Peter Singer knows it is difficult to make a lonely stand against the mega corporate food processing machine. To make meaningful changes to diet, to care more about where food comes from and to consider the vast laundry list of problems that comes with the international food industry requires a great deal of attention to detail and resourcefulness. Singer, through his persuasive and forgiving prose, makes it easier for folks to get in the know about what a trip to the supermarket really entails. Singer joins host Robert Scheer for this week’s Scheer Intelligence episode to talk about the renewed version of his classic book, Animal Liberation Now.
After nearly 50 years since the original publishing of Animal Liberation, Singer finds that there indeed has been change, although not as much as he would have liked. With a fresh perspective on the research regarding food production’s impact on climate change, Singer reintroduces his classic with a modern angle. Scheer and Singer revisit the important points that made the book a hit for all these years. For one, despite improvements in regulations in Europe, the U.S. continues to be one of the worst violators of animal welfare. “There’s no federal regulation that says you can’t keep a chicken in a cage so small that she can’t stretch her wings fully or you can’t keep a pig in a crate that she can’t even turn around in,” Singer says, adding “that’s the influence of the lobbyists… the agri-business that is pouring money into Washington lobbyists and preventing any such legislation at the federal level.”
The nightmarish conditions of overcrowded food factories, where 20,000 animals are confined and deprived of natural light, while being force-fed subpar nutrition, depict the current state of affairs. Even if you have no sympathy for the animals, “they’re under stress, their immune systems are weakened. It’s a perfect recipe for creating new viruses… There will be humans who have to go into the sheds, who will pick up the viruses and spread them back to the community. So there’s a serious pandemic risk with factory farming,” Singer adds.
Sympathy for these animals should be the goal, however, as Singer attempts to convey throughout the book. “Animals are other beings who are on this planet. They were not placed on this planet just for our benefit. They are living their own lives. And I don’t believe that we—because we have power over them, because of our advanced technology—are justified in giving them miserable lives in order to produce their flesh, milk or eggs more cheaply,” he declares.
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This transcript was produced by an automated transcription service. Please refer to the audio interview to ensure accuracy.
Robert Scheer: Hi, this is Robert Scheer with another edition of Scheer Intelligence, where the intelligence comes from my guest. And you know, he’s a young guy compared to me. He’s only 70. What are you now?
Peter Singer: 76.
Scheer: 76, you’re really young, but, you know, truly one of the great legends that I have thought about, followed his work for my whole life, for most of my life. And we’re actually coming up on the half century anniversary… I mean, he’s written, I don’t know. I can’t even… I’ve lost count. You’ve done about, what, 15 to 20 books or something?
Singer: If you’re talking about books that I’ve written by myself, yes it’s around that. If you add in some co authored ones and some edited ones, it gets a bit higher.
Scheer: Okay. And what I love about your work, you know, because you could be typed and, you know, concerned about sentient, nonhuman animals. It’s been your concern, but I notice you just won a million dollar prize a couple of years back from the Peruvian society and you distributed it, gave it away to causes dealing with animal treatment and safety and also human poverty. And you’ve written largely about ethics concerning, obviously, human beings as well. And so it’s not as if you’re inviting us, in your work, to only focus on one part of the ethical range. And I must say, for people who don’t know the work, this is now Animal Liberation Now, the legendary book, as I said, was done in 1975, and it really is as responsible as any single work for the rebirth of a movement of concern about the well-being of animals, particularly the ones that we have domesticated and exploited for their milk, for their meat or what have you. And 50 years of struggle over this issue, you know, has arisen. And let me just say, I am one of those who struggles with my corruption in this area. And just this morning I was having some milk with my coffee and I thought, why am I doing this? I have just read the new version of your book. And for me to get that milk, I once again learned from you, a cow has to be separated from her calf, has to be basically imprisoned in spot, has to be force fed, has to produce an enormous quantity of milk. No sensitivity to the suffering I mean, the whole punishment… And here I was the culprit. And I’m saying it very seriously. And my first question really to you is how much impact has your work had and how have practices change? And having just read your rework of the ideas of the book, Animal Liberation, now published by Harper’s, it seems to me the situation, by the statistics you offer, is worse now than it was when you wrote your book. Much worse.
