“Law is a reflection of the people that make it” – Dr. Iyan Offor – Sentientism Ep:174

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

Dr Iyan Offor is a Senior Lecturer in Law at Birmingham City University conducting interdisciplinary, theoretical research focusing on global animal law, environmental justice, intersectionality, posthumanism and law in the Anthropocene. Iyan is passionate about delivering legal education and research that will lead to the improvement of protections for animals and the environment in law. Iyan teaches international environmental law and human rights, legal theory, legal research, and constitutional law. He will also be creating a new course on animals in environmental law. His new book, “Global Animal Law From The Margins“, is published by Routledge.

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.” In addition to the YouTube video above the audio is on our Podcast here on Apple & here on all the other platforms.

00:00 Clips

01:22 Welcome

– Josh Gellers (previous Sentientism guest)

03:00 Iyan’s Intro

– Socio-legal scholar. Animals, nature and the law – and how those interact with society

– Improving educational options re: animal law: PhDs, masters projects, programmes, talks

– “…that appetite for learning about animals, the environment and the law that’s already there – [but] in many places there’s not space”

– Research: “How law can be used as a tool to try and improve animals lives… the core of what I’m trying to do”

– Iyan’s new book: “Global Animal Law From The Margins

– #Globallaw’s multi-scale focus vs. #internationallaw (just the international level)

– #feminist , #queer and #postcolonial perspectives on the animal question

– “It ends up being a bit wacky… the international trading system… taking this forward-looking ethical approach… not the most natural bed-fellows but I think in the end it works”

06:58 What’s Real?

– An #atheist household in a very religious community (highlands of Scotland) and wider family

– #bornagain #christian grand-parents “a healthy dose of trying to convert us… my parents weren’t to thrilled about that but we were well prepared.”

– “I couldn’t bring my #harrypotter books into the house because magic was seen as sinful and against god’s will… it didn’t make a lot of sense to me.”

– Christian cartoons and religion at school “There was a feeling of it being forced on us”

– “I can see as quite problematic the ways in which children at school were expected to engage in Christian custom”

– Exchange year in #singapore , #multiculturalism , #secularism re: separation of state and religion

– Coming to understand grand-parents’ turn to religion “they needed their faith”

– “I identify as part of the queer community… growing up in that very small, rural and christian environment… growing up closeted… has been interesting”

– Parents “gave us the information and gave us the freedom to make our own choice… that’s an incredible privilege to have that freedom…”

– “I don’t practice or follow a religion… it’s never felt like a gap in my life”

– “Can ethics exist outside of religion… of course they can”

– “…that sort of soft #spirituality I do have quite a lot of time for… but mostly think I just try to hold space for people to be who they want to be and believe what they want to believe.”

– “Equality, diversity and protecting one another from harm”

– Climate change denialism, #antivaxx , #conspiracism , #misinformation , #disinformation , bullshit

– Global law “resists this idea that to move forward as a society… it resists this pull towards homogenising… ‘come up with a rule [at the  international law level] and make everyone follow it’… it’s just not that simple”

– #postmodernism “We can’t necessarily commit to or believe that there is one truth… our truth is socially generated… we create our truth in our societies”

– “There are measures and evidence ways we can prove certain things… but these things change over time…”

– Valuable lessons from marginalised perspectives

– “I don’t necessarily believe that we can come up with one right answer for all these questions”

– Caricatures of post-modernism: “Nothing is real!”

– “The science that we do isn’t actually neutral… it is affected by the individual biases of the scientists doing the work”

– “Law is not neutral… it is made by individuals who have political leanings… personal beliefs… biases”

– “It’s not very helpful… to describe our scientific methods and our legal methods as neutral and rational and objective… because they’re not”

– “That’s not to say we can’t aim towards more rationality…”

– “emotion is also a useful and valuable form of knowledge… I don’t think rationality and emotion have to be polarised in the way they often are”

– “That’s not to say that using reason is not valuable – I think it is – but I think it combines with other things and I don’t think using reason will always get us all to the same conclusion.”

