Mad Cowboy Interview 03: Dr. Tom Regan
(Part 04 of 04)


MS: "Back to your book.... okay, you make your case for animal rights, then you deal with additional misconceptions about animals rights/activists, and you do this quite concisely. Then you move on to the four main areas of how animals are being abused that are unacceptable. There are many interesting aspects to how you approached this, but I noticed you wrote topically in the order of "Food, Fur, Entertainment, and Tools." Did you choose this order for a particular reason?

TR: "Yes, I certainly did."

MS: "...the most acceptable to the least acceptable."

TR: "Yes, and also somewhat of a body count [largest to smallest]. Obviously, food is a big deal."


MS: "You cite some statistics I hadn't seen yet: 70% of the hogs slaughtered have pneumonia, 40% of the hamburgers sold come for discarded spent dairy cows..."

TR: "...that's why the opposition to the "Downer Bill," those coming in that were "downers" were dairy cows."


MS: "Just amazing.... then you go into "animals as clothes" which is a little less acceptable to some, but it seems to be getting ground. The statistics on the number of animals it took to make a coat floored me."

TR: "Well, that I got from "Friends of Animals." They did the arithmetic."

MS: "Sixty lambs to make one standard-sized coat. That's one of the ones I remember. I think those kinds of numbers and statistics are really important."

TR: "I can't tell you the number of ARAs who have said "Wow, I didn't know this [expletive deleted] about Merino Wool."

MS: "...not only what happens to the sheep physically in Australia, but then they're all shipped to the Mideast for mutton... and you describe how they're slaughtered."

TR: "..and of course, it's all "humane.""

MS: "Yup, I went to some related websites (following resource info on your website and in the book)... I was shocked. They talk about "humane slaughter."

TR: "You're not the first to be surprised. Animal Rights Advocates know where against wool for some reason, but most don't know why."

MS: "...I had no problem understanding about leather, but I thought wool was just a haircut."

TR: "It's not."

MS: "...and what you describe about minks is unbelievable."

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MS: "So, from "animals as clothes," you move into "animals as performers." I've noticed a growing awareness in the U.S., particularly with elephants, that they don't belong in zoos. We've seen elephants being taken out of zoos as they clearly were not happy. In your book, you do a great job of describing the abnormal behavior in psychological terms, and then again, there are those wonderful statistics. When you mention that a dolphin in the wild swims 40 miles a day, and then one thinks about a dolphin in a tank at SeaWorld..."

TR: "Can you imagine that?"

MS: "...man... and then you cite the range for lions was 150 square miles, and note that San Francisco is only around 50 square miles in size. They put these animals in these small spaces and they wonder why there's problems."

TR: "Especially when you put the facts out there about home range and elephants walking 50 miles a day [their home range can be over 1300 sq. miles], dolphins swimming 40 miles a day, and then you say, "wait a minute, this can't be where they belong, obviously." They have to pay a really serious price in terms of the depth of the deprivation, even though the folks who come forward they're all going to say the same thing, that they're treated humanely..."

In some sense, in the case of dolphins and perhaps, it's not like somebody's putting a torch to them or electrocuting them, although in the cases of performing animals in a circus we have really good evidence that they are doing really terrible things sometimes."

MS: "You cover that so well. I remember seeing some of Steve Hindi's (SHARK) footage of rodeos at one of the AR conferences, and thought I'd seen it all. Then you describe what really happens in "bucking." I don't want to give it all away here... but you talk about these macho cowboys roping, what you term as "babies," these calves that are only 4 to 5 months old?"

TR: "That's right."

MS: "..and the phrase you use "roping babies," that's really what they're doing!"

TR: "Here we have today's "brave cowboy." What a brave cowboy you are, buddy!"

MS: "...what a man you are... you can go out an rope a baby... and then you do a wonderful expose on greyhound racing, as well... "

TR: "... oh, what an abomination..."

MS: "I had no idea... and it's not well publicized, yet you mention that it's the sixth biggest recreational sport in our country."

TR: "Oh, it's a high revenue sport, that's for sure..."

MS: "..but what happens to these greyhounds is just incredible..."

TR: "And it's not just in America that it's a terrible tragedy... what happened to [hundreds of] greyhounds in Spain, if you remember, they hung them so their feet won't touch the ground.

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MS: "But, you are graphic in the book, but I noticed not to the extent that one would want to put the book down."

TR: "My whole policy all through the book was to not lose the reader. I wanted to have a conversation with people who are animal rights advocates, too, obviously, but especially with people who aren't who have this misconception of who we are, and why we are, and all this. I wanted to have a conversation with them. To have a conversation, you can't hit somebody over the head with a 2 by 4, it ends up that you're the only one talking and no one's hearing you."

MS: "... you also don't give me, as a reader, 15 pages of these horrific examples... I have been "overkilled" by some books, I think "okay, I've just read 10 pages about the detailed slaughter" you made your point 9 pages ago. However, you do provide significant information on the website, and if I need to read more, I can."

