The Mad Cowboy Interview

The interview took place by phone in early August 2004 and was conducted by Howard Lyman’s Mad Cowboy.

What are Animal Rights?

Well, “rights” are claims to protection that we make regarding our most important goods: our life, our liberty, our bodily integrity. The protection of a claim, when we invoke our rights, is really very significant. We can illustrate this by thinking about a couple of examples from the history of human vivisection, that is, research that was done on human beings that was not intended to benefit the subjects of the research.

One is the famous Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment, where American sharecroppers were denied treatment for their disease (syphilis) even though the people who were running the tests knew they had it. Even though they had the means of treating it, they were interested in seeing what would happen to the sharecroppers if they their condition went untreated. The second example is the Hepatitis Research that was conducted on retarded children, during which the children were given the Hepatitis virus, and in half the cases a treatment was withheld.

The rationale in both cases is the same, and it’s really pretty simple. The rationale is that a few will be deliberately endangered, in the hopes that many will benefit. And the point is, that when the rights we claim as protection (our right to life, liberty, and bodily integrity) are meant to protect us from this kind of abuse. The rights of the individuals are not to be violated so that others might benefit. In representative democracies, like the one we live in, these rights are recognized (at least in the case of human beings). In our country we’re appalled that the Syphilis study was being conducted, we’re appalled that the Hepatitis study was done. We think it’s wrong and violative of the rights of the individuals involved.

So the “Animal Rights Debate,” if we could put it in those terms, really does come down to asking the question whether the same fundamental rights, the same fundamental protection that we claim and justifiably claim for ourselves, can be claimed on the behalf of other animals. That’s what the debate is about, because if animals have these rights, then of course we can’t violate them in the hopes that we might benefit.


Why is this considered so controversial? It seems to provoke an amazing amount of emotion on both sides of the fence.

Well, part of it is that if other animals have the same rights that we have, then there’s some sense in which we are equal. I think the idea that human beings are equal to dogs, cats, hogs, horses… some people find either absurd, ludicrous, or offensive. It seems like it is something that takes away from being human. Some people I think are upset about this and insecure with that idea.

But you’re not saying equal in every sense, right? In your book you mention “voting” and the example you use is that a child cannot vote.

I think that it’s very important to understand the kind of equality that’s being claimed. If we just take the case of human beings, when we claim our equality, it’s clear that we’re not saying that we’re all equally smart, because a few are much smarter than the rest of us, or that we all have the same artistic or athletic abilities, for example. Or that we all belong to the same species, because the fact that we belong to a particular species just doesn’t carry any moral freight. It doesn’t answer any moral questions.

What I think makes us equal, as I’m saying in a way far simpler than these other sorts of answers, and is that each of us are is in the world and we’re of the world. Each of us is aware of what happens to us, and each of us is aware that what happens to us matters to us… it makes a difference in the quality of our life, regardless of our intelligence, regardless of our athletic or artistic abilities. So, it’s in this respect that I talk about being a “subject-in-a-life.”

That’s what all members of the human family protected by the rights that I have enumerated, what we all fundamentally have in common, is that we are all the subject of this life, aware of what happens to us, what happens to us matters to us. Our equality lies in its shared subjective presence in this world. We’re equally subjectively present in the world. Doesn’t mean each of knows as much, or remembers as much, but that it’s the kind of being we are… that’s what makes us the same.


One of the things that intrigued me in your book, is that right up front you deal with this issue of how “animal rights advocates” (which you call ARAs) are deemed ‘extremists’ or ‘practioneers of extremism.’ Can you summarize how you approach clearing up these misconceptions?

‘Extremism’ is an ambiguous concept because it can mean different things. On the one sense, an extremist will not stop at doing anything to achieve the end being sought, so that he paradigm case here would be the men who flew the jets into the World Trade Center. They were will to give up their lives in order to further their aspirations, and a lot of people think of that as extreme, the idea that you would actually give up your life to achieve some goal, that’s going too far.

On the other hand, to some, ‘extremism’ can mean that you have a position that is unqualifiedly opposed to something. In this sense, you can say, “are you against rape some of the time, most of the time, or all of the time?” “Well, I’m against rape all of the time.” Well, then you’re an extremist when it comes to rape: you have an unqualified moral opposition to it. Or extremist when it comes to child abuse, “are you against child abuse some of the time, most of the time, all of the time.”

I thought was fascinating, in your book, when you first talked about extremism I was skeptical that there could be any “unqualified moral opposition” to something. You really nailed the concept.

The point then, is that everybody I know is an extremist in the second sense. That is, everybody I know has unqualified moral beliefs and moral opposition to certain kinds of behavior, like the abuse of the elderly or children, or rape. But that doesn’t mean that you’re an extremist in the first sense. That therefore you are going to go to any means to achieve your objective. On the contrary, you can be very restricted in the kinds of means you are prepared to approve of to achieve your aims.

So what happens, I think, is that the people who’s business is it to try to paint a negative portrait of animal rights advocates [ARAs], the people who get paid lots of dollars to get up in the morning and get this negative story out out us, what they do is present us as ‘extremists’ and they play on the ambiguity of it, with the idea then in the public’s mind that ARAs are willing to do anything.”


You mention in your book how they promote these concepts, that ARAs are misanthropic, that all they care about is being “kind” to animals…. you’ve seen this kind of stuff for years, haven’t you?

Oh yes, this is not an accident. Actually, if you look at it historically, in the history of anti-vivisection, you can go back well into the 19th century and find some of the same rhetoric. Although back then, the objective of the people who were defending vivisection was to paint all those who oppose all as being irrational, emotional, and women… or emotional and irrational men who were controlled by women and insecure about their manhood…


… that was the boilerplate of the rhetoric of the 19th century. But, what we do know, in 1989, is that the American Medical Association [AMA] wrote a white paper called “Use of Animals in Biomedical Research: The Challenge and the Response” about how do we combat the Animal Rights movement. Among the two basic themes to come out of the paper were that they had to present the ARAs as people with no respect for science, no respect for reason… they were illogical, irrational, emotional… they were people willing to destroy property, they were, in a word, ‘terrorists.’

The second part of the portrait, was that ARAs were trying to take people’s freedom away. If you look at what happened from the publication of the AMA’s white paper forward, you find all the industries spewing out the same rhetoric. The American Fur Council, the people in charge of the hog industry, the poultry industry, the circus… everybody said the same thing: ARAs are irrational, emotional, extremists.”


I was stunned reading about this in your book and went to some of the websites you referenced. The concerted nature of what they said, as supposedly independent groups, was just amazing. It’s like somebody faxed them the talking points for a political campaign.

It IS a political campaign. That’s just it. These people, in my respectful opinion, are not interested in truth — they’re interested in profits. I mean, these people are not only interested in maintaining the status quo in terms of the financial viability of their enterprise, they want to grow it, and one way they grow it is to paint their critics with a broad brush to try to render them irrelevant.

Do you think their fear of ARAs is just business or that people will believe what’s being said? That people will discover their truth? Are they conscious of this?

I’m not sure whether there is an anxiety or not whether people will discover the truth, because I’m not sure what the people in these industries think of themselves. They might very well think that what they’re saying is true. But what I think is that they are insecure, they are anxious, they are concerned, they are worried, that people will believe what animal rights people believe. And that will make a difference to how commerce gets done. That will make a difference as to which businesses succeed and which fail. Look, if 99% of Americans believe what we believe about, the fur industry would go “bottoms up.” So there’s got to be some anxiety here, some concern that people don’t believe what we believe.

You go into great detail about how the public is “relentlessly fed negative images” about ARAs, and I was struck by the similarity with meat and dairy industries, the pharmaceutical industry, and the oil and carbon club. It seems like these industries have developed this plan or method that they all follow of building these slick websites, putting out one-sided fact sheets for lazy journalists, fostering these journalists (of which you write about), and basically attacking people who are trying to effect positive change. I just didn’t realize the degree to which this is going on in the animal rights movement.

