Q. Rational argument has not ignited revolutionary
change that you had hoped for. The AR Movement has certainly
challenged the way in which the human species thinks in all
its hypocrisy. In a most definite way that attitude of "Me
first" still prevails. Can you comment on this please?
A. To some extent I don't want to be quoted as
saying that rational argument hasn't had any effect. I think
we are (mostly) rational beings and rational argument does
move people to action particularly when it gets them to see
that what they are doing is inconsistent with other beliefs
that they have and other values that they have that are
important to them. But it is also true that we are
self-interested beings to some extent. That's part of our
nature and you can't get away from that, so I think that is
one of the reasons why we haven't made as much progress as we
would have liked. If we put a rational argument in front of
people, some are moved by it a lot of the way, it moves others
a little bit of the way and some people just shrug it off
because it is too much against what they want to do.
Q. Arguably the only thing that has sent a shiver
down the spines of vivisectors of the last decade or so has
been the actions of the ALF. You have said that you don't
support the small, marginal side of our Movement that embraces
this form of direct action. If you're prepared to take such an
absolutist stance then you would also have to condemn the
actions of the French Resistance in WW2 against Nazism and the
concentration camps for the Jews?
A. I don't think there is any logical connection
between the two.
Q. Well I don't know if the animals would agree with
you on that one.
A. You and I both know that the animals will not be
able to assess that question. The difference between the
situation of the French Resistance and our own situation – and
I write about this in my very first book, Democracy and
Disobedience, is that we live in a society which is in some
sense a democracy, that is a society that allows opposition,
allows people to make statements contrary to the views of the
government and has some procedures in place – whatever they
might be – for actually changing things or whether you live
under a tyranny or a dictatorship that locks you up and shoots
you if you dissent, or one that allows you to try to persuade
your fellow-citizens that you are right, is relevant to what
forms of resistance you are justified in taking.
Q. I agree with you there but how many times does
the AR Movement have to get sand kicked in it's face before we
wake up to the fact that governments are not responding to our
demands for the animals. Two express examples spring to mind
here in Australia. The Egg labelling debacle of late and the
voting in by the vast majority of Ministers for keeping the
battery cage for another 20 years.
A. I don't think that you could conclude from that
that you cannot make changes in the usual political channels
because changes have happened through democratic political
channels. They have certainly happened in Europe where major
changes are under way in the farm animal industry and I think
the view that you are taking is really too short-term. I know
it's depressing to have to wait years and years for changes to
happen but changes have happened in other areas and I think
that they have improved the situation for animals. The
farm-animal issues that you are talking about are particularly
difficult ones to fight politically because farmers are
significant political constituents in the community but I
don't think that there is any better way. I mean you can point
to countries where important improvements for animals have
happened through democratic changes. I don't think you can
point to any country where violence against people has lead to
major improvements in the situation for animals.
Q. So are you against what's happening over in
England with the Huntingdon Life Sciences Campaign?
A. Well Huntingdon hasn't been closed. I don't think
you can point to that as a successful campaign.
Q. Nevertheless, it has certainly given the abusers
a run for their money quite literally. I think what the
Huntingdon situation shows is that we in the Movement are not
up against animal rights/welfare concerns but up against the
massive corruption engendered by global corporatism and all
that that implies.
A. As I have said, there are imperfections in the
democratic process. Those are important issues that you have
to grapple with whether you are concerned about animals or
concerned about the environment, Fair Trade issues or whatever
else they might be. These are huge issues but what are we
saying here? What are the alternatives to the methods that I
have supported and endorsed and that people like Henry Spira
have used with good effect? I don't think there is any
evidence that violence is a way to change this and I think
that if you look at what happened a few weeks ago in Genoa,
the vast majority of people who went to Genoa to peacefully
and non-violently protest against corporatism and so on – I
think most of these people were extremely upset and yet it was
a minority that caused the violence at these events.
Frustrating, as things are the way we're going, there's no
basis for saying that we will do any better by
Q. Feminist analysis has addressed social theory by
dealing with some issues on a subjective basis. By that I mean
dealing with a particularised-situational response that
considers context and history in the equation. This is
basically what you are saying about your views on euthanasia
isn't it? Your view is designed to reduce the power of the
State and allow parents to make crucial life and death
decisions – both for themselves and in consultation with their
doctors. Is that a fair assessment?
A. That would certainly be a fair assessment of what
I am saying about Euthanasia in the case of disabled new-borns
and infants. I'm simply saying that you have to look at the
consequences of what you are doing and the consequences will
vary according to the views of the parents and the specific
Q. I wonder whether you, yourself have taken into
consideration the consequences not so much for or against the
moral argument of Euthanasia but the offshoot political
consequences from that. I mean to say would you like a
bureaucrat making a life and death situation on your life if
you were unable to make that decision yourself?
