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“Your Neighbour Kills Puppies” – Tom Harris – Activist, Artist & Author – Sentientism Ep:190

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

Tom is an internationally acclaimed artist, published author, and social justice activist. He is an expert and consultant on animal liberation history and strategy, and the global animal rights movement. His first book, Your Neighbour Kills Puppies was released in March 2024. The book is the previously untold story of one of the world’s most powerful social justice campaigns, Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty (SHAC). Tom became involved in the animal liberation movement at the age of fifteen when he attended his first hunt sab. Over the years that followed he devoted his life to helping animals and co-founded one of the UK`s most successful regional animal rights organizations, SARC (The Southern Animal Rights Coalition). Tom is a regular contributor to Forca Vegan magazine, and other periodicals. Under the professional name ‘Tattoo Tom‘, Tom has also achieved a highly successful and acclaimed career as an artist.

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.

00:00 Clips!

00:49 Welcome

Nicola Harris and Anita Krajnc episode @PlantBasedTreaty

03:18 Tom’s Intro

– 20 years in the #animalliberation movement

– Founding the Southern Animal Rights Coalition

– Closing a military research facility, a puppy farm, several chicken units

– Getting fur and foie gras out of shops

– #SHAC (Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty) co-ordinators “the largest and most dynamic grass-roots animal liberation campaign”

– “The model we came up with was so effective… that the American and British governments were both really terrified… while I don’t think any of us necessarily set out to create a blueprint that could end capitalism… I think we probably came dangerously close”

– “The government in the UK essentially framed us and set us up on bogus blackmail charges… I received a 5 year prison sentence for… a lawful campaign… I served 2 years.”

– 3 years on bail before-hand and 2.5 years on license afterwards with a tag “which was probably the toughest bit… I wasn’t allowed to talk to my brother… a constant threat that they were going to send me back to prison.”

– Since release, finding a very different animal liberation world

– Lord Sainsbury’s intention “to eliminate the anti-vivisection movement… he succeeded for a good decade”

– “The movement I knew didn’t exist… new groups like the Save Movement, Animal Rebellion, DxE… started forming”

– Taking up tattoo artistry because “I was essentially banned from talking to any other activist… any other vegan… all of my friends I wasn’t allowed to talk to them”

– “Stabbing people for money” 🙂

10:10 What’s Real?

– “I actually dropped out of a philosophy degree to do more animal rights activism”

– Growing up in a non-religious family, probably atheists

– Christian grandparents “it was good for them… I saw the positives”

– Cartographer dad, psychologist mum, quite analytical / logical focus

– “I didn’t learn when to stop following that logical path”

– “I was raised to be kind to animals and respect nature… to value life”

– “For me if I’m respecting and valuing life then I have to respect and value all life”

– Cognitive dissonance

– “God… angels and demons… fairies and ghosts… It seems unlikely… but I’m not going to go as hard as to say it’s impossible”

– 9 years old, visiting a farm shop with a petting zoo and an abattoir “there were just these skinned pigs everywhere… 31 years later I still vividly recall… my two favourite animals in the petting zoo were pigs… I immediately made that connection… something in me… broke… I declared to my family I wasn’t going to eat meat any more”

– “It wasn’t just this dietary change… I started questioning what I was being told on quite a deep and profound level… I didn’t trust authority… my parents… anything I’d been told”

– Getting in trouble at school “generally doing things I thought were right”

– “It changed my entire worldview… it’s impacted everything since… I have to do something”

– “I feel almost burdened with this knowledge… because a lot of other people don’t know or don’t care”

– Misinformation, disinformation and conspiracism. Are vegans particularly susceptible?

– “Modern western capitalism is a really bizarre system… most of the problems… a result of prioritising capital over people… whether human people or otherwise”

– In prison thinking “why are we not resisting this at all?”

– Accepting that politicians are corrupt “they’re all bad aren’t they… let’s go and vote for some more”

– “40% of our Prime Ministers went to the same school… no Prime Ministers went to my school… why do we accept this?”

– “Billionaires… why don’t we just go and take their stuff?

