By Gary Francione,
There is an interesting project called The Conversation: In Search of the New Normal. The project is described in part:
The Conversation explores visions of our future and questions of the good. If you rolled an audio documentary, dinner party, and digital humanities project into a giant media-burrito, this is what you’d get:
From April to December of 2012, Aengus Anderson traveled America and recorded long, unstructured conversations with a cross-section of thinkers and doers, from transhumanists to neoprimitivists, urban farmers to musicians. The resulting conversations were wildly diverse but unified by a few themes: critiques of the present, hopes for the future, and discussions of what each thinker considered “the good.” The results may not yield any existential answers, but you’ll hear thoughtful and often provocative discussions emerging from a cacophony of ideas.
Within each episode you will (almost always) hear genuine conversations rather than boilerplate monologues. At the same time, the project itself is a single conversation that spans episodes. This is because, unlike most interview series, Aengus told the thinkers about each others’ ideas. This gives The Conversation a self-referential quality that grows richer as the series progresses.
I was one of the people that Aengus Anderson interviewed. We discussed animal rights, nonviolence, morality as a general matter, etc.
Gary L. Francione is an animal rights activist, proponent of veganism, Professor of Law and Scholar of Law and Philosophy at Rutgers. Previously he taught at the University of Pennsylvania, worked as an attorney in New York, and clerked for Sandra Day O’Connor. He is the author of several books including Rain Without Thunder: The Ideology of the Animal Rights Movement and, more recently, co-author of The Animal Rights Debate: Abolition or Regulation.
For all of the talk of biocentrism and anthropocentrism that dominated many of the early episodes of The Conversation, animals have not been a major theme within the project. Chris McKay, Robert Zubrin, and David Keith all discussed animals in passing, but for Gary they are central to a discussion of what he considers the biggest issue of our era: the tension between moral realism and moral relativism. Questions of nonviolence, commodification, and empathy pervade our conversation, but Gary pairs his abstract notions with a lot of concrete examples—this episode deals with the visceral immediacy of everyday life and doesn’t threaten to float away in a philosophical balloon. I think you will like this episode, just as I think it will challenge you.
In terms of connections, there are points where Gary could almost be responding directly to Richard Saul Wurman’s moral relativism. Lawrence Torcello will be on your mind, not merely because I mention him in the introduction, but because Gary’s conversation provokes questions of relativism, pluralism, and how we can work towards the broader good.
2/18/13 – Gary Responds
Occasionally we are fortunate enough to have an interviewee contact us after an episode and extend The Conversation further. Gary sent me this note in response to the discussion Neil and I had at the conclusion of his interview. In it, he develops six points:
- Veganism is necessary but not a sufficient condition for nonviolence.
- A perfectly nonviolent life is impossible, thus “purity” is being incorrectly applied by Neil.
- His thinking is informed by Jainism but rooted in more general philosophical concepts.
- Utilitarianism is less pragmatic than veganism as a tool for change.
- There is a tipping point for social acceptance of ideas, including veganism.
- Choosing a vegan lifestyle is easy, not difficult.