TR: “Well, “rights” are claims to protection
that we make regarding our most important goods: our life, our liberty, our
bodily integrity. The protection
of a claim, when we invoke our rights, is really very significant. We can illustrate
this by thinking about a couple of examples from the history of human vivisection,
that is, research that was done on human beings that was not intended to benefit
the subjects of
One is the famous Tuskegee
Syphilis Experiment, where American sharecroppers
were denied treatment for their disease (syphilis) even though the people who
were running the tests knew they had it. Even though they had the means of treating
it, they were interested in seeing what would happen to the sharecroppers if
they their condition went untreated. The second example is the Hepatitis
Research that was conducted on retarded children, during which the children
virus, and in half the cases a treatment
rationale in both cases is the same, and it’s really pretty simple. The
rationale is that a few will be deliberately endangered, in the hopes that many
will benefit. And the point is, that when the rights we claim as protection (our
right to life, liberty, and bodily integrity) are meant to protect us from this
kind of abuse. The rights of the individuals are not to be violated so that others
might benefit. In representative democracies, like the one we live in, these
rights are recognized (at least in the case of human beings). In our country
we’re appalled that the Syphilis study was being conducted, we’re
appalled that the Hepatitis study was done. We think it’s wrong and violative
of the rights of the individuals involved.
So the “Animal Rights Debate,” if we could put it in those terms,
really does come down to asking the question whether the same fundamental rights,
the same fundamental protection that we claim and justifiably claim for ourselves,
can be claimed on the behalf of other
animals. That’s what the debate is about, because if animals have these
rights, then of course we can’t violate them in the hopes that we might
is this considered so controversial? It seems to provoke
amount of emotion on both sides of the fence."
TR: "Well, part of it is that if other animals
have the same rights that we have, then there's some sense in which we are
I think the idea that
human beings are equal to dogs, cats, hogs, horses.... some people find either
absurd, ludicrous, or offensive. It seems like it is something that takes
away from being human. Some people I think are upset about this and insecure
MS: "But you're not saying equal in every sense, right? In your book you
mention "voting" and
the example you use is that a child cannot vote."
TR: "I think that it's very important to understand
the kind of equality that's being claimed. If we just take the case of human
beings, when we claim
our equality, it's clear that we're not saying that we're all equally smart,
because a few are much smarter than the rest of us, or that we all have the
same artistic or athletic abilities, for example. Or that we all belong to
species, because the fact that we belong to a particular species just doesn't
carry any moral freight. It doesn't
answer any moral questions.
What I think makes us equal, as I'm saying in a way far simpler than these
other sorts of answers, and is that each of us are is in the world and we're
world. Each of us is aware of what happens to us, and each of us is aware
that what happens to us matters to us.... it makes a difference in the quality
our life, regardless of our intelligence, regardless of our athletic or artistic
abilities. So, it's in this respect that I talk about
being a "subject-in-a-life."
That's what all members of the human family protected by the rights that
I have enumerated, what we all fundamentally have in common, is that we are
subject of this life, aware of what happens to us, what happens to us matters
to us. Our equality lies in its shared subjective presence in this world.
We're equally subjectively present in the world. Doesn't mean each of knows
or remembers as much, but that it's the kind of being we are... that's what
makes us the same."
MS: "One of the things that intrigued me in your book, is that right up
front you deal with this issue
of how "animal rights advocates" (which you call ARAs) are deemed
'extremists' or 'practioneers of extremism.' Can you summarize how you
approach clearing up
TR: "'Extremism' is an ambiguous concept because
it can mean different things. On the one sense, an extremist will not stop
anything to achieve the
end being sought, so that he paradigm case here would be the men who flew
the jets into the World Trade Center. They were will to give up their lives
order to further their aspirations, and a lot of people think of that as
idea that you would actually give up your life to achieve some goal, that's
going too far.
On the other hand, to some, 'extremism' can mean that you have a position
that is unqualifiedly opposed to something.
In this sense, you can say, "are you against rape some of the time, most
of the time, or all of the time?" "Well, I'm against rape all of the
time." Well, then you're an extremist when it comes to rape: you have an
unqualified moral opposition to it. Or extremist when it comes to child abuse, "are
you against child abuse some of the time, most of the time, all of the
MS: "I thought was fascinating, in your book, when you first talked about
I was skeptical that there could be any "unqualified moral opposition" to
something. You really nailed the concept."