– “Living in a society where… to be a member… you have to accept madness…”

– “Either we knuckle down and pull our sleeves up and get on with some really dirty and hard work to sort it out… or we just go on Facebook and social media and complain… activists without actually doing any activism… without any real risk”

– Challenging the real pharmaceutical industry lands you in prison… whereas conspiracising about Bill Gates planting chips in people is risk free

– “Conspiracies are real… governments do terrible, terrible things”

26:13 What and Who Matters?

– The benefits some find in faith

– How Christian beliefs and the Bible have been edited and changed over time

– “The damage that Genesis has done to society”… man made in god’s image… so I’m made in god’s image… so if people don’t look like me… links to white colonialism and racism “you can’t be Christian because you’re not white”

–  Also Genesis “Eve was created purely for Adam’s benefit… women were created for the pleasure of men and no other purpose… that’s the basis of the patriarchy.”

– Human supremacy: “non-human animals were created by god for humans… caused so much harm… even animal rights activists… forget that we’re animals”

– “That engrained idea that humans are necessarily better than other animals and more important”

– “Then you look at science… and animal research… that entire field is draped in this idea… this religious dogma that humans are superior to other animals therefore we can do what we like to them in the laboratory… when we also have biological science, evolutionary science telling us that is not true…”

– “It is hard for me… when I see scientists talking about something in very thinly vailed religious terms…” and vivisectors saying animal testing is OK because “they’re not human”

– “Aphro-ism” by Aph and Syl Ko

– Anthropomorphism and Sentiomorphism vs. dehumanisation, desentientisation… ?

– Looking for ways non-human animals are similar to humans (e.g. forms of intelligence) “rather than just scrapping the whole idea”

– ADHD

– “Getting in trouble [at school] for defending myself or defending other people… every time I stood up for someone I would get punished for it”

– Listening to punk at 13… politics, humanism, radicalism… “making the world better”

– Straight-edge “not drinking, not smoking, not doing drugs, often being politically active… I identified with those people more than my friends at school”

– Hearing about direct action to “save animals and to save lives”

– Tom and his brother going straight-edge together “we pulled together this quite romantic version of it”… dumpster diving, jumping trains, shoplifting, protesting, direct action for animal liberation… “a weirdly kind of anarchically idyllic way of living”

– The Animal Liberation Front (ALF)

– “This [straight edge] was about being a clear-headed revolutionary. You can’t take effective action if you’re not ‘with it’”

– “It felt rebellious to be not drinking”

– “I don’t care if people drink… it’s your body… [but] not being vegan is inherently selfish. I do care if people are not vegan – people are dying”

– Having quite a good hit rate… ~20 vegans in a friend group

– Stickering, locking up fishing lakes, attempting to raid a local mink-farm… “This DIY punky idea that we could just kind of do things”

– A 6-year old child of a friend who chose to be vegan, asking Tom “why are you wearing leather… why do you eat eggs, why do you drink milk?”

– “It occurred to me pretty quickly that if I can’t win an argument with a 6 year old you’re probably wrong”

– “I knew I wanted to be vegan”… but feeling trapped living at home

– “Two years of full time [animal liberation] activism before I went vegan”

– “There is a purity and an innocence to the questions young people ask… they haven’t been ground down with what is ‘normal’”

– Liberation, suffering/flourishing, wild-animal suffering and ethics

– “I always refer to myself as an animal liberation activist not an animal rights activist”

– Rights can’t be “an inherent thing… they always have to be decided upon and gifted by someone… it sits a bit uncomfortably this idea that we get to decide what rights other animals get to have to live on their own planet…”

– “I just want us to leave them alone”

– “At some point our planet won’t exist any more… everything we’ve created won’t matter… what will matter in that moment is the moments of joy and freedom… they will have mattered in the moment that they existed… I see my role as bringing as many of those moments of joy as possible to myself and those around me, whether I know them or not and whether they’re human or not.”

