Lecture in Melbourne on the environment and animal rights

I’m in Melbourne tomorrow evening, participating in a public forum exploring the potential for greater engagement between animal welfare and environment groups and issues.

The key part of the forum is a lecture by Peter Singer, a well-known and often controversial philosopher and ethicist.  He is perhaps most widely known for his work popularising notions of animal rights, but he has also written on a wide range of other topics, including what consideration we should give to the impact on the planet of how we live our lives.

For anyone in Melbourne who wants to come along, the lecture is free and open to the public. It is being held from 6.30pm – tomorrow night (Thursday 31st) at the University of Melbourne, in the Lady Theatre of the David Caro Building, near the corner of Swanston & Elgin Sts.  The event is organised by the Don Chipp Foundation, which I’ve been on the board of for a number of years.

Other people with a background in the environment and animal welfare movements will respond and give their perspectives on the issue

There are lots of opportunity for greater overlaps between the strands of animal welfare and environmental protection, but it should also be acknowledged that sometimes there are divergences. Greater accuracy in making the differing cases and clarity in the underpinning arguments can only be a good thing.  In my view, a bit more courage in promoting some of the less popular but often more urgent issues would also not go astray – not least the obvious fact that promoting a sizeable reduction in human consumption of meat and dairy products is an immediate way to significantly reduce greenhouse emissions.

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  1. Andrew: Maybe you could catch the ethicist’s attention & ask him for his position regarding humans having sex with animals (bestiality).

    I’d prefer to think that it was just fabricated reports that say he believes bestiality to be OK, equating humans with other animals.

    Heaven forbid though, should there be substance to the reports, I’d want to know how any animal lover (double entendre not intended), or political group could align themselves with such an animal? And if he’s the keynote speaker, what would it say for anyone second billed on the speaking agenda!

  2. GZG: I haven’t read every word Prof Singer has had to say, but one of the jobs of philosophers is to challenge us to examine why we hold certain beliefs and how valid those reasons are. That inevitably means pushing at the boundaries on issues that people are uncomfortable with.

    But whilst I wouldn’t deign to speak for him or all his writings – some of which I disagree quite strongly with I might say – I can comfortably say he does not “equate” humans with other animals. What he does do is question the basis of the beliefs many people hold which enable them to justify to themselves the immense cruelty which many humans inflict on other animals. It is inevitably confronting to do this, and equally inevitably means people will respond with all sorts of vitriol, but I think it is a worthwhile topic of examination.

    Anyone who thinks that bestiality is even remotely central to debates around animal rights and animal welfare has never genuinely examined the issue, or the many writings and debates around it. It could be possible to gain this impression if one were to derive one’s information from tabloid-style reporting, but philosophers and ethicists who wish to be genuinely challenging would never say a word if they worried about how their comments might be interpreted by those adopting a tabloid mentality.

  3. What about the immense cruelty which many humans inflict on one another?

    Bestiality might be hovering on the periphery of debates on animal rights and animal welfare at the moment, but it will be moving closer to the centre eventually.

    I could easily relate 2 anecdotes about women in relationships with dogs. In the future, I think some people may seek access to Frankendog technology.

    I don’t think there’s any doubt that the dog is being humanised, along with the whale and dolphin – but for different reasons.

  4. Spain is moving towards giving the great apes human rights based on the groundwork prepared by Singer and others at the Great Ape Project.

    This is a significant and enlightened legal move that will eventually be commonplace across the world.

  5. Andrew: I’m not suggesting bestiality is central to debates around animal rights, but was there any word from Prof. Singer on humans having sex with animals?

    Certainly after retelling the tale of Birute Galdikas being suddenly seized by a large frisky male orangutan, Singer seemed fairly comfortable with the implication that sex across the species barrier “ceases to be an offence to our status and dignity as human beings“.

    I disagree unequivocally however, and assert that “undignified” doesn’t go anywhere near enough to convey what most normal Australian’s would think of such practices. But I generalise of course, and will be fascinated to hear contrary viewpoints.

    Philosophers & ethicists wishing to be “genuinely challenging” remind me of artists shocking for shocks sake (refer to eg. Madonna covered with elephant dung).

    Derek Barry: I initially chuckled at your post, but now am worried that you’re actually serious. Nice looking linked web page though your opinion seemed a little hard to find.

    Giving “rights equal to humans for all the other great apes” could at least bolster the dwindling numbers supporting PM Rudd. Provided that we can encourage some of our more hirsute cousins to immigrate to Australia and that they are also bestowed with voting rights. Oh, and not locked up in a detention centre or cage!

    Oh but no, where would this end? Bet they’d have a new take on “affordable housing” though.