Singer: Sadly, it is much worse. And that’s you know, it’s worse mostly in the sense that there are more animals we are ruthlessly exploiting for their meat, flesh, milk and eggs. And there are a number of reasons for that. One is the world’s population has grown, another is and, you know, that’s in itself not specific to animals. And another is that countries like China have become much more prosperous, also not specific to animals, but it does mean that they have more disposable income and a lot of Chinese use that to buy more meat. And therefore, China has responded to that by building more factory farms, including like huge 26 story buildings that are just filled with pigs that they’re producing, never get to go outside the building. So in that way, it’s significantly worse. If you talk, though, on the other hand, paradoxically, about the number of vegetarians and vegans in the world, that’s increased a lot. And if you talk about the attitudes that people have to animals, that’s also improved quite a lot, especially in Western countries. So, you know, it’s kind of in the balance, I would say the chances of really having a positive change in the next couple of decades are much better than they were in the 1970s when the first version of the book appeared. But at the same time, the suffering going on right now is much greater.
Scheer: Well, let me ask you first about one of the cop outs, because I, you know, first of all, I think of myself as something of a vegetarian. But of course, and I need to eat fish to get the protein and there’s all of that, you know, And then I do try to eat at our local vegan restaurant. And the rationale for my ignoring 50 years of your teaching is oh, I get my yogurt, I forget who makes is Strauss or something, they’re supposed to be more enlightened. And in your book you do mention some examples of people trying to have milk in a more enlightened fashion where we’re not torturing the cows. There is no really enlightened way to get the flesh, you know, which whether you do clubbing or what have you. But, you know, is it, because we have a lot, you know, you pick the label up and it says it’s, you know, organic and it says it’s this and free range. How much of that is hype and how much is really an alternative?
Singer: Well, for it to be organic, it has to comply with certain regulations about what the animals are fed, whether it was treated with pesticides and so on. But it doesn’t really say very much about the animal welfare components of it, because they can be organic, so-called organic dairy farms that are actually very intensive where the cows don’t get to graze out on pasture. So, yeah, I don’t think that label helps you very much. If it says free range or pasture raised, say, in the case of eggs, that should mean a reasonable life for hens, should mean that they’re able to go outside on pasture during suitable weather and spend most of the day outside. And that should mean that they’re not so heavily stocked. You know, it’s not just a small dirt run, because if they were too heavily stocked, there wouldn’t actually be pasture. There would just be dirt. The hens would destroy it all. So, yeah, you know, I’m saying some of those are bona fide and I think you could say definitely better than buying the factory farmed products if it is free range, if the cows also get out to go on grass, that’s not by any means the standard situation, large dairies. So those things are better there improvements and you know, if you want to move towards a more ethical diet, I think that’s a reasonable step. But you know, the milk you mentioned this morning, there’s plenty of good plant based milks available, and I think they work pretty well. You saw a wide range now, you can take your choice. So I think that’s still a better choice. But I recognize that not everybody is going to go completely plant based. So as long as you’re joining in the struggle against factory farms, which I think is a huge, you know, real horror in terms of both animal welfare and the environment, you know, and I’m prepared to say, you know, give you a pat on the back and say, great, you know, doing well, maybe you’ll go a little bit further at some stage, but you’re doing okay.
Scheer: Well, but it’s not the pat on the back that I want after reading your book, I would like an end to the brutality. I mean, first of all, you’re obviously a brilliant writer and you’ve been able to mobilize millions and millions of people to be conscious about what we are doing. I, what Robert Scheer is contributing to when I ignore the lesson of your writing. But let me put it in a larger cultural perspective. I remember on my first trips to Asia, you mentioned China, for example, most of the diet was vegetarian and a little bit of meat was used to sort of spice up a dish and maybe… People couldn’t afford it. And, you know, but the food was very tasty without any chicken or fish, you know, meat from cows. And this was true, obviously, in India, large, large part of the world. They were not lacking for exciting food. And it was primarily a vegetarian diet. And then the whole definition of the… I mean the whole idea of the reward of prosperity was, oh, now we can have lots of meat, which isn’t healthy, it’s not good for you. And I just wonder about that. You know, this is mostly about marketing, about advertising, about creating a new culture of prosperity and what it means, you know, to be prosperous. And your book goes into that somewhat. But to my mind, when I look at this world now and it’s waste of every kind, but waste of our health and so forth, it’s what we mean by the reward of prosperity. Isn’t that basically the issue?
