“I document their lives so we can see and remember that they are individuals” – Jo-Anne McArthur – Photojournalist – Sentientism Ep:162

Find our Sentientist conversation here on the Sentientism YouTube and here on the Sentientism podcast.

Jo-Anne is a photojournalist, humane educator, animal rights activist and author. She is known for her We Animals project, a photography project documenting human relationships with animals. Through the We Animals Humane Education program, Jo-Anne offers presentations about human relationships with animals in educational and other environments, and through the We Animals Archive, she provides photographs and other media for those working to help animals. We Animals Media, meanwhile, is a media agency focused on human/animal relationships.

Jo-Anne was the primary subject of the 2013 documentary The Ghosts in Our Machine, directed by Liz Marshall, and with Keri Cronin, she is the founder of the Unbound Project, which aims to celebrate and recognize women animal activists. Her first book, We Animals, was published in 2013; her second, Captive, was published in 2017; and a third, Hidden, which featured a foreword by Joaquin Phoenix, was published in 2020. Jo-Anne has been awarded a range of commendations for her photography and activism, including several commendations in the Wildlife Photographer of the Year awards and joint first place in the COP26 photography competition.

In Sentientist Conversations we talk about the two most important questions: “what’s real?” & “what matters?”

Sentientism is “evidence, reason & compassion for all sentient beings.” The audio is on our Podcast here on Apple & here on all the other platforms.

We discuss:

00:00 Welcome

2:23 Jo’s Intro

– Striving to be open, active, helping, empathic, compassionate, humble

– Founding We Animals Media “What was once me with camera is now me & 15 staff & over 100 contributing photographers globally”

– “My own ethos about being generous in the world”

3:57 What’s Real?

– #catholic background but not very religious family

– “Know the stories, know the moralistic tales… which are largely quite good & translate across many religions… do unto others… take care of one another”

– “I am personally #atheist / #agnostic atheist… I do have a very #spiritual sense of the world… did I just contradict myself? I don’t think so.”

– “Everything is interconnected… I am from the earth and will go back to the earth.”

– “It’s a beautiful system this earth has evolved over billions of years… I am in awe of that.”

– “If I have a spiritual leaning it’s towards reference for the earth”

– “My dad commented… I seemed like an earth worshipper… indigenous ideology? pagan ideology?”

– “I go through the world in awe of what is around me”

– “You protect what you love… I do love the plants… trees, birds in the trees & the old dog I adopted & other people…”

– “Perhaps that reverence has led me to be a full time activist for others”

– “There were no clashes (with supernatural religious beliefs)… it just seemed to me that the scientific experiment is what holds truest to me… how biology works… how the cosmos works… I just gravitated towards that”

– “3 of my 4 parents are very religious now… we don’t talk about it very much because we disagree on some major things”

– “They feel that I will go to hell if I don’t find Jesus so they pray for me… yet we have a gorgeous, wonderful, close relationship”

– “We disagree on these things but we can still love one another”

– “It was quite a religion free zone at my house. I was free to develop my worldviews.”

– “My parents guided me but also took a back seat to the things that were apparently precious to me… protecting others”

– “I, like many kids did some mean things to animals… we play with the power dynamics that are lorded over us… when we are young and we get a little bit of power well who do we have power over – insects & other animals… we play with that power”

– “What I learned from that power was that I didn’t want it… I didn’t want to have power over others”

– Experimenting with helping others “my parents allowed that”… playing with a neglected rottweiler / german shepherd mix dog

– A menagerie at home. “They bought me a budgie but I didn’t like that the budgie was in a cage”

– “Close observations of the feelings of others… I’m like a sponge – with humans as well – too much – I’m working on that”

– “I’ve totally been an empathetic sponge my whole life – but that has caused me harm… as I wisen… I have learned to walk a parallel path with the suffering of others and the joy of others”

14:22 What & Who Matters?

– Reverence & empathy & interconnectedness

– #Anthropocentrism, #sentiocentrism, #biocentrism, #ecocentrism

– “Individuals matter to themselves… we strive to live free from harm. Sentient beings shy away from fear & stress & violence”

– “It’s not anthropomorphism to say that others shy away from pain and violence – it’s just common sense and common knowledge now. We shouldn’t have had to prove it through science but we have.”

– Edgar’s Mission sanctuary: “If we can live happy and healthy lives without harming others – then why wouldn’t we?”

– “We know that we can eat healthily without eating others” (outside of survival/sustenance situations)

– Animal photojournalism: “I document their lives so we can see and remember that they are individuals”

– The evolution of sentience: Mark Solms and Walter Veit episodes

– A Universal Declaration of Sentient Rights

– “We put up psychological and intellectual walls and actual walls… that stop us thinking”

– “I had this great empathy for animals but I ate animals because that’s what we do”

– Moving to the countryside. Spending time with 2 dogs, 1 cat and 10 chickens

– “I got to know chickens – my favourite food… they had complex personalities, they were funny, they were shy, they were anxious…”

– “Oh my gosh – now I know. How did I not know? I wouldn’t eat my dog, so I’m not going to eat these chickens either – which means I’m not going to eat chicken… I wish everyone could have that experience”

– Pescetarian then vegetarian (after seeing the “Sea of Slaughter” film)

– 1 month internship at an animal sanctuary that insisted on veganism while there “I thought that was very extreme”

– “I kept having these lessons… I kept seeking information… I couldn’t help myself”

– “Change is never as hard as it seems… when you make changes that benefit others it feels good”

– “The alignment… is much better than this feeling that I’ve had to give up something”

– “After 24 hours of being vegan I felt so intellectually, psychologically, emotionally, morally aligned that I felt thrilled”

– “I also felt dread… how am I going to fit into society?”