One way to gauge the strength of the AR movement is by considering the company it keeps. The company that it keeps really adds up being all progressive movements throughout the world. Anytime you have people trying to challenge industry practices, government practices, you’re going to have a cadre of well-paid, well-heeled professionals who have great talent and great resources to put out a bad story about it. The basic theme is to ‘attack the messenger’ and not the message. They don’t address the message; they just attack it.


Another major point you make is that these animal industries distill a myriad of issues into a simple dichotomy: “animal welfare moderates” versus “animal rights extremists.”


And this is a key element of their campaign?

It’s a very key element, and it comes out of that white paper from the AMA, where they say that we have create this dichotomy, and we have to say “we, the AMA, are on the side of animal welfare,” which is a wonderful moderate position to have against these animal rights extremists.

And, I must say that… what I think I had done for awhile in my life, was to concede to the major animal industries that they were indeed on this island of animal welfare and we’re against my position on animal rights. But, what I try to do in the book, is to teach that these people are not really on the side of animal welfare when they “say” that they are. They “say” that they’re for responsible care, they “say” they’re for humane treatment, they “say” that they’re looking out for the welfare of animals. But if I don’t do anything in “Empty Cages,” what I do is I think prosecute the case, the conclusion of which, is “these people don’t do anything like they say.

You’ve coined the term “Disconnect Dictum” referring to these industries and the treatment of animals. Can you expand on this?

Sure… what I mean by that, is there’s a disconnect between the meaning of what they say and the actual things they do. I’ll just talk about “humane” for example. “Humane” is a word; it has a meaning. You can look it up. You can go to the dictionary. “Showing mercy and kindness… consideration and sympathy.” That’s what it means to be in favor of humane treatment, and who could be against that? Everyone’s for being humane to other human beings and to other animals. So, we go and look at people in biomedical research, for example, saying, “we support the humane care and responsible use of animals.” So “humane” means they’re going to show kindness, they’re going to show mercy, they’re going to show sympathy, they’re going to show compassion. And then you say “well, what do they actually do?

Well, what they do is they blind animals, they crush their limbs, they crush their organs, they subject them to radiation, they deprive them of sleep, they deprive them of food, they drown them, they burn them… how in God’s name can any of this be “humane?”

It’s incredible…. I looked at the websites of some of these organizations, and they’re all using the term “humane!”

Oh yes, they all say the same thing.

It’s the same phrase… again and again.

There’s a mantra. It’s almost like a religion, if you know what I mean, in the sense that you have a certain ritual, and ritual involves incantations of various words… I mean it’s like going to church, in a way. You go from one website to the next and they’re saying the same thing, observing the same service, so to speak.

When you read some of the descriptions of the treatment of animals in your book, and then go to these websites and see the word “humane,” it’s just, well…

This is why I feel that part of the strength of Empty Cages is that, if has strength, it’s the cumulative effect that this has on the reader. Because, you can say “well, maybe the fur industry does it,” or “well, maybe the veal people, “maybe the pork…” It’s just that everybody does it. It’s the shear accretion of these self-indicting, self-righteous descriptions of what they do, on the one hand, compared to what they do on the other, that I hope will finally, for a skeptical reader, will say “aha… I’m going to take another step on my muddler’s journey. I’m going to move a little bit here, because this is unbelievable.


You likened it all to a court case, where it takes a lot of evidence, and not one single fact to understand what’s going on. However, you used a term here that we should probably define. In your book you write about three types of people, as you see it, and how they gain an understanding of “animal consciousness.”

I known some people, that who, from a really early age, once they understood that a lamb chop came from a lamb, they couldn’t eat lamb… because they just had a sense of kinship and friendship with other animals. It’s a gift they bring with them, as it were, they don’t have to be convinced to feel this way, or persuaded to feel this way, or argued into going this way. They just are this way. For them, they have this boundless compassion for other animals, that they bring with them… and I call these people the “Da Vincians,” because for all we know about Leonardo da Vinci was that he was like this, from an early age, and throughout his life.

Then there are people who aren’t like that, they’re just kind of ordinary people, but some dramatic event happens in their life that changes how they see animals in a really fundamental life-altering way, and I call them the “Damascans” after Saul on the way to Damascus where he encounters Jesus and is transformed. So the big detractor of Jesus becomes the greatest apostle [Paul] of Jesus. And I’ve known people who’ve had dramatic events that changed their lives in the blink of an eye. I give some examples of these people in the book.

I knew this older German activist who was in Berlin during the 2nd World War, who came up after a terrible bombing raid, and here comes a horse running down this cobblestone street, and I can kind of hear the clatter of this heels of this horse as he comes running at this boy (he was 10 years old at the time). The horse is on fire from nose to tail, must have gotten ignited petroleum, and he runs past the young boy, and looks him in the eye, and says “what have I done to deserve this? Why aren’t you helping me?

It was very striking when I read this… I’ve seen some of Howard’s documentary (still in final editing), which you’re in, and this WWII story reminded me of those pigs in the factory farm, looking into the camera and asking the same question as the horse.

I agree, and I must say that one of the features about a lot of these Damascan experiences of people is an eye-to-eye contact with another animal. It’s kind of this realization that “Omigod, there’s somebody behind there.”

It’s a communication…

…so there are these people who have a life-altering epiphanies, and there are the rest of us who were not born with anything in the genes, there isn’t anything revolutionary that happens, we just find ourselves on a journey. We read something, or see something, or talk to somebody. We have a question. Well, what is Merino wool? Or some question we ask… and then what happens, is that question gets answered, and it leads to another question. Then we meet people, and then we have experiences. We seem some files or videos, we read some books. We maybe go to a slaughterhouse…. we’re on this journey. But eventually, for a lot of us, a day dawns, and we look in the mirror, and we see an animal rights advocate.

Those three types seem similar to the terms of spiritual, emotional, and mental.

Yes, they are very similar. I don’t think that this typology is unique to animal rights advocates, I think that probably a lot of people became active in the civil rights movement for the same reasons.

So, it ends up that’s what I think muddlers are… My book, as you know, is dedicated to muddlers everywhere because I don’t think my book has the power to bring about some instantaneous life-altering experience for somebody. I mean, it’d be wonderful if it’d be true, but I don’t think so.

Well, it affected me.

Obviously the Davincians don’t need it, they already go it. The people who need what I have to give, to the extent that there’s something I’ve given, are the muddlers. I’m just hoping… I have to believe, that the world is just full of muddlers, and the great challenge that our animal rights movement faces is to attract them to activism, to attract them to becoming involved in the movement. And that’s really why I wrote the book. I wrote the book as a “recruitment manual” for the animal rights movement.”


How does the concept of a biography not a biology fit into this debate?

The central question in the animal rights debate is whether any other animals are like us being “subjects-in-a-life,” whether any other animals are in the world, aware of the world, aware of what happens to them, and what happens to them matters matters to them. That’s the fundamental question, and the answer to that is “yes,” then we have made the case for “animal rights,” in my judgment.

Essentially, you’re adding on to what Jeremy Bentham about the question being not whether they can reason or talk, but whether they suffer? You’re adding something bigger onto this.

I am. What I’m trying to get at, is that there is somebody who is suffering, not only there is suffering occurring, there is an ongoing individual that has an identity over time. There is this subject of a life, rather than a life without a subject. That’s what’s crucial. Suffering is relevant, but so is deprivation, so is being able to act on your own without being forced to do so. There are lots of things that don’t reduce the suffering anything to relevant.


Where were you born?

I was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, to a blue collar hard-working family. We lived in a neighborhood with just all working class, with many different races and religions… it was a melting pot community. Right near major major railroads, twelve tracks… a hub… just a heavy industrial world, and the only animals I knew then when I was growing up, we had cats and dogs in our house. I’m so old, that when I was growing up they had horses that would pull carts for the junkmen who’d come around and collect junk, for the icemen who’d come around and carry ice. I knew those horses… I knew the cows and pigs that I saw going to slaughter on the railroads and trucks. Basically I just had a very very small window of experience when it came to other animals. I was blind to who they were, and deaf to what they said.”