Singer: It’s yes, maybe that is basically the issue, but the question still is how do we change that and how do we get people to see that that’s not really a reward. Firstly, as you say, that’s harmful to their health, to switch to really large quantities of meat from the lower quantities that they were having before and the much greater consumption of vegetables. So that’s… How do we change the idea that that’s a sign of prosperity that you can give the family meat? I think we’re starting to move away from it in, you know, Western countries. And there are some countries where per capita meat consumption is now declining, like Germany and Sweden. So that’s good. And I hope that in the United States will start to go in that direction as more people either go completely plant based or reduce the number of days on which they have meat. But how we actually get people in China to change, you know, I hope that will come eventually, but I don’t know how to do it.
Scheer: Well, you know, there are large connections, I shouldn’t say larger, there are other compelling reasons, which you mentioned in your book for change, one of which certainly would interest China. And that has to do with climate change, has to do with the survival of the planet. And, you know, on the one hand, in China, they’re interested in electric cars. Whatever we think about that, at least it’s a move in a certain direction. They know they can’t breathe in Beijing. They know we have, you know, real problems with the warming of the climate and so forth. And your book, you know, your book is up to date because it’s dealing with the most contemporary… Let me give a big plug for the revised edition of your classic. Usually, you know, when publishers revise a classic, it’s just they want to boost sales. But what you’ve done with your, you know, seminal work is really show it’s up to the moment concern. It is the issue of the day. So why don’t we talk about that a little bit? The climate issue.
Singer: Yes, absolutely. And that was one of the reasons why I wanted to revise it, because it has been a long time since I did change it. And climate wasn’t really on my horizon when I wrote it or even when I last revised it. So I think this is a really important reason for avoiding meat. And we now understand much better the role that methane plays in warming the planet. Methane is an extremely potent greenhouse gas, and it’s produced particularly by ruminant animals, by cows, and that includes both beef and dairy, and it’s also produced by sheep, other ruminants. Although, you know, in terms of the kind of meat that Americans eat, it’s much more the beef and the dairy that is causing that climate change. So that is another important reason and I think, you know, it’s not only that, because the other problem with factory farming is we have to grow the food to feed to these animals. Obviously, if they’re indoors all their lives, they can’t get their own food. So we use agricultural land to grow crops and we also clear forested land or countries like Brazil clear the Amazon and both grazing beef cattle and growing soy to feed to beef cattle is a prime cause of clearing the Amazon. And sometimes people say to me, well, they don’t want to use soy milk or tofu or tempeh because of the soy that is grown from the cleared Amazon. But actually that’s a tiny percentage of the soy crop because 77% of the world’s soy crop is fed to animals. And you know, a lot of the nutritional value of that is wasted because the animals just use it to go on living, to keep their bodies warm and so on. So, you know, really any kind of factory farming is contributing to climate change and the plant based diet is the most efficient in terms of land use, in terms of producing food to feed the world, as well as having the lowest greenhouse gasses.
Scheer: You know. In your book, you quite often point out that government is not a neutral observer of this, that there are subsidies. There’s basically two forces operating: one is the profit motive. That’s why you go 26 stories up in the air. That’s why I mean, you have some examples of people, I think, in your native Australia who have cows producing milk in a fairly decent manner and actually they end up making a profit. But you know, the real drive there to exploit the cow or to have a certain quantity each day and so forth, is the profit motive. But that profit motive is also enhanced by government subsidies. And so right now in China, there’s a massive effort to increase agricultural production because they want to be less dependent on U.S. agricultural exports because of political tension and what have you. Why don’t we talk a little bit about that? Again, I want the yardstick here… One compelling reason to read Animal Liberation Now, the current version of your book is, I think, to see how little progress we’ve made. I found your book alarming, frankly.