A. But that's exactly the reverse of what I'm
saying. Currently bureaucrats make the decisions preventing me
or my loved ones or my doctor from doing what I would want. So
the present situation is that bureaucrats decide and they
decide that I basically have to go on living unless I find a
doctor who is prepared to break the law. What I want is the
reverse of that – I want the power of the bureaucrats to be
Q. What are your views on stem cell research
especially with what's going on in the States at the
A. The issue in the States that concerns President
George W Bush is the fact that embryos would be destroyed to
produce a wider, more diverse, more useful range of stem cell
lines than is currently in existence. To strike a middle
position on the issue he has come up with a rather
uncomplimentary compromise of saying you can use the existing
cell lines, and claiming that there's 60 of them, but no
scientist that I've heard of is aware of that. Quite a few of
them turn out to be owned and patented by various
corporations. What Bush has done is lock in their profits in a
very neat package by saying that no one else can now produce
their own stem cell lines. Certainly this means that research
will evolve faster in Britain and possibly Australia, as they
don't have such prohibitions placed upon them.
I don't see a problem with the use of embryos. They are
clearly not sentient beings. Just because they are biological
members of the species Homo Sapiens doesn't give them the
right to live. Bush has come out and said something like ...
"I value medical research but you can't push ahead
irrespective of ethical costs". He said that thinking about
the ethical costs for non-sentient single cell organisms. He
didn't apply the same logic to research that's going on with
rats, dogs, chimpanzees and so on. It's so obvious that that
is a far greater concern.
Q. Using human embryos for a bit of market research
is an example of not taking the political consequences into
account. The embryo might be non-sentient, but the mother is
not. I mean, what happens after the usual "embryo" source runs
out? Do we start "farming" embryos and justify it much the
same way as we justify "farming" animals today for market
research. Is nothing sacred any longer?
A. You are suggesting that the use of embryos to
create stem cells will be the first step down a slippery
slope, but I'm not sure what you think the bottom of that
slope will be.
What's so bad about researchers advertising for embryos? Is
it bad to advertise for sperm donations? Is it bad to
advertise for egg donations? Are you assuming that the
researchers are offering to pay large sums to obtain eggs and
embryos? If so, is it bad that people with few opportunities
to earn money will now have new opportunities available to
them? I am not saying that there is nothing wrong with any of
these practices, I am just asking what is supposed to be wrong
There are many assumptions to your question, and I think
you would need a lot more defence before I would regard them
as a reason for not permitting any research on human
Q. What Thomas Kuhn did for science (he wrote the
book "The Structures of Scientific Revolution") by
articulating new paradigmatic shifts within mechanistic
science (i.e. not more animal testing) I personally don't see
why revolutionary change can't be positive and creative. The
human species seems to only learn by being on the brink of
disaster (Mad Cow's Disease etc). Do you think this is some
kind of perversity of the human spirit that never learns by
A. I think it's too strong a word to call it
"perversity". Perhaps it's apathy; perhaps it's being a bit
inherently conservative. You know, thinking that the status
quo isn't too bad then we're better to muddle along with that.
From that it takes a major catastrophe to get people to see
that you've really got to do something about it.
Q. Correct me if I'm wrong but you once paralleled
the animal situation to the slave trade. All the other
liberation movements – women, gays and slaves – all won their
freedom of sorts by becoming economically viable, therefore
tolerated in the market-place. Will the Animal Liberation
Movement be the first Movement that wins on moral grounds
A. The parallel I made was essentially this: in both
cases there is a dominant powerful group, which essentially
defines itself as the repository of the highest moral worth
and of the highest values. It says that those outside of this
group are lower beings that can be treated as things, brought
and sold. Essentially seen as property. I've used that analogy
to try and get people to see that for us today animals have
that status and we think of ourselves as superior to them and
therefore as entitled to use them as a means to our ends. In
the same way that white slave traders did with Africans during
the slave era. Really what I'm trying to say is: reflect on
your own attitudes and ask yourself if you think that slavery
is wrong. If you do, can you really defend the attitude that
we have towards animals at present?
Q. What was your motivation behind reviewing Midas
Dekker's Dearest Pet: On Bestiality?
A. I was asked to review the book and I thought the
book raised some interesting questions and it was worth
Q. I think your motivation behind it had something
to do with your work on Darwinism. Is that correct?
A. No. I don't think it had anything to do with that
at all. It had to do with my broad interest in relations
between humans and animals, and the attitudes of humans to
animals. This book seemed to say something about that and to
say it by studying an area of human/animal interactions that
usually is considered a taboo subject.
Q. Yes but in that taboo-ness lie two important
factors. a) It's marginal, although probably more prevalent
than what any of us care to admit and b) It's already illegal
in comparison to say, factory-farming. So why go there?
A. Well as I say I was asked to review the book. My
interest in the topic was simply the extent of writing a short
review of this book. It's not something that I have ever
intended to make a major area of study or anything of that
sort but if someone asks me to review a book that has some
interesting things to say about humans and animals then why
Q. Karen Davis has said that your essay on
bestiality should encourage us to think about the manual
milking and artificial insemination of parent turkeys in
modern food production. When you see a man pushing a tube into
a turkey hen's vagina, and massaging a male turkeys genitals
to get him to ejaculate into the tube then the so-called
wholesome and upright "tradition' of Thanksgiving Day takes on
a completely different hew. She cites this as an example of
humanities bestial behaviour in areas normally considered as
sexless and innocuous. Would you agree?