But you had a good childhood?

Oh yes, my parents were extremely hard-working and consensus, very good to both my sister and myself. I loved living in the grime and dirt of industrial Pittsburgh. They did not love it, and when I was fifteen years old, we moved from the neighborhood that was dear to me to the suburban world… and that changed my life. If I had stayed in industrial Pittsburgh, I would have never have gone to college, because people didn’t go to college, you went to work. I would have graduated high school and gotten a job in a mill or a mine. That’s what I would have done, that’s the way it was. But when we moved, I made friends and their parents were professional people — they were educators, they worked in banks, with the newspaper, they were lawyers, and of course, they were all educated. Their kids were all going to college. That’s why I went to college. The reason I went to college was that this is what all the kids in my classes were doing. No one in my family had ever gone to college, on either my mother’s or father’s side.

So you were the first…

I would not have been the first, except for this development over which I had no control. Then when I went to college I tell this story about, “why did you become a philosopher?”


…my obvious next question!

Right… I went to college, and my teachers in high school had told me that I was good at writing, and I thought, well, I’ll go and I’ll study English and be a writer. The problem was, that for me to major in English, I had to take a full year of United States and Pennsylvanian History, and a full year of English History. I didn’t like taking history. It happened that in my Judi year in college, the college I went to, Thiel College, introduced for the first time a Philosophy major. I looked at it carefully, and I found out to be a Philosophy major I didn’t have to take any more history. That’s why I majored in philosophy.

(laughs)… What did your father think when you told him you were going to be a philosopher?

(chuckling)… He didn’t understand anything about college. Believe me, it would not have made a difference to him if I’d said I was going to be a brain surgeon or a philosopher… that wasn’t on his radar screen. But then it happened that the most influential professor I had when I was at Thiel, he had done his graduate work at the University of Virginia, and so I just followed his path and went to the University of Virginia to study philosophy. So that’s really how I got into philosophy. Just a series of accidents.


You had to work your way through college, right? You had some interesting jobs?

Oh yes, yes…

You were a butcher?

I…(pause)… was a butcher… I mean I sliced and diced, and packed, sawed… their cold flesh gave way to my cold will. I didn’t find butchering bloody, I found it bloody hard… it was hard work at times. I was so blind to animal consciousness, that even when I had held the victim in my hands, the victim was invisible.

It must be shocking for you to look back and realize how much you are a different person now.

Oh yeah, yeah… I do say, often and sincerely, that if Tom Regan can become an animal rights advocate, anybody can become an animal rights advocate. When I had the victims in my hand and I didn’t see the victims… my god, you can’t get any further back into the darkness than I was.


So you got your degree in Virginia, and went to North Carolina.

Then I did a couple of years in a small school, and then I spent the last 35 years of my career, my professional life, in North Carolina.

Correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t North Carolina a rather conservative area?

North Carolina is a conservative area, and NC State Univ. is an agriculture school, and a vet school, it’s a place where there are hundreds of faculty doing major major harmful research on animals.”

How did the ever deal with you?

Well, I think, that for the most part, these folks from the ad school and the vet school, and so on, they knew I was here and they knew what I was saying and what I was doing. But they basically left me alone. They didn’t hassle me, and they didn’t try to make my life miserable. They weren’t happy that I was here. The irony and the paradox, if I can put it like this, is the University awarded me every award for which I was eligible for as a faculty member. “Distinguished Professor,” “Outstanding Graduate Teaching,” “Outstanding Research,” and then it culminated in the highest honor the University can bestow on a faculty member… it’s called the “William Quarles Holladay Award.”

The University has always been good to me, and the point is, if I had been an incompetent beady-eyed animal rights professor in philosophy, I think they would have hassled me a lot. I don’t want this to sound immodest, the problem was that I was good at what I did, and therefore they couldn’t just take cheap shots at me.

It’s amazing that you could even walk alone at night on campus…


…and the final thing is that when I was approaching retirement, representatives of the Library come to me, and they say, “we’d like you, if you would, to donate your papers to the Library and we’ll start the Tom Regan Animal Rights Archive here at North Carolina State University.”


I did do that, I donated my papers to the University. There was this wonderful ceremony, with lots of boxes and big time University officials present honoring the occasion. And, since then, we have received major additional donations, so that today, the Tom Regan Animal Rights Archive at North Carolina State University, the ag school, the vet school, the place where they do all this vivisection, today that Archive is premier collection of animal rights literature anywhere in the world.


You haven’t been banned, but have you had difficulties when being invited to speak at different venues?

…I have… there’s one particular episode that I talk about in the book, where the researchers at this particular university were very unhappy that I was coming to their university, so they did everything they could to have me disinvited. This meant letters, and memos, and e-mails, and all this sort of stuff saying that I “incited my audiences to riot,” that I told them it was alright to violate the rights of people, and that I was like a “megalomaniac” in person who thought he was Napoleon or Jesus Christ…


…that I was the Jim Jones of the Animal Rights movement… those sorts of things. Let’s just say they weren’t exactly throwing out the welcome mat, and it was pretty clear that I wasn’t welcome. That happens, and I live with it.


Your friends and family… how do they feel about your work?

Well, my parents now are deceased, but I do know they felt great pride. They were not people who had anything like an advanced education, neither one of them went to the ninth grade. They were uneducated people for the most part, but they came to respect what I was doing, and any good that came my way… they felt really puffed up about it. I was happy, and happy for them.”

Sounds like unconditional love for you…

Yeah, that’s right… I think if I’d ended up in prison they’d love me just as much, in terms of their love. But I think they were very proud, and probably surprised. This is something their life didn’t prepare them for, my writing books. I mean, when I was growing up we didn’t have any books, so it just wasn’t part of our life. They were good about this.

That’s really surprising to me. You’re so articulate, and your ability to turn a phrase is delightful.

I don’t know… must be the Irish in me!

Do you have any companion animals?

None now, but we have over the course of our marriage. We had two dogs who died within less than a week of one other, several years ago, and we’re still trying to process that.

Do you have any children?

We have two children. Our son Bryan, and our daughter Karen. They’re both married. Bryan is a commercial photographer here in Raleigh. Karen is married in lawyer in Washington DC. Bryan and his wife have one child, and another is on the way.

So you’re a grandfather! Have you had an influence on your children and their diet?

Both our children are vegetarian.

…and your grandchildren?

They’re being raised vegetarian.


Speaking of vegetarian, how long have you been vegetarian to vegan?

I been thinking about this, and it’s a little hard to say exactly, but I’m going to say over 30 years. The vegan thing came in, oh… between 15 and 20 years ago.

You write about your being an anti-Vietnam activist years ago, and make this great statement that, here you were worried about the victims of the Vietnam War, and here, opening your refrigerator, were victims of this other war. Was this an epiphany of sorts or a gradual process of understanding?

It was a gradual process. There was a final moment that clinched the realization, as it were. It takes, for muddlers anyhow, it takes time, to open the freezer, and open the freezer, and open the freezer, and to kind of start thinking, “we’ll maybe that’s not just a piece of meat” and it’s a gradual thing… that’s what it was like for me… it was gradual. Eventually what you realize is that what you’ve got there is a dead body.

Was it a similar process for you to finally go vegan?

No, that was more, I think, an act of will than an act of awakening.

Same here…

Oh, is that right?

…it was the pus count in milk. That was the final straw.

For me it wasn’t that I saw animals any differently, it was just that I realized that what I was thinking didn’t make any sense unless I took this next step. That was more like the conclusion of a reasoning rather than an experiential thing.

Was a matter of being consistent to your belief structure?

Yes, I think that’s it.

What was the most difficult thing to give up as a vegan?


Yeah, me too. A good glass of red wine and some cheese.

For me, the best life for me, was some really good bread, and a really sharp biting cheese. There was nothing else I liked as much, and it was the most important food in my life.


