“It was a huge wake-up call… I felt like I’d been living a lie” – Delci Winders – Sentientism Ep:163

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

Delci is an animal protection lawyer, scholar, teacher and programme builder. She is an associate professor of law and Director & Founder of the Animal Law and Policy Institute at Vermont Law and Graduate School. The Institute is committed to training animal advocacy leaders (e.g. masters degrees and programmes, Farmed Animal Advocacy Clinic) and serving as a resource hub.

Delci previously taught at Lewis & Clark Law School, where she directed the world’s first law school clinic dedicated to farmed animal advocacy. She served as Vice President and Deputy General Counsel at the PETA Foundation, was the first Academic Fellow of the Harvard Animal Law & Policy Program, and was a visiting scholar at the Elisabeth Haub School of Law at Pace University. Her primary interests are in animal law and administrative law. She has also taught animal law at Tulane University School of Law and Loyola University New Orleans College of Law.

Delci’s work has appeared in the Denver Law ReviewFlorida State Law ReviewOhio State Law JournalNYU Law Review, and the Animal Law Review. She has also published extensively in the popular press, including The HillNational GeographicNewsweekNew York Daily NewsSalonU.S.A. Today, and numerous other outlets.

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

Elan Abrell episode

02:30 Delci’s Intro

– A non-traditional path, straddling academic & activism

– Pragmatic idealism “I was there to help animals”

05:38 What’s Real?

– “My mom grew up in a fundamentalist, fear-based #cult “

– “She really didn’t want us to experience that – so we didn’t go to church at all”

– Mom still had strong religious beliefs “but she didn’t force them on us”, #agnostic dad

– “I grew up… naturalistic and being critically minded and making decisions based on what I observed in the world”

– “I probably have disappointed my mum in that I’m an #atheist”

– “I was just born argumentative… always pushing back and asking questions”

– Hearing about the trauma of family because of the cult “it gave me a critical lens on religion… what is the agenda here? Who is this serving?”

– “I’ve always had a really strong moral compass… why would someone in a position of authority create terror and suffering in children?… an early anti-authoritarian”

– “I do have a tremendous respect for evolution… for systems that have evolved over millennia”

– #meditation & secular #buddhism “There is a whole lot we don’t know”

12:19 What Matters?

– “For as long as I can remember  have had a very strong moral compass that is not based on any external… religious document… fear of punishment…”

– “Just a deep sense of #justice in my core… and as sense of needing to speak up about that”

– Shyness, social anxiety “but there are times when something just bubbles up in me and I need to speak out… do something about it”

– Featuring in #OphrahWinfrey ‘s “O” magazine as “The Crusader”

– “I have this very strong conviction of what’s right and wrong”

– “Fairness… not causing unnecessary suffering”

– Being pragmatic, so considering specific situations but “informed by an overlay”

– Authoritarianism, harming others for profit, lacking transparency

16:29 Who Matters?

– A traumatic experience at 14 yrs. Raising two pigs from birth as companions then “they were unexpectedly slaughtered”

– “I loved animals before then… but that really set me on a journey… I just started reading about factory farming, animal rights… Peter Singer’s Animal Liberation”

Ep: 156 with Peter Singer

–  “It resonated with me very much that sentience mattered… that has been a fundamental touch-point for me… I’ve added complications to it over the years”

– Precautionary principle re: assessing sentience

– “There is value in systems… ecosystems… in addition… that have evolved to be interconnected over extraordinary periods of time”

– “My focus tends to be on individuals & sentience… overlaid with a respect for systems… and interconnectedness”

– “Part of my mum’s fundamentalism was that she didn’t eat pork”

– “I loved eating meat and didn’t really think about the connections to animals”

– “It was a huge wake-up call for me… I felt like I had been living a lie… I had been betrayed… there was all of this awfulness & corruption in the world that I had been totally unaware of”

– “It really led me to a path of thinking more critically about institutions… got into #punk rock … it made me much more distrustful of the world and institutions and leadership”

– “It was challenging” [moving away from animal products]

– Mum was initially resentful “but she has since come around – she has been #vegan for more than 15 years now!”

– “My dad was the one who both got me the pigs and had them killed… so that’s still an unresolved thing”

– Carol Adams’ book “Living Among Meat-Eaters”. Great for people “navigating a world that doesn’t share their values”

– “I feel like the world has gotten easier too.” Uncles: “‘I tried the Beyond Burger and it wasn’t that bad’… I think that’s progress”

– “I didn’t know any vegans!”

– #biocentrism #ecocentrism

– Instrumental vs. intrinsic value “It probably is instrumental… but… I don’t think you can separate out the sentient beings from the ecosystems”

– “It’s so hubristic and human-centred to think that we know better than millions of years of evolution”

– “My concern is always focused on the individuals within those systems but I’m not sure you can actually separate them out from the systems”

– “I wouldn’t be in favour of taking animals out of the wild and putting them into captivity even if… we could somehow figure out a way to meet all of their needs”… “A fear of unintended consequences”

– JW: “Just because something’s an instrumental concern doesn’t mean it’s not a very serious, rich one” (it doesn’t have to imply exploitation!)