– “It’s our obligation, our duty, to use the minimum force necessary to prevent harm and to initiate those moments of joy and freedom”

– “More succinctly… what’s the minimum I have to do to look myself in the mirror and sleep soundly at night”

– “We need to be creating these moments of joy”

– “We also need to be ensuring that other animals aren’t impacted by humans at all – whether it’s ethically or not… they don’t need us, they don’t want us… every other species would flourish without humans and the same probably isn’t true the other way around”

– “That idea of bringing these moments of joy… that entirely extends to wild animals”

– Many problems in the wild are exacerbated by human influence

– “If I left a tempur mattress in my garden I’d probably find some foxes curled up there in the morning”

– “A lot of our base instincts… sanctuary and warmth and safety and security and food and water – all animals want that” So why not let your dog on the sofa?

– The risk of “Lux Luthery type philanthropists” wanting to re-engineer nature… gene drives to exterminate malaria mosquitoes, genetically modified crops

– “If you see an injured animal then help it [them] but we shouldn’t be… playing god with the world”

– Humans releasing new technology without considering the risks (air travel, social media, internet) “That’s why I would be reticent to have any large scale involvement in the wild… although we need to reconnect with the wild and become more wild ourselves”

01:04:53 A Better Future?

– How can we be polite, respectful activists who follow laws and democratic processes when “Your Neighbours are Killing Puppies”?

ALF documentary, hearing Ronnie Lee, challenged for being an “extremist” explain that the actions of the ALF, given what happens in labs and farms abattoirs are “actually really lenient rather than being in any way extreme”

– “If I see someone punching a dog… minimum force to prevent that might simply be going ‘can you not do that?’… but maybe that’s not enough… maybe I need to grab the dog and run off… or defend myself and the dog”

– “My personal line is hurting innocent people”

– “I’m certainly not a pacifist… I don’t believe in initiating violence… but I do believe in self-defence and that can extend to those around us”

– “There are types of activism that do end up having negative consequences”

– “I would never criticise someone else’s activism unless they cause harm to an innocent person”

– The SHAC campaign “we were very confrontational… an attitude that any publicity is good publicity”

– “The police and the pharmaceutical industry built this climate of fear around us… part of the reason we were sent to prison… there were police units being paid by companies to go and present to them… arson attacks and bombing that might happen to them… often works of fiction… it benefitted our campaign… companies were scared to deal with the laboratory”

– “Public support of animal research plummeted during our campaign… we made it part of the zeitgeist… but it probably wasn’t helpful in a lot of ways… rounded up and sent to prison… isolated from the rest of the progressive left… something the police had certainly been very meticulous about achieving.”

– “There were actions that happened that certainly didn’t help us with public support… maybe if we’d had more of that public support… maybe what happened to us wouldn’t have happened… we could have kept going and maybe we could have won… or maybe the campaign would have been less successful than it was.”

– “My preferred form of activism is pressure campaigning and direct action… because they’re things that can be done by anyone”

– “A lot of activism… is based around system change and large-scale individual change which is vital… all activism is positive – everyone should be doing something”

– Systems change can be complex and difficult but “Everyone can do out and take direct action. Everyone can do a pressure campaign”

– SHAC was “a fairly rag-tag group of activists… and we ended up in a position where billionaires were scared of us… incredibly empowering and radicalising”

Palestine Action were heavily influenced by the SHAC campaign

– “That’s why they took us out… they weren’t just scared that we were going to close this one laboratory they were scared that we were a threat to modern capitalism”

– “that power being wielded by me… and my friends… is certainly eye-opening to see what you can do”

– “The important thing is that everyone does something”

– “Words like kind and good… to me are not adjectives, they’re verbs… you don’t have good people you have people that do good things”

– “Without people actively being good and being kind… it’s nothing… nothing changes”

– “We often get told… one person can’t change the world… it’s just so overtly not true”

– “The environmental movement… feels like it’s winning… when I got involved the animal liberation movement felt like it was winning”

– “Climate change stuff… it’s very hard to see that you’re winning… see tangible progress… whereas… I can just walk into a farm, pick up a chicken and walk out and I have literally changed the world… maybe not for everyone but for that chicken… a very real victory… incredibly empowering… just one person has quite literally changed the world for someone else”

– Liberating 1000 chickens… “the fact that you then have to leave behind 100,000 is a really horribly bitter sweet feeling… the movie Okja summed it up”

– The risk that attention gets diverted from victims to the activists

– Thatcher with the miner’s strikes then Blair & now the current UK government “They’ve managed to do this very clever thing that is to turn the public against protest… they’ve turned working class people against unions… it’s remarkable that they’ve managed to do it… it doesn’t help that our media is owned by a handful of very right wing families…”

– “Getting a better world… reclaiming the media is unfortunately a big part of it… I’m not sure how that’s done… an ethical billionaire?… I don’t know how many of those there are”

– “Extinction Rebellion… Just Stop Oil… these people are fighting for our future… the air we breathe… and people will criticise them.”