TR: "...that's what I meant about having a conversation. The idea always is that less is more. I know the motivation that goes like this: "that in order to get somebody to pay attention to what I'm saying, I have to tell say everything." But that's exactly the wrong way to get somebody to pay attention. If I try tell them everything, they're going turn off and tune out. They're not going to be part of the conversation. What you have to do is find some middle ground where you're saying something, oh, about Merino wool, they know where to go to find out more."

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MS: "In the last section about how animals are being used, as "tools" and for experimentation, is a difficult one. And you acknowledge that it was a tough one for you. What pushed you on this one? What made animal experimentation unacceptable to you, as it seems to be a major turning point in your life?"

TR: "It was. When I started writing "The Case for Animal Rights" in 1982, I was not an abolitionist when it came to animal research. My position was that we shouldn't do any research that caused unnecessary suffering to animals, which is kind of a standard middle-of-the-road position that people have. But as I worked through the arguments, and I thought "well, I can't believe that any longer... I have to give that up." And the reason I have to give that up, is that animals have rights, you can't justify taking their lives, injuring their bodies, stealing their freedom... because somebody else is going to benefit."

MS: "It is one of the hardest arguments to deal with, I would suspect, because it gets to some fundamentals, the issue of "can experimentation on one species be justified by the many more lives saved of another species." It's a loaded topic."

TR: "There are two positions to take here, and in the book I basically concentrate on one, and that is that animal have rights, they shouldn't be used this way, because the only way you can possibly justify it is that people benefit. And even if they do, that's not a justification for violating their rights. Their rights are trump.

But, on the other hand there's the question of human's benefit because of animal vivisection, the more reason we have not only to be skeptical, but actually to doubt then that, in terms of overall cost benefit analysis of vivisecting animals in the name of human health, longevity, vitality, it's been a significant contribution to public health. It's a delusion."

MS: "It's a toughie... my mother had polio, but after reading your book, I did some research and learned that at it's peak, there was only around 3000 cases per year. An ARA friend of mine told me that there may have actually been a six-year loss of time in figuring out the vaccine because the animal..."

TR: "...the misleading nature of animal subjects. There's a big controversy about the Salk Vaccine, and I do think that... well, it's hard for somebody who's not medically credentialed to make judgments about facts of scientific or biomedical methodology, we're standing outside the field. It seems arrogant of us to say,well, we know what's going on. I've always been tempered by that realization that I'm not a credentialed person, but what's really been encouraging to me is that, more and more, people who are credentialed, Americans for Medical Advancement, Physician's Committee for Responsible Medicine, those people, obviously, but people, like the equivalent of the U.S. National Institute of Health, in Britain saying "we're not sure of this way of doing research really benefits people."

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MS: "You really opened my eyes, though, and your summaries of the levels of abuse (human treatment!) as well as the numbers of animals involved, helped tremendously.

So, having covered these four areas, you postulate what I, as a reader leaning towards supporting animal rights more fully, might be concerned about. You called that Chapter "Yes, but...." You did a fine job of anticipating many questions that I had personally, but I wanted to ask you about the one that gets the most press. I think you know where this is going."

TR: "Yes."

MS: "..the issue of violence..."

TR: "I'm not a pacifist and, 99.99% of the people in the world are not pacifist. We all think that sometimes violence is justified; the question is when, under what circumstances. We can present a skeletor argument, that says, "look, suppose the innocent are at risk and suppose you've done everything you can to prevent a bad thing happening, but under the circumstances the only thing you can do to help the innocent, save the innocent, protect the innocent, is to use violence, and you use it in a proportionate way, you don't use it disproportionately. Then what?

I think that 99.99% of the people in the world are going say, "well then, reluctantly, I have to agree, if this is what you have to do." I give the example of trying to save some children who have been kidnapped by their estranged father who has kidnapped them who threatens to kill them. What are you going to do in a case like that? I don't think that 99.99% of the people say "well, whatever we do, we're not going to use violence." People aren't like that.

So, the issue then, I think, about whether violence is justified in name of animal rights, it's not an issue of principle, it's an issue of fact. The people who use it are part of that 99.99%, and the people disagree with them are also part of that. So, okay, you say that animals are the innocent. Yes, they are. Have you done everything you can to prevent using violence? And the ARAs who use violence say "Yes, we have." And the people like me who don't support that, are saying: "No, you haven't... you haven't even remotely done what needs to be done."

MS: "You make it clear in several places in your book that you do not support that violence."

TR: "No, I don't support it. We have not done remotely enough in an open democratic society."

MS: "I get the impression that the violence really helps those who want to give the public through the media a bad impression of animal rights advocates."

TR: "Oh, yes... not only does it play into their hands, but as I said in the book, and I'll say it clearly here, there's no question in my mind that there are people being paid the major animal exploiters who have infiltrated the Animal Liberation Front and other groups."

MS: "You give a great example where somebody hired somebody else to kill them.... I don't want to give it all away, but ..."

