoral Research Fellow in Deakin Law School. Jane obtained degrees in Commerce, Law (with Honours), and a PhD in human rights law from Deakin University, and a Postgraduate Diploma in Teaching (Teach for Australia) from the University of Melbourne. Jane has published research in relation to the human right to education, the human rights of disabled people, animal rights, and animal related laws. She has taught a variety of units, including human rights law, administrative law and contract law. She was a finalist for ‘Academic of the Year’ in the Australian Law Awards in 2019 and 2020. Her article titled ‘Recognising the Sentience of Animals in Law: A Justification and Framework for Australian States and Territories’ was given an Australian Legal Research Award in 2022 for Best Early Career Research Article. Before embarking on her career in academia, Jane served as an associate in the inaugural Teach for Australia program. Prior to this, she was in private legal practice for a number of years, principally in commercial litigation.

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 YouTube video above the audio is on our Podcast here on Apple & here on all the other platforms.

We discuss:

00:00 Welcome

02:41 Jane’s Intro

– Lawyer (“I didn’t really like that very much”), teaching high school (“enjoyable… but exhausting”), now academic research and teaching

– Human rights PhD, now animal law focused “I often think about concepts that exist in human rights literature and think about how they might apply… to the animal rights space”

04:42 What’s Real?

– Catholic and Anglican Christian parents but neither “practicing”. Although some tension between the two families

– Attending Lutheran school at 15 “Lacking in some self-confidence… the religious angle… allowed me a way to feel like I could connect with something… I tried really hard… but I always struggled with trying to make myself believe something that… doesn’t have a great deal of evidence.”

– “I think there is  something other than what we can see, touch, feel and taste – but I’m not going to commit to knowing what that is”

– What we can sense “humans can generally agree on those things… beyond that, there may be more – I don’t know”

– “Some very intelligent people I know are deeply religious… I have no problem with that except where they decide that that allows them to hurt others. That’s where I draw the line.”

11:42 What Matters?

– Parents’ religions didn’t affect childhood ethics much

– Lutheran… “By and large… big hearted, generous, empathetic, wonderful people.” But “I took great pleasure… in debating the alleged sins of homosexuality with some of the pastors.”

– “I always found issues with these rigid rules that didn’t really make a lot of sense to me”

– Developing morality through reading fiction “I read a truck-load… through fiction I developed a strong sense of empathy… that’s what drove me then and drives me today”

14:54 Who Matters

– Living in India at 12 yrs old “I became vegetarian at that point – it didn’t make my parents very happy… but I was always very certain with that”

– “Veganism back then was absolutely radical”

– Being pregnant and looking more deeply into the ethical, environmental and health issues of animal agriculture

– “it was a good 20 years between deciding to be vegetarian and deciding to be vegan… it was to be honest probably just a matter of fitting in.”

– Catholic school in India “I hated it… I felt lost… the Lutheran school was much more nurturing… understanding the individual and assisting the individual”

– Dealing with the concept of death as a very young child “kept me up at night”

– Terror Management Theory and the fear of death

– Connecting animals and animal-based foods “it was sort of obvious… I just didn’t want to eat it… that turned into a fight… there’s a very stubborn component to my personality”

– Studying the Holocaust as a teenager “trying to comprehend how people could inflict that on other people – and not feel the horror that I would feel”

– “When I was studying law animal law was not a thing… it just wasn’t a subject”

– “Human rights are violated all the time… I guess the difference to me was… at least with us as a human species we can agree that this shouldn’t happen”

– “In the context of animals that’s totally lacking… most people think that it’s acceptable to treat animals the way that we do – I just find it astounding”

– JW: “Less than 1% of humans are psychopaths so it can’t be that”

– Ecocentrism, biocentrism, animalism, agency, dignity, personhood, sentiocentrism…?

– “All living things matter – the trees matter, rocks matter… but they’re all different in nature.”

– Ecosystems, relationships

– “Those things are not all the same – a rock is not the same as my dog. The rock is not aware of being a rock… whereas my dog I’m quite sure is very aware of himself”

– “Treating natural beings with respect means different things in different contexts”

– “Sentience… is a relevant moral characteristic… capable of feelings… If a being has that capacity we need to treat that individual as being important… all the trees are intrinsically important but is it going to matter if one of them gets chopped down? Will I cry for for that one tree I’m not so sure – but would I cry for that one dog – yeah.”

