The Great Ape Project's Executive Director, Paul Waldau,
was featured in the Boston Globe Magazine on July 1st. Here is the
By John Koch
ETHICIST AND FORMER LAWYER Paul Waldau, 51, writes about
animal law, rights, and public policy. He teaches related subjects at
the Tufts Schools of Veterinary Medicine and Boston College School of
Law. Waldau is also Executive Director of The Great Ape Project.
Q ~ What are your objectives?
A ~ My work is dedicated not only to nonhuman animals
but to ecological awareness of all of us being connected together. I
don't like the division between environmental ethics and animal
protection -- they're flip sides of the same coin. My objectives include
making legal systems more responsive to nonhuman animals, but my
preference is simply to see people become more compassionate generally.
It elevates us to protect other animals; it makes us aware that we live
in a rich universe.
Q ~ Why use the phrase "nonhuman animals"?
A ~ It's a way to emphasize the connection we have to
the rest of the living world. It's scientifically accurate, and it's
logical, because humans are animals.
Q ~ You also use the word "speciesism." What's that?
A ~ Speciesism is the reasoning that you only have to
give special moral protections to members of your own species. I believe
you should look at an animal's individual traits rather than its species
membership to determine whether or not it deserves protection. So a
chimpanzee might qualify even though it's not a member of the human
Q ~ Give some specific examples of speciesism.
A ~ Chimpanzees locked away in laboratories because
they've been given virulent diseases in order to use them as test tubes.
Such research assumes that they're so like us physically that we can use
them as models for our own bodies, so they're obviously very complicated
-- yet so unlike
us morally that we can do this to them. We wouldn't do
this to Tibetan orphans. Doing it with chimpanzees is very facile --
just based on tradition. The use of chimpanzees in entertainment for the
benefit of humans, using them as props, requires that you take us them
away from their family. Like us, they have incredibly emotional
connections to their kin. That's another very flagrant example of
speciesism. There's first-rate scientific evidence that shows that they
think, feel, emote, empathize, and that pulling them out of their
natural context creates wreckage, as it would for us.
Q ~ What is The Great Ape Project?
A ~ An organization with supporters in dozens of
countries. Its goal is to provide basic protections for gorillas,
chimpanzees, orangutans, and bonobos. That is, to keep them out of
captivity, to provide situations they would choose naturally to live in,
to keep them out of biomedical experimentation, and to protect them from
being killed. It leads to an abolitionist position on those animals
being in zoos.
Q ~ What inspired your work on behalf of animals?
A ~ The most immediate experiences I think of are
swimming with dolphins in Southern California and recognizing that when
I interacted with them, they were masters of their environment, in which
I was located, and they would come up and interact with me as
individuals. They would look at me, puzzle over me, and be quite
curious. This made me wonder about the complexity of other animals and
their intelligence. Dolphins lured me in. The other thing was just
growing up in a religious tradition -- the Catholic tradition. Although
I left it fairly early, I always remember that sacramental sense that
the world matters, and it's a richer world if we're accompanied by other
animals that we care about. That's been my experience. I come from a
large and wonderfully emotional family, and it made me able to care
about all kinds of living beings. It wasn't a politically active family,
just very compassionate. It came from my mother -- so, Mom, thank you.
Q ~ How does your life reflect your commitment?
A ~ Through diet. I'm a vegan: I don't eat animal
products. I don't buy them. When I buy new shoes, I buy non-leather ones
-- but I have plenty of shoes left over from my lawyer days, and they're
going to last a long time. I don't use pesticides in the yard. If bugs
show up in the house, I'll get a glass and a piece of paper and slip
them under and take them out.
Q ~ Do folks think you're nutty?
A ~ I rarely run into that. I have good friends, and I'm
an articulate person. I was a lawyer, a pretty conservative profession,
and I'm not bombastic. As an ethics teacher, my goal is never to tell
classes what my ethics values are but to teach a process and let
students make their own decisions. I can't think of an instance when
somebody came and said, "You're a nut." One time on the radio, someone
said, "Get this idiot off." I thought the person was in a bad place if
they couldn't appreciate somebody who cares this much.
Q ~ Do you miss practicing law?
A ~ I just taught the first animal law class at Boston
College Law School, and in the coming year, I will teach the Harvard
course, too. Doing this is a privilege, although I didn't want to be
dragged back into the law. I worked in a huge law firm and made an
incredible amount of money, but I wanted to live a meaningful life. I
thought, I don't want to turn around at 60 and shoot myself in the head
because I'm empty and rich. There's a wonderful quote: "There is only
one success -- to be able to spend your life in your own way." And
that's what I chose to do. I get up each morning and
enthusiastically do what I do. I live a nice life even
if I don't get paid much.
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The Great Ape Project
P.O. Box 19492
Portland, OR 97280-0492
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