TR: "You'd have to be so politically naive to think that the FBI... the FBI identified the Animal Liberation Front and the Earth Liberation Front as the two major terrorist organizations in the U.S. I'm not making this up. Do you think that the FBI hasn't infiltrated these organizations? Do you think that they're not out there trying to encourage them to commit violent acts so that you can confirm, verify these are terrorist organizations?

My view is that anytime that ALF says that we've done something, or the ELF says we've done something, I always think "who was the driver?" My guess is probably somebody paid by the government or the animal abuser industries."

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MS: "I looked at your website, and it's fantastic. There's a wealth of information, factsheets, links, and essays. I also looked at the Tom Regan Animal Rights Archive, and was most impressed. I noticed there's a picture of you with President Carter there?

TR: "It happened when I was at the National Humanities Center as a Fellow there, and I was writing a book about philosophy and he came by."

MS: "You also established, with your wife, a foundation?"

TR: "It was roughly in the middle of the 1980s, and Nancy and I were thinking about where to go in terms of our activism. We looked around at the movement, and realized there's a hole in the movement! The hole in the middle of the movement was that we had great resources historically, in terms of our poets and our painters, our composers, our writers.... great resources. Nobody was promoting that, getting the word out about Plutarch, and Pythagoras, Leonardo, and others that were on our side. Nobody was trying to get that out, and at the same time, there was nobody who was supporting our contemporaries in poetry and painting and theater and music. Nobody was doing that and we thought: "Wow! That's a kind of activism."

I think I said this before, our goal, in a nutshell, was that animal rights advocates should be 'inside the theater performing' or 'outside the theater protesting.' That was the idea, was to take animal rights to a level within the culture where art and letters, theater.... is appreciated. So we worked at that for roughly the last 28 years, and we have funded hundreds and hundreds of "cultural activists" as we call them, in terms of both their research and performance. We've also hosted a festival every year (this will be our third)."

MS: "I noticed that there's also a grant application form on your website."

TR: "You asked me the other day about what I'd do with a million dollars, well we'd put a lot of it into the Culture and Animals Foundation so we could give more money away. What I know from my life as a writer and a scholar, is that if you give me chunk of free time, where I'm not encumbered by other responsibilities, I can create something. I know that, I've done that three or four or five times in my life, when somebody gives me that freedom. There's no reason to think that I'm unique or any way unusual. All creative people, what they need is time, so that they can work on whatever is they are working on. That's what the CAF tries to do for our cultural activists."

MS: "That's really important... it's a well-rounded approach that helps get rid of the view that activists are a bunch of people who yell a lot."

TR: "Absolutely. The whole point of the publicity arms of the animal abuser industries is to present animal rights with an ugly face."

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MS: "What's the future of the animal rights movement?

TR: "There are two really important challenges we face. The first challenge is: how do we attract more people to the movement? Because the movement isn't going to go anywhere unless we reach a critical mass, this kind of tipping point, where what we say and do makes a difference to what other people say and what they do. How do we attract new people? This book is my effort to that.

The second thing is, how do we keep old people in the movement? Because... the movement is like a revolving door. People come in, and then people go out. It's a great challenge we have amongst our leaders, especially, to keep people in the movement, to help people keep thinking that their presence, their contribution, what they're able to give is important. If people are not given this validation, not just once, not just twice, but when they wake up in the morning, they're going to leave the movement. The movement is a tough place for people to stay unless they get validated."

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MS: "I've seen a bit of the "Mad Cowboy Documentary" (in final editing), and in it you use this marvelous analogy about walls and equate it to the animal rights movement. Can you elaborate on this?"

"In a lot of my thinking, I think in pictures. And one picture I think of is where we are in terms of what's being done to animals, and I see it as a big wall, a gigantic wall. What we know tomorrow morning when we wake up, it's not like that wall is going to be gone. It's not like that wall is going to be toppled the next day, month, year, or years... in my lifetime. But what we can do is to identify some brick in that wall and say "let's get rid of that." So let's get rid of pound seizure, or let's get rid of puppy mills, or let's get rid of greyhound racing... let's get rid of keeping marine mammals in captivity... let's get rid of elephants, lions, and tigers in circuses. These are all achievable goals, they really are achievable goals, we can do this.... there's no question about that. But what it's going to take is collaboration and cooperation between major and national organizations."

I have this other picture I talk about where you sitting at your window in the winter time, and you feel the sun come through, it gives you warmth, and that's good. It's a nice feeling. But, if you take that same energy that's coming from the sun and put it through a magnifying glass you're going to start a fire.

What the animal rights movement needs to do through it's leadership, is to learn how to turn sunlight that warms, into sunlight that is combustible. Not that we're going to destroy property, but just that we're going to be focussed, so that our power is not diffused... our power is concentrated. And when that happens, that's when we'll see change. All the national organizations are competing for the same dollar. They're all trying to present themselves as doing the most important work. That's so they can get the dollars and go on with their work, but in terms of a political movement, what we need is much greater cooperation, much greater collaboration where we share the burden, share the benefits, and help the animals. And that's going to be a major focus of our Festival here in Raleigh in October."

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