By Megan Thomas
This week, author and animal rights activist, Kim Stallwood, visited Manchester Metropolitan University (MMU) as part of the Animal Worlds strand of the hugely successful Humanities in Public festival.
The Animal Worlds series is convened by Dr. Wahida Khandker, Senior lecturer in Philosophy, and Dr. Gervase Phillips, Principal Lecturer in History at MMU. Animal Worlds is an eye-opening and intellectual exploration of animal welfare and animal rights in an age of convenience culture and consumerism.
The event was introduced by Dr Khandker, who began by outlining the aims of this latest Humanities in Public strand,
“This is a series of academic research and animal advocacy. Involved are activists who share similar concerns – people who have spent their lives campaigning against the mistreatment of animals, the keeping of animals in certain situations, the very practice of eating meat and raring and killing animals in order to eat them. We need to question the things we do which are considered ‘normal’ in society.”
Before beginning his talk, the evening’s special guest, Kim Stallwood, described to us his impressions of the Animal Worlds series, saying that the organisation and programme of events were “impressive” and revealing how he was “thrilled” to be a part of it. He claimed that Animal Worlds, “added to the legitimacy of the issue [of animal rights]” and said that he was “very pleased and excited for everyone involved.”
“I don’t want you to think I have a special affinity or I grew up in a home which had a special relationship with animals. This is not a career I set out to have. My interest, however, originally stems from a duration of work experience in a slaughterhouse.
“I now have a life in animal advocacy and raising the importance and awareness of animal rights which I truly believe in.”
In his first book, Growl: Life Lessons, Hard Truths, and Bold Strategies from an Animal Advocate, Stallwood explores what it means to care deeply about animals and discovers how we can live peacefully with ourselves and others by proposing four key values. He outlined these values in what he describes as his ‘Manifesto’ and described how his lifestyle and advocacy work was now built on compassion, truth, ethics and nonviolence. For him, compassion rather than empathy is vital as it is “the one whereby, if you have compassion towards another being, you have an intuitive feeling toward the other humans feelings.” He claimed this compels him to do something about it and this is why compassion more than pity or empathy is the cornerstone of emotion to why he is involved in animal rights.
His second key value is truth, which he believes defines our ethical relationship with animals. According to Stallwood, “We live in a society that has a very confused and complicated relationship with animals.” He sees it as his ‘job’ to peel away the layers of lies and misleading information to reveal its exploitative complex relationship with animals.
Thirdly, he includes ‘ethics.’ He questions, “Is it right that an animal – a chicken in a farm –would spend her entire life, 60 days, suffering, in a confined and windowless shed being fed antibiotics to maximise growth so that when the bird is killed, inhumanely, we can spend ten minutes chewing its flesh?” By highlighting the position of ethics and the treatment of animals, he is able to reveal their suffering and the moral obligation of others to protect them.
“Animals think and feel pain. Morally, why do animals, such as chickens, have to become an object of violent suffering?”
The powerful values set out by Stallwood reflect perfectly the injustices faced by the ‘Animal World.’ Overall, this lecture brought to the forefront the social, political and deeply personal issues and questions which lay behind the vegan lifestyle choice.
The Animal Worlds series continues throughout October. For more information on the HiP series visit www.hssr.mmu.ac.uk/hip/
Megan is in her third year studying English Literature at MMU.