“Your Robot Dog Will Die” Author Arin Greenwood – Sentientism Ep: 176

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

Arin describes herself as an animal writer, novelist and lawyer. Her young adult book “Your Robot Dog Will Die” was published in 2018. Arin was animal welfare editor for The Huffington Post and now writes about dogs, cats, and other animals for The Today Show, The Dodo, The Washington Post, Slate, Creative Loafing, the American Bar Association Journal and many other publications.

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

Kyle Johannsen episode

02:01 Arin’s Intro

– Dog lover, animal writer, former lawyer who has “written a couple of books”

– Writing about animal welfare then working with animal advocacy and sanctuary organisations

– Austin Pets Alive

03:57 What’s Real?

– Growing up in a #Jewish family “And I’m still Jewish”

– Secular Judaism “We identify as Jewish, we have a Jewish community, I had a Bat Mitzvah… we celebrate a lot of the Jewish holidays but it doesn’t necessarily have a belief component to it”

– Parents “go in and out of how spiritual they feel at any given moment”

– “I don’t feel like I know enough about the universe to say there’s definitely no such thing as a higher power… I barely know what’s happening inside my own house most days”

– “My instinct is as a secular jew”

– “There are people who know more than I do… I believe in expertise… I also believe in humility”

07:53 What Matters?

– Regardless of whether there is a universal being… we do have knowable duties… to those who can feel happiness and those who can suffer”

– “The hard part is figuring out what those duties are and how they exist in a practical sense”

– “What difference does it make… if there’s some sort of universal being… you should act in a good way regardless”

– The #torah  story of Abraham and Isaac “where god does tell Abraham to kill his son… that’s not a story about ‘you must be good’ that’s a story of ‘you must follow my instructions'” #Divinecommandtheory

– JW: “We can have a hope that god might be benevolent… but if they’re not we still have to do what we’re told”

– Naturalistic #epistemology and/or #ontology

– “In Judaism we don’t have hell… it’s mostly ‘you’ll just really disappoint your mother'”

– Morality, amorality and immorality

– Moral foundations, #moralrealism or #antirealism

– #Psychopath and #Sociopathy JW: “even they can find an intellectual path to not harming others”

– JW: “Almost everybody has something you can start with… cares about their mother or their children or their friends… starting with the values they already hold… working with that… consistency”

21:20 Who Matters?

– “I’ve been #vegetarian since I was six years old… I made the connection between the animals I enjoyed spending time with and what was on my plate… at that point it just became unthinkable to keep eating them.”

– “My husband… who doesn’t share that same moral impulse… what do the normies think?”

– The animal welfare world: “Even in that world there’s a lot of inconsistency – animal shelter events will serve meat… director eats meat… staffers eat meat… supporters eat meat… and I’m not #vegan – I’m vegetarian… we’re all full of contradictions”

– “It’s a brutal world with lots of cruelty in it and that’s sort of how it is”

– The indirect harms of modern life (both to other humans and to non-humans)

– JW: “…a radical difference between someone not being paid as much as they should be… and what happens in animal agriculture where the beings themselves are actually turned into the product and consumed… treated in ways that are directly, viciously and intrinsically brutal…”

– JW: “In some of those human exploitation cases the individual might not want us to #boycott those products”

– “One of the reasons I enjoy working in the animal space… I do feel like there are some clear moral lines”

– Working with companion animals and shelters “that’s not actually that hard… we can see how to solve the problems” vs. addressing animal agriculture or wild animal suffering

– #Anthropocentrism & beyond… companion animals (& breeds)… animals in farms… “factory” to all farms… “meat” to “exploitation”… free-ranging animals…

– “In a way it’s easier when you’re really young… you’re open to different ideas”

– Parents with typical attitudes to animals: “like dogs a lot…”

– A family friend “an old school vegetarian… she didn’t have kids so didn’t know not to talk to me like an adult… when I talked to her about being a vegetarian she was very straightforward with me… I just loved animals… she was the one who helped me put it together”

– Telling parents “I didn’t want to eat meat… they were so great about it”

– Later stopping eating chickens. Eating fishes while living on a Pacific island

– “I do believe fish are sentient and… care about their own existence… the fishing industry is horribly destructive… cruel and cataclysmic… and yet I still eat a little bit of fish… even though I don’t live on a Pacific island anymore”

– “I guess even calling myself a vegetarian any more is controversial… but it’s so deeply engrained in my identity that I still think about myself that way”

– Cows who escape from slaughter “suddenly everybody cares about this cow?”

