Let’s create more effective, compasionate narratives – Writer Alex Lockwood – Sentientism Episode 94

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

Alex (@alexlockwood & alexlockwood.co.uk) is a fiction & non-fiction writer. He is Senior Lecturer in the Centre for Research in Media & Cultural Studies at Uni of Sunderland. He has a PhD in Creative Writing from Newcastle University & has published stories, essays & journalism in a wide range of magazines, journals & newspapers. He has a particular fascination with how we write about our engagements and relations with the nonhuman world. Alex’s debut non-fiction work, The Pig in Thin Air, was published with Lantern Books in March 2016. Alex was one of the founding team of Animal Rebellion, a director of The Save Movement & a member of the Vegan Society‘s Research Advisory Committee. His “Planting Value” report for  @The Vegan Society  lays out plans for a transition towards a vegan UK plantingvalueinfood.org.

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 video above the audio is on our Podcast here on Apple and here elsewhere.

We discuss:
00:00 Welcome

01:11 Alex’s Intro

  • A writer-academic-activist
  • The challenge of focus!
  • Private & public writing (e.g. COP26), being part of a network

05:10 What’s Real?

  • Last week’s shamanic journeying ayahuasca retreat: “Asking deep questions about what it means to be a human being on this planet”
  • Animist ontologies & methodologies
  • Advocating for the non-human
  • “Who is a person?… can we co-create this planet [in a way] that recognises the birthright of all beings”
  • Growing up in working class, inner-city, South London council estates
  • Catholic upbringing, but with some atheist family
  • “School of hard knocks… spiritual & religious questions weren’t very real”
  • Confirmed as Catholic, school run by monks & church every weekend… “Realising it was a symbolic story… it wasn’t taught as a fundamentalist truth”
  • “Didn’t sit right with me that my very very kind & generous atheist grandfather (& his cats!) wasn’t going to go to heaven.”
  • Experiences of connecting with our planet, the broader universal spirit… that have always been quite real to me
  • Symbolic synthesis
  • Tarot cards for journaling (narrative & myth, not divination)
  • We’ve lost connection from how myths/images/narratives work within us
  • Indigenous beliefs & practices… “to recognise a broader church of beings who are persons”
  • Mother had a baby taken away at 17 because “born out of wedlock… it was a sin.” “I did not like the family dynamic [grandmother-mother]… The imposition of external authority.”
  • Effective Altruism: “it doesn’t often respect the very individual need in front of you… the one person in front of you is the one you’re connected to”
  • Ethics of care re: individual flourishing more than abstract questions of morality
  • “Seeing how ethical structures were blocking the flourishing of individuals”
  • Is quantum field theory where some of the inexplicable might lie?
  • Putting things into narratives… “It’s part magic”… intuitive, symbolic, emotive
  • “I’m not a believer in outright magical explanations”… but there are limits to naturalistic understanding
  • What is evidence & which questions do we ask?
  • Elisa Aaltola “we set a much higher bar for non-human life than we do for human life”
  • A symbolic approach to life. “Stories & values shape our behaviour more than facts”
  • “I’m open to exploring what’s real beyond the naturalistic”
  • Subjective perspectives on our shared objective world?
  • Using ayahuasca/meditation: “There are different ways of seeing reality”

34:39 What (& Who) Matters?

  • Moral scope & priorities
  • Is it easier to expand your circle of compassion when you’re not so strongly bonded to a family unit?
  • Loner meerkats that connect communities
  • Taking mental parental care of himself from 6-7 yrs old… “freed me up”
  • Sentientism’s neutrality re: ethical systems
  • Utilitarianism “feels relatively inflexible”
  • “Everything matters whether sentient or not”… rights of nature
  • “Veganism is a fuzz boundary issue” vs. perfection & purity (accepting a spoonful of a milk dish offered by a refugee in a camp)
  • “If we all still lived in hunter/gatherer groups there would be no vegan”
  • Ancient, indigenous forms of compassion for non-humans?
  • Going vegetarian as a teen. An emotional response to whaling
  • Companion animals, environment & climate
  • Vigils at slaughterhouses. “Bearing witness is the centre of my ethics” & testimony
  • “The suffering of others matters a great deal”
  • Levinas & “the other”
  • “The model of Levinasian ethics only really works if the non-human is included” “The call of the other can not be determined by who the other is”
  • “The call of the other in pain & suffering – can you help?” “The sentient can make that call… therefore we are duty bound to respond…”
  • Monbiot’s “Riverside”… “Can a river make that call?”
  • The hypocrisy of serving animal products at COP26
  • Healing the rift between the animal & environmental movements. @Animal Rebellion & “Pig in Thin Air”

01:07:25 Making A Better World

  • Human sentient, non-human sentient, environmental challenges
  • “Let’s get away from thinking it’s too big a question”
  • Mia MacDonald @BrighterGreenNY , Kim Stallwood (previous guest!), Martin Rowe. Narritive & creativity & communications. “This is our slice”
  • Effective stories, building capacity (in & outside movements), building infrastructure to amplify messages
  • Alternative media: Sentient Media, Plant Based News
  • Playing catch up with right-wing, big agri, big oil interests re: media & narratives
  • “The gauntlet is there & we’ve been slapped with it many times”
  • “It’s poets, writers, theatre, journalists… anyone who is connected & grounded in storytelling in the media sphere & the every day”
  • Alex Evans’ “The Myth Gap”
  • “We need common sense conversations that change people’s values… I don’t believe there’s one meta-narrative that will win them all”
  • We need narratives that are “ready to use at the moment of crisis, like the next pandemic… so that a system change occurs”
  • Shifting from “just sounding the alarm” towards solutions & Just Transition plans
  • Alex’s “Planting Value” report for @The Vegan Society “The farmer & the chickpea.” A positive vision of what farmers will be doing in 2030
  • The effectiveness of Rachel Carson’s “Silent Spring”. A fable grounded in scientific evidence
  • “Use rhetorical skills… to tell the story of what is real”
  • Dinesh Wadiwel: “We’ve got enough of what we don’t want – we need to see what we do want”
  • Martin Rowe’s “Vegan America Project
  • How “prophets” can help with transitions: 1) Identify what’s wrong – tell the reality, 2) Creating spaces to help people through, 3) What comes next?
  • Emily St. John Mandel’s “Station Eleven” novel (now @HBO series)
  • “When you’re active… it’s the channel into which any despair that arises flows.”

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

Join our “I’m a Sentientist” wall using this simple form.

Everyone, Sentientist or not, is welcome in our groups. The biggest so far is here on Facebook. Rachel and I are already there!

Thanks Graham for the post-production.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.