Typical meals… is there anything typical that you enjoy for breakfast, lunch, and/or dinner?

Well, I like a big breakfast… I don’t each lunch normally. For breakfast, potatoes that are warmed-up in a skillet with lots of spices, not necessary hot, but with olives, tomatoes, mushrooms… a big plate of that and a good bread, is a good breakfast for me. Or if I had some black beans and avocados. I’m almost having lunch for breakfast! But also, I’m a person not opposed to meat analogs — the meat substitutes that are available. It’s not for the taste of flesh that I gave up eating animals, but for who they were.

Any favorite meals for dinner?

I’m happy to say that my wife happens to be the best cook, certainly in North Carolina…

…you’re a lucky man…

…I’m more than a lucky man… and also, one who really enjoys cooking. We eat the cuisine of the world.

If she were to make something special for dinner, what would it be?

There is a dish, that involves green beans, and potatoes, olives… that sort of thing. She makes it like a pesto, and it’s an extraordinary dish. We also discovered this dish in Italy, it’s cauliflower and pasta… it doesn’t make any sense to Americans, I know, but she makes it with capers and tomatoes. That’s out-of-this-world.

The most important thing I have to say to people when it comes to food, though, is something that we learned many years ago, and not many people seem to know. We do a lot of tofu, but we know how to do it. The way you do it is you have to freeze the tofu. When you freeze the tofu, it changes the chemical composition. The point is that instead of that slimey gooey tofu that everybody’s not happy about, you get this chewy tofu.

We do lots of different things like that. We also eat a lot Indian food, and Chinese food, and Thai food… to me, and I say this in the book, the really important news about vegetarianism, about veganism, is not the food you give up but the food you gain. Once you give up all that meat, you’ve got to learn about the cuisine of the world. Because your not going to find it in “Best Dishes of Southern Cooking,” you’re going to have to go and find out how the other nine tenths of the world lives. And what you find out, is that most of the world eats a vegetarian diet, not necessarily of choice, often out of necessity. But, that’s what they eat, and they’ve had a lot of years of practice at it, and they have a lot of good dishes.

So, what is your favorite food indulgence?

…potato chips! I don’t eat them that often, but when I really want to indulge, that’s what I eat.


How do you handle burnout? Are you one of those people who works themselves to the ground, or one who knows how to rest once in awhile?

Burnout? It’s seems relative to me. I’ve had periods of high creativity and activity, and medium periods, and low periods. So it’s not like there’s been this straight line in my life, I think it goes up and down. There was a period in the early 1990s where I think I did less than I had been doing before, then I kind of got myself out of that. So I don’t think that ARAs should think that they’re going to always be firing on all cylinders all of the time in order to be making a contribution. What we have to do is be realistic and understand that life has rhythms… the main thing is to keep on the path, and keep moving forward. If sometimes you’re moving slower, then you’re moving slower, but you’re moving.


You’ve taken some big leaps in understanding and thinking, and certainly put yourself on the line many times concerning the issues of Animal Rights. Who are some of the people who’ve inspired you get to this point and inspired you to continue?

Obviously the most important inspiration I had was from somebody I never met, but somebody I read, and that would be Gandhi. Gandhi was the first person to challenge me to bring coherence to my values. If I was going to be against unnecessary violence in the war in Vietnam, how could I be for unnecessary violence when it came to how we treated animals? I’m eternally grateful to Gandhi for thinking the thoughts he thought, and living the life he lived. I’m never going to be able to live such a life of simplicity, but it seems that he was as close to anybody… I’ve read about some of the historically great religious leaders and teachers… and he was as close to the most important truths in life as anybody I know.

Who else inspired you?

Aside from Gandhi, I think the Berrigan brothers, who throughout their life have been steadfast in their opposition to wars that make no sense and policies that make no sense. People like that. People who have walked the walk, and not just talked the talk.

You’ve written that Gandhi’s Autobiography inspired you considerably, are there any other books that influenced you a lot in your thinking, research… conclusions?

Martin Buber influenced me, but when I read him, I think I misunderstood him. Going back I think I understand him better. I think that as a philosopher, certainly Immanuel Kant on my thinking as a philosopher because of his opposition to utilitarianism. We can put it this way, it’s because of his understanding that, at least in the case of human beings, there are some things we shouldn’t do to each other, regardless of the outcome for others. That had absolutely a profound affect on my thinking.


Suppose you could have some dinner guest from the past, present, or future: who would they be? It’s clear that Gandhi would get a invite. Who else?

Kant, obviously, because of the influence he had… I’d want Socrates there…

Oh wow, that’s shaping up to some great conversation…

…and I would enjoy having St. Thomas Aquinas as well… we’d certainly have to have Leonardo there… and Nancy, my wife.”

Did your wife go vegetarian when you did?

We walked down the same path, and she was beside me or a step ahead of me all the way. We both evolved the same way, the same time.


Here’s a million dollars (tax-free)… what would you do with it?

Actually, we live a pretty simple life. I don’t think the acquisition of wealth like that would change it in any significant way. What we would probably do is to help our children, and their security, and our grandchildren… that would be the honest thing to do. But also, we’d renew our commitment to the vision we have with the “Culture and Animal Foundation,” because we continue to believe, that there are important things to be done for the movement that stand outside programs of the major national organizations.

Everyone has their kind of vivisection campaign, their factory farming campaign, and their horse racing and rodeo campaign… the important is to also grow and help people understand the cultural resources we have, who in history said what, what plays, what music, what poetry, what drama… within our own movement we don’t know that, let alone the general public, so you have to kind of work at getting that out so people know what great resources that are on the side of the animals throughout history.

I think I remember seeing that on your foundation’s website: ‘animal plays?’

Yes, and so that’s one thing, but the other thing of course, is that you need to add to it. You need to support people doing creative work in the arts & letters, and you have to see it gets performed, whether it was written by Shaw a hundred years ago, or by somebody in Schenectady this year. The way I put it is that animal rights advocates need to be inside the theater performing, not only outside the theater protesting. The protest mode is one mode, and I’m not against it, I’m against a steady diet of it. What you need to do is look for positive alternatives to that, and there’s no reason we can’t be inside the theater performing rather than outside.

Those are great ideas… it’s the first time I’ve heard of anyone suggesting them. Of course, you have a wonderful artist for the cover of your book, so I can see where you’re coming from…

Oh yes, Sue Coe would be invited to that dinner, too.


What do you think are your biggest surprise and biggest failure over the past three decades?

I think it was 1985, this is when… there comes a time when you have to put up or shut up. In 1985, I decided it was time for me to get arrested.

(laughs): I’m going to get arrested…

…that’s right… So what happened was, there was a head injury laboratory at the University of Pennsylvania, and the Animal Liberation Front liberated 76 hours of video tape that the vivisector’s had taken of their own work. And what those tape showed, was not only bad science, people smoking, using tools that fell on the floor, all kinds of violations of ordinary Federal Law, but also a callousness, a cruelty even, when it came to how the researchers treated the chimpanzees they were using for head injury impact research, and so the tapes got to Ingrid Newkirk [PETA], Alex Pachenco [co-founder PETA], and they produced a half hour video called “Unnecessary Fuss.” It was like a synopsis, it showed summaries of the worst stuff… it was so damning, so horrible… it made you sick.

The research was funded by the N.I.H. [National Institute of Health], and the N.I.H. gets the tape, renews the grant and increases the funding. A call goes out from Alex and Ingrid, and 101 of us gather at a hotel near the N.I.H., and the next morning, we all go to the N.I.H, and we all had buddies, things to do, and places to be. The long and short of it is, all 101 of us show up at a particular office at a particular time — which was the funding office. It was like a hurricane making landfall. We got into that office, we sat down, and we started chanting: “We want animal rights. When do we want them? We want them now.” I’ve always said, that if a boulder had fallen through the roof, the people in that office could have made more sense out of it.