A. Yes, we draw the lines in strange places. That's
what Karen's point is all about. Karen Davis and Ingrid
Newkirk made sensible comments about the article. Some other
people got a bit hysterical about it.
Q. Why with all our technology do you think that we
are unable as a species to solve our own problems like poverty
or wealth distribution?
A. That's a huge question but I think some of it
goes back to where we started. We are beings who are selfish,
we look after our own interests, and we focus on the interests
of family and close friends. So many of the problems that we
deal with need to be solved on a much larger scale – I mean a
global scale. The question of poverty is one of those.
Climatic changes and greenhouse gases is a classic example of
an issue that you can only solve on a global scale. And we
don't have the sort of concern for others that would make it
easy to solve that. I mean we have the understanding to solve
it but we lack the readiness to make sacrifices for the sake
of strangers in Bangladesh that would motivate us to solve
Q. You've been severely criticized by other
activists in the movement for your views. Take Gary Francione
for example. What do you think of his work?
A. Look, we've been at a meeting today at which
we've had people from a range of different groups talking
about the importance of working together. I think it was Hans
Kriek from NZ's SPCA who said about the sow stalls that we can
win this campaign because we are united and have actually
divided the pig producers – some are opposed to sow stalls,
others are not. And I think that that's really important that
we recognize who are people on the side of the animals and who
are the people who are the abusers and exploiters and are
making their living from that.
Gary, for all his intelligence, loses sight of that. He
devotes most of his energy and intelligence to attacking
people who are on the same side as him. I think that's a
Q. You also spoke today of the problem of
In-fighting in our movement.
A. That's right. I think we have limited resources
and energy. We are a small Movement and we can't possibly win
if we expend some of these resources and energy on fighting
against each other that are also opposed to animal
Q. So what your basically saying then is "Know your
A. Yeah, know who your real enemy is. That's the
Q. In "The Darwinian Left" you have called upon the
Left, much like the early Socialist Movement, to work upon a
new paradigm. Correct?
A. Yes but it's not a paradigm that's opposed to
Socialism. That's a very broad term anyway and means different
things to different people. It's a paradigm that I guess is
opposed to Marxist understanding of human nature. I think the
Left has assumed, generally speaking, that human nature is
sufficiently pliable so that if you change the economic
structure of society then you'll change the way that human
beings behave and I think that that's a mistake.
Q. Well it hasn't worked in any countries where it's
been set up anyway.
A. Exactly. If you look at various countries that
tried to set up Communist regimes, human nature did not change
and the same sorts of things emerged – struggles for hierarchy
and dominance and so on emerged so I think that it has to
essentially recognise that things are a little bit more
difficult than if they would be if human nature were that
flexible. They have to think about therefore trying to
understand human nature and make changes that are therefore
compatible with the way in which human nature is likely to
Q. If you look at the Left today in Australia
there's only one party and that's called "Business Interests".
For all the Left's rhetoric about exploitation why do you
think that they have never united on AR Issues, even if it was
only under the banner of a safe food supply?
A. Well it depends on whom you are talking about
"the Left". Certainly the Labor Party has moved very much
towards the Centre although there are elements of the Left in
the Labor Party. But if you look at the Greens they are in a
sense not the old Left sort of party but they incorporate a
lot of concerns that Left parties have and I think there's a
lot more support for the Animal Movement than there is in
either of the two major parties.
Q. Would you like to make a comment on your new book
Peter. I believe it was put together as a statement against
having been misrepresented by the media and people who have
not even bothered to read your work in full.
A. "Writings on an Ethical Life" is a collection of
my writings on the sorts of things that I've been working on
over the past thirty years. Obviously questions about animals
figure predominantly however among that, it's broader than
that. I put it together because I thought it was important
that people understand what I'm saying in my own words.
There's been a lot written about me that's tried to summarise
what I say. Sometimes it gets it more or less right; sometimes
it gets it pretty seriously wrong. I think that people need to
read it and understand it in the context to see where I'm
coming from. With "Writings from an Ethical Life" it's now
possible to do that in one volume rather than in several
So to arrive back at where we started and know that place
for the first time. Is Peter Singer a dangerous philosopher?
Undoubtedly he is still dangerous. Dangerous to the farmers,
the abusers, those that insist on maintaining the status quo
at all costs. When Singer spoke at OINK! The Animal Liberation
shop recently, somebody from outside through a steak into the
jammed-packed audience causing a minor scuffle while he was
speaking. Making change by encouraging a freer debate in a
"civilised" society can be dangerous sometimes. A lasting
impression of Singer is that he prizes the freedom of enquiry
above what personal cost to himself has been. And that cost
has been significant (i.e. death threats, hate-mail, security
guards etc). Does he enjoy pushing the envelope? That's for
you to decide.
Peter Singer is currently working on a book about
globalisation and poverty.