Singer: It is alarming. I agree. I wish I had better news. It is alarming. And as you say, I mean, you know, you talk about China’s subsidies for agriculture, but of course, the US, through the farm bill, has enormous subsidies for growing grains and corn and soy as well. And that is basically being fed to animals. It’s because corn, in particular, is so cheap that you can afford to buy it and to feed it to beef cattle who, you know, get back only, at the most, 10% of the nutritional value of the corn you’re feeding them. But it’s so cheap that you can do it. And if the U.S. government were not subsidizing it with that, with U.S. taxes, then I think that would change. I think you would see less grain fed beef and probably less grain fed pork and chicken as well.
Scheer: You know, the pricing and the subsidy and the encouragement is really critical because after all, these governments are at least theoretically pledged to controlling climate change and recognize we have the danger and so forth. Yet, you know, when I go to a Laker game here, as I did last week, I tried to get myself, I did buy a plant burger. I forget the name of the company. It cost me about 15 bucks, as I recall. And, you know, a lot of the food that I get when I go to a vegan restaurant seems to cost more money. And I think it’s throughout the world governments support an agriculture that established farming interests, one that supplies cheap, right, cheap grain for the growing of meat. There’s less in the way of subsidy for the kind of food that you’re advocating we eat. So it is a political problem, isn’t it?
Singer: It’s partly a political problem. And it’s political partly in terms of the subsidies you mentioned, but also whether the government will regulate, say, the amount of space that animals have in factory farms. And the European Union has done that. And the United Kingdom much more than the United States. The United States, only a few states have regulated it. There’s no federal regulation that says you can’t keep a chicken in a cage so small that she can’t stretch her wings fully or you can’t keep a pig in a crate that she can’t even turn around in. It’s just too narrow for her to turn around. You know, a few states, California is the biggest one have said that. And that’s good. But it’s, you know, it’s a very minimal standard to say you can’t keep an animal in an enclosure so small that they can’t turn around without bumping into the bowels of the enclosure or another animal in the enclosure. The European Union has done that and it would be good if the United States were to do it as a whole. But that’s the influence of the lobbyists, as you say, the agri-business that is pouring money into Washington lobbyists and preventing any such legislation at the federal level. And places like California have it because you can bring a ballot there, put it on the ballot, educate citizens about what it’s like, and they will vote against it. You know, 63% voted against it in California, 78% in Massachusetts voted against it. So it’s an interesting issue which gets…
Scheer: When you say voted against it…
Singer: Sorry, voted for the proposition to ban or to require that these animals…
Scheer: So this is a positive story.
Singer: Have to have space to move around. Yeah, I didn’t mean voted against giving animals…
Scheer: Just a little anecdote. When I first came to go to graduate school at Berkeley in 1959, I visited. My mother was a garment worker in New York, Jewish garment worker, and I visited some of her ex-garment worker friends who were raising chickens in Petaluma. And it was really kind of an idyllic existence. If they had fled Brooklyn and the Bronx for Petaluma and they were feeding these chickens and it was wonderful. And the chickens seemed to enjoy it, and most of it was for the eggs. So I didn’t have to watch much slaughter of the chickens. And in your book, you just describe how something… Well, first of all, the very idea of having domesticated animals of any kind is a fairly modern invention. And, you know, place like even Hawaii can’t imprison the roosters. They run all over the place. And so the whole there is a form of agriculture which you keep referring back to in your book that is at least conscious of animal rights or not torturing animals.
Singer: At least respect for animals. I suppose, I would say some respect for what they are and their nature. Yeah.
Scheer: Why don’t you talk about that? Because that is really the power of your writing. It’s not preachy. It doesn’t say, “Oh, you’re a murderer, a murderer, a murderer, and I’ll throw pink paint on you.” But it makes a compelling ethical argument that these are sentient beings and that we destroy our own nature by ignoring that. That’s really the power of your writing, isn’t it?
Singer: Yeah. Well, thank you very much. That’s very flattering of you. I try to write in a way that isn’t preachy and that will engage people and get their interest and also make them see that they have reasonable choices and they have better choices than most people are making now. But yes, in terms of the way of raising chickens or hens for their eggs that you describe, that was very common, that people would would keep a few hens, that they would have room to walk around, they would scratch around and they would find some of the food themselves picking for worms or insects. And then you would feed them a bit as well, of course. And you would get the eggs and I think they would have a reasonable life. You would get something that you wanted from them. You would understand them as individuals. Anybody who keeps a few hens knows that they have different personalities and that they are individual animals. I would not really have objected to that. But today, that’s just not the way that the overwhelming majority of eggs are produced. In fact, when it comes to producing chickens for meat, I’ve seen a statistic that says that 99.9% of U.S. chickens produced for meat are fully confined indoors in very intensive, crowded conditions. So it’s only, you know, the lucky one in a thousand chickens who are actually able to go outside nowadays. And that’s really damaging and it’s destroyed a way of life for many people. The family farm that could live in some harmony with nature and animals. I don’t want to idealize that, it was not perfect, but, you know, compared to these giant stinking animal factories that are producing them nowadays, it was just a completely different and definitely a better world.