– “That’s the question… how do we work together… wrestle through these issues we are facing…”

– ‘Western’ worldviews’ anthropocentrism & religiosity (vs. claims of rationality)

– “There is this… myth that veganism is a ‘western’ development, that it is expensive and not realistic in non-western or global north contexts”

– “[rationality] seems to be what we hold in the highest regard, still [in the global north]” – although we fail to achieve it… “if we can just achieve pure rationality… do away with all the complications and the messiness of being human… I don’t agree with that narrative… it’s dangerous to pretend that we can do that. There has to be a recognition of our social, political and cultural contexts.”

– Queer theory and lived queer realities… “a rational or ‘normal’ or mainstream way of doing things has unnecessarily marginalised groups of people – and continues to.”

– Pluralism

34:18 What and Who Matters?

– “I see ethics as all about community and society… they are systems that we build up with the people around us in our context”

– “There are some core ethical beliefs that do tend to span various places and times”

– Iyan’s vegan origin story at 8-9 yrs old “…seeing harm caused to an animal and realising I was experiencing that differently to the people around me… I have this traumatic memory of being so, so deeply upset by this… it seemed so intuitively wrong to me… why am I affected by this and no one else is?”

– “I tend to be optimistic and hope that some kind of care and compassion for the other – for non-human animals and those who are not like us… is intuitive and natural to our nature as human beings… and we kind of unlearn that somewhere along the way.”

– A danger “people will use a gut emotional response to something to justify hateful action… I’ve spent a lifetime working this out.”

– JW: “A danger that the description stops us being able to form views about the normative ethics of whether something is good or bad”

– “I just don’t know… it does seem relativistic.”

– JW: The perspective and interests of others as a normative grounding?

– “I definitely get the focus on harm and the focus on sentientism – I’m really interested in a theory that goes beyond that”

– “The focus on harm has been quite restrictive to a number of ethical systems… often reducing living beings to that experience… capabilities approach [Martha Nusbaum]”

– JW: Non-maleficence and not needlessly harming, killing or exploiting as a pluralistic, minimal moral baseline?

– JW: Caring about what sentient beings value even beyond their own sentience (dignity, capacities, life and death…)

– Post-humanism, Donna Haraway’s “killing as a necessity” and the separation of human and non-human animals

– JW: The positive and negative aspects of “moral circle” thinking (centring humans, humans set boundary, gradations from the centre)

– JW: The risks of ecocentric, naturalistic fallacy, descriptive, relativistic ethical thinking

– “It can certainly be weaponised – as can any ethical system”

– Encountering Haraway and post-humanism “with a healthy dose of scepticism… as a bold ethical vegan… exclusion, that is the way… but I started to really see the sense in it… rather than leading us back to our status quo it can lead us in the opposite direction… questioning whether we are eating animals is the right thing to do… that becomes not the end of the discussion but the start of one.”

– The wrongness of eating animals “as a moral baseline… and then we say ‘what next?’”  Haraway’s “we stay with the trouble…”

– Moral circle thinking “with a firm boundary that we have drawn… can enact its own kind of violence… we feel really comfortable… that we’ve figured out the answer… we don’t have to think about this any more”… epistemic uncertainty and ever-changing science

– “If we just look at the evidence… we look over time at the sheer scale of violence those moral circles have enacted… slavery… oppression of women… illegality of homosexuality… all of these things are justifiable by ethical systems that use harsh-bordered moral circles.”

– Scholars writing now: “we did it wrong in the past but we’ve really got it now…”… “a lack of humility?”

– “We keep sitting with these issues and thinking about ‘what else might need to be done?’… How can I act as responsibly as possible with all the uncertainty that is inevitably out there.”

– JW: Haraway’s “troubling” implies a naturalistic uncertainty and rejection of dogma – and also acknowledges there is trouble… a problem… which rejects a morally relativistic nihilism by recognising harm / oppression / ethical wrongs

– JW: Humility and naturalism and flexibility re: which entities might be sentient

– JW: Granting moral consideration to every entity – then taking their interests into account (and entities with interests and the capacity to value are the sentient beings) vs. thinking first of sentience as a characteristic to attribute before moral consideration

– The danger of using human attributes as baseline for moral consideration of others “if you are similar enough to us… then we’ll think about you.”