(considerable laughing)

…they didn’t know what to do, who we were, they didn’t know anything. We all figured, we were chanting away, that the police were going to show up, and we were going to be arrested any minute now. So what happened was peculiar… because what happened with first one person, then another on the staff in this office left, and then everybody on this whole floor of this building left.

(still laughing)

We had tens of thousands of feet of government space we were occupying…

…this was in Bethesda, Maryland, right?


You took over the whole floor?

Yes… so negotiations went on for four days, and it’s just an incredible story. But when we had finally walked out of there, the funding had been cut off and the lab had been closed. Gandhi would have been absolutely proud.


Is there a biggest failure?

The biggest failure was the 1996 “March for the Animals.” The 1990 “March for the Animals,” I was invited to co-chair, and I was really intimately involved in that march, and it was a tremendously exciting day, and we had, some estimates said, a 100,000 people in Washington DC, marching for animals, our parade was so large, that when people were sitting down on the grass before the Nation’s Capitol, at the end of Pennsylvania Avenue, there were still people around the corner of the White House. We just went on forever down Pennsylvania Avenue.

But in 1996, when they had a March, that I was involved in organizing, there was less than 5,000 people. That was the biggest disappointment.


When thinking about the past 30 years of your efforts, you’ve been out there stirring things up, raising some big issues… is there anything you would have done differently, hindsight being 20/20?

I think… sometimes, I could have shown a bit more tolerance of other advocates, who were doing important work, who didn’t happen to be on the same page I was at the same time I was. I think I could have done something different and better.

Is that because of youth and maturity?


…I feel the same way. There are things I’ve wrote and said back when I was in my 30s online that I wish I’d never written… a lot of anger, raw anger, that I now regret.

…and it may be, that nothing that anybody might have said, would have prevented me from doing it. But at the same time, there is this obligation which comes with being older, when speaking to younger activists, saying… cool it. (laughs)

You know, I find myself doing the same thing online, what others had said to me, and it’s embarrassing. Mellow out, it’s okay, not everything has the same weight or importance… pick and choose your fights.

… the thing is to, have a thick skin… have a thick skin…

That’s tough to develop…

yeah…but it’s essential.


You’ve written over 20 books, and been incredibly prolific. Do you have a favorite among your babies, your books?

Well, I have two favorites… one is: The Case for Animal Rights.

…that’s cited a lot on the web, I noticed when I was doing research for this interview.

It’s certainly been referred to favorably, and I like it a lot. It was a book that wrote itself, a very very tough read, it’s very analytical and theoretical, and at the same time I sat down and just wrote that book as if I was channeling some higher power. It was just an amazing experience. When I tell people that this is what it was like writing it, they just can’t believe it because it’s so rigorous and technical. It’s hardcore philosophy. And the other book I like is Empty Cages, and it’s a very conversational easy to read book, I think.

I found it extremely accessible and easy to read. I’m not saying these are easy topics, but simplicity doesn’t necessarily mean not dealing in something that’s difficult.

Sure… but at the same time, what’s peculiar, is that it’s the hardest book I ever wrote. In order for me to write that book, I had to get me out of the way. I had to take the voice I felt most comfortable with, which is the voice of the analytic, technical philosopher, which dominates when I’m doing something serious, and every day I would go into my office, and I’d sit down, and there was this exhausting struggle going on… where this Empty Cages was trying to get out of me and onto a page, and the dominant Tom Regan voice kept trying to take control. So, it was just an absolutely exhausting book to write.


I was concerned when I started reading your book that it would be tough, mainly because I’d looked at some of your background, but the fact that you put the footnotes at the end, and not in the body of the work made it very readable. More importantly, you did something that I thought was unusual, that, in retrospect, works: you mention up front that there are, and I’ll use the phrase “tons of documents and facts and figure and things” that substantiate what you’re talking about, but rather than put them all in the book, you put them on your website. The Fact Sheet sections are just fantastic.

It’s one of these things where less is more. If you’re going to try to write a recruiting manual for the Animal Rights movement, then you can’t try and tell the reader everything. You have to tell the main story with a kind of eloquence and simplicity… but, you owe it to the reader to provide the reader with information if they want more. If they want the more, rather than the less, there it is.

…almost like ammunition… that’s what the website provides.

The website, which was prepared by Laura Moretti, is an astonishing addition to the project and something I couldn’t possibly do myself.


Your book has an academic rigor in terms of its structure that I just love, that’s the first thing I’ll say. The second is you do what so many people who write forget to: you lay out clearly, in classic style, “what am I going to tell you,” “I’m going to cover this later or next,” “you make your case, “what have I told you,” and “what does this mean?” It’s really great that you are consciously helping guide the reader through this morass of issues and information.

(laughs): I think I must owe that to the old Tom Regan’s voice.

…it works, though…

Because that’s part of the discipline of philosophy: to be highly organized and structured… to say “in Part 1 I’ll do this, and in Part 2 I’ll do this.” That’s the way I was trained, and so I think there is something of that in the book. It must be the compromise I reached with my old voice.

The logical framework is solid.

That’s it… when you get to tell the story, shut up!

I’ve had the chance to read or skim several books related to Animal Rights, and all too often many of them seem, by not having a solid outline, to get very emotional and run off on rants or tangents, well-meaning, but not really helping to distill the argument in a way that someone could then take that and use it internally or externally.

When I wrote The Case for Animal Rights, I felt like it was a gift… I was just… along for the ride. I was the vehicle and there was something in the world that I was putting on the page. That is how I felt, that this book is meant not only to make the case for animal rights, but also to present the challenge to those who want to support the industries that abuse animals. Answer this case… answer it. I felt the book was making an accusation even as it was making an argument.

With Empty Cages, although I’ve said I didn’t feel like I was along for the ride (in fact, I had to drive the whole way, and it was a long trip). But the product that came out of this I feel a somewhat similar feeling. There’s not only an argument in the book, but the book takes the form of an accusation again, where the accusation in this case is “Industries: tell the truth. Tell the truth.” So even though the composition of the books felt different and were different, there’s something similar… not just an argument, but also an accusation. I accuse.


What would it take for you to switches sides, to go back to where you were before your belief of animals having rights?

…part of what would have to happen, is that I would have to be presented with an argument that justifies the human domination over animals, the human systematic institutional exploitation of animals. Over the years there have been quite a few philosophers and others who have stepped forward to present such an argument; I’ve never found them remotely convincing. I’ve always found them to be amongst the worst examples of philosophical argument that I’ve ever encountered.

You clearly have a strong intellectual foundation for your belief structure, have you integrated this into other aspects of your being?

Sure, of course… I’m a strong advocate of children’s rights, the rights of the Indian people… and of just basic human rights for human beings throughout the world.”

…but you also have a big heart…

…that’s the other thing… I’m highly skeptical, highly doubtful, that anyone could present anything remotely like a compelling convincing argument for the human domination of our animals. I just can’t imagine what that argument would be and how would be possible on the basis of what I’ve seen in the past. So it’s like an induction: on the basis of past failures, I’m going to assume that all the other arguments are failures, too.

That would be one thing, but if somebody could present me with an argument that was rationally compelling, I’d really have to think about things… but I don’t they’re going to do it. I think the record shows that it’s a record of failure.

On the other hand, too, you’d have to say, too, it have to be a tough presentation that took my heart out of the picture, some presentation that said those feelings of apathy, sympathy, and compassion, mercy… those feelings and desire to want to protect and care for animals against abuse… something that would convince me to suck all those feelings out of me, and I just can’t imagine how that could possibly happen. They’d have to convince me that all these feelings are misplaced, that they don’t belong there. I can’t imagine that.