Scheer: And you also make the point that it’s less healthy for the consumer.
Singer: Yes. Well, I think, you know, one thing that’s clearly less healthy is the quantity of animal products that we eat now. And I think that is generally accepted. The Lancet, which is one of the top two medical journals in the world, along with the New England Journal of Medicine, set up a commission of experts on both diet and environment. It called it the EAT-Lancet Commission, EAT. And they found that the diet we’re eating is an unhealthy one. That in particular, they warned against consuming red meat and consuming processed meat as well, like sausages and that kind of processed meat which they associated with heart disease and with risks of cancer, of the digestive system. And they recommended cutting back heavily on all meat, not necessarily being completely plant based or vegan, but yeah, dramatically reducing meat consumption. And then the environmental experts pointed out that this is also what the planet needs. The planet really can’t cope with the number of animals we have. It certainly can’t produce that diet for the entire world’s population. We would need two or three plants to do that. It’s just too wasteful, too much grain and soy that has to be grown and fed to the animals. So from the point of view of our own personal health and the health of the planet, and also I should mention, like there’s a public health risk with factory farming in two ways. One of them is that if you crowd 20,000 animals in a shed and they’re under stress, their immune systems are weakened. It’s a perfect recipe for creating new viruses. So the viruses will spread among the animals, they’ll mutate. Some of them will then be transferable to humans, and there will be humans who have to go into the sheds now and again, who will pick up the viruses and spread them back to the community. So there’s a serious pandemic risk with factory farming. And the other factor, which is well documented, is that the intensive agri-business really relies on feeding antibiotics to the animals, again, to reduce the incidence of diseases and to help them to gain weight steadily. They are feeding a lot of antibiotics to animals. And that means that the virus or the bacteria that the antibiotics are fighting develop resistance to those antibiotics and we are losing a lot of valuable antibiotics. And that’s why we’re getting these resistant staphylococci and multiply resistant infections that people die from because we don’t any longer have antibiotics that can protect us from them.
Scheer: You know, reading your book and reminder of your original classic, you have a pretty, and you’re not preachy, of course, but you have a pretty damning indictment of the human species. Ever since our entrance into this planet, even before commercial farming and all that, we just destroyed most of the large animals we encountered, we humans. And we’ve been very destructive. And the other part of your life’s work is, as an ethicist, you write quite a bit about where we get our ethics from, and you challenge people like Aristotle and others on the limits of their approach to ethics. I happened to teach a course in ethics at University of Southern California, and I very often ask, I mean, why we even talk about it? I mean, ethics seems to be some sort of distant sideshow, but it’s really central to your writing and your concern. So, you know, maybe a way of sort of wrapping this up. The subject of animal liberation is not really just about [inaudible]. We’re a different form of life. It’s about the human existence and the insensitivity it creates in us, isn’t it? And the waste.
Singer: Well, yes, there’s all of that. But I want to slightly disagree with your idea that ethics is just a sideshow.
Scheer: Oh, no, I didn’t mean it should be. I just find every time I try to talk about it, people look at me like I lost my marbles or something. You know why you bringing that up? That’s all I mean, I don’t think it should be a sideshow.
