Activists should go to politics – interview with Kim Stallwood

Kim Stallwood is an animal rights advocate, author, independent scholar, and consultant. He is co-founder of the Animals and Society Institute. He has been an editor of different magazines of animal rights, including The Animals’ Agenda, is a former executive director of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, campaigns officer for the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection, and national organizer for Compassion in World Farming. He serves on the board of directors of the Culture and Animals Foundation, which was established by the philosopher, Tom Regan, and his wife, Nancy, in 1985.

I met Kim Stallwood couple of years ago during animal rights conference in Sweden. And I saw wisdom – I really think that he knows what he is talking about, been in a movement for so long time.

To know more about him and AR history – I strongly recommend to read his book – “Growl: Life Lessons, Hard Truths, and Bold Strategies from an Animal Advocate.”

So, how it was to be a vegan in 70ties?

I get this question so often lately, so I have to think what to answer… Maybe it is to do with the fact that veganism is coming so mainstream. But it was difficult, even to be vegetarian was difficult – but not impossible. Biggest difference was that there was no internet and access to the information was limited. In Vegan Society was basic information available if you asked them to send the information and they also sent magazine four times a year, some leaflets and maybe there was a local group. There was a vegan festival and some animal rights events. In 1970-80 I helped to found Coordinating Animal Welfare, we made bulletin every two months – simple publications, printed by hand. We held meetings in London for networking, talking about menus, places to eat. And we relied upon these meetings, mailings, drinking in the pub after demos. We just didn’t have internet which has made so big difference now. Given that – there should be so much more vegans than there are. There are so many products in supermarkets, meals made ready etc. But in 70ies there was Holland & Barrett, a chain of health food and the only place to get plant milk was Plamil. You had to open the tin, fill the tin with water and then stir. And it didn’t taste like milk at all…. In restaurant all you could it was green salad and baked potato or French fries.

And did it later got better because of these people who wanted more health food?

No, because of growing animal rights movement and vegans.

At the moment you are an independent scholar. What does that mean and what are your interests?

Well, I can’t call myself academic. I moved back to live in England in 2007, I didn’t want to be a director anymore or do projects, so I called myself an author but I want to build bridges between animal studies and animal advocacy. Maybe, if I would have known all this what I know now, I would have been political theorist or maybe lawyer. And I have an advice for younger activists – pro animal organizations are not very healthy places to work – for several reasons. Many organizations are founded by motivated people but they are not effectively built. So, go to university, be a lawyer, a philosopher, a veterinarian and be an AR activist then – professionally.

Is it a same kind of suggestion you gave in London Vegan Fair this year; animal rights should go to the politics?

Main point I made there was need of animal rights to understand mainstream political issues – we do a lot of work on encouraging individuals to make lifestyle choices, we persuade transformation moment to other people and it’s very important but my point was to get animal rights people to get elected to became MPs and political counsellors, to be educated and committed in politics.

You said that pro-animal organizations maybe sometimes be unhealthy places to work. Don’t you think sometimes they are also kind of merciless?

Yes, sometimes people use animal rights issues to behave unprofessionally, even to abuse others. Some activists can’t be over misanthropy. This field is so different of other social justice campaigners – we are talking about interactions between different species.

You are talking about Misanthropic Bunker in your book, let me quote you: “If only every pro-animal group exclusively promoted veganism, we’d achieve animal liberation much sooner. We must abolish the property status of animals before anything else. We should set free all the cats and dogs imprisoned in animal shelters if their only future is a cage or death by euthanasia. Democracy has failed and illegal direct action is the only course to take.” Do you believe it yourself?

No. What I wanted to say is that some animal advocates have created this kind of ideology but I don’t agree with these. We shouldn’t narrow down our goals.

So, we can’t be dogmatic?

Yes and no. Dogma doesn’t mean to be a negative thing. We can live ourselves like the world already is like we want it to be. And we have to work in the context of society, see for what changes is the society ready.

Do you know that I have quoted you about effective altruism in my blog, I don’t remember from where I found it but do you think still think so? “Effective altruism is a neoliberal response to social justice. It transforms social justice into a tool of capitalism. Effective altruism makes social change money. This is not a system change. It’s about making the bad a little less bad and therefore ineffective.”

I had forgotten saying this and was even quite impressed with it! More seriously, it’s clearly an idea that needs further development. The linking of effective altruism with capitalism and market forces is a very interesting one—specially with its relationship to social justice advocacy. But I can understand an argument in effective altruism but I find it problematic because I don’t see myself as utilitarian advocate. I see myself as a combination of rights based advocate and ecofeminist. I find in troubling then people argue that we shouldn’t worry about all animals. It excludes individuals who need help, some animal organisations who are unworthy of support. I think it is discriminative.

Do you think it is a phase or what, should we worry about this effectiveness?

I don’t think it is a phase, it should be criticised and challenged and effective altruists should be campaigning for insects because there are so many of them.

You have written one good book, will there be another?

Maybe Growl gets a follow up one day – hopefully. I am a consultant, this gives me income and possibility to write. I am writing a book about Topsy, the elephant, telling her life story within a larger picture; what would happen to her if she has lived today. Are their life better then they were hundred years ago.

I know that you read a lot. Can you give some recommendations?

Zoopolis by Kymlicka and Donaldson is very interesting. For two reasons. First two chapters about animal rights are very good. And it makes a political argument for animals in interesting way – animals as citizens.

I can also recommend a novel: The Tiger of Malgudi by R K Narayan. It is a lovely story about a tiger who is caught and goes in zoo and circus and a spiritual leader rescues him. I think this novel is enlightening in ethics.

And one more, by Olga Tokarczuk who recently got Nobel Prize. It’s called “Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead” and is very well written – through elderly women who lives in woods, couple of her dogs disappear and she blames her neighbours who are later found dead. It’s an interesting book within this narrative our relationship with animals.

Is the world different in 20 years?

I would like to believe in 20 years of time, intensive animal agriculture has collapsed. It’s not sustainable. I think that there will be animal related sickness amongst population, so they eat less meat or “better quality meat”. And we may see in animal testing the development of non-animal technology is actually more effective and cleaner and cheap.

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