Some of the reviews of Empty Cages are just amazing. The 2003 winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature, J.M. Coetzee, writing that “Tom Regan delivers a searing indictment of the way we treat animals in the world,” Jane Goodall exclaiming that “everybody needs a copy on their bookshelf,” you’ve got Jim Motavili, editor, E: The Environmental Magazine, saying “you’ll think twice about eating meat and watching a circus,” and so forth. The reviews often comment about the simplicity of your writing, which is not to say the content is simple. The overall structure I found to be quite solid in presenting all the primary issues on both sides of the debate, but you unusually started out with a “prologue” about a cat being picked out in a restaurant to be eaten. This becomes the basis for subsequent “thought experiments” or “scenarios.” It struck me that you have a predilection, similar to Gandhi and Einstein, towards “thought experiments.” Is this what’s helps guide you through your understandings and process?

When I started the book, I had a friend who read some of the earlier drafts. The way it originally started was with the first chapter, “animal rights is a contentious idea, some people believe animals…etc.” He said, “Tom, you need to start with something more dramatic, something that gets the reader’s attention.” And I understood him, the way it started was pretty dull.

So I thought about it… this cat episode and video had been in my mind for years. Actually I’d written some longhand stuff about it years ago. It was in my brain, so to speak, and this is what percolated up. Then, once I wrote it, I was really upset about this… I pushed back in my seat… “what are you doing?”

Oh, it’s a jaw-dropper to be sure… I was shocked when I first read it…

… I wrote the Prologue after the book was pretty far along. I already had quite a lot done, and I knew where I was going with the book. That’s why, when I wrote the Prologue, I was able to say, “Oh…well, this is really horrible, but as bad as it is, it might not be as bad as what we’re doing to animals in America.” That’s where I started thinking about, well, here’s this variation, here’s this variation… and where I was going in the Prologue, is that as bad as that cat was treated, she may have been one of the lucky ones compared to what’s being done in America.

And the other thing about it is, that people might say, “oh, well, you’re really being tough on the Koreans, tough on the Chinese,” but the point I try to make very clearly (and the book is coming out in a Chinese translation), is that at least these people are honest. They don’t have all this fabrication about “Animal Welfare Act” and inspectors going around, and this sort of thing. I mean, this is the way it is in rural China. It’s just the way it is.


You talk about four variations to the story, what if the cat had a bigger cage?, or what if it was anethesized? (two of the early variations) and at the very end of the book, a fifth variation. I realized later in the book that the “Animal Welfare Act” applies to cats and dogs, but not to the other animals that we consume, and it raises so many issues as to why there are different standards for one mammal versus another. I think later in the book you talk about “is there any fundamental difference between a cow and a cat?”

Sure… you’ve got 9 billion animals not covered by the “Animal Welfare Act” that are killed every year for food, you’ve got well over 100 million animals that are used in laboratories, that are not covered by the Act. It’s a charade. The legislation is industry-produced, obviously. Why is it like this? It’s not because of any biological difference between this animal or that animal. It because of the special interest lobbies. The poultry industry, the research industry…


Your writing is just great… after the cat story and variations, you say up front, “what are the common misconceptions about animal rights advocates?” (which we talked about in Part 1 of this interview), and then you discuss “what are human rights, and what do they entail?” It’s been awhile since I thought about the Tuskegee Experiment. You used a great example, it was a horrendous experiment, and you cleverly used this to frame the issue of individual rights being a “trump card.”

I think that’s actually the most important feature that has to be brought out when we’re talking about human rights or animal rights. The protection that rights affords individuals really are very strong. It basically means the promotion of the good of others, of social welfare, of the public good, is never to go forward at the expense of violating the rights of individuals. That why are rights are so important.

As you’re aware, I’m sure, there are philosophers that don’t think humans have moral rights, I understand that, and I’ve addressed that in considerable length in The Case for Animal Rights. But, what’s clear to me, is that within representative democracies in the world, there is the belief in the culture of those democracies that individuals have rights that provide them these kinds of protections.

So therefore, it was wrong to do what was done to the sharecroppers in the Tuskegee Experiment, it was wrong to do what was done to the children in the Hepatitis Research Study. I mean, if you look at the history of research and human vivisection, the individuals who end up being the “guinea pigs” are not from the wealthy and the powerful race, they’re front the vulnerable: the children, the insane, the impaired, the elderly, military personnel, prisoners… it’s always those that lack power that end up on the table of the vivisector. It’s just a spill-over from what they do with the animals.


…it’s a clean connection, and then you go on to list the reasons that people use to justify why humans have rights, and then demonstrate why each is not a valid reason. You then circle into the concept of what makes sense is that we are “subjects-of-a-life” and that forms the major foundation for your views on animal rights.

It is… the crucial point is, that if we’re going to claim rights for the extended human family, then we have to find something about us that that we all share, that makes us all the same, makes us all equal, that’s not arbitrary. It can’t be that we are moral agents and can act on principles, because tons of human beings that can’t do that. It can’t be that we’re members of the same species, although that’s true, that’s not a relevant moral consideration.

I loved that one, because you brought up the fact that women didn’t have rights for a long time, and blacks didn’t have rights, so being members of the same species isn’t the issue.

So, you look around, and look around… and I try to make it clear in the book, for me, that when the day dawned that I thought, “Omigod, this is it!” it was like something is being revealed to me. I wasn’t like something I’d deduced. It wasn’t like the conclusion of an elaborate proof, it was like an awakening. We’re all in the world, aware of the world, aware of what happens, and what happens matters to us.

It’s also a concept that’s not necessarily religious, or physical, or something easy to assail in any way I’m aware of.

I hope that’s the case. It provides a basic thinking about why we are equal, whether we are animals or people. We not only have a biology, we have a biography. I was writing some stuff today, in a sense, what it is to be an animal rights advocate, is to be the “storyteller.” I’m here to be the storyteller to those who can’t tell the story themselves, and I don’t mean storyteller in some sort of less than important way — these are true stories, what has happened to animal’s lives are just tragedies. If they can’t tell their own story, our role is tell their story and to do it in a way that people hear it. There’s no point in telling it in a way people can’t hear it, it’d be like speaking in a foreign language. This is why I say to activists over and over again, that people can’t hear you when you’re yelling at them. You have to love people into the movement, rather than hate people into the movement.


So, you establish the wonderful concept of “subjects-of-a life.” and then having established a justification for human rights, you then approach the same issue with animals. It’s stunning how methodical you are, in demonstrating, quite clearly, that animals, too, are “subjects-of-a-life.”

It was another realization, that the tunnel I was looking to crawl through, so to speak, was this notion of being “subjects-of-a-life.” Not simply just what happens in a life, but that there’s someone who’s a subject of that life. That’s what crucial from a rights perspective, because the rights are the rights of the individual who is the subject of the life, not the rights of the individual or what happens to that individual… it’s the “somebody” who is the main character in a drama, as it were.

I was very intrigued how you used the idea of humans with limited intellectual capabilities, say children or those with mental disorders, to essentially ask the question: “if a child doesn’t know it has rights, does it have rights?”

Sure, and nobody’s going to say: “No! Of course not… so we can grind them up and make mincemeat of them.”

It was a very clever approach, and I’m new to some of these concepts, so I don’t know if anyone else has used this tactic. It reminded me of how some scientists say, in recent studies, that dogs and pigs have the intelligence of a 3 to 5 year old human child. Several times you slip this concept back in, say, if a person is “mentally challenged” or is a child, do they have lesser rights?

I think that is very important for us to understand when we’re presenting our case for animal rights to people, but also when we’re thinking about what we’re committed to, and we’re committed to as animal rights advocates is really a strong commitment to children, a very strong commitment to the mentally impaired, a strong commitment to vulnerable humans who lack power for whatever reason. They don’t have position, or they’re in the wrong race, the wrong gender, the wrong class… whatever… the point is, you cannot make sense of animal rights unless can you also and perhaps first make sense of human rights.


I enjoyed how you deal with the issue of vegetable rights. I remember all too well some 25 years ago in Dallas, Texas, when I went vegetarian, I was constantly challenged, “well, what about plants, you kill them all the time to eat.” In your book, you point out how “rhubarb rights” makes no sense, if you look at their nervous system.