TR: "The point then, is that everybody I know,
is an extremist in the second sense. That is, everybody I know has unqualified
moral beliefs and moral opposition
to certain kinds of behavior, like the abuse of the elderly or children,
rape. But that doesn't mean that you're an extremist in the first sense.
you are going to go to any means to achieve your objective. On the contrary,
you can be very restricted in the kinds of means you are prepared to approve
of to achieve your
So what happens, I think, is that the people who's business is it to try
to paint a negative portrait of animal rights advocates [ARAs], the people
lots of dollars to get up in the morning and get this negative story out
out us, what they do is present us as 'extremists' and they play on the
ambiguity of it, with the idea then in the public's mind that ARAs
are willing to do anything."
MS: "You mention in your book how they promote these
concepts, that ARAs are misanthropic, that all they care about
is being "kind" to animals.... you've seen this kind of stuff
for years, haven't you?"
TR: "Oh yes, this is not an accident. Actually,
if you look at it historically, in the history of anti-vivisection, you
can go back
well into the 19th century
and find some of the same rhetoric. Although back then, the objective of
the people who were defending vivisection was to paint all those who oppose
as being irrational, emotional, and women... or emotional and irrational
were controlled by women and insecure about their manhood..."
TR: "... that was the boilerplate of the rhetoric of the 19th century. But,
what we do know, in 1989, is that the American Medical Association [AMA] wrote
a white paper called "Use of Animals in Biomedical Research: The Challenge
and the Response" about how do we combat the Animal Rights movement.
Among the two basic themes to come out of the paper were that they had
the ARAs as people with no respect for science, no respect for reason...
illogical, irrational, emotional.... they were people willing to destroy
property, they were, in a word,'terrorists.'
The second part of the portrait, was that ARAs were trying to take people's
freedom away. If you look at what happened from the publication of the
AMA's white paper
forward, you find all the industries spewing out the same rhetoric. The
American Fur Council, the people in charge of the hog industry, the poultry
the circus... everybody said the same thing: ARAs are irrational, emotional,
CAMPAIGN AGAINST ARA
was stunned reading about this in your book and went
to some of the websites you referenced. The concerted
independent groups, was just amazing. It's like somebody faxed them the
talking points for
a political campaign."
TR: "It IS a political campaign. That's just
it. These people, in my respectful opinion, are not interested in truth
in profits. I mean,
these people are not only interested in maintaining the status quo in
terms of the financial viability of their enterprise, they want to grow
they grow it is to paint their critics with a broad brush to try to render
MS: "Do you think their fear of ARAs is just business or that people
will believe what's being said? That people will discover their truth?
conscious of this?"
TR: "I'm not sure whether there is an anxiety or not whether people will
discover the truth, because I'm not sure what the people in these industries
think of themselves. They might very well think that what they're saying is true.
But what I think is that they are insecure, they are anxious, they are concerned,
they are worried, that people will believe what animal rights people believe.
And that will make a difference to how commerce gets done. That will make a difference
as to which businesses succeed and which fail. Look, if 99% of Americans believe
believe about, the fur industry would go "bottoms up." So there's
got to be some anxiety here, some concern that people don't believe what
go into great detail about how the public is "relentlessly fed negative
images" about ARAs, and I was struck by the similarity with meat and dairy
industries, the pharmaceutical industry, and the oil & carbon club.
It seems like these industries have developed this plan or method that
of building these slick websites, putting out one-sided fact sheets for
lazy journalists, fostering these journalists (of which you write about),
basically attacking people who are trying to effect positive change.
I just didn't realize
the degree to which this is going on in the animal rights movement."
TR: "One way to gauge the strength of the
AR movement is by considering the company it keeps. The company that
adds up being all progressive
movements throughout the world. Anytime you have people trying to challenge
industry practices, government practices, you're going to have a cadre
of well-paid, well-heeled
professionals who have great talent and great resources to put out a
bad story about it. The basic theme is to 'attack the messenger' and
They don't address the message; they just attack it."
MS: "Another major point you make
is that these animal industries distill a myriad of issues into
a simple dichotomy: "animal welfare moderates" versus "animal
MS: "And this is
a key element of their campaign?"
TR: "It's a very key element, and it comes out of
that white paper from
the AMA, where they say that we have
create this dichotomy, and we have to say "we, the AMA, are on the side
of animal welfare," which is a wonderful moderate position to have
against these animal rights extremists.
And, I must say that.... what I think I had done for awhile in my life,
was to concede to the major animal industries that they were indeed on
animal welfare and we're against my position on animal rights. But, what
I try to do in the book, is to teach that these people are not really
animal welfare when they "say" that they
are. They "say" that they're for responsible care, they "say" they're
for humane treatment, they "say" that they're looking out for the welfare
of animals. But if I don't do anything in "Empty Cages," what I do
is I think prosecute the case, the conclusion of which, is "these
people don't do anything like they say."
MS: "You've coined the term "Disconnect
Dictum" referring to these industries and the treatment of
animals. Can you expand on this?"
