The Rights of Animals Symposium 1977

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The Rights of Animals Symposium 1977

By Kim Stallwood on Animals and Society Institute
July 2009

From time to time, we need the stimulation and companionship as well as the challenge to existing ideas that events like The Rights of Animals and Minding Animals provide.

The Minding Animals Conference in Australia is over. I regret very much I was unable to attend. I enjoyed the reports posted here by my colleagues, John Thompson and Ken Shapiro. I'm thrilled to learn that a new conference, Minding Animals 2: The Human Dimension, is planned for Europe or North America in 2012. I plan to be there!

This event reminded me of the first animal rights conference I attended. It was The Rights of Animals at Trinity College, Cambridge and was organized the RSPCA in 1977. The proceedings were published in a book, Animals' Rights--a Symposium, edited by David Patterson and Richard D. Ryder. The program of speakers included philosophers Stephen R. L. Clark, Andrew Linzey, Tom Regan and Timothy Sprigge; scientists W. J. Jordan, Bernard Dixon, Louis Goldman; and leading advocates, including authors Brigid Brophy and Ruth Harrison, and John Bryant, Clive Hollands and the indomitable Lord Douglas Houghton.

I had my eureka moment in animal ethics at the conference. I can not remember which speaker made me go "Aha!" but I clearly recall experiencing the realization that I was hearing something which was articulating my thoughts for me. The conference showed me it was possible to sort out my muddled thinking so that I was able to clarify and articulate what I really wanted to say.

Even though I was a vegan and working for Compassion In World Farming at the time my understanding of animal ethics was negligible. My mind was a turbulent emotion of half-baked notions and outraged sentimentalities. I articulated a garbled message that "animals suffered and experienced pain" and "factory farming was wrong" and "there should be laws to stop it!" Heartfelt sentiments expressed in passionate confidence but, as I learned the hard way, easily challenged and dismissed by others when I had to substantiate them. My self-righteous indignation empowered me to speak out but my lack of understanding meant I made foolish, ill-informed, undeveloped statements. I realized I had to learn how to express myself in a way that withstood philosophical challenges and political argument. This encouraged me to learn more. I set out with no clear plan. I bought books when I saw them. I read them which I could. I discussed ideas with like-minded activists at protests and in the pub afterwards. I attended presentations by philosophers, authors and politicians whenever the opportunity presented itself. My thinking about animal ethics evolved throughout this time and continues to do so.

More than 30 years later, I look back on this conference as a turning point for me and, more importantly, the animal rights movement. From time to time, we need the stimulation and companionship as well as the challenge to existing ideas that events like The Rights of Animals and Minding Animals provide. This is why I want to make sure I don't miss Minding Animals 2: The Human Dimension!

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