– Jane’s PhD student: “Nature is a failed state”

– “You can make a good claim as to why sentience is intrinsically valuable – it’s probably harder to make the argument for nature but I do think that it is… “I don’t know everything that’s actually out there”

– “…I try and leave my mind open to whatever that might be – without trying to make it up”

– JW: “I see what nature does to sentient beings… I think that ultimately nature is brutally amoral. I don’t think nature cares about the sentient beings that live within it.”

– Wild animal suffering

– “Sentience to intrinsic worth to dignity to rights”

47:00 A Better World?

– The role of the law

– Problems of the Anthropocene “so many of them have deep roots in the dysfunctional relationships humans have with animals”

– Zoonotic disease transmission, climate change “Those are symptomatic”

– “The legal system that we have… is insufficient”

– Human rights, rights of children, animal rights

– “In legal terms rights are just stronger than welfare protections – they just are”

– “To the extent that you continue to have rights for human beings and welfare protections for other animals you have immediately got an anthropocentric paradigm – you’ve privileged humans… I don’t think there’s going to be a situation where you can rescue those relationships with animals within that paradigm”

– “I don’t necessarily think rights are a perfect paradigm either… doesn’t capture relationships, ecosystems…”

– “I think animals need rights – legal rights”

– Personhood and rights

– “A right to life?… I would prefer to start with the right not to be subject to torture… that would cut out 90-95% of the issues that we have between humans and animals today”

– “Start with the issue of industrial animal agriculture”

– JW: Recognising animal sentience in law in the EU and elsewhere “but the scale of animal agriculture… continues to grow”

– “Welfare protections have failed animals”

– Welfarism as a route to the abolition of exploitation? “I don’t agree”

– “You can do both…” But the risk is that if welfare improvements work some will claim welfare is all we need

– “It will never properly work… it comes down to a view of human nature… I don’t think there will ever be a time when humans can put their own self interest as equal to the animal interest” & economic interests within a capitalist system. “You can only come up against that when the animals themselves… have those interests recognised at law – the only way you can do that is rights.”

– The Peter Singer Sentientist conversation: His book is called “Animal Liberation” but his philosophy doesn’t deliver animal liberation – partly because he’s unsure if killing itself is a wrong

– “When I say the right to life is tricky… I’m not saying that animals shouldn’t have a right to life.”

– “Humans don’t have the kinds of rights that people throw around in the context of animal rights discussions… it’s really hard to say people have a right to life because there are so many things that can take away your life… if I have a right to an indefinite life what obligations does that impose on… state authorities to do everything in their power so I can continue living… free health-care… ban cars…”

– “Rights are a kind of framework that allows you to identify what matters… to figure out what to do in the case of conflict”

– Right of life vs. right not to be arbitrarily deprived of life

– “Nobody should torture me – that’s kind of a no brainer”

– Alasdair Cochrane – rights to liberty

– From a Universal Declaration of Human Rights to a Universal Declaration of Sentient Rights?

– “An umbrella category of sentient rights… in practical terms human rights with a parallel stream of non-human animal rights”

– Animal rights as a sub-set of sentient rights or an extension of human rights?

– “Just because the rights are there doesn’t mean they’re relevant for you at all times… there has to be some aspect by which that can be relevant to their lives”

– “The right not to have family life interrupted”

– “I’m probably still cynical… we’ve had many decades where people have talked about caring for animals and welfare… things have only gotten worse… and the lack of response we have to the urgency of climate change”

– Tying climate change, zoonosis and other issues back to animals & using that as leverage, maybe via the UN, to drive change

– “There’s certainly hope… sometimes when you fake it long enough eventually it becomes real… if we just keep saying that this is a real thing it might turn into one.”

01:15:57 Follow Jane

– “I don’t do a lot of social media… people can of course email me!”

Jane at Deakin

– Jane’s Cambridge Centre for Animal Rights Law talk: “Sentience and Intrinsic Worth as a Pluralist Foundation for Fundamental Animal Rights

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

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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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