TR: "Sure.... what I mean by that, is there's a disconnect between the meaning
of what they say and the actual things they
do. I'll just talk about "humane" for example. "Humane" is
a word; it has a meaning. You can look it up. You can go to the dictionary. "Showing
mercy and kindness.... consideration and sympathy." That's what it means
to be in favor of humane treatment, and who could be against that? Everyone's
for being humane to other human beings and to other animals. So, we go and look
at people in biomedical research, for example, saying, "we support the humane
care and responsible use of animals." So "humane" means they're
going to show kindness, they're going to show mercy, they're going to show sympathy,
they're going to show compassion. And then you say "well, what do
they actually do?"
Well, what they do is they blind animals, they crush their limbs, they
crush their organs, they subject them to radiation, they deprive them
they deprive them of food, they drown them, they burn them.... how in
can any of this be "humane?"
MS: "It's incredible.... I looked at the websites of some of these organizations,
and they're all using
the term "humane!"
TR: "Oh yes, they all say the same thing."
the same phrase... again and again."
TR: "There's a mantra. It's almost like a
religion, if you know what I mean, in the sense that you have a certain
ritual involves incantations
of various words... I mean it's like going to church, in a way. You go
from one website to the next and they're saying the same thing, observing
so to speak."
MS: "When you read some of the descriptions of the treatment of animals
in your book, and
then go to these websites and see the word "humane," it's
is why I feel that part of the strength of "Empty
Cages" is that, if
has strength, it's the cumulative effect that this has on the reader. Because,
you can say "well, maybe the fur industry does it," or "well,
maybe the veal people, "maybe the pork..." It's just that everybody
does it. It's the shear accretion of these self-indicting, self-righteous descriptions
of what they do, on the one hand, compared to what they do on the other, that
I hope will finally, for a skeptical reader, will say "aha... I'm
going to take another step on my muddler's journey. I'm going to move
bit here, because this is unbelievable."
THREE TYPES OF AWARENESS
MS: "You likened it all to a court case,
where it takes a lot of evidence, and not one single fact to understand
you used a term
here that we should probably define. In your book you write about three
types of people, as you see it, and how they
gain an understanding of "animal consciousness."
TR: "I known some people, that who, from a really early age, once they understood
that a lamb chop came from a lamb, they couldn't eat lamb..... because they just
had a sense of kinship and friendship with other animals. It's a gift they bring
with them, as it were, they don't have to be convinced to feel this way, or persuaded
to feel this way, or argued into going this way. They just are this way. For
them, they have this boundless compassion for other animals, that they bring
and I call these people the "Da Vincians," because for all
we know about Leonardo
da Vinci was that he was like this, from an early
throughout his life.
Then there are people who aren't like that, they're just kind of ordinary
people, but some dramatic event happens in their life that changes how
they see animals
in a really fundamental life-altering way, and I call them the "Damascans" after
Saul on the way to
Damascus where he encounters Jesus and is transformed. So
the big detractor of Jesus becomes the greatest apostle [Paul] of Jesus. And
I've known people who've had dramatic events that changed their lives in the
blink of an eye. I give some examples of these people in the book.
knew this older German activist who was in Berlin
during the 2nd World War, who came up
after a terrible bombing raid, and here comes a horse running down
this cobblestone street, and I can kind of hear the
clatter of this heels of this horse as he
comes running at this boy (he was 10 years old at the time). The horse
is on fire from nose to tail, must have gotten ignited
petroleum, and he runs past
the young boy, and looks him in the eye, and says "what have I
done to deserve this? Why aren't you helping me?"
MS: "It was very striking when I read this... I've seen some of
Howard's documentary (still in final editing), which you're in, and
this WWII story
reminded me of those pigs in the factory farm, looking into the camera
and asking the
same question as the horse."
TR: "I agree, and I must say that one of the features about a lot of these
Damascan experiences of people is an eye-to-eye contact with another animal.
of this realization that "Omigod, there's somebody behind there.""
TR: "...so there are these people who have
a life-altering epiphanies, and there are the rest of us who were not
in the genes, there
isn't anything revolutionary that happens, we just find ourselves on
a journey. We read something, or see something, or talk to somebody.
Well, what is Merino
wool? Or some question we ask... and then what happens,
is that question gets answered, and it leads to another question. Then
we meet people, and then we have experiences. We seem some files or videos,
some books. We maybe go to a slaughterhouse.... we're on this journey.
for a lot of us, a day dawns, and we look in the mirror, and we see an
animal rights advocate."
MS: "Those three types seem similar to the terms of spiritual,
emotional, and mental."
TR: "Yes, they are very similar. I don't think
that this typology is unique to animal rights advocates, I think that
lot of people became active
in the civil rights
movement for the same reasons.