– “Society is based on cultures and cultures by definition change”

– “I had really supportive family members [re: going vegan]… not 100% but enough so… I was willing to put up with a little discomfort… I asked for support and people understood”

– “20 years into being vegan you still hear the ridiculous vegan jokes – but more than ever people know that these jokes have no foundation… there’s a feeling of vulgarity to those jokes… it’s the same with the treatment of women… the environment… other cultures.”

– “There’s so many things that… we should never have been able to do and you can’t do any more… that’s so great”

– “We’re seeing… more veganism… but also more meat eating.  There’s a lot of work ahead of us.”

– “That’s why I want Humane Education as part of every curriculum” and our Zoe Weil episode

– “Learning to be a good person must be taught… and reinforced… it’s as important as math, science and the arts”

– We can’t rely on the adults in our lives to teach us to be the best possible humans because they didn’t have that teaching”

– “Being a good person needs to be curriculum”

34:42 A Better Future?

– #JustTransitions around the world

– Photojournalism in over 60 countries

– “We must meet people where they are at… listen to people… talk to people… be curious”

– Showing Jo’s meat-eating sister pictures of pigs suffering and dying “she was incensed… that weekend we went to a festival… she ordered a sausage… ‘oh – I could never go vegan!’… it was a really eye-opening moment for me… by the way she did turn into a vegan animal rights activist.”

– Working in a sub-Saharan African country: “Vegetarianism let alone veganism is laughable here… people are trying to claw their way into what they perceive as a western middle class lifestyle – and that means more meat-eating.”

– “Make kindness a joyful thing – compassion a joyful and empowering thing – not a threatening thing”

– Moving downstairs to care for Jo’s elderly dog “so I can spend 100% of my time with him in his remaining weeks”

– “Change feels like a challenge until you just decide to do it – and then you do it – then you reap the benefits of that change”

– “We sit in the fear of change… whereas this forward momentum into change especially when it benefits others is such a joy”

– The We Animals story “I ended up doing this work as an animal photojournalist because I was following my passion… I was following what I was good at as well”

– Different advocacy paths: “Protests are amazing – but there’s so much more we can do… animal law, behavioural science, ethology, philosophy (e.g. Jeff Sebo), teaching, the arts… having a bake sale… raise money for a local shelter… speaking about animals to your friends”

– “Anything you enjoy doing you can apply to making the world a better place”

– “We can do that on a micro or a macro sale… Greta Thunberg started small and went big”

– “Feeling generously towards one another… assuming the best in others… assuming the possibility in others… that is something I reorient myself towards every day”

– “I take pictures that expose stories and individuals that need to be seen… it’s part of Humane Education”

– “I absolutely love what I do even though it’s treacherous work and psychologically depressing, challenging work because I’m facing animal suffering – that’s literally my job – but there’s such a need for this in the world”

– “A few years ago editors would say this is good work but I’m not publishing it… but that is changing… we are pushing the door open… insisting this is relevant… that animals are relevant and in fact their stories are tied to public health, human health, global health, the health of the environment, pollution, climate change…”

– “We create visuals… that help people and campaigners and academics and politicians… to make their points”

– “We create proof of what is and what should never again be – namely industrial farming”

– “20,000 visuals available for free… an unusual business model… we’re growing… there’s funding coming our way”

– “We’ll just keep going until these images are on museum walls and are no longer things that are happening”

– Jo’s success in breaking into Tier 1 media

– JW: “Even non-animal organisations and civil society ventures are starting to recognise this issue”

– “The more collaboration there is across the important issues of our day the more we will affect both of them”

– “There’s room for both… single issue campaigns… and the overlap of oppressions – that is a real thing”

– “If we highlight all these things and show their interconnectedness… we can be that much more enlightened”

– The risks of empathy, sympathy and compassion

– Intellectual and emotional ways into compassion

– “This won’t work for everyone but… practice thinking about suffering and just sitting with it”

– “Our instinct is to protect ourselves from suffering and to turn a blind eye… it hurts to feel it”

– “If you sit with these things you flex, you work a muscle that strengthens and allows you to be in empathy more and more… that is an empowering place to be… not a fearful place to be”

– Susan Sontag: “Who should look at the suffering of others… anyone who can help.” “When it comes to animals each and every one of us can help”

– Empathy vs. compassion. “Empathy does hurt… but you can learn a lot there.”

– “What you can also do is focus on compassion instead of empathy which can be a little bit safer… practice caring for others”

– “These things can lead to a more altruistic way of being in the world… making the world a kinder place for everyone”

– Coping with witnessing factory farming “The actions that follow the bearing witness are what help a lot of us get through”

– “Keep getting them out there – these stories will become a little more ubiquitous in the world – that feels good and that allows me to cope with the horrific suffering that I witness”

– JW: “Action is the solace”

– “I’m realistic but nevertheless optimistic… I’m a joyous person and I have one life to live and I want to live it optimistically and joyfully”

– “We do quite horrendous things as a species but individuals… I like individuals. We’re interesting, we’re complex, we have the ability to learn and relearn and do better”

– “Maybe I’m naïve but honestly – who cares?”

Follow Jo and We Animals:

– “I want people to use this fantastic resource” https://weanimalsmedia.org/ @weanimals and donate!

https://unboundproject.org/ “Celebrates women on the front-lines of animal advocacy worldwide… almost globally led by women, 60-80% yet we often see men in positions of power” “If you’re wondering what can you do… the UnBound project is a great place to go”

Sentientism is “Evidence, reason & compassion for all sentient beings.” More at Sentientism.info.

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Thanks to Graham for the post-production and to Tarabella and Denise for helping to fund this episode via our Sentientism Patreon.

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