  6. Derek:

    Thanks for the link. I don’t think the idea of treating animals as if they are human is enlightening at all – more of a dark shadow on society.

    I think it would be better if we started dehumanising dogs. As it is, they have access to gourmet foods, expensive clothing and accessories, beauticians, birthday parties, Christmas gifts, funeral parlours and even their own special menus in restaurants.

    Recently a man on TV said he valued his pets on an equal footing with his children. On the same report, dog owners thought their pets should compete with little children for playground space.

    When I lived in a poorer part of Logan City, a childless couple fed their dog t-bone steaks, red salmon, chicken, chocolates, and strawberries & cream – while lots of other people could barely afford vegemite sandwiches for their children.

    As a consequence, the dog had a massive heart attack and had to be carried around like a baby.

    The whole idea of humanising animals disgusts me. I don’t see anything wrong with giving Rover canned or dry dog food, a comfortable blanket in his kennel, a nice bath once a week, regular walks around the neighbourhood and a game of ball.

    If people don’t wake up to this new stupidity, eventually their children will be bitten by Frankendogs in the classroom.

    We mightn’t be accused of sexism or racism any more, but accusations of Frankendogism could be rife.

  7. GZG:

    Thanks for the links.

    It has often been said that the AIDS virus became a problem for humans after African people started having sex with the apes.

    Peter Singer’s chook story would seem to confirm my speculation as to the origin of avian influenza (Bird Flu).

    It’s pretty clear that Singer is a sicko. Why anyone would want to attend his lectures is beyond my comprehension.

    Perhaps the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) wants to criticise cows for flatulating too much, just as a woman might complain about her husband.

    They probably want to take animals off our dinner plates and move them into the bedrooms.

    Perhaps the IPCC should be renamed Intergovernmental Panel for Canoodling with Chimpanzees (substitute calves, cows, chooks, camels, canines etc … hopefully not cadavas).

    It may get lonely sometimes, but I’m never warming up to the idea of having some big hairy ape in my bedroom – besides which it would be sure to knock off more than its fair share of the bananas.

  8. Lorikeet Aug4: Thanks for your support, but more especially for your style. Your post was way funnier even than the Naomi approved hoot about the condom for Rev. Nile & his wife.

    I’m still waiting with bated breath for a contrary viewpoint to my criticism of the illustrious Prof. Singer. Shouldn’t be too much to ask given that he is held in high regard by some.

  9. Sorry, I made a boo boo here. I must have been thinking too much about a chimpanzee stealing all of the bananas.

    Please scratch “cadavas” as it is the wrong spelling. The proper spelling is “cadavers”.

  10. Andrew Bartlett: You told us about the “public forum exploring the potential for greater engagement between animal welfare and environment groups and issues” and furthermore invited any brethren, presumably of like mind, to attend.

    With dismay, and in the absence of response to my posts of Aug 1 &4, I assume that you are in fact, in agreement with Prof. Singer with his implied belief that sex across the species barrier is not “an offence to our status and dignity as human beings“.

    And again, was the Prof’s favourable view of bestiality confirmed or has he retracted in keeping with everyday family standards?

    Given your passion for these issues, it seems to me appropriate & of interest to readers following your posts, that you follow up with a report of the outcome of the forum, be it successful or otherwise.

    Lorikeet: Got that the bodies were dead, with or without the correct spelling.

    Seek treatment for the acute banana fixation however.

  11. GZG, just because you assume something doesn’t make it correct. I responded to your initial comment where you raised this issue. Nothing you said further suggested you were doing anything thatn other baiting or stirring, so I didn’t see any point in repeating myself.

    They would not be many public forums held one was expected to agree with every utterance every other speaker had every made on any topic. I have changed my owns views on same matters over the last decade, so I don’t even agree with some of my own past statements!

    You can have an intellectual debate about the ethical and philosophical underpinnings of our abhorrence of bestiality and explore the logical validity of such views if you like, but do it somewhere else. It is a purely academic issue, with no significance in current public or political debates, and certainly no relevance to the topic of the lecture in question.

    As for the misinterpretation by you and others of Derek Barry’s comments regarding Spain’s moves to bestow some legal rights on great apes – it is of course very easy to make fun, or even to scare people by running on with red herrings about bestiality, but it is actually a significant legal move which has also occured in a few other countries. Even the Australian Senate passed a resolution calling for consideration to be given to pursuing such an approach.

    It does not mean Great Apes would have equal rights to humans in all areas. Rather than rubbish the idea, perhaps you could indicate why you believe Great Apes, who have coginitive faculties at least the equivalent of young child, should have no rights at all against brutal treatment, cruel experimentation or indiscriminate slaughter

  12. Andrew:

    A Great Ape is not a “who” – neither is a dog.