Singer: Yeah, but I think it actually does have an effect. And that’s one of the things I love about teaching ethics and teaching philosophy that it changes people’s lives. Now, that doesn’t mean it changes everybody’s life, but if I teach a class of 100 students, I think probably each time at least two or three of them, it will change their lives. Sometimes it will change their lives in terms of what they eat. Sometimes they will change their lives in terms of what career they are thinking of because they’ve become more interested in careers that enable them to do more good in the world rather than just careers that enable them to earn a lot of money. So, you know, I think it’s effective. And this is not just my anecdotes, because I did take part in a study actually done in California at the University of California, Riverside, together with a philosopher there called Eric Schwitzgebel, who was teaching there, and he divided his large introductory class, about a thousand students, into two groups, a random division. One group got discussions of the ethics of eating meat, and another group got a different discussion that was just, they were just a control group. And the great beauty of doing this at Riverside was that most of the students use their student ID cards to buy their meals at the cafeteria so we could get their ID numbers and without, you know, breaching their own identity of those numbers, we could track what choices they had made before and after the class on meat ethics. And we did find a statistically significant drop in the number of meat meals ordered at the cafeteria by those in the meat ethics group. Whereas as you’d expect, there was no change in the number of meat meals ordered in the control group. So, you know, it’s not that they all turned vegan or anything like that, but it did affect enough of them to show up statistically as derivable from the meat ethics discussion.
Scheer: Now, I was about to wrap this up, but I think I’m missing the main power of your classic and now your rewrite, Animal Liberation Now, of this work. And that is its power to alarm us. And sometimes we have to be alarmed and sometimes we have to act with greater alacrity in changing our behavior. And I must say, yes, you didn’t preach to me in this current version of your book. I didn’t feel, I wasn’t driven by guilt, but I was alarmed. And maybe we should summarize where we are now and why this subject is so compelling in its importance.
Singer: Yeah. Well, thank you. I mean, I think it’s important primarily because animals are other beings who are on this planet. They were not placed on this planet just for our benefit. They are living their own lives. And I don’t believe that we, because we have power over them, because of our advanced technology, I don’t believe that we are justified in giving them miserable lives in order to produce their flesh, milk or eggs more cheaply. So the fact that we’re doing this and doing this on a vast scale is what is really alarming. And the scale is, you know, you can’t really comprehend the idea of 70 billion chickens being raised and killed each year and even more fish now being factory farmed as well. And as we’ve been saying, you know, the impact on climate and on local water pollution are very serious as well. So I think that’s alarming. I hope that this book will be a wake up call to people to change their own support for it. Because if you’re buying these products, sorry, you are complicit in this and supporting it, but also to get politically active and to talk to your political representatives and say, we don’t support this, we want to change it. We don’t want governments to subsidize it. We want to see governments actually promoting more plant based meals and fewer meat meals, local governments perhaps providing alternatives to meat in schools. There are a lot of different things that you can do as an active citizen to reduce the scope and power of factory farming.
Scheer: You know, you’ve been generous with your time. Can I ask, I don’t want to take advantage of your…
Singer: You can ask.
Scheer: But I would like to push just one other thing, which otherwise I’ll regret it after I hang up. I began by talking about you are not one of those people for whom your concern about sentient animals other than humans. And we can have a lively discussion whether that goes down to clams or mussels, you know that your book is really fascinating in discussing all of that. But you also have evidence in your writing and your life work of concern about the human condition. It’s not either or. I’d like to join those two, because throughout your book, you’re really talking about not just the suffering of non-human animals, you’re talking about the insensitivity, the callousness that it creates in humans. And there was when we met, you mentioned those chicken farmers in Petaluma. Yes. They weren’t perfect and there were contradictions, but there was a harmony. That’s why they went there. They gave up being in New York City for all its sophistication, even to a working class person, where you could stand in line at the opera or the ballet and so forth, and they ended up, it wasn’t Petaluma now, which is a pretty fancy place, but they went there to feed, go out there and just throw the food that they threw to the chickens if they didn’t find enough worms. So I’d like to end on sort of your contribution as a major philosopher and frankly, as someone who teaches ethics, I find people like Aristotle to be very disappointing. I mean, the big guy, I fall asleep every time we read Aristotle’s Ethics. I feel an obligation I should do it since I’m a professor of this. But really, you, in your writing, seem to me to make ethics important once again. Maybe we should end on that. I mean, give me your sermon.
Singer: Yes, absolutely. I do think ethics is important once again. And I certainly don’t look to Aristotle for ethical guidance. Aristotle, after all, defended slavery, human slavery, and that should be enough to disqualify him. But, you know, I could make a lot of other objections if we had another half hour to…
Scheer: Go ahead, we have the time, because I’m going to ask my students not only to watch this, but to read your book. So please go further with that.