There isn’t anybody there, in a stalk of rhubarb, as far as we know. Another point I’d like to make, is to say that you don’t have know everything in order to know something. So here’s an area where we really don’t know, and we’re really not sure. It’s possible they sense everything; I’m willing to admit all that, I’m willing to be open minded, and that in a 100 years we find out that there’s somebody in that rhubarb. But the point is, that we shouldn’t be paralyzed to act on the basis of what we do know because there are things we don’t know. There’s always this question trying to not accept impossible standards for enfranchising animals.

When people bring up this well, “what about plants” or “where to draw the line,” if the people who say “what about plants” if they distinguish themselves as being special protectors of plants in the world, if they went out, working day in and out, for the protection of plants, then they’d have some kind of credibility to me. But these are people who spend most of their time working on their Bridge game or interior decorating. They have no interest in plants. The question is disingenuous, I think, 99.9% of the time.

I take that question as more of a sarcastic insult than anything else.

It’s a symptom of not wanting to face the issue.

Is there a particular misconception people have about animal having rights that is most common or stands out in your mind?

Oh, it’s what about plants…

Comes up a lot then?

It’s one of the first things that people say. I have this image of Tom Regan in Hell, a really bad place to be, and it’s going to be a very hard place to get any rest. What’s going to happen, is that just as I’m dozing off and actually getting some rest in Hell, there’s going to be somebody next to me who pokes me in the ribs and says, “hey, yeah, but what about plants?” It’s like the myth of Sysiphus… pushing the rock… that’s what going to happen… every time I doze off, somebody pokes me in the ribs, “hey, yeah, but what about plants?


Back to your book… okay, you make your case for animal rights, then you deal with additional misconceptions about animals rights/activists, and you do this quite concisely. Then you move on to the four main areas of how animals are being abused that are unacceptable. There are many interesting aspects to how you approached this, but I noticed you wrote topically in the order of “Food, Fur, Entertainment, and Tools.” Did you choose this order for a particular reason?

Yes, I certainly did.

…the most acceptable to the least acceptable.

Yes, and also somewhat of a body count [largest to smallest]. Obviously, food is a big deal.


You cite some statistics I hadn’t seen yet: 70% of the hogs slaughtered have pneumonia, 40% of the hamburgers sold come for discarded spent dairy cows…

…that’s why the opposition to the “Downer Bill,” those coming in that were “downers” were dairy cows.


Just amazing… then you go into “animals as clothes” which is a little less acceptable to some, but it seems to be getting ground. The statistics on the number of animals it took to make a coat floored me.

Well, that I got from “Friends of Animals.” They did the arithmetic.

Sixty lambs to make one standard-sized coat. That’s one of the ones I remember. I think those kinds of numbers and statistics are really important.

I can’t tell you the number of ARAs who have said “Wow, I didn’t know this [expletive deleted] about Merino Wool.

…not only what happens to the sheep physically in Australia, but then they’re all shipped to the Mideast for mutton… and you describe how they’re slaughtered.

..and of course, it’s all “humane.”

Yup, I went to some related websites (following resource info on your website and in the book)… I was shocked. They talk about “humane slaughter.”

You’re not the first to be surprised. Animal Rights Advocates know where against wool for some reason, but most don’t know why.

…I had no problem understanding about leather, but I thought wool was just a haircut.

It’s not.

…and what you describe about minks is unbelievable.


So, from “animals as clothes,” you move into “animals as performers.” I’ve noticed a growing awareness in the U.S., particularly with elephants, that they don’t belong in zoos. We’ve seen elephants being taken out of zoos as they clearly were not happy. In your book, you do a great job of describing the abnormal behavior in psychological terms, and then again, there are those wonderful statistics. When you mention that a dolphin in the wild swims 40 miles a day, and then one thinks about a dolphin in a tank at SeaWorld…

Can you imagine that?

…man… and then you cite the range for lions was 150 square miles, and note that San Francisco is only around 50 square miles in size. They put these animals in these small spaces and they wonder why there’s problems.

Especially when you put the facts out there about home range and elephants walking 50 miles a day [their home range can be over 1300 sq. miles], dolphins swimming 40 miles a day, and then you say, “wait a minute, this can’t be where they belong, obviously.” They have to pay a really serious price in terms of the depth of the deprivation, even though the folks who come forward they’re all going to say the same thing, that they’re treated humanely…

In some sense, in the case of dolphins and perhaps, it’s not like somebody’s putting a torch to them or electrocuting them, although in the cases of performing animals in a circus we have really good evidence that they are doing really terrible things sometimes.”

You cover that so well. I remember seeing some of Steve Hindi’s (SHARK) footage of rodeos at one of the AR conferences, and thought I’d seen it all. Then you describe what really happens in “bucking.” I don’t want to give it all away here… but you talk about these macho cowboys roping, what you term as “babies,” these calves that are only 4 to 5 months old?

That’s right.

…and the phrase you use “roping babies,” that’s really what they’re doing!

Here we have today’s “brave cowboy.” What a brave cowboy you are, buddy!

…what a man you are… you can go out an rope a baby… and then you do a wonderful expose on greyhound racing, as well…

… oh, what an abomination…

I had no idea… and it’s not well publicized, yet you mention that it’s the sixth biggest recreational sport in our country.

Oh, it’s a high revenue sport, that’s for sure…

…but what happens to these greyhounds is just incredible…

And it’s not just in America that it’s a terrible tragedy… what happened to [hundreds of] greyhounds in Spain, if you remember, they hung them so their feet won’t touch the ground.


But, you are graphic in the book, but I noticed not to the extent that one would want to put the book down.

My whole policy all through the book was to not lose the reader. I wanted to have a conversation with people who are animal rights advocates, too, obviously, but especially with people who aren’t who have this misconception of who we are, and why we are, and all this. I wanted to have a conversation with them. To have a conversation, you can’t hit somebody over the head with a 2 by 4, it ends up that you’re the only one talking and no one’s hearing you.

… you also don’t give me, as a reader, 15 pages of these horrific examples… I have been “overkilled” by some books, I think “okay, I’ve just read 10 pages about the detailed slaughter” you made your point 9 pages ago. However, you do provide significant information on the website, and if I need to read more, I can.

…that’s what I meant about having a conversation. The idea always is that less is more. I know the motivation that goes like this: “that in order to get somebody to pay attention to what I’m saying, I have to tell say everything.” But that’s exactly the wrong way to get somebody to pay attention. If I try tell them everything, they’re going turn off and tune out. They’re not going to be part of the conversation. What you have to do is find some middle ground where you’re saying something, oh, about Merino wool, they know where to go to find out more.


In the last section about how animals are being used, as “tools” and for experimentation, is a difficult one. And you acknowledge that it was a tough one for you. What pushed you on this one? What made animal experimentation unacceptable to you, as it seems to be a major turning point in your life?

It was. When I started writing The Case for Animal Rights in 1982, I was not an abolitionist when it came to animal research. My position was that we shouldn’t do any research that caused unnecessary suffering to animals, which is kind of a standard middle-of-the-road position that people have. But as I worked through the arguments, and I thought “well, I can’t believe that any longer… I have to give that up.” And the reason I have to give that up, is that animals have rights, you can’t justify taking their lives, injuring their bodies, stealing their freedom… because somebody else is going to benefit.

It is one of the hardest arguments to deal with, I would suspect, because it gets to some fundamentals, the issue of “can experimentation on one species be justified by the many more lives saved of another species.” It’s a loaded topic.

There are two positions to take here, and in the book I basically concentrate on one, and that is that animal have rights, they shouldn’t be used this way, because the only way you can possibly justify it is that people benefit. And even if they do, that’s not a justification for violating their rights. Their rights are trump.

But, on the other hand there’s the question of human’s benefit because of animal vivisection, the more reason we have not only to be skeptical, but actually to doubt then that, in terms of overall cost benefit analysis of vivisecting animals in the name of human health, longevity, vitality, it’s been a significant contribution to public health. It’s a delusion.

