Animal Writes
15 July 2001 Issue
GAP's Executive Director in Boston Globe

from [email protected] 

The Great Ape Project's Executive Director, Paul Waldau, was featured in the Boston Globe Magazine on July 1st. Here is the article

The Interview

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 species.

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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Email: [email protected] 


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