– Getting people to care about the thousands of dogs in shelters across the US vs. the one dog that has a story about them go viral

– The frustration of vegans when non-vegans are so selectively outraged at animal exploitation or harms. Hypocrisy

– “I don’t think that anyone has ever been persuaded by being yelled at and being told that you’re a terrible person for caring about ‘this horse’ or ‘this cat’… they’re having normal feelings”

– “We have so many delicious plant-based foods now – it’s not like it was 40 years ago… the options are good for everybody”

– Brian Kateman’s reducetarianism “I guess is this is because I’m a namby-pamby incrementalist and an animal welfare person instead of an animal rights person… this puts me in a heated position in a lot of our types of circles”

– “Make it easy and make them feel welcome and make them feel happy to be a part of this… the way to get more of what we’re hoping for”

– “They feel that nausea (over individual animal stories)… we feel the nausea over more of it… we’ve thought about more of it… it’s horrible to have this torture swimming around in your head… but we’ve chosen this for ourselves.”

– “You don’t know which stories will hit”… Stories about activists bearing witness at a slaughterhouse “for a while it did change his behaviour”

– The risks of welfarism, incrementalism and reducetarianism. JW: “A future situation… where we’ve basically got an even larger animal agriculture industry but we’ve successfully re-branded it as humane and sustainable”

– JW: Maintaining the ethical clarity of seriously considering the victims’ perspectives and the end goal (of ending exploitation) – whatever activism strategy we might think is best

– “When I was a little kid it wasn’t the horror of it that drove me to change it was love that drove me to change”

– “There is so much suffering… the animals and the people too.” Being reluctant about causing more suffering by showing suffering vs. “giving people the opportunity to feel good about what they’re doing”

– Vystopia “what it’s like to live in a society that thinks this is normal” vs. the positives of feeling freed and making a compassionate change

54:30 A Better World?

– “I will take the steps we can get along the way… I don’t think that it should end the fight… as horrific as the industry is if we can make it so that the pigs can stand up and turn around… it’s still egregiously awful but it is one step better… and I think if you ask the pigs… they would rather be able to turn around.”

– “I believe it’s not going to be too long… that we look back and just can’t believe that we allowed it to go on”

– JW: “People would not do it themselves… for a glass of milk or a fried egg… not just because of a disgust response but because ethically they wouldn’t do it”

– JW: “Technically this is a really easy problem to solve – we already grow four times more plants than all of the humans on the planet need to eat today… then when you add in the new technologies and the plant-based alternatives… we could see it happen pretty quickly”

– “These are solvable problems… I have to believe that technology and capitalism will help save us from these things… as terrible as capitalism can be it also offers a lot of consumery kinds of solutions…”

– “…will just help make these problems less about having to convince people that they need to adopt a whole new way of thinking about the world…”

– “People are busy… they’re trying to pay their rent…”

– The risks of ethical bypassing “if we make it just cheap, fast and easy… who knows what horror comes next… insect farms… octopus farms…”

– JW: “This is a weird thing to say given how few people are vegan… but the vast majority of humans… have a vegan ethic already… against needlessly causing the exploitation, harming and killing of non-human animals”

– Speaking at animal welfare conferences about the role of storytelling “storytelling has real power to bring people along… if you tell stories that are authentic and truthful and have some meaning to them… and also are emotionally resonant” Sadness, joy, humour, surprise…

– “It’s how we understand the world – through stories”

– “They make people identify with them [non-human animals] as creatures who have agency and have thoughts and have the will to live… are fighting for their lives and fighting to have a good life and I think we can all relate to that… We all want some freedom, we all want to be free of pain, we all want autonomy and love and a nice field to run around in… or a mud pit to wallow in.”

– JW: “We shouldn’t have to humanise to care…”  The positives and negatives of anthropomorphising. Instead sentientising (recognising their sentience)

– “And caring for your offspring… another type of story that people find resonant… fighting for their offspring”

– The films Gunda and Cow. Trying to tell stories from the perspective of non-human animals

– Scope neglect. Individual stories vs. statistics… “I think it’s really hard because systems feel really overwhelming”

– “You have to offer people hope and a way to help… something that they can do that feels attainable and that feels meaningful”

– Arin’s book “Your Robot Dog Will Die” “There’s a love for dogs and a love for animals that runs through the whole thing”

– Robot Dog being optioned for a potential animated series

Marc Bekoff and Jessica Pearce Sentientism episodes

01:15:20 Follow Arin


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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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