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?”
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.
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.