It’s a toughie… my mother had polio, but after reading your book, I did some research and learned that at it’s peak, there was only around 3000 cases per year. An ARA friend of mine told me that there may have actually been a six-year loss of time in figuring out the vaccine because the animal…

…the misleading nature of animal subjects. There’s a big controversy about the Salk Vaccine, and I do think that… well, it’s hard for somebody who’s not medically credentialed to make judgments about facts of scientific or biomedical methodology, we’re standing outside the field. It seems arrogant of us to say, well, we know what’s going on. I’ve always been tempered by that realization that I’m not a credentialed person, but what’s really been encouraging to me is that, more and more, people who are credentialed, Americans for Medical Advancement, Physician’s Committee for Responsible Medicine, those people, obviously, but people, like the equivalent of the U.S. National Institute of Health, in Britain saying “we’re not sure of this way of doing research really benefits people.


You really opened my eyes, though, and your summaries of the levels of abuse (human treatment!) as well as the numbers of animals involved, helped tremendously. So, having covered these four areas, you postulate what I, as a reader leaning towards supporting animal rights more fully, might be concerned about. You called that Chapter, “Yes, but…” You did a fine job of anticipating many questions that I had personally, but I wanted to ask you about the one that gets the most press. I think you know where this is going.


…the issue of violence…

I’m not a pacifist and, 99.99% of the people in the world are not pacifist. We all think that sometimes violence is justified; the question is when, under what circumstances. We can present a skeletor argument, that says, “look, suppose the innocent are at risk and suppose you’ve done everything you can to prevent a bad thing happening, but under the circumstances the only thing you can do to help the innocent, save the innocent, protect the innocent, is to use violence, and you use it in a proportionate way, you don’t use it disproportionately. Then what?

I think that 99.99% of the people in the world are going say, “well then, reluctantly, I have to agree, if this is what you have to do.” I give the example of trying to save some children who have been kidnapped by their estranged father who has kidnapped them who threatens to kill them. What are you going to do in a case like that? I don’t think that 99.99% of the people say “well, whatever we do, we’re not going to use violence.” People aren’t like that.

So, the issue then, I think, about whether violence is justified in name of animal rights, it’s not an issue of principle, it’s an issue of fact. The people who use it are part of that 99.99%, and the people disagree with them are also part of that. So, okay, you say that animals are the innocent. Yes, they are. Have you done everything you can to prevent using violence? And the ARAs who use violence say “Yes, we have.” And the people like me who don’t support that, are saying: “No, you haven’t… you haven’t even remotely done what needs to be done.”

You make it clear in several places in your book that you do not support that violence.

No, I don’t support it. We have not done remotely enough in an open democratic society.

I get the impression that the violence really helps those who want to give the public through the media a bad impression of animal rights advocates.

Oh, yes… not only does it play into their hands, but as I said in the book, and I’ll say it clearly here, there’s no question in my mind that there are people being paid the major animal exploiters who have infiltrated the Animal Liberation Front and other groups.

You give a great example where somebody hired somebody else to kill them… I don’t want to give it all away, but …

You’d have to be so politically naive to think that the FBI… the FBI identified the Animal Liberation Front and the Earth Liberation Front as the two major terrorist organizations in the U.S. I’m not making this up. Do you think that the FBI hasn’t infiltrated these organizations? Do you think that they’re not out there trying to encourage them to commit violent acts so that you can confirm, verify these are terrorist organizations?

My view is that anytime that ALF says that we’ve done something, or the ELF says we’ve done something, I always think “who was the driver?” My guess is probably somebody paid by the government or the animal abuser industries.


I looked at your website, and it’s fantastic. There’s a wealth of information, factsheets, links, and essays. I also looked at the Tom Regan Animal Rights Archive, and was most impressed. I noticed there’s a picture of you with President Carter there?

It happened when I was at the National Humanities Center as a Fellow there, and I was writing a book about philosophy and he came by.

You also established, with your wife, a foundation?

It was roughly in the middle of the 1980s, and Nancy and I were thinking about where to go in terms of our activism. We looked around at the movement, and realized there’s a hole in the movement! The hole in the middle of the movement was that we had great resources historically, in terms of our poets and our painters, our composers, our writers… great resources. Nobody was promoting that, getting the word out about Plutarch, and Pythagoras, Leonardo, and others that were on our side. Nobody was trying to get that out, and at the same time, there was nobody who was supporting our contemporaries in poetry and painting and theater and music. Nobody was doing that and we thought: “Wow! That’s a kind of activism.”

I think I said this before, our goal, in a nutshell, was that animal rights advocates should be ‘inside the theater performing’ or ‘outside the theater protesting.’ That was the idea, was to take animal rights to a level within the culture where art and letters, theater… is appreciated. So we worked at that for roughly the last 28 years, and we have funded hundreds and hundreds of “cultural activists” as we call them, in terms of both their research and performance. We’ve also hosted a festival every year (this will be our third).

I noticed that there’s also a grant application form on your website.

You asked me the other day about what I’d do with a million dollars, well we’d put a lot of it into the Culture and Animals Foundation so we could give more money away. What I know from my life as a writer and a scholar, is that if you give me chunk of free time, where I’m not encumbered by other responsibilities, I can create something. I know that, I’ve done that three or four or five times in my life, when somebody gives me that freedom. There’s no reason to think that I’m unique or any way unusual. All creative people, what they need is time, so that they can work on whatever is they are working on. That’s what the CAF tries to do for our cultural activists.

That’s really important… it’s a well-rounded approach that helps get rid of the view that activists are a bunch of people who yell a lot.

Absolutely. The whole point of the publicity arms of the animal abuser industries is to present animal rights with an ugly face.


What’s the future of the animal rights movement?

There are two really important challenges we face. The first challenge is: how do we attract more people to the movement? Because the movement isn’t going to go anywhere unless we reach a critical mass, this kind of tipping point, where what we say and do makes a difference to what other people say and what they do. How do we attract new people? This book is my effort to that.

The second thing is, how do we keep old people in the movement? Because… the movement is like a revolving door. People come in, and then people go out. It’s a great challenge we have amongst our leaders, especially, to keep people in the movement, to help people keep thinking that their presence, their contribution, what they’re able to give is important. If people are not given this validation, not just once, not just twice, but when they wake up in the morning, they’re going to leave the movement. The movement is a tough place for people to stay unless they get validated.


I’ve seen a bit of the “Mad Cowboy Documentary” (in final editing), and in it you use this marvelous analogy about walls and equate it to the animal rights movement. Can you elaborate on this?”

In a lot of my thinking, I think in pictures. And one picture I think of is where we are in terms of what’s being done to animals, and I see it as a big wall, a gigantic wall. What we know tomorrow morning when we wake up, it’s not like that wall is going to be gone. It’s not like that wall is going to be toppled the next day, month, year, or years… in my lifetime. But what we can do is to identify some brick in that wall and say “let’s get rid of that.” So let’s get rid of pound seizure, or let’s get rid of puppy mills, or let’s get rid of greyhound racing… let’s get rid of keeping marine mammals in captivity… let’s get rid of elephants, lions, and tigers in circuses. These are all achievable goals, they really are achievable goals, we can do this… there’s no question about that. But what it’s going to take is collaboration and cooperation between major and national organizations.

I have this other picture I talk about where you sitting at your window in the winter time, and you feel the sun come through, it gives you warmth, and that’s good. It’s a nice feeling. But, if you take that same energy that’s coming from the sun and put it through a magnifying glass you’re going to start a fire.

What the animal rights movement needs to do through it’s leadership, is to learn how to turn sunlight that warms, into sunlight that is combustible. Not that we’re going to destroy property, but just that we’re going to be focussed, so that our power is not diffused… our power is concentrated. And when that happens, that’s when we’ll see change. All the national organizations are competing for the same dollar. They’re all trying to present themselves as doing the most important work. That’s so they can get the dollars and go on with their work, but in terms of a political movement, what we need is much greater cooperation, much greater collaboration where we share the burden, share the benefits, and help the animals.