    I still think we are being moved slowly down a path to bestiality. It isn’t purely an academic issue at all.

    I agree that animals should not be treated cruelly, but they should not be forced off our dinner plates or CONTINUE to be humanised either.

    Did GZG actually SAY he thought animals should be treated brutally?


    I think they call that “specism”. Humanist believe that we are just one of many important species and rate other species just as high as humans.

    It shows how a society can degenerate without proper judeo christian principles and values.

    Perhaps they may think they came from apes, but I’m not one to go down that track. Evolution has more holes than the Titanic had as she went below the water.


  14. I love the way you just sweepingly assert that every so-called ‘humanist’ believes identical things. In any case, you are talking nonsense. It is not about saying all other species are “rated” as “high” as humans, it is about recognising that other animals can have inherent worth, rather than zero worth or only as much worth as any utility value that human animals have for non-human animals.

    Your comments reflect a key reason why some Christians have insisted on ignoring and science which is inconvenient, as any suggestion that we share common ancestry with some species of Great Apes can’t be counteanced, as it then requires us to recognise they also have feelings, emotions which we would have to take into account.

    But frankly, even if you reject any notion of evolution and insist on a Creationist worldview, the idea that all creatures were created by God doesn’t give any more reason to inflict unnecessary suffering on other animals – unless you take the highly egocentric view that the entire world and all the creatures on it were created by God solely for us humans to do whatever we like with it.

  15. Andrew Bartlett: My intention earlier was to elicit your hopefully negative response regarding Professor Singer’s apparent acceptance of bestiality / zoophilia. In the surprising absence of a response, I suggested that by default, you were of like mind. Given your recent response, it seems I may have been wrong.
    That one would not agree with “every utterance every other speaker had ever made on any topic” is of course a fair point in it’s own right, but does not (in my opinion), quite cut it, given the nature of this issue.

    Let me now be provocative and ask would you have been so happy to proclaim your participation with Prof. Singer in such a forum if the same man was on record as believing that “consensual” sex with children was acceptable?

    At least in your eyes, my point should live or die depending on your answer. If you’d decline based on the paedophilia taint, then why wouldn’t you with the “animal love” connection? We are not talking about a parking ticket or traffic misdemeanor here, and whilst I do not venerate animals in the same manner as yourself, societal norms dictate that bestiality is reprehensible.

    Of course you’re entitled to your opinion. but whatever your answer, mine would be that I would not wish to team with such a person (OK, maybe for a debate).

    No suggestion or belief on my part that the Ape story indicated “equal rights to humans”, nor as Lorikeet in essence kindly noted, did I indicate a desire for “brutal treatment, cruel experimentation or indiscriminate slaughter” of apes.

    Whilst unable to name the relevant legislation off the top of my head, I understand that we have laws that punish those who would be cruel to animals. This in effect gives animals some rights. No problem.

    I note though that the cited material promotes apes’ “right to life”. Unborn humans don’t even have such rights according to what was the Democrat’s policy.

    Comments on the claimed “highly egocentric” view withheld for now

  16. GZG:

    As I have said before. You know when you meet a true “feminist”

    Its when a certain member of parliament promotes ” Abortion on demand”

    Yet has a “save the baby seal” sticker on her back window.

    Know who I mean Andrew ?


  17. GZG: It “seems you may have been wrong” – thanks for your unequivocal retraction – not. You’re just baiting with a red herring. I am not interested.

    Tony – no I don’t know who you mean, and one day you real should stop trying to use a single label to try to lump a single set of view on to widely disparate group of people, puerly so you can slag than off more easily.

  18. Andrew Bartlett: To refer to my prior post as merely a red herring leaves me with the impression that you are uncomfortable with the simple enough question posed or otherwise, of no clear opinion.

    Either way, I agree we can let it dangle.

    Tony: “Save the seals” or “save the apes” each seem incongruous with “abortion on demand”, even if one considers people as little more than a subset of animals (as Andrew Bartlett has conveyed in other threads on this blog).

    Still, I wondered to whom you referred, but with google, all I could do was come up with hints that Laura Chipp is the one.

    Or did you personally sell such stickers to Lyn or Natasha?

  19. Tony:

    Oh, good. Now you’re beginning to get it. The kind of woman you are describing is a RADICAL FEMINIST – not a feminist.

    I think it makes logical sense that if you humanise animals, people will stop eating them and start having sex with them instead. It’s happening already.

  20. Did u by any chance ask Peter Singer if an organisation that supports seizing and killing dogs that have done nothing wrong other than look like a photo downloaded from the net (ie a pitbull) and actually does the seizing and killing is involved in animal cruelty and can can call itself an animal welfare organisation?

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