Singer: Okay. Well, I mean, Aristotle had a different view of the universe, a pre-Darwinian view of the universe, according to which the less rational things existed for the sake of the more rational. And that’s why he thought we’re entitled to use animals because they are less rational than us. But he also thought the so-called barbarians were less rational than Greeks, and that’s why Greeks were entitled to enslave barbarians, but not the other way around.
Scheer: That included the Persians and everyone else, right?
Singer: Yes. You had some pretty sophisticated civilizations that might be… Yeah. I think you could go through the history of philosophy, and a lot of it is based on false views and perceptions of how the universe is and whether it has a purpose and whether a divine creator has created it in a certain way. But, you know, I do ethics from a non-religious perspective, and I think that’s still relatively new. Obviously, there have been non-religious philosophers around for a long time. But to do it, and in particular, to apply it to the problems of today is what I think is important. So as you say, I’ve written about animals, I’ve written about global poverty, I’ve written about issues in bioethics. I held a chair of bioethics at Princeton University, and I’ve written, for example, I’ve supported voluntary assisted dying or physician assisted dying, as it’s called. The common thread of what I do is to try to avoid suffering where suffering is really unnecessary, where we can avoid a lot of suffering either without any harm to us, which I think is the case for avoiding factory farmed products as well as things like assisted dying. Or we can just, you know, something that we can fairly easily do that’s not important to us, we can reduce someone else’s suffering a great deal. And that’s my work on helping people in extreme poverty. So as a spinoff of that, I wrote an article about, also more than 50 years ago, called Famine, Affluence and Morality. And then about 15 years ago, I wrote a book called The Life You Can Save, which was trying to show people how it’s pretty easy to save a life, really. You don’t have to be a hero. You don’t have to smash your way into a burning building and rescue someone from the flames. You can save a life by donating to really effective organizations, helping people in extreme poverty. And out of that book, through an organization that I helped found called The Life You Can Save, and if people want to look at it, you can go to TheLifeYouCanSave.org. You can also even download the book absolutely free from TheLifeYouCanSave.org. So I’m trying to spread these ideas not just within the academy, not just to other philosophers or students, but to a wider audience that I think is receptive to the idea of living an ethical life and asking what is involved in living an ethical life. And it’s not just obeying a few rules. It’s thinking about the impact of what you do and how you can contribute to making the world a better place.
Scheer: Well, thank you for that. I also thank you for that. Now I can assign the one I can download for free to my students. So they don’t have to add to their enormous student debt with some $100 textbook or something. I want to thank you for taking this time. I want to thank you for taking your classic and, you know, dare I say, improve upon it to make it so relevant to where we are, unfortunately, it is so relevant. One would have hoped that we would have had made greater progress on the basis of your classic, but okay. Animal Liberation Now, Harper’s book. And I would hold it up, but I’ve this is just the galleys, it’s not as flattering.
Singer: That’s that’s pretty much what it looks like, though. It’s a paperback, so I hope you find it in your bookstore.
Scheer: And I’d like to really promote this to people who listen to this podcast on a regular basis. Take my word for it, this is the one book you should really read if you think you know. I mean, I just want to reiterate that if you think you really have exhausted your knowledge about this subject, then yes, you’re doing the right thing. It made me seriously reevaluate how I live. And, you know, at this age, I could probably say, hey, I just want to get through the day. But, you know, I wouldn’t say I feel guilty, I feel concerned, and also joining the two points because I’m not helping myself by imprisoning and torturing and murdering all these animals considered a lesser form. So it’s a very positive book. Animal Liberation Now. Peter Singer, I want to thank the folks at KCRW FM, the great NPR station in Santa Monica, Laura Kondourajian and Christopher Ho for posting these shows. I want to thank Joshua Scheer, our executive producer, who forced me, I must say, to read this book. He kept shoving it in my face and saying, we got to do this. This is really critical. So thank you Joshua Scheer. Diego Ramos, who writes the introduction, Max Jones, who does the video. And I want to thank the JKW Foundation, in the memory of Jean Stein, a terrific writer and public intellectual, for helping fund these shows. See you next week with another edition of Scheer Intelligence.