– “In the same way that we learned that the Earth revolves around the sun and not the other way – doing ethical thinking without human beings at the core of it is really important”

– “Ethics – they’re about how to live a good life… not just about human beings”

– JW: “A focus on sentience… is something that should ultimately destroy and undermine anthropocentrism because sentience was around for hundreds of millions of years before the first humans even existed and even today we’re a vanishingly tiny percentage of sentient beings on the planet”

– “I grew up with and caring for animals… I had that opportunity to see the ways in which they experienced things… the ways we could relate to one another… all the reasons… for caring for each other… I had that privilege.”

– Living in “true wilderness” in the Scottish Highlands

– “I didn’t want to eat animals – it didn’t make sense to me”

– “It’s not always been easy… this eye opening experience where you see the world in this vivid, awful colour… how is it that these good people around me don’t see this as well”

– Realising that academia was an option… to use career to help with the animal issue

– Animal advocacy and policy work with the EU in Brussels

01:11:39 A Better World?

– Links between speciesism, racism and the violence of colonialism and the post-colonial legacy “that has to be core to the work that we do as animal advocates”

– “The practice of animal exploitation has been tied up with racial exploitation”

– The good and bad practices of talking about different societal oppressions “There are some very bad practices amongst animal advocates and NGOs and charities of using other social justice movements to forward their own gains in a very insensitive way – in a way that does not pay attention to the history of how different racialised groups have been animalised… how women have been animalised…”

– “Blunt analogies, imagery… rhetoric of factory farming as the next holocaust, for example… we get what these advocates are saying… what they are trying to do but there is a much more sensitive conversation that needs to be had… including those communities who are affected.”

– “Who is doing this work… who are we including in this conversation?”

– The imperative of diversity and inclusion in developing global law

– If “we’re not having these collaborative, co-generative conversations across communities 1) practically it just won’t work, 2) it’s the wrong way to go about it and 3) it will be fragile progress”

– “Advocacy campaigns that… will target animal industrial practices in contexts other than our own… or practices of religious minorities”

– JW: The challenge of being sensitive to contexts that are not our own – while not ignoring any oppression or the victims of any oppression, regardless of who might be doing the oppression

– “I would not be in a place to say what the one right approach is – I don’t think there is one”

– “The most important thing is if we’re forwarding any kind of initiative that is to encompass other communities we do so in deep collaboration with those communities from the get-go from design, to conceptualisation, implementation… all of it… model treaties we might want to bring to the UN… include animal welfare in the Sustainable Development Goals…”

– “Why should people be speaking to us – why are we the people?” vs. “capacity building… giving money & resources to people who have their own ideas about how to do it in their own context”

– “Law is a reflection of the people that it serves… the people that make it”

– “As our societies develop towards more compassionate approaches towards animals we will eventually see the law move in that direction – it’s just slow and it lags behind”

– “It’s rooted in the past… precedent and so on”

– “The law is kind of a necessary evil… it’s not sufficient by itself… and it’s also not the first thing that you go to – you start with education and you start with grass-roots campaigns and working with communities to build an understanding – to the point where the law can feasibly make that jump”

– “It can be bold but it tends to require that broader movement behind it – for this sort of fundamental change at least”

– “…Throw everything at the wall and see what sticks… with the amount of ongoing suffering we want to see any sort of change and we want to see it fast.”

– “Want to do it right… But we can lock something in and edit it as we go”

– “There’s a de-colonial critique… that recognises and describes international law as a colonial device… created to forward the ambitions of the colonisers and that continues to exist”

– “A broad range of views TWAIL (Third World Approaches to International Law) scholarship between demolishing the whole system… to transforming it from the inside”

– A common top-down approach re: “Let’s jump to the international level because it’s more sweeping… quicker change”… “it just doesn’t work like that”

– Global law meta-theory and the complexity of “how different levels talk to each other”

01:28:19 Follow Iyan


Iyan on LinkedIn

Iyan at BCU

Global Animal Law From The Margins “the e-book is reasonably priced”

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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