So, it ends up that's what I think muddlers are... My book, as you know, is dedicated
to muddlers everywhere because I don't think my book has the power to bring about
some instantaneous life-altering experience for somebody. I mean, it'd be wonderful
if it'd be true, but I don't think so.
it affected me."
TR: "Obviously the Davincians don't need it, they already go it. The people
who need what I have to give, to the extent that there's something I've given,
are the muddlers. I'm just hoping... I have to believe, that the world is just
full of muddlers, and the great challenge that our animal rights movement faces
is to attract them to activism, to attract them to becoming involved in the movement.
And that's really why I wrote the book. I wrote the
book as a "recruitment manual" for the animal rights movement."
MS: "How does the concept of
a biography not a biology fit into this debate?"
TR: "The central question in the animal rights debate is whether any other
like us being "subjects-in-a-life," whether any other animals are in
the world, aware of the world, aware of what happens to them, and what happens
to them matters matters to them. That's the fundamental question, and the answer
to that is "yes," then we have made the case for "animal rights," in
MS: "Essentially, you're adding on to what Jeremy
Bentham said about
the question being not whether they can reason or talk, but whether
adding something bigger onto this."
TR: "I am. What I'm trying to get at, is that
there is somebody who is suffering, not only there is suffering occurring,
is an ongoing individual that has
an identity over time. There is this subject of a life, rather than a
life without a subject. That's what's crucial. Suffering is relevant,
so is being able to act on your own without being forced to do so. There
are lots of things
that don't reduce the suffering to anything relevant."
MS: "Where were you
TR: "I was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania,
to a blue collar hard-working family. We lived in a neighborhood with
class, with many different
races and religions... it was a melting pot community. Right near major
major railroads, twelve tracks... a hub... just a heavy industrial world,
only animals I knew then when I was growing up, we had cats and dogs
in our house.
I'm so old, that when I was growing up they had horses that would pull
carts for the junkmen who'd come around and collect junk, for the icemen
come around and carry ice. I knew those horses... I knew the cows and
I saw going to slaughter on the railroads and trucks. Basically I just
had a very
very small window of experience when it came to other animals. I was
blind to who they were, and deaf to what they said."
you had a good childhood?"
TR: "Oh yes, my parents were extremely hard-working
and consensus, very good to both my sister and myself. I loved living
in the grime and dirt of industrial
Pittsburgh. They did not love it, and when I was fifteen years old, we
moved from the neighborhood that was dear to me to the suburban world...
changed my life. If I had stayed in industrial Pittsburgh, I would have
never have gone
to college, because people didn't go to college, you went to work. I
would have graduated high school and gotten a job in a mill or a mine.
what I would
have done, that's the way it was. But when we moved, I made friends and
their parents were professional people --- they were educators, they
banks, with the newspaper, they were lawyers, and of course, they were
Their kids were all going to college. That's why I went to college. The
reason I went to college was that this is what all the kids in my classes
No one in my family had ever gone to college, on either my mother's or
you were the first..."
TR: "I would not have been the first, except for this development over which
I had no control. Then when I went to college
I tell this story about, "why did you become a philosopher?"
obvious next question!"
TR: "Right.... I went to college, and my teachers
in high school had told me that I was good at writing, and I thought,
well, I'll go and I'll study English
and be a writer. The problem was, that for me to major in English, I
had to take a full year of United States and Pennsylvanian History, and
History. I didn't like taking history. It happened that in my Judi year
in college, the college I went to, Thiel College, introduced for the
major. I looked at it carefully, and I found out to be a Philosophy major
I didn't have to take any more history.
That's why I majored in philosophy."
MS: (laughs)... "What did your father think
when you told him you were going to be a philosopher?"
TR: "(chuckling)... He didn't understand anything
about college. Believe me, it would not have made a difference to him
if I'd said I was going to be
a brain surgeon or a philosopher... that wasn't on his radar screen.
But then it happened that the most influential professor I had when I
he had done his graduate work at the University of Virginia, and so I
his path and went to the University of Virginia to study philosophy.
So that's really how I got into philosophy. Just a series
MS: "You had to work your way through
college, right? You had some interesting jobs?"
TR: "Oh yes, yes..."
were a butcher?"
TR: "I...(pause)... was a butcher... I mean
I sliced and diced, and packed, sawed... their cold flesh gave way to
I didn't find butchering
bloody, I found it bloody hard... it was hard work at times. I was so
blind to animal consciousness, that even when I had held the victim in
MS: "It must be shocking for you to look back
and realize how much you are a different person now."
TR: "Oh yeah, yeah... I
do say, often and sincerely, that if Tom Regan can become an animal
anybody can become
an animal rights advocate.
When I had the victims in my hand and I didn't see the victims... my
god, you can't
get any further back into the darkness than I was."