– “The Animal Liberation movement… the only social justice movement in history that is entirely comprised of allies”

– Palestine, suffrage, civil rights… “the core of these movements is the people most affected”

– Whereas with animal liberation “We’ve, as humans, removed the voice of the victims… we’ve entirely oppressed them to the point where they can’t fight back”

– “That’s one thing as a British person, one of the few things that I’m actually proud of, is our history of protest and specifically our history of animal liberation activism”

– “We’ve had 25,000 people out marching against animal testing… we could again if we’re able to project our message properly”

– “We do see ourselves as a nation of animal lovers… the hope is there”

– “SHAC ran for 14 years… there was one two week period when there was no one in prison for activism against Huntingdon Life Sciences” 

– Why do so many people heavily invested in human social justice issues still struggle to engage in non-human animal justice

– “The Abrahamic idea that animals exist for human benefit… and that we are intrinsically different is so engrained in our culture…”

– Asking otherwise progressive people: “Can you explain why it’s OK to do what you’re doing and how this oppression is justified… there is no way of justifying it without ‘well they’re animals… they’re less than’”

– “There’s no scientific reason to believe that non-human animals… experiences the world in a vastly different way to us… there will be differences”

– Seeing the emotions of animals in our homes or farms or labs or abattoirs

– “The worst horror films that humans make… they’re all based on these things that we’ve normalised doing to other animals… hunting for sport… experimenting… imprisoning… murdering for food… our worst nightmares of what could happen to us and we amplify it on this biblical scale to all other species.”

– Why shouldn’t terms like oppression and solidarity and victims and justice apply across the species boundary

– Links between colonialism, imperialism, fascism and human treatment of non-human animals “It’s not coincidentally similar… are very clearly intermeshed”

– Animal agriculture’s land-hunger as one driver of colonialism

– Is broken epistemology as much of a factor in animal exploitation as broken ethics?

– Sentientist political options: compassionate capitalism, socialism, anarchism? Risks of exploitation, authoritarianism…

– “Humans are grossly over-populated… there’s way too many of us… I think there’s too many of us for any political system to actually work… anything we come up with is kind of doomed to fail“

– “The nicest system we could have is anarchism… where everyone co-operatively works together but also has the freedom to do the things that they’re compelled to do”

– “If everyone is acting nicely in that situation then it would be a utopia”

– “I’m at very least a theoretical anarchist”

– Capitalism is not every system with money

– Capitalism is new but “in that short time we’ve destroyed the seas, we’ve destroyed the environment, we’re literally making the planet unliveable… It’s hard to see what the benefits are except for a handful of billionaires… it’s a failed experiment”

– “We had a system with money without capitalism not that long ago… things weren’t great back then for a lot of people but there are certainly things we can take from it… our current system and remove the capitalism from it… there’s a lot of potential… great things… innovation… just remove the exponential lust for growth from it… prioritising capital over people”

– Not going back in time to living in caves… “I like having a heated house… there’s no reason I can’t have that without capitalism”

– “We live on a finite planet… there isn’t room for infinite growth… capitalism doesn’t allow those fire-breaks”

– Switching Tom’s tattoo business to a more co-operative anarchist model that doesn’t need to grow “I don’t see why that can’t be applied to every business”

– Imagining a high street with independent, local businesses rather than big chains

– “There are so many things we could do… at least put a small ‘c’ on the front of capitalism to stop the growth”

– “Unless we’re going to overthrow capitalism I’d rather live under vegan capitalism than non-vegan capitalism… for the animals that are dying by the billions I think we owe it to them to at least in the short term switch to vegan capitalism”

01:45:00 Follow Tom

TomHarris.me
Shacjustice.com

@Tattoo_tom

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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