– “So many of our environmental laws in the US… are really anthropocentric”

– Wild animals “They’re absolutely due moral consideration – particularly when human activities are going to impact them”

– #Trophyhunting and importing “concern for the individual… but also the impact on the community of animals as a whole”

– Advocating for Tokitae and Lolita, orcas in captivity at the Miami SeaQuarium and their free-ranging family “the impact on them of losing her”

– Insects, molluscs “the science is increasingly clear… the precautionary principle”

– Sentient artificial intelligence “I don’t know… it sometimes feels like a bit of a distraction when we’ve got all of these currently existing sentient beings who we are actively inflicting suffering on”

38:13 A Better Future?

– Work with Elan Abrell on the impact on slaughterhouse workers “I’ve been pretty appalled by some feedback I’ve got on social media… ‘who cares about those people?’”

– “These are people who are not choosing to do this work out of an array of options…”

– “There are times when people care more about non-human animals than certain humans… that just shows how much work we have to do still. I don’t want the most disenfranchised humans to be lost in all of these discussions”

– The dangers of misanthropy, eco-fascism, “humans are the virus” thinking

– Moral luck

– “I’m… some would say realist, some would say cynical… I don’t have a vision of a utopia… it’s going to be an ongoing process of trial and error.”

– “At the same time I’m perhaps naively optimistic in that I do have tremendous faith and hope in humanity… humans for the most part care about animals.”

– “They will make changes especially when they are supported in making those changes”

– The need for more self-reflection “systems change is not going to happen without changing ourselves”

– Shawn Ginwright’s book “The Four Pivots” “Personal change is interconnected with systemic change”

– “Our laws, our culture approaches things in a very individualised, atomistic fashion – and it’s not reflective of reality”

– “It’s easier to do it that way – law likes bright lines even if they’re arbitrary – but reality is more complex and messy”

– “We need to dive in and engage with that messiness”

– “Law is the way that power is deployed in our society. And for too long, law has been used to facilitate the exploitation of non-human animals and also of many humans… It actively is facilitating that exploitation through things like subsidies, cruelty exemptions, right to farm laws…”

– “We need to start patching up all of those holes & breaks extended to industrial animal agriculture, animal experimentation… but also to shift things so that we are affirmatively supporting plant-based foods, #JustTransitions where workers are getting what they need in order to transition from more exploitative industries…”

– “That’s why I’m focusing my time on training people to deploy the tool of law”

– “We are not educated on how the law works”

– Law as leading or lagging “I’ve no easy answer – it flows both ways”

– “There is a vast gap between what people say in polling about how animals should be treated and what our laws actually require”

– Jonathan Lovvorn’s piece~15 yrs ago: “Let’s focus on… the things where people already agree we shouldn’t be doing to animals and get those codified”

– Anti-confinement bans in the USA just upheld by the Supreme Court

– “Law has a role to push and help evolve the social viewpoint”

– Non-human Rights Project litigation “forcing people to think outside of the box”

– “There is no silver bullet” so try all of these approaches

– “Passing a law… even if purely symbolic has value… helping to codify these evolving social views… but… how critically important enforcement is”

– “We’ve got all kinds of laws that are just not being enforced – that’s a massive problem”

– Justin Marceau: “How the Animal Welfare Act harms animals” through encouraging complacency that protections are in place

– The bizarre imbalance between the relentless pursuit of animal activists saving animals vs. enforcing animal cruelty laws

– Denver Sturm College of Law’s Clinic defending animal activists and animal rescuers

– Levels of law from local to international “Perhaps the most progress for animals legally… in the last decade or so has happened at the local level… something anybody can do… get an ordinance passed” E.g. Banning use of bull-hooks, banning travelling wild animal acts, banning retail sales of “pets”

– “That can then trickle up to the state level… and then hopefully federally”

The Plant-Based Treaty as an example that works at every level of governance

– The mainstreaming of animal law

– Imagining a US Constitution or Bill of Rights that considered non-human animals too

A Universal Declaration of Sentient Rights?

– “I do think we’ll get to that point but the US is way behind the curve… because of the tremendous weight that corporations have – including in our democracy”

Sentientist Economics, Sentientist Politics, Sentientist Culture “We need all of it!”

– “There are some really astounding court decisions coming out in other countries… saying what seems obvious to animal advocates but that I can’t even imagine a court saying in the US about animals’ interests”

– “Why is the US so behind?… It’s hard to know because the legal systems are so different…”

– “Some of those decisions… haven’t actually translated into real change on the ground”

– “Our Federal judiciary is increasingly conservative and already didn’t really like listening to ‘international’ law… there’s a sense the US is the best, for some reason”

– “As more countries are enacting more protections we’re going to have to come to the table on these issues”

– “Nothing is a cure-all”

– Slaughterhouse issues: “I’ve just been blown away by the coalitions that have come together… worker advocacy groups, consumer protection, animal protection, environmental protection – working together while acknowledging we each have different priorities – but that there’s so much common ground… has been incredibly powerful.”

– “It’s not easy… but I think we can accomplish so much more when we work together. The common enemy, the corporate industrial complex that is industrial animal agriculture, has so much power… we have to work together.”

– “I am so heartened by young people… the students see the interconnections and they recognise that the solutions therefore need to be interconnected.”

– “It doesn’t mean we have to sacrifice animals for workers. It’s very rare that there’s a direct conflict… much more often than not we have so much common ground and we can bring our power together”

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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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